Friday, March 24, 2017

Rebuke to Trump

The Trump Bannon healthcare bill was ignored by the House.  Trump blames that on the Democrats which is absurd since, with almost unique power in the House, Senate, and of course the executive branch, his slippery party had the bill in their hands.  It failed.  Republicans on the right and left of center picked at the bill.  The real story --- Trump rushed the process without gaining a consensus within his own party.  He was arrogantly overconfident that as President he could do anything he wanted.  His party was like the dog that caught the car.

Here this is welcome.  His proposed bill was hostile to the poor and disadvantaged, and perhaps even more so to much of the "middle class" that he talked about in his campaign.  It was a bad bill, trying to address an existing bill that needed some overhaul but by no means extinction.  While anything that he puts forth will likely be somewhere in the range of "bad", he outdid himself in not even being supported in his own party.

Trying to save face, and maybe with someone intelligent advising him, he will move to infrastructure development and tax reduction.  His armor with a heavy dent, he needs a win on something.  If he and his advisers have any sense, they will start with infrastructure in a bipartisan way, and slowly so he can build support in his own constituency with the mantra that bridges, road, airports, etc.   represent new good paying jobs.

To be sure, there is a concern here about how a man with such a thin skin and need for approval will react to such a public defeat.  Almost everything that Trump does is negative, and if this even goes sideways that would be a relief.  If he chooses revenge that could be unfortunate.  His mind-minder Bannon is a nihilist who will work to dismantle as much as possible, and from his perspective this is another opportunity.

Trump is not capable of being a constructive President.  That will not change.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The election was not about policy

Mick Mulvaney, the head of the OMB and a leading figure in designing Trump's budget proposal, is just about as extreme in his views as anyone ever in that role.  He is an unequivocal political appointee rather than a career budget professional in government.  He is notable as a South Carolina Republican, and that is the sort of pol atmosphere that bred Lee Atwater.  They are harsh and unapologetic.  That's an observed generalization and may be unfair to some in the state of Aiken and Myrtle Beach, but it is in fact true.  This is a place of extreme unvarnished opinions.

So here is Mulvaney in this pivotal role for the scatterbrained but intuitively disruptive Trump. Mulvaney says that the budget reflects Trump's commitments during the election, and that he and his staff are determining what Trump thinks by reviewing all of his speeches during the campaign.  Then they are distilling what policies he has committed to in speaking to the American people, and turning them into a budget.  Could anything sound more like a way for Steve Bannon to remind Trump what his policies are and for a callous person like Mulvaney to try to implement them.

Congress is the arbiter of the budget and the budget must be approved there.  The Republicans, in a perfect world, would like to coalesce around a proposal that they could all agree on and with their power in the executive and legislative branches put it in place.  Unfortunately for them, as some in Congress are realizing now, Trump was not elected based on policy proposals.  He articulated nothing clearly in the campaign other than an opposition to the ruling paradigm and an ever soaring obsession with himself.

So now, repeatedly, Trump and his handlers are mandating, when executive orders allow, and proposing, where others need to approve, policies that will disadvantage the base that elected him. Whether in healthcare, or wage policy, or environmental needs, or taxation or...on and on, they are betraying their voters and think they can get away with it through obfuscation and patriotic blather.

This is not new.  It's a different iteration of an old game.  Now it has become more extreme in a way that is troubling even to some mainstream Republicans and libertarians of the past who were, in their own way, constructive and balanced opponents of the Democratic Party approaches to governing.

A budget that pinpoints with precision relatively tiny programs that are dedicated to straightforward positive fulfillment of the social, dietary, and aspirational needs of our citizens, and cuts them as unnecessary, is beyond troubling.  It could be the vanguard of something far worse.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Louisville's sour coach

Louisville's loss to Michigan in the NCAA tournament was disappointing, as a result of a long term allegiance to Louisville the city and the team based on living there in the 1970's.  Louisville won the NCAA tournament in 1980 and 1986, and competed to near the end of the tournament during many years at that time.  Louisville's last minute loss to UCLA in the final four in 1975 put me into a depressed state for several weeks, such that I vowed to never let myself get that involved as a sports fan ever again.

At that time their coach was a personality free and almost emotion free former assistant to John Wooden.  His name was Denny Crum.  Somehow and strangely, he recruited and coached teams with more personality, team chemistry, and more charming quirks than any other seriously good team seen at that time, and that comparison may be more true today.

The Louisville coach since 2001 has been Rick Pitino.  He has been a successful coach at many levels and under him Louisville won the NCAA tournament in 2013 with a relentless defense that rattled opponents for 40 continuous minutes.  Year end year out Louisville is a contender during the season and plays a tough schedule.  Watching Louisville for the first time this year on Saturday, I watched a talented team, but they seemed stressed, even fearful.  Michigan played freely and with an ease of team play that was a picture of camaraderie.  Louisville had a solid lead midway through the second half and then seemed to tighten up.  The always intense Pitino grew even more intense in time-outs. He is totally in the moment, his moment as he seems totally self absorbed, no pats on the back for the players or anything to loosen them up or cheer them on.

After the game Pitino was interviewed and his intensity continued.  As an aside that was necessary, he said that Michigan played well and was a tough team, but that Louisville lost because they did not think.  He said that the Louisville players worked as hard as he could expect, but that their mental game was weak.  With most of the team returning for next year, he challenged his players to work on that.  He never smiled during the interview, and never said a truly appreciative word about his players, and any self deprecation or responsibility on his part was not in the conversation.

He is a winning coach and a knowledgeable basketball talent, but there is an unattractive side to him that lacks compassion and empathy, or even how his words could personally reflect on team members.  "Not smart", look at the team and it's almost a Trumplike statement.  His program at Louisville has periodically been hit by violations over the years, big, small, or embarrassing.  Do his players have fun?  It does not appear to be part of his formula.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Market stable, lacks catalysts

The U.S. equity market is trendless at the moment.  Today was a perfect example.  Across portfolios here very few stocks moved much at all.  Only Apple, up 1%, and financial stocks off broadly, showed any direction.  Among big banks, Citi, BAC, and Wells were all off over 1.5% while the handful of smaller banks followed here were off around 2%.  That's it.  Very few other stocks made any move of consequence.

The market lacks a catalyst.  It is difficult to imagine an event that would drive the market meaningfully higher now.  It's been a good run for reasons that have yet to unfold in a tangible way. Investors seem to feel positive about potential tax reduction and regulatory relief, but most actual actions are yet to take place. Meanwhile the Tweeter in Chief and his minions continue to make unpredictable and at times alarming statements.

In this environment, the more likely catalyst to arrive anytime soon is a push to the downside. Gains have been significant over the last five months, even as they have moderated in February and this month. At signs of concern, the more likely course would be for active investors to take some money off the table that would lead to a noticeable but not particularly damaging retrenchment, some would say one that is needed for a healthy market.

As retail investors apparently continue to reenter the market after years of recession driven fear, this market has a growing base.  It could be obliterated in a few days if institutional investors take a turn. Retail is not important to valuation in any medium term scenario.  Nevertheless, if retail still buys actively managed mutual funds, they will want to see their portfolio managers fully invested at the moment.

We watch with caution, but remain invested.  That's after some careful pruning over the last two months but, oh, with one new major investment.  Can't help it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

James Cotton remembered

The NYT had an obituary for James Cotton today.  He was a Chicago bluesman  who had his own band from the mid-60's into the 70's.  His trademark was the harmonica that he learned from Sonny Boy Williamson as a child in Mississippi and in Chicago from Little Walter as a back up in the Muddy Waters band.  As Little Walter aged and had his own gigs, Cotton became the main harmonica and vocal background man with Muddy Waters in the late 50's into the 60's.

Why all of this background?  The James Cotton Blues Band was the first live blues band that was seen here, here in the personal sense as that it was in the fall of 1967 in D.C.  I had become an initiate into the blues in my senior year in high school when a friend introduced me to the Paul Butterfield Blue Band.  That led to initial forays into both country blues(Robert Johnson) and urban blues(Sonny Boy, Magic Sam, Muddy Waters) on records.

Off to college I went from my modest southern town, both naive about many things of course but more knowledgeable about a few things than my freshman classmates. That's presumptuous to say maybe, maybe not, but just from the point of view of this comment, blues music, that was the totally the case except for one person. That was Jimmy from Cleveland a few rooms down.  With the Doors blasting out of Paul's room with his big speakers, the Stones and some blues from my minor turntable, and pop music from radios in the dorm, Jimmy played only Chicago blues.  He knew everything about it.

We quickly became friends and he found that James Cotton was playing at an auditorium in a fringe neighborhood(fringe is quaint term for 1960's center D.C.) and off we went.  The band was solid Chicago, what a time.  Cotton was not the best that I heard over the years but that night he was surely the best, and it was a bookmark in my music history.

As we were taking buses and had a change, Jimmy and I were accosted by young white gun carrying crew very late that night in our bus change, but between us had so little money it was inconsequential on that score, and highly positive as we talked them away, though not taken lightly or forgotten.

That's my James Cotton memory.  He was seen in D.C. other times as a guy with a reliable band, but there were so many others that were much better, Muddy Waters at the Cellar Door and  Junior Wells in particular at places in Manhattan. Cotton is remembered as the first live blues band, and how good it can be in a real blues setting, and how good is that.  RIP James Cotton at only 81.  I had no idea that you were still alive.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Trump's budget

Trump's budget proposal must be considered as a starting point as much of it is preposterous.  Is this "the art of the deal" or the art of incompetence. The focus is on the huge additional spending on the military and by extension homeland security.  The biggest cuts come at the EPA and the State Department.  They are drastic.  Tiny agencies that represent a miniscule part of the budget are also targeted.  Notably the Legal Services Corporation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts each would lose all of their funding.

We know that Trump does not read anything of consequence or have any interest in the arts.  Is he such a philistine that he would deny those pleasures to others.  It should be noted that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting only provides partial funding, probably less than 20%, to PBS and NPR, but they do fund the many of the outlets that air those programs in a more substantial way.

These cuts are just a vindictive move by Steve Bannon, who relishes doing all of the work to direct the attention deficit driven Trump's mind, and the extreme right that holds sway. Ivanka will not come to the rescue.  She has become a false hope.  The American public will step up, must step up.

"Black Edge"

The subtitle of this book by New Yorker staff writer Sheelah Kolhatkar is "Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street".  For those with interest, it is a workmanlike true story about the failed attempt to charge Steven Cohen, head of SAC Capital, with a crime.In the process, there was success in prosecuting two of his high paid helpers, and forcing a number of others out of the business.

Kolhatkar begins with the basics of the hedge fund business and for those with any knowledge that is just a price of admission, reading what helps the true laymen understand what they will be reading. The core of the book then follows the effort to hold Cohen accountable for his corrupt enterprise with FBI and SEC work during the 2009-2013 time period, and it also gives a history of SAC from its founding in 1992 until its technical shutdown in 2014 as it morphed into being the virtually unscathed Cohen's family office.

The book is a good summary of what happened, and it creates a cohesive picture in one place of what many read about in the financial press over a period of years.  It is interesting but not groundbreaking.  Much of the case was built around trades in Elan and Wyeth related to a possible Alzheimer's drug, and inside information about Dell's earnings.  They were promising avenues to indict Cohen but a few flaws, and Cohen's "best that money can buy" legal team was up to the task of defending him to the point that he never was charged, never brought to trial.

"Black Edge" gives detailed accounts of the separate trials of Matthew Martoma and Michael Steinberg, Cohen's associates that were referenced earlier as helpers.  In the greater scheme of things they are not important, they were not key players, and ending on this note makes the book somewhat less than compelling.  There is no indication of any further chinks in Cohen's armor, and little new insight into this vile man.

From this reader's perspective, "Black Edge" is an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying book as what is detailed could have been mostly been gleaned by a diligent financial press reader over the years.  With first hand knowledge here of SAC from its beginning, it can be said that even the set-up could have been much stronger.  The firm was out of line from the outset, at the edge and worse.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Big storm just a mess

The storm here last night and into the morning crippled activity here for the day, but it was far smaller than forecast.  Snow was only around six to eight inches(the chairs on the back yard patio suggest just six), but the early morning ice and sleet storm had high winds and made the roads impassable.  A few cars are passing by now and if it were possible, I would have found an excuse to be out there testing the roads.  Our driveway and walkway plow guy came by and did a half ass job, so  he will come back later this afternoon as his father would require. He likes to stay in his giant Dodge Ram truck with plow and do nothing else while instructing a laborer to do some shoveling as quickly as possible.  By tomorrow late morning everything will be close to normal, even if still very cold for a day or two.

What was completely noticeable here was a day without newspapers, mail, new magazines, and new caretakers for Kathy.  We have a capable one that was stuck here, but the turnover provides new talk and different perspectives.  Newspapers can be seen online, but holding that NYT and WSJ newsprint, sorting through story to story is irreplaceable from this older perspective, especially on a day when it is most needed.

The preparation worked fine as we had food mapped out, more than needed to some extent but not by much since the icy roads meant we needed to offer food to the trapped caretaker, happily.  In a relative sense, all is well.  It gave us a chance to eat too much.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Flock of robins?

Whenever sighting robins, cardinals, or blue jays, I always think of them in a singular way.  They were everywhere in southern Virginia sixty years ago, and are still seen here on Long Island.  A cardinal or blue jay sighting is now special but they are here.  Robins are not abundant but seeing them is not so rare.

Rare today was a flock of robins in our backyard.  Never do I remember seeing robins move like that. Maybe 20 were in the backyard pecking away at the half of the yard not covered by any snow. Anticipating tomorrow's huge storm, could they have been storing up and found our yard to be good harvest.  Did the gardener over plant seed in the fall and leave a bounty for the birds.

Wildlife in general does anticipate the weather so it was not surprising to see the robins out eating. So many together was unusual, and special to see.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Out of the Furnace", a film with more talent than attention

This film was bumped into last night on cable.  Released in late 2013 and starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whittaker, and Willem Dafoe among others, and Leonardo DiCaprio as a producer, it had never been heard of here.  No surprise really as a quick look at Wikipedia shows that it had total box office receipts of less than $16 million.  It was a bomb.  Still the star lineup almost required watching this grim tale of an Iraq war veteran returning to his small steel manufacturing town in rural Pennsylvania.  The story wanders through ongoing hardship and salvages little.

The thought here from the beginning was that was meant to be, must have been meant to be, an updated version of the 1979 film "The Deerhunter", with Iraq replacing Vietnam.  That film won best picture and other Oscars, while this one went nowhere.  Is that a sign of the times?

In fact, in "Out of the Furnace" two of the characters eventually go deer hunting.  Subtle.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The power of the FBI and James Comey

Let's just assume that FBI director James Comey did exactly what he wanted to do when he discussed publicly an ongoing investigation in July, and when he again raised the issue two weeks before the election and then two days before.  Let's just assume that this highly regarded University of Chicago Law School graduate, former Deputy Attorney General, former general counsel of Lockheed Martin, was not fumbling around mistakenly breaking longstanding precedents at the FBI.  If that obvious assumption could be made, a significant amount of newsprint and television time would have been put to better use.

His actions directly contributed to the election of Trump.  His background could suggest that he did so more out of a dislike of the policy history of Hillary Clinton than due to a positive opinion of Trump.  Comey's college thesis at William and Mary was a comparison of the German theologian Reinhold Neibuhr and the Lynchburg, VA evangelist Jerry Falwell whose racist rants could be watched on television in that part of Virginia in the 1950's and 1960's.  Only a 22 year old college student could imagine such a pairing, but the elevation of Falwell to that status suggests that Comey's background is one of flirting with the far right on many issues.

People change.  Falwell became famous, tempered his language, and his endorsement was sought by Presidents.  Comey followed his successful path and is now head of one of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world.

Comey apparently views himself as independent, and he is characterized by those who know him as someone with great confidence in himself, ambition, and a drive to succeed.  It is entirely possible, even likely, that Comey and Comey alone decided to act in the way he did related to Clinton's e-mails based on his beliefs.

An interesting thought is that he may not be a person who can be controlled by the Trump, Bannon, and Sessions.  With the many obvious conflicts of interest that Trump's business empire represents, the refusal to provide basic tax information, plus the knee jerk decision making by Trump, is it possible that Comey will stand up to Trump at some point and investigate the President.  There will be multiple opportunities to do so.  A big attention getting opportunity could present itself and Comey could take action.  That is not necessarily a positive comment about the personality or character of Comey but, contrary to what some may say, he seems to enjoy being in the spotlight.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Barron's "top financial advisors"

Included in the Wall Street Journal today was a supplement from Barron's that purported to detail the top financial advisors to individuals in all 50 states.  It was an interesting 10 minutes of scanning but the list seemed incomplete.  The firms that had overwhelmingly the largest amount of advisors listed were Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo.  Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase were firms of not one of the 1200 advisors listed.

Did they not participate?  Are their clients too upscale to be a large enough base for the survey. Certainly both firms are active in this area through their private banking groups.

Of all the advisors listed there were two that made this huge list that I had known in the past(yes I guess that took more than 10 minutes).  When they were known to me, one was an exceedingly earnest and serious guy to the point of being boring, but he certainly would come across as trustworthy.  The other was always more style than substance but that can work too.  Good for them.

The other observation was that Fidelity and Schwab were also nowhere on the list.  That can be explained partially by the fact that both have a huge base of self directed clients, but in recent years that have actively solicited clients for management responsibility for a fee.  Even Vanguard now has individual client managers for investors of more than $500,000 who want management services.  Did they participate or did their heritage put them too far behind.  But, too far behind Wells Fargo?

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Red hat

For many years the U.S. Open tennis tournament has been part of our lives.  It is 20 minutes by the LIRR or less by car from us.  It was an every year event until recently.  I always went on opening days because it was less crowded and talking to anyone, even players at times, was fine.  K and I went in 2008 and we bought 08 red U.S. Open baseball style caps.  K only wears hers periodically, but I have worn mine on every rainy day since.  It is, or was, my favorite lid.

Now I can no longer wear it.  Surprise, I am not a Trump supporter.   My favorite worn out red must be retired for now.  Before the year is out, it may be pulled off the shelf.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Trump stayed on a troubling script

Trump's address to Congress began by citing "a great sense of renewal sweeping the country" and ended with the statement that in the future we will remember that "a new chapter of American greatness began today."  He clearly was saying that this was all because of him.

Those thoughts can all be debated of course, but they do frame the dimensions of Trump's view of grandeur.  It is what he thinks and what his handlers Bannon and Miller think he should say.

From this perspective, the two low points of his speech were the three extended examples of the killings of citizens by illegal immigrants, with their relatives in attendance and put on camera.  It is obvious what he was doing and it is obvious what minority group he was talking about and the effect he intended.  The second was the highlight of the wife of the serviceman killed in the questionable Seal's raid in Yemen.  As Trump led the applause, clapping on his amplified set seemingly forever, the woman cried and cried. What a rotten example of exploitation to address an issue where he has received criticism.

The Democratic response to the speech by Steve Beshear, a former Kentucky governor, was one of the best of that lackluster genre ever seen, meaning well done.  Overall, the evening could have been worse, and many were probably relieved by what they heard.  There were snippets of good news like the endorsement of NATO, as if that were an achievement.  In any event, that was a relief.  The calls for unity were frequent but, unlike in the afternoon conference with news anchors, there was no mention of "both sides needing to compromise".  There was more of a dark side to his unity, more of a demand.

We will see.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tonight, will Trump stay on script?

Trump is accustomed to making speeches or rants to large groups of people who are his followers. They are attuned to his every facial expression, attack on some group, uninhibited self-praise, and hyper-exaggeration, and they reward him with cheers, applause, and chants back.  He is energized in that situation and appears to love it.

He will certainly be tightly scripted in his speech to Congress tonight, but will he be able to stick with it. Can he retain his usual energy without total adoration.  Almost all Republicans will generally feel compelled to shower him with the usual partisan applause that exists for all Presidents in these events, and most of them will genuinely mean it.  In the Capital building, however, there could be times of silence as the audience awaits explanations of leadership and not examples of his bullyship("word" spelled as intended).

I guess it is required viewing.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

George Packer on Trump

While this Talk of the Town comment has been available for a week, it occurs to me that among my many unknown, or random, following on Google blogspot, some might not have had access to it.
The link is

Packer is to the point and articulate as always.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Big talk by...

Recently I have been reminded of one of my best neighborhood friends from the distant past.  He could talk in a stream of consciousness that was difficult to interrupt.  What he said was almost always transparently a stretch or completely made up.  He would start out with observed events that his listeners could identify with and then veer off into a riff that was preposterous.  He would turn from one tall tale to the next without catching a breath.  It was often riveting and hilarious. Even those a few years older would stop and listen, and laugh.

Bubba was six years old, but Donald Trump is 70.  Bubba was making people laugh while Trump is causing serious angst.  Bubba had no malice.  Trump is always in attack mode.

So why the memory.  What was in complete enjoyment at a very young age now seems to be the m.o. of the President of the United States.  Bubba grew up and became Bob, an upstanding citizen of my hometown. There is something seriously wrong with Donald Trump. This is not a joke.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

U.S. equity market rise feels perilous

It is both fascinating and frightening to watch the mind numbing rise of the U.S. equity markets of late.  Why?  The market feels fully valued and the uncertainty around the Trump administration's actions day by day is unsettling.  As said in a post last week, the sustainability of expected returns is a key component of stock valuation.  With so much that is up in the air at the moment, certainty on that metric seems difficult to gauge.

The concern here is that a correction will eventually occur, and that it will be ugly.  The possibility for something unexpected happening is always there, but it seems heightened now.  Once a downturn begins, it can become self-sustaining and irrational, aka a panic to get out by savers, pensioners, and unhedged fund managers.  Rebuilding after such an event is almost always tedious, and with 2008 still visible in the rear view mirror, a rebuild may be slow.  That would put pressure on the economy and consumer spending.  How an inexperienced President and his administration would react to this is worrisome.

On the positive front, Janet Yellen has been steady and straightforward over the last two days.  She has not been intimidated by some Trump inspired members of Congress who want the Federal Reserve to go silent and stop international contact while waiting for guidance from Trump.  That's not the way the Fed works, and she shows absolutely no sign of being intimidated.

In the midst of winter and an early dusk, more reassuring comments from market's smartest would be welcome.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Computer tech visits... results?

Today a highly recommended computer technician came to the house to install a new printer, fax, scanner.  It has been several years since we have had the experience of such a visit.  The memory of past fixes and repairs was slowly revisited as he mused in front of the computer, making adjustments and getting it set.

He looked assured and spoke well.  As he toiled away he seemed to be in no rush, and pleased with himself.  After a little more than hour it was ready and instructions were given, but the scanner did not work.  He did not know why.  He never figured out why.  It eventually was time to fix dinner, so he had to leave after sitting around pondering what to do and being in an online chat with HP that could have gone on until midnight.  The hours charged for labor were two and a half.  

The opinion here is that he was yet another laid off knucklehead from the corporate world who was marginally more knowledgeable than me if my inclination had been to go through the tedious process of reading directions and linking everything up.  That's is decidedly not a positive review of his work.

It's a price that is willingly paid here for a job well done, but not so happily for a mystified but well meaning technician.  For many who desired continuity without hard work, looking decent and being pleasant and well spoken were prerequisites for being invisible in the corporate world.  It's not a free pass elsewhere, or should not be.  He did well for himself today, and may even be unaware of my displeasure with his permanently corporatized mind.

With that observation, everything is ok.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Colbert and Fallon, are the tables turning?

With the election of Donald Trump, the world feels changed.  Even late night television is different. The two leaders of late night television shows, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, may be changing places.  Fallon, on NBC, was by far the most popular in the last few years as he followed up on Jay Leno's reign.  He is a prodigious talent and his performances, imitations, dancing, singing, facial expressions, and quips reflect his skills and humor. Colbert is more restrained, for the most part, but an eager performer with a thoughtful side to his humor.  He is cutting when he chooses to be and at times he does choose.

Since the election, Colbert has been the one who is more precise in his comments on the election and Trump, and his humor has an edge that is purposeful but still packs a humorous punch.  For many, that is what is needed.  In a way that is a completely exaggerated comment on the two of them, hypothetically speaking, Colbert plays Lenny Bruce to Fallon's Milton Berle.  That comment is admittedly a stretch, but directionally speaking it speaks to Fallon's challenge.  He is a hard charging, hard partying, fun guy, while Colbert is more controlled and incisive.

It may be Colbert's time now for many viewers.  The opening of the program last night had a cartoon with Bannie putting Donnie to bed, reassuring Donnie that he could sleep well because everyone really did like him.  It was unexpected and perfect, not preachy or mean, just making fun of the way things really seem to be.  For those who have the misfortune to be up and watching television at that hour, try Colbert if you haven't done so recently.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Two interesting profiles of intense personalities

---Russell Westbrook --- Westbrook is the star guard on the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team.  This year he could do what is next to impossible.  That is to average a triple double, for points, rebounds, and assists, for an entire season.  The February 5th Sunday New York Times Magazine profiles this extraordinary talent and an unusual personality, such that his teammates refer to him as "different dude", or "he's weird, yeah, bizarre, not normal".  The way he dresses, the way he thinks, and importantly the way plays basketball can be unpredictable.

A regular season NBA game is rarely watched here.  Toward the end of the post season, parts of a few games may be watched.  Still, reading about sports remains an interest.  This article is informative and reveals the story behind the meticulous and always intense Westbrook as he is playing in his first season after eight years of being paired with the more heralded Kevin Durant.   For anyone with basketball experience, this is worth reading.

---Anthony Bourdain --- the current edition of The New Yorker profiles the television personality, food writer, and non-stop traveler who over the last 15 years has hosted and obsessively planned food forays around the world for three different networks.  Now on CNN, his program is "Parts Unknown", which could refer both to the places and the food.

The article, written by the talented Patrick Radden Keefe, follows Bourdain's career through various Manhattan kitchens as he worked his way up in the restaurant business.  His break came in 1998 when he became executive chef of Les Halles, a brasserie and steak house on Park Ave. around 30th street that was popular and always full.  He turned that experience into a best selling book, "Kitchen Confidential" and has never looked back.  This is a typical New Yorker profile that is in depth and all over the place.  Bourdain is a personality that lives big, in an almost manic way.  That life is captured for a reader's enjoyment.

Postscript 2/11---Just noticed that the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors, now home of Durant and Stephen Curry, will play tonight on ABC.  That may be worth a look for a quarter or so.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Winter wins today

The forecast for today was not a concern.  With an expected temperature of 33 degrees, we simply looked for a messy day of wet snow.  When the snow did arrive at 4am, it was 28 degrees and it rose in the late morning to 31, and now is back down to 24.  Yes, there is significant snow accumulation and roads are for the most part without cars.

Our driveway has at least a foot of snow and our plow guy has not yet arrived.  He usually waits until the snow has stopped, and my hope that the snow seen now was just blowing around from rooftops and trees may not be correct.  It may still be snowing.  It is very fine snow.

One of the key attributes of the morning was missed.  Reading newspapers online can be done, but it is not the same as holding and flipping through the newsprint.  That is relaxing.  Sitting up straight in a desk chair and moving through the Times and Journal with clicks is different.  Habits!

We have everything that we need as we did have the foresight to stock up, fortunately not relying on my forecasting skills.  There are books to read, Facebook to waste time on, and financial websites to check on and manage investments.  I am at least marginally aware that days like this can lead to more trading than necessary, bringing the gambling response to the frontal lobe.  That can be exciting on a dreary day, but can lead to reversing trades a few days later.  That has been restrained today.  The only big move was a sell of Verizon, which despite its rich dividend does not seem like a well managed company that should be stayed with.

At the moment it looks like tomorrow will be a continuation of today, even as the snow subsides, since it will stay well below freezing.  By Saturday our local family market just down the hill will surely deliver.  By Sunday it will warm up into the low 40's.  That's winter.  We're fine, but surely trapped.  We do have the comfort of knowing that the post Sandy acquired generator is ready at any time.

Snowplows now passing by clearing our street and piling up snow in front of the driveway entrances. We need our plow driver soon so K's caretakers can have a shift change.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Nordstrom attack by Trump

We are moving into the realm of ludicrous now.  President Trump attacked Nordstrom for not ordering the Ivanka Trump clothing line for the season.  They said it was not selling well enough.
Trump sent his own personal tweet and then forwarded it to the POTUS account.  This is blatantly mixing personal business with the Presidential office.  It is petty and immature.

One could guess that he needed to take a time out from attacking the judiciary.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

"Want Not", an exceptional novel from Jonathan Miles

This book was published in 2013.  That was not a banner year here and somehow it was missed at the time.  His first novel, "Dear American Airlines", from 2008, had been a wonderful find then but Miles somehow fell off the radar screen until recently.  It was a treat to discover "What Not", even though late to the party.

Miles has a talent for both astute observation of our world and a way to look at it with finely tuned humor.  "What Not" details the lives of three sets of different people that are interacting with their surroundings in parallel ways, not remotely in the same way but thematically similar.  Talmadge and Micah are a young couple, squatters and dumpster divers on the lower east side of Manhattan, with vastly different backgrounds.  Elwin is a college professor of applied linguistics in a state of mid-life decline --- significantly overweight, deserted by his wife, trying to humor his dying father in a nursing home, and on a national task force that seeks to find ways to mark hazardous waste isolation sites that would exist for thousands of years.  Dave, Sara, and and their teenage daughter Alexis are a wealthy but dysfunctional family supported by a predatory debt collection business whose goals have to some extent been achieved but leaving the daughter completely frayed.

These stories become intertwined near the end of the book, but are linked throughout in their relationship to "stuff", what we own, store, save, hoard, seek, steal, hide, adore, and waste.  The story of Micah and her migration from an isolated upbringing in rural east Tennessee to India, San Francisco, and New York amazingly seems completely possible.  Talmadge's journey from Ole Miss frat boy to Burning Man burn out to the lower east side exists in this book as not improbable.

The other two stories had their own quirks, somewhat normal people leading stressful abnormal lives. To say it all comes together would be incorrect, but the direction is clear.  That's a preferred guess and up to the mind of the reader.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Super Bowl coming up...

Today's big American game is coming up in just over an hour.  We will be tuned in to see what Lady Gaga does or says at halftime and what other musicians may join her, to see George and Barbara Bush handle the coin toss if they are able, to listen to the cipher in chief Mike Pence say something meaningless to whoever puts a mike in front of his face, and to check out the commercials, especially the ones in which small companies blow their annual marketing budget on one spot.  There is the added interest in seeing if any company's ads do anything to offend the hyper-sensitive Trump.

The game may be interesting if it is close.  Football is not followed closely here and to the extent it is done, it is by reading not watching.  The local, from the historic point of view of Long Islanders, Jets had a horrible year and are sticking with their failed coach and management, and the city fan's Giants teased but did not deliver.  If Atlanta gives us a chance to watch what would be an upset of New England, that would be nice but not necessarily enough of a hook to stay in front of the television consistently.

If the game entertains, we're with it.  If not, there is a near brilliant book being read that is 60 pages from the end.  It will be a good night.

Postscript:   The first half was watched dutifully here, a Honda ad especially liked, and then Lady Gaga was exceptional.  Took a break and spent time communicating with others on the computer and then rejoined the game at the end of the third quarter, luckily.  What a game by Brady and company. Flawless execution.  One observation --- the owner of the Falcons and his wife came down to the sidelines at some point in the second half.  He was extremely well dressed and clearly ready to be depicted as part of the victory.  As things began to fall apart his wife's concerned looks at him were telling.  What was he doing there, other than proclaiming victory too soon.  Everyone had to notice. As if Tom Brady needed more incentive and the Falcons needed more pressure to close, Arthur Blank chose to attract attention to his own misery.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Peggy Noonan's straightforward look at the Trump chaos

Peggy Noonan's opinion column in the Wall Street Journal can at times be entertaining, but rarely is one agreed with.  Today's column is telling as it comes from this former Reagan speechwriter and highly connected conservative commentator.  She writes, "Last week's executive order on immigration continues to reverberate.  There was no Republican in Washington - not one, on the Hill or within the party structure - who did not privately call the order a disaster."

She writes about the chaos caused by Trump's multiple announcements, lack of coordination with agencies that  relate to whatever he is doing or saying, and his constant poor choice of words, such as the "go nuclear" advice to Mitch McConnell when pushing the Supreme Court nominee.  Says Noonan, "No president, ever, should use those words in public; the Senate should ban that hideous, he-man, drama queen of a phrase."

While viewing the nominee as qualified, Noonan viewed the announcement "in the august East Room as lowering, undignified, not right."  Despite that, attacking this highly educated and literate nominee in a knee jerk way by Democrats is a battle that will be lost, and should not be fought.  She did not say that exactly, but it is the thought here.  There have been many instances where justices have evolved once on the Court, and Neil Gorsuch has the seriousness of someone who could.  He is likely the best nominee that we will get from Trump, and completely alienating him from the outset is a bad idea.

On another front, Howard Stern, a long time friend of Trump who often was on his show, said two days ago that being president will be "detrimental to Trump's mental health.  He wants to be liked, he wants to be loved, he wants people to cheer for him."  Continuing Stern said that for Trump running for president was "a cool thing to do."  On Stern's shows Trump and Stern often talked pretty much like Trump's highly publicized conversation with Billy Bush, just not quite as explicit.  Stern more or less said that Trump did not expect to win but wanted the publicity for business purposes.  The fraying of Trump may already be evident, as twice yesterday in announcements Trump unequivocally said his word "bigly", aka big league.

So here we are. The craziness will continue.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Trump, more than 1400 days...

It is daunting to think that we have more than 1400 days left for Trump to seek attention.  Some seem to think that what is going on now with the new administration is due to the transition and everything that is required.  The view here is that Donald Trump will look for attention getting opportunities each day and every day for the next four years.

He is addicted to hyperbole.  Everything that existed before him is a "disaster" and anything that he wants to change will be "totally destroyed".  He will "do a number" on Dodd Frank.  The disease is apparently contagious as Nikki Haley will "take names" at the U.N.  At the National Prayer Breakfast this morning he chose to talk about his great ratings on "Celebrity Apprentice" as compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "weak" ratings now.  He is addicted to bragging about himself, at a church sponsored celebration of prayer?

The media is trying hard to treat Trump normally.  In particular the cable news networks have added inexperienced panelists that are Trump supporters or apologists to almost every program. Newspapers and television would like to think that the chronic lying and the attacks on our allies are just something that he needs to be weaned from as he puts the campaign in the rear view mirror.  That is not going to happen.

In the true spirit of this morning's breakfast, should we pray for this incredibly needy, delusional, and isolated man who the voters chose to be Commander in Chief.  Or should we pray for ourselves?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Equity market takes a necessary pause --- outlook uncertain

Given the strength of the U.S. equity market over the last two months, the decline on Monday and the continued pause today is necessary.  Investors should take a break and assess what's happening.  If markets get too far ahead of themselves, a fall can be more uncontrollable if it eventually comes, and it will.  A correction would be normal, a collapse would be damaging.

It is realized that the potential for corporate tax cuts, regulatory relief for certain industries, benefits for companies that have been hurt by foreign imports, and a more business oriented administration is credited for the ongoing creep up of the stock market after the election.  That may be, but it is also due to the fact that corporate earnings have stayed on track, credit issues in the financial system are minimal, and employment tightening indicates that small business is beginning to have a long awaited revival after the recessionary years.  All of that is due to Obama policies coming to fruition.

The hope that many investors have for the Trump administration is beginning to be tempered by a realization that there will likely be a negative incremental impact in the global markets if the Trump commentary on trade, protectionism, tariffs, currency manipulation, border taxes, and immigration all come to fruition.  Trump boasts about delivering on his promises, and he has got his hand on the throttle of turning his campaign words into action.  This is beginning to unfold in an incoherent way was no seeming overarching vision.  If it continues in this manner,  uncertainty will lead to a slow down in cross border activity and communication, a higher cost of capital in the U.S., and perceived higher degree of risk in international investment.

Both Trump and Bannon's unpredictable rants that have undertones of militarism and can be bellicose, and the "America first" refrain continues to reflect a nationalist throwback.  All of this is counter to what has led to a global economy that has over time led to global growth.  Global growth has led to a growing middle class in many countries, and that is good for world stability and trade.

When this uncertainty gets reflected in the equity market is not known, but if the pace of  incendiary Trump commentary continues it surely will.  Trump's tendency to insult other countries willy nilly as if his words can be taken back the next day with no consequences is bizarre, but we should expect no change.  He is uncontrollable and careless.

This is all being assessed by financial markets now.  The outlook is uncertain.  As difficult as it is to time markets, waiting to make new equity investments may be prudent now.

"Becoming Warren Buffett"

This program on HBO last night was an exceptional documentary.  It was a candid look at the famous investor's business and personal life.  It gives a picture of a driven and focused investor who has a self-deprecating sense of humor and an intellect's enjoyment of life.  It's a film that has personal lessons for all if they want to hear them.  His dedication to philanthropy as he got older and after his wife's death is a key part of his persona now that is covered.

It can be expected that the program will be aired frequently in the coming weeks and give more viewers the opportunity to see an interesting life lived with relentless but low key passion.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The diplomacy of the new U.N. ambassador?

Nikki Haley made her debut at the U.N. yesterday with a splash, or a belly flop.  Speaking to reporters there, standing in her knee high black boots with stiletto heels, she threatened the world in American vernacular saying that the U.S. is "taking names" of anyone that does not "have the back" of the United States.  Nice start Nikki.  Did you go back to the playbook of your last home state extremist superstar Lee Atwater to come up with that?