Monday, October 16, 2017

Hillary's ambition remains

Hillary Clinton had a lengthy interview with Fareed Zakaria yesterday morning on CNN.  Tonight she will be on Stephen Colbert's "Late Night" program.  On April 7th of this year there was a post here remarking that Clinton was beginning see herself a leader again, and suggesting that she back off.  She of course would not have seen that suggestion, but if others had the same thought she did not listen.  It seems apparent that she is positioning herself for whatever may come.  That "whatever" could mean that she is setting the stage to be drafted back into the fray, no matter how much she wants to project the view that she does not want in.

It's an old ploy in many circumstances.  The fear is that she will undercut others who could grow into a greater role in the party.  She would be the best thing that could happen to Trump if he still remains President in 2020.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Can the equity market stay the course

The equity market's equanimity is beginning to seem a bit far fetched.  Sure, overall earnings growth for firms broadly is forecast to continue but at modestly diminished levels and while the market p/e is relatively high, it is not in the kind of completely unreasonable territory that proceeds a dramatic correction.  On November 10th, 2016 there was a post here entitled "Equity market is a measure capitalism but not of civility", and that seems to remain the case.  Trump's ending of health care subsidies for the poor and his ongoing actions through the tax proposal to bolster the wealth of 10% of the 1% do not seem to affect the markets.  The thought here is that Trump trauma eventually will be seen as negative.  Consumers will be impacted over time so the economy will as well.

While credit has become more accessible, it is not yet our of control.  Residential real estate credit exposure is stretched in areas that are the most prosperous.  Commercial real estate in global urban centers may be in danger of some retrenchment, aka losses in the medium term, but it's not yet underway.  Credit card debt keeps rising while auto loans are at nose bleed levels, but auto is not a market that is so large as to sink any major financial company.  If any of these areas begin to see some sharp deterioration, the market would come under pressure.

The thought here is that at some point before the Christmas season there will be a correction in the market, at least enough to scare away some traders that have become complacent, or are having too much fun.  Overall equity exposure is still being selectively reduced here, but new names are added from time to time.  Patience with new names is short, and have been backed out of if the rationale for buying is at all in question.

That's it from here, in the game but waiting for a hiccup.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Trump catastrophe?

More and more there are many who wait for the really disastrous Trump mistake.  He routinely makes decisions and says things that are harmful to our system of government, disrupt foreign policy, and even the functioning of his own administration.  That is now almost accepted.  The widespread question has become "when will Trump do something that has widespread damaging consequences?"

The prevailing view has been that the generals, Mattis, Kelly, McMaster, along with Secretary of State Tillerson, will tone down Trump's most troubling rhetoric such that is does not turn into action.  Who else is there to calm and restrain him.  Melania, No.  Pence is the perfect inconsequential sycophant so no help there.  Mnuchin is a transparently opportunistic pervert of sorts who stands for nothing.  Sessions has been neutered.  Haley is an unpredictable lightweight.

Reading Dexter Filkins' article about Rex Tillerson in the current "New Yorker" is not reassuring.  The State Department is still not remotely close to being fully functional and Tillerson is apparently just hanging on out of Boy Scouts' duty.  Other Cabinet members like Pruitt, Ross, and DeVos are busy reversing Obama initiatives but are non-entities on bigger issues beyond their purview.

There are questions now about whether Trump will let Tillerson go, and what that will mean for the generals whom seem bound to the President out of loyalty to the country and not its leader.  Could this all unravel?  Are there others like Corker, Collins, Murkowski, and McCain who will step up and say what is on the minds of many?

This is becoming an increasingly alarming situation, and while we could wait quite a while for a catastrophic mistake, when it comes events may unfold much more quickly than would be expected.

Getting Trump out of office is necessary.  There is a constitutional way to do it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Proctor and Gamble apparently stops Peltz

The attempt by Nelson Peltz to be elected to the Board of P&G appears to have been narrowly defeated.  It was a poor decision by P&G to try and block him, and they spent millions of dollars of shareholder money doing so.  Peltz is surely an activist investor, but he was not pushing to break the company up or do something radical at the moment.  What he wanted was more aggressive management and to run the company as three separate but joined units.  It was a reasonable goal.

P&G is a conservative company in a conservative town.  It has been immensely successful but whether it is being run in an efficient manner is open to question.  Companies have personalities and they change slowly if at all.  When calling on P&G in the mid-80's, they treated me as a leper since the bank that I worked for was going through a challenging time.  They had agreed to see me but this arrogant treasurer proceeded to lecture me in a hostile manner about my company, as he was concerned about bonds that they owned.  My role as a contact for equity investors was ignored, so I eventually stood up and thanked him for his time after briefly disagreeing with his all encompassing trashing of my company.  I walked out, the only time that was ever done when visiting a company.

P&G likely needs Peltz as their insularity is a company tradition.  Certainly they are frightened that Peltz may be right and that running the company as three units could lead to an eventual break up of the company into three free standing businesses through spin-offs.  That could be beneficial to shareholders, but also to employees who would be judged and rewarded based on their more discreet company's results.

This is not over.  Look at how defeating Peltz eventually worked out for DuPont.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Senator Corker speaks the whole truth

Kudos to Senator Corker for speaking out so clearly about Trump.  Almost everyone in Congress and the media tries to dance around the dysfunction that clearly marks this President as unstable and dangerous.  Corker went straight at it.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Watching an NFL game...

Today an NFL game is being watched for the first time this year.  The NFL is attractive when one or both of the home teams, Jets and Giants, are doing well or when the playoff games begin in December.  At the moment by that standard, the regular season looks already washed out here.

Watching the Jets play the Browns is excruciatingly boring.  I had been up early this morning, already fixed lunch, and was ready to sit back for a rest.

Staying awake was the main challenge.  The Jets are 2 and 2 on the season and the Browns 0 and 4.  So far it seems amazing that the Jets have won two games, as reading newspaper accounts had already suggested.  At halftime the Jets are up 3 to 0, have displayed a terrible offense and repeatedly committed fouls, often completely unnecessary on defense.  The Browns punch through the Jets defense through simple runs, short passes, and the benefit of the fouls, but have come to nothing through  fumbles and interceptions.  They have missed two field goals.

This is a poorly played game that should be an embarrassment for both coaches five games into the season.  I may check back in towards the end of the game to see of there is any drama to be had from the Jets.

Meanwhile the Giants and the Chargers are squaring off on another channel, both teams 0 an 4 on the season, and that game seems lackluster as well.  Here I have only seen parts by changing channels during advertisements but the excitement is missing.

The looked forward to distraction may not be forthcoming this season.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

The frivolous twit is at it again

Saying before a group of U.S. military leaders and the press that "Maybe it's just the calm before the storm" and when asked by several reporters "What storm?",  this superficial and self-centered oaf clearly seemed to enjoy the attention this gave him.  He has no understanding of the impact of his words and what he represents, since he only represents himself.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Comments on the October 9th "New Yorker"

"The New Yorker" magazine is looked forward to each week, with almost all issues being reasonably interesting and others being completely absorbing.  This week's issue, only partially read, has been compelling in various ways.  "The Financial Page" written by Sheelah Kolhatkar at times makes interesting points, at others just obvious ones.  The current article attracts as it is partially about a company that I once covered in my early days as a commercial banker, Anchor Hocking in southern Ohio.  The glass making corporation was at that time a large small town company, the dominant enterprise in its area.  What was once a laid back company that always made me take a few samples of their products with me has apparently been through multiple financial changes over the years.  It serves as an example of the disruption communities and people have felt that contributed to the era of Trump.

"Boundary Issues" by Jon Lee Anderson, subtitled "Can Mexico come to terms with Trump?", details the interaction of Trump and his more constructive subordinates in the State Department to maintain positive relations while dealing with the tirades of the President.  One paragraph had the comment that "Trump's thinking is very simple, and comes from a concept called mercantilism", a protectionist doctrine that has been assailed by econmists since Adam Smith.  "He is also a physiocrat, which means that services don't count.  The U.S. has a very large surplus globally in services.  But, if you can't see or and kick it, it doesn't count for him."  Well put.

"The Takeover" by Rachel Aviv, or "How senior citizens could be getting conned", looks at how guardianship is being used, in Las Vegas as an example, to takeover the assets of elderly people under the guise of helping them but clearly as a con job perpetrated by corrupt social workers and judges.  It has apparently been rife in that area, but the article says that such abuse is prevalent in other areas that attract retirees, like Palm Beach, Sarasota, Naples, Albuquerque, and San Antonio.  What is detailed in the article is appalling, all the more so because much of this theft is deemed to be legal.  Having seen a family guardianship managed blatantly in an uneven way, that predators are taking this practice a step further by assuming guardianship for people they don't even know is not all that surprising.  It raises the alert here when at times there can be several calls a day from "house repair people" of various sorts offering their service or even saying they are coming for their regularly scheduled appointment --- for the furnace, the gutters, etc.  All bunk, but not funny when you think about it.

In "The Critics" section there is "Touching Souls" by Dan Chiasson, a review of the new biography "Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell".  The review gives much more information about the singer/writer than was known here and make the book sound worth reading.  Of note, the article begins with a sequence in 1969 on Matala Beach in Crete, a beautiful and intriguing place that Kathy and I visited in 1982.

That's it.  There's more in this issue that will be read.  I just needed to have a post here to verify that I'm still alive.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Ken Burn's "The Vietnam War"

Like many people we watched PBS every evening over the last week to see the public debut of Ken Burn's Vietnam documentary.  As troubling as it was at times, watching seemed mandatory.  There were two strands of thought going on here...following the events as told and interpreted by Burns and remembering what was being thought by me and my friends at the time.

About 15 years ago I read, or  reread, Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" and was impressed by how explicit the book published in 1955 was about American involvement in Vietnam at that time.  The commitment had already been made.  Though often completely misguided, successive administrations continued the commitment based on a view of geopolitical struggle between communism and democracy.  What Burn's film make extremely clear is that once Nixon became President that mistaken rationale was no longer in play.  The decisions to continue and heighten the carnage made by Nixon and Kissinger was based on almost solely on U.S. domestic political issues.  The extent of that change was not clear at the time, at least not to me.

Another aspect of the documentary was the development of the strategy employed by North Vietnam and their coordination with the Vietcong.  From this perspective at the time and years afterward as well, it all seemed like barely managed chaos on both sides.  The film to some extent reinforced that thought on the American side with the seeming strategy of fighting battles for no clear reason other than to win and highlight the advantage in body counts and then give up the territory gained.  On the anti-American side the film detailed the approach of fighting battles in outlying areas to pull U.S. troops further away from Saigon and other strategic areas in order to stretch the resources and create vulnerabilities.

Above all though, the film highlighted the personal impact that the war had on individuals on both sides and on that small country's society.  It also detailed what all people alive at that time remember as a significant impact on U.S. cohesiveness at home.  From a personal perspective, I remember having moved to D.C. for college in the fall of 1967 and finding only one person in my dorm hall who also wanted to go to the October 1967 demonstration at the mall and Lincoln Memorial.  The other vivid memory was driving back from a rock festival in Florida at the beginning of December 1969 and listening on the car radio to the birthdates of draft sequence being read.  During 1970 and 1971, tear gas was inadvertantly experienced several times, on the Mall, in the Georgetown downtown area, and even on campus.  What a time of chaos and commitment by many.

Burn's documentary brought it back.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

When Trump does not get what he wants...?

Yesterday Trump discussed the tax plan that will be proposed by his administration.  Simplification is definitely a positive aspect and the long outdated elimination of the AMT is welcome(that mainly affects the upper middle class and definitely not the 1% according to my understanding but reports today suggest that it affects the very wealthy as well. I do not understand that and think that the reporting is incorrect) The specifics of what will benefit the middle class are few, while some specifics of what will massively benefit the 1% are, such as complete elimination of the estate tax.

Some aspects are obviously political.  Elimination of the deductions for state and local taxes will significantly raise taxes for many in states like New York and California and in large cities around the country in high tax states.  These are areas that are not part of Trump's base and it is unlikely that they ever will be.  This will offset some of Trump's proposed cuts, but the specificity is clear.

What should also be clear is that tax reform is a highly complex process.  Trump's comments yesterday made it seem like there will be a bipartisan package agreed upon soon.  That possibility is remote, even among the Republican caucus.  It would be shocking if this could be a 2017 event, almost impossible.  Unless Trump decides to come up with an infrastructure package that would be  likely to gain bipartisan support more quickly, he will end 2017 with no major accomplishments.

While government functionaries are making many changes that are consistent with a new administration, like them or not, there is no immediate buy-in to major Trump initiatives in Congress.  An example is the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approving a $51 billion budget for the Department of State rather that the $37 billion the Trump forces had requested.  Trump's proposal had dramatic cuts in necessary components of U.S. foreign policy activities that would have been harmful, even dangerous in some cases.  It is reassuring to see instances like this where the Trump cabal is thwarted.  Obviously Trump has little idea of the impact of some of the proposals that are put before him.

This week we saw Trump campaign for a Senate candidate in an Alabama Republican primary who lost to an even more right wing evangelical that will be a challenge to any moderation that McConnell and Ryan want to project.

Where is this post going?  When do we get to the point where Trump's frustration leads to an action meant to divert attention and force the country to stand behind him?  That's an old trick used around the world by unpopular leaders.  That makes Trump's fascination with North Korea and Iran more troublesome.  At least that's a concern here.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trump's hour and a half rant in Alabama yesterday

Trump was at his unscripted worst in the mostly friendly state of Alabama.  It's hard to think of a group that he did not insult.  He is unstable, uninformed, and horribly biased.  The one thing that we cannot do is get in the mode of saying "that's just Trump".  He is dangerous.

His comment on the few NFL players that choose to kneel during the national anthem was outrageous and irresponsibly crude for a President.  Let's see if there are many many more "kneelers" tomorrow.  Lebron James' tweet in response to Trump's comments about Stephen Curry was classic, the best thing ever seen from him.  Find it if you can.

More to come...

Friday, September 08, 2017

U.S. Open tennis

Wednesday night's post looking forward to the upcoming semi-finals for women and men worked in a way.  The women's commentary did not predict anything, but the comments played out.  Looking to the final on the women's side, the comment on Wednesday that Stephens "does not go away" was completely accurate and that may well by the deciding factor in the finals.  Keys played one of the most consistent matches that she has ever produced against strong competition so "her personality" may be forming as well.  To complicate matters in the final, they are best friends on the tour.

Whether Del Potro can succeed in pulling off his disappearing act for the third match in a row is unclear.  That he could do that against Nadal is unlikely, but we will see soon see...

Very soon after postscript --- It was unlikely.  Wednesday prediction on the men's stands.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

U.S. Open tennis --- women's semi-finals

Having an all American semi-finals in the women's draw at the U.S. Open was completely unexpected.  It is so stunning that the media has yet to fully appreciate how unlikely this outcome was.  With American men's tennis in a prolonged doldrums, U.S. tennis excellence in recent years has been maintained primarily by the Williams sisters.  Now this.

Venus Williams at 37 is playing a veteran's game.  Her skills are still strong but no longer dominant, while her approach to matches is impeccable.  She plays as if a match is an ongoing mosaic, point by point, game by game.  Every piece has a meaning.  Patience will be rewarded, but if not it will be accepted.  Coco Vaneweghe is not a reliably good player from tournament to tournament, not at all, but the majors have been her place to grow this year.  She plays with an unbridled enthusiasm that works with the crowd and shows how much she enjoys being out there.  Sloane Stephens is making a comeback from injuries and from a certain malaise following her success in her rookie season in 2013.  Her game is steady, close to boring at times, but she does not go away.  Madison Keys is viewed here as the most unlikely semi-finalist as her performance literally can vary from game to game.  By the time one of the challenged announcers has finished explaining why she is faltering, she is back on track.  She is growing into her personality as a player, whatever that may turn out to be.

Nadal will win the tournament on the men's side.  He is in his usual fine physical shape.  His occasional lapses in momentum can be overcome and he is by far the most talented player remaining.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Calvin Trillin stays in fine form

To "The New Yorker" readers, 81 year old Calvin Trillin remains someone whose articles are immediately read when they appear.  To readers of "The Nation" his Deadline Poet column is reliably there for each edition.  While he is a serious man, his deft touch with humor is unique.  This week's New Yorker has a new article, looking at both the past and playing with his grandchildren today.  The following excerpt is a perfect example of this style.

"I had reached the age at which one's children begin sentences with the phrase "You are no longer allowed..."  This phrase of selective prohibition began a few years ago with my adventure on an exceedingly long, steep slide near Abigail's house, in San Francisco.  Another visitor to the slide had presented my grandchildren and me with some waxed paper; sitting on it, she suggested said, would enhance the experience.  When I gave it a try, I found myself hurtling toward the bottom at a speed I later estimated to be between sixty and seventy-five miles an hour.  My landing didn't seem to cause any injuries, but I understand for the first time what the football announcer means when he says something like "Manning was shaken up on that play."

Monday, September 04, 2017

Trump act is appalling

Trump's repeal of DACA after a six month period reflects his thoughtless and reprehensible agenda. This does not represent the view of the majority of American people, at least I surely hope not. Today's Congress can't unzip it pants in six months so new legislation is unlikely to be passed in time.  If this is his action tomorrow,  Trump is the real heartless bastard.

Absolutely nothing needed to be done.  Don't listen to the cloned Trump apologists now on many cable news programs.

U.S. Open Tennis 2017

This year's matches at the Open have occasionally been interesting to watch even at this early stage. Most notable and entertaining was the first set at night in the round of 32 between Nadal and a talented young newcomer. Of course Nadal won after the first set loss, but it was obvious that his entourage thought that they should already be heading back to Smith and Wollensky in Manhattan mid-way through the match.

The Open is played nearby, 20 minutes on the LIRR to the site.  We went every year until recently, myself often multiple days during the early rounds when walking from court to court to watch new and old talent was enjoyed immensely and it was uncrowded.  The concessions as depicted on television were as plentiful then as now.  The atmosphere was relaxed and it was not uncommon to bump into friends from the past, especially as my former employer remains the major sponsor.

Federer tonight.  He could be vulnerable here despite his remarkable year at age 36.  Five setters are not good for him.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Trump's ego is his only driving force --- everything is personal

When he took office, Donald Trump immediately withdrew the United States from the TPP, the largest trade agreement in history that joined together 12 nations.  It had been years in the making. The withdrawal was based on his opinion and not on any discussions with state department officials, the military, or other nations.  There were those in the business community that thought his action had merit and could have led to some renegotiation, but there was not a dialogue or an attempt to change OR modify the agreement.

 A few months later he pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords, a consensual agreement among most countries on earth that was to be monitored but was non-binding.  That too was based on his opinion plus that of his adviser at the time Steve Bannon. There were few if any discussions of consequence with others.  That too had been a historic agreement that had taken years to patch together.  Congress had no advise and consent role in either action.

At times he seems driven by his dislike of Obama and the fact that the former President, among other things, made fun of him at a dinner in 2011.  That is why DACA, one of the most broadly endorsed humanitarian acts of recent times that reflects American values, may be in trouble.

Trump clearly believes that as President he is personally free to do anything he wants and in significant ways he has succeeded.  His habit of early morning tweets to say whatever is on his mind, as if he were casually bantering with the public, further reflect his complete self absorption and lack of understanding for what his words as President of the most powerful country in the world mean. This morning's tweets on North Korea were typical and were dangerous.  In them he somehow chose to insult our strong ally South Korea in a way that infuriated that entire country.

Trump seems to have the mind of a child.  He has to tweet or talk.  What he thinks, he says at once without consulting anyone.  It is a distinguishing characteristic and it will not change.  It is obviously not appropriate behavior in his role.  Ultimately this trait will end his presidency and that cannot come soon enough.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Vice News on Venezuela

Friday night Vice News programs have one or two extended features rather than a focus on the day's news.  Last night's program was on the political crisis in Venezuela.  It was exceptional reporting with footage not seen elsewhere.  It will be repeated over this weekend so can still be seen.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Solar eclipse tomorrow...

Over the 12 years of this blog's existence, seeing a total solar eclipse in 1970 has probably been written about four or five times if not more.  Any good excuse to write about that amazing experience has been taken.  That total eclipse was seen on Assateague Island off of the coast of Maryland, looking over the ocean.  Those couple of minutes of darkness with a panorama of colors on the horizon remain hard to describe.  Anyone with the opportunity to see tomorrow's event should do so.

47 years ago it was not such a widely heralded event.  The sand parking lot that we parked in was full but accessible.  Today it's a major event.  Even Royal Carribean Cruise Line has promoted a Total Eclipse Cruise.  The advertisement says "extraordinary partial views".  For their information there are no partial views that are especiallly meaningful.  Only being in the total zone provides the true light show.

We were in London in 1999 during a solar eclipse, but there it was not quite total.  The glasses were required and the event was notable as the sky darkened and the wind picked up, the birds grew eerily quiet, and it became cool.  But, there was nothing dramatic like being in the total zone.  After preparing the girls for something as least partially dramatic, it was a letdown.

To anyone reading who has the opportunity, get to the total eclipse area, get a view with a long perspective, and hope for clear skies.  It will be worthwhile.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"American Fire", a tale of arson on the Eastern shore of Virginia

The subtitle of this book is "Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land".  It is written by Monica Hesse, a Washington Post feature writer who turned an initial story in the Post into this book.  It is about an area in the north of Virginia's Eastern Shore, one that is completely rural and far removed from the prosperity of its 19th century plantations and even its 20th century poultry processing factories.  It is also totally unlike its southern neighboring Eastern Shore county Northhampton which has retained some wealth from the past.

Accomack County is a place where people are casual and it seems that everyone knows everyone else.  This story is about Charlie and Tonya, a couple who would be obvious misfits in most places but were just part of this rural community of people who were mostly raised in the area.  Those who are not native were welcomed but years were required before they could be viewed as anything but outsiders.  Charlie and Tonya's quirk was that they enjoyed burning down buildings.  This is not a spoiler as the book is not a whodunit.  Rather it is more of a look at the how and why a half year spree of burning down over 80 empty buildings took place before they were caught.  The fire department stayed busy and regional media was attracted to the story.

At times the book edges toward trying to a modest version of "Hillbilly Elegy", but then backs off of anything political or topical beyond the impoverished area that is the setting.  At others it gets sidetracked into trying to create a fable like Bonnie and Clyde, but after four or five pages on that it gives up for obvious reasons.  Hesse spends time on generalizations about human behavior but there is little that is insightful about her commentary.  The core of the book is a simple tale about a rural community that has few aspirations but many simple satisfactions for the people that choose to live there.

This book was widely reviewed so it is assumed to be a publishing success.  It is really a hugely stretched out feature story filled with characters that are mostly forgettable once the book is put aside.  Yet it does resonate in its own way,  like driving down a remote two lane highway in rural Carolina or Virginia and seeing the old tobacco barns still standing and an RC cola sign tacked to an abandoned general store.  It is about an isolated world that exists on the fumes of the past while absorbing the drugs and bad television of the present.  In this story, a limited young man's infatuation destroys his life and it is unclear whether he cares.

"American Fire" is at its best when it sticks to a straightforward and observant tale of a rural area that for many would otherwise be unknowable.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Stocks fall as unhinged Trump finally rattles markets

The market has been incredibly resilient this year in the face of Donald Trump's rants and tweets, but today it noticed.  With the collapse of two business advisory counsels of CEO's and Trump's inability to stay on the message of his economic plans, the skepticism that he can deliver anything to investors of consequence is growing.  If there is no tax plan and no infrastructure spending plan, and with anything of consequence in healthcare already sidelined, the administration is in trouble.  Trump is more focused on trading insults with real and imagined adversaries than in governing.  His reaction to the events in Charlottesville has been disheartening even to many of his Republican supporters, and an embarrassment to this country in general.

Among stocks followed closely here, only Pepsi, Berkshire Hathaway,  Boeing, McDonalds, Proctor and Gamble, and Costco escaped today with just minor losses.  Otherwise it was a broad and significant sell-off.  Without any major economic event as an accelerant, it is expected that equities will steady tomorrow but that the Trump dump will be in place for now.  If he cannot calm the ugly Trump down, the decline could continue in a meaningful way next week.  His toxicity is spreading to the market.

Kenneth Frazier's notable courage

Before the moment completely passes, it is appropriate to recognize the first CEO to demonstrate backbone by action and not just words and confront Trump by resigning the American Manufacturing Council after the President's heinous remarks about the Charlottesville events.  Early Monday morning, Kenneth Frazier of Merck stepped into a spotlight that his Board, his employees, shareholders, and his clients would share whether they wanted to or not.  He could not know at the moment that he resigned what the response would be.

Within an hour Trump went to Twitter and blasted Frazier, apparently thinking that this prominent black CEO was out there on his own, wink, nod.  He was not and others followed slowly at first and by Wednesday the Council was collapsing, as was the so-called Strategy and Policy Forum.  Steve Schwartzman made an effort to salvage what he could for his long term business friend Trump but, being the amoral realist that he is, quickly gave up and reported the facts to Trump.  Trump then pretended to disband the councils of his own volition.

Frazier had a stellar background of legal public service before his business career, and he took a risk that could have been magnified by his background.  He was quickly and unequivocally vindicated.

Postscript:   It should be noted that Elon Musk resigned from the Strategy and Policy Forum earlier in the year, in a less charged atmosphere, due to Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. Who can forget seeing Trump outside of the White House reading a script written by Bannon about which he obviously had no understanding, as the withdrawal was announced to a group of sycophants on the lawn.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Generals in place

When Trump began appointing military generals to top positions in his administration, the first reaction was that doing so just bolstered his maladjusted macho ego.  To have these experienced senior officers reporting to him was proof of his omnipotence perhaps.  Their qualifications for the nuanced responsibilities that they were given was hard to discern.

Now with General Kelly as Chief of Staff, General McMaster as head of the NSA, and General Mattis as Secretary of Defense, it can be viewed as reassuring.  Their military training and ingrained obedience to chain of command had been a worrying aspect of their appointments at first but now they could be, it is hoped that they are, a formidable layer of restraint for an embattled President.

While North Korea is off of the front page for a day or two, that issue has not gone away.  Should Trump decide to take the focus off of the self-inflicted chaos that keeps building on the domestic front by creating a crisis or worse in Asia,  it is expected that the generals will provide much tougher conversations than Ivanka, Jared, or Melania.  Whether they will need to step in and stop the President from some rash move is unknown, and they will certainly try to keep everything behind the scenes.  With these generals, there will be no hysterical "I am in control" speech as delivered by Reagan Secretary of State General Al Haig.

Their presense gives the impression of adult supervision, and hopefully that thought is correct.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"Sonny Boy" by Randy Newman

For those who receive "The Daily" e-mail from the New Yorker online, today's August 15 edition has a treat.  It's a music video of a song from Randy Newman's new album, "Dark Matter".  After watching the news, it lightened things up, and it's so nice to hear the familiar Randy Newman again.

Scaramucci and Colbert

Anthony Scaramucci's decision to be on Steven Colbert's show last night was an expression of his extreme confidence, cockiness, or recklessness.  While he noted at the outset that Colbert had promised that there would be no "gotcha" questions, Scaramucci was quietly humiliated by Colbert's straightforward approach.  It is unclear if Anthony realizes what happened, and maybe that attribute has been a is key to his success.

When Colbert asked direct questions about Priebus, Bannon, and issues related to his brief tenure as communication director, Anthony would begin to equivocate.  Colbert would interrupt and ask "but what would the Mooch say?"  Then a direct answer would follow.  Anthony made sure that he was known as the Mooch from the outset when his mixed reception at the start from the audience led him to say that those must be "Mooch" as opposed to the few boo's that they were.

Bizarrely Scaramucci engaged in a back and forth about his remark to Ryan Lizza that Bannon was hiding in his office "sucking his cock".  Colbert questioned whether Anthony could do that and how. It was an odd moment in the extreme with Anthony looking perplexed that Colbert could ask that, but then came back with an Eddie Murphy quote that showed he was prepared to deal with the comment. The quote --- "if I could do that I would never leave the house."

The worst moments of the Mooch's performance were when he praised Trump as a compassionate person, a wonderful person, in a tough situation as he had given up his life of luxury to be President of the United States.  Anthony surely thought he could schmooze his way through this interview, and some may think he did.  In this day and time when Donald Trump became President, it could be that Anthony was right.  He got that attention he wanted and among supporters the cred for showing up.

On the other hand, he could have been viewed as putty in Colbert's hands.  When asked at the end if he would encourage other Trump administration members to come on the show, he emphatically said yes.

Postscript 8/16   ---  On reflection, and knowing Anthony's resilience, could he like all of those who surround Trump have actually been speaking to Trump through his appearance on this program?  Will he be back?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Vice News on Charlottesville

The Monday Vice News tonight focused solely on the weekend events in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The continuity of a straight half hour of reporting was a relief from the piecemeal news accounts of the last 36 hours, both because a story was told and because it needed to be a program with no repetition.  Most of the news to date had really been less than ten minutes of footage.

There were interviews with a couple of rigidly alarming extremists, right wing zealots with guns.  It is a given that there are crazies in the white supremicists ranks, but as leaders proud to be interviewed?  The most interesting take from the Vice News program after everything that had already been digested here was how anti-semetic the thugs were.  It was clear from the outset that they were vehemently anti-black, but only through their constant chants could they underscore how much they hated Jews, blamed Jews, for whatever their miseries are and slights they have experienced.

Those interviewed professed in convoluted ways some sort of world views, and the best comparison to whatever they were trying to say was neo-Nazism.  They really seem like extreme fringe groups that should be monitored.  If they are not on the fringe, we have big issues.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Michael Lewis writes in Vanity Fair about Trump's attempt to dismantle a cabinet department

In the current Vanity Fair, September issue, Michael Lewis is given 12 pages to detail what's going on at the Department of Energy under Donald Trump and Rick Perry.  It is a well done and incredibly important article, but for starters it must be said that neither Trump nor Perry have the slightest idea what they are doing.  That probably did not need to be said.

From this perspective Lewis's piece is a thorough description of the responsibilities of that department.  The extent of what falls under the umbrella of Energy is extensive.  Everything from protecting the electrical grid, guarding the nuclear arsenal, assessing the nuclear threats of North Korea and Iran, plus of course the important but in comparison more mundane regulation of oil, gas, coal, wind, sun, and water power sources.

There was almost no effort at a transition under the Trump/ Perry "leadership". Seven months in, the department is hugely understaffed, new appointees have few qualifications for their jobs, and the professional staff is either leaving or hanging on with low morale. The extent of the damage will only be known in a crisis and no knowledgeable observer wants to see that.  The exact title of Lewis's article is "The 5th Risk".

While what is going on in this department is frightening, this could be an example of what is happening in many departments.  Appointments in the State Department, even ambassadorships and senior consuls, have been taking place so slowly that it is unlikely that many positions will be filled by year end.  The only department that most agree is up and functioning is the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions as it aggressively cuts back on civil rights for many Americans.

Reading Lewis's article is suggested...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A look at the past...Greece and Istanbul 1982, Part 1

In late 2016 a daughter asked that I write about some family history.  On 10/28, 10/29, 11/6, and 12/8 of last year that was done, but there's much more to tell about the days before children.

As a relief from the news of the day, this looks at a trip and by Kathy and me to Greece and Turkey in 1982, following a trip to Paris the previous year described in the 11/6/16 post.

We flew into Athens on a late summer day, had dinner in Piraeus after being almost assaulted by multiple restaurant employees trying to drag us into their restaurants as we walked through the harbor.  I did not remember that experience from 1971, but after all I did not look remotely prosperous at that time.  We had a wonderful meal.  The next day we did the usual and startling sightseeing and museum touring, plus Kathy did some jewelry shopping at a store near our hotel where the local silver jewelry enchanted her and was not expensive at all.  Without the pubs of London or the cafes of Paris or the chairs in shops, I stood outside and wondered why I was there.   The next day we took a short flight to Crete.

As I understand it, Crete and the rest of the Greek Islands are today overwhelmed by Brits on holiday, an unattractive phenomenon known especially in Greece and Spain.  In 1982 that was not an issue. Crete was a phenomenal place to visit.  We landed in Iraklion and found a nice small hotel with a fine restaurant.  Ordering dinner is when we realized that anything on this large island was affordable, as in cheap, by the standard of the American dollar at that time.  I am embarrassed to say now how much that freedom meant to me.  For those who know my background they know it was totally  new.

Renting a low mileage light brown Datsun the next morning we headed out.  First to Knossos, the supposed center of a great Minoan civilization that was viewed by some as the root of all spiritual knowledge or others as the lost civilization..  Nice ruins, no reawakening.  I adored seeing the place.

We drove east and stopped first in a village on a cliff over a beach.  The consummate shopper Kathy was overwhelmed with the shops of art objects.  Me too.  I bought a woven painting that was incredible and upon arrival home was promptly given to Kathy's sister by her mother... I remember that... and it is probably in a basement storage areas somewhere.

After that was the peaceful beach in Sitia in the east and then two days in Ieapetra, a beach town of sorts where as always our accommodations were fine, a marble encased place that was the only one like it.  It was strange but we were tired.  Our room had a large second floor balcony overlooking the sea.  We went out one night to one of the recommended restaurants in town where Kathy's fish was fine but my decision to order the most expensive steak was ruined when halfway through I learned that it was horse. Tough but ok with sauce.

All of this travel was done with a map but that didn't  mean that the red line on a map meant roads. In that part of Crete then it meant dirt and rock paths, sometimes fording small streams.  That Datsun was a workhorse, so to speak.  We have a wonderful photo of Kathy sitting on a rock over a great view on one of those paths.  I always thought that we were on the right path or else didn't care at all whether we were or not, and Kathy just trusted this travel style that she had never experienced.  I dealt with her shopping expeditions and expertise in the artistic and she dealt with my willingness to get lost.  Foreboding what...

More to come...

Saturday, July 29, 2017

McCain, and the Republican Health Care bill collapse

In fact, there were more than a handful of Republican senators other than Collins and Murkowski who had serious problems with the proposed health care bill but lacked the fortitude to cast a deciding vote.  Would anyone?  John McCain returned from his surgery and on the initial vote said yes to a continuation.  On the deciding vote despite "arm twisting by his peers, Vice President Mike Pence, and even President Trump could sway him"(NYT quote) and he voted no.  That did it.  Even Pence and Trump, Pence the mindless and Trump the malicious, couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The big story is not the backbone and integrity of McCain, but that is one for the record books.  The real story is how spineless much of the Republican Congress is in the face of the bully Trump.  Who wants to risk the wrath of someone who has no limitation on what he might say about a fellow party member and who would clearly put at risk the state focused priorities of a member of Congress. Witness the attempt to intimidate Murkowski on the eve of the vote with threats from Trump's interior secretary about programs in her state.

Trump is projecting the demise of Obamacare as some of its programs collapse, and they will if there is no support of its funding.  Many Americans will be hurt while Trump will watch and gloat.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Scaramucci meltdown

In the post here on Tuesday, the ego fueled meltdown that Anthony Scaramucci had in an unsolicited conversation with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker was not anticipated.  Less than a week into the White House Communications Director job he seems to have imploded.  While, as mentioned in the earlier post, I had at times regular neighborhood contact and in more recent years around town "hellos" occasionally with Anthony, I have not seen him in several years.  I clearly do not know him as well as I thought, or he has evolved in a strange way.  His background is different from Trump but his current behavior seems identical.  He is delivering the Trump message in a crude way that Trump himself would hardly dare to do in public.

More to come....