Monday, February 29, 2016

What could be written to lighten up today's politics?

That question came to mind here today.  Scanning the archives of Eyes Not Sold, I found a post from May 2008 that fits the bill for the most part, almost depressingly showing how little things change. The excerpts from P.J. O'Rourke were good for a laugh here, one that was needed.  See if they work for you.  The link is

(sorry, the link does not work so it will need to be typed in, or go the the archives for May 22, 2008)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The difference of a day

Last night at 9pm an "In Performance at the White House" program on PBS focused on the music of and memory of Ray Charles.  This was the first time that this program had been aired.  It was a series of wonderful performances by some artists not known here and others well known, all backed by a 17 piece Ray Charles style band.  Notable here were Usher, Brittany Howard, Demi Lovato, and Sam Moore, still around and still compelling, "Hold On...".  Others were exceptional but names are not available as sitting with a pen in hand while enjoying a program is a good way to ruin the experience.

The program reminded me of people that I miss and enjoyed music with for many years, in particular my parents.  It is possible that I was dehydrated by the end.  What little nitpicks that there were here are not worth mentioning.  It was a joyful evening in the White House with all in good spirits, especially the musicians, and with the decorum that the setting deserved.

The night before at exactly the same time I was watching something else.  That was a group of candidates running for President behaving like politicians in a struggling and fractious Eastern European kleptocracy.  Their attention seeking jibes, constant negativism, pompous rhetoric, mean spirited self promotion, and joyful venom was quite a contrast from the White House performance. The explanation by some will be that this is a competitive political campaign, so "what do you expect?"  That is understood to some extent, but it seems that we could expect a least a modicum of decorum from the major candidates running for the office of President of the United States.  The whole world is watching.

To say the obvious, what a difference a day makes.

Friday, February 26, 2016

169 Bar

For those of you with access to "The New Yorker" magazine, we particularly liked the "Bar Tab" column on page 15 of the February 29th issue.  The 169 is on East Broadway in Chinatown, just beyond the area where tourists fill the streets and feel within the safety of their guidebooks.  I have seen the current New Orleans style edition of this more than 100 year old dive bar and noticed little real difference, after occasionally dropping in over many years for a few minutes of refreshment.   I guess it was the crowd that seemed the same when last there four or five years ago. The small review suggests that the bar has moved somewhat upscale, but far from completely.  It's a good laugh at the end, especially as one reads the writer's name.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Equal media treatment for the candidates?

One centerpiece of the Republican message often seems to be that the "liberal media" does not treat them fairly.  When comparing the everyday treatment of Donald Trump to that of Hillary Clinton, one could question that Republican belief.

Watch the town halls and debates.  Clinton is always asked by a moderator, fairly soon into a session, about the e-mail controversy as if it is a possible catastrophe or a threat to her campaign.  It seems that the most important fact, that no one disagrees with, is that none of the e-mails that were received and retained on her main server were highlighted as classified when she received them.  She will patiently wade through the same complete answer, but she can't adamantly say it will not surface.   That is because James Comey, the Obama appointed FBI Director,  who is very proud of himself but is not as bright as he thinks he is, came from a background in the Bush administration, and wrote part of his final college paper seriously discussing Jerry Falwell.  When he recently linked Poland to partial responsibility for the Holocaust, he created a rift with one of our closest allies in Europe. Poland was such a victim of WWII, and his statement was wrong.  He would only apologize in a brief note and when speaking always somehow managed to defend himself.  How can such a supposedly well educated man be so uninformed about history.  It can be noted that as his presidency has gone on, Obama has treated subservience of an appointee as seemingly the prime criteria.

On many issues, Clinton, with her long history in the spotlight, gets the hindsight focus on any decisions.  Libya is a prime example.  At the time, if anyone remembers, the U.S. participation in the Arab spring events there were actually contained.  No troops or advisers went in and the air campaign was with a broad coalition.  Some in Congress wanted a much more aggressive response.

After Trump's run-in with Megyn Kelly in the first debate, moderators seem to be timid in their initial questions to him.  Trump has more baggage than the Olsen twins checking into a hotel.  What about Trump University, the phony college that he set up in 2005 promising to bring riches to those who signed on for the $35,000 or more one year course.  His pitch was that he had designed the program and had chosen all of the "teachers".  In fact he had not done either of those things, it was not an accredited "university", provided no degrees, and has been sued by New York State.  It apparently still exists under another name but since 2011 has been inactive.  The lawsuit continues.  Has one reporter brought this up in a debate or town hall?  What would they do if Hillary or Bill Clinton had been involved in such a fiasco, or scam?

Trump acts as if the bankruptcies of four of his companies over the years is not meaningful.  He notes first that he never went into personal bankruptcy.  He also notes that everything he did was legal and that bankruptcy is just a business tactic.  Is it ethical or anything to aspire to?  Don't loads of people, as in employees, bankers, and investors, get hurt.  He is allowed to get away with the most superficial of answers on this.

This could go on and on...  When Trump is treated with kid gloves and Clinton is given a skeptical reception to many of her thorough responses, is this unfair "liberal media"?  One could suggest so but not in the way the Republican whiners believe.

Is "lame media" really the right term?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Watching the Politicians

Last night's town hall meeting on CNN had individual one hour sessions with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, and provided one stark contrast that has not been mentioned in the media seen here.

Bernie Sanders spoke with bluster and belief, and repeated everything that he has already said many times.  That is not to say he is just a "one issue" candidate as the Clinton ad says but he certainly has a main issue.  For someone who has followed this political season far too closely for good mental health, there was not one thing that he said that was not expected.

Hillary Clinton spoke with an intensity that at times was a bit too strong, but also with belief that one could not doubt, belief that she should be President.  When not fending off adversarial questions from the CNN moderator and answering real honest questions from the audience, she responded with plenty of facts, some of which could not have been anticipated.  Many of her responses were informative and did not revert to a predetermined script.  That led to a much more worthwhile viewing hour compared to Sanders, which was pretty much of a yawn.

As to the Republican morass, the phenomenon of Trump just keeps going.  If the unattractive Ted Cruz would just have the "integrity" to drop out and allow for a competitive race that would test Trump, it would be more interesting.  Of course, "integrity" is one of the Cruz campaign's key words, and the opposite of how he manages his campaign, so there are no expectations for that.  He awaits Texas.


Monday, February 15, 2016

"Vinyl", the HBO film

The best things about "Vinyl" were the opening and the closing, which feature live shots of the New York Dolls in the `early 1970's.  That was a time to remember.  In the 1970's when that "vinyl" was bought, I was living in Goshen, Kentucky and was afraid that someone would think I was some kind of deviant if they knew about it.  I was a teacher, for goodness sake.  The music, of course, was incredible, and I saw David Johansen many times once that I lived in New York, me at 50th near 2nd and his main place Tramps at 17th between 3rd and Lex.  Not a bad late night walk when sleep wasn't coming on from the banker's life and I knew that David, Buster Poindextor, or Albert King, or Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, and others were just a half hour city walk away, a five minute cab ride if I could afford it.

"Vinyl" was enjoyed here.  It had the rat a tat tat style of Mick Jagger diction, and so much of it was totally familiar from that time.  I have no understanding of all of the timid reviews that were seen beforehand and even now.  The show wore down a bit by the end, but overall it was better than almost any television.  It was fine.

Russia blacked out again

Here at Eyes Not Sold, Russia has been blacked out again.  With over 400 distinct pageviews in the month(that apparently does not mean reading it but initializing the page so it can be sent or printed), there were none in the last week and a half.  That makes no sense unless there is a block.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Full martial arts debate

After a late night and a late sleep, and before reading anything else written, I want to note that last night's so called debate by the Republicans was more like a full martial arts fight between four combatants with two irrelevant referees staying out of harm's way.   More later...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

B.B. King and David Bowie

Two new music documentaries were watched here last night.  The first was part of the "American Masters" series on PBS.  At first, the thought was that more information on B.B. King was not needed here.  I was lucky enough to see him a number of times over the years.  It would have been a big mistake to act on that thought.  Much of the film was focused on King's early years and his early influences, bringing back names that were known but not often thought about now.  That will send me down to the basement this next week to my turntable and album collection to have listen to Muddy, Sonny, Junior, Buddy, Albert, and others, that is if the weather improves and the electric heaters downstairs can do the job.

It was interesting to see that King's first performance before a predominantly white audience was in 1968 at the Fillmore West, much later than would have been expected.  First seen here at the Fillmore East in March 1970, King was the headliner along with Taj Mahal and John Mayall, not bad starters.

The second music film was "David Bowie: Five Years", also on PBS here.  It focused primarily on Bowie from the years 1977 to 1983, a period when he went from being Ziggy Stardust to an American style soul singer with Luther Vandross as his back-up, to Major Tom, and to the singer of the pop songs "Let's Dance" and "China Girl", and plus other personas.  Early on in the film it occurred to me that Bowie was the Andy Warhol of rock music, somewhat on the outside, always creating, always reinventing and, far, far more than Warhol, doing serious work.  That was a new thought here as I had not been a devoted follower, maybe a thought well known by many, and in fact the narrator of the program voiced that opinion as the documentary concluded.  Like many artists, Bowie went through periods of great productivity balanced by periods of seclusion.  He stopped making music or performing in any way from 2007 to 2013, just led a regular life in Manhattan not seeking attention.  Supposedly he lived in the east '60's. Toward the end there is a short clip of him and his wife in a standard deli somewhere in the city saying to each other, "We lead a nice life."

Two fine documentaries in a row were enough for a good night.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Oil and financials lead market declines

The impact of oil company stock declines has clearly begun to wear on financials in the last month. That fact is well known.  Both sectors are dragging the entire market down.

Oil and energy in general are a large sector of the U.S. and world economies.  As the price of oil declined in 2015, the markets wanted to think that the positive offset of lower consumer prices would not lead to any significant impact on the U.S. economy or financial markets.  The last two months of continued oil price declines far beyond what was widely expected have for the moment put an end to that effort to put an optimistic spin on what is going on.

The decline in oil prices is now seen is an indicator of slowing global growth.  Whether that is broadly true or not is unknown, but it is surely the fear.  Supply is no longer seen at the major culprit. The focus has now shifted to demand.  The oil business in the U.S. and globally is a major source of well paying jobs and that is under stress, and the decline in jobs is becoming significant.  The profitability of companies in the energy businesses is forecast to continue to decline and the many tangential businesses that are vendors to that industry will suffer as well.

The consumer is apparently taking the money that would otherwise be spent on energy and prudently saving it, or spending on somewhat mundane but necessary things like education expenses, debt reduction, retirement plans, and, more constructively, cars and trucks although that seems to be topping out.  More expansive spending of this oil price windfall is not happening, and the once expected heightened money supply churn is obviously not occurring either.

How is this causing such market stress for financial stocks, especially in the banking sector?  Reading market commentary today, there can be seen lots of comment on the flattening yield curve and the possibility of or in some places reality of negative interest rates.  That will crimp the profitability of banks' lending books and deposit gathering costs, and the situation is getting more difficult.  This could be a structural problem that will play out over the much longer term.  That is, however, unlikely to be the cause of the extreme pressure that bank stocks have been under in recent days.  The achilles heel of bank stocks has always been credit, and that is the concern of the market's lead steers.  What seemed like routine financing of many energy related companies is now beginning to look like it could be a problem, not for the huge companies so much as for the many mid-sized companies that are more credit dependent.

Banks in general are well capitalized, but investors seem to be taking no chances.  By most measures many bank stocks look like major bargains, but the market is only thinking defensively for now.  We watch, and probably wait patiently.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bloomberg time?

Recently there was talk that Michael Bloomberg was considering an independent run for the presidency, and his advisers were working on an analysis for him.  Aren't the results of the first two primaries leading to the exact situation that would cause Bloomberg to take a chance.

Trump or Cruz as nominees of the Republican Party and Bernie Sanders as the nominee of the Democratic Party is exactly the scenario that caused this speculation.  Bloomberg could spend $1 billion on a campaign and not miss it.  If one of those three were destined to be President, how could an effort by Bloomberg harm anything?  He is intelligent, experienced, and never has been either a dedicated Republican or Democrat.  He was highly successful as the mayor of New York, a tough city, for three terms.  While the odds would seem very long for him in much of the country now, if the established parties tore each other apart in the general election it is not impossible in 2016 for Bloomberg to have a chance.

Thus far in fact, almost anything seems possible in 2016.

Last night's election results

The polls were right in historically unpredictable New Hampshire.  Trump's supporters turned up at the polls and Sanders overwhelmed Clinton.

The Republicans now move on to South Carolina, a state that will be a big test of how the candidates will fare in the South, where many states will be contested on March 1.  The big questions are how Trump capitalize on his win in New Hampshire and whether he has the ground game and infrastructure to do so, and whether Cruz's extreme right wing views and his evangelical support can take hold broadly in this more conservative region with, some may say, many closet right wing racists.

Trump will need to spend more money to build his staff and infrastructure there quickly.  Relative to other candidates, especially Rubio and Bush, he has spent his own money sparingly to date.  He obviously has relied on social media and the press to give him extensive free exposure.  Believe it or not,  some would question whether Trump has the liquidity to substantially support his campaign as much as he suggests.  Outside reports have stated his net worth at $4 billion and he has claimed it is a least $10 billion in various reports.  Whichever is right, like most aggressive real estate developers, his assets may mostly be tied up in his not so liquid business.  That has been the case in the past and there is no reason to think that anything is different now.  His political campaign is said to have damaged his business brand and the economy may be stalling.  Can he ramp up spending as much as almost everyone thinks he can, or as much as he says he can?

That said, the scene at Trump's victory speech was just golden publicity.  On the stage with this thrice married man who looked so awkward and lonely when going to church in Iowa, were most of his family good looking family being completely supportive.  He was mostly thankful rather than boastful, but he couldn't help himself on the latter point completely.  Words aside, the appearance of that family support was almost stunning when compared to Trump's lone wolf persona.

Rubio was obviously the big loser among the Republicans.  Only Christie thought Christie had a chance to stay in this race.  While Bush stayed solidly in the race, South Carolina, where W will join him on the campaign trail, will be a big test for him.  Kasich likely has little support in the South, so he will be hoping to raise enough money to be able to compete adequately when the campaign moves to the mid-west.

For the Democrats, South Carolina must be a starting point for Clinton's appeal to a diverse voting base.  She needs to get her campaign house in order and stress issues, not focusing on transparent appeals to various voter groups as if they can be manipulated.  Whether Sanders can build support in the South beyond white liberals and youth is not known.  If he can even be close in South Carolina that would be a huge positive.

Enough for now.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Waiting for New Hampshire

The American tradition in recent years(and in the lifetime of all millennials) of having two lightly populated states set the tone for the beginning of the presidential primaries is certainly interesting and certainly odd.  New Hampshire will report results tonight, and it is unclear whether the results will be especially meaningful, interesting yes, but game changing?

On the Democratic side, the polls suggest a large victory for Bernie Sanders.  If Hillary Clinton is even close that would be considered almost as a victory for her at this point.  She is back on her heels and her campaign has done nothing to help her in recent days.  First, Bill Clinton broke his leash three days ago and made some impolitic personal remarks about Sanders.  Second, Madeline Albright's remarks about women being almost required to vote for Hillary were way off base, and Hillary having a good laugh on the stage with her over that was not smart.  Why seek to intimidate a voter base two days before an election.

Clinton's habit of yelling her speeches is truly annoying to many, even some of her supporters.  Does she think that she is a powerful speaker?  Even her husband had a cadence in speeches of balancing speaking strongly with speaking conversationally.  The contrast with Sanders on this quirk is huge. He is for the most part conversational and low key, with the exception of when he voices his extreme view on the financial industry.  He has no sense of balance on this issue.  Nevertheless, in this state where out of state voters can show up and claim that they are moving in and get the opportunity to cast a ballot, the bash Wall Street youth support for Sanders will likely be strong. South Carolina will become ever more important for Clinton.

For the Republicans this will be the second test of whether Trump supporters are dedicated voters, or more entertainment seekers who enjoy having someone famous doing their venting for them just as incoherently as they would.  It is suggested here that the polls will once again prove to have exaggerated Trump's voter support at the polls.  Ted Cruz's posture as the consummate cool liar may or may not catch up  with him here.  He claims to have massive grass roots support, a figure that can easily be manipulated(average contribution is one aspect of this) and cannot be verified(see January 27 post here about Cruz's real funding from a handful of fringe right wing billionaires to his PAC).

His claim that he had no knowledge that his staff was calling their supporters and others to let them know that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race in the next day or two is preposterous.  Anyone who has ever worked in a large organization in this country knows that the most senior person calls the shots unless they are totally out of it, and whatever one thinks of Cruz he most certainly completely dominates the running of his campaign like the debate stylist that he is.

For Jeb Bush this vote is essential and without a meaningful participation in the results he should pack it in, except that he still has money.  It is unlikely that Christie, Carson, and Fiorina can retain their support without a decent showing.  Their funding would begin to evaporate.  The focus on Rubio's scripted speaking in a debate and his glib approach to issues has been the case all along, but Christie forced viewers and pundits to notice.

Those are just a few thoughts as we await tonight's results.  Tuning in around 9pm should be about the right time to hear the beginnings of something meaningful, but if the turnout is large it could be a long night.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The possibility of Bernie Sanders

We await the results of the Iowa caucus with great interest, knowing of course that it has not been any reliable indicator of the national results in the past.  New Hampshire has a much better record of doing that but it is also far from perfect.  With the number of Republican candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire, the field will likely narrow, as funding will dry up for those who are furthest behind.  For the Democrats this turns out to be possibly a crucial test for whether Bernie Sanders has a chance against the establishment endorsed Hillary Clinton.

For what it's worth, and it may be huge, Sanders has plenty of money for the long haul.  He is relying on small donors, not PACs, to fund his campaign, by one report at last count over 750,000 donors, giving more than 3.2 million unique contributions. Those people will likely caucus and those people will likely vote.  They are taking money off of the kitchen table to vote for Bernie.  What happens if this topsy turvy event continues.  The establishment says that Bernie cannot possibly compete as a presidential candidate against the Republicans.  By God, he has admitted to being a socialist.

This is an unusual election season and there is no limit right at this moment on what could happen.  If somehow a Bernie cascade develops and he becomes the nominee, still a big long shot, would he be able to compete?  The answer is yes.  All of the supposed Hillary supporters that she almost owns would have nowhere else to go.  If by any wild chance Cruz were the Republican nominee, who would the blacks and the Spanish speaking immigrants vote for.  The answer is any Democrat in mass, Bernie obviously included.  His tax proposals would certainly need to be adjusted for a national campaign and they would be to some extent.  He is obviously still a politician and he has pushed Clinton so far left that if nominated he needs only to endorse her proposals now to seem more flexible.

We await tonight's results, expecting a Clinton win in Iowa.  If Sanders wins, then, as they used to say in hockey games at the old Madison Square Garden in midtown, "Katie bar the door".  I know what that means but can't explain it.