Wednesday, March 30, 2016


A post yesterday had observations about these two candidates and their political side.  As an added bonus, this comment will focus on personal traits, and this is pure opinion.

While Trump by temperment is totally unfit to be President, as a person he is not completely unfamiliar.  I have had friends with a number of his characteristics, though none with his degree of narcissism.  These few friends have been unpredictable, at time unreliable, and among other traits may have been often subject to having strong and even offensive opinions, or easy to get into trouble with, or in the wrong mood hostile to anyone in sight but, in the right mood, all smart as hell and lots of fun to be around.  Leading somewhat wild lives, two are no longer with us, one has been missing for years, and one other continues life on the fringe.  In looking for friends of Trump, the New Yorker Talk of the Town found Richard LeFrak, also a billionaire scion of a New York real estate family.  He said, "Being friends with Trump is like being friends with a hurricane."

Cruz is not someone that could ever be related to here.  He gives the appearance of perpetual manipulation, as if his entire life is one big debate to win.  An alter-ego of one of the people referenced in the paragraph above could be like this, saccharine personality with managed facial expressions to match, but he had more personalities.  Cruz seems not to be varied.  By all accounts he is a mean person to deal with, and one whose only concern is personal, and that is winning.  There has never been a friend like that here, but it is easy to think of a handful of once required contacts in the hedge fund industry that "impressed" me in that way first hand, and standing one's ground was the only choice.

I guess the point to this is that with all of his flaws, and there are many, Trump seems human and is clearly someone willing to change his mind depending on the situation and the time of day.  Cruz does not seem genuine.  He obviously enjoys the fact that Trump, in retaliation to an action by a Cruz PAC, dissed his wife with that photo, as it gives him a chance to be self righteous, he who just a few days ago suggested widespread profiled policing of all Muslim communities.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cruz Trump

The Republican party has given our country a difficult final pairing, if that turns out to be truly the case.  Following Trump had at times been entertaining, but that is now beyond old.  Trying to listen to Cruz and accept him as a genuine person is almost impossible.

Donald Trump is making an effort to say at least one provocative, thuggish, irresponsible, or boastful thing a day, anything that will keep him in the headlines.  He is succeeding.  It is possible that he has peaked too soon, but how many times has that been said by how many observers.  His comments on other countries and foreign policy are particularly objectionable, and not all wise, as other countries are more sensitive about what he says in that arena than most Americans are.  Of course they are.

When Trump makes comments about Japan, South Korea, NATO, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Belgium, or any other country, what he says is highlighted in the media there.  He is not yet President and it's highly unlikely that he ever will be.  How could he be so blind and arrogant as to give off the cuff remarks about issues about which his real information is limited.  He is dangerous now here and abroad.  Here, if he helps those feeling frustrated and left out of the electoral process get more involved, that's not all bad. If he makes many others feel threatened or abused in doing that, that is all bad.  What a creep, but some would answer that comment by saying "at least he's our creep."  Not here.

Cruz has run a campaign that is so disingenuous, full of half truths, and unethical political trickery that it is difficult to keep up with.  Unlike Trump, he maintains either a serious demeanor or one of practiced charm at all times. Yet, the policies he favors are off the charts right wing anti-government, anti-regulation bromides. His ideological sincerity is questionable, and his real intentions seem to mirror the economic and social intentions of his closest financial supporters.

How many key supporters he actually has is unclear.  It is clear that literally just a handful of Koch related billionaires first funded his large PAC, and that he was checked out by them in early 2014 in meetings.  Once that core PAC was formed, it can fund other related smaller and differently named PACs that spawn by intention.  It is interesting how Cruz has rarely mentioned the word PAC, except in saying that he has no knowledge of them or control of them.  He was there with them at the outset. One could guess that as he watched Bernie Sanders, he all of a sudden, and it was all of sudden, began talking about the 1.5 million individual contributions that he has received.  Those can be manufactured and those cannot be verified.  There is no real evidence that there has been such an outpouring of energy for Cruz.  But modest Ted thinks he can lie at will.

There is enough that has been written about all of this.  Finally something needed to come from here, if only to relieve the tension.  Now said.

There was a post about Ted Cruz on ENS dated October 5, 2013.  Check it out in the archives here, and it will all sound familiar even if from back then.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tax time

It took about five hours yesterday and most of this morning simply to find, assemble, organize, and thoroughly check all documents necessary for our accountant to do our family's tax returns.  It's almost impossible to believe that until four years ago we did not use an accountant.  That's stubborn for you.  "I should be able to do my own taxes!" was the thought.  It was something along the lines of huffing and puffing and saying that any American should be able to...

This is an interesting time for voters to go through this process.  While Congress absolutely never does anything to simplify the process or correct obvious problems like the AMT, the candidates all have something to say about it.  Ted Cruz's ludicrous idea of abolishing the IRS and having some sort of regressive flat tax might seem appealing to some at the moment.  Bernie Sanders' idea of raising taxes on many might not, but it's possible that it would not bother his constituency, just maybe the parents of that group.

The only thought here at the moment is "what a relief" it will be to pass the baton on to a CPA.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Dear Chairman"

The subtitle of this recently published book is "Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism".  The author is Jeff Gramm, not previously known here, and his book cover bio states that he manages a hedge fund and is an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School.

The book is written in a clear and informative style, and not in a patronizing or pedantic style as some investment books seem to be.  In fact, it is not an advice book at all.  It is a linear history of a series of events in which dissident shareholders of companies seek to influence or change management of companies for various reasons.  They do so with different motivations.  Many like Carl Icahn seek influence solely for a relatively short term profit, no matter what they profess.  A few like Warren Buffett do so because they believe that a company has significant long term value but needs a nudge at a present time.  There are some who take action both because they want a profit soon but also because they are incensed or offended by the self serving or stupid actions of a management team. There are many examples touched on in the book, but eight of these events are highlighted in detail.

Much of what is in this book can be familiar territory, but even so it is interesting, maybe even enhanced if one has prior knowledge.  There are lessons learned here that a reasonably experienced investor might already know.  Still the stellar writing and easy storytelling make this a worthy read for those with an interest in this.  If some millennials known here had an interest in this field at any meaningful way, Amazon would be delivering the book to them on Monday.  That could change.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

NBC news website is a wasteland

The two top articles on the NBC news website at the moment are one, a Paul Ryan comment about not running for President and two, a Caitlyn Jenner comment saying that she had not really endorsed Ted Cruz.  Is this serious.  Is NBC just a tabloid like the Sun in London.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Prominent Saudi responds to Obama criticism

It was reported today in The New York Times that Turki al-Faisal, a Saudi prince, former ambassador to the U.S., and former head of Saudi intelligence services responded negatively and forcefully to President Obama's claim that Saudi Arabia was a "free rider" on U.S. military support. This is yet another instance of Obama feeling the need to publicly chastise a long time ally in order to support his supposedly pristine personal reputation, aka his legacy.

The rebuke from al-Faisel in the English language Arab News is worthy of note.  He was a graduate of the class of 1968 at Georgetown, along with his good friend Bill Clinton.  al-Faisel has maintained the close friendships that he made in college with many of his friends, not only Clinton but also a U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, and others who rose to success in the financial world.  That he would choose to, or be chosen to, write this lengthy piece defending the Saudis against the Obama administration is evidence that Obama is continuing to squander any mainstream support that the U.S. once had in the Arab world.

The article is on page 10 of today's New York Times.

NBC news leads with "Trump charges considered for inciting a riot"

Last night, NBC Nightly News led with a story that the Cumberland County North Carolina sheriff was preparing to charge Donald Trump with inciting a riot.  That was at the event where a protester was being led out by police and he was punched while defenseless by a member of the audience who was obviously a Trump supporter.  The police action was to shackle the protester who had fallen to the ground from the force of the punch, and to ignore the assailant.  It should be obvious to all that, under pressure from his actions, the small town sheriff was trying to divert attention away from himself and his department.

As it turns out the sheriff was quickly overruled in his rush to judgement.  PBS News Hour, a much more substantive news program than NBC, did not even mention the possible charges in the next hour of programming.

Donald Trump is completely unattractive, but a move like that by NBC almost plays into his hands. On the eve of today's primaries, leading their news program with a highly exaggerated report is unprofessional.  It is easy for Trump to point this out to everyone who will listen, and many will it seems.

Monday, March 14, 2016

"And Then All Hell Broke Loose"

This personal account of the conflicts in the Middle East over the last 20 years is written by Richard Engel, the NBC News foreign correspondent who has primarily focused on this part the world during that time frame.

The story of his news coverage exploits is unequivocally compelling reading whenever they take center stage in the book.  Engel also makes it his job to give the readers what could only be called, more or less, a history of Islam, and tie that to recent events.  It's an interesting effort, and depending on one's prior knowledge it is either a good reminder or great background information.  One aspect of this is a stretch of sorts.  At times, Engel seeks to tie the global intellectual ascendancy of Islam in the 11th century and the Ottoman empire peak in the 17th century to the alienation that the militants of today feel.  Familial thoughts passed down and subconscious inclinations may exist, but it is hard to see anything like that kind of perspective as a possibility in the minds of the pathological killers that claim ISIS as their brand.  They may act like medieval zealots, but they live in and are solely part of the present pathos, depressingly so.

Engel is one of the few foreign correspondents in any part of the media that has maintained one beat for so long.  Choosing the Middle East as his specialty over 20 years ago, he has had no shortage of opportunities.  Here, NBC nightly news is chosen almost solely for the opportunity to catch one of his reports.  It's certainly not to hear Lester Holt read the news and now be pumped up by the network as some sort of interesting or insightful character (he does however seem to be a good character) that is a cut above anyone else.

Given his experience, Engel takes the opportunity to often give his opinions on what has happened during during his tenure of coverage.  Those are mostly thoughtful, but there is nothing that falls into the realm of real unique insight.  It is as expected from a smart and informed observer.  A really odd thing about this book is that these opinions are repeated almost word for word in multiple chapters. It's as if each chapter was written as a standalone journalistic piece for publication elsewhere and the patched together articles did not receive an edit from someone with a single book perspective.  That and the fact that a conclusion for the book barely exists, as it simply ends with only few overarching comments and no speculative insights about what lies ahead means that the book ends with a whimper.

Was there a rush to get this book published, or just no idea what to say about the next step.  And if a rush, one could wonder what Engel or the editors think is on the horizon that would require the urgency to avoid a comprehensive edit or write a more multi-pronged and provocative conclusion.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The problem of North Korea

In the debates between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, there has been a recurrent discussion of involvement in "regime change" in the past and the subsequent unintended consequences in many cases.  On the face of it, in recent years the U.S. has made a complete mess in this area, most notably in the entire episode of Iraq, as well as one in one in Honduras that a constantly reminds me of, which is ongoing.

North Korea is potentially a huge problem.  Its only significant ally is China, and while it is clear that China wants to maintain North Korea within its sphere of influence there is increasing evidence that China is not comfortable with the governance and provocations of Kim Jong-un, the 34 year old "supreme leader".  Nor should they be.

In the New Yorker book "The 40's", which is a fascinating and large compilation of many of the magazine's features during those years, the entire full issue article of "Hiroshima" by John Hersey was included.  Read, maybe skimmed, in college, a reread recently was compelling and disturbing, and that was the least advanced nuclear weapon ever made.  To think that this type of weapon is now in the hands of the immature, supposedly already alcoholic and diabetic Kim Jong-un is unnerving.

As is widely known, North Korea is more of a closed cult than any other nation on earth.  It is said that the people there have been so completely blocked from access to the rest of the world that when they occasionally find something on the internet or elsewhere that shows them a different picture, they believe that is propaganda designed by another nation to influence them.  An amazing book about this is "Without You, There Is No Us" by Suki Kim. The book has been commented on here previously, and it details a year that she managed to spend teaching in the country.

The book conveys the fact that the "supreme leader" is truly thought to be, learned to be from birth by the public, someone with near divine powers and enlightenment.  His word is revered and what he says cannot be questioned.  Kim Jong-un has by some accounts had over 70 top officials in the country executed in his short reign, for reasons mostly unknown.  It seems clear that he cannot be questioned by anyone, and no one is likely to even dare think of a coup.  That would not only be dangerous, but also could topple the apple cart of the entire country if the supreme leader were not seen as infallible by the public.

What is clear is that we cannot discount the fact that North Korea has the technology, engineers, and scientists to advance their already well under way nuclear ambitions, despite some of the colossal fiascoes with their missile tests in the past.  This is one thing that they invest in(other than the finest of food, drink, and luxury intems for the absolute top leadership) , far more than in the basics for the general population.

If there were ever an example where regime change would seem appropriate this is it.  Anything the U.S. could do almost certainly must be done in concert with China if that were possible.  They must know, the U.S. must know, where all of their production and testing facilities are likely to be.  What would the world think if one morning we woke up to hear that Tokyo or Seoul had been hit by an atomic weapon launched by North Korea.  The possibility has never been greater than now, with the possibility that their unstable young leader could act on a whim given his growing megalomania.  Do we just cross our fingers and wait?

Postscript:  "The 50's" is another exceptional book of essays published by The New Yorker.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tonight's debate

Last night's Democratic debate was not watched here.  They are frustrating and boring for the most part.  Sander's over the top effort to appeal to or patronize the Occupy Wall Street crowd is simply not believable.  Yet he is doing so much better than expected.  Is anyone asking themselves what kind of cabinet this avowed socialist would appoint?

Tonight's Republican debate will be watched for awhile, for better or worse.  The last Trump presentation on his own not too many days ago was one of a kind.  A product infomercial as a campaign ploy was astounding.  What was written here about two months ago here(2/10 post) about Trump's possibly phantom wealth numbers is now becoming a more widespread thought, and he is becoming more defensive.  Yet he is doing far better than almost anyone expected.   A few days ago Jimmy Carter was quoted as saying that if he hypothetically had to choose between Cruz or Trump, he would vote for Trump.  His attention seeking comments are usually not agreed with here, but I tend to agree with that one.

We will see if tonight's debate turns into an impossible to listen to brawl, or even leads to falling off the right edge of the earth.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

A new low...

After hearing of Mitt Romney's comments today, Donald Trump responded by saying that when Romney was running for President in 2012 "I could have said drop to your knees" to get an endorsement.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

What the Russians say...

The now out March 7th edition of "The New Yorker" has a "Talk of the Town" comment about Alexander Litvinenko's death in 2006 in London, and his wife Marina's effort to keep the story of his murder alive, and keep a focus on the F.S.B. agents who poisoned him, as well as their boss Vladimir Putin. At this point the facts are undeniable but Russia ignores requests for extradition and most recently, in 2013, the British Home Secretary rejected requests for a public inquiry into the death, apparently under pressure from Russia.

A New Yorker article from November 7th, 1953, entitled the "The Old Boys" is initially about Chiang Kai-shek and the leading generals of the Nationalist Army who had settled in Taiwan.  As the article moves along it veers into the direction of Russia's influence in China and on the Communists. The former top general of the Nationalists says to the writer, "What you must not forget  is that the Communists have not stopped cheating you.  They never stop cheating."  The conversation continued and as the writer departed the old general yelled after her, "They always cheat."

Bill Browder's book "Red Notice" is about a fund that he created to invest in Russia during the period of privatization under Boris Yeltsin after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  With funds from Edmund Safra and the knowledge he had gained working on the Salomon Russia desk,  Browder became the largest foreign investor in Russia at that time.  The book describes that initial period of chaotic free market capitalism in which the few people with any understanding of how markets worked, and armed with loads of what would be called insider information in any market economy with rules, had great opportunity.  Former Yukos Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky was one of those self made oligarchs.

As the markets slightly evolved and Vladimir Putin took power, Khodorkovsky and most of those like him were displaced by friends of and proxies for Putin, and the establishment of the full scale Putin run kleptocracy that exists today was put in place.  "Red Notice" describes this period of Putin dominance, one that led to the beating death in prison of Browder's tax attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, who refused to admit to crimes that he did not commit.  That eventually became a "cause celebre" for many who were trying to bring some accountability to the Putin regime, but, just broadly , sanctions, for many reasons,against Russia have yielded little results.  They lead to the deprivation of the Russian people and despite that 80% of Russians maintain a nationalist fervor supporting Putin.

Today, the "truce" in Syria orchestrated by the U.S. and Russia is fraught with problems due to the Russian's manipulation of Kerry and Obama with their constant lying.  As all know, the ceasefire does not include ISIS or al-Nusra, and what kind of ceasefire is that?  Maybe it would have been valuable, but the week before the starting date the Russians, with their presence near Damascus, bombed rebel held areas in Homs and Aleppo at an unprecedented rate and then honored the exact ceasefire date. The Assad government, who Russia and Iran support, has by all independent accounts paid little attention to the ceasefire.  The Assad regime is even blocking much of the humanitarian aid that was scheduled to be delivered during the ceasefire.  Putin magnanimously suggests, in his that the ceasefire is working and with patience will benefit the region.  There is no comment of consequence from the Obama and Kerry team.  In fact, they seem to be mute.

The Russians may not by name still be Communists, but "they still always cheat."

This never ends, and with Putin it is worse.  What about Putin vs. Trump?  They admire each other.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Tonight's primary votes have much to tell us

The polls will close in a few states within 10 minutes.  The staggered closing over the new few hours will keep election watchers occupied with a few main questions.  The first and foremost is whether Donald Trump is actually on his way to a heist of the Republican Party.

Establishment Republicans have worked hard over they years to make their party this vulnerable. They have moved further and further to the right, and on many issues polls suggest that they are well to the right of the majority of the American people, and even to the right of a meaningful minority of members of their own party.  They had become insular and boring.  What better opportunity for a wild man like Trump to take charge of right of center believers who wanted what they would perceive as a forceful leader.

We will see if the realization by Republicans, after South Carolina and Nevada, that Trump can really be their nominee leads to even greater support for him as he gets momentum, or whether many have a "wait a minute" moment and pull back on their support.   As I said recently in an e-mail to friends, "Donald Trump has more baggage than the Olsen twins checking into a hotel."  Of course, I know nothing about the Olsen twins, but I do know that there is so much to uncover about Donald Trump that it probably overwhelmed the other candidates as they would think, "what do I choose among all of this to highlight?"  Until just a few weeks ago they hoped that the problem would just go away.  It has not.

For the Democrats, it is possible that this is a last stand for Bernie Sanders.  If he shows some resilience that would be big news.  Now to the television for a look at what's going on.