Archive for March, 2016

Goldman Sachs

Full disclosure: I am not a Trump supporter. I find his views on Mexicans, Muslims, women and others abhorrent. The Trump (and Rubio) organ size comparison during a nationally televised debate for our highest political office can only be described as an international and historical embarrassment for the United States. With that caveat in hand, let’s look at why the public still supports Trump despite his playing fast and loose the truth.

But first, an old joke or, rather, a little parable.

Two teenager fish are swimming along in the ocean. They pass by an elderly fish sitting on a fish-park bench.

The elderly fish says: “Morning boys. Enjoying the water today?”

The two teenager fish look at each other and quickly swim away without answering.

When they’re well away from the old fish, one of them says to the other: “Man, that old guy was frikkin’ weird.”

The other one replies: “Yeah, say that again. And what the f#$k is water?”

The sheer idiocy of pundits in the mainstream media (MSM), the Right Wing Entertainment Complex, and both Democratic and Republican political establishments has been on full display ever since The Donald announced his candidacy last summer. Now he’s Heir Apparent to the Republican Presidential Nomination. Yet the elites continually wonder why, even though Trump spews half-truths, misstatements and outright lies, his popularity increases rather than decreases.

Can’t the public tell Donald is full of it?

Well, the short answer is yes, they certainly can. And they do. But it doesn’t deter them from either supporting him or voting for him.

So why doesn’t it matter to them?

That is the question that neither the elites, nor the MSM, nor the Right-Wing Entertainment Complex, has been able to answer. The answer is right in their face, but, like the two teenager fish in our parable, they’ve been swimming in it, breathing it, eating it, excreting it and regurgitating it to audiences for so long that they’ve lost all ability to recognize it.

It is the Bull$hit Culture of America.

The American public has been subjected to a culture of pure, homogenized, unadulterated bull$hit for almost 60 years. That’s twice the practical equivalent of eternity. The American people have not had a straight, honest answer or statement from a politician on any important question or issue since Eisenhower gave his Military-Industrial Complex warning in January 1960.

Did anyone notice this trend? Consider NBC’s Meet the Press show back when Tim Russert was host. Russert was one of the very few media types who would press a politician to answer a question. More and more, though, they wouldn’t answer his questions at all. They would give whatever spiel they had in mind, regardless of how remote it was from Russert’s question. Tim Russert, like other media types, was constrained. He had to “make nice” with non-responsive politicians so that they would agree to come on the show again in a few months, or else risk angering his producer. After Russert’s death, David Gregory took over Meet the Press. He was not as talented as Russert, and Meet the Press market share declined. Gregory was replaced.

But the failure of Meet the Press as a meaningful broadcast on political matters is not entirely the fault of Russert, Gregory or others in their shoes. Rather, it’s a reflection of the unwillingness of politicians to say anything of substance at any time because they may want to move away from a particular position later. Or they may be worried about a gaffe that goes viral. In any case, the politician’s objective is to say something and make it sound intelligent; better yet, make it sound patriotic or tough-on-crime. But no matter what the politician says, it is almost always irrelevant to the question being asked as well as completely meaningless.

And network honchos wonder why the audience is shrinking.

The MSM are no longer journalists, as that term was understood during the first half of the 20th century. They either can’t afford to hire, or aren’t interested in hiring, real live reporters to investigate things. The MSM’s idea of gathering the news is to wait around for public officials to make statements, or for lobbyists and political campaigns to send in press releases. Then they report that as “news.” The network’s pundits sit around an authentic Cronkite-looking conference table and interview…other pundits. The MSM functions as a giant copying machine for the American Culture of Bull$hit.

Let’s take a few examples of that culture:

Back when the economy tanked in 2008, and for nearly every recession before that, the government (either the Federal Reserve or the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or some other agency) would announce that we were not in a recession. Millions of people would lose their jobs, businesses and factories closed, but at every opportunity our government would remind us that (according to the GDP numbers, or the like) we were not in a recession. Then the GDP numbers would be revised (Hallelulia!), and government’s line would switch to: “Well, remember when we were telling you that we were not in a recession? Okay, we were wrong. It was a recession. But the good news is, it’s over now!”

The jobs, businesses and factories have never returned. But GDP is up, and that’s what counts in Washington and Wall Street.

They guy who used to earn $22/hour at a factory job, with benefits and a retirement plan, now works part-time at Wal-Mart’s for $7.25 an hour (unchanged since 2009), with no health insurance, no other benefits, and no pension plan. (Go get an IRA!) He probably works a second job at the same rate of pay, also without health insurance, benefits or a pension plan. “But we’re no longer in a recession!” says the Chairperson of the Federal Reserve Board. Why doesn’t that make this guy feel better?

Here’s another one. Inflation has been low for a decade or more, so that has not been too great an issue (except to the Fed, which still fears it even though deflation should be a bigger concern). But for those old enough to remember the heavy inflation days of the ‘70s and ‘80s, inflation was so punishing to everyday Americans that the government had to invent a new piece of Bull$hit Culture called called “core inflation.” In a nutshell, “core inflation” is the same thing as inflation but it excludes food and energy inflation from the index. This allowed the government to give the public a lower inflation number so that the news would not look as bad. And lets not forget that if incumbent politicians can report better economic news, they will have a marginally higher chance of being re-elected. “Core inflation” is a wonderful concept. As long as you don’t have to eat, fill your car’s tank with gasoline so that you can get to work every day (assuming you have a job, that is), or heat or cool your house, inflation was under control.

Here’s yet another example. Back during the Great Bank Bailout of 2008-09, AIG, which as an institution was one of the leading causes of the Great Recession, was bailed out by the Feds. Then, after a $170 Billion federal bailout saved them, the same cohort of AIG execs who had very nearly destroyed the world’s economy all got multi-million dollar bonuses … for their achievements in the preceding year, of course. The public was outraged.

The likes of Tim Geithner and Hank Paulson (himself a former CEO of (yikes!) Goldman Sachs) told the American people, with a straight face, that those AIG execs had to get bonuses to stay at their desks and handle the disaster they’d created. Really? If AIG execs didn’t get multi-million dollar bonuses in 2008-09, they’d leave? Where, exactly, would they have gone to? Lehman Brothers? Maybe Bear Stearns? Far from hiring new talent, at that point investment banks were telling their employees to gather their personal items and clear out. The government’s explanation and defense of these AIG bonuses was so stupid it was embarrassing. Far from deserving bonuses, AIG’s execs should have been grateful for their mere continued employment.

And who could forget Goldman Sachs? This institution, which bestrides the World of Free Market Capitalism like a Colossus (with colossus-sized cojones, in case Trump or Rubio want to compare the size of those things as well) ran into trouble, which it later denied. One Friday Lloyd Blankfein, taking a break from doing God’s work, ran crying to comrade Hank Paulson for a bailout. By Sunday morning Goldman Sachs was a bank holding company with access to the Federal Reserve window for cash in virtually unlimited supply. Presto change-o.

All of these instances can be multiplied, not quite to infinity, but close.

The Bull$hitters of our political elites tell the American people to beware of, and media elites wonder why the American people don’t recoil from, Trump’s Bull$hit. They have no idea how inadvertently hilarious they look and sound.

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There are a few odd parallels between Donald Trump and the Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, more commonly known as Caligula. Here’s a likeness (supposedly) of the late emperor:

Bust of the Roman Emperor Caligula. Note the grotesque hairpiece, antiquity's answer to a comb-over.

Bust of the Roman Emperor Caligula. Note the grotesque hairpiece, antiquity’s answer to a comb-over. Another funny hairpiece appears on his breastplate armor, and scholars believe this to be a depiction of Rosius O’Donellus, a comedienne of ancient Rome.

Just like the current Republican establishment and media punditocracy, all of whom predicted that Trump would never get the Republican nomination, Caligula’s immediate predecessor, Tiberius, had a soothsayer named Thrasyllus who said that Caligula had

“no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae [now known as the Gulf of Naples].”

So, in A.D. 39 Caligula ordered a temporary floating bridge of ships to be built across that bay. It stretched more than two miles from one side to the other.  Caligula then rode his favorite horse, Incitatus, across the pontoon bridge.

The Roman historian Suetonius wrote that after this exploit Caligula addressed the crowds that had assembled on the shore to watch the spectacle:

“That was YUUUUUUGGGE! Nobody builds a better pontoon bridge than I do, not even Xerxes crossing the Hellespont! In fact, if Xerxes were alive today I could teach him everything he needs to know about bridges, because I’m a builder. Builders, they build things, know what I mean? ‘Cause I’m a really smart guy! And I’m a really rich guy, too! And if you think this bridge was good, I’m going to build an even bigger bridge, right across the Mediterranean! And I’ll make the Carthaginians pay for it! After all, they’re not sending us their best. They’re thieves. They’re rapists. Though some, I assume, are good people. And those Carthaginians will still love me! I”m tellin’ ya! We’re going to win so much, Rome is going to get sick and tired of winning all the time!”

Caligula subsequently appointed his horse, Incitatus, as Consul of the Roman Empire.

And here we are in 2016, where the United States is damn close to electing a jackass President.

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McClendon's vehicle being removed from crash site 3/2/2016

McClendon’s vehicle being removed from crash site 3/2/2016

CNBC News reports that Aubrey McClendon, the high-flying former CEO of natural gas player Chesapeake Energy, died in a car crash this morning in Oklahoma. Federal prosecutors indicted McClendon yesterday for alleged bid rigging on natural gas.

Reports state that McClendon  “pretty much drove straight into the wall” at high speed, causing his vehicle to ignite and burn immediately.  McClendon cultivated his reputation as a risk-taker in the natural gas arena, though one too many of his gambles went south. He was featured in a 2011 Forbes article as the “Reckless Billionaire”:

2011 Forbes Article re McClendon: Reckless.

2011 Forbes Article re McClendon: Reckless.

Though a definitive coroner’s determination won’t be in for a while, this has all the earmarks of suicide. If he had decided to whack himself, there were certainly other ways to do it that would have been faster, like a gun, for instance. It’s reasonable to ask whether there’s a life insurance angle here: life policies generally provide that the insurer will not pay the face amount if the insured commits suicide. So even though guns are quicker and more certain, a gun and a dead man, all by their lonesome, leave no doubt that the death was a suicide. Driving into a wall, on the other hand, could be an accident. McClendon was always a game player, and it would not be surprising if this were one last dice throw.

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