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The factors that went into the Hillary loss/Trump win will keep historians and political scientists busy writing books for a decade, if not more. Some will adopt a monocausal theory and blame the emails, or the combination of Comey and the emails. Others will view it as a more a generalized phenomenon of how dysfunctional our politics have become. My own view, as I said in my last post, is that his success owes to the lingering effects of the 2007-09 Great Recession, which for anyone not living in the Wall Street-Washington corridor or the West Coast, is really the 2007-2016 Continuing Great Recession. And while the Iraq War began a long time ago, even its erstwhile supporters (other than Dick Cheney) view it as perhaps the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States. The “elites” of both left and right have shown conclusively that they’re about as competent as Laurel and Hardy trying to move a piano up a flight of stairs.

DNC Leadership deciding the best way to get Hillary up all those steps.

DNC Leadership deciding the best way to get Hillary up all those steps.

Trump’s problem will begin not with his opposition from the left, but rather with his supporters on the far right. That may sound counter-intuitive, but the left at least has some idea of what to expect from a Trump Administration. The right, on the other hand, is in for some major disappointments. Though I don’t like to predict the future, I will make three predictions right now. First, there will never be a wall with Mexico. Second, there will never be a ban on entry of Muslims into the United States because they happen to be Muslim. Third, there will never be a deportation force running from house to house rounding up some 11 million undocumented (or illegal, if you prefer) immigrants. (And, by the way, Trump will not be locking up Hillary.)

The net effect of these and other unfulfilled promises will be to disappoint the neo-Nazi, KKK and alt-right types who supported Trump. Steve Bannon, an alt-right mouthpiece, will likewise lose a lot of support among his ilk. Economist Paul Krugman said that, during this election cycle, the problem with the left and the media was that they took Trump literally, but not seriously. A large majority of white voters, the “lost white voters,” many of whom are not racists, took him seriously but not literally. But to complete Krugman’s logic is to understand where Trump’s difficulties will begin: namely, with the people of the alt-right/white supremacist persuasion who took him both literally and seriously. That group comprises the racist element of the Republican right. When they learn, as they soon will, that there will be no wall, no deportation force, no ban on Muslims, etc., they will turn on him in a New York second. Everything costs something, and soon Trump will learn the high cost of the rhetoric that got him into the Oval Office.

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2016-election

Well, there it is. The candidate that no one would give credence to has won the Oval Office, and in about two months he’ll take the helm on the bridge on the S.S. United States. There are lots of things that can be said about the view off the bow, but we’ll limit this post to the view from the stern. There will be no reaching for apocalyptic metaphors from Bronze Age Biblical passages.

The roots of Trump’s victory date back to the major events of the 2007-09 Great Recession. The people have rejected, decisively, the power of the Wall Street-Washington Axis. Until last night, the United States was not a democracy; it was a corporatist state, one in which the unproductive financial capitalists of Wall Street ventriloquized Washington, D.C. and ran the country by themselves, for themselves.

Just look at the wake our ship of state has made. The U.S. Gov’t. made sure that all the AIG executives got their bonuses, even though it was they who almost drove the global economy into a bottomless abyss. The megabanks all got bailed out on the taxpayers’ dime, even though they had to be bailed out because they’d spent years packaging and selling trillions of dollars of collateralized debt obligations that they themselves didn’t understand, and knew were worthless. Meanwhile, those same taxpayers who bailed out Wall Street lost their jobs, then lost their homes, and, of course, lost their health care coverage.

For decades, the Wall Street-Washington Axis preached the gospel of Rugged Individualism and The Free Market, which was all a lie. Goldman Sachs perfectly exemplifies why: when the market turned on Goldman Sachs during the Great Recession, Lloyd Blankfein, its CEO, called his good old buddy, old chum, old fellow alumni Hank Paulson, who just happened to be U.S. Treasury Secretary. And, presto change-o, Goldman Sachs became a bank holding company with access to the Federal Reserve cash window before the weekend was over.

See? It pays to have friends in high places.

The Americans who voted yesterday don’t have friends in high places, and they’re sick and tired of seeing the country run for the exclusive benefit of those who do. Washington in 2007-09 refused to countenance an economic reckoning for Wall Street because that would have affected their compatriots (and the campaign donor class) in the banks. But in economics, one link forges the next, and the reckoning that should have happened in the markets was translated to the political sphere. Think Tea Party. Think Occupy Wall Street.

And not one banker ever went to prison. In fact, the best thing that happened to Wall Street during the Great Recession, the guy who did the world’s biggest favor for the banksters, was Bernie Madoff. Bernie may be the Platonic Form of Ponzi Schemer, but he had no connection whatsoever to the Wall Street madness that brought on the Great Recession. Still, he became the face of it.

Places like Westchester County, NY, and Fairfax County, VA, came out of the crisis more prosperous than they’d ever been. But it you were not within that Charmed Circle because you lived, say, in a place the Wall Street-Washington Axis labeled “Flyover Country,” you were financially doomed. The elites were not affected by the downturn. Out of sight, out of mind.

The Wall Street-Washington Axis sold themselves on the basis of merit, they convinced the country that they knew best. “If you let us bail out the banksters, we’ll be back to the boom times in no time!” But that didn’t happen. They were wrong. Take Alan Greenspan, once viewed as the Grand Poohbah of All Economics, given to cryptic utterances that verged on the unintelligible. Turns out that he was just an old Ayn Rand fanatic, a rooster claiming credit for the dawn.

These examples could be multiplied. The mistake of Establishment politicians was to think that people would just forget about all that. The political legitimacy of the Wall Street-Washington Axis is based on alleged merit. When that merit is shown to be a complete falsehood, their political legitimacy dissolves.

More than anything else, the Great Recession and how it was handled threw a decisive advantage into the scale on the populist side. Whatever faults Trump may have, he was sharp enough to see this when everyone in the Wall Street-Washington Axis did not. Sanders saw it too, which accounted for his relatively successful campaign, which also surprised the media.

I don’t attribute Hill’s loss to the private email server business, which most people didn’t understand, much less follow. Nor to Benghazi, a word that practically became a Republican mantra. Nor is it the trust/distrust factor.

No, the real issue is that, no matter how hard she tried, Hillary could never portray herself as an “agent of change,” to use an overused term. Forget exit polls, forget college-educated or not. All that’s just trivia and beside the point. She represented continuity with the unacceptable status quo, continuity with a way of governing that the American people want smashed into atom-sized pieces and rebuilt from the ground up.

Ergo Trump.

trump

New Donald Trump LE Six-Shooter boasts a groundbreaking windage adjustment technology.

In further support of GOP nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy for the presidency, and in particular his positions on the Second Amendment, the National Rifle Association has commissioned a new Limited Edition Trump Six-Shooter. In addition to regular iron sights, the accuracy of the handgun is enhanced by long orange fibers attached to the barrel that, when unfurled, indicate both wind speed and direction, as pictured above. The fibers can be combed over and tucked behind the ejection rod on the cylinder when not in use.

Though revolutionary in concept, the design follows in the traditional footsteps of the finest Colts and Remingtons that removed so many Bad Hombres from the Old West. But by far the most unique feature of the new LE Trump Six-Shooter is that, no matter where you point it, you wind up shooting yourself in the foot. It’s expected to be available on November 9.

The Phony War on Coal

Coal mine, early 20th century

Coal mine, early 20th century.

There are mines and there are trenches, but they’re not the same. The so-called war on coal is a great story, but it’s a complete fiction. If there’s a war on steam coal, then there has to be a war on nuclear generation as well because they’re both in the same wholesale electricity market. You don’t have to look far to see Exelon and other nuke operators begging their state legislatures for additional subsidies for their plants. When wholesale electricity market prices are favorable, then coal mines and coal-fired plants (and nukes) extol the survival of the fittest in the Free Market, where only the most efficient competitors survive. But when that market turns on them, all of a sudden “the market is flawed,” and customers are no longer just customers; they’re “stakeholders.”

Be very afraid when anyone in the energy business starts calling you a “stakeholder.” It’s code for “we need you to pay us more money, but our reasons are really bad, so we have to fool you into believing that we’re all in this together.”

Coal mines are not being shuttered by the EPA or Hillary Clinton. The straight-up fact is that shale play natural gas has brought power prices down to levels not seen in years. Allied to this is the continued weak demand in what the feds tell us is our country’s longest (and slowest) economic recovery. The consequence is that low market electricity prices have persisted for an extremely long time.

The mines are being closed, and coal companies are declaring bankruptcy, not because politicians are waging some sort of trench warfare, but simply because of the price of coal, which varies directly with the price of natural gas.

Without doubt, new environmental rules have played a part in reducing coal-fired generation. But if you kick in the door on a house that’s in the process of falling down, don’t expect to be paid for the demolition job. A small decrease in the price of natural gas has a disproportionately large impact on demand for steam coal, and thus on the question of whether to shut a coal-fired station.

There’s no war on coal, and Don Blankenship, contrary to his claim, is not a political prisoner.

Coal-fired Power

Coal-fired Power

While the Hillary v. Donald Rumble on Monday night garnered all the media attention, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard a far more substantive discussion the following morning. An en banc panel of ten federal appellate judges heard oral argument on the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan.

It was a “hot bench,” with lots of questions from the judges. And while Hillary and The Donald put down their swords after 90 minutes, the oral argument on the CPP went on for more than seven hours.

West Virginia’s Solicitor General opened with an artillery barrage in the putative war on coal. The CPP sets target emission rates for fossil fuel generators such as coal, and prohibits them from operating if they exceed those limits unless they purchase carbon credits from generators whose emissions are below their assigned limits. He argued that the CPP thus forces coal plant owners into an impossible choice: they either subsidize their renewable energy competitors or shut down prematurely. In his view, that would affect not just West Virginia but the nation as a whole. W. Va. and other opponents argued that the Clean Air Act does not allow the EPA to require plant owners to invest in different generation resources.

The question of the scope of the EPA’s authority got a lot of attention. The EPA and other proponents of the plan countered that this type of regulation is already commonplace in the power industry. They argued that the emissions trading contemplated by the CPP would be the least expensive method of pollution control, especially when compared to setting emissions caps for each plant. EPA argued that the Clean Air Act mandates that it devise the best system of reductions for any particular pollution type, and that’s what the CPP does. They pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which mandates that the agency act to regulate carbon. And, they continued, the high court’s 2011 ruling in AEP v. Connecticut affirmed the EPA’s regulation of carbon, declaring that because climate change damages were within the EPA’s jurisdiciton, individual states could not sue power companies for climate change harms.

Their opponents argued that other language in AEP casts doubt on the scope of that holding.

Other CPP opponents claimed that because CPP requires major changes to the power grid, that the EPA is infringing on states’ rights because each state is responsible for the reliability of its own electric power system. Numerous shut-downs of coal-fired plants that would follow implementation of the CPP would adversely affect grid reliability.

Once again, it comes down to the Third Branch Default Setting that we’ve seen before in litigation interpreting laws that are both complex and unclear. The almost endless adventures of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, now forgotten like some long-ago war over an equally forgotten issue, comes to mind. Yet the problem is essentially the same. Congress enacts a law, but because of its own inability to agree on what that law should really say, it gets passed with provisions that don’t add up, or are even contradictory. But those problems are down the road, and it’s more important for legislators to get some earned media at the signing ceremony and have some accomplishment to write home to constituents about. Thus it falls the judiciary, sooner or later, to sort things out. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre.

"Morning Joe" Scarborough

“Morning Joe” Scarborough

As far as TV talking heads go, Joe Scarborough is not the best, but he’s far from the worst. Still, every once in a while Joe makes a comment, apparently off-the-cuff, that makes no sense at all, as he did during his discussion of the Devolution of the GOP in his August 29, 2016 broadcast.

Scarborough’s jumping off point was a comparison between the demeanor of Bush the Elder (a/k/a, Bush 41, a/k/a George H.W.) and that of the GOP’s current presidential nominee, Prima Donald Trump.

Scarborough discussed his visit to the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, which retains its beauty as a quaint New England coastal town, so long as you can forget who the current Maine governor is. Of Bush 41 Scarborough said:

They make others around them feel special despite the fact that they have lived the most remarkable of lives, serving in Congress, running the Republican National Committee, heading up the CIA, being the U.N. Ambassador as well as the U.S. Ambassador to China, serving as Ronald Reagan’s vice president and then leading America as the 41st president of the United States.

But good luck getting George or Barbara Bush talking about themselves. They just don’t do it and they never will. First of all, their parents didn’t allow it. And besides, that kind of thing wasn’t done in the world from which they came. It is just one small way that the ethos of Walker’s Point is so radically different from the mindset that infects Donald Trump’s garish corner office high above 5th Avenue in Trump Towers.

As [Jon] Meacham and I walked down the driveway after saying goodbye to the Bushes, Jon lamented the fact that the same Republican Party that nominated a man like Bush, who rarely spoke about himself, would a quarter century later select a reality TV showman who obsessively talked about little else. Meacham paraphrased Henry Adams in saying that the historical devolvement from Bush to Trump proves that Darwin’s theory of evolution was less compelling when applied to American politics.

Bush the Elder has a lot to be proud of. He served his country both in uniform and in government. He was a fighter pilot in WWII and was shot down in combat with Japanese forces. (As Trump might say,  he only likes fighter pilots who weren’t shot down, he’s gotta tellya.). I don’t take any of that away from Bush 41.

But Scarborough’s notion that not talking about yourself, or not tooting your own horn to say it more directly, is a virtue in and of itself that we all should strive for is absolute nonsense.

Of course Bush 41 never talked about himself. He never had to. He is a walking, breathing pillar of the Republican Establishment, and when the word “establishment” is used in connection with anyone in Clan Bush it is always spelled with a capital “E.”

Bush 41’s father was Prescott S. Bush, a former U.S. Senator for Connecticut, who was a Skull & Bones guy at Yale undergrad (as were Bush 41 and Bush 43), the secret frat where the scions of the Elite of the most elite Elites quaff alcoholic beverages prior to attaining a legal, if not responsible, drinking age and perform pranks that would look very different in 2016 than when they were supposedly performed (e.g., in 1918, when Prescott Bush allegedly led a nocturnal mission to exhume Geronimo’s skull).

(Oh, those kids!)

H.W.’s Wikipedia entry states that he started his business career as a sales clerk with Dresser Industries. Sounds like a humble beginning. But the entry goes on to state that Dresser was a subsidiary of Brown Brothers Harriman, where his father, Prescott Bush, had served as a director for 22 years.

So, Joe Scarborough, please think about that for a minute. I’ll bet H.W. didn’t need to talk much about himself when he got that sales clerk job at Dresser. Suppose, Joe, that you were the supervisor of this new young sales clerk from the Northeast who likes to go by his dual middle initials “H.W.” What are the odds that you’d treat him a bit differently than some other poor schmoe sales clerk? Would you give H.W. a bad performance review, even if he deserved it?

Not if you wanted to keep your job.

Mind, I’m not saying H.W. didn’t do a terrific job as sales clerk. But when your pop sits on the Board of Directors of your employer’s corporate parent,  the reality of who’s the boss and who’s the new hire undergoes a fundamental alteration.

Prescott Bush, Bush 41 and Bush 43 all lived in a rarefied world of great oil wealth and Republican Establishment connections. Bush 43 is a case history all by himself, so I’ll leave that alone, but it’s obvious that, political campaigns aside, not one of them ever had to sell his abilities or his name to anyone to land a job.

I agree that Prima Donald Trump never stops running his mouth, and that’s bad for him and for anyone who’s forced to listen. But for ordinary mortals who have to hustle their butts to make a living, you’d better toot your own horn if you want to eat and keep a roof over your head.

bush-sheldon-p

Samuel Prescott Bush (1863-1948), grandfather of Bush 41

So Joe, before you go off on another tilt about praising modesty and silence as saintly virtues, maybe you should look into Samuel Prescott Bush’s life. He’s the guy who started the Bush family bankroll rolling. I’ll bet old Samuel P. Bush had substantial “book smarts” (he had an engineering degree from Stevens Institute) as well as “street smarts,” some business acumen (given where he started and where he wound up), plus a bit of luck.

I’m sure old Sam P. Bush had to brag a little bit about himself to get hired for his first job, and maybe for a few others.

Guillotine

Artist’s conception of a traditional annual performance review at a French investment bank

Even Willie Mays missed a fly ball every once in a while.

Reuters reports that investment banking firm Lazard Ltd, which advised SolarCity on its $2.6 billion sale to Tesla Motors Inc, made an error in its calculations that discounted the value of Solar City by $400 million.

But the headline is worse than the actual story, so one might question whether there’s some “clickbait” sensationalism involved. There was a miscalculation according to a regulatory filing made by Solar City, but the miscalculation related to a range of minimum-maximum share prices, rather than to a definite acquisition price.

Using its discounted cash flow model, Lazard came up with an equity value range of between $14.75 and $34.00 per share for Solar City. After closing, Lazard realized that it had double-counted some of Solar City’s projected debt. After corrections to the DCF calculations, the valuation range was adjusted to $18.75 to $37.75 per share.

The $400 million figure sounds bad, and of course it is. But the purchase price the parties ultimately agreed to, which was paid in Tesla stock, came out to $25.37 per share. So regardless of the error, the price paid was still within the range originally provided by Lazard.

I’m sure there are lawyers out there who would, if asked, take the case and file against Lazard, but I would not count myself among them. Lazard and Tesla will probably dust themselves off and move on. No harm, no foul.

What’s really interesting about this case is not that an error was made, but rather how Lazard might handle its repercussions internally. Who made the error? Who checked the figures? While I wouldn’t take the suit, I would certainly place money on heads rolling across the office floors at Lazard’s headquarters.

[Attention carpet cleaning companies: send your brochures to Lazard now.]

Lazard, originally a French merchant company that grew into a major investment banking house in the New World via New Orleans, might just keep an old Rasoir National (see artist’s conception, above) in storage somewhere in a New Jersey warehouse for just this type of occasion.

When the Great Recession occurred, the Wall Street chorus was that it was nobody’s fault, they never saw it coming, and nobody could have seen it coming.

Right.

The rapidity with which Wall Street bankers transitioned from omniscient Masters of the Universe to a collection of Sargent Schultz clones was the closest mankind has yet come to attaining the speed of light. Despite precipitating the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and imposing on the U.S. taxpayer bailout costs rivaling those of a world war, no one was held accountable. Wall Street was grateful for Bernie Madoff because his Ponzi scheme story was simpler and took the spotlight off them.

But if you are the unfortunate person at Lazard on the Solar City-Tesla deal who’s tagged with responsibility for this DCF error, whether you’re a first-year analyst or a managing director, you can expect a career ending scene such as that depicted above.