Saturday, February 4, 2017

Little Balls

I don’t feel like writing about Trump. At some point I’ll rant about him with acid fury and gusto, like everyone else with a forebrain and a decent respect for the opinions of mankind must do (good people must speak up and bear witness against this embarrassing monstrosity, this ludicrous avatar of the Emperor Commodus with a Twitter account), but for now let others record the crimes and follies of his misrule. Today, I’m just going to be lazy and recycle a post from April 2011, in which I take aim at two things I love to scorn and revile: Wall Street bankers and golf. It’s an imaginary conversation between Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein and his counterpart at JP Morgan Chase Jamie Dimon while they’re out on the links. If you’ve already read it, relive the magic. If you haven’t, enjoy it for the first time. Here it is:

Last night, I dreamed I was Lloyd Blankfein’s caddy. He was playing golf with Jamie Dimon, and the two were discussing how difficult it was to be rich bankers in a hostile and uncomprehending world:

“You know, Jamie, after a hard day of doing God’s work, I need to come out and put a little ball into a little hole.”

“Me too!” Jamie exclaimed. “Especially nowadays, when the whole world hates us no matter how much good we do. It’s so frustrating.”

“Sometimes putting a little ball into a little hole is the only thing that takes the hurt away.”

“I know, right?”

“Say, do you wanna keep on hitting little balls together, Jamie?”

Let’s!”

“People think that just because we’re rich we’ve got it made. That’s why they hate us. They think that once you become a billionaire all the problems in your life just melt away. It isn’t so. Money doesn’t solve everything. Don’t people understand that? Don’t the poor know there’s more to life than money?”

“Apparently not. They lack higher understanding. For example, I went on CNBC once and tried to explain that when banks foreclosed on their homes it was actually good for them because it’s such an excellent form of debt relief. For some people, it’s almost a hundred percent debt reduction.

“God’s work, actually.” Lloyd interjected.

“Exactly. But did anyone get it? No. The people are so obsessed with their little homes and their little savings that they lose sight of the big picture. They can’t see what’s in their own best interest.”

“Or appreciate the finer things in life, like putting little balls into little holes.”

“Precisely. It’s like they have some some kind of neurosis.”

“A clinical illness. It almost makes you feel sorry for them.”

“I wouldn’t go that far, Lloyd.”

“Oh, silly me. Sometimes when I’m putting little balls into little holes I get all giddy and lose my head.”

“No worries. It happens to the best of us.”

“Hey, Jamie, wanna have a little fun? Let’s call the president and tell him that if the US doesn’t bomb Nova Scotia the markets will get spooked and collapse. I’ll bet you a hundred thousand dollars he does it.”

“Where’s the challenge in that bet? Of course he would. They always do what we say. Sigh. If only all of my employees were as obedient as presidents.”

“If only. But you’re right. It’s just that ever since I became a master of the universe things have gotten so, well, boring. I mean, after you’ve crashed the world economy and utterly destroyed hundreds of millions of lives, what’s left to accomplish? Where are all the thrills? For the life of me, I can only imagine one: putting little balls into little holes.”

“Me too! It shows how highly evolved we are, Lloyd.”

“I’m so glad someone understands.”

Games played with the ball, and others of that nature … stamp no character on the mind. — Thomas Jefferson.






Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why Are Warren Buffet And Bill Gates Hopeful About America?

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are optimistic about the future. They spoke at Columbia University on Friday and gave hope to the fearful and the Trump-wary.
“I am confident that America will move ahead," Buffett said.
Gates, meanwhile, said the desire for innovation and support for research are “strong” and “largely bipartisan,” despite differences on how to accomplish and fund both.

“This administration is new enough; we don’t know how its budget priorities are going to come out,” but there is much intensity to ensure that the executive branch and Congress encourage “amazing things,” Gates said.
They also cautioned people against short-term thinking and told the kids to focus on doing good works. Got that? Keep it in mind.

And there you have it. Thus sprake two of the most revered oracles of our, uhm, less than exalted culture. One, sounding like he suffers from echolalia from hearing too much Trumpspeak, assures us we’re going to like, totally do amazing things! The other regurgitates a limp cliche about America moving forward that sounds like something lifted from one of Barack Obama’s weekly radio addresses. All is well. Americas is moving onward and upwarded, just like Thomas Friedman always says, and all that divides us is a dispute about strategy and funding. See you at the next Rotary Club meeting!

(I’m sorry, but Bill Gates’ pollyannish “technology will save us from everything” attitude is annoying beyond words; I really just wish that he and Mark Zuckerberg would buy a secluded island and go hide there forever and ever, and take Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria with them!)

In a totally unrelated bit of news, Forbes Magazine informs us that the ten richest Americans made six billion dollars in the first week of Trump’s presidency. Bill Gates might be unclear about the budgeting priorities of the Trump Administration, but the criminals on Wall Street aren&rsq;t. They’re positively bullish and the stock market has hit record highs. Unlike the rest of us, they are experiencing certainty. Isn’t that nice? Do you think Warren Buffet’s optimism might have something to do with the fact that he made 2.4 billion last week? (Strange prick Larry Ellison, on the other hand, had to settle for a measly $928 million, loser!)

Don’t worry about walls, Muslim bans, pipelines, runaway climate change, purges at the EPA, or Trump’s genuinely clinical narcissism. Things will be just dandy. Amazing things will continue to happen at Microsoft (ha ha ha ha) and Warren Buffet will still make billions (and still be regarded by the people he screws as a kindly old grandpa). Just keep your chin up, do good works, and by all means, avoid short-term thinking!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

It’s Gonna Be Huge

It seems Donald Trump is having trouble rounding up A-list performers to play at his inauguration. So far he’s got the Radio City Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or the Ice Capades meet the Lawrence Welk Show. Pinch me, it’s gonna be huge.

(Not that the so-called A-listers are any great shakes. When I hear that Elton John, Garth Brooks and Celine Dion are performing at some gala event, I head straight to the medicine cabinet.)

I guess all that talk about torturing Muslims, grabbing pussy and calling all Mexicans rapists was a bit of a deal breaker for those sensitive artsy fartsy types in the music world. Who could have known?

Now he has to slum around with Ted Nugent and Scott Baio for celebrity cred, which is like getting your vitamin C from orange flavored cough drops and a Fruit Roll-Up. I dunno, maybe he can sweet talk Creed and Nickleback into showing up?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Obama On Our Worthless Press

Say what you want about Obama — and I share all of the standard leftist gripes about his presidency, i.e., he’s too cozy with Wall Street and corporate America, he’s too centrist, he’s too accommodating with Republicans, he’s too fond of the surveillance state, etc. — but there is one thing about him that I’ve always admired and that we’re going to be missing very soon, his temperament.

Unlike a disturbingly large number of his countrymen, particularly in the press and the Republican party, Barack Obama is a mature adult. He doesn’t engage in juvenile Twitter wars or dwell on them at unseemly length, unlike a certain president-elect and many Very Serious Pundits. He’s calm and rational. He doesn’t make hasty and emotional decisions. He weighs evidence, ponders outcomes, and isn’t swayed by narrow partisan biases. In short, he thinks. He has, if nothing else, the temperament of a statesman.

Obama is the only president of my lifetime who didn’t fill me with violent nausea two years into his first term. On the contrary, I still personally like the man after eight years. I’m also a diehard Michelle Obama fan (she’s tougher than Barack, and word has it she’s much more liberal). I’d gladly vote for her if she ran for president, but she’s far too competent for the dim and venal mediocrities who run the Democratic party and far too dignified for so low an occupation as politics, which, as Gore Vidal pointed out, is a compound word consisting of poli, which is Greek for many, and tics, which are blood sucking insects.

I bring this up because Obama seems blessedly immune to the anti-Russian hysteria that is now engulfing the Kool Kids in Washington. Once again, unverified assertions from anonymous official sources have them all hot and bothered and eager for a Tough Response. It was up to the President on Friday to clarify for these illustrious journalists that, no, Russia did not tamper with the election. They hacked into the Democrat’s emails and leaked them to the public. They didn’t directly interfere with the election itself. Votes were’t changed or suppressed. The integrity of the electoral process was not compromised. It remains as pure and sacred as the Supreme Court and the Diebold corporation left it.

By contemporary ethical standards this barely qualifies as a ratfuck. Your average Wall Streeter commits graver felonies before lunch every day. It is not a threat to our democracy, and it certainly doesn’t justify ratcheting up tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

But as every Hillary supporter is now crying, these leaks disadvantaged Clinton and threw the election to Trump. Maybe so, maybe not, but Obama made an interesting comment about this during his last press conference:
And the truth is, is that there was nobody here who didn’t have some sense of what kind of effect it might have. I’m finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton because you guys wrote about it every day. Every single leak. About every little juicy tidbit of political gossip — including John Podesta’s risotto recipe. This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.

So I do think it’s worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates, came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks. What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations — which, as I’ve said publicly before, were not particularly sophisticated.
If the media had been doing its job and covering the actual policy differences between the two candidates, the leaks wouldn’t have mattered. If they did  hurt Hillary, a shallow and incompetent press has only itself to blame.

For the record, I don’t think the leaks had anything to do with Clinton’s defeat. Niether Putin nor Comey nor Bernie Sanders nor the fucking tooth fairy prevented Hillary from going to Wisconsin during the election. She was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign. I do, however, agree with the larger point Obama is making: the press is vapid and consumed with trivia. Had it done its job, the public would have had more relevant information about the candidates and a clearer perspective about what was at stake in the election. If there is any group outside of the Clinton campaign and the DNC who is responsible for the catastrophe that has befallen us, it is the mainstream political media.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Hitler On NPR

I dreamed that Adolph Hitler was a guest on NPR’s Morning Edition with Steve Inskeep. I caught the show in mid-interview, and it went something like this:

Steve Inskeep: Mr. Hitler, critics charge that your rhetoric is extreme. They say the Jews weren’t primarily responsible for Germany’s defeat in the First World War. At most, they say, the Jews were only partially responsible. Are they wrong?

Hitler: They are filthy liars! I will round them all up and send them to work camps in the east.

Steve Inskeep: That segues nicely into the next topic I’d like to discuss. You’ve said you plan to invade Russia, enslave the population and, quote, “exterminate all inferior elements.” Some critics charge that this might have a damaging impact on the Russian people, yet you argue that it would be a boon to German economic growth. Who’s right here?

Hitler: I am always right. We must slaughter the untermenschen to make room for the German people!

Steve Inskeep: Adolph Hitler, thanks so much for being our guest here on Morning Edition.

Hitler: Bitte.

Steve Inskeep: Coming up next, Michele Norris discusses how a Silicon Valley start-up has tackled the problem of employee burn out with a dynamic new concept - pizza night. Michele?

Michele Norris: It’s not Michele, Steve. It’s Meeeshele.

Steve Inskeep: Oh, so sorry.

Michele Norris: Thanks, Steve, but it’s not just pizza. A growing young company in Sunnyvale is implementing all kinds creative new strategies to help their workers through those grueling ten to twelve hour days. For example, on Fridays they all wear capes, call each other superheroes, and let the employee of the month sit on a bean bag chair!

Steve Inskeep: Sounds exciting!

Hitler: Did you know I have only one testicle, Ms. Norris?

Michele Norris: My goodness. That must be so traumatic for you, Mr. Hitler.

Hitler: My father beat me horribly.

Michele Norris: Omigod, we should, like, totally call Terry Gross and book you for an interview on Fresh Air!

Steve Inskeep: I don’t have any testicles at all, and I've gotten through life just fine. Some skeptics might charge that this problem is overstated. …

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our Horrifying Prospects

Four years of Donald Trump is almost too much to bear. For the record, I don’t think he’s a genuine Nazi or a fascist. I think his racism was an election ploy. He scoped out a demographic and hit their sweet spots. The real danger of his presidency will stem from the fact that he’s temperamentally unsuited to lead. He’s more interested in tweeting and grabbing pussy than doing the dull work of governance. He just doesn’t have the patience or the attention span to be a genuine dictator. It’s hard work — no one put in more time and effort than Joseph Stalin, who toiled into the wee hours signing execution orders and concocting five year plans. Trump just doesn’t have it. He’ll be a strutting, tweeting, TV nation Mussolini while the real business of government is carried out by Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, and they are going to unleash the most reactionary, corporate friendly agenda we’ve ever seen. It’s going to be worse than Bush’s first term. It’s the Koch Brothers’ country now, and they’re going to nail down the plutocracy and make it a permanent fact of our national life. Given the state of the climate, it’s questionable whether the planet can endure the four years of witless environmental despoliation that Trump and the Republicans are promising to bring. It is horrifying beyond words.

On the other hand, Trump is an extremely vindictive man and he holds grudges. He’ll abuse his power in a multitude of petty and evil ways. He will bully and browbeat the press. He will sue newspapers into bankruptcy. He’ll sic the IRS on his political opponents. He may well fling bombs all over the Middle East. If the economy crashes or we suffer a terrorist attack, America will be finished. We really are entering one of the darkest periods in our history.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Führer For Our Time

A question often served up in middle-brow documentaries and popular history books is to wonder how Germany, one of the most advanced and civilized countries in Europe, could have sunk into Nazi savagery. How did the nation of Goethe and Beethoven produce Hitler, Goebbles and the Holocaust?* Future historians, assuming there will be any, won’t face any such troubling questions about America’s lapse into right wing authoritarianism. Their task will be much simpler. They won’t have to ask how it happened, they’ll simply scratch their heads and wonder what the hell took it so long.

They’ll note that the country had a trial run between 2001-2004, when a virulently right wing administration assumed unconstitutional police powers and effortlessly lied the country into war. They’ll remark how easily the population was cowed by phantom dangers, and how readily they sold out their vaunted principles of freedom and constitutional government in exchange for security. The USA was kidnapping people and throwing them into torture chambers overseas, and its people cheered (or, more typically, yawned). The White House spokesman at the time, Ari Fleischer, warned Americans that they needed to “watch what they say, watch what they do,” and announcing that you were opposed to the invasion of Iraq invited suspicious glances from good solid middle class Americans who regarded such an opinion as seditious. In fact, were it not for the staggering hubris and ineptitude of the Bush administration, the USA might well have expedited its date with fascism by a good twelve or thirteen years.

As it happened, America was granted a reprieve, but not because of the virtues of its people, which our future historians will find lacking. They’ll note that a majority of Americans never traveled outside of the country, didn’t read books, and knew almost nothing of their own history. They acquired their knowledge of the world exclusively through commercial television, talk radio, pop culture entertainments and bogus social media memes. This produced a dangerously ignorant population that was peculiarly vulnerable to demagogic manipulation. They proudly didn’t do nuance and it showed: They confused crude nationalism with genuine patriotism. They regarded unrestrained consumerism as a god given American right — indeed, a patriotic virtue — and they demonstrated on more than one occasion that they were willing to bomb and kill others for it. They were easily and pathetically frightened by foreign dangers, whether real or imagined, about which they knew little and understood less.

All that was needed, it turned out, was a Dear Leader who truly reflected their hopes, fears and aspirations, however stupid or irrational. I always imagined a telegenic social conservative, a Bible thumping, flag waving, gun totin’, free market luvin’ Midwesterner who was more Texan than Texas and more Christian than Christ; a slick hyper-patriot with one foot planted in the revival tent and the other planted firmly in Wall Street cash; a grinning, back-slapping reptile with the down home charm of Andy Griffith and the soul of Ted Cruz.

Donald Trump just didn’t fit that bill. A thrice married billionaire Manhattanite with zero charisma and bad hair just didn’t cut it. He might bamboozle Wrestlmania fans and a few racist malcontents, but there was no way he could win over enough demographics to pull down 270 electoral votes.

But I misjudged the tenor of the times. Now, looking back, of course it had to be Trump. Who else embodies the zeitgeist of America more perfectly than he? Who better to lead us than a greedy, boorish, transparently phony con artist whose only unqualified success in life has been as a reality TV star? This is nation that invented the Ponzi scheme, sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps, the prosperity gospel, Enron, trickle-down economics, the War on Terror, Mormonism, Scientology, cheese filled pizza crusts, deep fried Twinkies, Kim Kardashian and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? Our culture is based on nothing but greed, fraud, deception, stupidity, tacky celebrity and meaningless junk. It’s what we are. It’s all we are. Trump’s not an aberration. He’s the entirely organic creation of a thoroughly trashy and decadent culture. He’s the apotheosis of the modern American soul. He’s the leader we deserve.

(*To which the answer is, the same country that produced Bismarck, the Kulturkampf, Kaiser Willhelm II, unrestricted submarine warfare and mustard gas attacks.)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Stabbed in the Back?

When I played football, our coach forbade us from complaining about bad calls. If you lose a game because of a bad call, he sternly admonished us, you didn’t deserve to win in the first place. “Winners win in spite of adversity!” was his blunt response to whining of any kind.

This was Pop Warner, mind you, and I was only about, oh, eleven or twelve. It’s a pity the leaders of the Democratic party never received this bit of Pee Wee football tough love. Apparently they don’t teach it on the playing fields of Palo Alto or the Acela Corridor, or any of the other nurseries of the best and the brightest. They’re primarily responsible for a Dubya-sized political disaster, but rather than admit any culpability, they’re blaming everyone but themselves.

It was Jill Stein. It was the Bernie Bros. It was Putin. It was Wikileaks. It was the media. And now Hillary herself is whining that is was all James Comey’s fault:
“There are lots of reasons why an election like this is not successful,” Clinton told top donors on a farewell conference call Saturday.

“But our analysis is that [FBI Director James B.] Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be, stopped our momentum,” she said.

What, one wonders in despair, will it ever take to make these people stop and question their analyses? Not since the economic crash, when Alan Greenspan admitted there was a flaw in his model of how the world worked, have we seen such a stark example of elite cluelessness and failure, but rather than admit that her campaign may have been flawed, Hillary is complaining she lost because she was stabbed in the back.

Yeah, that explains the amazing feat of losing Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, states that have been reliably blue for decades. It had nothing to do with the fact that these states are sunk in stagnant misery, and Clinton offered them nothing but four more years of the same doldrums. It had nothing to do with the fact Team Clinton strolled into the game thinking they could win with one or two predictable stock plays — “Trump is a horrid meanie!” and “I’ll be the first woman president ever!”— while making no further adjustments and offering no positive reasons to vote for her at all. One waited in vain for Clinton’s campaign to start hammering through the wall of Trumpian bullshit with ads about what she would actually do as president. It didn’t happen.

She took it for granted that all she had to do was scare people about the monster Trump, just as she took it for granted that she would sail to the nomination in 2008, and then again in 2016. She was consistently overconfident, consistently made miscalculations, consistently took the wrong advice, and consistently failed to see threats that were visible from a mile away. What makes you think she would have governed any differently?

She stood flat-footed at the plate, reflecting on which Maya Angelou poem to recite in her inaugural address, while a big fat soft ball floated right past her and struck her out.

Enough with the Clintons. Enough with the Robby Mooks, John Podestas, Donna Braziles, Paul Begalas and Ed Rendells. They’ve forfeited all claims to my support. They grossly mishandled the election, partly because they are blinkered and out of touch, and partly because they didn’t really want to do anything for people at all. They just wanted to scare us into voting for them so they could go back to pushing the same neoliberal shit that got is in this mess in the first place. Now that they’ve gotten they’re asses whipped, they’re poking around looking for scapegoats and concluding that, well, Virginia, I guess half the country is just deplorable. Yeah, well, they’re deplorable too.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

Clinton 2020!

Don’t despair, my friends. Things are bad but they’re not hopeless. The Force resides in another who is destined to come along and save us from our national nightmare:
While some pundits are declaring the Clinton political dynasty dead, sources tell us that it is far from over. Chelsea Clinton is being groomed for the New York seat held by Rep. Nita Lowey.

Chelsea could run for the seat in NYC’s 17th Congressional District once Lowey, a respected, 79-year-old career politician with nearly 30 years in office, decides to retire, we have exclusively learned.
The Clintons are taking a much needed break in order to regroup, but Chelsea, we’re informed, is poised and articulate, just like Mom, and would be “the next extension of the Clinton brand.”

Granted, this is The New York Post, but still. Words fail.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Trump Is Coming To Town

Well, well, Trump is coming to town tomorrow night. It's already sold out so I won’t get to hear him speak, but I’ll go see if there are any protests going on outside. If anything interesting happens I'll snap some photos and give you the lowdown (I doubt it, but I'll go check it out anyway).