All pictures taken April 30th, 2017
In pushing his political agenda, which one of these guys showed poor taste and poor timing?
One of the most underrated storylines of NBC’s “The Office” was the hostile dynamic between Michael Scott and Toby Flenderson, a kind-natured but tepid human-resource employee, just trying to do his job. Scott, a delusional middle manager whose mere presence was a demoralizing influence on those around him (at least in the early episodes), always assumed his verbal- and occasionally physical– abuse was exposing poor Toby to the world (or in this case, the viewers) as a reprehensible and intrusive buzzkill, while in actuality showing everyone what kind of guy Michael Scott himself was- and it wasn’t pretty.
This week in real life, we’ve seen a similar level of accidental self-reflection. It started after Jimmy Kimmel revealed the personal and painful trauma of living through his newborn son’s heart surgery. Kimmel is not normally one to bare his soul to the public, so it’s pretty clear that he felt and meant every word that he was saying. Not even the most cynical viewer could take issue with his tears. His words, however, were another story. Without getting into a detailed discussion of the speech itself (watch here to decide for yourself) there’s no denying that Kimmel has a very specific point of view on this subject- and, just like any specific point of view, it’s not going to be shared unanimously. After all, there are roughly seven billion of us nowadays, which leads to roughly seven billion different points of view. Not everyone is going to see things the way that Jimmy Kimmel does.
Enter Charles Hurt, a conservative Washington Times columnist who definitely has a different point of view from Jimmy Kimmel- and what a point of view it is. Like many of us, Mr. Hurt generally comes across in the flesh as a pleasant individual, but online often seems like a madman, writing up an angry screed on a bathroom wall (albeit with a better vocabulary). He took it to a whole new level against Kimmel, calling him- quote- an “elitist creep”, as well as a “dirty, self-absorbed, narcissistic exhibitionist”…and for what, exactly? Hoping that no parent would have to go through what he did, particularly poor ones that couldn’t afford the kind of care that a rich late-night talk show host could? While Jimmy Kimmel’s endorsement of expanded healthcare has merits that are certainly debatable, his motivation for it, much like his tears, should not have been. After all, this is a man with a newborn baby whose LIFE was in jeopardy. To paraphrase Tina Fey when discussing Dubya going after the guy that tried to kill his dad, people become superheroes over less!
A far better (if less newsworthy) approach than name-calling would have been to criticize the idea that any single anecdote should be the final word on a serious and complex issue. This is a common tactic to use in the Internet age- find a high-profile story that fits your worldview, share it on Facebook, and imply that you’ve just settled the debate, once and for all. Jimmy Kimmel has every right and every reason to share his beliefs on this subject, and the public has every right to take it under consideration. But that doesn’t mean that his experience should be the guidebook to shape public policy, any more than Kate Steinle’s tragic death should be the final say for dealing with illegal immigration.
Unfortunately, Charles Hurt didn’t take this tactic, instead deciding to malign a well-meaning individual- and by extension, the group which he belongs to. This brings us back to Michael Scott and Toby Flenderson. Assuming he’s being honest and not just trolling for publicity, Mr. Hurt seems to believe that he’s giving an example of why “America hates Hollywood” (his words), when in reality, he just gave Exhibit A for why so many Americans- and not just the ones in Hollywood, which is, in fact, a part of America- believe conservatives are heartless. Also, the like:dislike ratio is actually about 30:1 on Kimmel’s video- who knew that Hollywood was so much bigger than the rest of America?! If Charles Hurt’s intention was to expose liberals as the out-of-touch elitists, his tactic clearly backfired. By personally and viciously insulting a new father who’s just gone through a traumatic ordeal, Charles Hurt lives up to the worst caricatures of conservatives as greedy rich people, who don’t care about others- and make no mistake, a LOT of people believe that one, not just those that live in Hollywood. It might feel good to just take personal shots at people with a different point of view, but it’s a bad strategy long term- just ask Hillary Clinton.
Since Donald Trump’s victory, many people on the right have been laughing disdainfully at liberals living in their bubble. For the ones nodding approvingly at Charles Hurt’s needlessly angry column, it might be about time for them to step out of theirs.
While some might see that as an improvement, this post really has nothing to do with the Presidency. (To read more about that, Google pretty much any other site on the Internet.) Instead, we’re going to take a look at the latest stock market rally- a quick one, because like Stan Marsh after turning 10, I’m getting tired of the same old…well, if you haven’t see the episode, check it out sometime.
As of this writing, most American stocks are rallying substantially, with tech, in particular, rocketing to new highs. The explanation given is that globalist Emmanuel Macron will defeat nationalist gadfly Marine Le Pen, in a country with shores located more than 3,500 miles away from Wall Street, with a GDP of less than 1/5th of the U.S.’s. What does this have to do with the most expensive stocks in world history, increasing even more in value? Who cares? Buy stocks!
A less snarky explanation would be that with a global economy so interconnected, it is in need of its proponents to be in charge at all times. Macron supposedly keeps that order maintained. But even with THAT explanation, what does it say about the strength of the global economy, that if one of its leaders is voted out- and one not even in the top five in GDP– it puts the whole system at risk? Just how fragile is this thing? And how absurd is it that Wall Street puts so much faith in these leaders to begin with? Do they think its years (decades?) of easy money and endless bubble cycles can be maintained indefinitely, if they just keep people in power who believe in it?
To be fair, they’ve done a very good job with it so far- by their definition of “good job”. But make no mistake- this whole thing is primed for a popping, regardless of who is in charge, be it a nationalist, a populist, a duck, or a Trump. But as long as the party keeps going, enjoy your Rob Schneider movie collection, while you still can…
It’s nothing new to quote comedians who say things that are in tune with our own philosophy and ideology. In fact, it’s become so commonplace, it kind of feels like a lazy tactic to “prove” one’s own argument these days. For example, “South Park is SO spot on this season!” can be translated into plain English as, “South Park is saying things that I agree with!” What makes this quarter-century old clip from George Carlin so unique, is that he goes after a group that normally WOULD be in agreement with the types of things that he says- environmentalists. Carlin, like many comedians (and entertainers in general), was very much on the left on most issues, particularly social ones. But he was far from lockstep, which is one of many reasons why he was so great at what he did. Nowadays, he’d probably be labeled a climate change denier for making such claims, but his real message wasn’t about what was being done to the environment, but those who were trying to stop “it” from happening- whatever “it” may have been.
But this post isn’t primarily about George Carlin, or even yet another tired old argument about climate change- or “global warming”, as it used to be known as- which became an all-too-binary discussion all-too-long ago. In other words, most people think of climate change as either, “a hoax, from people that want to control your lives!” or “the cause our impending doom, which is clearly the fault of the denier and corporations!” The real issue is- or at least, should be– more nuanced. But this is 2017, and we don’t DO nuance very well in 2017.
Also being 2017, the problem has to be tied as tightly to President Donald Trump as possible. CNN’s Van Jones, normally one of the few seemingly reasonable commentators, sadly went off the rails a few weeks back, claiming that Trump, “may have just signed a death warrant for our planet”. At a bare minimum, coupled with the accompanying link about how “Trump’s climate policies put China in charge of our future“, this shows American arrogance at its finest, demonstrating yet again that “patriotic” conservatives don’t have a monopoly on this trait. How is a domestic policy supposed to single-handedly destroy the Earth’s environment? Donald Trump is an overbearing figure, but we’ve been destroying the planet longer than he’s been alive, let alone in power. And even assuming, just for the sake of argument, that Trump’s policy is as dangerous to the environment as Jones and so many others believe, how can ANY American policy stop the emerging world from doing what this country has done for nearly two centuries- that is, build an affluent, advanced society at the expense of the environment? Sure, it’s great for us to now say, “Gosh, planet, sorry we’ve screwed things up- but from now on, we’ll behave better- so you’d better do the same!” We’ve already gained the benefits of modernization, with all the unfortunate side effects of pollution that come with it. And now, we’re just going to wag our fingers at everyone else for doing the same thing? What makes ANYONE think that the rest of the world will go along with these grandiose regulations?
But even putting aside the hypocrisy of modern American environmentalism, as our society has benefited more from pollution than just about anyone else’s, what if we were just to start over? What if we just started doing “the right thing” now? What if we just didn’t pay attention to what was going on with the E.P.A., and became serious about making a positive contribution in our own, personal lives? Are we willing to do that? From what I can tell, based on a real life occurrence that was the catalyst for this entire post, the answer is absolutely not.
Nearly a hundred years after becoming a major city, Los Angeles has finally been making decent headway into expanding its Metrorail, the city’s mass transit railroad system that covers barely more than 10% of New York’s subway system. (Still, better late than never.) Along the Expo Line, which goes from Santa Monica into downtown LA, Culver City had become a major stop along the middle of the line, complete with hundreds of parking space. The Metrorail is not exactly a bullet train, so one of the major selling points for even using the train is parking.
So much for that idea. Not more than 5 years after the station opened, Culver City is now tearing down the parking lot for- you guessed it- shops and condos, because if there’s one thing LA needs more of, it’s shops and condos. *ahem* So where was the outrage over this? On Twitter- normally a breeding ground for the masses to vent out- the number of complaints could be counted on one hand. For one of the few people who DID criticize them for this move, correctly accusing LA Metro of discouraging people from taking the train, Metro responded with a 21st century version of “Let them eat cake”, essentially saying that anyone who lived in the new condos would have easy access to the train. Technically that’s true, but it’s also not reassuring for the 95% or so who won’t be living in or near the new development, that are also looking to use that train stop. Perhaps this would’ve generated more outrage- or any outrage, for that matter- if Kellyanne Conway had given such an absurd response. But since most people would rather have more fancy shops and condos over a large parking lot to take the train, it really isn’t that big a deal. (The breakneck speed that these stores and condos are getting built, not 10 years after the last time this scheme fell apart, is a whole other story.)
The bottom line is that it may be well-intentioned to criticize others for not doing their fair share for keeping the Earth cleaner than how they found it- or at least, making sure it doesn’t get any dirtier. But before that happens, try considering whatever small part YOU can play in helping out…and sorry, but mocking the Trump administration on Facebook for alternative facts or bad policy doesn’t count.
We all know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but just how MUCH grease does that squeaky wheel need? Maybe that wheel needs to work on its defense, or three-point shooting, or ability to use metaphors!
In the case of the NBA draft, good intentions have led to unintended consequences, as with most things in life. The worst team is given the greatest shot at getting the number one pick, thereby leading teams to play for their future, instead of playing for pride. These two goals shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, so how about this- for the first and third worst teams, the number of lottery balls are reversed. In other words, the team with the third worst record will get the most to choose from, while the one with the worst gets the third most. (A flip like this would still keep the second worst team with the second greatest chance.) Under this scenario, the worst team would still have a sizable shot at the best pick, while ensuring that they no longer strive to be the worst team on purpose. Losing is bad enough, but losing on purpose demoralizes the players, the fans, and anyone else with a vested interest in the franchise. Taking away the incentive to do that would make tanking a thing of the past.
You’re welcome, NBA.
Dow 20,000 is already old news- the Dow Jones’ seemingly stratospheric milestone in January would cause panic, if reached again in April (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
What started out as an echo bubble, roughly eight years ago, has long since outgrown the bubble it was echoing. How much it has outgrown the previous one remains to be seen, but there is no question- ZERO- that we have been witnessing economic madness for some time now. And, with respect to Commentary Magazine’s claim that, “there is no the-sky’s-the-limit attitude today on the Street,” there are a heck of a lot more of those, than claims that we may be overdoing juuuuust a little bit, let alone ones of impending economic doom. (There are a few exceptions, though.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I can no longer keep track of how many times I’ve been wrong about seeing The Top, as I have been proven wrong REPEATEDLY. All I can do, from this point forward, is create markers for A Top, which is to say that I’ll track new, distinct levels of crazy, whenever they appear. One of these days, A Top will be shown to be The Top, but that won’t be known until after the fact, as these things only become etched-in-stone in hindsight.
With that in mind, here is the first “A Top” to be documented on this site- on March 29th, 2017, Amazon.com reached another record high, with Barclays, a company that wouldn’t even exist if not for the bailout of ’08, declaring that it’s only a matter of time before Amazon becomes a $1 trillion company. (The money quote, pardon the pun- “it’s just a question of when, not if, in our view“.) I guess you’d have to have a high opinion of a company that could waste $500 million on another company that goes bust within five years, then quickly shrug it off, like someone who left a few quarters at the laundromat. After all, this is a company that is now worth more than 700% (!!!) of its Dot.com high, a level assumed not long after as ridiculous and unsustainable. In fact, the level was seen as so ridiculous after the 95% collapse from its high, it nearly wrecked Henry Blodget’s career, once his lofty predictions went kaput. Of course, that could NEVER happen now, because (all together now)…
THIS TIME, IT’S DIFFERENT!
And indeed, it is, according to San Francisco Fed President John Williams, who cited Goldilocks, to explain what was happening right now with our economy. You read that right, dear reader- in justifying what has been happening with our economy, an elite professional in the financial community cited a fairly tale! What an accidentally perfect metaphor, for what we are witnessing right now. This claim is all the more absurd, considering how the Goldilocks analogy was used- and then ridiculed- during the Y2K boom and bust. But don’t worry about that now, because…
THIS TIME, IT’S DIFFERENT!
And hey, remember when Alan Greenspan justified his lack of foresight about the Y2K bubble, because he claimed that bubbles can’t be seen in advance? Well, guess what- it turns out that not only CAN we see bubbles in advance, but we know for sure that we’re NOT in one now! We know this, because someone from Harvard told us this– and people from Harvard are really smart! After all, Ben Bernanke went to Harvard, and…hmm, well maybe that’s not the best example here. But I’m sure we don’t have to worry much about that now, because…
WELL, YOU GET THE IDEA!
Anyway, happy investing.
With a highly opinionated yet even tempered article, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake makes an excellent case that the political targeting of Michael Flynn wasn’t actually about Flynn himself, at least not primarily. As if to prove Mr. Lake’s point, a disgraced former news anchor insists that this might be the worst scandal since Watergate. And hey, you can trust him this time- no, really!
This is not intended to defend a guy that was supposed to be one of the gatekeepers of national security, yet couldn’t even be forthcoming about his own international affairs. It’s hard to be sympathetic towards someone who makes such a careless and arrogant mistake, any more than for a baseball player getting thrown out a second base, because he wasn’t hustling. (“I swear that ball was going out!”) But given how many enemies President Trump has, ESPECIALLY from the political establishment, it’s difficult to believe that the primary motivation behind all the outrage is for Flynn’s specific act, rather than for the greater goal of bringing the Trump administration to “justice” altogether. Maybe you think that’s a good thing, but the level of indignation directed at Flynn, like so many other things we’ve seen in recent months (going on years now), is comically disingenuous- particularly when so many thought that this gem from the previous administration wasn’t worthy of more than a news cycle or two.
In just a few hours, the Federal Reserve will have its first policy meeting of 2017. It’s somewhat incredible how little attention it’s getting, particularly given that it wasn’t so long ago that these meetings would be getting ALL of the attention. These days, if a story isn’t linked to President Donald Trump (President Trump- still hard to comprehend, but I digress), then it’s not a story at all. What’s even more incredible is that today’s Fed meeting could be the most important one in at least a decade.
For anyone who needs a refresher, the Federal Reserve policy meeting lost its substance early in the Ben Bernanke era, when the housing crisis of the last decade gave Ben Bernanke the excuse he always dreamed of, to drop “helicopter money” on the people, with zero percent interest rates. What was initially sold as a temporary emergency measure turned into official monetary policy for nearly a half generation. His successor and current Fed Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, was all too willing to keep it in place until recently, with only one measly interest rate hike prior to the shocking election, back in December 2015. (She probably even regretted implementing THAT one.) Nevertheless, the financial community hung onto every word that came out of these meanings, pretending that they gave some indication as to how close the central bank was to ending this near-zero interest rate environment. Though the words were altered from time to time for effect, the ultimate answer about when it would end was always some variation of, “Not right now.”
That appeared to have possibly changed last month, with the second hike of Yellen’s tenure shortly after the election results came in. Whether this was a change in direction or just an isolated incident, will be seen tomorrow. Nearly everyone is betting that the rates will hold as they are, but I’m not so sure. Then-candidate Trump all but challenged Yellen to raise them, railing at the phony economy- prior to subsequently taking credit for the stock market rally once elected, of course- and claiming that rates had been suppressed for too long. (At least he got THAT one right.) Surely deep down inside, and perhaps NOT even all that deep down inside, Yellen knows that this is a financial bubble that is LONG overdue for popping. What better time to have it happen then with a President she surely does not support. That’s not to say it would be PURELY political, but given that the man himself practically DARED her to, she now has the cover she needs for herself to take care of it. It’s far from a sure thing, but if I were a betting man- IF, IF, *ahem*- I would bet that rates go up tomorrow.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, for most of the same reasons that half the country didn’t vote for him- his incendiary comments, his lack of political experience, his shady business dealings, among other things. You know the list. But give the man his due. His detractors ridiculed him for getting a head start in life from his father’s success, yet these are the same people that act like Warren Buffett built his empire from a lemonade stand. (Howard Buffett, a successful businessman and congressman, gave young Warren a start that was light years ahead of the one that Fred Trump, a successful real estate investor, gave Donald.) For all the times that Trump declared bankruptcy, he always came back, bigger than ever. He’s made his enemies along the way, but for better or for worse, he’s overcome them all.
And this brings us to the #NeverTrump movement, mostly well-intentioned but quixotic from the start. From the beginning of this campaign, these people made every excuse in the book for Trump’s success- the primary field was too wide. The liberal media was intentionally propping up this weak buffoon. The voters were being conned. But at the end of it all, Trump rose above it, as he always seems to, beating the greatest American political machine of our generation, in spite of (because of?) the opposition of the media, the entertainment industry, and even prominent members of his own political party.
And it’s that last group that, above all else, needs to understand what happened here, because as I’m typing this, the earliest indicators are that they still don’t get it. Well, I’ll do my best to clarify it for them. The anti-Trump conservatives that want to pretend that other candidates could have done so much better than Donald Trump- most notably Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio- are trying to convince everyone that it’s only because Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate. There is this belief of false equivalency going around right now, that only Hillary could lose to The Donald, just like only The Donald could lose to Hillary. Two problems with this-
2) Donald Trump DID beat Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton did NOT beat Donald Trump.
In addition to these two seemingly self-evident facts, The Donald’s detractors refuse to acknowledge that he possesses something which alludes most politicians, particularly those on the right- a genuine ability to connect with people. And if this is STILL not enough to convince his many detractors and critics how remarkable Trump’s triumph actually was, they should consider this…From the beginning, the corrupt Clinton machine, with Bill’s draft dodging, and sexual assault, and secret deals with China for campaign cash, and endless character assassination on not only political opponents, but those who simply “got in the way”, combined with Hillary’s smearing of a 12 year old rape victim, and Whitewater dealings, and Benghazi, and mishandling of classified materials, CONTINUOUSLY stepped on the Republicans for a quarter of a century, almost uninterrupted. In turn, these Republicans feebly tried kicking Bill out of office, practically hanging all hope on a technicality, yet instead ended up launching Hillary’s political career. Some of them even openly SUPPORTED HER FOR PRESIDENT, as the #NeverTrump movement, with very few exceptions, became little more than Hillary’s minions. And yet, Donald Trump, with all his faults and NO POLITICAL EXPERIENCE, managed to end the Clintons. Whatever else happens from this point forward, he deserves serious recognition for that act alone.