I have given the "Russia-Holds-Markers-On-Trump" due to holding financial and socially embarrassing information with a critical eye. It was and still is unverified and I am not sure how it was included in the intelligent community's classified report. There is no fire. Just potential smoke.
What is less in question, and is close to certain fact, is that Trump favors Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Putin favors him.
Why did Rex Tillerson, at great frustration to Marco Rubio, deny Putin as a war criminal? The farthest he was willing to say about Russia's involvement in killing thousands in Georgia and Syria - women and children and not fighting ISIS - was he would have to study it more and get Trump's input.
In other words, Tillerson was served softball questions and he seemed forced to whiff. His answers seemed at odds for a man who is clearly smart. He seems willing to risk his bet on leaving Exxon Mobil and his Secretary of State nomination, over sticking to the Trump party line on Russia.
Also, why was Trump so worried about his relationship with Russia that he refused to answer CNN's questions during his press conference which prematurely showed his hand on not accepting the freedom of the press, nine days before being inaugurated?
If the intelligence community seemed to provide flawed smoke to explain a greater fire, it was only because there is something strange going on between Russia and Trump that yet lacks an explanation.
January 11, 2017
The cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio, Shiller P/E, is a valuation measure applied to the US S&P 500 equity market. It is defined as price divided by the average of ten years of earnings (moving average), adjusted for inflation.
The Shiller PE Ratio mean is 16%.
It is now at 28.1%.
Note that the only time it was higher was during the high productivity 1990s. That's when the combination of low cost computing met the powers of the internet in one of the greatest leap forward in productivity since the transcontinental railroad was linked to the telegraph.
2017? I don't see anything like that happening today or tomorrow. The Trump affect - lower corporate taxes and regulations - do make a difference, but only relative to the actual gains in GDP and corporate profits during 2016.
It's not a matter of whether a correction will happen, it's just a matter of time. When? No one can say for sure. But it will be around the time when bonds start to look attractive from the US and cash-rich corporations.
All bonds are determined by US Treasury rates. The Fed has already announced three more interest rate hikes in 2017. If Congress and Trump's tax cut plans involve more deficit spending, that could push bond interest rates high enough to have investors move cash from stocks to bonds.
And that could be enough for the Shiller index to correct itself closer to its historical mean.
January 10, 2017
One. The best media money will move to the left. During the Obama presidency, Fox News and alt-right news served as the meeting place and propaganda for a large minority of people who couldn't accept the 44th president. Now the game will switch. Megyn Kelly is moving to NBC. Greta Van Susteren - who went from an analyst during the OJ trial on CNN to a Fox firebrand - is moving to MSNBC. The Washington Post is hiring more writers. You may seen an election as happiness or sadness. The media sees an election as an economic opportunity.
Two. One way of managing is consensus. That's what most leaders do. I think Trump will use divide and conquer. The GOP has said they just need a president to sign their bills. Trump has the relationship the other way around. Take health care and repeal/repeal-replace. I can totally see Congress repealing HCR. But I can also see Trump vetoing it. I can see Trump not vetoing tax reform, but I can also see him siding with the Democrats on other policies or legislation. I am not completely sure I understand Trump's ideology. But I do understand he wants to be different than anyone else in the world and country. Hence I think he will do whatever it takes to build his coalitions ad hoc for his own purposes.
Three. The tweets. His tweeting will continue because that allows himself to express him SELF. A problem? I don't think so. I believe Trump tweets will cumulatively elicit eye-rolling and have less and less impact. In twelve days, it isn't going to be about what Trump tweets. It is going to be about what he is accomplishing.
Fourth. Actual required labor is tapped out. Trump and GOP plans all call for more deficit spending than under Obama. Yellen is not going to help Trump. The Fed will raise interest rates to manage inflationary risks. That means higher prices to consumers. And in an economy based on 70% of GDP coming from consumption, Trump will face some economic headwinds in his first year in office.
Fifth. After all the hyperbole and clownish behavior, I don't see a big difference between Trump's foreign policy and Obama's foreign policy. Both Trump and Obama see China as the bigger threat. Obama pushed the US Navy more and more into the Pac Rim. Trump wants to do the same by spending more money. Except for Iran - which the Trump administration will better understand the complexity, as it spends time thinking about why even Israel's Mossad isn't convinced bombing can curtail nuclear enrichment if international inspections were to be discontinued by ripping up the international agreement with Iran - Trump isn't interested in wasting the military in the Middle East.
January 9, 2017
I am posting this before Trump meets with the US security team today. US security - especially the CIA - have always leaked information. That's what they do. US security shows Russian hacking to disrupt the election. Trump and his team are, up to this morning, pushing back hard. One question is why? I will get to that in a second.
My own analysis of Trump, is he likes to go to the brink of craziness, setting the bar low, and then resetting. So that his performance isn't based on an absolute. Rather he gets graded on a curve of his own making.
I expect him to come out of the security briefing without his past denial. But I don't expect him to change 360 degrees. I expect him to say that "they" made some interesting points, and he is going to get advice from his own "security" team after he is sworn in. Again, the media and Americans, will grade this move on his part, as a pattern of grading on a curve.
It also takes into account that at the end of the day, or more accurately every second of the day, Trump is mostly interested in him and not anything else. Even if presented with clear and undisputed evidence, Trump has to exit with his best interests and ego in mind.
Whether I am right or wrong about Trump's response today, what is troubling, is why he has always defended Putin and Russia. I am not as anti-Putin and Russia as are many people. I have tried to illuminate the realities of the Russian mind, to understand their actions. So I have no difficulty - if presented with the facts - at accepting that Putin and Russia put their finger on the scale of our election and will do so in French and German elections in 2017. Because that is in their best interest, which is disrupting the West. I am not defending Russia, but Trump has.
What will haunt the American public and by extension Trump, however he responds today or week/months from now, is not releasing his taxes. I don't know if Trump has financial ties to Russia. And neither does the reader. So the danger to the US, taking out all the hyperbole, is really that Russia can control Trump by personal economics and/or blackmail.
Another grading-on-curve/reset is Trump saying that he is going to ask Congress to start building a wall at our southern border and then making Mexico pay us back. Coupling this with his Wall Street cabinet of uber-billionaires and tax breaks for the rich, it seems to me that Trump is making a big bet that his supporters will support him when he breaks his campaign promises and doesn't change their lot in life.
Perhaps he is betting on cognitive dissonance. Or a combination of cognitive dissonance and appealing to a big high-finance state like New York and the ability for high-finance to fund his reelection.
The one constant I can say, is Trump looks out for what is good for Trump. Perhaps that will work to his own benefit. But there is always the possibility that hubris or trying to fly too close to the Sun, in a cloak of his own self-grandiose, leads to a Greek like fall.
January 6, 2017
Sorry. I just don't see a world of good guys and bad guys. Robert McNamara famously said that you have to empathize with other nations to better understand what lies behind their words and their actions.
Governing Russia's large geography - 11 time zones - requires strong central authority. Putin understands this. While the West characterizes Putin the Great as some kind of dictator; it insults the Russian people as being homogeneous. They are not. Rather Putin is accountable and must maintain a balancing act. The Russian people want social, economic and security stability. They also are proud of their country - they lost 25 million people in World War II and were the real winners of the war - and they want to be respected around the world.
There is thus a chicken and egg paradox when thinking about Russia. Is Putin a strong leader and the Russian people recognize that and have loyalty to him. Or is Putin simply the latest Russian leader who panders to Russian people's needs?
I believe it emphatically is the latter. Energy drives Russia's economics. The drop in the price of oil and gas has inexorably made their economic lives worse. Thus Putin has to overcompensate on social, security and national pride. Incursions into the Ukraine were part of that overcompensation. Unfortunately this further burdened Russian's economic needs by Western sanctions. Now Putin has had to double down by getting involved in Syria.
The West sees Putin's Syrian incursion as a threat; while I see it as logical and something that Putin would like to take back. While the Russian people are proud of their military playing on a larger stage; they can't be happy about the commuter plane crash of Russian citizens over the Sinai and Egypt and Turkey being closed to tourism. Also the Russian people are concerned about terrorism security. While the rest of the world debates Islamic refugees, Russia already has a large Islamic population. Any blowback will hurt Putin.
Such is the lot of Putin. I wouldn't want the job. And Putin probably has days where he doesn't want it either. He has to balance an almost impossible tight rope. And it gets more impossible as time goes on.
Finally, if the West had a military jet shot down by another country, you can be sure they would strike back. Well, Putin didn't strike back. So to call him "evil" is a gross and incorrect characterization. Throughout history and with Putin, Russia has never been one to directly confront other nations. Instead it has mainly fought proxy wars.
The West is quick to demonize Putin. What the West doesn't understand, is that Putin, is just the latest strong Russian leader. If Putin fails, another stronger leader will replace him - November 26, 2015
The first mistake in America's thinking about Russia is geography and conquest. Russia's real historical obsession has been foreign (particularly the West) invasion and the high cost of rolling it back. About 500,000 Americans lost their life during World War II, while Russia lost 25 million people. For years they begged the West to open a Western front. By D-Day, Russia had already taken back its territory and all of Eastern Europe. From meetings with England and the US, there was agreement on the post-war borders, and Russia honored them to the letter, even though they could have gone much farther. Russia wasn't obsessed with conquest. Rather they wanted a buffer to buttress their own borders.
The Cuban Missile Crisis started because the US had nuclear missiles on Russia's borders in Turkey. That's like Russia putting nuclear missiles in Mexico. So they secretly deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba for their own defense. Russia had planned to announce their presence in November, but the US found about them in October. When the US agreed to remove the Turkey Missiles, Russia removed the Cuban missiles. Why? Because it all was about their own security.
Now using that thinking, what do you think was on the mind of Putin when Nato expanded up to its borders? Not good. But Nato didn't include the Ukraine (for good reason due to its divide between Western and Eastern loyalties). So Putin "covertly" pushed into Eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea. He did the same in Georgia. Why? Look at a map. Nato had blocked Russia's access to the Black Sea and with it the Mediterranean Sea.
So what about Russian hacking? Well everyone spies on everyone in the world, including its allies. But Russia is at a strategic and economic disadvantage. So it has to fight asymmetrically. Fighting asymmetrically - whether it is in geopolitics or business - is about using faults in large organizations and exploiting them. In Russia's case, they know that Western Europe's people are not happy about wage disparity. So they fund nationalist/populists to help the win elections. Brexit was round one. France and Germany are round two.
The mighty US has its own faults. Namely similar wage disparity on top of a a sizable minority that either isn't educated or has no intellectual curiousness. So you take advantage of that.
Again the question comes back to why? And it is all about Russia's own security. They look West everyday, like we would if Canada had standing armies. They look at the US, because it supports Nato and Western Europe.
Past leaders and Putin are ruthless rulers. This post is not intended to be taken as a Trump-like man crush on Putin or Russia. It simply is a way to view Putin and Russia's actions that affect us. It is to remind anyone that trying to bring down Russia and Putin is far more dangerous than their actions. And to rebuild Russia's government - with no democratic traditions - most certainly means the end will be Putin 2.0.
January 3, 2017
First of all, the epicenter of 2017 will be Donald Trump. A large minority wanted him. A large minority didn't want him. Either way, Trump is what we will get. Every hour and every day.
January 1, 2017
Contradictions and nuance always get shelved for the most simple narrative.
Obama is anti-Israel And Trump is pro-Israel
The contradictions and nuance borne out by facts -
Obama and Netanyahu signed a 10-Year $38 Billion US aid package to Israel in September. This is the biggest aid package in US history. Furthermore, under Obama, Israel has received more aid dollars than any other president.
Obama's UN abstaining vote was not unprecedented. Obama abstained only one UN anti-Israel vote. While Reagan abstained seven UN anti-Israeli votes.
Obama's Israeli position wasn't made in a vacuum. Pro-Israeli Jewish lobbying has long recognized that anything but a two-state solution would weaken the core of Israel democracy. Israeli Arabs make up about 22% of Israel's population. But with declining birth rates amongst Israeli Jews and increasing birth rates amongst Israeli Jews, it is widely accepted that by 2035, Israeli Arabs will be the majority. Netanyahu has called this a "ticking time bomb". A one-state solution greatly exacerbates this demographic peril. Leaving an undemocratic apartheid as the only solution. It is a feckless mistake to see Israel as a monolithic country controlled by Netanyahu. Rather Israel is made up of many parties, Netanyahu has to pander to his base to stay in precarious power and Israel depends on US financial support.
Speaking of US financial support. Obama's successor for president was Hillary Clinton. Clinton received 70% of the American Jewish vote in the 2016 election, while Trump garnered only 25%. The pro-Israel Jewish lobbyists get their money from American Jews. Meaning that continued US support for Israel - at least at this time - depends on Israel remaining a democracy.
While Trump has signaled he is pro-Israel, his policies are pro-Arab. It is no secret that Trump is pro-fossil fuels. His selection of Exxon's CEO and his EPA pick are pro-fossil fuel. Tillerson's experience in dealing with Arab countries on oil deals has been impressive. Furthermore, Trump has signaled two important facts. He is loathe to use military power in the Middle East and he wants Iraq's oil. Which is all to say, that he wants to maintain the status quo of the Middle East so he and Tillerson can broker oil deals.
I know all of these contradictions and nuance borne out by facts don't fit nicely into a simple narrative. But for those who want to read between the headlines, US-Israeli policy of the past and future, is much more complicated.
December 28, 2016
The history of Jesus has to be taken into the context of the Roman Empire, Judaism, Imperialism, and Agrarian Commercialization.
Early first century Jews, in what is now Israel and Palestine, lived under Roman occupation and a hand-picked Jew-ish aristocracy.
The laws of Judaism clearly outlined that land was owned by God and was to be fairly distributed; while the Roman Empire clearly felt that the land was owned by them and was to be commercialized to provide a surplus for the benefit of the Roman Empire (taxes) and Jew-ish aristocracy (importation of things like marble to build great cities and homes).
The Roman Empire - through the issuing of loans and certain defaults - took God's land away from the Jewish people, created economies-of-scale and other productivity to achieve their commercial agrarian best interests.
We know from the Maccabean Revolt (before Jesus), through the time of Pontius Pilate, to the time of the destruction of the Temple and ultimately the Jewish homeland, that a tension of haves and have-nots along with the laws of Jewish land ownership created severe tension.
This tension brought out a menu of opposition that we would recognize today. And that opposition wasn't united. There were isolationist Essenes and there were Sicarii Zealots who conducted urban warfare (killing enough Jew-ish aristocracy with knives under clothing to create chaos). There were Sadducees and Pharisees. And there were non-violent protestors. And while they all had the same common enemy, they had very little nice things to say about one another.
We know that one such non-violent protestor was John the Baptist. His mistake was he led a one-person centric opposition. Herod Antipater - son of Herod the Great - killed him and thus killed his movement. We also know of one non-violent protestor who was named Jesus. If John created a monopoly, Jesus created a franchise.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the historical Jesus. We would recognize the name of his "Kingdom" Jewish theology. But we fail to understand what his "Kingdom" Jewish theology meant. Even though many people can say the "Lord's Prayer" by rote, they miss what is in plain sight.
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts ...".
Jesus's "Kingdom" wasn't the promise of a heaven. It was about restoring a just world. And one that was rooted in Judaism (see "debts").
His franchise was simple. Go out among the people, with no knapsack (nothing to ear) and no staff (no weapon) and create mini-Kingdoms of communal sharing of eating.
There was no resurrection theology. First century Jews would find nothing unique about resurrections. But they would understand the hope for a just kingdom on earth.
First century gentiles would also find nothing unique about a resurrection. Each Caesar was God's son and his coins all showed him being resurrected to heaven. Caesars provided relative peace and order for gentiles. But there were gentiles that were poor and had nothing to eat. Paul didn't sell Jesus as much as he built 10 person communes in 100s of cities within the Roman Empire. If someone asked why should I listen to you, Paul would tell them to talk to the 100s of communes. That is why Paul was always traveling.
I think it is fair to see the parallels between the haves and have-nots from the first century's commercial agrarianism to today's hyper-commercialism of everything. An ever-yawning economic chasm has created more non-violent forms of protest in the US/West - from Occupy Wall Street, to the Tea Party, to Brexit, to the election of Donald Trump and potentially more right-wing nationalistic election victories to come.
I think that there are parallels between the Roman Empire and US Hegemony also. When you view the Middle East, the construct of US military and money power, along with a hand-picked aristocracy, has led to more violent forms of protest.
When you look at the menu of rivaling opposition in the first century, it goes a long way into explaining the growing tribalism of today.
It explains why in the US/West, racism and anti-immigration are on the rise. Haves and have-nots might have a common enemy, but find as much comfort in demonizing along tribal boundaries as in the first century.
It also explains why the Middle East is not only so violent, but so tribal amongst say amongst Shias and Sunnis. Also why a small minority of zealots conducting terrorism can so unhinge what seemingly looks like great power.
Which is all to say, that throughout history, tension has led to violent and non-violent forms of providing a more "just" society. Why imperialism and hegemony are temporal. Why governments have found that pure communism is as unsustainable as the "Jesus Movement". And why people continue to vacillate between socialism, isolation and authoritarianism.
And finally why new Israeli settlements of land - although not seemingly rational to the UN- are nonetheless very rational to non-diaspora Jewish citizens of Israel.
December 27, 2016
This year's election came as a blow to my home.
While I have veered from being a solid Republican to an independent, and have always been a social libertarian, my wife and I built a home that doesn't discriminate based on race or religion.
Interracial friends and prom dates. Muslim and Jewish friends, dinners and weddings. Our home also doesn't discriminate based on money. And everyone is welcome.
Apparently, it seems now in retrospect, we have been running some kind of dysfunctional commune on some island. Not only does our town and county not live this way, but members of our extended family don't live this way.
I have had to apologize to my children that our social values have left them unprepared to the underlying currents that led to the election of Trump.
Black lives don't matter to others. Instead of our family treating religion as an opportunity to examine Christianity within a rich gumbo of comparative religions, others see religion as a tribal boundary. Instead of drawing comparisons from recent immigrants to our ancestors, others see immigration as a threat. Instead of supporting government spending that redistributes our relative wealth to others less fortunate, others see people in need as parasites.
Trump's Nuremberg rallies, in front of Christmas trees with rabid supporters, attacks the very foundation of what comes natural: Wishing people "Happy Holidays".
The only way to understand Trump-ism, with all of its populist appeals and contradictions, is to view it as anything that tries to accomplish one thing: What is good for Trump's ego and and finances.
Who is going to make sure he doesn't have financial conflicts? Who is going to make sure he doesn't circumvent the IRS? Who is going to make sure that the US maintains a free press? Who is going to protect civil liberties? Who is going to protect the least among us? The GOP? Maybe. The Democrats? Too weak. Federal courts? Hopefully. The military? Questionable. The CIA and FBI? Questionable.
For all the people who were concerned about pocketbook issues and saw bogeymen in other races and religious affiliation, they may get their wishes granted on the latter but they will be fooled on the latter.
Trump's cabinet is worth $47 billion. That buys a lot of power to circumvent the constitution. It also is built to protect the wealthy. The working class? Have they studied Trump's tax plan? Do they understand Trump can't improve their finances? How long will it take them to figure out that nothing is going to change?
Many of his supporters will have confirmation bias. But it seems just as likely that some of his supporters will join the other half of the country that didn't vote from him. And find more common cause with the bogeymen they wanted to eliminate.
What will Trump say in his inaugural address/tweets when ex-presidents and popular entertainment shun him? When people protest? Will he have the bigness to ignore all of that and say things that are inclusive to all Americans? Or will he more likely dish out red meat to his current supporters to extend his honeymoon of the to-be-fooled? The only word that I can guarantee him saying is his verbal pause of "OK".
So for now, happy nervous holidays to the reader.
December 24, 2016
President Obama has a 57% approval rate. But his party lost the 2016 election. So how will historians view his presidency? The following are the long-term pros and cons.
The Great Recession Comeback. Historians will view his actions working with the Bush transition, as perhaps his greatest achievement.
Affordable Care Act. History will show that he was the first president, among many presidents who tried, to enact progressive health care to so many Americans that were not insured. Ironically, the GOP's attempt at repeal and replace in three years, will bolster this portion of his legacy. Many Americans, who voted for Trump, took him figuratively and not literally. These same people are now scared because they see a strong possibility of not being able to insure their up-to-26 children and insure themselves/family due to pre-existing conditions. This problem can only have two outcomes. One is Trump and the GOP back off due to political pressure. Or they repeal/delay-replace with bad political outcomes in 2018 and 2020. Either way, the Affordable Care Act will be the elephant in the room for the next two to four years.
A Respect For Obama's Long-Term Thinking In Foreign Policy. With the images in Syria/Aleppo and ISIS terrorism, it is easy to say that Obama was feckless. That maybe true in the short-term. But here is the long-game Obama seemed to understand. Using economic sanctions on Russia was anything but a policy that didn't matter. Just the opposite. Letting Russia fill the vacuum in Syria? With Assad, and his secular opposition, his Sunni terror opposition, his ISIS terror opposition and Shia support, any sustained military presence by Russia or the US would be a long-term disaster. Russia took the bait and Obama didn't. The ISIS terrorist attacks? These terrorist attacks have not come from refugees. They have come from citizens pledging support for ISIS. ISIS has been under such attack by the Obama administration, that their only means of relevance is foreign terrorism. They are now less a caliphate than a Al Qaeda 2.0.
His Moral Character. In contrast with the Clinton administration and the incoming Trump administration, the Obama administration has never faced legal criticism or embarrassment. Time and time again, Obama has been a healer-in-chief - like Reagan - after every American tragedy with a personal touch and empathy for grieving families. Obama is respected as a man and a father. Finally, his Reaganesque American uber-optimism, has been remarkable given his strong opposition from the other side of the aisle.
His Popularity Never Translated Downward To His Party. Continued GOP control of Congress, governorships and state houses hasn't been as strong since 1928.
His Introversion Has Been His Achilles' heel. Obama has never been good at forming relations with both Republican and Democrat legislators. If you put Clinton's deal making with Obama's pros, he would have had a chance to be seen as a great president. Meaning the most he can achieve, which is likely, is that he was a good president.
He Lacked The Reagan Skills of Communicating. Domestic and foreign policy are complex subjects. Obama never made the complex more simple nor did he communicate into American homes. While Obama was a great campaigner and did well taking his message on the road, why he didn't give Oval Office addresses is baffling. Oval office addresses vs. podium addresses (like the killing of Osama Bin Laden) is the difference between talking to people and talking at people. His cons could have been overcome by intimate persuasion by gaining the support of the American people by bypassing Congress.
December 21, 2016