Public-Private Partnership Is NOT a Libertarian Concept!

reposting this article from 2017….

Privatized Isn’t the Same as Private

Several years ago, when I saw protests in Europe against austerity and privatization, I thought they were misguided. If a country is powering down the welfare state in favor of free enterprise, the people should be happy. Then I realized that privatization isn’t exactly free enterprise. Often it involves taking an industry that is served by a government monopoly and delivering it wholesale to a private entity or individual while keeping in tact regulations that restrict competition, mandates that individuals purchase the product or government contracts that generate all the firm’s revenue.

When I see that some of the richest men in the world got that way buying government-run monopolies that remain insulated from competition long after being taken “private,” I don’t think of the oligarchs as entrepreneurs. When I look at single-payer healthcare vs mandated health insurance purchases, I don’t see one as socialist and the other as libertarian, I see one as socialist and the other as fascist. And when I see NGOs or defense companies entirely funded by government contracts, I do not feel like these are private organizations responding to the demands of the free market, I feel like these are self-serving cronies feeding off the taxpayer. It is my position that if an entity is in a highly-regulated industry, if it’s revenues are a result of government-mandated spending, or if it contracts exclusively with government, it’s a government program funneling money to the government-connected rich or those who wish to be.

I’m an anarcho-capitalist–as far from a communist as you can get–but I recognize that if the government provides a service, it’s very hard for an individual to become a billionaire providing that service without breaking the law and risking punishment. Having a public-private partnership not only allows the government-connected rich to siphon off huge amounts of cash from the government and lay legal claim to it (basically, laundering it), it transfers vast assets and industries to these protected cronies (see the video below).

In true private enterprise, companies cannot make out-sized profits because customers will go to competitors or simply stop purchasing an overpriced product. If customers are required to buy the product, or worse, if the customer is the government itself, there is no market force ensuring efficiency or honesty because these industries are always highly regulated with a tightly controlled competitive landscape. The natural economic forces that drive prices down to the marginal cost of all inputs are absent without unbridled competition and a freely acting customer base.

For these reasons, among others, I’m not a fan of the public-private partnership. (For other factors to consider, watch the video below.)

It’ll Take a Republican to Silence the Small Government Right

As a general rule, Republican voters see infrastructure projects as the cronyistic money pits they are and resist them. Oddly, however, Donald Trump has made as a staple of his campaign and his presidency, massive infrastructure spending. As a matter of fact, this was the only policy goal he mentioned in his acceptance speech on election day, and I suspect it will be the only campaign promise he sees through to the end, actually accomplishing it instead of just blowing it up and saying “I tried.”

Perhaps to make this plan more palatable to the Republican base, Trump and his team claim to want to spur $1 trillion of infrastructure spending without actually spending that much on the federal level. How? By encouraging partnerships with the federal government on the state and local level–that is, by getting your local governments to spend your tax money on a federal agenda–and by partnering with private enterprise beginning with air traffic control. This particular agenda item alarms me.

I was never afraid of air travel. As a matter of fact, I was on one of the first commercial flights to take off in the United States after 9/11. I figured it was the safest day in human history to fly, though we waited hours at the gate for the airline to find a flight crew who agreed with me.

After I had children, however, I began to worry, then I started to develop a fear of flying. I renewed my old habit of praying during take off and landing (this did not endear me to my cabinmates!) and making sure the last thing I did was text my family: “I love you.” Then I read this remarkable news in Forbes Magazine and my fear disappeared completely:

Nobody died in a crash of a United States-certificated scheduled airline operating anywhere in the world in 2016.
This probably should no longer qualify as “news.”
That’s because it is the seventh straight year that nobody died in a crash on a United States-certificated scheduled airline operating anywhere in the world.

Granted, our air traffic control cannot be responsible for our airlines’ safety all over the world and it stands to reason to credit the airlines themselves for the safety they achieve, but I might err on the side of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” top to bottom. I stand by this view despite the hyperbolic statement by the clearly biased Journal that “only the most cynical on the left could claim a spinoff threatens passenger safety.” (Why? It can’t possibly improve it, because it’s perfect. I do hesitate to point this out though, lest it become less perfect all of a sudden the way Cowboys Stadium fell into disrepair just as its owner was lobbying for government bonds to fund the new stadium. You want cynical? That is cynical.)

Please don’t get me wrong. I would support a truly private solution and a return of all commercial aviation functions to the providers of commercial aviation–let them pay for it, let them pass the cost onto their users, let them be responsible for the quality and safety of their product, and let their customers evaluate the risks. Even if one is concerned with negative externalities–that non-participants can be affected by airline accidents and hijackings–the public sector is not the answer. (Case in point, 9/11 itself occurred squarely on the watch of the United States government with its near trillion dollar defense budget alongside what might be the most regulated sector in human history because, according to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld if I recall correctly, “we were looking out not in.”)

The interests of airlines and their passengers are perfectly aligned, whereas our interests and those of our pathocracy are not so aligned. In our rich society, the affluent businessmen and women who provide critical airline revenue have effectively zero tolerance for accidents and have a ready substitute for business travel in telecommuting. They are willing to pay for safety, they do pay for it and they get it. It’s a canard that big government is necessary for big safety–plenty of poor, dangerous countries have big governments–it’s the wealth generated by capitalism that allows a society to spend lavishly on safety and have zero tolerance for danger. What’s more, the coercive, monopoly government relies on fear to justify the security it claims to provide. Distasteful though it is to acknowledge, there is an inherent conflict of interests here: no danger, no fear.

So I would be happy to get government out of airline safety, but I’m not happy to see government align with cronies to what end I don’t think we yet know. The private air traffic control entity is being billed as non-profit and we are told, again by the hyperbolic and biased Wall Street Journal, that the air traffic control assets would rightly be contributed to the entity at no cost because “no company would buy the equipment in this scrapyard.” (So all the air traffic equipment in this country, which guided probably 25,000 flights a day for seven years straight without a single fatality, is worth $0 at the most?)

Having watched the video above, and given the whole topic quite a bit of thought, I can’t help but conclude the actual point of the exercise is to put control of these assets into an opaque, privately-owned but government-enforced monopoly on which we would forever depend but over which we would have no control. The entire public-private partnership trend reminds me of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s ultimate solution to The Crisis of Democracy: foster non-governmental entities in all sectors of society, from unions to universities, to make the population reliant upon non-democratic institutions where they have no influence.

This is yet another example (drug legalization and immigration are two others) of cronies or social engineers offering to shoe-horn into the welfare-warfare superstructure quasi free market solutions whose purpose is not to increase freedom but to serve other aims while co-opting libertarian principles and support.

Update: Case in point on “privatizing” meaning cronyizing…

Dianne Feinstein’s Husband’s Real Estate Firm Poised to Make $1 Billion Selling Post Offices
Washington business model: spouses spot deals with huge upsides.

Feinstein dismissed the conflict of interest allegations at the time, which were followed by numerous investigative reports criticizing the deal. The USPS Inspector General issued a report saying the contract was not how it previously sold properties and was unlikely to reduce USPS costs. California-based investigative reporters found that CBRE was selling properties below market value to clients, which means those buyers could likely profit if they resold them.

and guess who won the bid for the cream of the crop, the DC Post Office?

Donald Trump Is Going Postal
“The Trump people said all the right things” said a former member of his team. “He never intended to stick with it.” How Donald Trump won control of a prized D.C. landmark. A BuzzFeed News Investigation.

The decision to award the contract to Trump was announced in 2012 with considerable fanfare, but the details of how he actually won the bid — beating out teams that included major hotel chains and then locking in near-total control of the landmark — have remained largely unknown. A spokesperson for the federal agency that handled the transaction, the General Services Administration, or GSA, called it “one of the most highly scrutinized deals” the agency has ever done, but it has kept many details hidden, heavily redacting the property’s lease and refusing to release Trump’s initial proposal. Officials declined BuzzFeed News’ requests for interviews about how the deal was struck and did not respond to questions in time for publication.

Going Postal
Richard Blum, the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein, obtained a contract to broker sales of USPS facilities, but no evidence documents that it was due to his wife’s influence.

In 2011, the CB Richard Ellis Group (now CBRE Group, Inc.), the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm, was awarded an exclusive contract to market USPS facilities which provides CBRE with a commission of 2 to 6 percent on the sale of those properties.
This award has been the subject of some controversy, as CBRE’s Chairman of the Board is Richard C. Blum, the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who represents the state of California in the U.S. Senate.

Trump would violate DC hotel lease the moment he takes office

Trump’s luxury hotel in the Old Post Office Building officially opened earlier this year. A provision in the lease with the GSA states that “No … elected official of the Government of the United States … shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”

Update (9/2/17):
Trump Infrastructure Plan Seeks to Shift Decisions—and Bills—to States, Cities
White House puts localities in driver’s seat for funding as it aims for $1 trillion goal, but some local officials raise alarms

I Call BS! The Shortage of Truckers is a Result of Deliberate Policy!

truckNowhere in this article does it mention the systematic policy attack on truckers. Extreme restrictions on truckers’ flexibility over when to drive has crushed productivity–rising wages or line-hauls won’t make up for having to spend more hours idle for every delivery. Demand for truckers is going up not only as demand for transportation has increased but also as each trucker is forced to be less productive, an effect that compounds the shortage of drivers by causing truckers who can’t make a living to exit  the industry resulting in even fewer trucker-hours to meet rising demand.
I have seen the momentum toward autonomous trucking accelerating past that for passenger cars since the company Otto was created by some well-connected tech folks to retrofit existing trucks with self-driving technology–that’s a sign of a short timeline IMO.
This WSJ article is portraying the undersupply of truckers as an unfortunate market failure–watch out for future articles that build on this underlying false assumption to argue that we have no choice but to adapt infrastructure to self-driving trucks in a hurry.
Of course, those who pay the freight will love such a subsidy allowing them to switch to a government-subsidized technology rather than compensate for government-implemented productivity crushing policies with higher wages. My guess is they are all in this together. Similarly, the uber-lyft model does not work without self-driving technology. Billions upon billions of dollars have been pumped into these businesses for years by very smart people–surely they know driverless is coming despite the tremendous cost and disruption it will visit upon taxpayers and laborers alike.
Maybe I’m wrong, but the way this article deliberately ignores the real problem with declining trucker supply makes me wonder, Why even write the article? Obviously, there’s some agenda at work. We will see what it is. #WTWOF

Trucking Companies Are Struggling to Attract Drivers to the Big-Rig Life
The U.S. freight market is speeding ahead, but recruiting new truck drivers to meet demand is proving harder to rev up

Very Clever, Mr. Musk! (follow-on to yesterday's post)

musk bannonYesterday, in my post, The Musk Special: Government-Privilege Two Ways, I pointed out how government policy, government subsidies, government-sponsored research and government regulation are crucial to Elon Musk’s Tesla empire, complete with examples of plummeting electric vehicle sales in markets where governments stopped fostering them.
This guy’s success is clearly dependent on government policy, and if government policy is the key to his success, what does he need on his side? (Hint: Binkley’s all over it! Just check out his reading list.) The answer is: PUBLIC OPINION!!! And what’s the key to public opinion? That’s an easy one. MEDIA! Sooooo……what did I read in the paper today???? Tesla took on two new directors and both happen to be media mega-wigs.
Tesla Names James Murdoch and Linda Johnson Rice to Board of Directors
Silicon Valley auto maker has faced criticism from investors about lack of independent directors

Tesla Inc., which has faced criticism from its investors about a lack of independent directors, named 21st Century Fox Inc. Chief Executive James Murdoch and Ebony Media CEO Linda Johnson Rice to its board.

Looks like the official story is that Tesla is doing this to improve the perceived integrity of the board. If so, they made an interesting choice! The rest of this article* reads like an apologia for James Murdoch’s phone-hacking scandal in the UK as well as an ad for a kinder & gentler Fox News–no more racism or sexual harassment, promise! But hey, the Murdochs own The Journal–of course they’re going to take every opportunity to influence public opinion–that‘s my point!
(Another example–and a spectacular one–of The Journal blatantly serving the Murdochs’ personal interest, or at least their thirst for vengeance, was the way they went after Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, a highly-hyped blood-testing company.
My husband was fascinated by the story–Holmes’ meteoric rise and her equally meteoric descent. He kept saying, “Man, The Journal has got it in for this chick–they are going after her!” I didn’t think much of that, and I’m not saying she didn’t deserve it, but I had to give my husband credit when I read in one of the later WSJ articles (after the damage was done and no one questioned the motive of the stories) that Rupert Murdoch was a major investor in Theranos and lost it all: $125 million.**
For Holmes, getting in bed with the Murdochs probably seemed like a good idea at the time. I suppose Travis Kalanick would say the same about letting Über get in bed with Google, but look what happened to him!)
*in the print version anyway–there’s other stuff online
**It wasn’t a total loss when The Journal started covering it, but it was clear by then that an arrogant Holmes would end up turfing it.
Update (7/22/17):
California Says Tesla Is Too Big to Fail
State Democrats can’t stop throwing taxpayer money at the electric vehicle wunderkind.

Update (9/2/17):
Elon Musk Wants to Save the World—At What Cost?
The life of one of the most driven innovators of our time is also a testament that outrageous success does not come without sacrifice.
Reminds me of this Forbes headline from 12/15/15:
Elon Musk Has A Plan To Save The World

Republican Voters DEMAND Infrastructure Spending!

Yeah, doesn’t sound right, does it? Well, whoever sets The Donald’s agenda has put this number one from the beginning. This was the only actual policy item DJT cited in his acceptance speech on election day and it’s likely the first (and maybe only) policy he will succeed in fully implementing.  That effort starts this week.
Here are excerpts from yesterday’s Journal article on the subject and my two-cents.
President Trump to Launch Push for Infrastructure Investment
Focus on infrastructure could help Mr. Trump find common ground with members of Congress 

President Donald Trump will launch a new campaign this week aimed at fulfilling his pledge for $1 trillion of infrastructure investment, hoping to capitalize on lawmakers’ support for rebuilding the nation’s transportation systems at a time when his tax and health legislation are in flux.
Mr. Trump will begin with a White House event Monday announcing a push to privatize air-traffic control across the U.S., in what backers say could be a catalyst for improving speed and fuel efficiency across the aviation industry.

Buyer beware – all I care about is safety, and transitions contain inherent risk. “Nobody died in a crash of a United States-certificated scheduled airline operating anywhere in the world in 2016 [for the] seventh straight year.” Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.

The White House still hasn’t said how it plans to pay for the federal government’s share of the projects, and officials said a more detailed proposal will come at an unspecified later date. But Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser said the administration aims to encourage states and cities to bear much of the burden.
“We want to talk to them and make sure we’re partnering with them to make sure that they can use their tax dollars as efficiently,” White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told reporters Friday. “We can be a good partner with them in helping them to enhance their infrastructure projects.”

This is actually an old ploy on getting more bang for your buck. The feds can get their agenda through–whatever that might be–using state and local funding while keeping their own powder dry for other items. In addition, this will increase the influence and inter-connectedness of federal and state and local governments more generally – not a good thing. And let’s not forget, construction generates debt, banks love debt and Gary Cohn is first and foremost a banker.

Shifting the discussion to infrastructure could mean the best chance for Mr. Trump to find common ground with members of Congress who object to other elements of his agenda, given the broad agreement that the nation’s roads, bridges, rails and water facilities are in disrepair. It would, however, mean finding a way to live up to campaign pledges that many believe are irreconcilable—investing $1 trillion in infrastructure, but doing so with funds raised almost entirely from the private sector.

I thought they just said they were getting the state and local governments to pay for it? In any case, the reason this is something everyone can get behind is that it is the essence of big government cronyism–what DC pol doesn’t love that?!

[Scott] Rechler, a Democrat whose own real-estate company has financed infrastructure like sewers and utilities in public-private partnerships with local government, said the administration’s plans should recognize that private financing won’t be able to replace federal funding in fixing some critical areas—from railroads to crumbling dams—where investors can’t turn a profit.
“It’s not free,” Mr. Rechler said. “At some point or another someone’s going to have to pay for this.”

For a taste of the true nature of public-private partnerships, watch this (at 1.5x speed):

Just like the IMF demands a country’s natural resources to repay the debt generously offered countries that can’t afford it, so too will public-private partnerships gain control of the resources that don’t offer the promised return on investment.
And in case you missed the contradiction in this article from one paragraph to the next, it’s not going to be “almost entirely” financed with private funds, unless you consider all taxpayer money private funds (which ultimately it is, post-coercion.)

In remarks to reporters last week, presidential advisers made clear they will be attempting to pair the president’s (sic) pledge to renew critical infrastructure with a shift of responsibility for some of the costs from federally funded grant programs to state and municipal taxpayers.

For more, check out my perhaps surprising thoughts on the public-private partnership.
Lest you think the infrastructure plan isn’t all about lining the pockets of bankers, here’s a clue from last week’s Journal:
Blackstone’s $100 Billion Bridge-and-Tunnel Man
Firm taps Sean Klimczak to lead its new infrastructure business

Now Mr. Klimczak is ascending to a position in which he should be able to write many more 10-figure checks. Blackstone has tapped the 40-year-old to lead its new infrastructure business, which is aiming to raise $40 billion in a fund focused on building and buying U.S. public works.
Blackstone said that it expects the fund to have buying power of about $100 billion once debt is added to the mix, and that it will have a broad mandate to invest in assets ranging from power plants and pipelines, to water systems, roads, bridges, airports and hospitals.
The firm’s plans were unveiled Saturday after officials with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund disclosed in Riyadh as part of President Donald Trump’s visit that they have agreed to seed the fund with $20 billion….
Also, Mr. Klimczak and other Blackstone executives now have to raise the other $20 billion they seek. While Blackstone has shown the ability to raise huge amounts of capital, it will be competing with more than 100 other fund managers who are collectively seeking to raise more than $100 billion for other infrastructure funds, according to industry tracker Preqin….
Mr. Klimczak began meeting with Saudi officials in April 2016 about an infrastructure fund that would never expire, allowing Blackstone to take on projects that took years to come to fruition and sometimes had lower returns than private-equity fund investors sought. Blackstone executives say that strong political support for infrastructure spending from both U.S. political parties during last year’s presidential campaign made it an attractive time to launch a dedicated fund, which it had tried and failed to do a decade earlier.

Here are excerpts from two more articles on the plan to privatize air traffic control from The Journal today:
You’ve Been Cleared for a Faster Landing
Trump’s air-traffic spinoff would be a great flight forward.

…Mr. Trump announced principles for converting air-traffic control into a nonprofit. The new entity would be governed by a board of directors, including representatives for airlines, unions, airports and others. Instead of taxes, the outfit would be funded by user fees, which is how Canada has financed air-traffic services since 1996. The outline makes small tweaks to House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster’s proposal that stalled last year….
FAA regulates itself, so a separation would end this conflict-of-interest and allow the agency to focus on safety and certification. This reform is endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and only the most cynical on the left could claim a spinoff threatens passenger safety. Democrats will say Mr. Trump is auctioning off air traffic to big business, but the principles are explicit that the entity must be a nonprofit. The outline gives airlines only two seats on the 13-member board.

Donald Trump Announces Proposal to Privatize Air-Traffic Control
GOP-controlled Senate opted not to pass similar measure last year

WASHINGTON—Promising fewer delays on the tarmac and cheaper fares for airline passengers, President Donald Trump on Monday endorsed a plan to transfer control of the nation’s air-traffic control system to a private nonprofit.
The idea is a longstanding goal of some Republican lawmakers and one that the White House hopes will spark a broader plan for $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending….
The proposal would end the need for some federal taxes that would likely be replaced by user fees to pay for the new system, which would include updated GPS technology. Supporters, including many Republican lawmakers, say more than 50 countries have implemented similar systems, which may mean more efficient landing patterns and routes for planes and could allow air-traffic controllers to move more planes per hour through busy air corridors.

Below-Market Rent Is an Old Scam

BN-SJ958_0307IV_J_20170307210142I personally have known two people in positions of influence who either got free rent or way below-market terms on their mortgage as a way to transfer value under the table. There was also the story of the Obamas’ house, which they allegedly bought for a below-market price from a crony. So as soon as I saw this headline about Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner renting from a would-be crony in DC, I smelled a rat, but without leaping to judgment–I wanted to know a few things first.
I read on to see if (a) they disclosed the rental price, and (b) if the Trump/Kushners had a hand in picking the property up front–before it was purchased by their landlord. The first question-did they disclose the rental price?-I was not surprised to find they did not. But the second item-did they pick the house themselves?-I was amazed to find they did! That’s very fishy. Now I really want to know the rent they are paying–if it’s below $20,000 per month, it’s below-market value, and you have to ask why.
Ivanka Trump’s Landlord Is a Chilean Billionaire Suing the U.S. Government
President Donald Trump’s daughter and her husband, White House adviser Jared Kushner, live in a Kalorama house owned by a Chilean business titan. His company is suing the U.S. over a Minnesota mine

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are renting a Washington, D.C., home from a Chilean billionaire who bought it after the November election and whose company is embroiled in a dispute with the U.S. government over a mine potentially worth billions of dollars….
Rodrigo Terré, a relative…who manages the billionaire’s personal investments….said that a Luksic company, Tracy DC Real Estate Inc., bought the Washington house as an investment and that the rental to the couple was coincidental. He said the couple was paying “absolute market value” in rent, declining to disclose the amount….
The couple was shopping for a house late last year and looked at the Kalorama mansion. They weren’t interested in buying it and instead wanted to rent it, the White House spokeswoman said. Their broker said he represented someone who had a bid on the house and helped facilitate the match.

The following two paragraphs did not appear in the print edition of the paper this morning, but were in the online version, which I checked later in the day. They serve to attempt to diminish the apparent impropriety, in my opinion.

Trevor Potter, a Republican lawyer who formerly chaired the Federal Election Commission, said: “To me, the favor is having a house made available to them on short notice.”
The house was not listed for rent on the Metropolitan Regional Information System, used to advertise listings. Mr. Terré said that, before closing on the house, he instructed his real-estate agent to tell other agents that the house would be available for rent.


#WTWOF: Afghanistan for DynCorp?

What to Watch Out For:
The New York Times recently reported that financier Steve Feinberg would be helping President Trump “assess” US intelligence agencies.

Feinberg was the founder of Cerberus which is the owner of DynCorp, a major IT provider to the US government that got hit hard when Obama started winding down military operations in Afghanistan.
I immediately looked into Trump’s position on Afghanistan and found nothing.
Today, however, I heard on the news that he would be reassessing whether to ramp back up operations there.

Defense Secretary Mattis to decide soon on troop levels in Afghanistan

DynCorp does not seem to be a winning investment for Cerberus–I wonder if that will change. Let’s watch out for that. #WTWOF
Update: Not sure if it’s for DynCorp, but it didn’t take long to re-up in Afghanistan. 82nd Airborne already on way to Afghanistan as Trump mulls more deployments
Update: Another win for DynCorp! Big IT contracts surely to result from Trump’s executive order, Presidential Executive Order on Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure

Who Are "They?" A Shortlist

john_rarick_council_on_foreign_relationsIf you believe power exists and is used, and that its machinations are not always fully vetted on Fox News, you believe in conspiracies. They happen in your work, they happen in your home, they happen in the world. At work, it happens when the bosses get together to set bonuses, at home it happens when parents get together and agree on what information not to share with their children (especially around Christmastime!), and in the world it happens when people of influence set goals and coordinate to achieve them without putting out a detailed press release. So who are these people and what are their goals?
The classic organizations for the coordination of goals, strategies and tactics are the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission, but there’s also the Royal Institute of International Affairs (a.k.a., the Chatham House), the Club of Rome, the Brookings Institution, the World Economic Forum and many, many more think tanks and foundations that bring prominent members of academia, government, the corporate world and media together in an overlapping web of influential organizations to discuss mutual goals and how to achieve them.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, called the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, “the mothership” and explained that this group tells her and her team what they should be doing and how they should be thinking about the world.

I have put the latest headlines from a few of these organizations along the right column of (at the bottom) so we can keep up on what they’re thinking, and I also took a look at the membership rosters of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations and jotted down all the names I recognized. There were certainly a few surprises! Here are the names I recognized. Do any of these surprise you? (I put in boldface some interesting names from media or related fields–I question whether they put objective reporting or their group’s agenda first.)

Trilateral Commission, Selected Members
Martin Feldstein
Henry Kissinger
Michael Bloomberg
Madeline Albright
Mariano Rajoy
Austen Goolsby
David Gergen
John Negroponte
Adam Posen
David Rockefeller
Eric Schmidt
Gerald Seib
Olympia Snowe
Larry Summers
Strobe Talbot
Paul Volcker
Daniel Yergen
Mort Zuckerman
Robert Zoellick
Stanley Fischer

Council on Foreign Relations, Selected Members
Abrams, Elliott
Albright, Madeleine K.
Baker, James
Barbour, Haley
Bartiromo, Maria S.
Bayh, Evan
Beatty, Warren
Bewkes, Jeffrey
Black, Leon D.
Blankfein, Lloyd C.
Blinder, Alan S.
Bloomberg, Michael R.
Blumenthal, Sidney S.
Bolton, John R.
Boorstin, Robert O.
Bowles, Erskine B.
Bradley, Bill
Breyer, Stephen G.
Brokaw, Tom
Bronfman, Edgar Jr.
Brzezinski, Mark F.
Brzezinski, Mika
Brzezinski, Zbigniew
Buffett, Howard Warren
Burch, Tory
Carlucci, Frank C.
Carter, Ashton B.
Carter, James Earl
Carter, James H.
Casper, Gerhard
Cheney, Richard B.
Clark, Wesley K.
Clinton, Chelsea
Clinton, William Jefferson
Clooney, George
Cohen, Abby Joseph
Crovitz, L. Gordon
Crowley, Monica Elizabeth
D’Amato, Alfonse M.
de Rothschild, Lynn
De Vos, Christian Michael
Didion, Joan
Dimon, Jamie
Dinkins, David N.
Dodd, Christopher J.
Dreyfuss, Richard S.
Eikenberry, Karl W.
Ellison, Keith
Feinstein, Dianne
Feith, Douglas J.
Feldstein, Martin S.
Fischer, Stanley
Foggo, James G. III
Fukuyama, Francis
Garcetti, Eric
Gates, Henry Louis Jr.
Gates, Robert M.
Geithner, Timothy F.
Gephardt, Richard A.
Gergen, David R.
Gill, Bates
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader
Gompert, David C.
Greenberg, Glenn H.
Greenspan, Alan
Haass, Richard N.
Hagel, Chuck
Ham, Carter F.
Hart, Gary
Heinz Kerry, Teresa
Helprin, Mark
Herbst, Jeffrey I.
Ikenberry, G. John
Isaacson, Walter S.
Jackson, Jesse L. Sr.
Jackson, Shirley Ann
Johnson, Jeh Charles
Jolie, Angelina
Jordan, Vernon E. Jr.
Kaminsky, Howard
Keene, Tom
Kerr, Ann Zwicker
Kerrey, Bob
Khrushcheva, Nina L.
Kissinger, Henry A.
Krauthammer, Charles
Kravis, Henry R.
Lehrer, Jim
Leverett, Flynt L.
Lew, Jacob J.
Lewis, Bernard
Lieberman, Joseph I.
Lipsky, Seth
Lodge, George Cabot
Lorimer, Linda Koch
Lu, Li
McCain, John S. III
McChrystal, Stanley A.
McGurn, William
McLaughlin, John E.
McNamer, Bruce W.
Mearsheimer, John J.
Meeker, Mary
Miller, Judith
Mitchell, Andrea
Mondale, Walter F.
Morris, Charles R.
Negroponte, John D.
Noonan, Peggy
Norquist, Grover Glenn
Nunn, Sam
Nye, Joseph S. Jr.
Oliver, John L. III
Orr, Robert C.
Orszag, Peter R.
Ovitz, Michael S.
Patricof, Alan Joel
Patterson, Richard North
Paulson, Henry M. Jr.
Paulson, John Alfred
Peña, Federico F.
Peterson, Peter G.
Petraeus, David H.
Podhoretz, John
Powell, Colin L.
Psaki, Jennifer R.†
Rather, Dan
Rattner, Steven L.
Reilly, William K.
Rice, Condoleezza
Rice, Susan E.
Richardson, William B.
Rockefeller, David
Rockefeller, David Jr.
Rockefeller, John D. IV
Rockefeller, Mark L.
Rockefeller, Nicholas
Rockefeller, Steven C.
Rogoff, Kenneth S.
Roosevelt, Theodore IV
Roubini, Nouriel
Rubin, Robert E.
Sachs, Jeffrey D.
Sandberg, Sheryl K.
Satcher, David
Satloff, Robert B.
Sawyer, Diane
Schieffer, Bob L.
Schmidt, Eric
Schramm, Carl J.
Scowcroft, Brent
Seib, Gerald F.
Shah, Raj
Shalala, Donna E.
Shultz, George P.
Snowe, Olympia J.
Soros, George
Soros, Jonathan
Spence, A. Michael
Stahl, Lesley R.
Stephanopoulos, George R.
Stern, David J.
Stern, Fritz
Summers, Lawrence H.
Sununu, John E.
Taft, William H. IV
Tagliabue, Paul
Talbott, Strobe
Tapper, Jake
Tenet, George J.
Volcker, Paul A.
Walters, Barbara
Weill, Sanford I.
Weld, William F.
White, Mary Jo
Whitman, Christine Todd
Wiesel, Elie
Willkie, Wendell Lewis II
Wolfensohn, James D.
Wolfowitz, Paul D.
Woodruff, Judy C.
Woolsey, R. James
Wright, Robin
Yellen, Janet Louise
Yergin, Daniel H.
Zahn, Paula A.
Zakaria, Fareed
Zelikow, Philip D.
Zoellick, Robert B.
Zogby, James J.

The Midas Touch?

NBC All-Star Party - Red Carpet
Mark Burnett, Donald Trump, and NBC’s Jeff Zucker during NBC All-Star Party – Red Carpet at Hollywood and Highland Entertainment Complex in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)

I have long wondered if Trump did not release his tax returns because his main source of revenue for the past ten or fifteen years might have been his long-running reality show The Apprentice, during which time he worked for then NBC’s Jeff Zucker. Zucker, by the way, now-head of CNN, along with the rest of the media, gave Trump 25x the coverage of his Republican competitors, to the chagrin of reporters. (Trump’s Screen Actors Guild pension was $168,000 last year, which means he must have been making some serious bank as an actor.)
See also: Donald Trump refers to Jeff Zucker as his ‘personal booker’ and CNN president PERSONALLY calls him all the time to ask him to appear on segments
Trump’s true source of income could be more important than any other president’s, in my opinion, because if he’s not really a super successful billionaire with the golden touch, than he’s just a guy whose businesses went bankrupt four times only to be bailed out by the likes of Rothschild (specifically, Wilbur Ross, banker at Trump’s savior, Rothschild Inc, and now Trump’s pick for commerce secretary) and George Soros who inexplicably padded Trump’s Chicago condo deal. (Trump’s claim of being a billionaire is plausibly disputed by Tim O’Brien in the book TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.)
If Trump is a billionaire builder and businessman with the Midas Touch, he doesn’t really have to give details on his plans because people will have faith based on his proven success that he knows what he’s doing. But if this faith is misplaced, we might be wise to understand his plans a-to-b-to-c so we can evaluate for ourselves the risk-reward trade-off and express our approval or displeasure directly or through our representatives.
Trump moving on NAFTA, won’t release tax returns; WH closer to moving embassy to Jerusalem

Conway said Sunday that Trump won’t release his tax returns, appearing to shut the door on a decades-long tradition of transparency.
Every president since 1976 has released their returns. During the campaign, Trump refused to make his filings public, saying they were under audit by the Internal Revenue Service and saying he’d release them after that review is complete.
Conway was asked Sunday about a petition on the White House website signed by more than 200,000 people calling for Trump to release his returns.
“The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care.”
However, polls appear to show a majority of Americans want Trump to release the returns.

My big fear is that because Trump has the trust of his supporters based on what they think is proven business success, they will give him wide latitude even to the point of encroaching on America’s founding principles of limited government, civil liberties and respect for sovereignty in the name of pragmatism and “getting it done.” This is the kind of slippery slope that can put the last nail in the coffin of the American Experiment. Even if Trump himself could be trusted with such vast power and presumption of good faith, the next guy might not be, yet the scaffolding of technocratic government would be in place. (I said something similar to liberals when Obama’s presidency grew in power beyond the limits of the Constitution.)
On a side note, Trump will continue to work on The Apprentice while he’s president, earning $7 million for the role as executive producer while spending “zero time” on the job…If that’s true, why is NBC paying him for no work and is it ethical to take a job you don’t plan to do?

Meet the New Valerie Jarrett

scaramucci_romney_spacey_bush_twitter_328.jpegIn Davos, Anthony Scaramucci Translates Trump Message to Global Elite
Financier-turned-Trump adviser seeks to soothe nerves about the president-elect at the World Economic Forum; ‘one of the last great hopes for globalism’

“This is my 10th year here, but my first year here with a food taster,” Mr. Scaramucci quipped at the beginning of a conference session Tuesday afternoon nominally on the “Outlook for the United States” but really about President-elect Trump—and a little bit about Anthony Scaramucci….
Mr. Scaramucci depicted the system of global trade, whose apostles and architects compose the core of the Davos audience, as in need of repair. President-elect Trump “could be one of the last great hopes for globalism,” he said….
“If you guys get a little bit upset about the tweeting or some of the things that he’s saying, I want to put your mind at ease,” he said. “Directionally, this is a super-compassionate man.”
“He’s not necessarily communicating in a way that the people in this community would love,” Mr. Scaramucci said, “but he is communicating very, very effectively to a very large group of the population in Europe and in the United States that are feeling a common struggle right now that maybe many of us here in this room do not feel.”
Mr. Scaramucci gave a capsule history of European civilization, from Solon to Charlemagne to von Metternich, and suggested that Mr. Trump was following a similar path to the ancient Athenian statesman. “What did Solon make a decision to do? He empowered the lower classes,” Mr. Scaramucci said.

Let me get this straight…Trump-the-Populist, Trump-the-Nationalist, Trump-the-Anti-Globalist’s guy is a member of the World Economic Forum and has been to Davos TEN YEARS IN A ROW???!!!  In case you are not acquainted with “Davos Man,” read this:
Davos 2017: Aristocrats Face the Pitchforks
The disconnect between the Davos community—among the principal beneficiaries of globalization— and the rest of the world is striking

If the highly integrated, early 21st-century global economy had an aristocracy, it would be roughly the group of people who gather this week in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.
There, the heads of governments, central bankers, chief executives of major banks and global corporations, leading academics, the gorgeous media and entertainment stars, meet each January to survey the global landscape they have constructed and ruled to discuss how to improve it.

In addition to the cognitive dissonance of this guy being that guy, I also thought the words Scaramucci was using to talk about Trump sounded like code–“you might not like the way he talks, but trust me it’s genius,” or worse, “don’t worry, he’s one of us.”
So I wondered who this guy “The Mooch” was, especially since he will have the title held by Valerie Jarrett, widely considered to be Obama’s globalist handler in the White House, Director of the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs. Could this guy be Trump‘s globalist handler?
Scaramucci went to Harvard Law School and even played basketball with President Obama, he used to be an Obama supporter, and he even got some notoriety having a little tête-à-tête with Obama for our amusement. (I’m quoting the account of the incident here in case it disappears.)
Watch A Hedge Fund Manager And Obama Go From Laughing To Arguing

Obama: Great to see you.
Scaramucci: Actually I went to law school with you back in the day.
Obama: You’ve done very well! Congratulations, that’s great.
(Laughter in the audience)
Scaramucci: And if I fouled you on the hoop court – it wasn’t intentional.
Obama: I remember that!
Scaramucci: You would remember if I fouled you – I’ve got a low center of gravity

Around the time of this exchange, he paid Bill Clinton $175,000 to speak at a business event, but soon after that Scaramucci served as a National Finance Co-Chair for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. Given all these heady credentials, I was surprised to read evidence of low horse-power (kinda reminded me of Jared Kushner) as Scaramucci failed the bar and got a notoriously low score on the Series 7 (a no-brainer exam–trust me, I took it myself). He was hired then fired then re-hired by Goldman Sachs. (How did he get re-hired after turfing it out of the box? It’s a “hilarious story” no one’s really telling.) And finally….wait for it…he’s a card-carrying member of the CFR, the Council of Foreign Relations, “The Mothership” where we find out what we should be doing and how to think about the world according to Secretary of State Clinton.
And how ’bout this? I have witnessed first hand influencing-peddling that really looks a lot like this. We shall see if it amounts to anything.
Trump Aide Sells China an Entree to Wall Street Hedge Funds
In buying Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital stake, China’s HNA takes an important step in building a global asset-management business

Anthony Scaramucci, a loyal Trump surrogate known as “The Mooch,” is selling his controlling stake in SkyBridge Capital—which manages roughly $12 billion—to Chinese conglomerate HNA Group and investment partner RON Transatlantic EG in a deal that values SkyBridge at around $200 million, according to people familiar with the situation.

Even if HNA gave Mooch more than SkyBridge was worth (I don’t know if they did, but that’s how it would be if they were buying influence), the deal would work out for them if a massive change in government policy funneled Social Security money into hedge funds, which is a very real possibility, especially if the new president is on-board.
For more on what might be on deck for 401ks, read my recent post here.
Wonder if this guy will bear any resemblance to the original? I sometimes wonder what’s in a name what with Donald Trump playing the trump card, Shepherd Smith shepherding the sheeple and Anthony Weiner–well, you get the idea…

Regulations Are For Cronies…

This is how regulations favor big business…I wrote a whole article about this mechanism coming down in the budding pot industry (seriously, that was not intended!), but today’s Journal put it so simply, so elegantly, I had to share it.
Different Sector, Same Principle…
Trump Treasury Pick Could Boost Small Banks
Mnuchin’s background suggests he could be an ally to small and midsize lenders

CIT is among the midsize lenders that critics say are most burdened by Dodd-Frank. With $66 billion of total assets, it is above the law’s $50 billion threshold for annual stress testing by the Federal Reserve. But without the scale of megabanks like J.P. Morgan Chase, it is burdened with significantly increased regulatory costs.