The Self-Declared Self-Made Billionaire

Having lived for a couple decades in Sonoma wine country, I’m familiar with the old riddle:

How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?

You start with a large fortune.

I’ve since learned that a version of this joke is also passed around among farmers and ranchers in Texas.

The failing New York Times took a deep dive into how the current occupant of the White House made his fortune. John Cassidy summarized the report in The New Yorker magazine and concluded:

He is a shameless flim-flam man with practically no regard for the truth or the quaint notion that wealthy people like him have a civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes.

The Times even used the F-word.

Preview of Coming Attractions from Michael Lewis

Even if you don’t know Michael Lewis, you probably are familiar with movies based on his non-fiction books: “Moneyball,” “The Big Short,” “Flashboys,” “The Blind Side,” and others. Lewis is very good at explaining financial esoterica in terms that even I can understand. Lewis’s latest offering, “The Fifth Risk,” an account of the dismantling of the government by the current occupant of the White House. The English newspaper, The Guardian, has published an excerpt focused on Chris Christie and the president-elect’s transition team. Fun anecdote from the book:

Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

Building a New Presidential Library

As we all know, the current occupant of the White House does not read. Aides and lackeys make sure that any written material is brief – only a few bullet points – because of his notoriously short attention span. He will not accept anything that is not admiring of him.

Regardless of when or under what circumstances he exits the White House, the current president will no doubt want a monument to himself, with his name in giant gold letters – all capitals – on the outside façade of the building, bigger and more gaudy than the libraries of his predecessors. The problem is how does one fill up a library with written documents no longer than 140 characters?

Continue reading Building a New Presidential Library

Just When We Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse

Despite the New York mayor’s assurance that workers on the World Trade Center 9/11 cleanup were in no danger, they have been contracting cancer and dying at startlingly high rates. The collapse of the towers released a thousand tons of asbestos into the air. U.S. manufacturers of asbestos products had already mostly gone out of business, bankrupted by claims of wrongful deaths. During their slide into insolvency, the companies set up trust funds for future mesothelioma claims. The fund currently totals $30 billion and legions of attorneys are eager to take up asbestosis suits. (Our company’s office was in the same building with a consulting economist. Most of his business derived from testifying as expert witness in asbestos lawsuits, calculating the economic loss of a victim’s early demise. He did well enough to own the building where we leased space.)

Continue reading Just When We Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse

Bob and Ray

If you are no longer amused by the idiocy of the current occupant of the White House, you may be ready for some of Bob and Ray’s political humor.

Remember Bob and Ray? Of course you don’t; you’re probably not old enough. Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding made their name in radio, beginning in 1946 with their earnest, dead-pan “news reporting.” They transitioned to a new medium with a fifteen-minute program on the nascent NBC television network from 1951 to 1953. Two decades later they appeared on the “Saturday Night Live” in its early days.

They made regular appearances with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” and later showed up on David Letterman’s late-night program.

Don’t you feel better, now?

Help Wanted; Tape Provided

Last year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive sued the Trump administration for violations of the Presidential Records Act. Their claim is that White House staff has been using encrypted messaging applications – that automatically delete messages – for internal correspondence. The Records Act requires that all White House communications be captured for posterity.

Our president uses a more rudimentary method of expunging written documents: he rips up the pages, sometimes with a single tear down the middle, sometimes shredding the paper into confetti-sized pieces, sometimes tossed into the trash, other times scattered on the floor.

Continue reading Help Wanted; Tape Provided