Democrats with Balls.

I see a pattern emerging. The only Democrats who have the balls to stand up to the toxic right-wing onslaught are black! Both Kamala Harris, a senator from CA, and Cory Booker from NJ, both African Americans, had the balls to question SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh in an unconventional, rule-breaking manner. Cory Booker released the documents that, under the current Senate rules, were forbidden to become public, and when confronted about it by a GOP Senator he simply said: “Bring it!” This is a much-needed adrenaline shot in the arm for Democrats starved for a combative and forceful representation. GOP have been flouting accepted rules and norms for decades, most recently by refusing a hearing for Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland. But neither Schumer, not other old time Dems in the Senate could bring themselves to play the same hardball as McConnell and the GOP have been playing. Not until now.

But, yes, once again it falls on the black shoulders to save our white asses and democracy, just like the church-going black ladies in Alabama (Alabama!) that have delivered a Democrat to the Senate a year ago. I thought about the reasons for that and again I see a pattern at work.

Blacks have a well-developed bullshit radar. They don’t buy gold coins and healing crystals. Can you think of any blacks participating in any sort of New Age movements or picture them buying Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina eggs? Furthermore, there are no black serial killers and mass shooters, which demonstrates their maturity in dealing with personal frustrations, even though they have many reasons to be bitter about life. A black man learns very early not to give a benefit of the doubt to a landlord, or a police officer, or a judge and that healthy skepticism guides his reality-based worldview. This well-developed bullshit detector and a mature disposition to daily slights are the conditions that precipitate the growth and hardening of a spine.


This tough, grounded in reality mental foundation, a result of hardship and endless experience of injustice, helped blacks develop or intuit the definition of right and wrong. Where whites have learned to equivocate, to argue both sides of an issue, so as to ingratiate themselves with the power, a black, like Eddie Murphy in ‘Trading Places’, will discern the fact of the matter, pompously delivered by a white guy, in a snap, distilling it to a simple truth: “Oh, you guys are a couple of bookies.” It takes a black guy to state that there’s no elaborate conspiracy or a convoluted scheme behind a simple human greed. (Which also might explain the blacks’ immunity to conspiracy theories. The whites have been fleecing blacks in broad daylight for generations. What’s conspiratorial about it?) It takes a Cory Booker to release crucial documents of a SCOTUS nominee to the public, despite the abstruse procedural hurdles quickly conjured up by the GOP. It takes a Kamala Harris to ask the nominee pointed questions that would be seen as too, uh, unbefitting and ungentlemanly, by the procedural Schumer.

Hope at least one of them will end up on the 2020 ticket.

The Coolness of being Uncool.

How many of our actions are driven by fear of appearing uncool? What immeasurable damage has been wrought on the unsuspecting populace by the insecurities of the powerful few? Our collective quest for coolness, for the perfect at the expense of the good, for victory drives many into unmanageable situations. It’s hard to quantify, but we should at least attempt to examine the dynamic behind it.

What is cool according to current popular culture? It is the ability to win battles and arguments, to demonstrate your professional prowess with ease, to make money, to accumulate followers and admirers, to be full of potential. In our competition obsessed society the greatest sin one can commit is to be considered a loser.  And what is lame, what is loserville? It is to be average, to be comfortable with what one has, to be static, to not seek the levers of power.

It is a sad paradox that the most ambitious and driven among us reach the positions of power in politics, finance, academia – industries that require the best and the brightest – and then something happens to them once they are there: they turn into insecure narcissists. Those that spent a lot of energy getting to the top, once there, spend a lot of energy on maintaining the image of success. It’s a draining, tiresome task. Daily focus is shifted from concentrating on task at hand to watching others watch you. One begins to develop delusions of threat around every corner and assumes a defensive posture as a default attitude. Every human encounter is seen as a potential minefield, every incoming query is interpreted not as a bid for information but as a test of competency, a personal attack, a scheme to undermine. “Why are you adding on your position?” – an uninitiated intern might innocuously and not without a reason ask  a trader whose position is losing money. “He’s questioning my expertise!” – an insecure trader will think to himself. “It’s a dynamic hedge, kid, go get me some coffee” – the trader will say aloud with the hope of putting the matter to rest by way of using industry jargon. With such entrenched mindset any retreat in any argument or discussion is out of the question, because that would require an acknowledgement of a flaw in one’s skillset or premise, and thus be damaging to the image of success. Search for rationalizations, excuses, assigning blame consume even more time and resources that could be spent productively.

When one has achieved some level of expertise and power, the same amount of effort as before fails to bring about the same results; the career trajectory that has been steep in the early years begins to flatten. Daily routine becomes an exercise of pushing against the ceiling: your success will fail to impress, and if you fail – all hell will break lose. To use industry lingo, their situation is becoming negatively convex, a limited upside/unlimited downside kind of scenario. Just look at Rogoff/Reinhart fiasco: if they haven’t made a mistake no one would have heard of them outside their skull and bones society (academia and a few politicians); one mistake – and that’s what they will be remembered for by the entire world for the rest of their careers. But for a driven and ambitious personality it’s tough to switch gears: he keeps doing what he’s always been doing but with no result, and unable to sense a shift in balance. That’s when apathy and resignation kick in; and bad but manageable position/situation deteriorates into a disaster.

But let’s now examine pockets of society where there are secure enough personalities. Those would include people capable of projecting realistic expectations for themselves: Lower class, illegal immigrants, athletes, most of retirees, sport handicappers. Good poker players are another subgroup of those with secure egos, “good” being a key word. The paragons of security are the ones who are not a part of a professional or academic group, everyone who is not employed in a high-pressure, high-pay (or both) environment. Those who do not belong to any exclusive club, any skull and bones society, those uninitiated are not burdened with the constant struggle to maintain good standing of membership, to prove one’s worth, to impress. The only person they have to impress is themselves.

Sir Richard Branson recently gave us all a demonstration of a cool secure personality: dressing in drag and serving passengers of a rival airline after losing a bet. Such ability to acknowledge and accept defeat and to move on is the foundation of a correct play. To harness such skill requires complete negation of self-importance. A guy at the poker table mindful of his appearance and protective of his image, constantly excusing and justifying his strategy to his table neighbors is a bad player. But beware of a 400-pound guy with body odors, receding hairline and a pony tail – he has long given up caring about what you think about him. Guys like him have nothing to prove and no one to impress. Those guys are paragons of security, of mental fortitude. They are there for the game and for the game only. Their only display of vanity is the size of the stack in front of them. By virtue of not giving a damn they free themselves from having to worry about what others think of their game. That’s coolness.

Perfect Chance for Democrats to blow a Congressional Seat.

For a long time I have been nursing a theory that that the political spectrum is not a straight line but a circle where extreme left and extreme right converge at some point. Imagine a circle where moderate center is at the top, traditional left is at -1 and traditional right is at +1 (or at 9:00 and 3:00 respectively) and then the extreme left and right converge at the bottom. What is the most common unifying issue that brings both extreme left and extreme right together? Alas, nothing original, anti-Semitism.

Next Tuesday Democrats in Brooklyn will vote in the primaries for one of the two candidates: Hakeem Jeffries and Charles Barron. Charles Barron is former Black Panther, a friend of Moammar Quaddafi and Robert Mugabe, who called Thomas Jefferson a “pedophile”, and who thinks that Israel is a “terrorist state”. Somehow he managed to get endorsement of the congressman whose seat is at play, Ed Towns. In addition to that endorsement he also received support from none other than David Duke, the Grand Wizard of Ku Klux Klan. My theory is being confirmed.

“In a race for Congress between an anti-Zionist black activist and a black activist who is a bought and paid for Zionist Uncle Tom, I’ll take the anti-Zionist any day,” Duke explains — the “Zionist Uncle Tom” being Barron’s opponent Hakeem Jeffries, the establishment favorite.

I am a progressive, a lefty, yes, but nothing pisses me off more than the liberal community’s unwarranted tendency to tolerate all sorts of fringe elements. How the hell can an anti-Semite pose a serious challenge to a mainstream candidate, in Brooklyn, of all places?
The right, of course, has been entirely consumed by the fringe elements, which can serve as an Exhibit A of what not to do. But we’re talking about the left now. Have you heard the ubiquitous joke about a liberal at a gun point, who’s trying to figure out why the thug is pointing a gun at him rather than shooting him back? Left with Balls would not bother with such rituals. And did I mention that Left with Balls supports gun rights? You fight force with force – there’s no other way, not today. Not a time to be a Gandhi. And that’s that.

Btw, it’s a safe bet that if Charles Barron wins, the seat will go Republican in November.

Macro View on Emerging Election Dynamics

Romney seems to have settled on the emerging theme of Obama being a “nice guy generally” but who is “in over his head”. This kind of positioning is supposedly meant to attract voters who like Obama personally but are unsure about his managerial abilities to run the country. What I think is really happening is that various conservative operatives have resigned to the idea that Romney is not going to excite new voters into voting. The scenario that they have assumed in their models is that Romney is a stiff, uninspiring, polenta candidate that simply has to appear on stage, wear a suit and say dull things. That’s all that is required of Romney now. The real job of winning an election will fall onto Right-leaning Super PACs, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and various political-minded billionaires.  And can we really expect them to spend their hundreds of millions of dollars on a lukewarm message that Obama is a nice guy who’s just not up to the task? I doubt it. There will be a tsunami of crazy shit coming Obama’s way the closer we get to the election.

I, of course, do not underestimate the power of slime. Just recall what happened to John Kerry in 2004. We have to expect more of the “Secret Muslim” and “Where’s the real Birth Certificate” lines of attacks to resurface again among other things. These ads, to be clear, will not be designed to make any new converts, they will be designed to rile up the paranoids to come and vote in droves. So for Republicans these sorts of ops are more of a Get out the Vote (GOTV) exercise rather than converting the undecideds.

I’m not entirely crazy about Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” message because this message is directed at the obstructionist Congress, not at Romney. Something along the lines “A fight for the Middle Class” would be more effective. Obama has to give equally compelling reasons for people to show up at the polling station. “Republican War on Workers” is a more gripping message. First, Obama is already accused of waging a class warfare, so he might as well reap the benefits by talking about decades of stagnating wages and growing inequality gap. Maybe that will bring him some votes from the white working class. Remember when was the last time a presidential candidate talked about growing inequality? Neither do I. And then we’re surprised that white working class is voting Republican every time! I think Republicans are really afraid of this kind of talk, because they have nothing to say against it but the re-recycled and tired message of “trickle-down economics”.

Obama is being accused of so many outlandish things right now that his hands are essentially untied. “If that’s what you think I am” – his campaign thinking should go – “then this is what I shall become”. It’s like buying a cheap bond that cashflows: the downside of the trade has already happened, there’s only the upside left. For instance, those who think that he will take their guns away will not change their minds when shown the facts: they will just think it’s some kind of conspiracy. How much more apoplectic and enraged can they become if Obama really does come and take their guns away?! (I do not advocate it, I merely illustrate the point). Right now those who think he’s not tough enough do not have a compelling reason to walk over to the voting booth, while the Ted Nugent crowd will crawl on broken glass to cast a vote against Obama. Pointing out that Republicans are crazy is useless – everybody knows that. Talking about what is Obama going to do about it – is what people want to hear. And this would involve saying things that will drive Republicans off their rails. This would involve some bare knuckle politics and some strong language. Politically speaking, the coming negative onslaught is a golden opportunity for Obama, a carte blanche; he should be seeking such a battle not avoiding it.

Ultimately the election will come down to GOTV, not converting the swing voters. Romney doesn’t have the skills and personality to do it, so the shadow political groups will do it for him by bringing their voters to the polls. Obama should do the same. The time to reason have passed a long time ago. The opposition is sufficiently nuts.  Now is the time to give people a reason to show up at the polls and vote for Obama. And if he does not fight back he deserves to lose.

The Guy Who Left Goldman Sachs

I don’t know much about Goldman personally, other than that article by Matt Taibbi and now the letter. All I know is when I was trying to short ABX (a mortgage-backed index) in early 2007 Goldman had absolutely the worst bids, meaning they didn’t want to take the other side of the trade. That spoke volumes. They had the same axe I did! More recently, at a party, a person who didn’t know that I knew he worked at Goldman said that he worked at “a hedge fund”. And it’s not like I asked.

But a few thoughts on the letter and on the reaction. Reading the reaction the first thing I thought was that even while on the buy side I didn’t have enough time to read anything unrelated to work, let alone comment on it. At Goldman, by nature of it being the sell side, I assume, people work even harder thus having no time for and no access to social sites. Which, using further deduction, means that people posting derogatory comments about the guy do not and have never worked at Goldman. And if they do now they are not Goldman material and should be fired.

Furthermore, some commenters are upset that he slammed the door on the company that nurtured him, others are upset that his epiphany came a little too late. Some say that he was a nobody, a low-level employee, but the others say that it’s nice to slam the door when you’ve got enough money to never have to work again. So which is it? He cannot be all of the above. Frankly, I don’t think that a VP, even at Goldman, even after 12 years has enough to retire. So kudos to him there.

On the other hand it’s hard to ignore the nature of his disappointment. Goldman is in the business of making money, not saving the world. The daily routine for an average Wall Street worker is dull and unrewarding but it pays well. Perhaps, with his skills he would be better suited working for World Bank or the UN. To be well paid and receive satisfaction from your job – well, that’s too much to ask for these days. It’s either or. But he wanted both.

I saw some of those “Muppets” at the industry conferences – guys from pension funds and German banks. It’s not an inaccurate description at all. They wanted yield and they didn’t care how they got it. So Goldman and other banks provided. KYC (know you client) they did. If they didn’t give the client what he wanted he would have gone to another dealer – an anathema to any banker worth his keep! And it wasn’t illegal, and those were qualified institutional investors! And if they weren’t – it wasn’t Goldman’s fault. I’m not defending Goldman at all, I’m just describing a part of the larger environment that got the snowball rolling. Inept investors with billions to invest, smart Goldman bankers – it’s like two naked people in bed – what do you think was gonna happen?

Wall Street, as described in detail in many of my earlier posts, is a close-knit community with us vs. them mentality. Even more pronounced at Goldman I would think. Everybody outside is a loser, a non-entity. Greg Smith is outside now. I understand that Goldman as a company is not pleased with whistleblower like him. But I don’t understand why laymen are angry at the guy. I think what he did is a good exercise of free will – leaving Goldman with a slam of the door. He may be mistaken about some things but he’s not without balls.

New Year Resolutions

“The way I learned it, the kid in the school yard who doesn’t want to fight always leaves with a black eye. If you indicate you’ll do anything to avoid trouble, that’s when you get trouble.” 50 Cent

As a rule, New Year’s resolutions are not directed at others but projected onto ourselves in an attempt to become better in the coming year.  Thus, I will indulge myself in some inward-looking (in a collective sense) narrative.

Perhaps you are already familiar with the idea that the Left in general, while having the best argument, is weak to defend it. In an attempt to find a cure to this ailment, I first had to identify the source of the disease, and I can’t find a better explanation than the desire of liberals to “be nice”. This image of the Left, as going to great lengths to “be nice” and not to offend anybody, morphs into justifiable belief that liberals can’t fight for their values.  “Being nice” manifests itself in many ways, including using reason when a show of force would be more effective, fighting for minor issues, like bike lane rights, when voting rights are being undermined in broad daylight, and taking offense at being called names while democracy is being undercut by unfair redistricting. Continue reading