Bob Schwartz

Category: Money

We Welcome You to Munchkin Land (aka The Treasury)

Above, Treasury Secretary Steve Munchkin and his wife proudly inspecting the first newly printed money carrying his signature.

From this past summer, here is the same deliriously happy couple returning from Fort Knox, with fashion annotations by Mrs. Munchkin.

Tra la la la la la la la la.

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Democratic Millionaires and Billionaires To Meet in Palm Beach to Plan the Future of the Party of the People

For a while today, I thought that Kanye West announcing he would have voted for Trump—if he had voted—was the most interesting bit of news.

But this from Politico is much better:

David Brock on Thursday night emailed more than 200 of the biggest donors on the left — including finance titans George Soros, Tom Steyer and Donald Sussman — inviting them to a retreat in Palm Beach over inauguration weekend to assess what Democrats did wrong in 2016, figure out how to correct it and raise cash for those initiatives.

For the Democratic establishment, it is not just that they are pretending that Bernie Sanders never happened. They are pretending that the election never happened, or that what did happen had nothing to do with the party being hopelessly and cluelessly out of touch with the constituencies it needs to win elections.

Thomas Frank wrote about this in his recent book Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? It is an insightful work, and one that presages and sort of predicts the results of this presidential election. It deserves a complete reading, and his multi-faceted analysis is not quickly summarized. But here is one aspect:

ON THE LIBERALISM OF THE RICH

I am pressing on a sensitive point here. Democrats cherish their identification as the Party of the People, and they find it unpleasant to be reminded that affluent professionals are today among their most dedicated supporters. Democrats’ close relationship with the successful is not something they advertise or even discuss openly.

Exceptions to this rule are rare. One of the few works I know of that seems to approve, albeit with reservations, of liberalism’s alliance with a segment of the upper crust is the 2010 book Fortunes of Change, written by the philanthropy journalist David Callahan. The premise of his argument is that our new, liberal plutocracy is different from plutocracies of the past because rich people today are sometimes very capable. “Those who get rich in a knowledge economy,” the journalist tells us, are well-schooled; they often come from the ranks of “highly educated professionals” and consequently they support Democrats, the party that cares about schools, science, the environment, and federal spending for research…

There’s a simple reason that financial firms rallied to the Democrat [Barack Obama] on that occasion, Callahan suggests: because people on Wall Street, being very smart and very well-educated, are natural liberals….

To this honor roll of intellectual and financial achievement, Callahan appends the following observation: “This is definitely not the Sarah Palin demographic.”

No. But neither is it a demographic with any particular concern for the fate of working people.

In addition to Frank’s book, also recommended is the new book from Bernie Sanders, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. I don’t think Bernie’s going to be invited to the Palm Beach gathering, but boy howdy, that would be something.

The Political Opera Isn’t Over Until the Fat Cats Sing

Fat Cat Singing

If you were wondering whether the Trump soap opera/nightmare would end sometime before the actual vote, it is now official.

Cut Ties to Donald Trump, Big Donors Urge R.N.C. reports the New York Times:

Several of the Republican Party’s most generous donors called on the Republican National Committee on Thursday to disavow Donald J. Trump, saying that allegations by multiple women that Mr. Trump had groped or made inappropriate sexual advances toward them threatened to inflict lasting damage on the party’s image.

To an elite group of Republican contributors who have donated millions of dollars to the party’s candidates and committees in recent years, the cascade of revelations related to Mr. Trump’s sexual conduct is grounds for the committee to cut ties with the party’s beleaguered standard-bearer, finally and fully….

Bruce Kovner, a New York investor and philanthropist who with his wife has given $2.7 million to Republicans over the same period [since the 2012 election], was just as blunt. “He is a dangerous demagogue completely unsuited to the responsibilities of a United States president,” Mr. Kovner wrote in an email, referring to Mr. Trump.

It is indeed unfortunate that money speaks so much louder and more forcefully than the voice of ordinary people in current, post-Citizens United America. But if at this moment, this helps us to move on, even just a little, from this bizarre political hell we seem to be stuck in, I’ll take it. When the fat cats sing, the parties listen. And this particular song should be music to our ears.

Democracy Awakening

DA general 6

We are hearing questions about whether the Bernie Sanders phenomenon is a “movement”. It is pointed out that many other moments, in and out of electoral politics, either never turned into movements at all or, if they did, quickly fizzled out.

Last weekend in Washington D.C. there were events sponsored by a group called Democracy Awakening, mobilizing a wide array of progressive organizations, big and small.

We’re a broad coalition of organizations representing the labor, peace, environmental, student, racial justice, civil rights and money in politics reform movements. We share a firm belief that we will not win on the full range of policy issues we all care about until we combat attacks on voting rights and the integrity of the vote by big money.

At a demonstration on Monday, more than 300 were arrested, including Ben and Jerry, Rosario Dawson, and others famous and not. If you didn’t see or hear much about it, it was overshadowed by New York Primary coverage. And by the fact that there are many who are hoping that this isn’t a movement—at least not one that lasts.

Think about those who stand out in the ocean at low tide, facing the shore. The water gently laps at their ankles, rises a little more vigorously to the knees. Still they stand confident and firm. They can choose to ignore the tide and the waves, but eventually the tide has a way of coming in and rising, and the waves have a way crashing against whatever is in their path.

So maybe the best idea is to turn around and face the ocean. That’s where the movement comes from.

DA Robert Reich quote 1

New Hampshire Primary Aftermath: Battle of the Billionaire Front Pages

The New York Daily News and the New York Post have been tabloid newspaper rivals forever. And that battle is most deliciously seen on their front pages.

These papers are currently owned by very different billionaires: The Daily News by Mort Zuckerman (leans liberal), the Post by Rubert Murdoch (Fox News, enough said).

In the U.S., the Daily News and Post are the champions of creative, clever, crass or crude. Here is what they came up with the morning after a very momentous night in politics.

New York Daily News

NY_NYP

Veterans Day: The Annual Shame of a Nation

Veterans Boots

Failure to take full and proper care of veterans is not a Democratic or Republican shame. The only reason to focus on Republicans here is that last night, in their debate, on the eve of Veterans Day, only four passing mentions of veterans were made during two hours.

The debate was formally about the economy, but since every one behind the podiums is practiced at changing the subject, there’s no reason some or all of them couldn’t have just said: The economy is an important topic, but just tonight, this particular night, I’d like to focus my time exclusively on veterans matters.

Here’s what one of them might have said:

There is enough responsibility to go around for getting this nation involved in military conflicts. It doesn’t matter what party started it or finished it or didn’t finish it. It doesn’t matter whether it was a great idea or a terrible idea or whether it is too soon to tell. As a nation, we do what we do, and we have to pay the price and keep our promises. In the case of military service, that promise is to spare no expense or effort to not only make combatants whole, or whole as humanly possible, but to elevate their service to priority status in our national consciousness and commitments.

That’s why I’m going to spend whatever minutes I have on this national debate platform tonight to talk specifically about immediate solutions to veterans issues, rather than casting blame or blowing hot air. I also call upon the millionaires and billionaires supporting us and trying to influence the election to divert just a little of that money to nonpartisan efforts such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to start solving the problem. Of course, making this a government first priority would be nice too. Because if it comes down to a choice between any of us actually getting the nomination, which is admittedly a long shot for most of us anyway, and the comfort and well-being of those men and women we’ve flag-wavingly asked to fight on our behalf, I’d rather ask that those veterans be made whole than that I be President.

I know. Dream on.

McCutcheon: Is This the Electoral Apocalypse? (Maybe Not)

SupremeCourtJustices_2012_032620121

Six months ago I wrote a post called The Man Who Could Kill Democracy about the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. McCutcheon was asking the Supreme Court, on free speech grounds, to lift federal limits on aggregate campaign contributions. By a 5-4 decision, the Court today agreed.

In that post I wrote:

The First Amendment is central to American democracy, but it has never been absolute. It could be of course, and we would be free to destroy the reputations of others, or talk freely about overthrowing the government, or republish the words of others without penalty, or yell fire in that crowded theater. Instead, as an exercise in social priorities, we argue about balance, though sometimes the argument for the good of the many and “democracy” is cover for what’s good for me and mine.

Today’s decision finds that limits on what an individual can give to a single candidate is allowable under the First Amendment as a way to prevent corruption (that is, you shouldn’t massively buy a single election on a quid pro quo, one hand washing the other basis). But restrictions on what an individual may give in aggregate offends the First Amendment (that is, you are free to try to buy as many elections as your wealth allows).

The majority opinion of Justice Roberts was joined in by Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Alito; Justice Thomas concurred, but believes that all limits on campaign finance are impermissible under the First Amendment. Justice Breyer filed a dissent, in which Justices Ginzburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined.

Justice Breyer writes in his dissent:

Today a majority of the Court overrules this holding. It is wrong to do so. Its conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

So is this it, the electoral apocalypse? In the earlier post before the decision I wrote:

Get smart.
Vote.

Without casting aspersions too wide, it does seem that a number of Americans really don’t do their homework on public issues. As far as voting, our abysmal turnout numbers tell the tale. But if Americans did do their homework and did vote, we really could have a pragmatic, centrist, reasonable and successful country—instead of an extremist-obstructed one based more on blustery ideology and vaguely-veiled self-interest. We can hope.

That’s still it. If we have an aware, informed, moral, discerning electorate that votes, there is hope that in spite of McCutcheon (and Citizens United and whatever other shoes the Supreme Court has yet to drop), we can maintain what Justice Breyer calls “democratic legitimacy.” Without that, despite what Imagine Dragons sing, the apocalypse may not be followed by a new age, but by some back to the future America of the overpowered and the underpowered.

If you believe that America has a problem in any of those areas—awareness, information, morality, discernment, voting—then do whatever you can. Don’t blame nice Mr. McCutcheon, or nice Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas (even if they are wrong). And if you are hand-wringing, which is admittedly hard to avoid, do it only for a moment; it is unattractive and useless. Then get busy.

Good Gadgets Cheap: Logitech S120 Speakers

Logitech S120
Thousand dollar computers. Five hundred dollar smartphones. Ten dollar speakers.

Sitting on the counter, framing the food processor, mixer, blender and coffee grinder, are a pair of Logitech S120 speakers. Ten bucks, more or less; these come off the shelf from Walmart. They fill the kitchen with decent sounding symphonies, and the sound isn’t too bad overheard in adjacent rooms either.

You could splurge and go for the Z130 and get 5 watts instead of 2.3 watts, at about twice the price. You may already have a more powerful audio setup, one that really offers mind-numbing volume and fidelity to satisfy the most discerning listener. Good. But in that space where you just want to plug your phone into something and happily listen, this can’t be beat.

The bigger point may be that happiness and satisfaction come in lots of packages, and they are not all precious and expensive. Just because it cost only ten dollars doesn’t mean it won’t turn making breakfast—and maybe your whole day—into something special.