Archive for Capitalism

An Electric Car the Left Hates

Figures it’s a Cadillac:

There are plenty of things to celebrate about being American, but being possessed by a blind mania for working yourself into the ground, buying more stuff and mocking people in other countries just isn’t one of them.

So we wish we could say that Cadillac’s commercial for its 2014 ELR (suggested retail price: $75,000), which debuted during the Olympics, was a joke. But no, it seems to be dead serious — a completely shameless celebration of our work-hard-buy-more culture, with a blanket dismissal of “other countries” and their laziness tossed in for good measure.

This is a week or so old, but Rush was playing it up today.

Me, I don’t know why the Puff Hostess has her knickers in such a twist: our president completely agrees with her.

Cadillacs have long been a quintessentially American symbol of wealth and status. But as this commercial proves, no amount of wealth or status is a guarantee of good taste. Now, the luxury car company is selling a vision of the American Dream at its worst: Work yourself into the ground, take as little time off as possible, and buy expensive sh*t (specifically, a 2014 Cadillac ELR).

What, exactly, is tasteless about the ad? His pool? His mansion? His sharp suit? His cute kids or hot wife?

Maybe they’re offended that it’s for an electric, i.e. coal-powered, car. But they needn’t worry. Have you looked at the sales figures of the Volt and the Leaf? Cadillac is making this car because the law requires it to. This makes me want to buy a Caddy, but a big, gas-guzzling Escalade.

As one YouTube commenter wrote, “I’d take more vacation any day over a Cadillac.” Amen to that.

That attitude is why you have neither.

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Obama’s Greatest Success is His Greatest Failure

Billionaires are exploding!

The ranks of the world’s billionaires continue to scale new heights–and stretch to new corners of the world. Our global wealth team found 1,645 billionaires with an aggregate net worth of $6.4 trillion, up from $5.4 trillion a year ago. We unearthed a record 268 new ten-figure fortunes, including 42 new women billionaires, another record. In total, there are 172 women on the list, more than ever before and up from 138 last year.

Thanks to the tech boom, and strong stock market, the U.S. once again leads the world with 492 billionaires, followed by China with 152 and Russia with 111.

Roughly two-thirds of the billionaires built their own fortunes, 13% inherited them and 21% have been adding on to fortunes they received.

So, that’s the world’s one-percent taken care of. How about the bottom dwellers? Ninety-two million Americans not working; forty-seven million on food stamps; fifty million below the poverty line.

Heckuva job, ‘Bama! Five years in office and the only people making any money are the 0.00001%-ers. Michael Kors sends his thanks. Even if Van Jones, Rachel Maddow, et al are sticking pins into their Obama dolls.

PS: I do take solace from the note that, even in this socialist and confiscatory environment, two-thirds of the billionaires are self-made. Hard to demonize people who earned every cent they have.

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Dirty Tricks

Mike Rowe, host of the late, lamented Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, is in trouble for this:

Walmart wants to put a quarter of a trillion dollars into US manufacturing, and that’s bad?

Oh right, jobs lead to “job lock”. We now pay people not to work. Anyone who still works is a sucker, a sap, a patsy. Dirty Jobs used to celebrate the kinds of jobs that were the kinds of jobs Americans wouldn’t do (allegedly). Except he had no problem finding roof tarrers and turkey semen harvesters (or whatever they were doing to those poor birds). What a quaint notion of the value of work.

Rowe defends himself—by pleading guilty:

I’ve never worked in a Walmart; never even shopped in one. Unlike some people, however, I don’t base my opinions on ignorance (not that you’d know that by reading this blog). If Walmart wants to put $250,000,000,000 toward American manufacturing—their own money, not “stimulus” money bilked from taxpayers—I’m not going to complain.

In fact, I might just go shopping.

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Dreams From Her Father

This appeared over the Father’s Day weekend, and almost passed by without my notice.

But you’ll thank me for bringing it to yours:

My father died three years ago. For months after his death, I had a recurring dream in which my entire family, my mother, siblings, aunts and uncles were together for a crawfish boil, Cajun and Vietnamese style. Amid the revelry and drone of the back-porch fans, I would see my father. But my euphoria would vanish as I realized that he, looking lost and out of place, was dead and should not be there.

Born in 1927 in Hue, Vietnam, my father took part in the nationalist resistance against the French occupation, serving in a reconnaissance unit. During one mission a bomb exploded, killing many. My father was taken prisoner and his parents were informed that he was MIA. For a while he was even mistakenly declared dead, and a sheet of paper commemorating his ultimate sacrifice for the country is one of the few possessions that have followed us over the years.

After he was released, my father moved to Saigon. He pursued many avenues to earn a living, and eventually founded a successful import and export company, trading auto parts. During the late 1950s and 1960s, he traveled to France, Holland and around Asia for work and pleasure.

I have pictures of him from this period—white shirt, sleeves rolled up, standing next to the Eiffel Tower; or in a business suit, leaning against a car, trench coat over one arm, a cigarette casually dangling from his lips. Upon my arrival, his fifth daughter, in the early 1970s, my father was at the peak of his career, happily married with six children, a generous sponsor to many friends and relatives.

In 1975, the civil war in Vietnam ended. Under the new regime, my parents were classified as capitalists. Overnight, the auto-parts company was shut down. The government confiscated my parents’ home and properties, save for some personal belongings. With unconcealed bitterness, my father reminded us that he had once been lauded for his selfless dedication to the country.

I’ll let you decide whether to read the rest. It’s beautifully written, and a fascinating look back at a time we barely remember. It’s also a moral tale: the bone-crushing inhumanity of collectivism and communism versus the celebration of human liberty under capitalism. (After finally reaching America, her father relaunched his life—for the umpteenth time—and ultimately put her through college.)

But in the end, it’s a love letter from a daughter to her father. It’s best read as that.

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Larry Ellison, Please, Please, Please, Please, Please Don’t Leave California

California in BIG trouble

Dear Mr. Ellison,

Please, please, please, please, please, please, don’t leave California. I know you recently bought most of the Hawaiian Island of Lana’i, and maybe you’re thinking of eventually retiring there.

Don’t.

For one thing, Hawaii is one of the only states with a higher personal income tax rate than California. Hawaii and Oregon both take 11 percent from top earners, compared to 10.3 percent in California. Think of the difference that .7 percent makes when one is a billionaire.

Now, I know you’ve heard that Governor Jerry Brown is asking Californians to approve a tax hike in November, one that will move your tax rate to 13.3 percent, the highest in the land. But we need that money. Need it. Don’t. Go.

Your salary and bonuses last year reportedly totaled $15 million. I’m going to guess you paid around $1.5 million in taxes. Of course, you were also awarded $62 million in stock options, which are taxed as regular income in California. At some point you’ll cash those in and we’ll get more taxes from you. This may have already happened in order to pay the more than $500 million it reportedly cost to buy Lana’i.

Thank you.

You are our Oracle [ORCL 31.29 0.13 (+0.42%) ] of the Open Hand.

California has a $16 billion deficit to work through over the next ten months. It’s going to be ugly. Financially, it’s as if the San Andreas fault has opened up a gash in the earth and swallowed whole cities. Stockton is bankrupt, San Bernardino says it is, while analysts put Fresno, Compton, and points in between on their radars for possible bankruptcy filings in the future. The latest bad news: The San Diego suburb of Poway agreed to the ingenious idea of borrowing $105 million in a loan that will end up costing taxpayers $1 billion. I know, crazy! But you gotta love the weather.

Of course, Hawaii has nice weather, too…

More at the link. Fun too.

- Aggie

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All Your Businesses Are Belong To Us

Somewhere in Ohio, Joe the Plumber is nodding his head, saying “What did I tell you?”

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

If Mitt Romney and the Republicans are against roads and bridges, that’s news to me.

It’s also news to me that government created the Internet. Yes, the Defense Department, along with plenty of academic support, funded research into ARPANET, the Internet’s precursor. But that’s like saying government invented Mark Twain because he went to a public school (if he even did). The germ of the Internet was refracted and magnified beyond anyone’s imagination—government’s especially—by brilliant individuals driven by the thrill of the possibilities.

Mark Twain didn’t write Huckleberry Finn or Pudd’nhead Wilson, nor Abe Lincoln the Gettysburg Address or the Second Inaugural, because a teacher taught them to read and write. Millions of kids learn to read and write, yet we’ve had only one Twain and one Lincoln. Bulletin to Obama: they would have become Twain and Lincoln without any of his supposed government sponsorship.

But what am I blathering on about? The killer quote begs to scream off the front pages of every newspaper in the country:

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

Does that mean I made Apple Computer happen because I’ve used them since 1989? Can I get me a few stock options on Xerox, say circa 1963? Actually, I’ll just take cash.

This is a moment begging for Mitt Romney to strike. Companies don’t “make money off” government inventions. They prowl, scavenge, and digest the best ideas—be they from government, academia, or via venture capital—and let the market decide the winners and losers. And for every winner there are plenty of losers.

Everyone in America, save the moochers, should roundly condemn the president for those remarks. They are false, self-serving, bursting with demagoguery. And for the umpteenth time, unworthy of a President of the United States.

Aggie likes to say “elections have consequences”. My version is: “we get the government we deserve.”

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From “No Lobbyists” to “Only Lobbyists”

I’m with President Obama on this: if you’re going to lie, lie big:

On Friday House Republicans released more documents that expose the collusion between the health-care industry and the White House that produced ObamaCare, and what a story of crony capitalism it is. If the trove of emails proves anything, it’s that the Tea Party isn’t angry enough.

Over the last year, the Energy and Commerce Committee has taken Nancy Pelosi’s advice to see what’s in the Affordable Care Act and how it passed. The White House refused to cooperate beyond printing out old press releases, but a dozen trade groups turned over thousands of emails and other files. A particular focus is the drug lobby, President Obama’s most loyal corporate ally in 2009 and 2010.

The business refrain in those days was that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. But it turns out Big Pharma was also serving as head chef, maître d’hotel and dishwasher. Though some parts of the story have been reported before, the emails make clear that ObamaCare might never have passed without the drug companies. Thank you, Pfizer.

I have my own maxim which goes: capitalism may be heartless; government is mindless. There needs to be an uneasy and suspicious alliance between the two (tilting toward heartlessness) for the benefit of humanity.

But when the heartless capitalists look at the way business is being done, and brilliantly but duplicitously conspire with the mindless apparatchiki in government for the narrow benefit of their profits, they (being heartless capitalists, after all) betray their role in the alliance. And there is no government to protect us from government.

Outrage over this kind of cronyism is what animates the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, whose members aren’t powerful enough to get special dispensations from the government—or even a fair hearing from their putative representatives.

In one email, an AARP lobbyist writes the White House to say “We really need to talk,” noting that calls from seniors are running 14 to one against ObamaCare. But she isn’t calling to say that AARP is withdrawing support—only that the White House needs to adjust its messaging. This is how a bill passes over the objections of most Americans.

The lesson for Republicans if they do end up running the country next year is that their job is to restore the free and fair market that creates broad-based economic growth. The temptation will be to return for the sake of power to the methods of Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff. If they do, voters will return the GOP to private life as surely as they did the Democrats in 2010.

The warning to business is also fundamental. Crony capitalism undermines public trust in capitalism itself and risks blowback that erodes the free market that private companies need to prosper and that underlies the productivity and competitiveness of the U.S. economy. The political benefits of cronyism are inherently temporary, but the damage it does is far more lasting.

There are capitalists who see beyond the next deal. They understand that to lie down with dogs is to get up with fleas. They eschew short term gain for long term independence and financial health. It is a pity such capitalists were not involved in this sordid tale.

PS: Wrapped with the lobbyist lie, is the “transparency” lie. This story is coming out, like Fast & Furious and so much other scandal and corruption, over the dead bodies of this administration.

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Everyone Bend Over

Offered w/o comment:

A recent announcement by the U.S. Preventative Health Service can rather simply be summed up: Most men eventually get prostate cancer, but most don’t die from it; those who do are mostly over 75 years of age, so that ends their continuing burden on the public purse. Further, early and prolonged testing is expensive, and can lead to medical complications from biopsy examination.

Happily I can report that I have successfully completed my 80th trip around the sun. A few years ago prostrate cancer was detected by my annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test; it was of a particularly aggressive type, as revealed by a routine biopsy.

That test led to surgery, radiation and hormone therapy.

Unfortunately, the cancer returned, and for the last couple of years I have been undergoing both routine and quite advanced experimental therapies, and everything has been monitored and controlled by PSA tests. Happily, the cancer has been knocked off its feet, and though not eliminated, it is controlled to the point that I am writing this from Fiji where I am actively scuba diving every day. (Fiji is a marvelous place for that sport, my favorite.)

Life is full of ironies. The PSA test was developed by a Kleiner & Perkins company, Hybritech, in the mid 1970s. How happy I am that Eugene Kleiner and I backed that effort so long ago; the partnership no longer has the remotest financial interest in the field, so these thoughts are not motivated by any residual economic involvement.

It’s hard to avoid a political aside, so I won’t try. A healthy market-driven free economy leads to innovation and the development of breakthroughs, like the PSA test. A highly taxed and highly regulated economy leads to “Death Panels,” like the U.S. Preventative Health Service.

Mr. Perkins is the founding partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital partnership. He is also a retired director of The News Corporation.

Tempted though I am to comment, I said I wouldn’t. You, however, should feel no such constraint!

PS: Oh, just one, er, observation. And people say capitalism is heartless and cruel. Ha!

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The Video Barack Obama Doesn’t Want You to See

No, not the one of him tucking into a feast cocker spaniel au vin, or catching crickets in his mouth. His defenders would just celebrate him as a man of many cultures (which indeed he is).

And not even this video, a longer version of which is making the rounds of the Internet (hat tip reader Judi).

No, the video Barack Obama doesn’t want you to see—more embarrassing than a sex tape with Tonya Harding, more damning than a youthful clip of him with a clip—is this clip right here:

Be afraid, Democrats. Be very afraid.

PS: The longer version of the first video correctly points out that in order for America to fail, Americans first have to want her not to succeed. That is accomplished by underplaying America’s successes and denigrating her history. The education system has been handling that for decades, and generations of young voters coming into the system are responding to a president who preaches the same message they’ve grown up to believe is true.

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Goldman Sacked

Interesting:

Greg Smith, who is resigning today as a Goldman Sachs executive director and head of its US equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa after 12 years, wrote:

“I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it. To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money.”

In his article titled Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs he writes that over the past twelve months he had seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets”, sometimes over internal e-mail.

“I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.”

But we all know what was part of the thought process, an integral part:

Goldman Sachs has made a lot of bets that paid off handsomely over the years — for example, its bet against the subprime housing market that gained the Wall Street giant $4 billion as the housing bubble imploded in 2007. One of the firm’s biggest bets has been on Barack Obama, and that bet seems to be paying off too.

The “vampire squid” raised more money for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign than any other bank or Wall Street firm, over $1 million from Goldman employees, officers, etc. If the goal was to gain access to the White House, the plan seems to have been wildly successful. As McClatchy Newspapers noted in 2010:

Several former Goldman executives hold senior positions in the Obama administration, including Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; Mark Patterson, a former Goldman lobbyist who is chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; and Robert Hormats, the undersecretary of state for economic, energy and agricultural affairs.

Lawrence Summers, an Obama economic advisor during the early days of his administration, was reportedly paid $135,000 by Goldman Sachs for a one-day visit in 2008. And in the spirit of the revolving door I’ve complained about before, the same McClatchy article noted that “Goldman is retaining former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig as a member of its legal team.”

“Coincidentally”:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc has reached into Democratic circles to find its new top spokesman, Richard “Jake” Siewert.

On Tuesday, the bank announced in an internal memo that Siewert, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, would become its new global head of corporate communications, replacing departing public relations chief Lucas van Praag.

The 48-year-old Siewert spent eight years as a spokesman and adviser in the Clinton administration and most recently was a top aide to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

At Goldman, Siewert has received the title of managing director, a senior-level position, according to a memo sent by John F. W. Rogers, Goldman’s chief of staff and board secretary.

I see from a quick news search that Goldman is giving Obama the cold shoulder now in favor of Romney. Maybe that’s what hacked the guy off so much. In any case, from the people I know in finance, Goldman has never exactly been in the business of philanthropy.

PS: Forbes finds an amusing, almost disturbing parallel.

PPS: Additionally:

A person familiar with the matter said Mr. Smith’s role is actually vice president, a relatively junior position held by thousands of Goldman employees around the world. And Mr. Smith is the only employee in the derivatives business that he heads, this person said.

Other than that, the story was accurate. And will all the media outlets reporting this juicy story note how closely Obama has cuddled with Goldman?

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Barack Obama’s Stupidity.

Jonah Goldberg posted this at The Corner on NRO. My thoughts follow.

Of course Phil Donahue is a horse’s ass—everyone gets that. But I do feel he and Milton Friedman are arguing past each other. Friedman is absolutely right that “greed” (or enlightened self-interest) is the motivator that makes people get up off their duffs and earn a buck (or billion). Adam Smith told us that. And he’s also right that free enterprise is the best (really only) system to raise the masses out of poverty.

But Donahue is not wrong to point out that income disparity is a byproduct of capitalism. Not every poor person is poor out of laziness or incompetence; not every tycoon is an economic genius. We all agree that everyone has to pay his “fair share”. That’s the argument should be.

Which is why I never get tired of re-posting this clip:

Taxing for purposes of “fairness” (whatever the [bleep] that is) is so stupid, it’s the Paul Bunyon of stupidity. It’s the B-52 of stupidity. It’s the giant sequoia of stupidity. It’s Barack Obama’s stupidity.

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Bain Capital

Mitt Romney

This is an article about what happened when Mitt Romney went up against Ted Kennedy for Senator. They were neck and neck in the polls until Kennedy ran ads saying that Romney was a vulture capitalist, that he had created his wealth by firing people, etc. Kennedy crushed him.

…Mr. Romney is reluctant to defend his conduct at Bain, perhaps fearing that would only add fuel the issue. On Tuesday night he zinged “desperate Republicans” for echoing Mr. Obama’s strategy to “put free enterprise on trial. . . . This is such a mistake for our party and our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.” But that was it. Otherwise, Mr. Romney’s speech focused on Mr. Obama.

Messrs. Gingrich and Perry appear untroubled by the potentially broad impact of their offensive against Mr. Romney and Bain. But “the consequences of this are serious,” says Republican consultant Frank Luntz, as “seeds” planted now could lead to a GOP “disaster” in November.

Consider the damage if Mr. Romney, whom at least a plurality of Republicans regard as their most electable candidate, ultimately lost the nomination because of Bain. The party, left with a nominee whom Mr. Romney had beaten twice, would be angrily split, its enthusiasm gone. Or consider if Mr. Romney is nominated but is weakened by the Bain attacks. That’s more likely, and it too would be divisive.

Mr. Romney bears some of the blame for the awkward situation. Candidates for president normally build their campaigns on a big idea. Mr. Gingrich’s is that he would crush Mr. Obama in debates and win the election. Mr. Perry’s is that he would extend the economic success of Texas to the entire nation. Mr. Romney’s is himself, the man whose skill at economic revival was on display at Bain. This is an invitation to attacks.

I can hear you: Aggie, Kennedy left that poor woman to die in the water! That’s Massachusetts! Romney would have won in any other state. The rest of the country isn’t so stupid!

Really? Let’s make a list of the big issues surrounding Romney: 1. Possibility that some people will not vote for a Mormon 2. Stiff personality, at least in front of cameras 3. Vulture capitalist. He has to somehow reach out to people with whatever personality deficits he has (or the media gins up), and explain why he fired so many people. Yes, I understand that he was a net job creator. I get it. But there will be a film – or several films – of distraught people describing their unemployment because Bain bought their company and laid them off. And then, in some cases, closed the company.

Is it reasonable to be upset with Gingrich for opening this can of worms? Perhaps. It speaks to Gingrich’s temperament, that’s for sure. But it isn’t as if David Axelrod is stupid. He will run ads that make the case more strongly than any Republican ever could.

I guarantee that this question will come up in the debates. His best response might be something like this: At Bain my job was to save companies, to grow them, and that creates jobs. Sometimes we failed; more often we succeeded. As President of the United States, my first task will be to get this economy rolling again. yadda. yadda.

This only works if we assume that the economy is still struggling, and that the American public is intelligent enough and brave enough to try another path. We don’t have a lot to lose.

- Aggie

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