The Big Short (Squeeze)

On February 1, 2021, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

I first learned about the “short squeeze” while following the machinations of Tesla stock. Despite the occasional babblings of Elon Musk, Tesla makes a fairly excellent automobile, and I was shocked by the level of rancor online opposing everything to do with Tesla, electric cars, Elon Musk, etc., by what are often referred to as ICE-lovers (fans of Internal Combustion Engine vehicles). Those proclaiming loudly and proudly that they were short Tesla would predict the stock would go to $0 soon from whatever price it was at, and Tesla Shorts would be the richer for it.

Having looked at investing as a way to support and promote businesses and ideas I liked, not so much as a way to bet against companies or stocks I didn’t, shorting never really appealed to me, although it’s important to understand how it works. Happy to try to explain it to you, and you will find plenty of great videos on YouTube breaking down shorts and options. Perhaps it makes sense to allow bets on both sides of the fence, so to speak, although some markets ban shorting stocks at times of volatility. Whether or not short bans work is another story.

By the time I noticed the anti-Tesla sentiment, middle of 2019, Tesla stock was around $200 a share. Tesla was the most shorted stock in the world for most of 2020. Tesla shorts lost over $40 billion last year (more than the next 10 top shorted stocks combined) betting against a stock that rose from $200 to $1000, split, then propelled by short interest skyrocketed to $4500 last month. Split adjusted, that $200 share of stock is now worth almost $4000. That’s called a 20-banger (20x price increase).

Without the persistent, angry, even self-righteous shorting of the stock, and the unwillingness of shorts (who believed, and still believe, Tesla will come back to earth) to throw in the towel – even as Tesla executed on its business strategy – I don’t think the stock could have ever attained such heights. But it did, and it’s living proof of the incredibly timely adage:

The Market Can Remain Irrational Longer Than You Can Remain Solvent.

If that saying was a song, it would have been Number 1 with a bullet last week. Maybe this week, too. As a rag-tag crew of discussion board compadres pooled resources to improbably elevate GameStop stock to levels well above what just about anyone would find mathematically and economically viable. But it happened. Propelled by a short squeeze utilizing the legal if questionable market behaviors of shorts against them, squeezing the price higher and forcing many aggressive short sellers to close (or pretend to close) positions to cap their losses.

This is the point where, if you want to understand more about shorting, it would be a great idea to do a video primer on the topic. Or feel free to do it later and just go with it, as hopefully some of my soon to be rendered analogies will make up for skipping past the breakdown.

GameStop stock last hit its all-time high of $62.30 in 2007. Based on post-pandemic optimism, GameStop rose from $3.80 in July 2020 to $20 on January 12, 2021. At that point, GameStop shorts elected to bet against a sputtering company at a difficult time, with a ceiling of $20 max to be won on each shorted share.

GameStop 20 Year Chart

When a stock is shorted, the most to be made per share is the difference between the shorted price of the stock and $0. By comparison, when a shorted stock rises, the maximum amount of money that can be lost per share is infinity. There is no ceiling when a shorted stock skyrockets. Given demand, market conditions, short volume, and much, much more, the price of the stock can rise as high asthe market will take it. And because, at some point, shorts must “close out” their position in the stock buy purchasing the shares, they are on the hook for every dollar of that elevated price.

That means hedge fund managers bet they could make up to $20 per share, while risking a loss of infinity dollars on each one. Infinity being more than, say, $27,203,384,382,989, the current National Debt as I write. When you look at it that way, kind of a risky bet. Though, to the hedge funds and other shorts, it looked like easy money: betting against a beaten down company that loses $4.22 per share, nearing the end of its lifecycle. Then the cavalry stepped in.

And by cavalry, I mean people. People decided to invest their money in GameStop. Yes, they had the advantage of knowing it was, by then, the most shorted stock in the market. And yes, there may have been some “premeditation” or strategic combining of resources to push price demand higher in hopes of a short squeeze on the stock. On that surface, nothing at all seems in any way illegal, or even unethical, about it. Certainly nothing remotely close to some of the predatory practices hedge funds use against stocks and the rest of us all the time.

There are approximately 69.5 million shares of GameStop stock outstanding. It takes more than a few people buying a handful of shares to move the price from $20 to $483, where it went on Thursday. With momentum and motivated buyers on its side, a solid slot atop the news cycle, a ton of short interest against it, and, my guess, even more new short bets and active shorts believing they can weather the storm, the stock still sits improbably at $325, and it’s anyone’s guess where it will go next.

You’d think, and this is me speaking from my experience, this type of hand-burned-on-a-hot-stove experience would serve as a lesson to future shorts, hedge funds, and hopefully even retail investors to factor in such risks in the future. If we weren’t living in a country and a time so completely hell-bent against the principle of “learning from our mistakes.”

As historians well know, one factor accelerating the Great Depression was “investing on the margin,” or gambling with borrowed money. That idea is part of the story here, as short interest in GameStop amounted to 140% of the float. Thus the number of shares short sellers were gambling on were 40% more than the total shares in the entire company. And you don’t have to buy the shares now, only when the options expire. So now that shorts are under water, to close their positions they are competing to buy fewer shares than are available to buy in the open market. Demand squeeze. Price zooms higher.

Now people want to know if this is a good time to get into the market and buy these booming, highly shorted stocks. With stocks like GameStop moving up 2400% in two weeks, it seems like everyone’s winning the lottery. The stock market is about managing risk, betting your insight about one stock or business succeeding is as good as or better than everyone else’s.

The way it usually works is, the people who get in early make the biggest gains. And the late comers have less to gain, or even wind up “holding the bag.” Which, as you can guess, isn’t good. And there’s no way to know if GameStop is on its way to $1000 a share, back to $20 or lower. Maybe “the next GameStop” will be born this week, month or year in AMC, Bed Bath and Beyond, Nokia, BlackBerry, the silver commodities trade, or ???, here are a few things to consider before you jump into the fray:

(Please read each recommendation below with the precursor, I believe…)

  1. The best investments are made from a combination of understanding, legitimate insight and conviction in a strategy, idea or business. Go with what you know.
  2. The stock market is not a toy. Real money is made and lost every day. It’s in everyone’s best interest when people place investments with sensibility and sobriety.
  3. No one knows where the stock market will go tomorrow, the next day, the near short term, or the long term. If they do, they either really know their shit, or they have inside information, which isn’t legal.
  4. The most reliable way to make money is to earn it. Get paid for your hard work, selling a great product or service, owning an income-generating entity. Markets work in abstract, not fully dependent on conventional applications of math, logic, or even economics.
  5. If you are intrigued or excited by the recent developments in the market, let it be an incentive to start reading up on principles, researching businesses and markets, doing a deep dive on how things work so you understand well enough to find the rational in what seems irrational or even magical. Knowledge is the best place to start.

When I was a kid, I would listen to politicians speak, or the nightly news, and marvel at how complicated everything seemed. The word vomit, the run-on sentences, the jargon. Then I embarked upon a life-long journey of de-coding words, politics, economics, the media, the arts and more, and I realized almost everything can be understood if you take the time to listen or read, re-listen or re-read. If necessary, if you don’t understand it, look it up. And you still don’t get it, chances are you need to do a little more digging, or else, and this is always a possibility, it’s bullshit. Bullshit will always be more or less at play in public and private discourse. So, caveat emptor. Buyer beware.

That’s the advice I’d give to hedge funds right now – think twice before going short. Think twice Citadel and Robinhood before re-rigging the game against retail investors pumping GameStop, Koss, Bitcoin and more into bubbles of optimism and short-term gains. No one forced you to bet Don’t Pass. Billionaire investor Lee Cooperman, whined on CNBC about Reddit traders using stimulus checks to hammer GameStop shorts. Mr. Cooperman wasn’t whining when the government bailed out mortgage bankers who blew up the economy with credit default swaps, or when many of those responsible for the 2008 meltdown had their bonuses paid by the government, aka, the rest of us. What is the white, male, billionaire equivalent of a Karen?

We’ll know soon enough whether events of last week are a blip or a trend. It will take much longer to see if this was a real correction in the balance of power, and/or an historic misappropriation of capital. Or something else we haven’t thought of yet. Ideas are being floated to help stranded hedge funds salvage underwater positions. Affected companies like GameStop would offer private sales of shares to funds in exchange for financing or retiring some of the company’s debt. This would, in theory, allow hedge funds to close their short positions for far less than the market rate. A helpful trade-off for hedgers, but seemingly quite unethical, unfair, and dilutive to current stockholders and retail traders.

Hopefully, because there’s always hope, this could turn out to be a Robin Hood / Now You See Me moment of market power redistribution. Like the end of Field of Dreams when cars line up to hand over their $20. There’s no reason it can’t be a learning experience for the hedge funds, who at times can bully an otherwise beaten down entity past the point of fairness, often being quite nasty about it.

Retail investors continue to learn the power of their collective dollars (i.e., votes). Legislators, can add market machinations and the logic of allowing short volume to reach 140% of a stock’s outstanding shares to government’s need to understand, manage and monitor high tech, social media, privatization, and socioeconomics. These disciplines have powers that can reach infinity left unconstrained.

Or we can be a world where no one learns from anything, caught in a Churchillian loop (or George Santayana, if you prefer) of History Repeating.

It’s up to us. Hope we choose wisely.


What the Hell was That?

On January 25, 2021, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

The bar has been lowered.

Let me repeat that.

The bar has been lowered.

Trump escalator down kicked off with a U.S. Presidential candidate calling Mexicans rapists. From there, this country had much further to fall.

And we did.

Orange Satan and his numbskull acolytes MAGA’d this country to laughingstock level. From global warming naysaying and climate accord exiting (down) to vicious immigration policy, aka emigration policy, aka detention policy (Down) to an across the board, multi-disciplinary failure on COVID (DOWN) the story of which is still being written. The latter should be discussed as America’s greatest failure for hopefully decades unless we do something even more stupid like allowing him or his to hold elected office again. Can we disqualify an entire faulty family bloodline?

THEN came the Stop the Steal poetry of a 1/6 Insurrection, conspired, choreographed and executed to dim-witted perfection. (BOTTOM, mainly because time had run out).

The Bar has been lowered. How low would we go had he been given 4 more years?

In a World where auto-tune singing, line dancing, human-sized plush toys doing karaoke passes for top rated network entertainment. With Snoop Dogg crying “amazing” while some shirtless sweaty guy balances and twirls Rosario Dawson on a giant log-swing. Amazing. Indeed.

After so much bottoming, America faces the daunting challenge of Godwin’s Law in attempting to explain to future generations who missed the historic incivility, epic ineptitude and astonishingly inhumane shittiness of the Trump years without evoking Hitler, Nazis and the Holocaust. Don’t get me wrong, both moments were historically heinous. But they were also most certainly very very different.

So, to kick off the Post-Trump, post-alternative facts, post-post-truth America, I thought it might be valuable, healing and perhaps even fun to consider a new cadre of analogous stories and legends from fiction and actual history who are not Hitler but offer up relevant comparison and parallels to the Divided States of Trump.

Here we go:

The Manchurian Candidate

A natural for this enterprise. The 60s brainwashing thriller starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury where a Russian plant is placed on the precipice of the U.S. Presidency. In our Trump-era version, Donald Trump is Raymond Shaw (does not end well for Raymond), James Comey is Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra’s role), and Vladimir Putin is Eleanor Iselin (played by Angela Lansbury).

With Ivanka Trump as Eugenie Rose (an unfair comparison to Janet Leigh to be sure, but historically quite accurate), and Ted Cruz as Sen. Johnny Iselin (James Gregory, whose character famously states that there are 57 card-carrying members of the Communist Party in the U.S. Congress after spotting 57 on a bottle of Heinz ketchup).

Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin and George W. Bush

When you first met them, you thought they were bad jokes sent from Central Casting to play unsubstantial supporting roles. Then they opened their mouths. Now we long for a simpler time when the POTUS was theoretically a serious person and the VP was a lapdog. With Vladimir Putin as POTUS, Trump as the lapdog, Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin and George W. Bush as the Three Stooges, offensive and largely ignored in their day, yet today relatively beloved as kindly American institutions as seen the hindsight of history’s fuzzy monocle.

The Twilight Zone: “It’s A Good Life

Apocryphal Twilight Zone episode set in Peaksville, OH starring Billy Mumy (also known as Will Robinson in the original TV Series Lost In Space) as a spoiled little boy-monster possessing the power to turn his enemies into obscene objects (eg. – a human jack-o-lantern) and wish anyone who doesn’t think “happy thoughts” away into the cornfield. With Donald J. Trump as Anthony Fremont (Mumy), A.G. James Barr as Mrs. Fremont, Amarosa Manigault as Aunt Amy, Andrew McCabe as Dan Hollis (human jack-o-lantern), and the United States of America as a giant cornfield.

Dr. Strangelove

Another natural. Stanley Kubrick’s surrealist adaptation of Peter George’s novel “Red Alert” with George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens and Peter Sellers in a three-way tour de force as President Merkin Muffley, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake and the titular Dr. Strangelove.

Subtitled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” this ill-advised real-life re-make allows Trump to stretch his acting chops, trumping Sellers’ multi-character portrayal by playing four roles: Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Hayden), Gen. Buck Turgidson (Scott), Col. Bat Guano (Keenan Wynn), and the Coca Cola Machine (now a Diet Coke machine in this updated version).

Vice President Mike Pence is a bewildered President Merkin Muffley, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman as Group Captain Mandrake, Senator Lindsay Graham as Major ‘King’ Kong (Pickens), Rudy Giuliani is Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky, Vladimir Putin as the voice of Russian President Kissov and Stephen Miller as Dr. Strangelove.

The ending is a window into our alternate future had Trump not lost re-election fairly and squarely.

The Peter Principle

Adapted into a nearly interminable, full length feature narrated by a verified living descendant of Charles Darwin: The Trump Theorem.

All the Presidents Men

At the same time, the least ironic and the most apropos of all historical comparisons. The central and operating doctrine being Nixon’s famous line uttered to David Frost, “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Take that sentiment, multiply it by the Unitary Executive Theory (UET), put it in practice, and you wind up with four years so wearisome that even modern proponents of UET, including Attorney General Bill Barr, former Vice POTUS Dick Cheney, Cheney’s daughter Liz, and nearly every Secretary of Defense still living ran for the exits.

Leave it to the bottomless pit of Donald Trump to blast through the hypothetical unboundedness of America’s entitlement to infinitely lust for power.

Dumb and Dumberer

Donald and Rudy. Duh.

* * *

Life imitates art. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Humor is Tragedy + Time
– Mark Twain

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
– George Santayana.

The bar has been lowered.

The bar is now open.


Opportunities for Growth

On March 23, 2020, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

So after not too many days in “lockdown” and a massive infusion of stories, videos, live streams, virtual gatherings and much much more on the Viral Multimedia Network, a few thoughts are coming into focus. Maybe it’s the steady stream of Hollywood endings bouncing off the pragmatism of an everything is grist for the mill documentary glut. I’m hoping to take something away from this a little deeper than “What am I going to do while I’m stuck at home waiting for this to end?”

If the only thing the World learns from Covid-19 is that viruses are bad and wake me up when it’s over, a tremendous opportunity for growth will have been missed.

The Flattening Curve

Before Covid’s December genesis and January outbreak I felt something was very very wrong here. Here on Earth. Here in the U.S.. There and Everywhere, too. No one likes or trusts governments. Anywhere. Accumulation of wealth and corporate well-being out-prioritize the greater good of individuals, the environment, the future. If your idealism hasn’t been crushed over the last half century of Corporate Globalism and Shock Doctrine, it may be because your head was buried in the sand of pop cultural anesthesia. Or you’re immune to Capitalist Idiocracy.

To zero in a little, you gotta wonder about the logic offered by people who support Democracy, but are OK with a President of the United States being elected with a minority of the Popular Vote. You can use your words a trillion different ways, but if you understand math, you cannot reconcile our beacon of democracy proclaiming that it’s OK for a candidate to win with less votes than their opponent.

Never mind that 100 million people eligible to vote in America don’t vote. Never mind that the two Presidents elected by those minorities have presided over a handful of the greatest debacles in American history. And never mind that so many of the people who tell you how horrible government is and that it’s the root of all evil have supported putting sociopaths in charge and standing idly by while they indoctrinate those evils deeper into the system and our society.

What I do mind is that we don’t ever seem to learn anything from any of this. Ever. And if we do learn from our mistakes, the lesson all too often seems to be how to get away with it next time.

You know what William Barr learned from Watergate? If you don’t hold the President accountable for his crimes, even when caught red-handed, he can stay in office. You know what we learned from Too Big To Fail? That when giant corporations use profits to feather their own nests, pay themselves giant bonuses, buy back stock to enrich themselves and then here comes a rainy day, the first thing the government is going to do is bail them out. Like the Senate tried to do today. And you know what happens when you elect a racist, xenophobic, misogynist who doesn’t believe in math, science or logic to the Oval Office, he is going to shred the bureaucracy and the infrastructure in the name of corporate profits leaving everything, including the corporations, defenseless against the Chairman of the Board of Planet Earth Inc.: Mother Nature.

And whose fault is that? As if it matters now. It’s EVERYONE’S fault. It’s the fault of a greedy minority that’s gamed the system to put themselves in elite financial company. It’s the fault of the masses whining we are powerless while failing to exercise even a fraction of the hundreds of millions of un-cast votes to claim an iron-clad majority. It’s the fault of those who think they know better who don’t pipe up, letting themselves be drowned out by the vain, narcissistic, self-promoting sociopaths who continue to run the show. And it’s even the fault of the Founding Fathers for not predicting that the exact problem that compelled them to rebel against Britain was someday going to come back here with a vengeance and spell out in even greater specificity what should be done when some fascist invokes unitary executive privilege to upend our entire system. Talk about a loophole.

Plenty of blame to go around, right? All the more reason to set blame aside to look at the incredible opportunities handed to us today on a silver platter.

How many times have you thought, I really don’t want to go to work today? Why can’t I work from home? There’s no reason I need to drive to work when I can do what I do from my house. Guess what? Wish Granted!

You want to write for the movies? Tell your amazing story? Start a home business? A blog? Write and sing a few songs? Today is The Day.

Ever wonder why Spring Break is just a week, not a whole month? Or how most of Europe can take the entire month of August off and world markets don’t come crashing to a halt? One week of social distancing and every airline in the United States is on the brink of ruin. Does that seem like good planning to you? Shouldn’t every airline at least have a rainy day fund?

They pay designers big bucks to figure out how to jam more seats and more humans into less space, but they don’t have anyone who knows what to do if there’s a slowdown or a moratorium? You’d have thought after 9.11 someone would have sent someone a memo on the topic. Not in 21st Century America. If we’re so amazing and awesome, why don’t we ever learn?

Well, it’s not as bad as all that. And I’ll tell you something else that may seem counter-intuitive after the last couple of weeks – this virus is horrible. It’s a tragedy unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetime. AND it’s an opportunity in disguise for us to start doing things differently. It’s an opportunity that would not have afforded itself had we not run into the Covid iceberg in the first place. Our Titanic society doesn’t have to be sunk. Like an immune system adapts and evolves, so can we become stronger from the maladies that bring us to this place in time.

Here are a few ideas to get us started turning lemons into lemonade. I believe they are all natural steps forward.

  • Start learning from our mistakes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is a uniquely American way of sitting around waiting for things to break. It’s a malady of the wealthy and complacent. If we aren’t moving forward, we are merely waiting for the icy hand of death. This applies especially to the abominable state of healthcare in the U.S..
  • Not voting is not an option. Doing nothing is not a protest. It’s simply doing nothing. For all the complaints about our government, add the caveat: “and still people don’t vote.” Millions died for the right to vote in America, and yet people, especially young people, abstain. Voter apathy is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions. We need to think of ways to insure that every eligible person votes. Fines for not voting. Anything but apathy. Apathy Kills. No more doing nothing.
  • Decisions must balance the needs of the People with the desires of the Corporations. Corporations are virtual entities. People are real. When government places the interest of banks, businesses and markets ahead of the well-being of the people, we are doing exactly what Karl Marx predicted would be the downfall of Capitalism. The aid package stalled in the Senate offers Steve Mnuchin half a trillion dollars to dole out to corporations with no strings, restrictions or oversight. They have the nerve to suggest no one be told who gets what for six months. That is insanity. Free enterprise is fine. Choosing business over humanity is not. People need to know this is the conversation we are having TODAY.
  • It’s time to value the essential over the non-essential. Don’t be scared, but that is the essence of Socialism. Socialism prescribes a balance between freedom and equality by valuing essential goods and services (social utility) over non-essential (fetishistic) desires. If it supports life, it’s in. If it doesn’t, it’s out, or at least low priority. We’ve built an economy with a mix of essentialness and desirability. As if those two things are equal. They are not. Essentiality, life-affirming and life-saving utility, takes precedence over our whims and fancies. Alone now in our caves, we must look at our values very closely. For example: one person has a Ferrari and no toilet paper. Another person has a garage full of toilet paper, and no Ferrari. Who’s the Captain Now?
  • The lack of slack space in our society is killing us. If you don’t know what slack space is, look it up. Corporations leverage resources to maximize profitability, executive salaries and stock price. Yet the threat of a slowdown, recession or a 2-3 month sabbatical threatens to bring the world economy crashing down. That’s totally stupid and completely unnecessary. How can the entire European continent go on vacation in August and yet America can’t go off-line for a few weeks in a crisis? If that isn’t a part of a company’s long-term plan, it ought to be now. Design every business to support a 3-5 month sabbatical for each employee every 5 years so that, barring an international pandemic, it would have slack space to offer each employee 3-5 months of paid vacation, continuing education, family leave, sabbatical or walkabout to edify their lives at least every five years. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
  • Demand more transparency and accountability from government. A scorecard tells us how many new cases of the virus are found each day in every country or state. We also need a scorecard to graphically illustrate how government succeeds or fails with its choices. Along with far more dissent when government excises a part of the safety net. That includes healthcare for the unemployed, food assistance for the under privileged, housing shortages for the homeless, and a big, giant red flag waving when the President defunds the CDC or disbands National Security Council’s pandemic unit. With all the information in this world, how come we only recognize the housing shortage caused by the Great Recession of 2008 when there are giant encampments of homeless people on the streets? No one saw it coming? Other than its architect – our current Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin (aka the Foreclosure King).

For all the debate about health care in the U.S., if you said, “We need more” at any time in the last 30 years, you were on the right track. And to all the people who said, “No we don’t,” here is an opportunity to improve on that mind-set by taking to heart the many lessons we are learning from the Coronavirus Crisis of 2020. We have to look forward to move forward. There is wisdom to be gleaned from every experience. With time on our hands – time like we’ve never had before – let’s get to growing.

Here are some links that I’ve found valuable, and hope you will, too.

New York Times Daily Virus Tracker

Washington Post Virus Tracker

Information is Beautiful Coronavirus Data Pack

WP: Why and How to Flatten the Curve


Democratic Debates Discussed

On October 16, 2019, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

Checked out the Democratic Presidential Debate last night and had a few thoughts that I think run against the grain of current punditry and coverage.

First, I think the current debate format exposes the critical lack of leadership at the DNC and an inability of the Democratic Party to work together to come up with a vehicle that portrays the parties values, strengths and individuals in the best possible light. No matter who “wins” these debates, it should be clear that the Party is the way forward from here for the majority of Americans are simply worn out or worse from the Trump Presidency. And I don’t think they’re accomplishing that.

The debates continue to be structured as win-or-lose, confrontational excursions with a huge flock of largely unelectable challengers attempting to take down the front-runner in a more civilized version of King of the Hill. Thus far it’s failing to make the case that the Democrats are the party to conclude the Trump debacle.

Tuesday night’s Democratic Dozen

Instead, they are playing Trump’s game. Which is a huge strategic mistake. The Trump-won Republican debates went down the way they did because there were too many Republican candidates. That format drowned out most reasonable voice and decent candidate (John Kasich), and permitted Trump the Bully to play King of the Hill against a bunch of career politicians who never had a chance.

While the Democrats are down to half the candidates that populated the Republican process for months, there are still too many also-rans muddying the waters when the conversation has got to be much more substantial, addressing real issues, and clearly showcasing the 5-8 real candidates capable of beating Trump.

So you have Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyers, Andrew Yang, Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard all trying to make their bones by taking shots at front-runners Warren, Biden and Bernie. THAT’S NOT HELPING. Even if Klobuchar – who is not going to be elected President in 2020 under any circumstances – sticks around because she’s smart, tough and may make a solid head of National Security, that’s one hour of blowing holes in the positions of legitimate contenders, cannon fodder for Trump.

Rather than the substantial amount of time spent debating health care and the economics and merits of Medicare for All, which has already been discussed ad infinitum, doesn’t inspire voters, and can be further parsed directly in Town Halls and by the candidates, why are Democrats not meaningfully addressing: Climate Change (0 Questions); Gun Control (0 Questions); the obstinacy of Mitch McConnell; China: the Trade War, Hong Kong and Human Rights; Immigration Policy; Civil Liberties and Equal Rights. These are all differentiators for Democrats, and if any of these ideas surfaced last night, it was incidental.

It’s the DNC’s job to make sure these critical differentiators are center stage at every debate. Deeper dives into Political Corruption, the Hunter Biden issue (comparing his issue to the Trump Family and POTUS emoluments), Election Security and managing Putin’s Russia are also overdue.

Warren is great under pressure. She is still my favorite in the race, and while her frontrunner status was confirmed last night, I’d rather see her mixing it up on a host of relevant topics, rather than being slow-jammed on Medicare for All by Klobuchar and Harris plus Castro, Yang, Steyer and Gabbard.

Even if Klobuchar, Harris and O’Rourke (I’ll discuss Beto in a moment), join Mayor Pete, Corey Booker, and front-runners Warren, Biden and Bernie in the Final Eight, remove the clutter of the Purely-Unelectable-So-Why-Are-They-There Other Four. I’ve heard it stated that Castro might make a good DNC head. Worth considering. Otherwise, Castro, Steyer, Gabbard and (arguably) Yang are superfluous, serving to attack the front-runners and dilute the content. The DNC should trim the fat.

The candidate most impacted by so many faces is Kamala Harris. Now a longshot, she is a strong voice with a substantial following, and an impressive track record. She’s made the mistake of changing her voice noticeably from debate to debate, struggling to establish an identity. Her numbers, like Mayor Pete’s, ultimately will decide the issue. A chance to compete on a broader set of issues would help us know more definitively if she is a contender or also-ran.

While it seems Klobuchar’s sole purpose is to gain points by attacking Warren and extract a sound bite that will harm her candidacy down the line (“YES! Medicare for All will impact Middle Class Taxes!!!”), she makes an argument to be on the stage. To that end, Booker has been the least heralded and most Presidential of the Next Five, making him a viable running mate for Warren or ???

While I have mere doubts about the electability of Biden and Bernie, I know Beto won’t be elected. But he stands alone and for all the right reasons on two critical issues. First, he is the only candidate with the guts to take a real position on gun control. I think he’s right on the issue and Americans agree with him, which is why he consistently receives wild applause on the topic. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “We’re coming for your guns.” And anyone ideologically opposed to that line is voting for Trump anyway.

The other Beto positive is that he is the only one challenging Warren on one of her two biggest deficiencies. While everyone wants more detail on Medicare for All, and perhaps rightly so, there isn’t enough meaningful discussion on her proposed anti-trust spree. Even if we have had too many mergers, and the FTC needs a more aggressive anti-trust stance, naming companies she wants broken up now is a kind of grandstanding at this point. It’s certainly not going to help her get elected. She’s smart, with smart people on her staff. Her anti-trust proposals are too broad right now, and someone needs to tell her that. So far, it’s only been Beto.

So that’s where it’s at for me. Love to hear your comments. Here are my personal Top 8 candidates remaining, in order of preference.

Who do you like and why?

Elizabeth Warren
Bernie Sanders
Kamala Harris
Pete Buttigieg
Joe Biden
Corey Boooker
Amy Klobuchar


Connecting the Dots on Trump and Russia

I’ve discussed the “Russian Investigation” on several occasions with people on all sides of the issue. The one thing I’ve discovered when attempting to delve into the complexities is that very few people have actually read through the – mostly public – documents that address the heart of the matter.

I thought it might be useful to provide a brief, high-level summary of the three key documents, make a few connections between them, and leave you with a few critical questions to ask as the Mueller Investigation, the Congressional Inquiries, and other resulting actions unfold over what promises to be at least the next few months.

Here is where to find and download each of these critical documents:

1) The Steele Dossier (27 pp.)

2) Glenn Simpson Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee (312 pp.)

3) Devin Nunes Memo (6 pp.)

These documents are inextricably intertwined, and I believe a working knowledge of each is essential to exploring the Trump Campaign’s interactions with Russia, and the possibility that there was or was not collusion and/or conspiracy with a foreign entity, along with potential related obstruction of justice infractions.

It’s a simple task to read The Steele Dossier and the Nunes Memo in their entirety. At 312 pages – a quick 312 – the Simpson Testimony is a different animal. I will try to summarize it for you by providing relevant takeaways so you don’t have to read the whole thing.

The Steele Dossier is a collection of research memos, each memo opening with an executive summary and then profiling detailed findings and sequences of events. Initially contracted by a Republican client of Fusion GPS (unnamed by Mr. Simpson in his Judiciary testimony, but often presumed to be the Ted Cruz Campaign), the Dossier’s funding was eventually subsumed by the DNC. Simpson’s testimony gave some insight into the document’s origins, but he did not name specific clients.

Simpson testified that such research is often contracted during the course of a critical election campaign, and his company Fusion GPS is one of the leaders in that field. It has produced intelligence for a wide range of clientele with subjects including: The Clintons, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, among many others.

The Steele Dossier documents three sets of issues, each – if true – of tremendous concern to all Americans. 1) Candidate Trump had a long and documentable history of business ties with Russian politicians, oligarchs and known mobsters. 2) Russian spies gathered intelligence information (aka Kompromat) sufficient to blackmail the Republican Nominee, Trump, and 3) With input from Team Trump, the Kremlin had authorized a campaign of espionage and disinformation designed to damage the Clinton candidacy and, if possible, swing the election to Trump.

That Trump has questionable business associates, many of them Russian, is well known. The Dossier notes corrupt ties to Asia as well, and the Russian campaign was also intended to distract from Trump’s illicit activities in Asia. Kompromat on Trump features videotape recordings of his escapades at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton in a presidential suite once occupied by Barack and Michelle Obama. According to the memo, the Golden Showers story is real.

Steele adds that Russia also gathered kompromat on Hillary Clinton, mostly recordings of phone calls she made in Russia as far back as her stint as First Lady, though nothing as prurient or damning as the Trump videos.

Obtaining compromising material on Hillary Clinton was a Russian priority, because they, like most, assumed she would win the 2016 Presidential Election. Russia uses kompromat as a tool to keep their political rivals in check. The espionage campaign might have two potential benefits: 1) Keep the election as close as possible, thereby minimizing Hillary Clinton’s mandate, and 2) Potentially get Trump elected, though the prospects of that happening seemed highly unlikely all the way to Election Day.

Participation from Trump officials aided the espionage campaign. The Dossier calls out three high-ranking Trump operatives: Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Cohen became involved late in the campaign to cover up the trail of collusion. (He is suing Steele for implicating him in The Dossier).

The Dossier also discusses the breadth of the campaign on Trump’s behalf, including the hacking of sensitive e-mails and subsequent release through Wiki-Leaks. Intent was to turn Bernie Sanders supporters against Clinton, make embarrassing DNC information public, and otherwise undermine the Clinton Campaign’s credibility.

The Dossier contains a trove of information documenting Russia’s campaign to throw the election to Trump. It also details a method of disbursing payouts from a pension fund in Florida to hackers located throughout the U.S. The campaign was so potent and effective that the Kremlin and Putin had to curtail it during the run up to the U.S. Elections to maintain plausible deniability.

At least one high-ranking Russian official in favor of a more aggressive espionage campaign, Sergei Ivanov, was fired by Putin when Russian interference became so conspicuous that it caught the attention of the Obama Administration, U.S. Intelligence Agencies, and the U.S. Media.

Glenn Simpson’s Testimony alternates between two narratives: one, a Republican attempt to discredit the Steele Dossier and the motives of its sponsor, Fusion GPS. For the Democrats, a proxy for Sen. Dianne Feinstein elicits the narrative of a dialog between Simpson and Steele as Steele reports back on his findings. Simpson states that Steele’s reports of Russian attempts to sway the U.S. election, the possibility of a U.S. President susceptible to blackmail by a foreign agent (via video from Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton), and the Trump Campaign’s ongoing collaboration with Russian agents motivated them to report their findings to the FBI. When the FBI failed to act, they then leaked the Steele Dossier to the press.

While the Republican’s questioning does little to impugn Fusion GPS and Steele (whom Simpson characterizes as one of the best in the business and a “Boy Scout”), the story told by Simpson is both fascinating and infuriating. Especially so in light of the Nunes Memo released on February 2, 2018 and Republican attempts to paint the FBI as hostile to Trump and for some reason favoring the Clinton Campaign during the lead-up to election day in November 2016.

As Steele’s intelligence illuminated Russia’s plot to turn the U.S. Election to Trump, who they felt they had in their back pocket, Simpson and Steele agreed to share what they knew with the FBI. In mid-October, Steele met with an FBI contact in Rome and agreed to hand over all of his data to them.

Approximately one week prior to the U.S. Elections, the FBI fed a story to the New York Times implying that Russia had little to no impact on the election. FBI Director James Comey then delivered a memo to Congress indicating that e-mails from Huma Abedin’s phone discovered on Anthony Weiner’s computer could contain evidence of wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, those e-mails proved redundant. But the implication of more e-mail scandal clearly had a negative impact on Ms. Clinton.

Let’s review: the James Comey-led FBI – accused last week by Devin Nunes of anti-Trump bias and improperly obtaining FISA surveillance warrants on suspected Russian spy Carter Page – ignored evidence of a conspiracy by Russia, cast aspersions on Hillary Clinton one week before the election, and very well could have propelled Trump into the White House in the process.

The same FBI, loaded with Republicans including James Comey, (former Director) Bill Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, and Christopher Wray, that helped give the election to Trump, was in cahoots with the Democrats? That’s the conclusion The Nunes Memo attempts to draw.

If you’re familiar with The Steele Dossier and The Simpson Testimony, nothing prior to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election indicates any assistance given to Democrats by the FBI or the nation’s intelligence apparatus. Or the Deep State. It’s the Trump Campaign and the Russian Government throwing a Hail Mary to get Trump elected, with an assist from the FBI (and the New York Times). Against all odds, it worked.

We may never know what sparked the about face by James Comey following the election. Perhaps it was a bout of conscience. Maybe it was the pressing for loyalty by Donald Trump behind closed doors. It might even be that when Michael Flynn, who claimed no meetings or ties with the Russians, turned out to be lying, Comey decided that the right thing to do was to turn over all the rocks to see what the Trump Campaign was hiding. But if Trump was innocent, when he fired Comey, he unleashed the dogs of hell upon his very own Presidency.

The cloud of suspicion surrounding Trump, from Russia’s espionage campaign to Friday’s release of the Nunes Memo and beyond will play out on the World Stage. Republican Party attacks on the legitimacy of the FBI, along with the unprecedented release of the toxic Nunes Memo and the suppression of a Democratic rebuttal signal a nadir in Congressional partisanship. All to protect Trump.

Now what? House Republicans have tried, and apparently failed, to flip the script by undermining the findings of the Steele Dossier, depicting an unholy and historically unlikely fellowship of the FBI and Democrats. The Nunes Memo might also be a trial balloon designed to facilitate Trump’s version of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre – firing Rod Rosenstein and successors until he can find someone to fire Mueller for him – under cover of what they were hoping would be a tide of popular sentiment.

It’s time to focus on two critical questions as the walls close in on Trump:

1) If there’s no collusion and no obstruction, why scorch the earth to discredit the FBI and derail the Mueller Investigation?

If Trump is innocent, how in the world would a Republican Senate, a Republican House and an intelligence bureau filled with Republicans and Trump appointees find him guilty of something he didn’t do? Unless…he did it.

The Steele Dossier, if corroborated, implicates the Russian Government and the Trump Presidential Campaign as in collusion/cahoots/conspiracy to throw the election to Trump. That would bring enough ammunition to nail anywhere from 4-10 Trump Staffers for conspiracy, and Trump himself for obstruction, at a minimum, to conspiring with a foreign state to defraud the U.S. Presidential Election process.

So, as the Mueller Investigation concludes, we will likely find out once and for all:

2) Is The Steele Dossier fact or fiction?

Everything rests on the corroboration or the refutation of The Steele Dossier. If it’s accurate, even partially, the Trump dominoes are going to fall. Including the Donald.

This might explain why, when it would be far more prudent and effective to weather the storm quietly, Trump, Nunes and their allies are going on the counter-attack, AKA, the defensive, while under scrutiny of a special investigator who, based on history and party affiliation, would seem to be inclined to find him innocent.

Donald Trump is a guy who’s done a lot of things. And a guy who’s been accused of a lot of things. Being good at appearing to be innocent is not one of them. From here, and these are certainly the cheap seats, albeit with ample reading light, President Trump sure looks and acts like he’s guilty. Or at least, like he thinks he’s going to be found guilty.

He certainly is not going to like it when faced with the inevitable question: what did he know, and when did he know it?

Keep reading. Keep asking questions. We shall see how it all plays out.


See also:



On October 17, 2017, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

I’ve waited a long time for this day. More than 25 years, actually. And it’s bittersweet, but I’m ready, we’re ready, to have this conversation.

I was young, it was my first full-time job, and a dream come true. A full-time position writing the weekly newsletter and planning department events for Walt Disney Feature Animation. My first day on the job, I placed two Oscars won by The Little Mermaid in the Trophy Case. And I was quizzed point blank on my sexual orientation by one of the heads of the department.

What could I do? 26 years old, a straight, white guy from the midwest, and the biggest opportunity of my young life. I nodded and smiled, and listened politely as the sexual politics of this career opportunity were laid out before me. I wasn’t in Missouri any more.

But I forged ahead with the idealistic hope that nothing too crazy could happen to me if I stayed true to myself, aimed to deliver beyond all expectations, and stayed true to the values of the corporation. Ah, the naivete of youth.

I delivered week after week, no matter what. With tremendous exposure for an entry-level position, I turned the right heads over time, many times. My weekly newsletter was hand-delivered by me to the offices of the CEO and the President every Tuesday. Eighty Tuesdays. As time went on and I made the newsletter my own, I received a letter of thanks and encouragement (“we love your writing…you are very funny…” from the Office of Jeffrey Katzenberg. This was the reason why I came to Hollywood. A dream was coming true.

And yet, no matter what I did, I would always be subject to the whims of that one department head who “took an interest” in me. I wasn’t his direct report. I was supporting his production with a Wrap Party. But he took control of my career at Disney, checking in at least weekly to see if I would succumb to his overtures.

Was it obvious? No, it was surreptitious. This, it turns out, was one of the shrewdest, most political, deviously vicious people I’ve ever encountered. Think Jafar from Aladdin. And he is still in a position of tremendous power in Hollywood, and on Broadway.

Did I realize what was happening while it was happening? Well, I knew I clearly had a problem in this guy. But what was I going to do? He had all the power. The game was clear, and he controlled it. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was screwed. Figuratively, of course. I would never trade my integrity, sexual or otherwise, for a promotion. This is a trait forged by the fire of my experience, and it has served me well over the years because I survived what followed.

When it fully dawned on me that my opportunity was becoming compromised by the choice I was being presented, I asked my boss’ secretary for advice dealing with this guy. She knew the players, and warned me to be careful and keep moving forward. As several awkward one-on-one meetings to discuss the Wrap Party ensued, I recall trying to end one meeting in his office that kept dragging uncomfortably on with personal conversation and innuendo.

Me: “Time to get back to business.”
Him: “I’ll give you the business.”

There was a sinister sneer underlying his comment. It was made from inappropriately close proximity. He knew I was in a relationship, and he had met my girlfriend a few weeks before. I laughed off his proposition, and left the room untouched. That’s when things began to unravel.

My hours – which started at 60 hours a week, no less – got even longer. Years later, a girlfriend applying for a job in Disney’s Theatrical Marketing Group told me she was told by a friend already working in the department that she would not get home before midnight until she fucked one of the department heads. Nice.

The hours increased, and ticky tack complaints about my work from my harasser and his crony, President of the Division, escalated. My health began to noticeably deteriorate. Huge welts appeared on my face and chest. Stress reactions. The first time I’d ever encountered such a physical reaction to a situation in my life.

Our internal HR staffer took me aside, and told me that there was internal conversation about the breakouts visible on my face. He told me, at great risk of his career at Disney, that I was on my way to a constructive discharge and recommended that I file for Workers Comp. That way they couldn’t fire me, and I could keep my job while working my complaint (stress through excessive job hours) through the System.

Unlike this very generous and brave co-worker, the System was not my friend. Filing Worker’s Comp was akin to declaring war. My days were officially numbered. In retrospect, of course, they were already unofficially numbered. My boss was pissed. And kind of screwed.

Nice guy, but didn’t lift a finger to help me. He knew what was happening, and he knew the character of the people involved. But he had 30 years at the company and a family to support. So he did nothing. I later found out that he, too, was fired from the department, along with all of the other men on the Admin Team, within three years. This was the first purge by the Gay Mafia at Disney (made famous in the Michael Ovitz trial), and it happened in the mid-1990s.

The next chapter of my saga went on for about 8 more months. I call that time, “The Meat Grinder.” I would continue to get tactical advice from our internal HR Rep. He had no power to actually help me, and was risking his own job every time he gave me advice. Some of the items he suggested would be beneficial in case I decided to file a lawsuit down the line. It was also helpful to have someone on the inside who understood what was happening and wanted to do the right thing. Though from a business standpoint there was nothing he could do.

I told my story, in its entirety, to Corporate HR. The Rep was very interested to hear what I had to say. Then he did absolutely nothing to address the situation. My harasser was powerful – very powerful within the Company, though that was nothing compared to the power he holds there now. By standing up for myself in this extremely awkward and potentially nuclear situation (from a PR standpoint: producer of Disney Animated films sexually harasses young staff coordinator, pre-Anita Hill). For Disney HR, I was basically a problem to be handled.

At that time (1991), Disney had the power to adjudicate its own Workers Comp issues internally. So they made a case against me while I continued to do my job. I performed admirably under the circumstances, knowing any slip-up could get me fired for cause.

I stayed even later hours to be sure to get everything done. I documented all of my communications at work with everyone that meant anything (the CYA file). I even wrote a Simpsons teleplay on spec in the hopes of getting drafted into their writing corps. A colleague helped me get the script read by Simpsons producer David Silverman, who gave me a ton of constructive criticism and asked me to write another one. But at that time, that’s all I had in me. My brain was melting.

Ultimately, the Workers Comp claim led to three official meetings at Disney’s discretion with a detective, a doctor and a psychiatrist. All under Disney’s employ.

The detective went first. He was by far the most objective. As I told him my story, he listened intently, asked a lot of questions, recording the answers on tape. When we got to the part of the narrative that led to my predicament, he snapped off the recording device and spoke to me, person-to-person. This was a textbook case of sexual harassment. I needed to document what happened, look up and understand what sexual harassment is, and get a lawyer to help me through, or out, of this situation. He made it clear that I was not going to be able to work through this with the studio on my own, despite my wishes to the contrary.

He was right. And honest. And helpful. I followed his advice, even getting input from two of my cousins who are both lawyers. One who now does personal injury, and the other who is a lawyer in the entertainment business. They advised against going the legal route. Neither of them was interested in being the first lawyer to go up against Disney in a public sexual harassment lawsuit. Though I’m sure there have been hundreds of cases filed or settled against the famous Disney harassment culture since. Just ride it out, they advised. Try to find another job within the company.

But that wasn’t happening. And I couldn’t quit, either. My medical bills (GPs, dermatologists, eventually allergists and nutritionists) were in the thousands. Without a job, and insurance, I would have been bankrupt within months. I was going to be at Disney until they 1) acknowledged Workers Comp (which probably would have set them up for a massive lawsuit), 2) fixed the situation internally, or 3) fired me.

The psychiatrist was next. He asked many deeply personal questions, apparently in the hope of finding some psychological grounds for my dispute. He was mean, got super personal, and I think he even plays a psychiatrist in the movies. No quarter there.

The Doctor told me point blank that I was going to be fired for filing the complaint.

Ostensibly they were investigating to decide if I was the victim of massive job-related stress. I had welts on my face and my chest like I’d never experienced before. Dozens. But proving workers comp by stress is a very tough case to make. Especially when the studio owns the final decision.

Not surprisingly, Disney ruled in Disney’s favor. Soon thereafter, I was constructively discharged.

Between the date that I finished the investigative process and when they let me go, I ran into the man who sexually harassed me out of my first full-time job. He was coming out of one of the buildings Feature Animation utilized in Glendale. Back then, we were scattered across five locations.

A few years later, they built a beautiful animation building on the studio lot, a reward for the success of the films that were produced in that era: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. In my short time at the studio, I supported each of those productions, which have all earned billions in revenues for The Walt Disney Company. I was paid about $7 an hour for the approximately 19 months worth of 60-100 hour weeks I served at the House of the Mouse.

My harasser looked ragged, messed up, disheveled in a way I’d never seen him before. This guy was meticulous. Master of his carefully developed image. I couldn’t tell whether his state had something to do with my workers comp claim, which was being handled by the studio as a potential sexual harassment lawsuit, or some other Disney-related stress. But I gave him a ride, mostly in awkward silence, to another part of the campus, and never saw him in person again.

As I said, he is still with The Walt Disney Company, and among its most highly paid and powerful executives. He even appeared once on The Bachelorette, an ABC show, and gave sage marriage advice to the bachelorette and her suitor. I found that somewhat ironic.

As for me, it took years to work through the anger and pain of that massive unfairness. Looking back, I still have feelings about the experience. But it doesn’t own me like it did in the 90s. It took three years to undo the stress bomb that led to all of the breakouts. The solutions: rest, regular exercise, and a massive restriction of diet. Plus a complete avoidance of any and all employment by The Walt Disney Company.

I did heal and found another path to success that led me into the technology business and Symantec Corporation. I told Symantec HR I would never work for another corporation like Disney, and they promised me that if I hated working for Disney, I would love working for them. Symantec kept its promise, and I spent 10 super-productive years there, providing my life with some much-needed stability.

Since then I am going on 14 years in the business of dance music and events. I have a business (The Cruz Coalition, with my business partner Art Cruz), and as a DJ and music producer I am doing things and having experiences I couldn’t have dreamt of when I was an aspiring, and idealistic, young writer/producer at Disney. Who knows what would have become of me had I stayed in the Disney salt mines with its legions of abused.

Clearly some idealism and naivete was left behind at Mauschwitz. But not all. Which is one of the reasons I never sued. Sometimes I wonder, if I had filed suit, could I have stopped that guy from harassing others. Maybe. Or maybe the pressure of being Anita Hill before Anita Hill in my already fragile state would have crushed me for good. I did try to tell my story to the Los Angeles Times before the statute of limitations expired, but they never followed up.

I’ll tell you one thing though – I believed Anita Hill. And she is a hero for standing up and telling her story, although it didn’t stop America from putting that cretin Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.

But I will never forget what happened to me at Disney. And I will always hold tremendous empathy for those who are made victim by the insidiousness of sexual politics. And I’m grateful that the day has come when we can talk about how it’s wrongfully impacting our world and our system. Think of all the people who abused their power to coerce sex, and then used that same power to either promote or demote their victims based on personal whims, desires and fears.

I am grateful that #metoo is shining a light on this issue. Sexual politics exists in many forms, and can move in many directions, though almost always for the powerful and against the powerless. Think of all the unhealthy and unfair choices that are made when sex inappropriately enters the work place. So many lives and paths irrevocably changed. While we may never be able to undo that unfairness, let’s learn from it and make the future a place where the consequences are greater, where sexual abuse and sexual harassment are far less likely to happen.



The Apprentice and The President

On November 23, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

maxresdefaultWhile I’m trying not to let the dismal tide of American political regression and the nasty, nasty turn in our discourse dominate my thinking and writing, from time to time I believe it will be productive, and therapeutic, to throw out new ideas and view events in America from various angles as a means of gaining perspective.

I’m also finding it challenging to dig deeper into the issues without stepping on toes. Politics, like religion, is so deeply personal. It’s just not easy to analyze or discuss these topics without treading upon someone’s deeply held beliefs. I apologize in advance to anyone who’s offended, or strongly disagrees.

Of course, it’s my right to express my ideas and opinions. And I absolutely welcome thought from all points of the ideological spectrum. Though it’s easy to say, “Don’t take it personally,” beliefs are, first and foremost, personal. Despite this, I hope we can engage in dialogue in the spirit of openness, understanding and earnestness with the intention – my intention, at least – of advancing the greater good.

Though it’s impossible to set aside the recent election and discount all that was said on the campaign trail, I’d like to consider a different Donald Trump for the moment. Over the next four years we’ll find out whether Candidate Trump was truly sincere, or if he was just saying shit to get elected.

That the things he said actually worked may or may not be related to his own perceived likelihood of winning. By the shocked look on his face late on Election Night, Donald Trump seemed as surprised as the rest of us. The reality of the Presidency brings with it a world of considerations that apparently never crossed his mind while he scorched Earth on the campaign trail.

Yes, he’s considering a Wall, or maybe it’s a fence, mass deportation, and a Muslim registry, along with a handful of odious staff and cabinet nominations. As offensive and just wrong as all of that is, Trump also appears to be backpedaling on “Lock Her Up,” total repeal of Obamacare, climate issues and maybe more. We shall see.

The Trump I’d like to take a closer look at right now is the Donald Trump of “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” I watched the better part of four seasons of the show, finding it instructive to observe corporate business while not being subject to the petty bullshit. How real this reality show really was is open to debate. But it does provide a window into Donald Trump’s leadership style and values. To the point where it may be valuable to re-run some of those shows to show our new President in action. It might even be reassuring.

Am I saying Donald Trump will be an excellent President because as the Boss of The Apprentice he did some good, maybe even very good things? Not necessarily. But he does seem capable of running a small to mid-size boutique business and may also have the makings of a decent curator and developer of talent.

I have no idea if his strengths as exhibited on a television reality show will translate into anything positive in terms of world leadership. And I do believe his willingness to give quarter to a vast array of misanthropic, racist and sexist ideologues is going to be a problem for all of us in the next four years. Does every one of his appointees need to be chosen from the dregs of the Republican Party? But here are a few things I do find interesting:

In The Celebrity Apprentice, Trump watched everyone closely and carefully. Maybe it made for good TV, or it’s just a part of his management style, he had a way of finding the good in people who were different and even helping them develop their talent. Some were unpopular. Some were just plain odd. Dennis Rodman, La Toya Jackson, Gary Busey, and Piers Morgan come to mind. With characters like Rodman and Busey, Trump genuinely tried to develop them into a better version of their selves, in spite of, and sometimes even because of, their shortcomings.

Take a look at some of the casting choices. Jose Canseco. Darryl Strawberry. Andrew Dice Clay. Rod Blagojevich. Trump took on some hard cases. Of course, he also enabled some truly wretched personalities and deplorable behavior. Omarosa, a Trump protégé, is a revolting human being. She is a vicious, conniving cheater, one of those people who make going to the office a demoralizing chore for even the most idealistic, chipper employee. NeNe Leakes was a bully and a brat. And Gary Busey is clearly insane on one or more levels.

On the other hand, Trump spotted something in Lil Jon, Trace Adkins, Rodman, La Toya Jackson, Bret Michaels…and he invested. There are examples of Trump getting it right on The Apprentice, too, pulling players out of obscurity and into opportunity. He also knows the value of having and hearing a team of advisors he trusts. Undoubtedly, Trump ran with a team of questionable-to-lousy characters – Steve Bannon, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, KellyAnne Conway, Newt Gingrich – and was elected President of the United States. The Bad News Bears Go to Washington.

Is any of the above germane? Does The Apprentice translate? Might there be a sliver of a chance that Trump has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough and polishing them up? I am doing my best to hold my nose and hold out hope. Because while I’m repulsed by the vile racist, sexist, threat-laced hate-speech spewed by President-Elect Trump and so many of his staff and supporters throughout the campaign, here we are once again with a fully Republican government.

The last time that happened, eight short years ago, things got historically bad. And though a million and a half more voters and counting chose Hillary Clinton, the electorate, and a clear majority of the States, gave us Trump. Like it or not, it’s his government until he loses it. Perhaps Trump will even find a person or two from across the aisle to help him round out his cabinet and provide a little balance to his vision. A truly great businessman would do that. How about Trump?

I’m willing to make psychic space for Trump to exceed my low expectations. Maybe he can stop being a petty blowhard, inciting hate-mongers in his constituency to pit them against all who disagree. Hoping that enormous ego will keep him on his toes as Chief Executive of an infinitely more intricate and challenging constituency of stakeholders, apprentices and just plain America citizens who need this President-Elect to be as great as he says he is.


Shoe Drops and Shoo-Ins

On November 14, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

shoetossingSo the other shoe dropped on Tuesday, and it landed on Hillary Clinton’s head.

The so-called shoo-in, who was given a greater than 90% chance of winning just prior to the election by media outlets like The New York Times and Huffington Post wound up with anywhere from 2-4 million more popular votes than President-elect Trump. However, Trump took every single Swing State and significantly won the electoral vote.

With two popular vote wins and electoral vote defeats in 16 years, of course, The Democratic Party would now like to end the electoral vote. Nothing like waiting for something to break until you fix it. Of course, had this happened to Republicans even once ever before (it hasn’t; and there’s a reason for that), we wouldn’t be discussing the Electoral College any more. It would be over. Maybe that’s something we can learn from the Republican Party.

Plenty of lessons to be learned from the 2016 U.S. Elections; many of them lessons to be re-learned. With not very much time or perspective since last Tuesday, though it feels like forever since a Trump Win was nothing more than a bad dream, I’ll try to point out a few of them:

1) America Sucks at Politics. Our political system is a cesspool. Those now charged with Draining the Swamp are some of the worst actors in its history and will likely pollute it even more. We don’t discuss or debate issues in public or private well, if at all. We never wind up with the best candidates in the final election. And we are about to get what we asked for. So the blame should start with us.

2) Non-Voters Kill Democracy. If you didn’t vote, for whatever reason other than being wrongfully stripped from the rolls, you have no excuses and you are hurting this country. It’s as simple as that. Your vote is your voice. If you didn’t use it, you delegated that to everyone else who did. I believe we should fine or tax everyone who is eligible and doesn’t vote a minimum of $250.00 every election.

3) Until we have a meaningful Third Party in the U.S., voting for a third party candidate is a waste of a vote. Almost the same as not voting. Maybe a little bit better because it required at least a tiny amount of actual effort. If there was an intention behind the choice: intending to vote against both Trump and Hillary, then good for you. But if you thought that by voting for the Third Party you’d still wind up with the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., not Trump), you were wrong. As were the polls.

4) The Polls Know Nothing. Every single national poll was wrong except one: The USC Dornsife/LA Times poll. The reason they got it right when everyone else got it wrong: they polled a large sample, and the same sample, every time. Everything else is guesswork, and the guesses and methodologies all missed because it was impossible to find a representative sample in this election. There’s a reason for that.

5) Trump Voters Didn’t All Identify As Trump Voters. Not everyone who voted for Trump was wearing a Make America Great Again hat. In fact, anti-Trump hyperbole kept many from stating their intentions out loud: to friends, to family, to pollsters, to the world. Until it came time to vote. Trump’s campaign activated parts of the electorate that hadn’t voted in years. While Hillary’s campaign failed to activate many whose interests she clearly favored: blacks, Hispanics, women. Each of these demographics supported Obama by a much greater percentage than they did Hillary, despite promises from Trump that should have had them worried sick. Turns out, worried sick doesn’t equate to voter turnout. Not this time.

6) The Problem With Hillary. Turns out her flaws were enough to sink her. A few to consider (while keeping in mind she took a higher percentage of voters than Gore in 2000, JFK in 1960, and Nixon in 1968): She is part of the political establishment. Her campaign and close advisors were insiders and out of touch. The e-mail server issue hurt her, in spite of nothing specific ever being tied to the practice. Wiki-Leaks document leaks, targeted against Hillary to the benefit of Trump, were extremely damaging, especially those that convinced Sanders supporters that the DNC was biased against Bernie. Count Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as a huge loser of this campaign. DNC needs a massive re-boot.

7) Know Your Audience. Trump knew whom he was talking to. He pushed all their buttons, and did it again and again. I’m not sure who Hillary was targeting with her ads and campaign, but she sure didn’t get the votes she needed from women, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. It’s tougher to target your campaign well when you don’t know who may secretly be OK with the sexism, race-baiting, anti-Semitism, and 20th Century thinking. But isn’t that the job of the professional politicians to know?

Also, you will find out who is and who isn’t OK with Trump in coming days because his fans no longer have to keep their support a secret. He won, so it’s OK for them to tell you you’re wrong for calling him an idiot. Or a sexist, race-baiting neo-fascist. Or – and you can accept or reject this based on your beliefs – to give him a chance.

What many of us hoped would be a relative return to normalcy after the campaign is now looking like a “new normal.” And it’s plenty scary. Both Trump’s victory speech and his Sunday night interview on 60 Minutes offered some conciliatory words, and in turn, a glimmer of hope for those despairing of a Trump Presidency. But now that Trump has power, rather than is attempting to gain it, what he says will take a back seat to what he does. And we’re going to need to be watching closer than ever to see what he does. Especially if he makes good on his promise of obstructing the view of the media, and thus, Us.

I’m concerned about some of the various Bad Actors from recent U.S. political history who will find a home, voice and legitimacy in the Trump Administration. A few of those are: Steve Bannon, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Corey Lewandowski and John Bolton. Most of these guys are in Trump’s inner-inner-circle. And all of them have something ugly in their recent histories.

I’m intrigued by the roles of KellyAnne Conway, clearly Trump’s MVP down the stretch of the election, his daughter Ivanka and her husband. Also, Peter Thiel of Gawker and formerly Facebook.

And I’m disappointed in fringe-players like Julian Assange and Wiki-Leaks, who proclaim to be for transparency but clearly had an axe to grind against Hillary Clinton in their one-sided handling of hacked and leaked documents. And Jeff Zucker, the heinous former head of NBC who turned CNN into Fox News Lite during this election cycle with the ludicrous hiring of Corey Lewandowski and a policy of airing all Trump, all the time that provided his campaign with a ton of free publicity.

But I’m hopeful for a lot of reasons, too. I’m hopeful that a Hillary Clinton loss might end up being a gain for the future of the Democratic Party: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker and more. I’m hopeful that by electing an outsider (we’ll see how business-as-usual he is or isn’t), we might see some changes in Washington, DC and U.S. politics that could help us going forward.

I’m hopeful, as always, that this country and we as people will learn from these new and haunting mistakes. Though I’m not holding my breath. And I’m hopeful that the surprise I saw election night on Trump’s face may actually have betrayed the tiniest hint of a sense of humility in victory. That he won’t be the sexist, race-baiting fascist liar he was on the campaign trail. That Super-Ego Trump will triumph over Super-Id Trump. And that now that he’s President, a sense of “how can I do a good job” will prevail over “how do I avenge all wrongs ever done to me since I was a kid.”

I’m hoping. And I’m watching. And I’ll be working even harder. Quitting accomplishes nothing. Apathy is a vice. And disappointment can become opportunity if we are willing to take the longer, harder, higher road it presents to us.


Dropping Shoes

On November 2, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

donald-trump-converse_xazvwkWell, it took four days and the proverbial shoe dropped. Not exactly the other shoe, because it’s as if shoes have been whizzing past our heads for nearly a year now.

Someone in a position of authority who could do something, anything to influence the election did exactly that, and a contest that was on the path to a clear and healthy conclusion looks like it’s headed to a dangerous photo finish.

Thanks, James Comey, 6’8” Director of the FBI. You’ve managed to tap into America’s ADHD-addled media cycle with earth-shattering non-news a mere eleven days before we put Democracy at risk by possibly electing Donald Trump – the choice of neo-Nazis, the KKK, the Russian Mob and Haters Everywhere – President of the U.S..

Comey’s letter to Congress had everything, and nothing, to throw the whole ball of wax into a vat of molten lava: a vague accusation with zero substance; a reference to a completed investigation that uncovered no criminal activity or intent but has been used as a political albatross; a connection to the ugly, sexually deviant actions of the soon to be ex-spouse of one of Hillary Clinton’s closest advisors, and the insinuation of corruption that continues to feed the false equivalency keeping a sociopath with BPD on the precipice of the most powerful elected office in the world.

And here is where America takes the final test: are we really so horrible at politics that we would follow through with the insanity of putting him in office? Or are we merely lousy enough at it to come close to scaring the free world into thinking we could do something so irresponsible (like intentionally bankrupting our country) but then steering away like a truck driver playing chicken with the cliff-side of a freeway?

I honestly don’t know.

But here’s what I can say for sure: I hope we’re better than that. I hope we don’t make the mistake of all of our lifetimes next Tuesday. I hope we don’t take the folly of electing George W. Bush (twice) and multiply it a thousand-fold by electing Donald J. Trump the Pussy Grabber who won’t show his tax returns, lost every single debate to Hillary and ran a campaign like a Middle Eastern dictator President of the United States. I hope. I hope. I hope.

Meanwhile, how about them Cubs? Best team in baseball this year, erased a 3-1 deficit to force a 7th game of the World Series. Comebacks are fun in professional sports. In World Politics, with our lives and freedoms at stake, not so much.

And so it’s Hillary Clinton or the ugliest four years of our lives. Get out and vote for her, and tell your friends to vote, too. For this country. For the people. For our children.


Developing Story

On October 24, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

I moved to Los Angeles many moons ago because I love a good story. I love being told one, and when I came here I wanted to learn how to tell one.

Decades, and many stories read, seen, lived and re-told later, it’s the love of a great story that motivates, inspires, and transfixes me. Still.

103968694-gettyimages-610463304-530x298At least 13 times since the story that begins, “Once upon a time, a billionaire horse’s ass ran for President,” began, I’ve sat down to make head or tail, divine fact from fiction, or just try to sort some sense out of it all. This makes fourteen. And hopefully it will be the second time I will get a complete, published column out of it.

What makes this time different? Unlike the last dozen or so, I’m not actually going to try to reach an understanding about any of this. First, as you know, that Donald Trump is one election away from the highest office in the world is insane. Although I think it’s also true that America is getting out of our government almost exactly what we’ve put into the political process. As a nation, and individuals. We don’t do politics well in the United States, and it shows.

Second, every time I’ve taken a guess at what will happen next, something totally and completely absurd takes place, usually within the 12 hours between first draft and publication. Rendering what I’ve written passé, or worse, wrong. Though it’s as challenging to discern right from wrong this election cycle as it is up from down in outer space. Not easy to be presci
ent and grounded when gravity is in a state of flux.

So this time around, I am going to step back and admire the show. We are being treated to a once in a lifetime (I hope) spectacle. The first democratically nominated woman is competing with the first bonafide imbecile nominee (for President, Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle fans) to become the most powerful human being on the planet. Two firsts. Two distinctly different directions. A decision, respect to those who believe God decides all, riding on the free – such as it is – will of Americans who exercise our prerogative to vote.

How exciting!!

It’s a contest, much in the sense that the World Series, which begins tomorrow, is a contest. It’s a match-up brewing for months in a campaign marked by surprise performances, injuries, and no small amount of controversy. Barring a repeat of the 2000 vote, which failed to end on the Wednesday after Election Tuesday, we will likely know the winner of Clinton vs. Trump on Nov. 9 as surely as we’ll know who wins the World Series between the Indians and the Cubs on or before November 3, barring wildly inclement weather.

Of course it’s not the same. The comparisons and contrasts between these two contests for world dominion don’t come and go like a nine inning game, or a date on the calendar. But I love a good story. Don’t you? And in the next two weeks, we get to witness the culmination of two epic tales. So let’s get ready for a dramatic finish.

World Series Preview

It’s the Cubs vs. the Indians. Two underdogs of history battled their way to the top of the National League and American League Central Divisions, respectively, and through the playoffs to the World Series, Best of 7.

The Indians – managed by Tito Francona, who in 2004 as manager of the Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino in the 100th World Series – have a chance to spoil the Cubs’ happy ending. Cleveland, whose NBA team the Cavaliers won its first title this year in June, hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. That’s 68 years, a mighty long time. So they’re hungry. But not quite as hungry as Chicago.

Consider the Cubs, owners of the best record in baseball this year. Their General Manager is Theo Epstein, also GM of the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox. The Cubs last went to the World Series in 1945, but their last championship was in 1908. That’s 108 years ago. So if you were born in 1909 or later, you’ve never seen the Chicago Cubs win a World Series. If you’re from Chicago, or an avid fan of baseball, the first World Series win in more than a century is a very big deal.

Plenty of other story lines to follow and enjoy here. You can root for whichever team has your sympathy. Or passion. And we can watch it all the twists, turns and crazy bounces un-fold in front of us. One long championship drought will come to an end on or by Wednesday, November 2. Barring rain or snow in Cleveland or Chicago.

Presidential Preview

What was originally billed as the Battle of the Century may be all over but the shouting. Alleged billionaire and actual reality TV show host Donald Trump has turned the U.S. Presidential election into a game of “I Know You Are But What Am I” versus bent but unbroken former First Lady, Senator of New York and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Trump rode “Celebrity Apprentice” and a racist conspiracy theory about our first African-American President Barack Obama to a Republican Party nomination by out-polling more than two dozen conservative politicians who let Trump beat them again and again to the bottom of the barrel.

A story that opened with Trump as loud-mouthed bigot, launching semi-calculated attacks against Mexicans, Muslims, blacks, women and virtually all immigrants in a country of immigrants was enough to convince the Republican Party to give him its nomination and endorsement. The national election has devolved into a scorched-earth campaign, with the candidate inciting violence at rallies, making fun of the physically disabled at his rallies, and exposed on tape in 2005 denigrating women and espousing unwelcome sexual assault while his wife was pregnant with their son.

The ghostwriter of his book, “The Art of the Deal” estimates Trump’s vocabulary at 200 words. He is ego-driven, hubris-laden, intensely humor-less (have you ever seen him laugh?), and anti-everything. Handed a gift horse – leaked e-mail, a vague policy point that manages to stick – he returns to the vitriol that won over his Coalition of the Angry or finds a new axe to grind. Either he secretly wants to lose, or he’ll only lead those who buy into his rhetoric as President (increasingly unlikely), or the head of an anti-establishment media juggernaut that he will have ample money and constituency to build post-election.

Meanwhile, the aspiring first female President wants to win so badly she will cop to that goal in a world where the only way to be perceived as trustworthy for the job is to profess disdain for it. Running the old-fashioned way: establishing credentials, building a national organization, and delineating specific policies, Hillary Clinton has spent 8 years in the White House, 8 years in the senate, 4-ish years as Secretary of State, and nearly 20 years beating back partisan attacks which have landed her in the hot seat (but not the slammer) where she has shown grace under pressure.

After two decades of scrutiny she’s accomplished a great deal as first lady and as a politician, and otherwise fared pretty well. Unless you count low approval ratings in spite of being one of the most accomplished female politicians in the history of the country and one of the most experienced candidates in the history of the Presidency. You can hate her policies, but can’t deny she has gobs of experience.

If you believe in polls, and I do, though not as much as I believe in math and science, Trump was closing the gap until they debated on the same stage. Secretary Clinton ran rings around The Donald. Every. Single. Time. Since Donald started scaring sensible Americans and global markets that he might be able to win, he has made a series of miscues, misstatements, angry pronunciations, and legitimacy destroying assertions that rank somewhere between implosion and full-scale meltdown.

But like the World Series, it ain’t over till it’s over. In this case, the end may not come with a sportsmanlike concession, but a procedural counting of every vote, individual and electoral. Like any contest with something at stake – and this year, clearly more is at stake than ever – there’s a dazzling array of last-minute spoilers that could tip the outcome one way or another. In case the undecideds haven’t decided already.

Here are a few hypotheticals: a hacked e-mail or Wiki-Leak that links the Clintons with the Mussolinis. A stunning last minute display of sanity from Trump that convinces voters he wouldn’t bring on the apocalypse; all evidence to the contrary. Trump’s character arc takes him from loud-mouthed bigot to anti-establishment statesman, turning the proverbial sow’s ear into a silk purse. Fat. Chance.

How about a Bob Roberts-inspired assassination conspiracy attempt blamed on a liberal gunman to evoke sympathy for the orange-faced blowhard? So much voter apathy – perhaps the point of Trump’s scorched-earth strategy – that the anti-Trump vote stays home, covers its ears, and leaves the voting to his Deplorables. We’ve got to get a song out of that “basket of deplorables” line. Perhaps a “rigging” conspiracy causes Trump supporters to turn up at the polls armed to the teeth, discouraging Hillary supporters from pulling the levers.

Like the Curse of the Billy-Goat, or the legacy of Steve Bartman, will force majeure lend a hand? Or will experience, depth, preparation and competence prevail? The World Series is decided between the lines by the Indians and the Cubs. The election is up to us. Here’s hoping that the best team wins. And by the best team, I mean Hillary Clinton. Putting Donald Trump within one election of the U.S. Presidency is one of the worst games America has ever played with itself.