Monday, April 29, 2019

Last Call For Trump Street

Wall Street corporate Democratic donors are horrified at this year's crop of presidential candidates, and apparently if Dems don't lay off the "Socialism" soon, those billions are going to just have to go to Trump for a second term.

One night in early April, roughly 20 of the Democratic Party’s highest-profile donors from the financial industry sat down over dinner to discuss how exactly they were feeling about the 2020 presidential race. For the most part, it wasn’t great.

Convened by two veterans of liberal fund-raising — investors Steven Rattner and Blair Effron — the group had no hard-and-fast agenda except to share notes on the overflowing field of candidates. The crowd of Democratic heavyweights, including Clinton-administration Treasury secretary and Goldman Sachs and Citi alum Robert Rubin, former ambassador to France Jane Hartley, and venture capitalist Deven Parekh, knew most of the contenders well. But coming to some kind of consensus, picking a plausible candidate they felt they could all live with and throw their considerable money behind — that was a far-fetched proposition.
“There’s tremendous fear,” said one banker who was there. The candidates who had long cultivated relationships with Wall Street — such as Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand — were struggling to gain traction and had grown more hostile to finance as their party had, too. Joe Biden, leading in early polls, had a comforting history in the Obama White House and a reputation as an Establishment Democrat but had never, until a few months ago, maintained any meaningful relationship with Wall Street, hadn’t even announced his candidacy yet, and struck many bankers as a dubious bet to beat Donald Trump. Nearly everyone else in the field, the financiers felt, was being pulled leftward by Bernie Sanders (the preposterously well-funded contender they considered too crazy to even imagine in the White House) and Elizabeth Warren (less crazy, Democrats on Wall Street think, and way more competent). “She would torture them,” one banker told me. “Warren strikes fear in their hearts,” explained a New York executive close to banking leaders from both parties — so much fear that such investors often speak of the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, a former law professor and consumer advocate, as a co-front-runner with Sanders. “How do we come up with an alternative?” asked one person at the dinner.

There were a few options, none perfect. Beto O’Rourke had recently launched his campaign, and his congressional record was essentially a centrist-shaped blank slate. Pete Buttigieg was a McKinsey alum who came from the Rust Belt but talked like a Silicon Valley exec or an Obama Treasury official, but no one, yet, took him seriously.

Kamala Harris was a favorite of many in the room. The U.S. senator from California now describes herself as a populist and highlighted a past confrontation with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon over foreclosures in her pre-campaign book, but in 2012, as California’s attorney general, she passed on prosecuting OneWest and its CEO, Steven Mnuchin
. In this cycle, she has been the Democrat perhaps most active in seeking Wall Street money (Citi vice-chairman Ray McGuire and Pine Street partner Brian Mathis are helping with her Wall Street outreach, and she recently headlined a fund-raiser hosted by LionTree CEO Aryeh Bourkoff) and occasionally its advice (BlackRock’s Michael Pyle, an Obama-administration alum, is advising her on economics). “People are generally in search of a candidate who has the right set of views, has the right character, but also can win,” Rattner told me later. “Right now, it is very hard to see who checks all three boxes.”

There was no agreement. By evening’s end, multiple donors walked away planning to write checks to three or four or five candidates — hoping they stay relatively moderate — rather than going all in on any one. Among the committed Democrats on Wall Street, this wait-and-see, as-long-as-it’s-not-Bernie-or-Elizabeth posture has become the norm. “This is like venture investing. You really don’t know who’s going to break out, but your hope is you have a good portfolio and that one of these investments breaks out,” Bruce Heyman, a former Goldman managing director and ambassador to Canada, told me.

Of course, these longtime donors are more committed to the Democrats than the average guy on Wall Street. Two years ago, Trump seemed noxious enough that Democrats (reasonably) hoped to continue growing their considerable advantage over Republicans in the New York finance set. But one GOP-driven tax cut and one leftward shift in the Democratic Party later, a worried handful of bankers is considering turning that story on its head. “They’re too far left! They’re too far left!” said Alex Sanchez, CEO of the Florida Bankers Association. “I mean, honestly, if it’s Bernie versus Trump, I have no fucking idea what I’m going to do,” one Democratic hedge funder told me. “Maybe I won’t vote.”

Democratic donors aren’t especially worried about policy; few have sussed out where candidates stand on Dodd-Frank or the carried-interest tax loophole, and few believe that, aside from Sanders or Warren, any contenders are likely to make an aggressive new push for regulation as president. What agitates them instead is — in a replay of the alienation they felt during the Obama presidency thanks to a few stray “fat cats” comments — how Democratic rhetoric threatens their sense of status. No moment crystallized the new reality more than when former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper — a centrist candidate who was a prominent business owner in Denver before entering politics — refused to even call himself a capitalist in a Morning Joe interview in March.

Before Trump won, Hillary Clinton had outraised him by a margin of more than four to one among the financial crowd, which had long regarded him as a pariah because of his shady record and bankruptcies. Now? “The anti-corporate, anti–Wall Street direction of the Democratic Party is driving Democrats into the Trump camp, which is, in most cases, the last place they want to be,” said Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, the business group that counts among its members all of the city’s major financial institutions. “The fact that he’s raised as much money as he has is a reflection of how many Democrats are holding their nose and supporting him because they feel demonized by the Democrats.” In mid-April, Trump’s team revealed it had raised over $30 million in the first quarter of 2019, slightly more than the top two Democratic candidates combined. If you add up all the Democrats’ dollars, the challengers are way ahead — but among donors, and indeed among the candidates themselves, the perception remains that the president is accumulating a real edge. Meanwhile, Goldman released its 2020 outlook: Trump, the firm concluded, now has a “narrow advantage.” Even Paul Singer, the GOP hedge-fund magnate who backed efforts to defeat Trump in 2016 — and who funds the Washington Free Beacon, which first paid for the anti-Trump research that later became “the dossier” — stopped by a small Trump fund-raising roundtable in New York late last year. “Well, we must be doing well now that Paul’s here,” Trump said.

“Wall Street for Trump is the reverse Bradley effect,” said hedge-fund manager Anthony Scaramucci, the Republican fund-raiser who (very) briefly served as Trump’s White House communications director, referring to the theory that voters overstate their support for nonwhite candidates in polls. “They all secretly love him, but because of their clients and the polarity, they don’t want to say it out loud.”

Over coffee recently in midtown, an investment pro with a long history in Democratic politics described the struggle to resist the unexpected pull of Trump. “What matters more?” he asked, looking up at me. “My social values or my paycheck?

This story makes Liz Warren look like the person Wall Street is most afraid of, and Harris the least.  That's very good for Warren in my book, not so good for Harris.

The real problem is Wall Street wants to keep him. 

Maybe we don't need Wall Street?

Just an idea, Dems.

You're Not Alone In The No Phone Zone

Our smartphones are literally killing us, and if there's any advantage at all to the prohibitive cost of the newest models these days, it's that fewer Americans will have them.

If you’re like many people, you may have decided that you want to spend less time staring at your phone.

It’s a good idea: an increasing body of evidence suggests that the time we spend on our smartphones is interfering with our sleep, self-esteem, relationships, memory, attention spans, creativity, productivity and problem-solving and decision-making skills.

But there is another reason for us to rethink our relationships with our devices. By chronically raising levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, our phones may be threatening our health and shortening our lives.

Until now, most discussions of phones’ biochemical effects have focused on dopamine, a brain chemical that helps us form habits — and addictions. Like slot machines, smartphones and apps are explicitly designed to trigger dopamine’s release, with the goal of making our devices difficult to put down.

This manipulation of our dopamine systems is why many experts believe that we are developing behavioral addictions to our phones. But our phones’ effects on cortisol are potentially even more alarming.

Cortisol is our primary fight-or-flight hormone. Its release triggers physiological changes, such as spikes in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar, that help us react to and survive acute physical threats.

These effects can be lifesaving if you are actually in physical danger — like, say, you’re being charged by a bull. But our bodies also release cortisol in response to emotional stressors where an increased heart rate isn’t going to do much good, such as checking your phone to find an angry email from your boss.

If they happened only occasionally, phone-induced cortisol spikes might not matter. But the average American spends four hours a day staring at their smartphone and keeps it within arm’s reach nearly all the time, according to a tracking app called Moment. The result, as Google has noted in a report, is that “mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps” create “a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress.”

“Your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you hear it or even think you hear it,” says David Greenfield, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. “It’s a stress response, and it feels unpleasant, and the body’s natural response is to want to check the phone to make the stress go away.”

But while doing so might soothe you for a second, it probably will make things worse in the long run. Any time you check your phone, you’re likely to find something else stressful waiting for you, leading to another spike in cortisol and another craving to check your phone to make your anxiety go away. This cycle, when continuously reinforced, leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels.

And chronically elevated cortisol levels have been tied to an increased risk of serious health problems, including depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, high blood pressure, heart attack, dementia and stroke.

“Every chronic disease we know of is exacerbated by stress,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, emeritus professor in pediatric endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “The Hacking of the American Mind.” “And our phones are absolutely contributing to this

Put them down, folks.  Put them in another room.  Be very careful with the kids having them.  Especially in today's day and age, anything you see on a smartphone screen is only going to cause you more stress in life.

It's killing us.

The Reach To Impeach, Con't

The Trump regime's refusal to cooperate with House Democrats is now total, and nobody can hold them accountable because the Trump regime has all the state's enforcement power at its command.  Josh Marshall:

Attorney General Bill Barr has dramatically escalated his Mueller Report coverup and effort to effectively end independent oversight of his Department by Congress. According to this report, he is refusing to show up to testify this week before the House Judiciary Committee unless he is accorded a veto right over the questioning format.

As the fight over the Congress’s oversight rights has heated up, it’s been increasingly clear that the committees should either designate one or two committee members experienced in questioning or have a committee counsel do the questioning. Absent that approach, you get what we’ve seen in other recent hearings. The members have a great range of issue knowledge and questioning abilities. Even to the extent that they’re pursuing good lines of questioning, they each get five minutes. So the person testifying can pretty easily run out the clock with non-answers. For really effective questioning you need a solid and knowledgable questioner who has a sustained period of time to pursue lines of questioning. The other approach is fine for garden variety testimony where there’s some degree of good faith give and take. It doesn’t work here.

For just this reason, Chairman Nadler has proposed having one round of questioning where every member gets their five minutes – basically the normal routine. Then he has a second round in which both sides’ committee counsels get thirty minutes of time in alternating five minute segments. (Nadler is also proposing that the committee go into closed session to discuss the redacted parts of the report.) Neither of these decisions are remotely controversial or unprecedented, especially when the subject matter is of great moment. But Barr is saying he may not show up if Nadler doesn’t change to what Barr considers a more friendly questioning format.

A window of good faith negotiation about format is not unprecedented or wrong in itself. But we’re far past that. Barr is pretty clearly trying to exercise a veto right over how the Judiciary Committee conducts its hearings, which are a bedrock constitutional function with respect to the Attorney General and the Department of Justice. In this sense, Barr’s antics are part of President Trump’s strategy of massive resistance to any congressional oversight whatsoever.

How Nadler responds to this will be important to watch. For all the talk about impeachment, stand-offs like this are where power and brakes on the President’s power will be determined. If you want to do things to stiffen Democrats’ spines, these are the standoffs where it counts. As I was writing this, CNN updated its story. Nadler apparently told CNN that if Barr won’t comply he’ll move to subpoena him. “The witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period.

A lot hangs on this.

If Barr is subpoenaed, if any member of the Trump regime is subpoenaed, then what?

What actually happens then?

My guess is nothing, because if Jerry Nadler or Elijah Cummings actually try to enforce this, Trump will simply refuse.

Who will make Trump comply?  It sure isn't American voters.

As House Democrats return this week to Washington after a two-week recess, they will find a Capitol consumed by the report of Mr. Mueller, the special counsel. A private meeting of the House Democratic caucus on Tuesday promises to be heated, as do Senate and House hearings on Wednesday and Thursday with Attorney General William P. Barr.

But rank-and-file Democrats are not being propelled by their constituents into a headlong confrontation over impeaching the president. In town hall-style meetings and meet-and-greets across the country last week, constituents bemoaned Mr. Trump’s policies, groaned at his refusal to heed congressional subpoenas and fretted over what they saw as an erosion of the rule of law.

There were few signs of an uprising to demand a quick judgment that the misdeeds laid out in the special counsel’s report constituted the kinds of “high crimes and misdemeanors” worthy of trying to remove the president from office.

“It’s not a top half-dozen. It may be down at the No. 12 spot” in terms of priorities, said Ms. Porter, a freshman Democrat of California, who hears far more from her Orange County constituents that dissatisfaction with Mr. Trump should be channeled into voting him out of office in 2020.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Friday appeared to underscore Democrats’ dilemma. It found that roughly six in 10 Democrats supported beginning impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump, most of them strongly. But almost nine in 10 Republicans and six in 10 independents, whom Democrats need to defeat Mr. Trump, opposed the idea.

Democratic leaders in the House have pledged a series of hearings intended to ferret out the details of Mr. Mueller’s investigation and air the testimony of key witnesses. Rather than jump to conclusions — and there are some liberal lawmakers arguing in favor of prompt impeachment — party leaders say they want to build a case on live television before the public and see where that leads.

The future of America as a country under rule of law depends on that answer, but the fact is these hearing will almost certainly lead nowhere.

And then what?

Better figure that out, or Trump wins it all, and America is gone.


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