The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Force Field

It appears that it's possible to create a 'force field' that can protect (or at least postpone) even the most unscrupulous operators from indictment and imprisonment. The force filed is created when the unscrupulous operator has one or more of the following characteristics: (1) they belong to an appropiate intersectional group; (2) they adopt language that causes our moral betters to swoon at their stated intent (no matter that their language and their actions have no connection to one another); (3) they are praised by all the best media with puff pieces that tout their brilliance, their intent to "change the world," and their supposed charitable selflessness; (4) they become major political donors to the political party favored by main stream media but also hedge by donating to movers and shakers in the opposition party.

The story of the now infamous FTX and it's founder, Sam Bankman-Freid (SBF) is an example of just how easy it is to create the force field. I made an attempt to explain the FTX saga in my first post on the subject. Yet, time has passed and it seems that the force field is holding. 

David Z. Morris discusses the latest developments:

In the weeks since Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency empire was revealed to be a house of lies, mainstream news organizations and commentators have often failed to give their readers a straightforward assessment of exactly what happened. August institutions including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have uncovered many key facts about the scandal, but they have also repeatedly seemed to downplay the facts in ways that soft-pedaled Bankman-Fried’s intent and culpability.

It is now clear that what happened at the FTX crypto exchange and the hedge fund Alameda Research involved a variety of conscious and intentional fraud intended to steal money from both users and investors. That’s why a recent New York Times interview was widely derided for seeming to frame FTX’s collapse as the result of mismanagement rather than malfeasance. A Wall Street Journal article bemoaned the loss of charitable donations from FTX, arguably propping up Bankman-Fried’s strategic philanthropic pose. Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias, court chronicler of the neoliberal status quo, seemed to whitewash his own entanglements by crediting Bankman-Fried’s money with helping Democrats in the 2020 elections – sidestepping the likelihood that the money was effectively embezzled.

Perhaps most perniciously, many outlets have described what happened to FTX as a “bank run” or a “run on deposits,” while Bankman-Fried has repeatedly insisted the company was simply overleveraged and disorganized. Both of these attempts to frame the fallout obfuscate the core issue: the misuse of customer funds.

Banks can be hit by “bank runs” because they are explicitly in the business of lending customer funds out to generate returns. They can experience a short-term cash crunch if everyone withdraws at the same time, without there being any long-term problem.

But FTX and other crypto exchanges are not banks. They do not (or should not) do bank-style lending, so even a very acute surge of withdrawals should not create a liquidity strain. FTX had specifically promised customers it would never lend out or otherwise use the crypto they entrusted to the exchange. 

In reality, the funds were sent to the intimately linked trading firm Alameda Research, where they were, it seems, simply gambled away. This is, in the simplest terms, theft at a nearly unprecedented scale. While the total losses have yet to be quantified, up to one million customers could be impacted, according to a bankruptcy document. 

Morris goes on to describe the "special exemption" offered to SBF's girlfriend's hedge fund, Alemeda Reseach, the large personal loans offered to FTX's executives, bailouts to other struggling crypto lenders, the secretive purchase of a small U.S. bank, and the on-going attempts by a wide array of mainstream media sources to soften their reporting on FTX. Read the whole thing.

It has become increasingly clear that FTX and the people who were involved in running it were part of a grift. Hundreds of thousands on otherwise innocent (and unsophisticated) investors have been screwed, along with dozens of sophisticated investors who (amazingly) refused to do necessary due diligence and lost hundreds of millions as a consequence. The principals of FTX and Alemeda should be indicted, and if convicted, they should be imprisoned.

We have just lived through an era in which the FBI does early morning armed raids to arrest supposed wrong-doers for relatively minor offenses, leading them out to waiting media in handcuffs. We have seen the FBI raid an ex-president's residence on the suspicion of a crime, confiscating hundreds of documents and trumpeting the likelihood on an on-going criminal investigation. Yet for SBF, the DoJ and FBI are strangely passive. 

The force field holds. The question—knowing what we now know—is why?


Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Abraham Accords—Revisited

Way back in 2020, when the United States had a foreign policy team that accomplished things that actually mattered, there was a quiet breakthrough in the Middle East. Called the "Abraham Accords," part of that breakthrough came about because the United States was effectively energy independent, meaning that it no longer had to go hat-in-hand begging for middle eastern oil. And part of it came about because the foreign policy team within the Trump administration took an out-of-the-box, clear-eyed view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rejected the decades-old notion that land had to be traded for peace.

Jeff Dunetz summarizes the Accords:

On September 13, 2020,  a little more than two years ago,  President Trump announced the first of the Abraham Accords deals. The UAE agreed to recognize Israel, exchange diplomats, and begin economic cooperation. Over the next four months,  Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan were added to the list of countries making peace with the Jewish State, and we were told that other countries wanted to hop on the peace train. The Foggy Bottom rumor mill suggested that the big fish, Saudi Arabia was on the edge of joining the accords. But on January 20, 2021, the process ended as soon as Donald Trump left the White House.
Prior to the signing of the accords, Trump's foreign policy team made a few interesting moves:

In January 2020, the President [with typical trumpian overstatement] introduced the “deal of the century,” A plan designed to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians or push them into negotiating. It was more than a peace plan. It was a “setup” of the Palestinians. Trump understood the deal would have one of two results: 

The Palestinians will work with the administration and eventually adopt it with changes, which means there will be peace. 

The Palestinians will choose not to participate in the deal’s creation. The patience of moderate Arab states, already strained because the Palestinians refused to compromise in previous deals, would have their patience strained even further if Abbas declined to work with Trump on a peace proposal. Opening them up to make individual peace deals.

Trump correctly understood the moderate Arab States were tired of the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace. They were tired of carrying the Palestinians. Remember that many moderate Arab states were already dealing with Israel silently behind the scenes.

Of course, because the hated Donald Trump would be given credit for any meaningful breakthrough in the region, the main stream media downplayed the Abraham Accords, allowing this important achievement to go largely unmentioned and never emphasized. And because the Left has a pro-Palestinian fetish, the incoming Biden administration worked quickly to further diminish any effort to extend the accords.

Biden's foreign policy Team of 1s did nothing to further the effort. Mark Tapscott comments on Dunetz's article and the Biden response:

REMEMBER THE ABRAHAM ACCORDS? President Joe Biden clearly doesn’t, considering he wasted no time upon being sworn into the Oval Office in shutting down his predecessor’s historic diplomatic initiative. The Lid’s Jeff Dunetz explains why that initiative was historic:

“The peace deals that team Trump moderated took a totally different approach. Unlike previous administrations (both Democratic and Republican), the deals did not involve ‘land for peace,’ only ‘peace for peace.’

“The supposed peace experts of previous administrations had always bloviated that no Arab country would ever formalize ties with Israel before a Palestinian state was created, but the Trump team proved them wrong.”

Instead of pursuing what worked, Biden has returned to the old discredited formula. Not coincidentally, that formula includes U.S. energy dependence and the U.S. pouring millions of tax dollar down the fetid sinkhole that is the Palestinian Authority. We should hope whoever is Biden’s successor will have this Dunetz analysis at hand as a guide to how to restore hope in the Middle East.

The wreckage created by the Biden administration is astounding. Not only have they wrecked the economy, destroyed our energy independence, tamped down faith in our public health system (via absurd and ineffective Covid policies), among myriad other missteps and failures, they failed to take advantage of a significant foreign policy opening bequeathed to them by their predecessor. Instead, they now go hat-in-hand to a communist dictatorship in Venezuela, begging for more oil and continue to hope that the dictatorship in Iran will see the light and become something it is not.

Our cognitively disabled president is likely unable to grasp the enormity of his failure to extend the Abraham Accords. The leftist minions who populate his foreign policy Team of 1s would rather denigrate Israel than encourage broader peace in the Middle East.
 


Saturday, November 19, 2022

Questions

I was fortunate enough to live in the free state of Florida during the 2.5 years of COVID insanity. By and large, lockdowns disappeared after the first few months; schools remained open, although there were pockets of resistance in blue cities and counties; there were few, if any, statewide mask mandates, there was no state-sponsored demonization of those who chose not to be vaxed (we subsequently learned that the so-called vaccines did not stop a person from getting or transmitting the virus and therefore did not stop the spread), public parks and beaches were opened sooner than just about anywhere else in the country, and lunatic-level CDC and federal guidelines (none of which were based on solid science or common sense) were largely ignored. 

The Governor of our free state, Ron DeSantis,** showed intelligence and courage under a withering barrage of media and political criticism/demonization as he kept our state open, viable, and free. You could literally feel it as FL residents went about their daily lives without the dark pall of fear that seemed to pervade the atmosphere in many blue states.

With this as background, we come to the only announced contender for the 2024 presidency—Donald Trump. Trump's record on COVID at the federal level was considerably less than stellar. And now that he's a candidate, it's time for him to answer questions about his COVID decisions and policies during 2020.

Megan Fox writes:

Why did Trump allow Anthony Fauci to become the unelected Health Czar of America? Within two months, this man showed he was not fit to be elected dog-catcher, let alone be allowed to fiddle with the nation’s economy. But allow it, Trump did. He deferred to Fauci and his cohort Dr. Deborah Birx. Both of them misled Americans multiple times over masks, lockdowns, and the risks to children and pushed idiocy like “social distancing” which had no basis in science or reality. It’s Trump’s fault we were all forced to stand on stickers at the grocery store. 

(There was a bar we visited during COVID that literally installed 4×3 sheets of plexiglass on top of beer kegs that they shoved in between stools at the bar. It was RIDICULOUS. Anyone without brain damage could see that none of this stuff was protecting anyone from an airborne virus.)

Trump had other advisers close to him who were trying to tell him that Fauci and Birx were batsh*t crazy, like Dr. Scott Atlas, who called for a much less radical approach to the Wuhan Flu. But Trump didn’t sideline Fauci with someone like Atlas, though he had no obligation to give Fauci a microphone. Instead, we suffered. And suffered. And suffered.

The difference between DeSantis’s response to Atlas’s information and Trump’s is stark. According to Atlas, DeSantis quickly realized that following the accepted theories about lockdown was going to harm his state, so he reversed course. Trump, on the other hand, refused to admit he made a mistake even though Atlas says he surely knew it. 

Of course, expecting Trump to admit that he erred in his COVID policy is about the same as expecting plexiglas between the barstools to work in stopping an airborne virus.

But that's not the point. The decisions to shutdown the economy, close schools, and encourage authoritarian "emergency measures," ruined lives and livelihoods and led to government giveaways that set into motion rampant inflation that will invariably lead to recession that will ruin still more lives and livelihoods.

And not a single politician or bureaucrat at the federal or state level has paid any price for egregiously bad decisions, authoritarian mandates. or anti-scientific policies.

In thinking back on his first term, there are dozens of personal traits (e.g., bad temperament, petty combativeness, graceless language) that make Trump a bad choice for the GOP candidate in 2024. But his greatest failure in 2020 was an inability to recognize that many of recommendations he got relative to COVID response came out of an agenda that had little to do with public health and much to do with partisan politics with a dollop of irrational fear mixed in. 

Instead of firing those who had that agenda (he had every right to do so) and bringing in solid, credentialed, public health experts who might chart and rational path through the pandemic, Trump needed to be the center of it all. To make COVID all about him. As a consequence, if the hated DJT suggested that a more measured approach to the virus might be justified, the blue state reaction was to triple-down on lockdowns and mandates so that they wouldn't be like Trump. And in doing so, large parts of blue America were doomed to needless suffering, isolation, and gloom.

That was and is Trump's M.O. and his achilles heel. It's also a disqualifying characteristic for any presidential candidate in 2024.

FOOTNOTE:

** This from the Wall Street Journal:

The story of Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis is the story, in contrast [to Trump and others], of a grown-up. After initially adopting stringent measures, he returned to first questions. Was the virus stoppable? Would trying materially pay off in terms of reduced mortality and suffering? No, he concluded. As a result, Florida experienced roughly the same Covid outcomes as other states while piling on fewer of the costly, impotent gestures that were adopted elsewhere mainly to show that politicians were very, very concerned.

His decision was brave because he would be blamed for any deaths that occurred, whereas he would not have been blamed for a single death if he had aligned his response with the prevailing media mood and political incentive. 

Courage is something that is sorely lacking in most pols today. Always interesting when we see evidence of a rare encounter with it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Sunshine

Elon Musk has become Enemy # 2 for some on the Left.

There are many reasons for this, but at its foundation, unlike many of his corporate peers, Musk does not toe the progressive narrative. Even though he has done more than any other American (and I do mean anyone) to improve the environment via the popularization of EVs, he has crossed the Left by suggesting that free speech is a good thing (who knew?) and has acquired the Left's most powerful communication and censorship organ, Twitter, to do so.

Musk is a billionaire, and as multimillionare socialist, Bernie Sanders (a man who has never built anything or created a single private sector job) will tell you, he doesn't pay his "fair share." Of course, he did pay $11 billion in taxes last year, more than any other American in history, but we can't bother sanctimonious progressives like Bernie with facts, can we?

And now, as Musk works to make Twitter a true public forum, unburdened by biased censorship, shadow banning, and other partisan actions that made it a democratic PAC, the Left has put a Target on Elon Musk's back. Consider this exchange between an unnamed reporter and Joe Biden, taken from the official White House transcript:

Q ... Mr. President, do you think Elon Musk is a threat to U.S. national security? And should the U.S. — and with the tools you have — investigate his joint acquisition of Twitter with foreign governments, which include the Saudis?

THE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.) I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at. Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting that it wor- — worth being looked at. And — and — but that’s all I’ll say.

Q ... How?

THE PRESIDENT: There’s a lot of ways.

Because Joe Biden was unscripted and therefore his normal cognitively-disabled self, the left-leaning media and commentariate just smiled ... but the exchange isn't funny. Biden's handlers have a not-so-subtle authoritarian streak, and when a sitting president suggests that someone he doesn't like should be investigated (by the FBI?, the congress?) it's ominous.* It's also infuriating, because there is more than a little evidence that Biden himself has been influenced by foreign governments (think: Hunter's laptop).

James Freeman comments on the exchange:

Sunshine is especially needed here because with those words President Joe Biden is encouraging his executive branch to investigate Twitter’s new owner. It happens that this new owner is determined not to repeat Twitter’s disgraceful censorship of the New York Post’s accurate 2020 reporting on Biden family enrichment schemes.

Were government actors behind the 2020 social media blackout?

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the FBI approached Facebook warning the platform about “Russian propaganda” ahead of the bombshell Hunter Biden laptop story leading up to the 2020 presidential election. 

Freeman suggests that the new GOP House take a hard look at the FBI's partisan involvement in that case and many others during the Trump era. It's about time some "sunshine" be let into the murky word of government encouraged and or sponsored authoritarian censorship and retribution that has been the norm for the past six years.

FOOTNOTE:

* In fact, didn't a similar allegation have something to do with the impeachment of Biden's predecessor?

Sunday, November 13, 2022

FTX

Important, but complex stories are difficult for even the best mainstream journalists (a vanishing breed). And when those stories involve arcane financial transactions coupled with the everyday  bribery that we call "political donations," they can become a minefield. But only if the principals and the recipients are prominent Democrats, and a full explication of the story will reflect poorly on the Democratic party and at least some of its donors. BTW, in every story like this, there is collateral damage—little guys who invested with the best of intentions get crushed and lose everything. Even more sophisticated investors (e.g., who thought they had done due diligence take a beating, but they should have understood the risk.

The story I'm referring to is the growing FTX scandal and the machinations of its founder, Sam Bankman-Freid (a.k.a. SBF). Om Malik compares FTX's travails to the Enron scandal, writing:

Internet magic money (aka crypto) billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, better known as SBF, is the man behind FTX, a crypto exchange. He seems to have angered fellow magic money billionaire and fremeny, Changpeng Zhao, better known as CZ and CEO of the rival exchange Binance. It might have to do with FTX cozying up to regulators to get the regulations beneficial to the FTX but not its rivals.

Last week, the FTX balance sheet was leaked to crypto news site Coindesk, which effectively caused a run on the exchange by exposing the financial ties between FTX and Alameda Research, a crypto trading firm also owned by SBF. The balance sheet showed that FTX’s finances were a paper tiger and ripe for plundering.

There followed a jujitsu move by which the Binance chief created a market run on FTX. His firm dumped the FTX tokens they were holding, essentially telling the market they had no faith in them. “CZ outsmarted SBF, plain and simple,” a friend who is deeply involved in this industry told me of the clashing egos. “CZ helped SBF create FTX, let him grow it, and then when it got too big, he destroyed it.”

That's the financial side, but there is also a political side to this story, which main stream media outlets are treating gingerly because ... you know the rest.

Tyler Durbin notes: 

Leading up to Sam Bankman-Fried's spectacular implosion - in which his firm FTX evaporated billions in wealth after the now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange allegedly commingled client assets with his trading firm into a liquidity crunch - he became the sixth-largest donor in this year's midterm election cycle, giving some $40 million to mostly Democratic candidates and causes ...

Why the largess? Let's tale a look at what was happening. Again from Durbin:

FTX allegedly loaned Alameda Research - a trading firm founded by Bankman-Fried - roughly $10 billion in client assets, which has landed him under federal investigation by the SEC, CTFC, and the Justice Department - the latter of which already had been working on a months-long investigation, according to the Wall Street Journal. The CTFC, meanwhile, is tasked with regulating certain elements of the crypto markets - including digital assets that are as commodities, and crypto exchanges and clearinghouses.
So, SBF was under investigation. If he could help the dems, then he could, I suppose, cash in his chips and get the Biden Administration—no stranger to corrupt prqactices (think: Hunter and Joe) to call off the SEC, CTFC and DoJ watchdogs or at lest, put a muzzle on them.

Durbin continues:

Bankman-Fried 'heavily courted' the CFTC, "and funded several key lawmakers charged with overseeing the agency, pouring cash into their campaign coffers," as the Daily Caller notes.

The CFTC is charged with regulating certain elements of the crypto marketplace, including digital assets that are commodities as well as crypto exchanges and clearinghouses. The agency is overseen by the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, with the former tasked with approving CFTC commissioners nominated by the president.

The former FTX CEO personally donated to the Senate committee’s chairwoman, Democratic Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, contributing over $20,000 to the Stabenow Victory Fund and $5,800 to her campaign for Senate. Bankman-Fried donated roughly $6,000 to the committee’s ranking member, Republican Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, as well, and $5,800 to the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade, Republican Montana Sen. John Hoeven. -Daily Caller

Others have connected dots and concluded that FTX may have been a money laundering operation.

Welcome to the D.C. swamp.

There's much more, but the real question is whether the average voter will care? Given the results of mid-terms, it's very likely that the answer is "no."

A Postscript:

Odd that the FBI, a law enforcement agency that has recently had a penchant for raiding residences of conservatives who have the audacity to dispute the prevailing narrative, marching them out handcuffed in their pajamas and putting them in jail, allows SBF to fly his private jet on a "vacation" to Argentina, where he now reportedly sits. BTW, there is a weak extradition treaty between Argentina and the United States that could tie a case up for years. Heh.


 

 


Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Wave GoodBye

One thing is absolutely certain about the mid-term elections—there was no red wave, and those of us who suspected that a wave would occur were wrong. It appears that the majority of voters in districts and states that did not contribute to a wave are perfectly happy with inflation at 8-plus percent, high energy prices driven by absurd policies that create fossil fuel scarcity, urban crime that is at troubling levels, and a southern border that is a porous as Joe Biden's memory. 

It's also appears that the Democrats strategy of running against the hated Donald Trump worked quite well—that claims of the "death of democracy" should his endorsed candidates (many initially funded with Democrat money) win, moved people to vote for bigger government, more inflationary spending and other policies that will make life more costly and less free.

But ... as a wise man once said: People get the government they vote for, and that's exactly what will happen over the next two years.

However, the Democrats better be careful as they celebrate this victory. James Freeman comments:

Cheer up, Republicans. While a red wave may not have washed over U.S. politics on Tuesday, the ultimate outcome could be even better for the GOP. Given the president’s lousy approval ratings and inability to speak coherently, a midterm shellacking on the order of 1994 or 2010 would have triggered an aggressive effort by Democrats to push Mr. Biden off stage before the 2024 elections. Now they may be stuck with him ...

If Mr. Biden somehow ends up on a debate stage 23 months from now with Ron DeSantis or Glenn Youngkin or Tim Scott or Kim Reynolds or Doug Ducey or Greg Abbott, the president could lose 40 states. 

But there's more to it than that. Had the Red Wave actually occurred, the Democrats with the help of their trained hamsters in the media would have been able to blame a deeply red House and Senate for all of the nation's problems. Bumbling Joe Biden's teleprompter would have claimed that the GOP blocked him from fixing the economy, providing cheap and plentiful energy, reducing violent crime, and securing the border. It'll be a bit more difficult to do that now,  although I'm sure his teleprompter and media shills will give it a try.

In addition, the blue state authoritarian policies that occurred throughout the COVID debacle appear to have had little effect on the mood of blue state voters. I guess lockdowns, school closures, draconian mask and vaccine mandates were a net positive in those states and that the damage to lives and livelihoods was ... well ... acceptable? Then again, if blue state voters were consumed by irrational fear due to COVID, and to assuage that fear, embraced insanity as many did from March 2020 to mid-2022, it's not at all surprising that there was no anger directed at blue state leaders who became petty dictators. Who knew? 

And finally, there's a bit of good news for those within the GOP who think that Donald Trump is now past his expiration date. This non-wave election has tarnished Trump's brand among many in the GOP. He endorsed candidates who were not quite ready for primetime and made an ass of himself by attacking the only architect of a statewide GOP Wave—Ron DeSantis in FL. Although Trump remains a player, there is now a possibility that he will not be the GOP nominee in 2024. If the next two years under Biden play out like the first two, it will be hard for the Dems to blame the nation's ills on Trump, particularly if he's not the nominee.

Then again, if this mid-term teaches us anything, it's that abstractions matter more than measurable accomplishments, that emotion matters a lot more than pragmatism, and that many Americans are convinced that a two-party system is a "threat to democracy," particularly if the party that wins does not have a (D) after its candidates' names.


Monday, November 07, 2022

Threat to Democracy

In less than 24 hours, the attack ads will cease. The shrill histrionics of politicians and their media allies will change from hyperbolic claims about a "threat to democracy" to more mundane analysis about the election outcome and what it all means. There is a strong probability (we'll find out tomorrow ) that the Democrats will pay an electoral price for policies that creating rampant inflation, high cost energy, high crime in blue urban centers, and an effectively open southern border, not to mention embarrassment and chaos internationally.

If the price to be paid is the Democrats losing control of both the House and the Senate (a reasonable probability), opinion writers at the NYT, WaPo, LAT, and their brethren at MSNBC, the Atlantic and Salon (to name only a very few) will invariably argue that 'messaging' was the problem. The unspoken subtext of their argument is that the broad electorate is too unsophisticated and/or ignorant to absorb the subtle importance of their leftist positions. If there was a failure, it was in the manner in which the "guidance" to that electorate was presented, not in the positions themselves.

It seems that the Democrats never, ever conduct a post mortem analysis, evaluating their policies and the results of those policies critically. In fact, there is a strong contingent among the Democrats that, I think, believe that words are all that matter. If you say the politically correct thing, that's all that is required. Results? Costs? Impact on ordinary people? Long-term predictable effects and unexpected collateral damage? None of that matters as long as the message exemplifies 'virtue.'

The last time I checked, a Democracy is a political system that offers the electorate choices. Those choices are made based on the past performance of politicians that currently run the show and the ideas of politicians who want to replace them. There is absolutely no "threat to democracy," regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's vote. Those who claim otherwise are not to be trusted.