What a Card! Jean Card’s Comedic Claim That Trump Will Rein in Crony Capitalism

Jean Card is a weekly blogger at U.S. News & World Report (yes, it’s still in publication), former speechwriter for the secretaries of Labor (2001-03) and Treasury (2004-06) in the Bush Administration, and owner of Jean Card Ink, where she is “a writer and communications consultant with a proven track record of translating public policy jargon and government-speak into compelling, persuasive English” with the reassuring company tagline that this is important “Because Words Matter.”

She’s also quite the comedienne, as one can easily discern from her latest post, Will Donald Trump Rein in Crony Capitalism and Let Small Business Flourish? (The subtitle’s even more amusing: “President-elect Donald Trump has crony capitalists sweating and small businesses cheering.”)

In fact, Trump’s economics involves a contradictory (and at bottom) ineffectual mix of badgering and then bribing of large corporations to do what he selfishly wants. John Tamny has it right in Carrier Corp.: Donald Trump Potentially Destroys Millions Of Jobs To ‘Save’ 800:

what’s so shameful about some of the support on the right for Trump’s alleged ‘coup’, Trump’s actions vis-à-vis Carrier sent a strong signal that the U.S. will no longer be as hospitable a locale to the very investors who create all jobs. As Trump so obnoxiously and chillingly put it, “Companies are not going to leave the U.S. anymore without consequences. Leaving the country is going to be very, very difficult.” Where is the outrage? Trump didn’t signal help on the way as much as he signaled retaliation against the companies that don’t do as he wishes….

Funnier still is Card’s contention that Trump will help business by rejecting crony capitalism.  Far from rejecting favors for his friends, he’s gone one better: he can use political power to discuss business for himself and his own family rather than mere associates and cronies.  Argentina’s president denies that Trump sought favors for a hotel project in that country, but the Guardian reports that “[Argentine] local media reports have alleged that Trump asked [President] Macri for help over a stalled construction permit for a 35-storey project called Trump Office in downtown Buenos Aires. A source told the Guardian that the information came from Macri’s staff.”

Drew Harwell describes Trump’s generally conflicted situation in a story entitled, On the day Trump said he’d clarify his business dealings, his conflicts of interest look thornier than ever:

If Trump gives his children corporate management responsibilities but still partially owns the businesses, he will have a financial stake that could influence his presidential decision-making, former White House ethics advisers said.

Business experts also wonder how Trump could promise “no new deals” for a business that has depended on routine dealmaking — both in large measure, such as signing new real estate partnerships or sealing branding agreements, as well as everyday deals, including hiring employees and refinancing debts.

Some government officials weighed in. Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub, whose agency advises public officials on how to avoid conflicts, wrote in a letter Tuesday to Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) that “a President should conduct himself ‘as if’ he were bound by” financial conflict-of-interest laws. “Transferring operational control of a company to one’s children would not constitute the establishment of a qualified blind trust, nor would it eliminate conflicts of interest,” Shaub wrote.

Card wants to position Trump as someone who badgers big companies (“Translation: the cronies are sweating”), but with his approval Indiana targeted seven million for Carrier, Boeing gave a million to Trump’s inaugural committee after being attacked on Twitter, and Trump’s telegraphed-a-day-in-advance attack on Lockheed was no surprise to hedge fund managers.

Sweating?  No, they’re cashing in and ponying up for more opportunities.

Oddest of all is Card’s contention that small businesses are hopeful about Trump. She cites a National Federation of Independent Business’ optimism index, without telling readers that (1) the survey is self-selected (it’s only from among NFIB members), (2) the NFIB membership is only a fraction (about 1.1%) of all small businesses in the U.S., (3) the NFIB was the principal plaintiff in a losing case at the U.S. Supreme Court case against the Obama Administration, and – wait for it – (4) Card doesn’t disclose in her post or her US N&WR bio that she was Vice President of Media & Communications for the NFIB from 2010-2014.

Former speech writer, former communications flack, and consultant?

Oh, no, dear readers – it’s a comedy act that Jean Card has going.

Trump’s Carrier Deal (Update): Fewer Longterm Jobs

Sometimes, a state-cajoled, anti-market confidence game unravels quickly, revealing the fraud that it is. Trump’s Carrier deal is one of those occasions.

Three days ago, the news was that Trump’s Carrier deal was worth hundreds fewer jobs than he’d proudly boasted. (See, Trump’s Carrier Deal: Fewer Saved Jobs With Each Passing Day: ““We found out today that more jobs are leaving than what we originally thought,” Bray said. “It seemed like since Thursday, it was 1,100 then it was maybe 900 and then now we’re at 700. So I’m hoping it doesn’t go any lower than that.”)

Now, only half a week later, one learns that of this smaller number of saved jobs, some will be lost through automation:

But that has a big down side for some of the workers in Indianapolis.

Most of that money will be invested in automation said Greg Hayes, CEO of United Technologies, Carrier’s corporate parent. And that automation will replace some of the jobs that were just saved.

“We’re going to…automate to drive the cost down so that we can continue to be competitive,” he said on an interview on CNBC earlier this week. “Is it as cheap as moving to Mexico with lower cost labor? No. But we will make that plant competitive just because we’ll make the capital investments there. But what that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs.”

Via Carrier to ultimately cut some of jobs Trump saved.

For broad economic policy, there’s the prosperity that comes from free markets in capital, labor, and goods, and then there’s…everything else (including targeted breaks underlying exaggerated, misrepresented results).

Grocery Preliminaries (Part 3)

I’ve written a bit about the search for a grocery in Whitewater, but admittedly it has not been a principal topic for me.

That’s not because I don’t think a grocery or co-op would be nice to have; it’s because I know it’s hard to sustain one. Retail grocers (independent ones most notably) operate under demanding, difficult market conditions. 

It doesn’t matter how much some residents now want a grocery – it’s not easy to attract one. Sentry’s owners, after all, tried for years to find a buyer. What matters is whether sufficient numbers of residents can be expected to patronize regularly a grocery. Not enough did so previously.

I’m surely no booster of local government, and I’d surely rather not see public money for a grocery, but it’s wildly mistaken for some to contend that this should have happened by now, as though with a snap of one’s fingers.  The expectation & implication that this should have been wrapped up already is, to put it mildly, misguided

It’s significantly harder to attract or run a grocery than it is to fill one’s cart while walking down the aisles.

City Press Release on Grocery Store Recruitment, 7.21.16

Update: the press release was changed during the day from its original wording, as indicated below.

Posted immediately below is the full and unaltered text of a City of Whitewater press release on recruitment of a grocery store. Needless to say, I don’t represent the city, but it’s fair to pass along the complete municipal press release —

Press Release
Grocery Store Recruitment Update
July 21, 2016

Daniels’ Sentry Foods closed its doors for the last time in December 2015. Since that time, the Whitewater Common Council and Community Development Authority (CDA) have been rigorously engaged in efforts to recruit another grocery store in Whitewater.

As part of the City’s efforts, the CDA commissioned Chuck Perkins, a respected marketing consultant in the grocery sector, to conduct a grocery market analysis in order to identify various locations for a new store, as well as clarify a store size the Whitewater community could support. Based upon his market analysis, Mr. Perkins indicated that a smaller store located at the site of the now vacant Daniels’ Sentry Foods building has the greatest opportunity for long-term success. Shortly after the completion and release of the market analysis report, the City of Whitewater was contacted by an independent grocer interested in potentially locating a store in the community.

Since the first contact with the interested grocer, city officials and staff have been working closely with the potential grocer to develop a plan which would allow for the establishment of a new grocery store in Whitewater. As of Tuesday, July 19, both parties have verbally agreed to a tentative framework that provides for a grocery operation to be located at the site of the former Daniels’ Sentry Foods.

Earlier this year, the UW-Whitewater Foundation, in an effort to address UW-Whitewater space needs on campus, submitted a formal offer to purchase the Daniels Sentry property. Their offer has been accepted and a lease agreement for use of the space awaits confirmation by the UW System Board of Regents.

Due to the University’s need for additional space to allow for campus growth and the public’s need for a grocery store to bolster the Whitewater economy, the City is actively seeking to create a mutually beneficial solution that would allow for a grocery store to locate in the former Daniels’ Sentry building while still addressing the long-term space needs of the University.

Residents interested in expressing their sentiment on this issue can contact the Common Council directly at commoncouncil@whitewater-wi.gov. or contact the UW-Whitewater Chancellor at kopperb@uww.edu Substituted text: Comments submitted will also be shared with UW-Whitewater Foundation and UW-Whitewater officials.

Questions or concerns regarding grocery recruitment efforts can be directed to Patrick Cannon, CDA Director, pcannon@whitewater-wi.gov, 262-473-0148 or to Cameron Clapper, City Manager, cclapper@whitewater-wi.gov, 262-473-0100.

Grocery Preliminaries (Part 2)

I wrote yesterday about a grocery in town, in a post entitled, Grocery Preliminaries.  The post’s subject line used the word ‘preliminaries’ because it seems likely that Whitewater will get a new grocery, whatever one thinks of a public subsidy to entice one.  

In this way, that post presumed a deal, and so was meant to be preliminary to one.

(Needless to say, whatever the challenges of subsidizing a grocery, it’s noting like importing trash into the city as a get-revenue-quick scheme.  Waste importation is a truly bad idea, destructive to the environment, health, and development of the city.)

One of the conditions for a new grocery at the old Sentry location is that the university’s interest in the property  (as a term of art and a general desire for expansion) be satisfied.  

It’s worth noting that unpublished discussion of UW-Whitewater’s interest in the property has percolated through parts of the community for months; it’s not new information for everyone.  

This only reinforces, however, the point from an earlier post, Informed Residents, about the need for open government.

This morning, many residents are sure to be surprised  (‘the university has a connection to this property?’) and a few will be frustrated  (‘why didn’t we know?’ & ‘is the university standing in the way of a deal?’).

These are merely elements of a transaction, and they could have been disclosed sooner.  This community needs neither confusion about a project nor frustration with the university over it. 

I know that open government seems soft and starry to some, but it’s neither. Open government is both a principled (as a right) and a prudent (as a practical) approach.  It’s not in opposition to realism, but rather a higher expression of realism, embodying as it does the recognition that information typically wills out, at a higher price for the delay.

I’m sure we will get a grocery, and almost certainly with a public subsidy. That’s not what I’d advocate, but the proposal has obvious support. 

We could (and can) have one, however, more smoothly than this. 

Grocery Preliminaries

I’ve written about the possibility of a government-subsidized grocery before, but only from an open-government perspective concerning Council’s last meeting in joint session with the Community Development Authority. There have been a few press accounts of previous public meetings about a grocery, but not one of the accounts shows the challenges involved in maintaining a subsidized grocery for the long-term.

The desire for a grocery in town is undoubtedly strong, and it would likely have a value in attracting newcomers, but keeping one going depends on attracting and maintaining customers where prior efforts have failed, in a low-margin industry. The key question isn’t whether one can attract a grocery, however hard that may seem, but whether a grocery one attracts will prove desirable and sustainable.

Prior local government projects that have subsidized businesses have done so farther from the public eye, mostly without the need to attract customers from within a single community, and not for an enterprise relying on high-volume but low-margins from among those in that community.

It’s no easy feat to keep a business of those characteristics going. It’s easy to see why policymakers and residents would like a grocery; maintaining one requires attracting and retaining customers apart from a public subsidy. To do so will require both gathering consumer demand now satisfied elsewhere and, longer-term, generating new demand from within the area.

The Art Market (in Four Parts): Art Fairs

The Art Market (in Four Parts): Art Fairs from Artsy on Vimeo.

In 2015, art fairs generated an estimated $12.7 billion in profits for exhibiting galleries. But why do collectors attend fairs in droves? And what’s behind their rapid international proliferation? The fourth installment of “The Art Market (in Four Parts)” tracks how the art fair has transformed from a trade show into a platform where all aspects of the art market—galleries, collectors, curators, and artists—converge, and why they keep coming back. Fair directors and art-world influencers like Noah Horowitz, Matthew Slotover, Elmgreen & Dragset, Michele Maccarone, Josh Baer, and Sarah Thornton provide their insights.

Art Fairs is the final installment of a four-part documentary series, preceded by Auctions, Galleries, and Patrons. Together, the four segments tell a comprehensive story about the art market’s history and cultural influence. Visit Artsy.net/art-market-series to watch all the films.

This series is directed by Oscar Boyson and produced in collaboration with UBS.

See also, previously, Auctions, Galleries, and Patrons.

The Art Market (in Four Parts): Patrons

The Art Market (in Four Parts): Patrons from Artsy on Vimeo.

What motivates patrons to fund artists’ wildest dreams? How has the concept of art patronage changed over time? And what’s behind the dramatic rise of private art museums? In the third installment of “The Art Market (in Four Parts),” we explore how and why patrons support artists and their careers, from the Medici family’s backing of Michelangelo’s work during the Renaissance to today’s most influential collectors, museum donors, and behind-the-scenes benefactors. Patrons and art-world influencers like Eli Broad, Maja Hoffmann, Josh Baer, and Sarah Thornton provide their insights.

Patrons is the third installment of a four-part documentary series, preceded by Auctions and Galleries and followed by Art Fairs, released weekly through mid-June. Together, the four segments tell a comprehensive story about the art market’s history and cultural influence. Visit Artsy.net/art-market-series to watch all the films.

This series is directed by Oscar Boyson and produced in collaboration with UBS.

See also, previously, The Art Market (in Four Parts): Auctions and The Art Market (in Four Parts): Galleries.

The Art Market (in Four Parts): Galleries

What does an art gallery do for an artist? What fuels the global expansion of galleries like Gagosian and White Cube? And how has the internet affected the way galleries do business? In the second installment of “The Art Market Series (in Four Parts),” we look at the complex ecosystem of commercial galleries to probe these questions—and get to the root of how galleries effectively steward artists’ careers, promote their work, and protect their markets. Gallerists, artists, and art-world influencers like Amalia Dayan, Daniella Luxembourg, Dominique Lévy, Michele Maccarone, Elmgreen & Dragset, Josh Baer, Stefan Simchowitz, and Sarah Thornton provide their insights.

Galleries is the second installment of a four-part documentary series, preceded by Auctions and followed by Patrons and Art Fairs. Together, the four segments tell a comprehensive story about the art market’s history and cultural influence, providing an approachable yet nuanced introduction to a extraordinary subject. Visit Artsy.net/art-market-series to watch all the films.

The series is produced in collaboration with UBS and directed by Oscar Boyson.

See also, previously, The Art Market (in Four Parts): Auctions.

The Growth That Uplifts

In a recent interview, Ana Revenga, senior director of the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Group, talks about ending extreme poverty.  See, Ending Extreme Poverty: World Bank Economist Ana Revenga @ The Christian Century.

(The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 per person per day, and the article describes how they’ve arrived at that figure.)

Revenga is focused on Third World poverty, but her insights into poverty prevention are relevant even in less dire situations. 

Consider her answers to two questions from the interview:

What is the single most important contributor to the decline in world poverty?

The biggest driver of the success is economic growth—but not any kind of economic growth. What’s needed is economic growth that improves the income-generating opportunities of the poor. This kind of growth involves either raising the value of the agricultural products that the poor are producing or generating better jobs. Anywhere between two-thirds and 80 percent of the decline in poverty rates is due to this kind of economic growth….

Are there forms of economic growth that are not good for the poor?

Absolutely. You could have a country where all the growth comes from commodity extraction or from a pipeline. Those funds might generate income, but that money does not go back into the economy to improve the lives of farmers and is rarely invested in building further infrastructure….

Needless to say, Dr. Revenga is more than capable of setting the boundaries of her own views, yet it seems fair to infer that if not all growth should be valuable, then not all spending is valuable.

Whitewater’s conditions are milder than those Ana Revenga faces in her work, yet not so mild that some who experience them would describe them as mild at all.

This leaves us with a question: is it, can it be, a solution merely to buy capital, goods, or the means of their distribution at public expense?

The Art Market (in Four Parts): Auctions

The Art Market (in Four Parts): Auctions from Artsy on Vimeo.

How did the art auctions business become a multi-billion-dollar industry? The first film in a series about the art market explores this question, leading viewers through the complex history of auctions, with specific attention to the last 20 years. The film unpacks record-breaking sales, like last week’s epic Jean-Michel Basquiat painting Untitled (1982), hammering in at $51 million, and anomalies such as Ai Weiwei’s Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) (2010), which pop up at auction in countless different quantities, making the connection between the auction price and market value of art. Interviews with auction-house specialists, financial analysts, and art-world influencers like Adam Lindemann, Xin Li, Sarah Thornton, Josh Baer, and Don Thompson add personal insight and shape the narrative.

Auctions launches a four-part documentary series, followed by Galleries, Patrons, and Art Fairs, released weekly through mid-June. Together, the four segments will tell a comprehensive story about the art market’s history and cultural influence, providing an approachable yet nuanced introduction to a extraordinary subject. Visit Artsy.net/art-market-series to watch all the films.

The series is produced in collaboration with UBS and directed by Oscar Boyson.

A Man, His Bad Monkey, and the Rest of Us

 A man walks through town with a small monkey on his shoulder. (A white-headed capuchin, Cebus capucinus, let’s say.) He walks with it about town, into meetings, focus groups, and visits with various officials of the local government. On many occasions, the monkey scratches, bites, or throws its feces at someone. This happens quite a few times.

Thereafter, at a public meeting, someone asks the man about his association with the monkey, and the man replies to that question –

Q: “How are you associated with the monkey?”

A: “I’m not associated with the monkey. That’s a mistake.”

Everyone familiar with the man’s travels about town knows he’s lying, and lying in the way that only the brazen or stupid tell lies: a complete denial in the face of evidence to the contrary.

That means, of course, that’s there’s something profoundly objectionable or unsuitable about the man as a business partner. He might be stupid, but he’s more likely brazen. His complete denial operates as a dare: Can I say anything to you, and have you move on without follow up?

Of course, others in the room know that the man has lied. He has been walking about town with a vile and filthy primate, and that nasty animal has been scratching, biting, and throwing feces on many occasions.

In one way, the single question and the answer it elicited has been successful: the man’s lied at the meeting, and others in the room now know it.

In another way, however, the single question lets the man go on too easily – it’s not enough that insiders know the man is a liar – his denial should be shown there and then for what it is, to all the community, as a blatant, bald-faced lie. A few quick follow ups will serve that purpose, including pictures showing the man with the monkey.

That’s more confrontational, to be sure, but it’s the man who has sparked confrontation by lying about his association with the ornery monkey. The follow up, even if heated, merely enforces an accountability to the truth that underlies a well-ordered society.

In the episode of the man and the monkey, follow up questions that some would describe as ‘grilling’ would be, in fact, a principled, admirable determination to assure lies do not go unremarked.

The more of that we have, the better: when we have more of it, then we’ll have less future need of it, as we’ll not be a mark for liars and charlatans.

About that Development Deal Near the Roundabout in Whitewater…

These last few months, I’ve watched the efforts of out-of-town developers to build a multi-use facility (by their account, a hotel, sports complex, and senior housing) near Whitewater’s east side roundabout.

Two quick, easy points.

First, this proposal was, in virtually every aspect, suspect and disreputable. Review of notes, recordings, and research into the developers’ plans and backgrounds over these last few months only confirms how odd – and substandard – every aspect of this was. Those in office who expressed doubts about this project, including at the Community Development Authority, represented Whitewater’s interests well.

I’ve not written about the project until now because it seemed certain that a majority was sure to see this for what it was. (It is worrisome that a few took longer than others to see these problems, and any discussions after mid December with these unconventional developers – and this is nothing like a conventional deal – would be evidence of poor judgment.)

In this way, as a deal it’s not so interesting; as an example of how some officials show greater insight than others it’s interesting.

Second, if one wanted to see how newspapers fail their readers, one need look no farther than a story in the Gazette: Whitewater City Council rejects proposed development, 2.19.16, http://www.gazettextra.com/20160219/whitewater_city_council_rejects_proposed_development. The reporter treats this as a conventional deal, with conventional developers, and the story even includes a helpful graphic about where this supposed complex was to be located.  A review of the actual documents, presentations, and claims (made over several months) from these developers shows that this proposal was close – much too close – to B-movie science fiction.

Those who expressed doubts, especially those who had doubts early on, were right about this.

Ackman’s Right About Herbalife

Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, has waged a long campaign against Herbalife (in which he has a publicly-disclosed short position, that is, a bet against Herbalife’s future). Ackman’s a capitalist, activist, and philanthropist. (His politics are not mine – he recently urged Michael Bloomberg to run for president; Bloomberg is no libertarian.)

In his campaign against Herbalife, however, one sees Ackman’s deep humanity, a humanity wholly consistent with capitalism’s respect for individuals. Herbalife is a fraud and a cheat, offering a false promise to vulnerable people who invest in what’s truly a mid-level marketing scam. It’s more pyramid scheme than company. They prey on hopeful but unsophisticated small investors, often those who would like to share in America’s promise. Michael O. Johnson, CEO of Herbalife, is a repulsive schemer.

Above, I have embedded a video that Ackman has produced, where victims of Herbalife tell how they’ve been cheated.

Ackman has said that he will carry his short position against Herbalife “to the end of the earth.” That’s the very definition of a respectable position, view, or belief: that one will hold on, against any and all, to the very end. Not everyone believes Bill Ackman’s claims; in fact, Herbalife’s stock has been doing fairly well of late. His bet against them has been an expensive one.

But if he should be right, truly right, then why would he not double and double again his efforts to persuade others?

So he is doing, and in so doing, Bill Ackman is doing right, not merely for his investors, but for the many small investors that Herbalife cheats each and every day.

Looking at this one way, Bill Ackman didn’t have to wage a long war against Herbalife; he might have chosen any number of alternative causes. Looking at this another way – properly, I think – he most certainly did have to wage war against Herbalife, whatever the time or cost.

There is much to admire in his campaign against that foul company, and reason to emulate a commitment to fight ‘to the end of the earth’ in defense of other causes, too.

Here’s a link to more from Pershing Square: Facts About Herbalife.

See, also, a large (over 300 pages) pdf file with the case against Herbalife.