Deflategate Winners and Losers


The roar you hear this afternoon is millions of New Englander’s roaring, “Wicked awesome. Tom kicked Goodell’s butt!”

Yes, Judge Richard Berman ruled in Tom Brady’s favor today, lifting the Goodell imposed four game suspension in the infamous Deflategate case. The judge correctly ruled that that the NFL doesn’t have penalties for not reporting misconduct and in reality, that’s all the NFL had on Tom.

So who are the winners and losers here? Well clearly everyone in New England will believe that Brady has been vindicated. Lets be clear. Having charges thrown out doesn’t mean that Tom acted in an ethical manner. Believing that he didn’t know that balls were underinflated (I’m pretty sure he asked to have the balls this way) is akin to believing in the Easter Bunny. Remember, Brady’s and the Patriots success has more to do with better preparation than better talent. It’s why other teams hate them. They are ALWAYS better prepared even if that means pushing the limits of the rules. So Tom will get to chase another championship and some records but he is NOT innocent.

Certainly NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a loser here. After all he stood firm against one of the league’s marquee players and teams. Additionally, this is one of a series of missteps in the disciplinary arena (Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson) sustained by the Commissioner in recent times. Is he the loser?

I don’t think so!!! Lets face it while Goodell will publicly state that his job is to uphold the integrity of the game, his job really is to get as much money in to the pockets of the 32 lucky monopolists who get to own teams as is legally possible.

It seems to me like Goodell has done exactly that. Can any of you remember a day during this OFFSEASON when the NFL hasn’t been in the news? I can’t! The Commissioner has simply orchestrated a scandal that lasted from a few days before the end of one season until a week before the start of the next. Who needs advertising? Free press is always better. It amazes me how many days that the NFL is the lead story on SportsCenter, in July!

Any thoughts on what the ratings might be for NFL kick off next Thursday? Is it a coincidence that the Patriots will be hosting the Steelers in that game? I wouldn’t be surprised if the game drew Super Bowl like ratings.

Driving the popularity of the NFL is the job of Roger Goodell, not the integrity of the game. It’s why he gets paid $40 million per year. Sadly no one thinks integrity is worth that much. I may be wrong about this but those of you that doubt me should look to see what he gets paid for this year’s work.

So who are the losers here? Well certainly the “integrity” of the game is a loser. If I were a gambler, I might think twice about that parlay bet next Sunday. After all, if the balls are tampered with who knows what else is tampered with?

Oh, I almost forgot the real losers here. Maybe it’s because they have become losers almost by definition. It’s the New York Jets and their fans whom were convinced that even if justice would never be delivered on the field that maybe it would be delivered in the court of law. WRONG. The George Washington Bridge is closed to pedestrians today for obvious reasons…….

Why Should I Care?


Something odd happened to me yesterday morning. At 9am I was at the gym, doing my thing on the elliptical trainer. As I flipped channels, I saw the same thing again and again. With varying levels of hysteria, every station had a talking head describing the carnage occurring in the stock market. At one point the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down over 1,000 points or 7%!

Once upon a time, most of my adult life, I would have been consumed by this event. It would have likely dominated my day, week, month, etc. This morning, I found myself thinking “big deal” and wondering why I had spent all of those years actually caring.

I spent twenty years in finance, the last nine with a large hedge fund. I remember the currency crisis of 1998 when I worked weekends for months straight just to figure out what our positions actually were, debating in 2001 who should go to work in the shadows of the World Trade Center the day AFTER the worst terrorist attack in US history, most of all I remember spending a beautiful weekend in Venice in my hotel room on an endless conference call during September of 2008 while my family saw the city.

You see finance is all consuming to those who are involved. Its not just the money, it’s the action, the importance of what people in finance think that they do. We thought that every action we took had broad and deep consequences. So at a time like this we would be obsessing about what we should sell, what we should buy. What can we sell? Who wants to take their money out? How can we convince them not to? Will the banks call our loans? What will the FED do?????

Now I could speculate about why we are having this sell off. It’s a marginally interesting topic and I still do have an investment account or two. But the reality is that there are too may others wasting space on the topic, I am not nearly as well informed as I once was, and the cynical side of me is pretty convinced that this is just another example of market players bullying the FED into keeping rates low. For those of you who don’t realize it, that is good for asset owners, not the rest of us, especially those on fixed incomes.

In the three plus years since my departure from the world of finance, I have learned many things. People in finance are smart, hard working, and focused. Of course they aren’t the only ones. In every walk of life I meet people who share those attributes. Many of them are involved in matters much more pressing than the price of a share of Apple or how to sell a basket of loans. They work in environments that are much more complicated and have diverse constituents with vastly different incentives.

It’s why I ultimately turn off the talking heads, finish my workout and head off to work on building a social venture that hopefully will make a difference.

When Diverse is Homogenous

Warning to those of you who are tired of my negativity around all things America. Im at it again!

I am always reminded that I am a citizen of the most diverse nation in the history of mankind. Occasionally,  the reminders are positive, frequently they come with a negative context.

The question of the day therefore is, why as an American do I have to shop for clothes at Banana Republic, The Gap, or J Crew while I eat at some crappy chain.

I am on the end of a twelve day journey to Greece and Italy where I am constantly impressed (even in Greece) with the diversity of options for shopping and eating. It is important to note that the diversity is not just in the brands of the shops but in the items for sale in the shops. It is so refreshing to see so many different styles in so many price ranges.

Now I understand that my view is likely skewed by the fact that I live in Boston, the worst dressed city in the free world. Where else could you eat a gourmet dinner in the comfort of your sweats and Red Sox cap? 

But even when I go to New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, I am comforted (bored?) by the fact that I see the same stores and restaurants that I see everywhere else in the US. Of course, I havent been to Phoenix, Atlanta, Cleveland, or Buffalo any time recently. Maybe that’s where I need to shop.

So why is this? I can only think of three possible reasons:

1- The price advantage of less choice and therefore larger production runs appeals to that obsessive American desire to have more of anything at a lower price, regardless of quality, style or other factors.

2- Americans just don’t really want to have choice in the way they look or eat. Perhaps they arent risk takers in this regard, or they just don’t care all that much. 

3- Landlords are able to extract such high rents (and favor large corporate chains) that sole proprietors can not survive. 

I’d love to know your thoughts. Am I missing something?

Maybe it’s just me and my desire for choices in style. Maybe, I want to be able to wear shorts at the beach,  a linen jacket for dinner, and a stylish slim cut shirt to a meeting.  

Perhaps, I should just pretend that the world is my couch and dress accordingly. Or, Ill just need to keep on traveling…..

Where is the Anger?


As I sit watching the umpteenth hour of the coverage of the Charleston shooting, I find myself becoming numb. I am NOT becoming numb because of the sheer sadness of the event, that happened twenty shootings ago. I am numb because every single person being interviewed from the man in the street to Al Sharpton does nothing more than express their sadness. Which is nice but quite frankly, f’ing useless!

What I want to know is where the hell is the anger? I know that I am angry. Is anyone else? Perhaps, we have all become so used to this that we have developed a conditioned response to express sadness and solidarity! It almost seems choreographed. Big deal!

I have at least two reasons to be angry. First, is BLACK LIVES MATTER! We do a lot of talking about equality in America but, really!!! Imagine if a black man walked into a white church and killed nine white people! There’d be a hell of a lot more than sadness, you can be assured of that. These were regular, hard working, family loving, citizens of our nation. Gunned down by a lunatic who thought that they were less worthy of living than he was.

That brings me to my second reason. Clearly the shooter “had issues”.  Multiple arrests in the recent past, including one for drug possession. As a parent, I would be concerned if this was my child. But the father of the shooter thought that it would be a good idea to buy his son a gun for his birthday. Terrible echoes of Newtown here. Why can’t we throw this fine citizen in jail too? If people want to buy and own guns then we as a society must be able to hold everyone responsible for their actions.

Here’s the main reason for my anger. A student of history should know that real change only occurs through anger and fear. The civil rights movement only gained traction when people took to the streets and the federal government feared widespread unrest. Then there’s the case around inequality. Inequality in the US was at its lowest point during the period 1945-1980. Not surprisingly, this period coincides with the peak of the fear of communism. It isn’t hard to believe that this fear led politicians and business leaders to “play nice” with labor which led to the greatest period of prosperity in American History. This is probably the best reason to keep Bernie Sanders around, but that’s another blog.

Felling and expressing sadness in light of horrible events is a normal and important emotion. I feel it too. As long as we all understand that just doing this will change NOTHING then it’s fine. For those of us that are just sick of this crap and the absolute lack of reaction to it, get angry, channel that anger, and do something!!!

Feeling a bit of Deja Vu or Oops I did it Again

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As I watched the amazing finish to last nights Super Bowl, I had a flashback to a night just over nine years ago.

I spent most of the time leading up to the game conflicted. As a Jet fan living in Boston, I want to hate the Patriots but find myself loving the fact that although you may hate them, its likely because they are simply smarter than the other 29 NFL teams.

Lets face it the Pats just won their 4th Super Bowl in 14 years. During that time that have had one, count ’em one Hall of Fame player. If you think of the rosters of teams like the 70’s Steelers, 80’s 49ers, or 90’s Cowboys, they were loaded with great players. The Pats? Just Tom Brady and some guy named Bellichek.

My other conflict is that I really like the Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Even though he dissed the Jets big time back in the mid-90’s, who could blame him for leaving that house of hell. He then went to coach my favorite college team, USC where he was minutes from winning three consecutive national championships. This is where the Deja Vu comes in.

The match up at the 2006 Rose Bowl was Number 1 USC  what Matt Leinhart and Reggie Bush vs. Number 2 Texas with Vince Young. Additionally, USC and Texas entered the game with winning streaks of 34 and 19 games respectively. I was taken by a certain bank along with a bunch of other finance geeks to Pasadena for the game. A beautiful day and a game that lived up to the immense hype.

The game was an offensive battle with a close game morphing to a USC lead of 38-26 with 6:42 to go in the game. Vince Young then led the Texas Longhorns on a touchdown drive to cut the USC lead to 5. On the ensuing drive USC drove to midfield where they faced a fourth down and two situation with just over two minutes left. Carroll could have chosen to punt, he could have chosen to hand the ball off to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, or he could have had last years Heisman Trophy winner throw a pass.

So what did Carroll choose to to with immortality on the line? Leinhart hands off to the immortal Lendale White, remember him? Unless you are a member of his immediate family, likely not. White rushes for one yard and Texas gets the possession with plenty of time to drive down the field.

Vince White of course runs in for the winning touchdown with 0:19 remaining. Final score Texas 41- USC 38. Drive home safely.

I was crushed. Of course, the entire state of Tennessee should have been more upset as Carroll’s mistake only made the intellectually challenged Young look better and the Titans drafted him. That was a mistake.

So in 2006, Pete Carroll looked at the biggest situation in the biggest game of his career, looked at his stud running back and said, “Nah, let me roll the dice”.

One could argue that Pete Carroll is two incredibly poor decisions away from arguably being the greatest coach in football history.

Last night, I sat on the couch and said to my wife, I feel like Ive been here before. It was just 40 degrees warmer.



Shhh. The American Dream’s Dead

Many people view last night’s State of the Union Address to be the kick off of the 2016 Presidential Campaign. If that is true than it will be very interesting to see if a major political party can win the Presidency by admitting that the American Dream is dead or at least needs an assist from government.

President Obama laid out a series of policies that are directly aimed at the middle class in an attempt to help them to have a chance to achieve the Dream. These policies, including increased child credits, paid medical leave, free community college, and a middle class tax break will be paid for by tax increases on the 0.1%. Not exactly allowing the invisible hand to work its magic!

The SOTU is the latest salvo in a series that includes numerous proposals from Elizabeth Warren and even some from the recently converted to the cause of combatting inequality, Larry Summers. Many of these proposals are in response to the perceived continuing increase in inequality and the fact that Progressives believe that without significant government intervention the Dream will die.

All of this has the effect of forcing the all but anointed 2016 Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton to embrace significant parts of this progressive agenda. While this seems to be something of an anathema to the centrist Hillary, it is becoming apparent that this is what many in the party want. But can they convince the nation that the American Dream needs to be provided with the assistance of government?

The American Dream has been part of our nations folklore for almost a century. While the story of Ragged Dick is almost 150 years old, the mention of the American Dream dates to 1931 and is attributed to James Truslow Adams., Adams envisioned not “a dream of motor cars and high wages merely,” but rather “a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Amazingly, on overwhelming majority of Americans still believe in the American Dream. Perhaps this is the reason why Americans tolerate such a high degree of inequality and have traditionally disliked government intervention in the engine of capitalism. Americans believe that very soon they or their descendants are going to be rich. As recently as 2009, the Pew Charitable Trust found that 39 percent of Americans thought that it was common for someone to be born poor and become rich. In fact 31 percent of Americans believed that they were going to become rich in their lifetimes.

Now the truth is that the American Dream, at least from a socio economic perspective has always been something of a myth. According to Timothy Noah in the Great Divergence, the United States (along with the United Kingdom) are the two developed nations in which income heritability is highest and intergenerational mobility is lowest. In simple terms it means that birth is the greatest determinant of an individuals career and income. Across all of the “Old World, less competitive” nations in Europe, mobility is higher and in places such as the “socialist” Nordic countries socio-economic mobility is orders of magnitude greater. Does anyone other than me see a link between this and income distribution?

So how will this work. While Republicans like to state that President Obama used government largess to win votes, there is little evidence that he actually did so. In fact, the last president to campaign on reducing inequality and actually win the office was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Lets think about 1964. The American economy was strong, the American people strongly believed that government was a force for good, the top marginal rate on personal income had just been reduced from 91% to 70% (that is not a Typo!), and the incumbent LBJ presided over the most overwhelmingly Democratic congress of modern times.

I think that the road to convincing Americans that government intervention, not just to grow the economy but also to grow economic opportunity for the largest number of Americans will be difficult. This will likely entail convincing those in the middle income and middle of the road politically that inequality is not only unfair, but bad economically for everyone. It will take a candidate whose credentials are not “Harvard Liberal” but one who is viewed as centrist. It also will take a candidate with incredibly thick skin that will be able to withstand the assault of the vested interests.

It will also take a bit of luck I suspect. The best hope for electing a Progressive minded president, Hillary isn’t a Progressive but can be pushed that way by her party, is to have the Republicans to nominate a candidate who stands in clear contrast to these ideals. Ted Cruz would be a dream but even his party knows he’s unelectable. Lets just hope that Jeb doesn’t survive the primaries.

The challenge to make the pro-government case is a daunting one. If were a betting man I’d be betting “Don’t Pass”. Fortunately, as I go to sleep tonight, I am heartened that some of us are discussing the rapidly fading American Dream. Of course Jodi Ernst is discussing Hardees…………….

Time Flies… But Should I?

So once again I find myself at an airport bar awaiting another long (but not long enough to sleep) overnight flight. Was a time not long ago that I was a regular on this circuit be it NY-London, London-Mid East, or Anywhere- Asia.

I had a job with lots of travel and lord knows, I like being efficient. Why waste a day traveling when you can try to time your food, alcohol, and general fatigue all in the name of maxing out your four hours sleep?

While there were many negatives to lots of travel, I would be dishonest if I said that there weren’t elements that I actually enjoyed. I got to see the world, I got to travel “upfront” and stay in great hotels, and traveling for business is completely mindless. You are focused on your task and all you need to to is look for the sign that says “Mr. Kushner”, to get safely to the next meeting, or flight, or hotel.

I also loved traveling for pleasure. With my family it is always a fun shared experience. We get to bond with no distractions. We have seen so much together. I know that these holidays are the things that my children will remember for all of their lives.

I am also fortunate to have a spouse who is ok with me taking my occasional boondoggle on my own. Almost exactly one year ago, I sat in the same airport bar blogging. My destination was the same that night as it is tonight. Just read my post about the end of the Economic Crisis, and you will know how that turned out!

Tonight, I’m off again to see friends and my favorite band play their farewell tour in their hometown. I am excited, but on the other hand………..

I am much more reticent than I’ve been about a trip in, well I can’t remember when I’ve been this reticent.

I don’t know if its just that I’m getting older and god forbid becoming a bit of a homebody? I’m gone for an hour and I miss my girls.

Maybe I’m worried that I’ve lost my connectivity to my former home and stomping ground. Its been almost three years and even the best connections atrophy when not watered regularly. I mean how many times can we talk about what we did in 2008?

Or maybe, I have just moved on and am involved enough in the present that the past is just something that I remember fondly and revisit a but less frequently.

Maybe I should answer that on Thursday………..