Money Kills

I believe I hold anti-vaxxers in the same regard I do gun-worshippers.  It’s all ok until you put someone else at risk…which you do all the time.

What triggered this latest outburst of dismay and disdain? This Washington Post report on a new front in billionaire fuckery:

A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3 million in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations online and at live events — including two forums this year at the epicenter of measles outbreaks in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Of course the folks at the epicenter of this malicious nonsense are hedge fund MOTUs:

Hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, have long donated to organizations focused on the arts, culture, education and the environment. But seven years ago, their private foundation embraced a very different cause: groups that question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

I don’t know what it is about the thrill of ultra-successful rent seeking, but somehow that much money gained so incommensurately with effort or social utility seems to convince those dancing in its golden shower that they are absolutely suited and even obligated to set the terms of social life for all of us. Which means they get to kill folks with impunity.

And I do mean kill, as in blood on their hands; in this case, often that of children.

Nine At least two reportable vaccine preventable deaths in the US in 2017, the last year for which I could easily find CDC data. Add to that the suffering (and expense) of all the non-fatal cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, including the record-breaking number of cases of measles in 2019 – 1044 as of June 13, more than any year since 1992, and thus the most since measles was briefly and optimistically declared eradicated from the US in 2000.

Oh those halcyon and innocent days when we thought that folks would rejoice at being released from a once epidemic reaper of children!

Why are these reckless rich pukes doing this? No one seems to know:

How the Selzes came to support anti-vaccine ideas is unknown, but their financial impact has been enormous. Their money has gone to a handful of determined individuals who have played an outsize role in spreading doubt and misinformation about vaccines and the diseases they prevent. The groups’ false claims linking vaccines to autism and other ailments, while downplaying the risks of measles, have led growing numbers of parents to shun the shots.

There is an increasingly direct line between such funding and the actual harm produced by anti-vax propaganda:

The Selz Foundation provides roughly three-fourths of the funding for the Informed Consent Action Network, a three-year-old charity that describes its mission as promoting drug and vaccine safety and parental choice in vaccine decisions.

Lisa Selz serves as the group’s president, but its public face and chief executive is Del Bigtree, a former daytime television show producer who draws big crowds to public events. Bigtree has no medical credentials but holds himself out as an expert on vaccine safety and promotes the idea that government officials have colluded with the pharmaceutical industry to cover up grievous harms from the drugs. In recent weeks, Bigtree has headlined forums in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County, N.Y., both areas confronting large measles outbreaks.

And here’s the quote that made me think Sing Sing is too comfortable for such folks:

“They should be allowed to have the measles if they want the measles,” Bigtree told reporters outside the Brooklyn meeting on June 4. “It’s crazy that there’s this level of intensity around a trivial childhood illness.”

I used to think we needed confiscatory estate taxes so that, for example, the Koch brothers would have had to go out and actually earn some scratch before they got to buy the US judiciary.  I still think that’s a necessary corrective to wealth inequality, but I’m now wondering if a pre-mortem levy might be necessary if we’re ever going to recapture the public space from the depredations the wealth-makes-me-smart crowd.

Oh, and one more thing: adults need vaccines too.  I realize I haven’t asked my PCP if I’m up to date in my last couple of check ups, and plan to correct that omission STAT. Free advice, worth what you paid for it…

Image:  attr. to Philippe de Champaigne, Portrait of a Dead Child, c. 1650.








Sunday Evening Hate-Read Open Thread: SALT in Our Wounds


 
It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.” — George Carlin

In the Washington Post (which should know better by now), “Anthony Scaramucci was fired from the Trump White House after 11 days. Now, he’s convening A-listers for bipartisan healing”:

Scaramucci, fired from the White House in 2017 after a disastrous 11-day tenure, convened a parade of other jettisoned Trump administration figures, including Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Corey Lewandowski and, most remarkably, Gen. John F. Kelly, the former White House chief of staff who axed him.

They mingled in the Bellagio meeting rooms with Obama-era figures such as Jarrett, former national security adviser Susan E. Rice, former CIA director David Petraeus and Adm. William McRaven, the former Special Operations chief who orchestrated the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Scaramucci appeared onstage with Kelly, in their first public appearance together since the firing, to talk about their newfound friendship. Then he sat beside Jarrett for another panel, in which they discussed topics including climate change and gun control and agreed as much as they disagreed.

“I think what they are trying to tell us is that it’s okay to be together,” said Robert Wolf, the Fox News commentator who moderated the discussion. “It’s okay to respectfully disagree. And it’s okay to agree on things we should agree on.”

Many in the crowd of nearly 2,000 investors, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs applauded that kind of political diversity…

Discussions ranged from the future of private equity to business opportunities in the cannabis industry to how artificial intelligence is changing investing.

But permeating much of the conference was the lament that political dysfunction in Washington was bogging down economic opportunities in the real world…

The Daily Beast, which has a better nose for the difference between business and bullshit — “The Mooch’s Hedge-Fund Festival Where MAGA Has-Beens Are Great Again”:

In the past, SALT has drawn big names on both political and cultural planes, counting Joe Biden, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, as well as Al Pacino, Kobe Bryant and will.i.am among its guests. One night over drinks, a 10-year SALT veteran whose chest hair burst from his Hawaiian shirt, boasted it had been “the greatest hedge fund conference in the country.”

But the line-up this year reflected the degree to which Donald Trump has become the center of the cultural solar system, around which everything and everyone else orbits. Instead of titans of finance and bigwigs of industry, the conference was dominated by former Trump officials—fired and resigned: #MAGA hangers-on like TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk and almost-Federal Reserve Board appointee Stephen Moore; and an assortment of other miscellaneous politicos, like former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and Democratic presidential contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). The whole thing was MC’d, of course, by the archetypal ex-Trump official: The Mooch…
Read more








Clown Car Open Thread: Will No One Sit At the ‘President’s’ Right Hand?


 
Uhhh… why did this just pop up?








Tulips. Tulips I Tell You

Prediction is hard, especially about the future.  But a quick glance at the Wall St. Journal’s Market Data page made my eyes pop.

I wanted to see if my general sense of unease around the financial markets had any quantitative basis, so I was looking up the price to earnings ratio of the major market indices.  The first number I noticed was the current p/e number for the S & P 500: 24.13.  That’s only a smidge up from a year ago, but is still historically pretty high.

It is, it should be noted, nowhere near the stratsopheric numbers achieved in the 2009, when earnings crashed so far and so fast that market prices couldn’t crash fast enough to keep up, but it is not far off those in the summer of 2008, just before the Great Recession became brutally obvious.

That’s got me generally a little concerned, as it doesn’t take much to spook “smart” money, and a high p/e is always a good excuse to sell.

But what made my eyes pop was the estimate of forward p/e: 17.65.  That is, in essence, a prediction that company earnings are going to improve significantly over the next year — enough either to ease the market into a soft landing, a return to more historically normal valuation, or (if you’re an ebullient sort) to keep the market powering upward for a while yet.

That’s all well and good, and as I’m a lot closer to retirement than my first day at work, I’ve got no objection to such an outcome.

But what has me antsy is that I don’t know the assumptions that went into that estimate, and known or not, I don’t trust ’em.  I’m writing now about the South Sea Bubble of 1720, and I’m continuously struck by how easy it was for very smart people — Isaac Newton, forsooth! — to persuade themselves the party would continue, even very late in the game.

All of which is to say that three hundred years of securities market adventures tell us that it’s always when, not if for unpleasant surprises.  I don’t know if one is imminent, but I do know two things: given current events, a big crash could produce true social and political ugliness in a hurry; and there are at least a few reasons to watch out for market hubris.

Any jackals got a similar feeling? Any actually knowledgeable types out there want to weigh in?

Necessary disclaimer:  I’m not a financial expert. I do not watch the markets closely.  Most of my retirement funds are in the most boring possible index funds I can find.  I have enough time — a decade-ish — so that I can ignore near term gyrations (ask me again around 2025 how I feel). And I’m certainly not an expert on company valuation, or the connection of or utility of macro- and political economics to something as fine-grained and context-dependent as a market investment.  I’m not a financial advisor, nor do I play one on TV.  I’m just a guy getting a little queasy.

Also too — a guy who thought we could use some more thread.

Over to you.

Image: A Stock Market Cleaner, cover of Puck, v. 15, no. 376,  May 21, 1884








Another set of amazingly expected indictments

This is about as surprising as finding out that North Carolina is a bit humid in the summer.

Open Thread