Courthouse Crock – BONUS POST

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The New York civil fraud case against Donald Trump and Trump Organization will be rearing its ugly head again soon. Here’s a recap of it thus far.

COURTHOUSE CROCK

sung to the tune of “Jailhouse Rock” with apologies to the estates of Elvis Presley and Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and to whomever else the rights may concern.

Went to watch a case in New York civil court.
Judge Engoron was there.
He’s a damn good sport.

Trump’s hate speech is distracting
and his intent is to sting.
He’s desperately trying to stay “still a thing.”

It’s crock. Everybody, it’s crock.
Everybody in the GOP bloc–
on the stand was courthouse crock.

Donald Senior played the Witch Hunt card.
Eric had amnesia. He hit back hard.
Don Junior’s emails went crash, boom, bang.
Such was the nature of the Trump Org gang.

It’s crock. Everybody, it’s crock.
Everybody in the GOP bloc–
on the stand was courthouse crock.

Don Junior said to the grilling at-torney:
“My daddy’s the best artist I ever did see.
I myself am delighted with our company.
Accountants shared nothing of the numbers with me.”

It’s crock. Everybody, it’s crock.
Everybody in the GOP bloc–
on the stand was courthouse crock.

The defendants put on an irrelevant show,
when the prosecutors asked, “Where’s this gonna go?”
Judge said, “Calm down, don’t inVITE a mistrial.
Just shut your mouth, ignore Trump’s bile.”

It’s crock. Everybody, it’s crock.
Everybody in the GOP bloc–
on the stand was courthouse crock.

The media tell us Trump’s act is a charade.
They give Trump due process. They give it in spades.
Trump thinks he’s being shifty and saying nix nix.
He wants a mistrial. He’s getting his kicks.

It’s crock. Everybody, it’s crock.
Everybody in the GOP bloc–
on the stand was courthouse crock.
on the stand was courthouse crock.
on the stand was courthouse crock.

Davos Man

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The Book of the Week is “Davos Man, How the Billionaires Devoured the World” by Peter S. Goodman, published in 2022. As the now-cliche joke goes, “You can tell Monopoly is an ancient game because there’s a luxury tax and rich people can go to jail.”

Yearly, about three thousand, super-rich people gather in Switzerland at a five-day conference called “Davos.” The least wealthy people there consist of journalists, academics, diplomats, entrepreneurs, activists and senior government officials. The billionaire-attendees (whom the author called “Davos Man”) pay lip service to the world’s social, economic and environmental problems, and behind closed doors, discuss how to profiteer in connection therewith.

In the last half century, Davos Man has enriched himself through making campaign contributions to politicians who have legislated:

  • monopolistic practices
  • tax cuts
  • excessive deregulation and
  • gutting of social programs.

The above favor powerful, rich people in Silicon Valley, New York City and Washington, D.C. Their propaganda campaigns brainwash the masses into blaming:

  • China
  • immigrants whom they believe are taking their jobs away, and
  • automation

for the working classes’ job losses.

The author argued that the common people in most industrialized nations of the world should blame DAVOS MAN and politicians, who are sometimes one and the same!

Davos Man– the modern-day Robber Barons– salve their consciences through philanthropic activities that are comprised of a tiny, tiny percentage of their businesses’ profits. Plus, the author contended that it is a Cosmic Lie that tax cuts pay for themselves by spurring spending.

During the COVID pandemic, the American Davos Man enriched himself through incestuous corporate / political relationships: “The United States had employed a Rube Goldberg contraption, with [Steven] Mnuchin’s slush fund [in the U.S. Treasury] funneled through Jamie Dimon’s bank [JPMorgan Chase], and Larry Fink’s firm [BlackRock] buying bonds on behalf of the Fed, allowing Steve Schwartzman’s private equity empire [Blackstone Group] to borrow for free.”

The English government convinced many of its people that through Brexit, their nation could decide its own financial fate. But Davos Man actually ended up collecting a boatload of their hard-earned taxes. Meanwhile, Argentina was defaulting on its loans for the tenth time in the last half-century. The aforementioned Davos Man, Larry Fink, blamed Argentina for the resulting disastrous losses of his clients at BlackRock. BUT– his firm was the sucker that lent it the money!

Anyway, read the book to learn of: Davos Man’s activities in various countries of the world– that resulted in skyrocketing wealth for him, and plummeting economic security for everyone else; why the author is still optimistic that the world can reverse the current, cold-hearted global financial climate in which inequality between rich and poor is ever-widening (hint: creative ideas on community cooperatives are in the air, but also– read Amy Klobuchar’s tome on antitrust issues); and the economic history explaining how Davos Man has become so rich and powerful.

Character & Characters / Retail Gangster

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The first Book of the Week is “Character & Characters, the Spirit of Alaska Airlines” by Robert J. Serling, published in 2008.

Alaska Airlines (AKA) came into existence in the mid-1940’s with the buyout of Star Air Service. It faced stiff competition from Northwest Airlines, and Pan American– which was already monster-sized from: its contract with the federal government to deliver the U.S. mails, and exchanging many political favors.

Mostly, AKA transported passengers between the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. In early 1949, it completed a dangerous mission, flying about 140 Jews from Yemen to the airport in Tel Aviv, while an Arab bomb could have hit the plane anytime.

In the 1950’s, top executive Charlie Willis had such passion for and loyalty and dedication to AKA, that he borrowed $100,000 using his personal house as collateral, in order to restore the pilot-pension-fund shortfall, to keep his employer from going out of business. Beginning at the dawn of the 1960’s, he enabled his second-in-command-executive to engage in deficit spending. They broke the bank to do promotional gimmicks.

In the back of its model CONVAIR 880, AKA installed a stand-up beer bar, even though it replaced eight passenger seats. AKA generated goodwill by throwing parties it couldn’t afford for industry players, such as its own employees and trade associations. In the late 1960’s, it bought hotels and a ski resort. AKA was one of the very first airlines to provide in-flight movies and music. So it hovered near bankruptcy, repeatedly unable to meet its employee payroll. For years.

Commercial airlines, initially transporting wealthy passengers, employed stewardesses in sexy uniforms– with no or minimal training, and offered alcoholic beverages included with the airfare. With evolution came the organization of labor– of pilots, flight crews and ground crews. Alaska’s bush pilots who had gotten in on aviation’s ground floor, had become disenchanted with the changing times. Bob Ellis sold his tiny airline in Alaska because he was no longer having fun, was emotionally exhausted from the government’s imposition of regulations, and didn’t understand the need for union labor. He had treated his employees well.

The Civil Aeronautics Board, one of the government’s regulatory bodies, was soon to stop subsidizing the (small, financially struggling) regional airlines (including AKA) in Alaska. The consolidation of the industry in the 1960’s meant no more floatplanes, biplanes, and single-engine monoplanes. These were replaced with DC-3’s and other faster, technologically superior aircraft.

Competing airlines were growing in size, complexity, and needed economies-of-scale and scope. Bosses couldn’t afford to pay for their employees’ expensive personal problems as though they were in a small business anymore. There was backlash by the workers against this vanishing era. They no longer felt like a family.

In summer 1970, AKA’s Willis (rumored to be an alcoholic) was able to get a new air route: to the U.S.S.R. Ironically, AKA had to lease a Pan Am 707 in order to do it. Willis became a drinking buddy to his Aeroflot counterparts. The passengers, who flew to Siberia, consisted mostly of Native Americans from Alaska visiting family, missionaries, and businessmen. They were treated to flatware made of gold, caviar in their Caesar salads, wine, and Russian samovars. The flight attendants dressed in Cossacks’ attire, with bear fur hats. Unsurprisingly, the flights proved insufficiently profitable over the course of three years.

AKA suffered less disastrous financial losses when the oil industry in Alaska kicked into high gear, in the late 1960’s. Oil-pipeline construction around Prudhoe Bay in the North Slope area became all the rage. From the Seattle-Tacoma airport, the airline’s Hercules’ C-130 planes transferred cargo, including hazardous materials that could accidentally cause a lot of wrongful deaths and property damage: 25,000 pounds of dynamite, heating and fuel oil and big, heavy drilling rigs for ground vehicles, and heaters.

In the early 1970’s, many pipeline workers liked hunting, but they got drunk before they flew home. AKA allowed rifles on their planes, so they hired the equivalent of bouncers who served as ground-crew screeners, and had a locked-up special gun-rack section in the front of the plane.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Alaska Airlines’ role in the development of aviation, people, power struggles, technologies, and the tenor of its times up until the book’s writing.

The second Book of the Week is “Retail Gangster, the Insane, Real-Life Story of CRAZY EDDIE” by Gary Weiss, published in 2020.

Currently fading from Americans’ memory, is “Crazy Eddie.” Launched in the mid-1970’s, it was a retail chain of electronics stores in the northeastern United States. The company became known for a spokesman who flooded all kinds of advertising media with emotionally-charged screaming, that Crazy Eddie’s prices were insane. The repetitive repetition of this singular message worked. Eddie projected an image of success that fed on itself.

However, from the start, the store’s top executive– Eddie Antar– committed financial crimes. He had selfish, greedy intent, unlike the aforementioned Alaska Airlines executives, who were merely big spenders out of unbridled optimism and honest ineptitude.

Starting in 1984 when the company sold shares to the public, Eddie and his key employees (mostly his relatives) engaged in securities fraud. They had ongoing, frantic bursts of activity in which they: “…stuffed cash in the ceiling, stole store sales-taxes, [plus, they falsified inventory records] and defrauded insurance companies without a second thought. They did not expect to be caught, and if the Antars had any doubt on that score, they had only to look to City Hall for inspiration.” New York City’s government had committed exactly the same kinds of accounting fraud for years and years, beginning in the 1960’s. As the behavioral-economics cliche goes, “The fish rots from the head down.”

By 1987, Crazy Eddie had 2,250 workers in 32 locations from Philadelphia to New England. Read the book to learn a slew of details on the fates of Eddie, his families, and his businesses.

The Longest Race

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The Book of the Week is “The Longest Race, Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team” by Kara Goucher with Mary Pilon, published in 2023.

Born in 1978, the author grew up in New Jersey and the Duluth, Minnesota area. Goucher became a professional runner. Like many of her fellow athletes, the author– who experienced an early childhood trauma– found at a young age that competing in footraces is cathartic.

Goucher focused on her training and reaching the finish-line first, rather than getting all worked up about the numerous stressful situations she endured in everyday living. However, she rationalized away some of the wrongs committed against her, because speaking out against them would ruin her career, her marriage, her friendships, etc.

In the United States, the way runners go professional is to convince a corporate, non-governmental sponsor to pay them to race. Goucher and her husband both signed contracts with Nike, the monster-sized corporation best known for making athletic shoes. The company provided her and her fellow runners in her working group with the best, cutting-edge scientifically and technologically advanced resources for winning races.

However, the Gouchers’ status with Nike was as independent contractors, so they had less legal recourse than that of employees with regard to any illegal goings-on in their field of work. Their coach and immediate boss was the celebrity runner Alberto Salazar. In the single-digit 2000’s, he led the “Oregon Project” which was an attempt to help Americans win races again around the world; their victories had been woefully plummeting for years.

Salazar did boost Kara’s confidence and helped her perform better than she thought she could. But, his behavior and many of his training practices were inappropriate and illegal. He and his colleagues (an alleged psychotherapist and medical doctor) wielded a lot of power over the Gouchers, who owed their careers to their sponsor. Salazar’s underlings hewed to his training methods through fear and force. “He [Salazar] got testy when called out for having a third drink. I could only guess how he would react to being called out about sexual harassment.”

As a female, Kara had to deal with Nike’s double standard of suspending her pay when she ran an insufficient number of races in a specified time period pursuant to her contract. Male runners were punished this way when they got caught in doping scandals or had injuries. She was subject to those same conditions, but she couldn’t race because she was pregnant. In connection with exploring her career options, Kara wrote, “… I found myself again and again in rooms of male executives explaining women’s running to me. There seemed to be more interest in how I would look on a poster than in how the sport could evolve.”

Fighting “City Hall” in so many different areas of life is difficult. Anyone who attempted to do so in professional running in the single-digit 2000’s would have to deal with Nike. It held a near-monopoly with overwhelming power and influence over regulators. Whistleblowers would suffer doxing and death threats.

BUT, it is an age-old truism that when more and more courageous people come forward with firsthand information about wrongdoing by an institution or a particularly powerful individual– the less the harm that will be done in the future because the collective mood of the community will shift against the wrongdoer. Eventually.

Read the book to learn lots of additional details of the Gouchers’ experiences in their professional running careers– their trials, tribulations and triumphs.

Life in the Trash Lane

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The Book of the Week is “Life in the Trash Lane, A Sports Agent’s True Story” by Mel Levine, published in 1993. This sloppily edited volume described a bygone era in terms of the financial aspects of “amateur” sports in America. Only “professional” athletes could receive compensation in the form of money or gifts from work-related people and entities. College players were considered amateurs.

The author began a career as a tax attorney and business investor, but also became an agent for college football players on their way to the pros. He offered his services as an agent, CPA, lawyer, and financial planner. Initially, representing big-name athletes boosted his ego. The author hired various scouts called “bird dogs” who would help him acquire clients who had barely started college but were perceived as talented players. On the surface, sports agency looked lucrative, but it was actually a cutthroat, sleazy business.

The convention in the late 1980’s was for agents to advance expenses to the professional hopefuls, and then, if the players made the pros, the agent was paid about 5% of the athlete’s earnings. The author paid for their cars, insurance, housing, gifts for their significant others, legal fees, etc. (a clear NCAA rule violation). The author continued to run afoul of the strict NCAA rules, but he rationalized that all of the other agents were doing so, too, and he needed to stay competitive. Many times, he was almost busted.

The author was suckered into paying big bucks to numerous players he represented, but they never paid him even in cases when they made the pros. The players owed him thousands and thousands of dollars, but he developed a version of Stockholm syndrome– acting as a father figure to a few of them, and remained fiercely loyal because he felt an escalation of commitment.

In May 1986, one of the author’s clients had an accident in the expensive car paid for by the author. Two major Miami newspapers’ stories on this prompted the question of how the athlete could afford such a car. The car was likely provided by his agent, or his college– the University of Miami. If so, the NCAA violation would end the player’s career before it started, and the scandal would ruin the reputations of the agent, the school, and many others.

The author cooked up a scheme to get a slew of parties out of trouble. He shredded all the paper contracts of his rule-violating clients, and claimed he was running a car-leasing operation; the athletes’ parents were leasing the cars for them [like everyone really believed that (!)].

The author told of another client who was nothing but a boondoggle, but the author stuck by him for years, anyway. By 1987, “He was damaged goods for a [National Football League] team to expend a valuable draft choice on a kid with a bad ankle, drug problems, legal problems, and a dishonorable discharge from BYU was more than any of them would bear.”

As can be imagined, the sports agency business will keep commercial litigators in business forever, as its seamy underbelly consists of an orgy of litigation. The author dismissed yet another client’s transgressions: “At worst, he blew up a Porsche (quite by accident), got arrested in New Jersey for carrying a concealed weapon and unfortunately got into a fight or two. No big deal.”

Read the book to learn about a slew of other details of the conduct of sports agents and their clients of the late 1980’s.

I Get Around – BONUS POST

This is the song Clarence Thomas is singing now.

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I GET AROUND

sung to the tune of “I Get Around” with apologies to the Beach Boys.

Resort-bound, get around, I get around,
yeah, get around, woo-woo, I get around,
I get around, get around, yacht-bound, I-didn’t write it down,
I got wined and dined, get around, resort-bound, I get around,
I’m the VIP kind, get around, yacht-bound, I’m makin’ real good friends.

I’m getting bugged and probed by some pesky foes.
I gotta find new gifts I don’t have to disclose.

My cronies and me are gettin’ TOO well known.
Yeah, the previous admins used to leave us alone.

I get around, resort-bound, get around, I get around,
yeah, get around, woo-woo, I get around,
I get around, get around, yacht-bound, I-didn’t write it down,
I got wined and dined, get around, resort-bound, I get around,
I’m the VIP kind,

conFLICTS up and down, I get around, I-didn’t write it down, resort-bound, yacht-bound, bound, bound.

We always loved Crow’s trips ’cause they’re for us elites
and we made sure our connections were ALWAYS discreet.

It’s our turn to be targeted, ’cause we’re on the far Right.
We’ve got the best PR and we’re ready to fight.

I get around, resort-bound, get around, I get around,
I get around, get around, yacht-bound, I-didn’t write it down,
I got wined and dined, get around, resort-bound, I get around,
I’m the VIP kind,

conFLICTS up and down, I get around, I-didn’t write it down, resort-bound, yacht-bound, bound, bound.

Resort-bound, get around, I get around,
yeah, get around, woo-woo, I get around
I get around, get around, yacht-bound, I-didn’t write it down,
I got wined and dined, get around, resort-bound, I get around,
I’m the VIP kind, get around, yacht-bound, I’m makin’ real good friends…

Just About Everybody vs. Howard Hughes

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The Book of the Week is “Just About Everybody vs. Howard Hughes, The Inside Story of The TWA-Howard Hughes Trial” by David B. Tinnin, published in 1973.

In the 1930’s, Howard Hughes inherited his father’s oil-industry-equipment company, Toolco, which sold a unique, patented, lucrative drill. By the early 1950’s, Hughes had become a pilot passionate about acquiring jets (whose engines had technology that was obsolescing pistons) for his airline, TWA. He was an alpha male whose desire for control of his company led to decades of complex litigation involving age-old economic and political issues.

As American society became ever more capitalistic in the Postwar Era, businessmen hired more and more attorneys to wield more and more power and influence. They sought to change the tax laws to make more and more money.

Hughes was a victim of his own success in that he was using highly leveraged, deficit financing to purchase the new jets through his Toolco. Into the 1950’s, individuals (rather than their companies or employers) were the ones responsible for debts if they needed to borrow money for their businesses. This economic condition has come full circle with tech startups.

Hughes borrowed from banks and insurance companies, but by the late 1950’s, his debt was so high, they refused to give him special treatment. He used dirty tricks (which arguably weren’t illegal but were unethical, at best) to order jets from a few different suppliers.

Hughes’ incestuous business transactions generated an escalation of commitment among various parties, who were averse to losing even more money if they withdrew from their ongoing deals with him. Need it be said, there is nothing new under the son (or sun– either one). In the early 1960’s, his creditors terminated his borrowing privileges and created a voting trust that took control of TWA. Neither side wanted to see TWA go bankrupt. There were, of course, other wrenches in the works, which are too numerous to mention here.

The orgy of litigation resulting from Hughes’ business activities triggered a very controversial legal and economic issue. Hughes owned 78.23% of the voting stock of TWA, which was financially affiliated with his Toolco. At that time, TWA shares were not owned by the general public. His side argued that he should be allowed to control his companies as he saw fit, because he had a controlling interest in them. On the other hand, he really didn’t own them– his creditors did!

Besides that, if TWA went belly-up, there would be far-reaching economic consequences for many stakeholders. All employees of TWA would lose their jobs, competing airlines would benefit financially, contractors supplying jets and their parts to TWA would lose a customer, Hughes’ lenders would lose megabucks, etc., etc., etc.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, and Bibliography), in June 1961, the big lawsuit initially launched in federal court in the Southern District of New York against Hughes was named TWA v. Howard Hughes. TWA charged Hughes with making special deals with third parties that led to financial harm for TWA. He tried to keep competing airlines from buying jets he wanted for TWA, through monopolistic practices.

BUT, due to disastrous losses (from a downturn in air travel that prompted proposals of various airline mergers, and his tax-evasion tricks), Hughes chose to cancel a portion of jet orders for TWA. Under his crushing debt load, he couldn’t afford to pay for all of his purchases. So the airline couldn’t stay competitive in the commercial airline industry. Other airlines were purchasing jets sooner at lower cost. Hughes’ series of attorneys through the years, of course used all manner of shenanigans (through: filing a blizzard of documents with creative legal arguments, counter-suing and appealing rulings) to delay the case.

One last-minute development that aided Hughes’ attorney before Hughes would be charged with contempt of court yet again, was a curious January 1963 Supreme Court ruling regarding jurisdiction in connection with a monopolistic entity. There was a little federal agency called the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), that had been regulating the airlines. The attorney repeatedly tried to get the case against Hughes dismissed– by arguing that CAB, rather than a federal court, should have been trying Hughes’ case.

Read the book to learn every last detail of this suspenseful story that spawned reams of tabloid fodder, but also greatly impacted the legal, economic and tax cultures of corporate America.

The Education of A Speculator

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The Book of the Week is “The Education of A Speculator” by Victor Niederhoffer, published in 1997.

Born in 1943 in Brooklyn in New York City, the author sorted “market advisers and investment newsletter writers” into eight different categories, providing a brief description of their behaviors or personality traits. He classified himself as “The Other World Person” because he ignored the overpaid noisemakers and distractions of conventional media outlets that purported to convey information on which securities to buy, sell, or avoid.

The author’s two data sources for his commodities, currency trading and investing ideas consisted of the National Enquirer and his research results from testing all kinds of variables in statistics-calculations of past securities-market data using software. No other sources.

The mid-1990’s saw great advances in statistics software modeling that could process scads and scads of data; hence, market players could erroneously use past performance of investment vehicles faster than ever before for predictive purposes to help themselves and others lose their money faster than ever before. And those advances might have played a part in the scandals and financial crashes that have occurred with alarmingly increasing frequency in the last thirty years. Big Tech’s and Big Media’s incestuous oligopolies (fraught with political donations) just keep getting more hegemonic, so that power and money keep feeding on themselves ad infinitum. Globalization is yet another wrench in the works.

At the book’s writing, global trade had been maturing for decades, but capitalism was still in its infancy in many territories of the world; particularly in ones that were becoming politically democratic again, or for the first time in their histories. Many European countries were in the process of adopting cooperation rather than competition in their financial and economic dealings. A large proportion of them even voted to use one currency among them. The United States kept to itself, but more and more people around the world were starting to trade or invest in foreign securities, currencies and governmental financial entities, so chain reactions occurred more and more.

The Federal Reserve (aka Fed) has always been a major influence on America’s financial markets. The author contended that the Fed was just as clueless as the rest of the country about what effects its making of rate-adjustments would have on the nation’s economy. It is currently just as clueless. But its announcements are made with such confidence and arrogance, that a large number of their listeners are brainwashed into believing they are receiving valuable information.

The incumbents– known names pre-Internet–became the most influential voices in the financial sphere. The wiliest ones use propaganda techniques to paper over their wrong predictions. They never apologize for the losses stemming from their pronouncements. The walls of the author’s business office were lined with portraits of ones who had disastrous losses.

To be fair, the author himself told various anecdotes of his own failures. In 1992, he bought IBM stock for his own kids. That was an embarrassing mistake. He learned to cut his losses at a certain level of the total money he reinvested. And, he didn’t let his greed get out of control when he was winning.

The author was a champion squash player. One similarity between squash and speculating is externalities–opponents’ actions determine players’ actions in the game. So, for instance, in ten-pin bowling, there are no externalities. In squash, there are. In one college finals-match, the author moved his body in a way that tricked his opponent into thinking the ball was going to go in a certain direction, but it went the opposite way. Traders and investors play similar tricks in their communications in the financial markets. Conditions change rapidly so even the market propagandists’ winning streaks don’t last long.

The reason is:

First, independent thinkers make observations or find obscure data that works in making them money. Then software detects their trading tricks. So word gets around, and everyone else jumps on the bandwagon so that the advantage is lost.

Human beings want so badly— to believe they can predict the future, and love to fantasize about getting rich quick– that they tend to look for patterns and order where none exist. The author did provide one vast generalization that might be valuable, though. His statistical analysis between the years 1870 and 1995 inclusive showed that years ending in the digit 5 were good years, and those ending in 7 were bad, for the American stock markets. He didn’t speculate as to why.

However, politics is one major mover of markets, and the collective mood of the United States specifically, might be a bit more upbeat in years when political uncertainty is at a minimum. Presidents and other politicians begin or continue their terms during years ending in 5. The public might be unclear about their future policy directions, or weary of them by the years that end in 7.

Anyway, read the book to learn a boatload more about the author’s philosophy, his trials, tribulations and triumphs in the markets, his research results and comparisons between financial markets and: ecology, games and sports.