- See what you can find at andreas.com
Fire and Fury: A Summary
Posted: Mon, 22 Jan 2018 18:21:29
Nearly all of the excerpts and reviews of Fire and Fury have focused on the scandalous tidbits, but they’ve ignored the main points in the book: the interactions among Trump’s team, the Russia Investigation, the money laundering, and how Trump deals with the media. Here is an objective summary of the book. I am neither Democrat nor Republican; I didn’t vote for Hillary or Trump. I minored in political science in college and I find it interesting to see how politics actually functions.
About the Book
Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff (Holt & Co., January 2018) is based on interviews over a year with the key people in the Trump White House. It’s an insider’s look at personalities, events, and actions of key people in the Trump White House.
I cite from the book by noting the page number in the hardback edition. For example, “(304.6)” is on page 304 about 60% down the page.
Trump’s Political Positions
Election Night, Nov 2016
Trump ran for president to get free publicity for his businesses (hotels, golf courses, steaks, wine, etc.) He figured he’d have a bit of impact on the other candidates.
But he knew he had no chance, so the campaign didn’t bother to hire people, develop strategies, or raise much money. His campaign team (Trump, Bannon, Eric and Don, Ivanka, Jared, etc.) had no experience in policy, legislation, or elections (p. 25). Trump refused to put his own money into the campaign (13.3). He expected to lose but that was okay: he’d claim “the system was rigged” and he had been cheated (11.5).
The Trump team knew they would lose the election. On election night, they were shocked. Melania cried and Trump looked as if he had seen a ghost.
Trump did not intend to become president. He was thrown into the job.
Although Trump made a big issue to repeal and replace ObamaCare, he didn’t really care about it (164.1). In fact, Paul Ryan and the GOP cared so little about health care that they let lobbyists write the bill. Obamacare issue was just politics for them.
Bannon wanted to force the GOP to lose the vote so he could prove the GOP was weak, which would allow him to promote alt-right candidates in the 2018 mid-term election. This means the top White House strategist intentionally undermined the Congressional GOP (171.9).
Trump, the Military, and War
Trump doesn’t like meetings that include details. He despises the military’s expert opinions and suggestions (267-8). Bannon is an extreme isolationist: America First!, and let the rest of the world go to the dogs.
General James Mattis (US Marines), General H. R. McMaster (US Army), and General John Kelly (US Army) have apparently agreed that there will be no war without unless all three approve it. One of them always stays in DC (288.5).
(My note: For all of Trump’s threats of wars, I don’t think he will start a war. His threats against North Korea is chest-beating because North Korea taunts him (292.3). North Korea could easily become his friend simply by inviting him to North Korea, hosting a big military parade for him, and praising him.)
Many of Trump’s closest business friends and associates say that they don’t know if Trump has any political positions. He’s not Democrat, Republican, capitalist, or really much of anything. He hold no ideas or ideals about society or the role of government. Wolff writes:
- Trump reacts in a purely personal and emotional way to people around him. It’s smiley face or frowny face. If someone praises him, he loves it. If they disrespect him or he sees them as disloyal, he attacks furiously.
- Trump and the Base: Trump tried out many slogans until he found the ones that get strong applause at his rallies: Lock Her Up, Build the Wall, etc. He doesn’t believe any of these: he just says it because the crowd loves him.
- The 30% base looks at Trump as if they’re looking into a mirror: They see someone who hates elites and promises a simple solution to four decades of globalization. They want bumper sticker solutions: Bring Jobs Back, Make America Great Again, Build a Wall, etc. They don’t see the real Trump: a spoiled self-centered billionaire.
- The Coastal Elites (East Coast, Wall Street, Ivy League universities, West Coast, California, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, etc.): Trump doesn't get respect from them so he recklessly attacks the things they like.
- The Media (NYT, WSJ, WashPost, CNN, etc.) love it when Trump says something outrageous; they report it over and over for days, which attracts massive audiences, which increases advertising fees. Trump knows this so he laughs at them. The news media accept his public ridicule because they’ll get more attention. It’s like staged TV wrestling. Trump is mostly right when he calls them Fake Media.
Trump continues to hold rallies, as if he is still running for president. It’s a way for him to get the admiration that he wants.
Demonstrate Against Trump?
It only encourages Trump. The base loves to see the elites complain. Demonstrations will have no impact, and in fact, will lead to further crazy administration decisions against them.
Trump has a very short attention span and his threats are just talk. He has no plan to implement them.
However, many of his appointees have strategies and tactics that are causing serious damage to the US.
The Trump White House
There is a constant shuffling of people, endless internal wars, personal hatreds, and fighting for attention. This is the result of a lack of leadership and management from the top (186.5). The key people around Trump are Steve Bannon, Jarvanka (Jared Kushner + Ivanka Trump), and Reince Priebus (117.7-119.6). Nobody has clear responsibilities or assignments.
- Bannon: Alt-right militant who wants to crash the US political, banking, corporate, and economic system. From the ashes, a new US will arise. What that will be, he doesn’t know.
- Jarvanka (Jared and Ivanka Trump): They are Hillary Democrats (NYC liberal pro-corporate big-city Democrats) (Ivanka and Chelsea Clinton are good friends). Don’t forget: Trump was a big-city liberal Democrat for decades. Jared and Ivanka hold standard Dem views and try to move Trump to the center.
- Priebus: Reince Priebus was chair of the GOP and represented the Washington GOP in the White House.
- The Billionaire Cabinet: Every night at 6:30, Trump goes to bed with a few cheeseburgers and calls up his billionaire buddies (122.8) to talk, gossip, and whine. In his calls, Trump insults everyone on his team, including his sons, Ivanka, and Jared (p. 211.7) and often threatens to fire everyone.
People close to Trump describe him as a “big, warm-hearted monkey” (Bannon, 216), a marshmallow (148.8), just wants to be loved (184.2), and so on (181.7, 223.1, 233.1, 250.2, 303.2).
Trump won't plan, organize, lead, read, pay attention, or look at details. He is capricious, ignores meetings, and often gets up and walks out of major meetings because he is bored. He is short-sighted and doesn’t realize actions lead to other actions. Key people who work closely with him say he’s an idiot, moron, dope, etc. (304.6).
He knows practically nothing about US politics. When John Boehner was suggested as his Chief of Staff, Trump replied, “Who’s that?”
Although Steve Bannon pretends to be a working man’s populist, he’s well-educated and has read extensively. He’s brilliant, constantly plotting, manipulative, and aggressive. He knows political history and understands how power works.
Bannon has gone through a random series of short careers: the US Navy, Goldman-Sachs (Wall Street), producer of minor political documentaries in Hollywood, head of Breitbart.com, and political strategist for Trump.
Oddly enough, his favorite newspaper is The Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper (276.7), which often writes against globalization. Both ends of the US political spectrum agree in rejecting corporate globalization.
Trump + Bannon
The combination of Trump and Bannon is explosive. Both are very aggressive in attacking opponents (53.2, 61.5). Both despise elites and experts. Bannon cites David Halberstam’s “Best and Brightest” (1972), which showed the complete failure of experts in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to understand the Vietnam War. Trump doesn’t need to read books; he simply hates anyone who is smarter than him.
Both Trump and Bannon know the populist base is happy when they attack liberals (62.9, 63.1). An excellent example is the Muslim travel ban, which was intentionally anti-Muslim and announced on a Friday, which threw airports into chaos and provoked liberals to demonstrate at the airports, which the TV media covered extensively. The White House asked Bannon why he did such a chaotic thing and he said that was precisely the point: provoke the liberals. Whether it would actually stand up in court or protect the US didn’t matter (65.9). It was just political theater.
Hope Hicks is Trump’s closest aide. She updates him on the news every morning, often writes his tweets, is part of nearly every rally, and is always at his side, even in the most critical meetings.
She is a beautiful, 26-year old former model who wears tight skirts and acts like a teenage girl madly in love with Trump.
Although Trump is a horrible sexist who harasses and assaults women, he’s deeply dependent on a close circle of intensely loyal women. His work wives include Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, Katie Walsh, Ivanka, and others who protect him and manage his emotional outbursts.
Bannon insults Hope Hicks in the most vicious attack in the book (262.2).
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner
His daughter Ivanka is the smartest of the Trump children (incl. Eric and Don Jr.), but she is just a pretty NYC socialite who doesn’t understand politics or history.
Jarvanka is deeply implicated in the Mueller investigations (whether it’s Russia or money laundering) (239.8) so people stay away from them (people don’t want to be investigated, which would require lawyers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees).
The billionaire cabinet is also afraid of investigation. (My note: It’s common for business people to use smart phone apps that record all phone calls (that’s useful for meetings), so it’s likely some of his buddies have recorded these phone calls and very likely they've deleted these recordings, which could be destruction of evidence, and thus illegal.)
With so much infighting among inexperience unprofessional people, the White House can’t hire experienced professionals. The White House also uses extreme loyalty tests. Nobody wants to join an organization that’s under highly-politicized criminal investigation. This is only the first year of a four-year administration and it has already nearly destroyed itself. How the White House will manage, or even survive, the next three years is a good guess.
Jared Kushner is terrified of the investigations. While under investigation, he can’t get loans (no bank would loan hundreds of millions to someone who may soon be in prison) so he may be forced to default on the mortgage for the 666 5th Avenue building which would wipe out the Kushner family fortune.
The Obama Wiretap
On March 1st, 2016, the WashPost cites leaks from the CIA and FBI that Russians had contacts with Trump’s team (Manafort, Flynn, Page, etc.) (151.1). The New Yorker also writes that Kushner met with Russians (154.8).
Trump’s response is that the leaks are illegal, probably by Obama appointees, and the DOJ should investigate and punish (154.2).
Jarvanka suspects Bannon leaked this information to the New Yorker as part of his plot to destroy Jarvanka.
In any case, there were no Obama wiretaps.
I am constantly surprised that few of my friends have ever heard of the Mercers. The GOP is effectively the policy wing of three billionaire families: The Mercers (father and daughter), the Adelsons (husband and wife), and the Koch brothers.
Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah are using their vast wealth to run their own private Tea Party. They want small government, home schooling, anti-liberal policies, a return to the gold standard, monetarism, and death penalties. They are pro-Christian, anti-Muslim, and anti-civil rights (58.7). The Mercers despise the Washington GOP because it was unable to win against Obama or defeat Obamacare.They have supported many of Bannon’s projects and put money into Trump’s election.
The Russia Investigation
Russia and Trump
The core of the book is on pages 98-102. Wolff describes the views and goals of the different players:
- The Media: The US media sees the Russia investigation as the silver bullet to end Trump’s presidency.
- Trump: He dismisses the investigation as just an effort to create a scandal.
- Democrat Party: They want endless investigations so they can get votes and donations.
- Congressional GOP: The Russia investigation gives them leverage against Trump.
- Intel: The intelligence community (CIA, NSA, etc.) use leaks to protect themselves from Trump
- The DOJ/FBI (Dept. of Justice): Obama-appointed career officers are using the investigations to advance their careers.
This is hardball politics. This is how Washington really works. Washington is not about policy, programs, or platforms. Both political parties don't really care about the voters or the country. Both political parties use slogans to get votes and donations so they can stay in office. The GOP, Dems, DOJ, FBI, and so on are blackmailing Trump with endless investigations to force him to do something or prevent him from doing something. None of them want the investigations to end.
Where did the Russia Plot start? Franklin Foer (ex-editor of New Republic) in Slate (July 4, 2016, https://goo.gl/B1ikg9) suggests several ideas (99):
- Trump likes authoritarians such as Putin. They get respect and he also wants to be respected (99.9)
- Money laundering: Expensive real estate makes it easy to do money laundering. A Russian Mafioso steals $100m, uses dozens of Bahama shell companies to buy ten- and twenty-million-dollar condos in Trump Hotels, and then puts up the condos as collateral for a $100m loan. Bingo, the money can now be legally explained as a bank loan and he can take his girlfriends shopping. But the US Congress placed sanctions on Russian black money, so Russians want those sanctions removed. Many of Trump’s associates (Flynn, Manafort, Carter Page, etc.) are involved in Russian money laundering.
- Putin offered to hack the DNC for Trump
- Trump wants Putin’s friendship, so he held his beauty pageant in Moscow. But Putin ignored him.
- Russia is blackmailing Trump over money laundering, sex videos, campaign fraud, or whatever.
All of these points are just Foer’s speculation.
The FBI, CIA, DNI, and NSA published a joint conclusion on January 6, 2017 (see https://goo.gl/YxQUMe) that Putin ordered an influence campaign (102.3). The Russians indeed are using Facebook, Twitter, etc. to stir up trouble in the US. They’re also doing this in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, etc. as a broad disinformation campaign. But the report does not specifically say Putin did this to elect Trump. (Update: See the last section at the bottom. The Feb. 16 Mueller indictment shows the evidence.)
On March 20, 2017, James Comey testifies in Congress that the FBI is investigating the Russia meddling. What was only speculation by political pundits, conspiracy theories, rumors, and leaks turned into an FBI investigation (168.6). Just exactly what the FBI is investigating is not clear. To push things in the right direction (and of course, to destroy Jarvanka), Bannon tells reporters to focus on Kushner (168.6).
Trump has a background of unpaid bills, a string of bankruptcies, major business failures, fraudulent businesses (such as Trump University), the NYC Mafia, corruption, dozens (or hundreds) of extra-marital sex affairs, sexual harassment, and so on. With so many bad actions, it’s easy to add collusion with Putin.
But… there is no actual evidence that Trump and Putin collaborated in any form. And even if Trump and Putin collaborated, there isn’t a law against it.
But why let the lack of facts or a crime stop an investigation? Especially when an endless witch hunt can be used for blackmail, leverage, self-promotion, and book deals? (Update: See the last section at the bottom. The Feb. 16 Mueller indictment shows the evidence.)
Trump is his own worst enemy: he makes himself look guilty. Instead of admitting a mistake, he attacks.
In a very funny admission, Trump says, “Even my exaggerations are exaggerated” (98.9).
Was There Collusion?
Bannon said the Trump team wasn’t capable of conspiring about anything (97.7).
That’s clearly true: the core team has no political experience or connections, they spend all of their time in trivial personal attacks on each other, and Trump offers no leadership or goals.
Trump is self-centered and ignores others so he wouldn’t realize if the Russians are manipulating him (24, 240.8).
(See the last section at the bottom: Interaction between Russia and the Trump Campaign.)
Family Finances and Money Laundering
On July 19,2017, Trump was interviewed by Maggie Haberman, Peter Baker, and Michael Schmidt (all leading journalists at the NYT). The interview was set up by Hope Hicks and Jarvanka.
This led to the best example of Trump’s inability to see reality. In the NYT interview, Trump warns the Mueller investigation to not look at family finances (277.7).
This is a stunning mistake and will probably lead to indictment or impeachment. Trump did it to himself and he did it in the NYT.
When you get pulled over by a cop and he asks, “what's in your glove compartment?”, you don’t say, “Go ahead and look, but you can’t look in the trunk!” Guess where the cop will look?
When Robert Mueller set up the investigation, the first person he hired was Andrew Weissman, head of the DOJ Criminal Fraud Division, which investigates financial crimes, incl. money laundering. Weissman’s prosecutions include Felix Sater, a Russian who was doing money laundering for the Russian Mafia and four US Mafia families and is associated with Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer.
“You realize where this is going. This is all about money laundering,” said Bannon (emphasis in the book). Mueller will use Manafort, Don Jr., Kushner (both Jared and his father Charlie), Deutsche Bank, and others to get to Trump.
The Trump team has no idea what’s coming. Trump thinks he can fire Mueller but Sessions has recused himself, so Sessions can’t fire Mueller. Deputy Attorney General Roy Rosenstein could fire Mueller but he refuses to do so. If Trump fires Rosenstein, he’ll need Senate confirmation to appoint a new Deputy Attorney General and the GOP senators make sure the new appointee won’t fire anyone (because they want the investigations to continue so they can keep pressure on Trump) and investigate family finances (278.5-7).
Bannon and Clinton Defense
Bannon studied how the Clinton White House defended itself in the impeachment. Clinton assigned a team of lawyers to deal with the investigations, which effectively insulated the White House so Clinton could continue to be presidential. This worked for Clinton and Bannon tried to do the same for Trump.
However, it was impossible for Bannon to hire lawyers. Nine top DC law firms were afraid their junior lawyers would resign, Trump was uncontrollable, and Trump wouldn’t pay the legal bills (234.5). So Trump uses his personal lawyers who have no experience or connections in DC politics.
(Some people have asked me why Trump needs a DC lawyer. Aren't all lawyers the same? No. If you want to sue an insurance company, you hire an insurance lawyer. You can't hire a criminal defense attorney, etc. Good lawyers are highly specialized. Good lawyer also have 15-20 years or more of experience in that field which gives them deep connections. This allows them to negotiate the best outcome. Trump's lawyers have no experience or connections in what really matters. You can see the pattern by now: Trump's worst legal mistakes are created by himself.)
Trump and the NYC Mafia
The NYC construction industry has been controlled by the US Mafia for decades. Many of Trump’s close business partners, incl. his lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn, were also involved with the Mafia. See https://goo.gl/zbP9zm
Trump and the Media
The Fake Media
In September, Christopher Steele met with the NYT, WashPost, The New Yorker, and CNN. They all refused to write about the Steele Dossier because they felt it was unverified and Trump would lose anyway (37.6). (By the way, the Steele Dossier was also given to key members of Congress who refused to distribute it. Since Trump won by only a few hundred thousand votes in only a few districts, much of the responsibility for Trump’s election is on the media and Congress for hiding this information.)
Of all the media, Trump hates CNN the most. Why? For Trump, everything is personal. Jeff Zucker was head of NBC, where Trump starred in The Apprentice. Trump insists he increased the ratings which made Zucker successful. Trump also says he convinced Phil Kent, head of Turner, to hire Zucker to head CNN. When CNN turned against Trump, he saw it as betrayal from someone he had created (92.5-8). Whether Kent actually hired Zucker because of Trump isn’t clear, but Trump thinks that happened.
Accuracy of the Book
The NYT and other newspapers pointed out minor inaccuracies in the book. The media also gleefully gossips about crazy details in the book because it attracts an audience.
However, the media doesn’t address the book’s main point: the Russia story is an invention of the media and there is no evidence of collusion.
Instead of the media admitting their 2016 election reporting was wrong, they said Trump won because Russia threw the election.
(It’s a bit ironic that the major media complains about minor errors in the book. Throughout spring and summer during the 2016 election, the major US media reported Hillary would win and didn’t report on the terrible impact of globalization on the US blue collar and lower middle class. The major media is very good on reporting who has breakfast at the Four Seasons in DC, but they're blind to the overall picture.)
Here are my additional comments.
What’s Going to Happen?
There are several possible outcomes:
- Massive Heart Attack. He may fall over from his diet of cheeseburgers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, milkshakes, (2,500 calories in one meal) and lack of exercise. Although he plays golf, he relies on golf carts to get around.
- Impeachment: Congress may finally get around to impeaching him. The GOP is heading towards disaster in the 2018 mid-term elections and if the Dems win the House, they’d promptly vote to impeach. The Dems can’t win an impeachment case because they don’t have a two-thirds majority in the Senate, but they could drag it out until the 2020 presidential election.
- Indictment for money laundering: This is likely.
- Indictment for perjury: This is very likely. Trump refuses to tell the truth, especially to people that he hates as experts. He will lie to investigators.
- Resignation: To avoid impeachment or indictment, he may resign.
- Re-election: Despite the Trump White House chaos and the useless GOP, the Democrat Party has no agenda, strategy, or candidates. For the Dems to win, they’d have to reject several decades of globalization policy, replace nearly all of their leadership, and make a radical switch to a new direction. That’s not likely. Trump has fanatic loyalty from his base that hates Washington. If elections were held today, he’d easily win re-election.
My Guess at What Happened
Trump ran for president mostly to get free publicity for his hotels and business ventures.
The Washington political system (the Washington GOP, the Dems, Wall Street, corporations, etc.) ran the election campaign with the assumption that globalization will continue. They all lost because they didn’t realize the voters were angry. Trump represented that anger and won.
The Russians did not expect Trump to win. They placed ads to attack Hillary and support Trump, but only to create turmoil (for example, Russia placed ads to support both gay Christians and attack gay Christians just to stir up trouble between gays and Christians). There were thousands of such ad campaigns.
Trump didn’t expect to win so he wasn’t worried about money laundering. When he won, he needlessly insulted the FBI, CIA, NSA, and DOJ (because he hates experts). They defended themselves with leaks and investigations. The media happily jumped in to sell more papers.
Trump’s emotional immaturity led him to fill his team with close friends and family, none of whom should be in the White House. That resulted in endless personal wars within the White House.
My Guess at What’s Next
Mueller will indict Jared, Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr. for money laundering. They will resign to spend more time with their lawyers, prepare for criminal trial, and finally plea bargain to avoid prison and accept a lifetime ban on business, politics, etc. Some of them face substantial fines (in the hundreds of millions of dollars).
Trump may try to grant pardons to his family. To stop such pardons, the FBI may raid the White House and lead him out in handcuffs (this has happened several times with state governors).
Trump may make a deal with Pence for a pardon (and he’ll want it in writing, signed, and post-dated). He’ll then resign and promptly hold a rally to say he was stabbed in the back by The System. He’ll go back to NYC and spend the rest of his life attacking disloyal people. Or he may run again in 2020 and win.
Did Trump Collude with Putin?
Even if he did (and there’s no evidence for this), it looks bad and he shouldn’t have done it, but there’s no law against Trump colluding with Putin. If anyone gets indicted, it’ll be for obstruction of justice in the clumsy coverup.
This was done to Bill Clinton. The GOP started an endless fake investigation into Whitewater, and to hide his affair, Clinton perjured himself in testimony.
Has Anyone Else Said This?
Jackson Lears (professor of history at Rutgers) wrote there is no evidence for a Trump/Putin collusion. The investigation is based on the opponents’ hope to get rid of Trump.
As for the various people who’ve been indicted:
- Paul Manafort for failure to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent and concealing millions of dollars in fees, which happened long before the campaign.
- George Papadopolous for lying to the FBI about trying to arrange a meeting between Trump’s team and the Russian government, which the Trump campaign declined.
- Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December after the election. This sort of backchannel diplomacy is normal.
His article was published in the London Review of Books at https://goo.gl/NQbYM9 (January 4, 2018).
(Update: See the last section at the bottom. The Feb. 16 Mueller indictment shows the evidence.)
Can Trump use executive privilege to block investigations, hearings, or a subpoena?
A number of court cases agree the president has the right to use executive privilege to not disclose military discussions, internal policy discussion, and so on.
Federal courts decided however Nixon could not use executive privilege to defend criminal actions.
If the investigation turns to money laundering, neither Trump nor his staff will be able to claim executive privilege. If they don’t answer questions or deliver documents, Congress can get a federal court order. If they continue to refuse, they will be in contempt of court, be indicted, and tried.
Trump, the Media, and Washington
The US corporate strategy for the last 40 years has been neo-liberalism, globalization, financialization, deregulation, privatization, and outsourcing. This is loosely known as “the Washington Consensus”. Because the major US corporations agree on this policy, both US parties (GOP and Dem) support it in order to get donations.
These policies devastate the blue-collar working class, the middle class, women, blacks, and Latinos (the dotcom crash, the 2008 housing crash, the lack of income growth for 40 years, disappearance of small towns, and so on). Many American voters see the impact of the Consensus on their lives, jobs, and small towns. That's why they reject mainstream candidates from both parties (Hillary, Jeb!, Romney, Kasich, Chris Christie, Huckabee, and so on).
Six corporations own 90% of the US media. Thus the media ignores problems and celebrate the Consensus.
This resulted in the Coastal Elites' stunned surprise over the 2016 election. It's not that Hillary lost. The Consensus lost.
This is also why Trump gets away with his appalling sexist and racist behavior. Voters didn’t vote for Trump; they voted against the Washington Consensus. They like that Trump is destroying Washington/coastal elites.
Washington and the Coastal Elites still don't get it. They continue to point out Trump's failures as if that disqualifies Trump as president. They won't look at their own policies (globalization, etc.) as the fundamental reason for Trump. As long as the Consensus continues as US policy, many people will be angry and they'll vote for whomever expresses their anger.
A friend asked me, "Could Trump create jobs?" In 1960, the US GDP was $540 billion. In 2017, US GDP was $20 trillion (about 40X larger). California's 2017 GDP is $2.6T, or about five times larger than the entire US in 1960. This massive economic activity is possible because the US buys and sells to nearly seven billion people in over 100 countries. To go back to an isolationist economy with closed borders would be like slamming on the brakes and skidding to a stop. It'd shut down the US, causing massive unemployment and recession. Trump's base is unhappy about globalization, but it's impossible to return to the 1960s. This means neither Trump's isolationism nor Consensus globalization will solve the problems.
Facebook and Russia
Facebook has been accused of allowing Russia to place ads. There are plenty of examples of Russian ads in Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other sites.
But these ads were part of Russia’s general campaign to spread disinformation and chaos in the West (US, UK, Germany, France, etc.)
Congress will hold hearings on Facebook, Google, Twitter etc., which means politicians will hold hearings, accept substantial donations from these companies, and then issue a report to say there isn’t a problem. If they pass a law, it'll be Facebook's lawyers who write that law.
The Mercers and Bannon
After the Wolff book appeared, the Mercers fired Bannon from Breitbart. However, Bannon is a brilliant political strategist and his Tea Party populist politics are aligned with the Mercers. He’s still involved with other Mercer projects. They may be upset at some of his ideas, but he’s useful to them.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mercers support him in future projects. Of the entire GOP field, Bannon is the most politically astute and competent person and he also has strong populist support. He’s an expert at social media and leads the US media around by the nose. If Trump scares you, get ready for President Bannon 2020. Every week, he’d announce another insane idea (pave Yosemite, ban gays from TV, nuke the whales) as endless political theater to destroy the political parties, Congress, the Supreme Court, and Wall Street.
Authoritarian, Fascist, Sexist, Racist…
You may ask, “but isn’t Trump fascist, or racist, or whatever?” Isn’t he leading the US into authoritarianism?
Both sides, pro-Trump and anti-Trump, see the media image that they want to see, not the reality.
The real Trump is shown in Wolff’s book: self-centered, poorly-informed, and capricious who knows little about US politics, the legal system, the US government, and so on. He deals with people with simple personal emotions: like or hate. Smiley or frowny.
The US political parties are run by strategists, consultants, and operatives. These people create political slogans to spook their followers to donate money or votes. The party’s platforms (for abortion, against abortion, etc.) are just slogans. The strategists and politicians themselves don’t believe these.
There are often real issues that matter to people, such as the lack of jobs, health care, the opioid crisis, and so on. When political parties see an opportunity to get votes or money, they turn these into political issues: “Send your donations now!” “Vote now!” That’s also why these issues never end. If the crisis ended, so would the donations and votes.
That’s why I don’t consider myself to be a Republican, Democrat, or whatever. To align with a party is like saying that you prefer Coke or Pepsi. Both sell you junk drinks to make money.
Interaction between Russia and the Trump CampaignUpdate: February 16, 2018. The Mueller Investigation released a 37-page indictment that describes in detail (organizations, names, etc.) how Russia interfered with the US elections and politics. There is no doubt whatsoever that Russia did this.
See sections 45, 54c, 55c, 55d, 74, and 82 of the indictment. The Russians contacted (and were contacted) volunteers, members, and officials of the Trump Campaign. Sections 25, 26, and 27 state the laws that were violated.
There is no longer any doubt. Russia interfered with US politics and the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Russia was in contact with people in the Trump campaign. The best that the Trump people can say is that it was unwitting collusion: they didn't know these were Russians. But there was collusion.
See the indictment (PDF) at justice.gov/file/1035477/download.
How to Block Data Tracking
Posted August 16, 2018
Ghostery currently reports:
- Advertising: 1750 tracking tags
- Site Analytics: 630 tracking tags
- Customer Interaction: 277 tracking tags
- Social Media: 100 tracking tags
- Essential 64: tracking tags
- Audio/Video Players: 60 tracking tags
- Adult Advertising: 23 tracking tags
- Comments: 10 tracking tags
- Total = 2,914 tracking tags (Aug 2018)
Go to a major site such as CNN etc and there may be 50-75 tracking tags.
Corporate lawyers and lobbyists wrote the laws on consumer data tracking to make it legal to track you. They also make sure that Congress won't stop this.
What to do? Use Ghostery. It's a free addon for your desktop browser. Sign up (free) and you can block all of the tracking tags. You can allow only the ones that you trust or accept.
Have a comment or question? Send me an email
Google Alphabet's 13 Divisions
Posted August 10, 2018
CNBC published great info on Google's revenues. Google Alphabet owns 13 divisions which made $145m in revenue in Q2/2018, but that's a mere .04% of Google's Q2/18 overall $32.66B revenue.
Yes, the little 13 bought in money but they lost $732m in Q2/18. Google is losing $587m per quarter to keep these alive.
Google calls them "Bets" and pretends they are independant divisions, each with its own CEO, but in reality, they are tightly controlled by Page and Brin, which annoys the fake CEOs.
Google advertising made $110B in 2017. If Google made $32.66B in Q2/18, it may go to $130B for 2018.
This means Google is a 20-year old one-trick pony that makes all of its money on one thing (ads) and despite investing more than $400B in R&D, it has no idea how to make more money. Google pretends to be a Silicon Valley high-tech company that works in AI, biotech, etc., but really, it's an ad distribution network (ADN). It's not even an ad agency: it doesn't manage or create ads for clients. It just distributes ads. There's nothing unique or proprietary about that; there are hundreds of ADNs. Google just happens to be the biggest one... for now.
What are those thirteen Google divisions? GV (VC). capitalG (investments). verily (healthcare). Access (fiber, but that's dead now). Calico (biotech, lifespan). Jigsaw (tech + geopolitics... hmm, Google's military wing?). chronicle (cybersecurity). Sidewalk Labs (urban innovation). Deepmind (AI). Waymo (autonomous cars). Loon (Internet balloons). Wing (drones). X (the secret lab to make more divisions).
Note that many of these are spelled with lower case: capitalG, verily, chronicle. That shows their startuppyness.
See more at CNBC CNBC on Google
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Dangerous Errors in Google Maps
Posted August 2, 2018
Google Maps is okay if you're in a city because if the Google Map is wrong, you can find a gas station or similar and get directions or help.
But if you're hiking away from developed areas, an error in Google Maps can be deadly. If you rely on the map and it leads you in a wrong direction, you can die.
Google Maps should not offer maps for undeveloped areas. It should either show "No Information for this Area" or a link to an app with topological maps, such as Gaia GPS or Backcountry Navigator (both Android apps).
People have gotten into dangerous situations due to errors in Google Maps, such as Amber VanHecke. But Google has not fixed this. They know it's a problem, so when someone dies, Google Maps will be liable.
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What Happened after Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Speech
Posted July 23rd, 2018
Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford 2005 may be the best commencement speech ever given.
But what about the guy who spoke AFTER Steve Jobs? Here's the story of that forgotten speech.
He was scheduled to speak after the main speaker, but he played Stanford football and he didn't really know who Steve Jobs was. Anyway, graduation was three days (and nights) of endless party and drinking and he fell asleep at 4am of the big day.
He got up at 10a, covered up with a cap and gown, and dragged himself down to the stadium. But... no speech in hand.
So while Steve went on for 15 minutes ("connecting the dots", "love & loss", "death"), my friend asked all his football buddies for quotes, inspirationals, whatever, the stuff that football players say ("keep your eye on the ball" and so on) and it got all scribbled down on scraps of paper.
When Jobs finished with his speech with "Stay foolish", everyone was so caught up with emotion over such a great speech that when my buddy got up and gave his rambling talk, whatever he said was totally forgotten.
Which was quite okay, because it was such a horrible speech. In the chaos of the commencement day, he lost his scraps of paper, so the speech is lost forever. Luckily for everyone.
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Rebuilding My andreas.com Website
Posted July 10th, 2018
I started andreas.com in 1995. From 1995 to 2003, I created pages in HTML by hand and posted them as an ongoing chronicle, long before anyone called it a "blog." Many of those blog postings became pages, which you can read at Stuff.
From 2003 to 2010, I used Blogger to write my blog but Google bought Blogger, messed it up, and finally, they abandoned Blogger.
I switched to Wordpress because everyone was using it and I wanted to learn how to use it. But I got tired of the endless hacking and dozens, if not hundreds, of daily spam comments. Wordpress has lousy security and it's very hackable (there were over 5,000 spammer pages on my server). You spend lots of money on security upgrades, security tools, and constantly upgrading to stay ahead of spammers and hackers. Wordpress is good for companies that want low-level staffers to add text to a page, but to make significant changes to the website, you need to hire a Wordpress developer.
In 2016, Google began to notify that it will give priority to mobile-first websites. If Laura is using her mobile phone to search in Google, then Google will show mobile-friendly websites at the top of the list. By 2018, 70-80% of searches at Google are done on mobile phones. In early 2018, Google said, "okay, that's it, if you want your site to show up in mobile searches, your site must be mobile-friendly". Sites must also be HTTPS (S for secure). If not, you don't show up in Google search results.
So I ripped out Wordpress and went back to HTML. My website is now HTML5, mobile-first, responsive design (it resizes automatically to fit any screen), and secure with HTTPS. I wrote a light template that works on all devices and the code is easy to maintain by hand. What you see is a hand-written, artisanal, free-range, organic, carbon-neutral website where I write all code by hand. That's right: I'm blogging by hand. No more CMS. (To be even lah-de-dah, our electricity in Palo Alto is renewable energy, created by Palo Alto's own solar panel farm. Let's see if Gwyneth Paltrow can top that!)
I also deleted many pages. My website had grown to over 500 pages. Google Analytics shows the traffic for every page at my site, so I sorted pages by traffic and keep the 100 most popular pages. That's okay; many were obsolete because technology changed or the sites didn't exist anymore.
If you see a broken link, please let me know.
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Hands-on Review: Samsung Gear S3 Smart Watch
Posted July 5th, 2018
I tried a Samsung Gear S3 Smart Watch for ten days. Here's my experience:
- I've always worn a watch. I was curious about digital watches; so I tried the Samsung Gear S3 digital watch. I chose this one because I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phone. However; I think my experience with this watch applies generally to all digital watches.
- The watch face is a screen; so it's illuminated. That works well indoors; but it's impossible to see the screen in bright sunlight. The watch is intended for active outdoors; but it's useless in sunlight. A mechanical watch with glow can be seen in any light (or darkness) in any weather condition.
- It's clumsy to use the watch. I tried the timer when I boiled a 4' 30" egg. It takes seven clicks to set the timer. Spin the bezel to select the timer; etc. But the timer only has minutes; I can't set it to four minutes and thirty seconds. It's possible this can be done; but it's not obvious.
- When you take off the watch; it's only use is to hold down paper on your desk. I can set my mechanical watch on my desk so the watch face shows the time. When you take off the smart watch; it conserves battery... by turning off the screen which means you can't see the time.
- The rotating bezel. In high school; I started scuba diving so I've always had diver watches. These have a rotating bezel (a ring around the watch face) that you can turn to keep track of time. On smart watches; you turn the bezel to select apps and settings; which means you can't keep track of time.
- You can receive and make phone calls with the watch by holding your wrist up to your ear. In your other hand; you hold your cell phone. That's... silly. The same for email and text messages on your watch: why not just look at your phone?
- The watch has settings. No; it has lots of settings. It's a bit of a challenge to navigate dozens of screens on a one-inch display.
- Too much pre-loaded junk. I deleted all sorts of useless apps and games.
- I assume these watches have yet more tracking and reporting capabilities. I don't want hundreds of companies to know my pulse; oxygen level; body temperature; motion; location; and so on.
- The watch face can't be configured. It'd be easy for Samsung to add this; but they don't. You can use dozens of apps at app stores to configure your watch face; but I strongly recommend that you avoid apps unless they are a) absolutely necessary and b) come from known companies. There is too much spammer / tracking / spyware / virus on free apps.
- The watch battery will last about three days. This is fine if you stay in town; but we often go on week-long outdoors trips. After three days; a digital watch will be useless.
- My mechanical watch (Citizen diver's watch in a titanium case) has lasted fifteen years so far and will likely last 50 years. Any good watch; such as Rolex; Citizen; Breitling; Tag Heuer; Seiko; etc. will last 50 years. But we all know digital devices rarely last longer than three years: either they stop working; the battery dies; or they become obsolete. If you spend $300 every three years; why not just pay $1,000 and get a watch that will last decades?
Digital watches are a nice idea; but so far; not better than mechanical watches. To justify its use; a digital watch has to be substantially better than a mechanical watch in all conditions.
After ten days; I returned the smart watch.
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Facebook vs Congress
Posted 11 Apr 2018
As you may have read; the Congress critters were clueless and Mark Zuckerberg gave..., well..., sort-of-answers, but not really answers. Okay; here's the real story.
FB; Google; Youtube; Instagram; Twitter; etc. (BTW; there are at least 61 social media sites) all make their income via advertising. Google made $100B in 2017 (about 85% came through advertising; per Bloomberg). FB made $40B in 2017.
To make money; they give demographic information to advertisers. This lets advertisers show ads to (e.g.) women; age 18-24; living in Dallas; college-educated; like jogging; etc. There are around 1,500 criteria that allow advertisers to precisely define their audience so ads can be targeted specifically those people.
This is also why FB/Google/etc. are more successful than any newspaper or magazine. No newspaper could possibly create 250,000 personalized versions of their newspaper to reach every reader. Web-based ad-driven companies can easily do that. There is not "one Amazon"; Amazon has 310m customers; every customer gets her own personalized Amazon page that shows only the products that appeal to her. There are 310m Amazons.
How many Facebooks are there? 2B; or one for each user with ads targeted just for that user.
How BIG is Facebook? FB itself has about 2.13B members and growing at about 3% per quarter (64m new members per quarter). FB also owns Instagram (800m and growing +12% per quarter; or about 100m new members per quarter); WhatsApp (1.5B users; +13% per quarter; which is 200m new members per quarter); Messenger (1.2B; growing 17% yearly; or about 200m users per year) all numbers for Q4/17). There's overlap in many of these users: Many Facebook users also use Messenger and Instagram. So the total is perhaps 3B? No; it's more than that. If a webpage has a Facebook button on it; the button is collecting data and sending it back to Facebook. Hundreds of millions of page have these buttons and they're tracking you; even if you aren't a member of any of Facebook's tools. Both FB and Google (and many other social sites) are collecting vast amounts of data.
The NYT's total revenues for 2017 are a pitiful $1.7B. Their profits were a measly $100m. I have friends who earn more than that. To put it bluntly; the NYT could disappear next week and FB/Gooogle wouldn't even notice.
So there weren't "hacks" or "breaches" at FB. This precisely what FB/Google/etc. was designed to do: collect user information and offer it to advertisers. Or; to say it correctly; offer the tools to allow advertisers to pick the relevant audience. Ford doesn't "get" the user information: Ford creates an ideal user and FB delivers the Ford ad to those users (BTW; this is what I do in digital marketing for my clients.)
If G/FB continue to sell ads; they MUST offer detailed user information. That's what makes it useful to advertisers.
Solution? No more ads. G+FB+etc switch to freemium. Free baby version to users who won't pay; Subscriber version with extra features to subscribers; and Corporate version for business users. Thus very little need to collect 1,500 criteria on the users and no need whatsoever to share user information with advertisers because there would be no ads.
Many Silicon Valley companies use the freemium model. On average; about 5% of users pay for service.
Let's say FB charges $5/mo for subscriptions. Of 2B users; only 100m (5%) may pay. $5/month X 100m = $6B. FB's $40B revenues would drop 85% and revenue growth would be low single digits. Their stock valuation would collapse from $480B to... well; way less. Investors would flee. (The actual numbers will be much lower in India; Southeast Asia; Africa; where many users are unable to pay $100 per year).
The same for Google. How many would actually pay to use Google/Gmaps/Gmail etc.? 5%? Less?
The switch to non-ads could be done. But it'd shatter the Silicon Valley billion-dollar companies.
Will this Actually Happen?
Who else depends on FB/Google data? The US Government and politicians. The government uses this data for surveillance. Politicians all use FB/Google for election campaigns. They are not going to shoot the Golden Goose.
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How to Change Your Facebook Settings
Posted Oct 4, 2018
Facebook has been hacked. FB ID/passwords are being sold for $2.
If you use your Facebook ID to log into other sites, you must change your FB settings.
Here is how to do this:
- Go to your Facebook page
- Open the "Settings" (click the little triangle at upper right corner)
- Select "Settings"
- At left side, select "Apps and Websites. This shows other sites that use your Facebook login.
- Select them and click "Remove"
- Click the tab "Expired" to see sites you haven't used recently
- Under the first six, there may be "View All". Click that to see all of them.
- Select them and click "Remove"
- At left side, select "Business Integrations". You will see other tools that have access to your Facebook account.
- Select them and click "Delete"
- At the bottom, there is Preferences
- In the section "Apps, Websites, and Games", click "Edit". This lets you use Facebook to log into other sites.
- Click "Turn Off"
- Finally, change your FB password
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