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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Poor President Trump

Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy and through becoming the 45th president of the United States I have had one overriding question. Is this a man “with a lot to lose” or one “with nothing to lose?” What follows is pure supposition, perhaps my intuition kicking in from being around characters like President Trump over my many years in real estate, and the automobile dealership business. Many of these folks were very much like Trump: loud, aggressive, sure of themselves, vain, narcissistic, misogynistic and tribal. And let us not forget egotistical!

To further explain I need to regress a bit, so bear with me. Financial wealth is defined as your net worth; your assets (what you have) minus your liabilities (what you owe). In life, we see only a person’s assets (what they have); liabilities are usually pretty invisible. By way of example, two persons might each have a net worth of $10 million. “Person One” might have a $10 million home with no mortgage; “Person Two” might have a $100 million home with a $90 million mortgage. “Person Two” will look much, much wealthier to the outside world than “Person One.”

My hunch is that President Trump is more like “Person Two.” If I’m right, it could explain lots of behavior – especially because President Trump’s outsized ego makes the average captain of industry’s ego look puny. I’m guessing that the Trump family is in the top one-tenth of one percent; but not close to inclusion in the top one-thousandth of one percent (in the US, roughly 1,600 households).

Trump has spent his life trying to be a member of this club, and has done a magnificent job of pretending he has succeeded. I’m sure his biggest fear is being found out. He probably has taken many outsized, dangerous gambles (with some failing disastrously) to secure a seat in this oh so exclusive cohort. And with each failure, his liabilities have increased. If this is true, it explains a lot:

·        Not releasing tax returns was not because he didn’t want people to see how rich he was; rather the opposite. It would expose his lessened status so he fought this to the bitter end.
·        His business interests are non-public and tribal; with governance and accounting managed by seemingly unqualified people and outside firms (think Madoff).
·       A string of bankruptcies ruining thousands of lives.
·      Aggressively litigious behavior with hyper reactions to threats on privacy or reputation; heavy use of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements.
·        Associations with Russian and other opaque characters. He could not use traditional banking or public credit markets – these institutions would not lend to him. These shadowy types were willing to provide financing to Trump and his enterprises in return for laundering funds, industry access and since Trump’s political ascension, governmental contact and influence.
·        Naked use of government associations to further Trump family interests. This is truly a low point in peddling influence for personal enrichment in the highest office.
·        Support of controversial single-interest policies. These policy lobbies were a source of campaign funding and political cover during the election and then bled into the administration’s cabinet picks and policies. If Bloomberg, Buffet, Gates or one of the Koch brothers ran for the highest office, would they be going hat in hand this way?

Over the years, some Trump-like people turned out to be very, very wealthy – truly rich and truly lucky. Others seemed so for some period, but ultimately their penury came to light. Robert Maxwell’s story in the 1990’s is a good example.

Maxwell, a media magnate and British member of parliament, led a flamboyant lifestyle, buzzing around in his helicopter and sailing in his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine. He was notably litigious and often embroiled in controversy. In 1989, he had to sell successful businesses, including Pergamon Press, to cover some debts; and in 1991 his body was discovered floating in the Atlantic Ocean, he supposedly had fallen overboard from his yacht. After his mysterious death, huge financial discrepancies were uncovered, including his fraudulent misappropriation of hundreds of millions of Pounds from the Mirror Group’s Pension Fund. All of Maxwell’s companies were later declared insolvent.

So, back to the answer to my query. I think President Trump, like Maxwell, is a person “with nothing to lose.” He has and still is betting it all to show the world he is a member in good standing in the club he so covets. Combine this overriding passion with his lack of moral compass and the rest of us “with a lot to lose” have much to worry about. I think this passion, this fear of losing, drives this man more than anything else. This makes him perhaps the most dangerous man on earth.

Our Emperor

Our emperor may have no clothes, or more aptly, no cash.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

La Reserve - 23 Years On

This is just a quick post to remember our 23rd September in South of France and at La Reserve de Beaulieu. Its hard to believe how fast time is speeding by!
Entrance to "La Reserve"
We had a wonderful two weeks here blessed by a string of near perfect weather. Our routine remained the same: our morning walks to breakfast at La Civette in St. Jean Cap Ferat, swimming and reading by the pool, good lunches; aperitifs in the garden followed by dinner. They were mostly at the hotel’s one-star Michellin «Resaurant des Rois,» chef Yannick Franques and maître de Guillaume dishing up food and service perfection.

We had some dinners out to the African Queen and a nice meal at Da Rossana in Eze Bord de Mer with Rossie and Adrian. We also had friends Eileen and Drew spend one night at La Reserve, capped by a very pleasant meal at «Resaurant des Rois» under the stars. And we had a good visit with Marylène and Gibert over drinks one late afternoon.
Me, Judith, Eileen & Drew
There was also a visit to the Cannes Boat Show to drool over Beneteau’s Oceanis Yacht 62. Afterward we had a nice lunch at Hotel Majestic’s «Le Fouquets,» and took the train back to Beaulieu-sur-Mer early enough for a late afternoon swim.

It was another magical September!
Judith's "Kids": Michael & Alex