Don’t Be An Obamamometer: Support Naked Capitalism and Critical Thinking

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She now spends most of her time in India and other parts of Asia researching a book about textile artisans. She also writes regularly about legal, political economy, and regulatory topics for various consulting clients and publications, as well as writes occasional travel pieces for The National.

We called him the Obamamometer or at least I did and it quickly caught on in our circle because it described his behavior so well. Near the end of class time, just in time for the last word, his arm would rise. He’d wait to be recognized. A pause— setting his audience on seat’s edge (or at least the ones who’d never heard him speak before), and then in his mellifluous voice, he’d intone, “Rain is wet”— or something equally banal, with the gravity otherwise due to a proposition from Wittgenstein.

Always the last word. Always uttered with utter conviction. And never, never–  despite sitting through two classes with him– did I ever hear him say anything even remotely interesting. The Obamamometer took the ideological temperature of the room, and then unfailingly said something with which no one could possibly disagree— but which no other person would bother to say, because it was both so vapid and blindingly obvious.

So, what does this have to do with Naked Capitalism? Stick with me, please because I do have a point. And I believe it’s an important one: How  crucial it is to support this website, a fount of critical thinking, and the very opposite of the Obamamometer.

Moving forward into the new Millennium, after his well-judged speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, I remember several bemused conversations with other Harvard Law School (HLS) classmates.  We weren’t really surprised that Barack was running for the United States Senate — as his ambition and monumental self-regard were always apparent. Nor did anyone miss that he had one eye trained on the Presidency ahead.

But why were the media lapping him up? After all, at that point, what had the man accomplished? He’d spent several years teaching part-time at the University of Chicago Law School, but produced no major scholarly work. He’d served as a state legislator in Illinois, and also published a well-received and well-written autobiography. And of course, he’d scored the achievement that first brought him to national attention— first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.  Not trivial accomplishments, to be sure.  Yet neither did they herald the second coming of Christ Jesus– and that was how he was being heralded. This is not going to end well, I remember thinking at the time.

At that point, and with the benefit of hindsight, I reassessed whether there was more to being an Obamamometer than was apparent to other HLS classmates forced to listen to his blather back in his student days. Was being able to zero in on the essence of public opinion– that of the lowest common denominator–  such a bad characteristic to have in a small d democratic system? Maybe expressing essential core political truths– however trite– was the quintessence of political wisdom? Or at least Barack Obama seemed to think so.

For those of us whose political thinking was formed by witnessing Maggie Thatcher in her heyday that political model seemed at best naive.  Imagine the Iron Lady sitting down and negotiating with her enemies.  For her, politics accorded more with the model expressed by William Connolly– politics concerned essentially contested concepts. You were never going to get to yes with your political enemies. Instead, groups compete for scarce political benefits, in what was often a zero sum game. And Maggie didn’t waste time negotiating with herself.

So when Barack Obama was elected President, and soon put in place an economic team consisting of former Clintonites and Rubinites, I and other HLS classmates weren’t all too surprised by what followed. We saw those promises of hope and change as empty banalities, rather than the transitional political program many Obama supporters had voted for. It’s a fairly straight line from the rhetoric of the 2008 election, through the many policy disappointments–failure to close Guantanamo, the inadequate stimulus program, continued hawkish foreign policy, the foreclosure crisis, the growth and consolidation of already too big to fail banks, rampant accounting control fraud, no accountability in the C suite, the false promise of Obamacare, the horror of the unaccountable drone program–to this 2016 train wreck of an election.  You can only disillusion people so much, and you then end up with what we have: two widely loathed major presidential candidates.

I first discovered Naked Capitalism in 2007 as the financial crisis started to fester.  And I had the pleasure of first meeting Yves a couple of years later. I’ve been content to lurk on the site without commenting for years, reading posts and the excellent comment threads, with Yves either crossposting or publishing the occasional article I’d co-authored.  Naked Capitalism has long been part of my daily routine– it’s usually the first thing I look at in the morning, for its essential links feature. And it’s often the last thing I look at at night.  More recently, I’ve been honored to be asked to contribute more original writing to the site, as well as compile links and do other site DJ tasks.

Naked Capitalism is the antithesis of the Obamamometer.  It covers topics that the mainstream media generally either ignore or gloss over. And not only does Naked Capitalism cover them, but it does so rigorously and analytically, focusing on arguments, and evidence, and seeing beyond personalities and mere rhetoric.  I’ve long marvelled at how a small website, thinly staffed, can provide insightful coverage that much larger media organizations miss. Now seeing things at closer quarters, I’m even more amazed at the quality of coverage Yves, Lambert, and other regular and occasional contributors turn out.

Crucial to the success of this site is the commentariat, the regular readers who read posts carefully and take time to comment. They’re attuned to skewering weak arguments  and eviscerating analytical flaws. I know from experience, the commentariat forces contributors to think about posts deeply and to post their very best work.

Keeping this community going requires funding. And that’s where you can help. The more you can contribute, the greater will be Naked Capitalism’s ability to continue to produce the coverage you expect.

So, don’t be an Obamamometer. Reject sloppy thinking. Eschew the conventional wisdom.

Please contribute whatever you can to support what Naked Capitalism provides: critical thinking and focused analysis, giving no quarter.  Any amount helps. If you can give a little, give a little. If you can give a lot, give a lot. Whether that’s $5, $50, or $5000, visit the Tip Jar, to learn how to to donate by check, credit, debit card, or Pay Pal.

And if you prefer to send a check, drop Yves an email at yves@nakedcapitalism. Put “Check is in the mail” in the subject line and tell her how much is en route so she can include your contribution in her running tally.

We’re entering especially dark times, whoever gets elected next month. This scorched earth campaign is going to leave the next likely President– whether it be Clinton or Trump– gravely wounded.  I worry deeply about what lies ahead. We need Naked Capitalism to help us see our way. And you, regular readers, by giving whatever you can, can help make it possible for the site to continue to promote the very best in independent and critical thinking.

 

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31 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    I very much agree. One of the prime reasons I love NC so much is that it is almost unique in my experience as an overtly (or covertly) political/economic source of information in that it applies such a rigorous approach to all the issues. Its not afraid to post articles that question its own underlying assumptions, and the sort of group think and circle-jerkinessness of so many publications/blogs is ruthlessly exposed. I became disenchanted years ago with any left wing/green movements I attached myself because of the constant failure to apply any sort of rigorous thought to what a progressive society would look like. So often, questions were dismissed with ‘because capitalism!’ Societies and economies are massively complex beasts. The aim to create a fairer society is not just a matter of politics, it is a really tough practical problem for which there are no easy or simple answers. NC recognises this, and knows that even apparently very attractive progressive ideas may, in truth, be deeply flawed if applied in reality. Too many well meaning political movements all over the world have failed for precisely this reason. I know that my own opinion on plenty of topics has changed – often radically – thanks to reading the articles and comments on this site.

    And another thing – more anecdotes about Obama please :)

  2. TheCatSaid

    Where else but the NC commentariat can one find such outstanding debate summaries, replete with facts, insight and incisive wit? Like MJ’s priceless comment after the 3rd debate.

    Or the sonnet from a couple weeks ago. . .

  3. Carla

    Thank you for this, Jerri-Lynn. Clearly, you are a powerful and eloquent woman to have on one’s side, and not only Yves and Lambert, but all the NC readers and the commentariat are very fortunate to have you onboard. Obamamometer has now entered my personal lexicon!

  4. optimader

    he’d scored the achievement that first brought him to national attention –African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

    Everyone at sometime had a panderer in class like this, what sets him apart was the ability to scale-up.

    Was Harvard was just dipping a metaphorical toe in the water re: Harvard Review, did he make any contributions?

    BHO is half white. A rhetorical question, didn’t BHO essentially always identify/live with his material side? The fraternal side seems to me to be a familial footnote that be evolved into an opportunity generator. Is that harsh?

    If he were identified as white he would be a real-estate attorney in Chicago , or Hawaii if he were smart.

    1. optimader

      I do recall reading a story, may well have been here attributed to another law school associate that likened his class contributions as having “all the insight of a TV Weatherman reporting yesterdays weather”

    2. JustAnObserver

      Was his elevation/coronation by Team-D not just an extreme case of `virtue signaling’ – a term, BTW, I first encountered here at NC.

      I do remember thinking at the time that if America is to have its first black POTUS then it really needed to be someone whose life was grounded through their family history in the realities of slavery, segregation, bigotry, discrimination. Since it was clear that what we might call the racial Overton Window probably precluded this at the time the questions were

      o Looked at in purely racial terms is Barak Obama the best we could get ?

      o Was his character strong enough to weather the inevitable backlash from the racist elements both in and outside the Republican party and *still function as an effective POTUS* ? i.e. deal with financial crisis in an effective way ?

      Of course at the time I hadn’t come across Adolph Reed’s takedown of Obama (*) & was taken in by all the Hopium so the question of whether he even wanted to actually make the changes needed hadn’t yet arisen in my mind.

      More and more as time has gone on I’ve found myself thinking of Obama as the Chauncy Gardiner character from Being There spouting vacuous platitudes and, lo & behold, along comes Jerri-Lynn Scofield to give substance to this thought.

      (*) Also first came across him via NC as well as another – Chicago based ? – critic whose name I cannot recall just now (Richard was the first name, I think). They were both total eye-openers re who BO really was.

      1. optimader

        (*) Also first came across him via NC as well as another – Chicago based ? – critic whose name I cannot recall just now (Richard was the first name, I think). They were both total eye-openers re who BO really was.

        possibly

        http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/05/exclusive-how-obamas-early-career-succes-was-built-on-fronting-for-chicago-real-estate-and-finance.html

        It was a good catch by Yves . I forwarded this far and wide, particularly to people that don’t like him for all the wrong reasons (IMO)..

  5. mikef

    many years ago I saw a note that Michael Hudson and Bill Black did hang out at this website and have been a regular reader ever since, but I think it is those cute animal photos that kept me coming back.

  6. EmilianoZ

    This doesnt pass the smell test. If 0bama was so obviously vacuous, how could he become the president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review?

    1. Yves Smith

      Jerri-Lynn was most assuredly in his class, and I’d heard other stories of precisely this sort, albeit second-hand, before I met her. Obama was famous for his practice of making banal but trying-to-sound-profound statements in his law school classes late in session. In fact, when I first met her, I said, “Is the prototypical story about Obama true?” and recounted what I had heard. She said, “No, it was worse,” and gave details.

      And he did not clerk for a Supreme Court or even a Federal judge, which is what you’d expect the president of the Law Review to do.

      1. optimader

        And he did not clerk for a Supreme Court or even a Federal judge, which is what you’d expect the president of the Law Review to do.
        Absolutely

    2. optimader

      This thematically is pretty well known abt BHO at this point unless you’ve had your head in the sand.
      As well J-L has no reason to misrepresent her experiences. Why would she?

  7. NOCARRIER

    Made my contribution last night. I discovered this site a fair few years ago through Yves’ guest columns for Greenwald back during his Salon tenure, and have been a devoted reader ever since. It became immediately apparent that NC is a bulwark against the maddening, reality-averse discourse of the current mainstream. Also, pretty much the only place on the internet where skipping the comments is actually a detriment. I credit NC’s existence with making a major contribution to maintaining some semblance of sanity.

    Thank you, Yves, Lambert, Jerri, and everyone else who has helped to make this place the best resource around.

  8. beth

    Jeri-Lynn, I sure wish I had read this before voting for this man. My first hesitancy re Obama was when I hear him say, “Hold on, sweetie . . . .” I knew immediately he was not good for women. I was still reading the MSM for clues. Everyday I am grateful for NC and our community here. When I don’t get time to read NC, I feel as if I have missed the most important part of my day.
    .

    1. Pepe Aguglia

      My first hesitancy re Obama was when I hear him say, “Hold on, sweetie . . . .”

      Ditto. My first pang of voter’s remorse was when I heard him say, “Believe me, sweetie, I got enough to feed the needy” (or was it another black dude who said that?)

  9. Carl

    I donated, for the first time at NC, and for the first time ever. This site is invaluable. The articles on the healthcare system are stellar, and I love the curated links. Don’t hardly comment much, but that’s because I’m somewhat in awe of the erudition of the commentariat.

  10. barefoot charley

    As for St. Michelle, few people know the job she took after quitting the law firm where she met Barack. Like him, she drifted across the neighborhood to the University of Chicago, where she became the university hospital’s Vice President for Community Relations. As a long-departed Hyde Parker (before anyone had heard of arugula!) I remember the greatest community relations issue (besides pushing the slums back for more liveried housing, and patrolling the University’s surrounding precincts with the largest private police force in Illinois, with no public nothing) was preventing black people from using its ginormous hospital located at the epicenter of Chicago’s neediest communities. Its emergency room especially was abused by black people with emergencies. The University’s solution was simple: it closed whole wings of hospital beds, abandoning stacks of corridors still containing unmade beds, so that their quota of necessary public service was thereby cut in half. That was 40 years ago, but the controversies, hypocrisies and neoliberal opportunities still fester, and Michelle was their smiley face.

    My check’s in the mail, and my gratitude is over the top.

  11. 1 Kings

    A year or so into Obama’s Presidency I heard a lady on Thom Hartman’s show try to give him a Dennis Green-esque explanation for his Neo-Lib actions. She said something like ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

    Thom and any Hilary believers are still denial-land. Naked Cap has given us the proof to ‘believe them’.

    Sending my check. Thank you.

  12. Robert NYC

    Thanks for your first hand take on Obama’s personality/character. I don’t have any personal experience with him but all I see is a fraud. I am ashamed to admit that I voted for him in 2008 which isn’t the worst part of it. My real regret and embarrassment is that I believed in the guy and was very enthusiastic about him. Man was I wrong on that one. The minute he brought Summers and Geithner into his administration I knew something was wrong. The fact that Michael Foman was running his transition team was a dead give away. No one who is competent, intelligent and honest would bring those people to power. I was interested to see that your observations confirmed my own opinions of Obama. An empty suit unwilling to stand up for anything or challenge existing conventions, thoughts and power. The fact that he supports things like the TPP shows his true colors and it makes me sick when people try and defend him.

  13. duffolonious

    So I donated and got the fraud prevention call from my bank, apparently Aurora Advisers is “Entertainment and Music”. So what kind of operation is this? :)

    1. Skippy

      Aurora Advisors Incorporated and affiliates, 1989-present. Founder.

      Built a management consulting firm in New York and Sydney. Projects include:
      Financial services

      Managed the profitable start-up of a trading service including negotiating with prospective clients; overseeing the development of contracts; resolving back office issues; determining training and support needs; assessing pricing and likely financial results. First month’s operating profits were $5 million, 5 times the fully-loaded start-up costs
      For an international credit card organization, devised improvements in governance, solicitation, training and support for their international joint venture partners (5 continents), setting the foundation for a rapid increase in growth from 12 partners to over 60
      For a top derivatives firm, identified an overlooked product area, leading to multiple transactions, typically $1 million of trading profit each

      Transaction advisory

      Recommended which stock was most attractive over 3-5 year horizon of 5 possible buyers in the $1.4 billion sale of a cable business. Stock chosen appreciated over 300%; next best improved only 50%; rest held or lost value for a difference in outcomes of over $2 billion
      Successfully vetted investments for the technology investment arm of a major hedge fund, including superhard materials, advanced batteries, thin-film solar panels
      Assisted a media holding company in renegotiating a $1.5 billion joint venture, including valuation, analyzing various financing options, assessing financial and business implications of the partner’s proposals
      Helped raise funds for the sale of a software business by a major bank

      The Sumitomo Bank, Ltd., 1987-1989. Head of Mergers and Acquisitions.

      Established and led a New York-based mergers and acquisitions department for the world’s second-largest bank. As part of worldwide effort, achieved top position in U.S.-Japan transactions in 1988 and first half of 1989.

      McKinsey & Company, Inc., 1983-1987. Engagement Manager.

      Devised investment banking strategy and assisted Sumitomo Bank in making $500 million investment in Goldman Sachs. Served international financial institutions extensively on strategy, organization, assessment of acquisitions and new ventures, and operational effectiveness projects. Evaluated investments for the firm.

      Goldman, Sachs & Co., 1981-1983. Associate, Corporate Finance.

      Participated in the firm’s acquisition of J. Aron & Company. Worked on 18 public offerings, several private placements as well as real estate financings, leveraged buy-outs, and merger and corporate finance advisory projects.

      Salomon Brothers, 1980. Associate.

      Divided summer between corporate finance and mortgage finance.

      Education:

      Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, 1979-1981 M.B.A. Concentrated in Finance and General Management. Baker Scholar. Loeb Fellow (finance prize)

      Harvard College, 1975-1979 A.B. Concentrated in History and Literature (honors major). Phi Beta Kappa (elected junior year, top 2% of class)

      http://www.auroraadvisors.com/resume_webber.html

      Disheveled Marsupial…. any more unfounded insinuations – ?????

    2. Knot Galt

      The only fraud I have ever encountered was when the fraud department from my bank shut down my account while I was at a gas station. They said it was because I spent 99 cents on a Amazon account although that was an unofficial explanation from a bank official whom I had paid a visit and just wanted me to go away.

      They also said it was for my own good because apparently that what being abandoned at a gas station is. Now I carry cash with me at all times. And they want to take that away!

      Nothing good ever comes from banks now that they took away interest savings accounts.

  14. Robert McGregor

    It would be great if someone could compile and publish a list of Obama’s banal, statements! The profound quotes from Washington and Jefferson have been recorded and passed down through the years. The especially stupid, funny remarks of George W. made a profitable book. This would be a middle ground–Obama’s quotations which are neither profound, stupid, or funny, but just banal and trite. If it didn’t fill a book, then it would fill a long form article.

Comments are closed.