Sunday, March 10, 2013

Through the Looking Glass -OR- James K. Glassman and My D.C. Life That Wasn't

Updated 5/3/2013 at 12:45AM: See bottom of entry.

Before it recedes too far in the past, I want to note this funny piece by Jonathan Chait mocking James K. Glassman for his Bloomberg column last week on the occasion of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) hitting what was actually a series of record closing highs* (and the first since the 2007-2008 crash).

Glassman was touting the 117 percent rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from its March 9, 2009 closing low of 6,547.05 (itself a 12-year low) as some sort of vindication of his Dow 36,000 thesis given in the eponymously titled book he co-authored with Kevin Hassett.

*It closed Friday, March 8, 2013 at what is its present record high of 14,397.07 (+67.58). However, we are a long way from the lunatic  tech bubble days of the 1990s or the real estate bubble of the early to mid 2000s.  

In case you don't know (and I'm sure you don't), James K. Glassman is a pundit, columnist, author, and D.C. think tank denizen. He was once editor and part owner of Roll Call and later (in the 1990s) a WaHoPo financial and weekly op-ed page columnist. He also appeared on various financial shows (I first saw him as a guest commentator on Nightly Business Report circa 1995) as a moderator or guest. Glassmans' philosophy (if he actually really has any) is a sort of quasi-utopian libertarianism in which anything and everything of value is measured by the stock market (which itself is always "naturally" on an upward trajectory, unless government intervenes to help the poor, struggling, sick, or those who can't take care of themselves).

Glassman also has been a creature of the D.C. foundation-funded rightwing "think tank" world where the job is to come up with intellectual justifications for whatever your corporate oligarchical paymasters want to do. Initially, he was with the American Enterprise Institute and later was the "founding executive editor" and current head of something actually called the George W. Bush Institute. Paul Krugman had some fun with that.

Though he doesn't like to be called a rightwinger (few people actually do), his philosophy (as it came out operationally) is that basically all policies should be aligned to give corporate oligarchs whatever they want because that's the essence of freedom (hence the libertarian angle). His book Dow 36,000 came out in 1999.

Chait writes:

"James K. Glassman is an interesting and noble figure on the American right for his willingness to continue to defend the symbols of right-wing economic thought that have been discarded by fellow conservatives because they expose the ridiculousness of the whole project. Others rebrand; Glassman stubbornly rehabilitates old, discredited brands. One of those is the last Republican president, whom Glassman defends from his post at the George W. Bush Institute. The other is his 1999 book Dow 36,000, which labors under the burden of a title that makes the ridiculousness of the argument impossible to conceal...

"But Glassman and Hassett didn't just argue back then that the Dow would eventually reach 36,000. Nobody disputed the likelihood that one day stock value would rise to a Dow 36,000 level. Their claim was that it was already worth 36,000. They argued -- at the height of the tech bubble, natch -- that people were systematically undervaluing stocks:

'Stocks were undervalued in the 1980s and early 1990s, and they are undervalued now. Stock prices could double, triple, or even quadruple tomorrow and still not be too high.'

"Fourteen years later, we're still just over one third of the way toward the level Glassman insisted we were already at in 1999. That's not called 'being right.'"


I took the next three pictures yesterday while walking from my office (see previous entry!) back home via a 2-1/2 hour stop at the gym.

Full disclosure ...

Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, I had a strange sort of semi-friendship with James K. Glassman. I will admit that it actually started out as a kind of strange fixation on him on my part, and I began to write to him. I forget how I knew his address but he lived at the edge of Capitol Hill (he is actually a native Washingtonian**) in an area that back then was till bad-ass. Actually, I must have started sending him letters at The Washington Post (yes, written ones).

**A relative of his (an uncle?) developed the section of Prince George's County called Glassmanor, though it's a very bad area even now.

Eventually after a number of letters, Glassman wrote me back (I remember being nervous at the first one that arrived) and somehow we began communicating by e-mail. This was in the early days of the mass use of e-mail and people actually responded to messages then. Eventually, we met for lunch -- at this ancient place in Capitol Hill run by these two ancient women called Sherrill's. The place was unchanged inside from the 1940s. (It closed about 13 years ago and was later wholly renovated and the storefront today is something entirely unrecognizble today.) Thereafter, he took me to two expensive restaurants including the Palm by Dupont Circle.

No, he is not gay -- he was married at the time and has two grown daughters. As it is, I have never been quite sure why he befriended me given that we really lived in two alternate realities. (I was a graduate student in meteorology at the Univ. of Md., College Park.) More to the point, people in his position don't do that with every crank who writes them. I remember walking with him once and it was clear people knew who he was and was impressed with him (though in D.C. that's a problematic and circular concept). I also remember even Wall-P being impressed that I knew him.

Eventually, though, he grew tired of me and stopped responding. This was right around the time he landed his AEI gig. He also bought a house somewhere in northern Connecticut and I actually thought he had moved away for good. I saw him once a few years later outside of AEI (it must have been circa 2003) and we had a brief e-mail exchange. But he made some dismissive comment about global climate change -- naturally, he's a climate change denier, a fact that really miffed me at the time because it was clear he knew nothing about the topic except insofar as whatever he "learned" it was intended to be used to dismiss the idea (such as the now-resolved issue of the discrepancy between satellite and land surface temperature records) -- and I wrote back a nasty e-mail to which he responded but I never read but instead deleted it.

And that was the last time I ever talked to James K. Glassman.

Given that Glassman once wrote a nice letter of recommendation for me -- to this bullshit AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program that I OF COURSE did not get when I applied in 1998 (THANKS, AMIE KING) -- and that he got me an interview with some right-wing millionaire running a think tank (that went no where), I guess I should have less acrimony toward him.

He even once suggested during one of our hundreds of e-mail exchanges that I have a column called "The Walker" because back then I used to walk everywhere (like some manic depressive?).

All of this was back in the heady days of the Washington Consensus / WaHoPo Editorial Board days when it was all Sebastian Mallaby Free Trade Outsourcing and Ben Wittes Odes to Monica's Dress and Ken Starr's Hymns, back when rightwing think tanks were sprouting like daffodils in D.C. in March February.

This was when Fred Hiatt's power was at its zenith and the Great and Mysterious Martha "M.J." McAteer was the Letters Editor Gatekeeper of The WaHoPo, ensuring that only approved "voices" were heard on the "precious" print edition pages. (Of course, she published my badly written  (with factual errors) "The Four Cornerstones of the Original D.C." piece in June 1998 that got me some weird notice, especially from the idiots at WTOP. That interview (from a pay phone at Metro Center) was a disaster ("How did you find these stones?").

Good memories, all.

And those are just the tip of the D.C iceberg that has been my professional, social, and personal life here in D.C.


Updated 12:45AM 5/3/2013:

I forgot to mention that Glassman also ran for six years a website called "TechCentralStation" that was a brazen corporate propaganda outfit and funded by a who's who list of large corporations. One major emphasis OF COURSE was on climate change denialism.

Started in 2000 (shortly after I had lost regular touch with him for good), eventually the operation was "sold" in 2006, which was also around the time it was rebranded as "TCS" -- and subsequently the site went dormant until it was reconstituted as this new bullsh!t operation.

Oh, and Glassman also had an unlikely State Department stint during the Bush era (well, unlikely except for the crony capitalist nature of the Bush administration).

For a really good overview of Glassman's carrier and his style -- both as symptom and cause of the corruption of D.C. political and journalistic cultures into the high-end big money corporate whoring cesspool it is today -- read this December 2003 Washington Monthly article by Nicholas Confessore entitled "How James Glassman reinvented journalism -- as lobbying".

The story ends nearly a decade ago (before the housing bubble / financial crash of 2007-'08 and Great Recession from which we've still not recovered) but it is still worth reading since the basic message still holds.


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