Also backing the Sun
is Bruce Kovner, another free marketeer in theory who, in practice, subverted and short-squeezed the Treasury note market with Steinhardt. Kovner’s Caxton Associates was allowed to escape prosecution and admission of malefaction in the case by paying out tens of millions of dollars
Kovner is celebrated in the business press as something of a Horatio Alger figure, the son of a trade unionist who ends up fabulously wealthy. He began speculating on a line of credit obtained through his charge card. As Kovner ended up so rich as to require a fleet of Cray supercomputers working in tandem to compute his wealth, it’s pointless to chide him for his irresponsibility by reprehensibly gambling with other people’s money. Better instead to chart his upward trajectory: He learned commodity futures and derivatives game at the secretive Princeton-based Commodities Corp., the proto-hedge fund established by economics Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson. He would light out on his own in 1983, managing funds for several luminaries - the most luminescent being Lord Jacob Rothschild and the late Global Asset Management head Gilbert de Botton, father of Consolations of Philosophy author Alain who needs Montaigne and Proust despite access to a massive inheritance.
The so-called self-made-man is an inexhaustible fund of amusement. Those who through a concordance of moil, smarts, and receipt of His good graces rise to sufficient heights seem to exhibit a monomaniacal concern with maintaining or augmenting those heights. Poor $1 billion man, Bruce. While you and I have just neighbors left, right, and across the hall to worry about bettering, Kovner has a full 444 of Forbes wealthiest 500 above him
He mitigates the humiliation by giving and giving. Considering nice guy Kovner, the trade unionist’s son who is said to keep his staff on duty 24 hours a day, one is struck by the man’s fascination with high culture and attendance to noblesse oblige. Not content to merely patronize museums, Kovner recently moved into one, displacing the International Center of Photography to its current Midtown quarters. The building he purchased for a fair $17.5 million, prior to housing the Center, harbored the Audubon Society, and, originally, Willard and Dorothy Straight, founders of The New Republic
- which Steinhardt and other Sun cohorts acquired a controlling stake in recently. As if unseating a long-standing institution weren’t contribution enough to the arts, Kovner also served as patron to Barry Moser while Moser completed his Pennyroyal-Caxton Bible, volumes of which sold for upwards of $20,000. Kovner figures in an etching therein as Solomon.
Ira Stoll depicts himself as an "ordinary semi-intelligent guy." Typical of an ordinary guy, he attended the Worcester academy (tuition with boarding: $27,825
). He resides with several thousand similarly ordinary folk in the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights, a place easily mistaken for Linden, NJ, Steubenville, OH, or other such locale where the demographically normal are found in concentration. I well remember first visiting his smartertimes.com on September 13, 2000
, when it was then several months in operation, and encountering this choice bit of the "ordinary" (by which I mean deficient in quality, thought and sentiment). Here is Stoll taking exception to an item in that day’s Times
which anecdotally demonstrated the difficulty many New York families find in surviving at the officially defined poverty line:
The first sob story cited by the Times is that of Carol Williams. She is supposed to be a sympathetic figure, an administrative assistant earning $24,000 a year, with three children "squeezed into a one-bedroom, $600-a-month apartment in the Bronx." She is "broke," the Times tells us, "scrambling to buy food," and there is "nothing wrong with her budgeting skills." But wait a minute. The Times glosses lightly over Williams' "car payments" and "car insurance." For all the talk of "bare bones" budgets and skipping movies and restaurant meals, the first poor-family sob story the Times can muster is living in a city with one of the most well-developed public transportation systems in the world and has her own car. We're supposed to feel bad for this woman? The Times doesn't tell us what kind of car she drives, but we can only imagine.
Before completing the racist stereotype, Stoll invokes another "sob story," the one of Robbin Davis, also featured in the piece, who is "trying to work her way off welfare," and who "often helps feed her family by bringing in leftovers from the lunches she prepares for the elderly for $7 an hour at a settlement house." Stoll hastily adds, "Yet if you look carefully at the photograph of Davis on the front of the metro section, you can discern in the background what looks to be a microwave oven
and a washing machine
." The man betrays his complete alienation from his fellows when he recoils in horror at the poor woman’s ostentation, noting that though he wouldn’t be bothered "one bit if Davis or Williams wanted to take their own money and spend it on "Cadillacs
or microwaves or washing machines," he’s damn fed-up with his tax dollars funding their welfare queen "lifestyles."
At first, I took Stoll for an isolated troglodyte, moved by vanity to bang away on the Times
. As such, I used him to recruit my withered spirit on days when I was seized by the suspicion that humanity had made little forward progress in the last hundred years. Reading him was like watching an Al Jolson film, thinking the whole time, man, we have indeed advanced. My tolerance for him, however, diminished in inverse proportion to his ever-growing number of page views. The realization that his site received more visitors in a day than Clark University’s collection of T.H. Huxley’s writings
has in its entire existence soured me further. The announcement of plans to revive the New York Sun
- with Stoll and Seth Lipsky, a/k/a Mr. Amity Shlaes, as editors - completed my revulsion.
A marginal idiot discharging retrograde opinion is one (often amusing) thing, the same idiot placed in a position of power and braced by some of the wealthiest men in the country is quite another. Stoll’s character, as reflected in his writings, is open to public examination. His handlers, however, take pains to avoid the sanitizing light of day - and with good reason. They are, in the main, worthy of derision and contempt.
The most recognizable of Mr. Stoll’s bagmen is Michael Steinhardt, the spherically formed
retired hedge fund manager famous for chairing the quick-to-capitulate Democratic Leadership Council and launching its affiliated, Bradley Foundation-funded think tank. He’d rather you didn’t know about his work in pursuing a pardon for the disgusting Marc Rich
- he doesn’t mention his machinations to secure the pardon in his new autobiography. When the Times ran a softball interview with Denise Rich, Stoll said "the newspaper looks like it is displaying a strange lack of curiosity about the Rich pardon and Denise Rich’s involvement in winning it." If Stoll is to remain consistent, Sun
readers can expect a lengthy treatment of Steinhardt’s role in the matter. Were Clinton still in office, Stoll's customers could have witnessed first-hand the operation of an editorial perpetual motion machine, with Steinhardt winning favors for his sickening associates with Sun
contributor Bob Tyrrell sniping at the Man From Hope from the opinion page.
Most recently, Steinhardt has attracted attention for refusing to return
a looted 2,500-year-old golden bowl to the Italian government, the object’s rightful owner. Amazing that a man who today devotes the better part of his energies fretting over the loss of a nebulous "Jewish culture" callously refused to return to the Italians a tangible artifact of their own heritage. Steinhardt appealed the Italians’ recapture of the piece, arguing international law be damned, his money and expenditure of the same cinched the matter. This was hardly the first instance of his display of contempt for the law: he was accused of manipulating of bond and treasury instrument markets in 1991. Steinhardt’s companies escaped admitting wrongdoing by doing what any innocent person would do - paying tens of millions of dollars in fines and restitution
. Steinhardt, like most of those backing the Sun
, is commonly identified as a "philanthropist."