Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Alabama Says No to Trump’s Tribalism

There are so many things I could say right now after watching Doug Jones defeat Roy Moore in the Senate race in Alabama, but for me it comes down to just two words: “Thank you.”

Thank you to the majority of Alabamians for loving our country more than you hated Democrats. 

Thank you for voting as citizens, not as members of a tribe. Thank you for understanding that sending a credibly accused child molester to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate would not only have denigrated your state, it would have denigrated that whole legislative body. Thank you for seeing the decency of Doug Jones, even though he is a Democrat, and seeing the indecency of Roy Moore.

And most of all, thank you for sending a message to Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon that you are not as dumb as they think you are. That you see what they are up to — trying to use divisive tweets and racist dog whistles to get as many Americans as possible so aroused and inflamed that they won’t think about the real issues, they won’t think about the actual candidates, they won’t think about the national interest, or even their own self-interest, but just how much they dislike “the other” — and you’re not buying it any more.

God bless every one of you. Yours was a deeply patriotic act.

It’s too soon to say for sure, of course, whether this is a national trend, but when the majority in a deep-red state like Alabama — where anti-abortion sentiments run so high, making it nearly impossible for a pro-choice Democrat to be elected — repudiates the effort by Trump and Bannon to turn us from citizens into tribes, there is hope for the country after all. It is a real sign of health.
I speak from some experience, because I have peered into this tribal abyss. Back in the late 1970s, when I was covering the Lebanese civil war, a story made the rounds in Beirut that the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia had come up with a novel way of discovering a Palestinian trying to pass through one of its checkpoints. The Phalangists would show the driver a tomato and ask: What’s this? If the driver used the standard Lebanese pronunciation, “banadurra,” he was allowed to pass. If he used the Palestinian pronunciation, “bandora,” he could be pulled out of his car and shot on the spot.

That is tribal politics at its raw essence: It doesn’t matter how you live your life or what you aspire to for your society. All that matters is your sectarian or tribal identity, revealed by how you pronounce the word for tomato.

Middle Easterners have a saying for this kind of thinking: “Me and my brother against my cousin. Me, my brother and my cousin against the outsider.”

The Alabama Senate race reminded me of that story — not the shooting part, of course, but the way Alabamians were being told to let someone babysit our precious country, someone they wouldn’t let babysit their own kids — just because he was supposedly from their tribe.

We’ve confronted such thinking before in our history. But in the past moments of raw, tribal/cultural divisions, our system was always able to produce leaders able to summon our better angels and pull us together to rise to the challenges of the day.

But even with Jones’s victory in Alabama I worry that technology — social networks in particular — and archaic laws that prevent new players from entering politics work against the emergence of such national leaders. I worry that irreversible damage is being done to our norms and institutions by this poisonous cocktail of Trump, Twitter and tribalism.

I was not surprised to hear former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya tell CNBC on Tuesday that social media is creating a society that confuses “popularity” with “truth.” The tools we’ve created, he explained, “are starting to erode the social fabric of how society works.”

It’s easy to forget, in this age of Twitter, how much a daring leader who can pull people together can accomplish — even in the most difficult of times.

Think of Abe Lincoln. In the middle of a civil war and in the middle of our transition from an agrarian to an industrial society, Lincoln and Congress approved the Homestead Act of 1862, which opened the West for settlement; the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864, which connected the eastern and western halves the country, laying the basis for a truly national economy; the Morrill Act of 1862, which established the land-grant colleges to teach agriculture, science and engineering, skills the country needed to go to the next level.

We are going through a similar period of rapid change today. The pace of destructive weather events is quickening; the world is going from interconnected to interdependent; and machines and software are devouring ever more middle- and even high-skill jobs. The country needs a plan for investing in more resilient cities, in lifelong learning systems for every worker and in a safety net of mobile/universal health care. And what do we have instead? A highly tribal Republican tax bill that targets none of those issues.

But maybe, maybe just maybe, the narrow majority in Alabama has sent both Trump and the country a message. We are fed up with your cynicism, we are fed up with your effort to break us into tribes, we want a president who is a uniter not a divider, because we have big hard work to do as a country right now — and it can only be done together.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What Happens if the Tax Bill Is a Revenue Disaster?

CreditAl Drago for The New York Times

Jonathan Chait raises a good point, which many of us were already thinking about: for all the debate about whether the tax bill will partially pay for itself, it’s actually more likely that it will end up worsening the deficit by far more than most estimates suggest. The reason is simple: the bill is junk, hastily drafted and full of exploitable loopholes. Once the tax lawyers and accountants get to work, they will probably find ways for their clients to avoid hundreds of billions in taxes that even the JCT estimates still assume will be paid.
Suppose this is indeed what happens. I’ve been trying to think through the next step: What effect will a ballooning deficit have on markets and the political climate?
When it comes to markets, my conclusion is, not much. The tax bill might lead to somewhat higher interest rates, but probably not to an interest rate spike. Why not?
You might think that I’m making the same argument I was making during the aftermath of the financial crisis, when I argued repeatedly – and correctly – against predictions that budget deficits would lead to soaring rates. But my reasoning now is different, because both the underlying economic situation and the source of the deficits is different.
Back in 2009-10, we had a deeply depressed economy with monetary policy at the zero lower bound, which meant basically that desired saving exceeded desired investment. So government borrowing wasn’t competing with the private sector for a limited supply of funds, it was giving idle potential saving a place to go.
These days we’re much closer to full employment, and the Fed is gradually raising rates, so it’s an entirely different situation. But if you want to claim that deficits will drastically raise rates, you need to spell out the channel; and I think that channel would be largely blocked.
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First of all, the U.S. isn’t going to go bankrupt; it can’t run out of money to pay its bills (except for political holdups), because it can print money. And we’re a long way from the kind of situation in which America would become so dependent on the printing press that we’re looking at potential hyperinflation.
What this means is that monetary policy – basically, short-term interest rates — will be set by the Fed based on economic conditions. And long-term interest rates will, to a first approximation, be the average of expected future short rates, so they too will reflect expected economic conditions.
So the only way big deficits could drive up rates would be if they gave a big boost to demand, threatening to overheat the economy, and causing the Fed to raise rates to avert that overheating.
Which means that the market impact of deficits depends on how much we think these deficits will raise demand. And the answer is, probably not all that much – if you think of the tax bill as a form of demand stimulus, it’s a very ineffective one, and the piece of the deficit that comes from gaming incompetent legislation will be especially ineffective.
For one thing, the bulk of the gains will go to the rich, who probably spend less of a marginal dollar. And this will be especially true for rich people receiving what they suspect will be transient income gains.
So, imagine yourself as a wealthy, liquid taxpayer experiencing a surge in after-tax income because your accountant has found clever ways to exploit the idiocy of new legislation. It will be fun and lucrative, but you’d have to suspect that the fun will end eventually – that even this GOP, with this leadership, will eventually close the most outrageous loopholes. So we might see big deficits that have relatively little real effect, because the winners from system-gaming save most of their gains.
Notice, by the way, that this isn’t the conclusion I’d like to reach on political grounds. Given how terrible this bill is, I’d like to claim that it will lead to immediate market disaster. But I try not to engage in motivated reasoning (although sometimes I give in to temptation, then apologize); and I just don’t see a market disaster even if we see the expected epidemic of tax avoidance.
What about the politics? OK, here I don’t have a clear model, so this is much more speculative. Still, what happens if the deficit balloons, and it’s clear that gaming of the tax bill is a major factor?
We know what Ryan and McConnell will try to do: they’ll try to use deficits as an excuse to cut safety-net programs. But will they be able to get away with this with the memory of the tax scam still fresh in everyone’s memory? I’m pretty cynical about centrists and the propensity of the media to be taken in by charlatans, but I think this would probably be a bait and switch too far.
Put it this way: Republicans would surely use big deficits as an excuse to propose big cuts in social programs, but they’d face a barrage of hostile media coverage, plus lots of public demonstrations as in the case of health care, all reminding everyone that these deficits were created by their own dishonest promises just a few months earlier.
And imagine, as we should, that all of this would go along with many front-page stories about dubious business types abusing the new loopholes. Doesn’t this sound like a political disaster for the GOP?
They could, of course, simply ignore the deficit and leave Medicare alone. But my guess is that they won’t be able to help themselves, that they’ll be prisoners of their own rhetoric even as the most unpopular legislation in history becomes pure political poison.
So that’s my prediction: minor market impact, but quite probably a political disaster for the GOP as it becomes even clearer that their tax policies reward scammers.
Of course, all this may be overshadowed by constitutional crisis. But that’s for another essay.
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Monday, December 11, 2017

Three women reassert allegations of sexual harassment against President Trump

The #MeToo sexual harassment movement roiling the nation reached the doors of the White House on Monday, when three women who last year accused President Trump of sexual misconduct began a renewed public push to gain attention for their allegations.
The three accusers were among more than a dozen who had initially come forward during the 2016 presidential campaign. The three reinvigorated their stories this week with an appearance on Megyn Kelly’s NBC show — their first joint interview — and a subsequent news conference in Manhattan, in which they also called on Congress to investigate their claims.
Their appeal occurs on the eve of a closely fought special U.S. Senate election in Alabama, where Roy Moore, the Republican nominee whom Trump has endorsed, is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, and as four Senate Democrats have called on Trump to resign amid the allegations of harassment against him.
The White House dismissed the allegations in a morning statement and an afternoon news conference, saying the president has previously denied any improprieties and arguing that the questions were already litigated as part of his ascension to the presidency. Several White House officials also said the West Wing was not particularly panicked, in part because none of the accusations were new.
But some Trump aides, advisers and outside confidants are privately grappling with how to navigate the charged national environment over sexual misconduct, which may not pass anytime soon, and an increasingly aggressive Democratic Party.
In this 2005 frame from video, Donald Trump prepares for an appearance on “Days of Our Lives” with actress Arianne Zucker. He is accompanied to the set by “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush. (Obtained by The Washington Post)
Some outside Republicans close to the president said they are increasingly uneasy about his ability to withstand a revived spotlight on his behavior toward women amid the dramatic attitude shift happening nationwide in response to accusations of sexual misconduct against men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. A number of Trump associates are also wary of the potential political costs if the president goes on a sustained attack against his accusers.
“These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the White House said in a statement Monday. “The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes, and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.”
In a contentious media briefing — in which White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if she had ever been sexually harassed and if she could empathize with victims of harassment — Sanders said, “The president has addressed these accusations directly and denied all of these accusations.”
The allegations against Trump were made public after The Washington Post published an “Access Hollywood” recording last year capturing Trump boasting about grabbing women by the genitals. But since his election, the president has occasionally privately cast doubt on the tape, at times suggesting it was doctored or inauthentic. 
One official said the White House largely views the newfound attention as a media and public relations issue. Once the West Wing realized the three women were giving an interview and news conference Monday, an aide who worked on the campaign and was familiar with the allegations circulated counterpoints from last year and later pointed out small inconsistencies between some of the women’s previous statements and what they said on Monday.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders departs after a news briefing at the White House on Monday. (Alex Brandon/AP)
In phone calls and meetings in recent days, people in Trump’s orbit have deliberated over how best to defend against more than a dozen women who have leveled specific claims against him — while also taking seriously claims of sexual assault and harassment and not seeming to dismiss women, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the private discussions. There have also been conversations about how the issue could linger through next year’s midterm campaign season and how to handle that possibility, one outside adviser said.
“As the president said himself, he thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward,” Sanders said in her Monday news conference. “But he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course.”
On Sunday, Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations and one of the most high-profile women serving in the administration, said that women who have accused Trump “should be heard,” offering what appeared to be a sharp break from the official White House position.
“They should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” Haley said when asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” about the allegations other women have made against Trump. “And I think we heard from them before the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”
Democrats have been quick to jettison several members of their party accused of harassment, including pushing both Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) to resign. Democratic lawmakers and strategists believe they can seize the moral high ground and use the issue to bludgeon Trump and his fellow Republicans.
On Monday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), widely viewed as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, became the fourth Democratic senator to call for Trump to resign over the allegations.
But some in Trump’s orbit believe the latest bout of negative publicity over the president’s alleged misbehavior will probably pass. One Republican strategist in frequent touch with the White House said the West Wing was “generally dismissive” of the latest flare-up.
“They think he’s invincible on this issue, because he survived the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape,” said the strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to recount private conversations. “He was literally caught on tape saying he does this — it was a big deal — and he still won.”
The Republican added that if Moore prevails in Tuesday’s election, the White House will only feel more emboldened. Moore is facing allegations from multiple women that he made sexual advances toward them when they were teens and he was in his 30s. One of the accusers said she was 14 at the time. Moore has denied the allegations.
The three women who retold their stories Monday were Samantha Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant who in October 2016 said Trump inappropriately inspected pageant participants; Jessica Leeds, a New York woman who said Trump groped her on a plane; and Rachel Crooks, who said he kissed her on the lips at Trump Tower.
The news conference was organized by Brave New Films, a nonprofit group launched by producer Robert Greenwald with the goal of promoting activism around liberal causes through short low-budget documentaries. The group has a budget of about $2.6 million, according to Jim Miller, its executive director.
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“I didn’t want to go through it all again,” Holvey said in an interview after the news conference, recalling the backlash a year ago and the feeling that she hadn’t been heard. But the idea of getting together with other women who had similar experiences interested her.
“As a group, there might be more of an impact,” she said. And she was also noticing a change in her Facebook feed, with people asking: “What about Trump?”
Holvey suggested it made sense for Trump’s accusers to speak to the public again given the way the country’s atmosphere — and response to alleged sexual misconduct — has shifted over the past year.
“Let’s try round two,” she said. “The environment’s different, let’s try again.”
Sellers reported from New York. Robert Costa in Washington also contributed to this report.

Steve Mnuchin Pulls a Paul Ryan

Steve Mnuchin, the U.S. treasury secretary, in Washington last month. Credit Alex Brandon/Associated Press
On Monday the Treasury Department released a one-page report claiming that tax cuts would pay for themselves. The document was a shameless attempt to fool the public — carefully worded to imply that economic experts at Treasury (they’re still in there somewhere, maybe locked in a closet) had actually done an analysis to that effect, without explicitly saying so. In fact, there was no economic analysis; Trump officials just made up numbers that would give them the result they wanted.

Even reporters hardened to Trump administration lies seemed shocked by the brazenness of this bait-and-switch. What made Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, think he could get away with it?

Well, one answer is that similar scams on the part of congressional Republicans, Paul Ryan in particular, have generally received highly respectful treatment from the news media. Why shouldn’t Mnuchin imagine he can pull off the same trick?
Actually, he probably can’t. But the truth is that on economic policy, as in other areas, the Trump administration isn’t much of a departure from recent 

Republican norms. There’s a fundamental continuity in the con jobs: Mnuchin is basically trying to do a Paul Ryan; he just lacks the acting skills to pull it off.

About that Treasury report: The department has an Office of Tax Policy, or O.T.P., which provides “economic and legal policy analysis” for tax policy decisions. Normally we’d expect this office to carry out a full analysis of the effects of Republican tax bills, similar to those conducted by Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation and by independent, nonpartisan organizations like the Tax Policy Center.

But either O.T.P. didn’t do that, or it did an analysis that Mnuchin is suppressing. (The department’s inspector general is investigating what actually happened, because Mnuchin repeatedly claimed to have such an analysis in hand.) If the experts actually did do an analysis, they probably found what everyone else has found — namely, that tax cuts come nowhere near to paying for themselves.
In that case, however, how does Mnuchin manage to claim otherwise? Here’s how the report describes the process: “O.T.P. has modeled the revenue impact of higher growth effects, using the administration projections of approximately a 2.9 percent real G.D.P. growth rate over 10 years.” Notice the carefully deceptive wording. A casual reader might think that O.T.P. is predicting 2.9 percent growth — but what this actually says is that Trump officials simply told the office to assume high growth.

And the assumed acceleration in growth, which comes out of nowhere, is extremely high. It’s many times higher than the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimate, which is itself more optimistic than other estimates. No model I know of, not even those of conservative tax-cut advocates, would predict this much payoff.

In other words, this “analysis” is a sick joke. Why would Mnuchin think he can pull off this scam?

As I said, he probably can’t. But he may be inspired by the example of Paul Ryan, who pulled off similar scams a few years back, fooling much of the news media and even receiving an award for fiscal responsibility from several deficit-scold organizations.

The details of Ryan’s scam were a bit different, but the basic principle was the same. First, tell budget experts to make obviously unrealistic assumptions and estimate what those assumptions would mean for future budget deficits. Then tout the resulting estimates as validation of your plan.

In Ryan’s case the unrealistic assumptions involved revenues and spending, not growth: He simply told experts to assume that he could cut taxes without losing revenue by closing unspecified loopholes, and that he could achieve drastic cost savings without specifying which programs would be cut. And the budget experts were the staff at the Congressional Budget Office, not the staff at Treasury. But the result was the same: Potemkin budget projections that looked great to the casual observer, but had nothing real behind them.

Oh, and the howling mess that is the current G.O.P. tax plan shows what happens when Ryanesque pretense meets reality.

Yet Ryan’s scam worked. He received years of media adulation; that adulation is the main reason he’s now speaker of the House. Even now, news analyses tend to depict the irresponsibility and incompetence of Republican tax plans as some kind of deviation from Ryan’s past behavior, not its natural continuation.
In fact, you almost have to feel sorry for Mnuchin: Yes, he’s an obvious buffoon, but his scam isn’t really any worse than Ryan’s. Why can’t he pull it off?

The larger point is that the dishonesty and dysfunctionality of current 

Republican efforts at tax “reform,” the party’s evident inability to govern in a serious way, didn’t come out of nowhere. Republicans have been heading in this direction for years. Anyone who didn’t see this coming either wasn’t paying attention or was engaged in willful self-delusion, pretending that the G.O.P. was a normal party long after it should have been obvious that it had gone off the deep end.

Gabriel García Márquez’s Archive Freely Available Online

Gabriel García Márquez with Fidel Castro in a photograph that will be available online as part of his archive. Credit Harry Ransom Center
When Gabriel García Márquez’s archive was sold to the University of Texas two years ago, some decried the fact that the literary remains of Latin America’s foremost novelist — and a fierce critic of American imperialism — had come to rest in the United States.
But now, the university’s Harry Ransom Center has digitized and made freely available about half of the collection, making some 27,000 page scans and other images visible to anyone in the world with an internet connection.
The online archive, which is cataloged both in English and in Spanish, includes drafts and other material relating to all of García Márquez’s major books, including “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which turned the Colombia-born writer into a global figure. There are also previously unseen photographs, notebooks, scrapbooks, screenplays and personal ephemera, like a collection of his passports.
Many archives are digitizing their holdings. But to make so much material from a writer whose work is still under copyright freely available online is unusual.
“Often estates take a restrictive view of their intellectual property, believing scholarly use threatens or diminishes commercial interests,” Steve Enniss, the director of the Ransom Center, said. “We are grateful to Gabo’s family for unlocking his archive and recognizing this work as another form of service to his readers everywhere.”
Continue reading the main story
Seeing some items in the archive, which the Ransom Center bought for $2.2 million, will still require a trip to Texas. The digital collection does not include any of the 10 drafts of García Márquez’s final, unfinished novel, “We’ll See Each Other in August.” (One chapter of the novel was published in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia in 2014, shortly after García Márquez’s death at age 87; the estate said via email that it has no further plans for publication.)
A draft page from García Márquez’s novel “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” showing highlights and revisions. Credit Harry Ransom Center
But online readers can access a 32-page draft section of the projected second volume of García Márquez’s memoirs, which would have covered the years after he moved to Europe and then Mexico City, where he wrote “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and lived until his death. They can also use a special viewer to make side-by-side comparisons of different drafts of various works as they evolved.
Alvaro Santana-Acuña, a sociologist at Whitman College who is working on a book about the history of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” said the archive was already helping to explode some of the legends surrounding the novel, many of which were carefully crafted by García Márquez himself.
The novelist, who won the Nobel Prize in 1982, had often spoken of the book as pouring out in a kind of magical trance. “I did not get up for 18 months,” he later said.
But in fact, Mr. Santana-Acuña said, correspondence in the archive shows that he regularly sent out sections for reactions from friends and literary critics. He also published about a third of the chapters in newspapers around the world before the book’s publication, and sometimes made adjustments according to audience reaction, much as 19th-century writers like Charles Dickens would.
“He published the most important chapters, to make sure he knew what different audiences — ordinary readers, literary critics, the intelligentsia — thought,” Mr. Santana-Acuña said.
García Márquez, like many writers, claimed not to bother much with reviews, especially negative ones. But the archive includes a number of scrapbooks which carefully compile — and sometimes privately respond to — reviews of his work in many different languages.
Mr. Santana-Acuña said he was particularly amused by a notation on a second review of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” that appeared in the conservative Colombia newspaper El Tiempo, which had initially dismissed the novel as badly written left-wing propaganda.
“Al menos por larga y entusiasta!” García Márquez (who in the 1950s had written for a rival Colombian newspaper) wrote of the second effort — “At least it’s long and enthusiastic!”

Friday, December 08, 2017

Bill Steinkraus, Equestrian Who Made Olympic History, Dies at 92

Bill Steinkraus, one of America’s most celebrated horse-show riders and the country’s first to win an Olympic individual gold medal in any equestrian discipline, died on Nov. 29 at his home in the Noroton section of Darien, Conn. He was 92.

His death was announced on Thursday by the United States Equestrian Team Foundation.
Widely considered one of the greatest riders in the history of equestrian sports, Steinkraus made all six United States Olympic teams from 1952 through 1972, missing only the 1964 Games in Tokyo when his horse pulled up lame at the last moment.

He won his record-making Olympic individual gold medal, in show jumping, in Mexico City in 1968. He also won team silver medals in Rome in 1960 and in Munich in 1972, and a team bronze in 1952 at Helsinki. His American team finished fifth in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia.

His gold medal came aboard Snowbound, a strong-willed 9-year-old gelding. “I like to think of him as sort of a George Bernard Shaw horse,” Steinkraus told The New York Times. “He has his own opinion about everything.”

William Steinkraus - Individual Gold Medalist Mexico City Olympics 1968 Video by Bernie Traurig

Through his feats in the Olympics and in other international events, Steinkraus, a Yale graduate and an accomplished violinist, drew admirers from around the world.

William Clark Steinkraus was born on Oct. 12, 1925, in Cleveland and grew up in Westport, Conn. He started riding at 9 in a summer camp in Canada and rode in his first National Horse Show at 12, in a junior class.

A student of the renowned trainers Gordon Wright and Morton W. Smith, he went on to win junior titles as a teenager before enrolling at Yale.

Steinkraus interrupted his studies for Army service during World War II. He rode in Burma (now Myanmar) with the Army’s last mounted regiment and helped reopen the Burma Road, an important supply route for Allied forces. After the war, he returned to Yale and graduated.

The Army’s cavalry supplied all of the American equestrian riders who competed internationally until the regiment was disbanded in the early postwar years. The United States Equestrian Team was formed in 1950, and Steinkraus was named to the team in 1951.

Mr. Steinkraus in an undated photograph. “In this sport,” he said, “the horse is more the athlete. He’s the body and you’re the brain.” Credit Uset Archive

He rode for the team for 22 years, 17 as captain, before retiring from international competition in 1972. He was elected team president in 1973, chairman in 1983 and chairman emeritus in 1992.

In 1960 Steinkraus married Helen Ziegler, a granddaughter of the 19th-century industrialist William Ziegler, who established a sprawling estate called Great Island in Noroton, connected to the community by a land bridge. She and Steinkraus and their family lived there for many years. (The estate was in the news in 2016 when it was put on the market for $175 million.)

Ms. Steinkraus, a former cancer research assistant at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York, was a sportswoman, known as Sis, who raced sailboats, skied, hunted game and took up dressage, becoming an accomplished rider in competition and later an international judge. She died in 2012.

When not riding, Steinkraus was an editor in book publishing in New York and wrote several books on the sport, notably “Reflections on Riding and Jumping: Winning Techniques for Serious Riders,” published by Doubleday in 1991. He also wrote for the authoritative magazine Chronicle of the Horse.

Besides playing the violin, Steinkraus was an expert on old books and antique furniture. After he retired from competition, he was a television commentator for four Olympics and then an Olympic judge.

He also served as chairman of the International Equestrian Federation’s World Cup jumping committee for 10 years and as a director of the American Horse Shows Association for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, in Lexington, Ky., in 1987.

When he retired from international competition, commercial sponsorship and prize money was just starting to come in. “We don’t know whether, 50 years hence, we’ll say that was the beginning of the end, or that was the beginning of the beginning,” he said.

One contemporary rider (and later a trainer and judge), George H. Morris, called him “the man who epitomized style on horseback.” Another, Hugh Wiley, said: “He would think through a riding problem and always come up with an intelligent answer. After riding, he usually played his fiddle, read The Wall Street Journal or went to the opera.”

For all his Olympic medals, Steinkraus was quick to credit his horses, including Hollandia in Helsinki, Main Spring in Munich and Riviera Wonder in Rome, in addition to Snowbound in Mexico City. Success in competition, he insisted, depended on the relationship between rider and mount.

“A good horseman must be a good psychologist,” he told Life magazine in 1968. “Horses are young, childish individuals. When you train them, they respond to the environment you create. You are the parent, manager and educator. You can be tender or brutal. But the goal is to develop the horse’s confidence in you to the point he’d think he could clear a building if you headed him for it.”

Indeed, in the equation of rider and horse, Steinkraus placed greater importance on the latter.

“In this sport,” he said, “the horse is more the athlete. He’s the body and you’re the brain. When you need a new body, you get one.”

Bitcoin’s Price Has Soared. What Comes Next?

The average cost of a Bitcoin crossed $17,000 on Thursday, though on some individual exchanges where it is traded, the value was even greater.
The average cost of a Bitcoin crossed $17,000 on Thursday, though on some individual exchanges where it is traded, the value was even greater.

SAN FRANCISCO — Bitcoin has been in a bull market like few the world has ever seen.
At the beginning of the year, the price of a Bitcoin was below $1,000. It hit $5,000 in October, then doubled by late November. And on Thursday, less than two weeks later, the price of a single Bitcoin rose above $20,000 on some exchanges, according to Coinmarketcap.

The latest price spike has been credited to signs that Wall Street companies plan on bringing their financial heft into the market.

At the current cost, the value of all Bitcoin in circulation is about $300 billion. To get a sense of how big that is, all the shares of Goldman Sachs are worth about $90 billion.

The gains have been driven by several other factors — perhaps the most important being the irrational mentality that can take over in speculative bubbles.

Currently, the average price of one Bitcoin is about $, according to, a news and data site.

Bitcoin used to be all about libertarians and black-market trade. Are those still driving the price?

The fringe communities that drove Bitcoin in its early years are playing a much less important role in the current rally.

Many investors have said the most important factor driving the current enthusiasm is the entry of hedge funds and other institutional investors.

The path for large investors has been smoothed by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board Options Exchange, which have been racing to roll out Bitcoin futures contracts. Most banks are already signed up with these exchanges and consequently can immediately begin trading the contracts. The options exchange has said it plans to start trading on Sunday.

It is still unclear how the arrival of Bitcoin futures will influence the demand for the digital tokens.
With a futures contract, banks can bet on the price of Bitcoin without holding the underlying Bitcoins. This is expected to bring many new players into the market who don’t want to deal with the complications of holding Bitcoins.

But the futures contract will also allow investors to short Bitcoin, or bet on the price’s going down, which has been hard to do until now. Some analysts think this could put downward pressure on the price. Other market participants have worried that Bitcoin futures could spread the risks of Bitcoin into the rest of the financial system.

People still use Bitcoin and other virtual currencies to make ransom payments and buy illegal goods online, including synthetic opioids. But that activity has been on the wane since the authorities shut down some of the largest online black markets this year.
Individual investors have been just as active as large investors.
Nowhere has the phenomenon of ordinary people buying virtual currencies been more visible than in South Korea, where several exchanges have storefronts to help new customers. This is all the more remarkable because just a year ago, Koreans showed almost no interest in these markets.
Small Japanese investors have also been investing in Bitcoin. They have been encouraged by laws passed this year that essentially legalized Bitcoin and allowed Bitcoin exchanges to get regulatory licenses.
In the United States, most small-time investors have gone to the San Francisco company Coinbase, which provides a Bitcoin brokerage service, similar to Charles Schwab, as well as an exchange for larger investors. Coinbase now has more account holders than Schwab, and it has struggled to keep up with the growth.

China used to be the most active country for Bitcoin trading and mining, but the authorities there have cracked down this year.

What are the dangers of getting into this market?

Many of the largest exchanges, including in South Korea, are essentially unregulated. The lack of oversight means that no one is checking that the exchanges are properly securing their customers’ money or that large players are not able to manipulate the price. One of the largest exchanges in the world, Bitfinex, has been hacked numerous times and provides little transparency about where it is keeping its money.

Even regulated exchanges, like Coinbase in the United States, have not been battle tested like larger financial institutions, and their operations have gone down at key moments.

Once people buy Bitcoin or other virtual currencies, they are often targeted by hackers who have become experts at penetrating Bitcoin accounts. Bitcoin “wallets” are vulnerable to new kinds of attacks that are not a problem for ordinary financial accounts.

Most important, in contrast to money in a bank account, when a Bitcoin is gone there is essentially no way to get it back and no insurance covering its loss.

Are more people using Bitcoin to pay for things?

When Bitcoin was released in 2009, it was described as a new kind of electronic cash.

Recently, though, many programmers working on Bitcoin have said the system in its current form is not a particularly good way to pay for things. They argue that it is best designed to serve as a sort of scarce commodity, like digital gold, allowing people to keep their money outside the control of governments and companies.

What role are the other virtual currencies playing in this frenzy?

Earlier this year, bullish sentiment was focused on Ethereum, a virtual currency network that is more adaptable than Bitcoin. The price of Ether, the virtual currency on the Ethereum network, has continued to rise in recent months, but not as fast as Bitcoin.

Many investors were also putting their money into custom virtual currencies released by entrepreneurs in so-called initial coin offerings. These new virtual currencies have generally been designed to serve as the internal payment mechanisms on new software the entrepreneurs are building.

This fall, though, regulators have signaled that they are planning to crack down on coin offerings.

Where did virtual currencies come from, and how do they work?

The Bitcoin software was released in early 2009 by a mysterious creator who went by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. The search is still on for the true identity of Satoshi.

The software released by Satoshi set out the basic rules for Bitcoin and the computer network on which it lives. Unlike other forms of money, which are controlled by governments and financial institutions, Bitcoin operates on a decentralized network of computers that no one institution controls. For more details, see our Bitcoin explainer.

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