GUALFIN, ARGENTINA – Scandal, like cigarette smoke, brings back memories.

For as a long as we can remember, it has been a feature of Maryland politics.

Hands Dirty

Our own experience with it began in 1965, when we were about 17 years old. We wanted to know how politics worked. What better way than to get into it… get our hands dirty?

So, we volunteered as unpaid labor in a political campaign for Anne Arundel County’s chief executive.

We knew nothing of his ideology or his record, but he seemed like a likable sort. He had the rare ability to cry on cue, which it was said, endeared him to sentimental voters.

So we put up posters and distributed leaflets and the other things that the lowest rungs of political drudges do.

But as election day approached, the campaign grew more intense. Finally, we were given cash – a few hundred dollars in small bills.

“What’s this for,” we asked.

“It’s ‘walking around money’,’’ we were told.

“What should I do with it?”

“Go down Pinckney Street [a poor, predominantly Black area of Annapolis]. Ask people who they’re voting for. If they say they’re voting for Joe Alton, you give ’em a couple bucks for cab fare. Helps get out the vote.”

We did not know for sure. But we guessed that this was on the border of illegality. Maybe on the far side.

No matter. It was the way the political world worked in Maryland. And Joe Alton, who later served seven months in Allenwood Federal Prison for conspiracy to commit extortion, was a good door into it.

Nice Lady

But now, it is Baltimore’s mayor who must be wondering about the dress code at Allenwood. Here’s The Baltimore Sun:

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh [engulfed by a scandal over hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments for her self-published Healthy Holly children’s books] announced Monday that she will take an indefinite leave of absence because of her health. […]

“With the mayor’s health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as mayor of Baltimore city,” the statement read in part. “To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness.”

She seemed like such a nice lady. When we met her a year ago, she held herself erect and gave a coherent, if uninspired, speech about something-or-other.

She had come into our neighborhood. Since our business is one of the biggest employers and leading taxpayers in the inner-city area, Mrs. Bonner thought the mayor might be interested in what we do.

But when our better half began to explain the business, Her Honor interrupted:

“Very nice earrings,” said she.

Ms. Pugh was not interested in business. But she was interested in money. She is alleged to have accepted an extraordinary amount of money for a very ordinary book… $500,000, an unheard-of sum for a children’s story. It looked for all the world like a bribe.

But Baltimore has a long and venerable tradition of corruption… and incompetence. Her predecessor was also a black woman, Stephanie Rawlings Blake.

She was in charge when Freddie Gray was found to be unresponsive in the back of a police van and Baltimore exploded in riots. Our daughter saw the mob coming down the street. She rushed inside and bolted the door.

“Racism,” they yelled. But the mayor was black, the city council was black, the police chief was black, and half the policemen involved in the incident were also black. No matter; they smashed shop windows and ran off with clothes, jewelry, and appliances.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said he called Ms. Rawlings-Blake three times, with no return call. Finally, she got in touch and Hogan sent the National Guard to restore order.

Meanwhile, the mayor explained that she had waited to bring things under control because “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” That remark did not go down well.

Most people did not think rioters and looters should be given any space, at all. Things got worse. The police stopped enforcing the law. And more businesses left the city.

Snappy Dresser

Like Ms. Pugh, Ms. Rawlings-Blake put a high value on her appearance. In 2014, Vanity Fair put her on the list of the nation’s 10 Best-Dressed Mayors.

All we remember about Ms. Rawlings-Blake’s predecessor was that she was a snappy dresser, too.

Sheila Dixon first made a name for herself in Baltimore with an essential element of her wardrobe. In 1991, perhaps taking her cue from Nikita Khrushchev, who gave a similar performance at the United Nations in 1960, she took off her shoe, waved it in the air, and announced to the startled white city councilmen:

“You’ve been running things for the last 20 years. Now the shoe is on the other foot.”

We don’t know where she got the 20-year figure. Whites ran the city forever… until the black Rhodes Scholar, Kurt Schmoke, took over in 1987.

Sartorial desire figured in Ms. Dixon’s fall as it did in her rise. On January 9, 2009, Dixon was indicted by a Baltimore grand jury on 12 counts: four counts of perjury, two counts of misconduct, three counts of theft, and three counts of fraudulent misappropriations.

Fur coats, gift cards designed for the poor, crony city contracts with her boyfriend’s company – all figured in the charges.

Three Failures

Three mayors. Three failures. Which just goes to show how much Baltimore has changed.

Mayors might have always been corrupt; but at least the city ran fairly well. Nancy Pelosi’s father, for example, was rumored to be in tight with the mob. Her father, Tommy D’Alesandro Jr., was mayor. And her brother, Tommy D’Alesandro III also filled the job.

Another brother, F.R. D’Alesandro, was indicted for rape. And for perjury. Both charges were dismissed when the witnesses went missing at key intervals. And Tommy III remained a force to be reckoned with. When we opened our first office in Baltimore, down near Little Italy, Tommy came to celebrate with us.

The D’Alesandro Machine was believed to be working with the Gambino family in New York. But who cared? They handed out “walking around money,” too… a lot more than Joe Alton. And they knew how to bust heads when they had to.

The city was generally well-run. Prosperous. Safe.

But that was 30 years ago. Welfare, fake money, bad management, the decline of manufacturing – all have taken their toll. Now, even a Lee Kuan Yew couldn’t save the city.

Regards,

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Bill

P.S. Dear readers may remember that we oversee a small vineyard here at the ranch. The Malbec we produce here is different than any you’ll find at your supermarket. It’s strong… rich… and hearty.

We wanted to let you know that it’s that time of year again. We’ve just bottled the latest vintage and it’s ready for shipment. But before you buy your case of Tacana Malbec, we have a special proposition for you, Dear Reader. We’ll explain everything right here.

MARKET INSIGHT: BITCOIN SPIKES

By Joe Withrow, Head of Research, Bonner & Partners

Bitcoin is showing signs of life…

The world’s first cryptocurrency soared to an all-time high of nearly $20,000 back in December 2017. But it went on to plunge 84% from there, hitting a low of $3,195 in December 2018.

Bitcoin has chopped around between $3,200 and $4,000 ever since then… leaving many to proclaim the cryptocurrency dead.

But that just changed…

As today’s chart – which tracks the price of bitcoin from the start of 2019 through today – illustrates, bitcoin just broke out in a big way.

Chart

As you can see, bitcoin jumped 20% just this week – from $4,100 to nearly $5,000 per bitcoin. With this move, bitcoin is trading at its highest level since last November.

The catalyst was an anonymous $100 million order to purchase nearly 20,000 bitcoins. According to volume data on the three exchanges that processed the order, the anonymous buyer was picking up about 7,000 bitcoins per hour for nearly three hours.

This drove the price higher and sparked a flurry of trading. At one point, six million bitcoin trades were executed in an hour… More than three times the normal volume.

Last month we noticed that blockchain wallet users exploded higher in 2018… despite Bitcoin’s plunge in price. And we suggested that was similar to what we saw unfold following the dot-com crash. Internet stocks crashed, but the adoption rate of the technology continued to grow.

As such, we suggested that the top cryptocurrencies may have a brighter future than many expect.

This week’s $100 million order… and spike in volume… is another sign that bitcoin, and the top crypto assets, are following the same pattern.

If that’s the case, expect the top cryptocurrencies to do well this year…

Joe Withrow

P.S. One person who likely isn’t surprised by the renewed interest in bitcoin is Bonner & Partners’ Chief Technology Analyst Jeff Brown. Even with bitcoin’s fall, Jeff knew that the top crypto assets still had a bright future. The underlying technology is just too valuable.

Recently, Jeff made an unusual discovery involving cryptocurrencies and one of the world’s largest corporations. When the world catches on to what Jeff uncovered here, he predicts the price of the best crypto assets will soar. Get the full story, and see how to invest before this goes mainstream, by clicking here.

FEATURED READS

Is the “Golden Age” for U.S. Cities Over?
Like Bill said above, Baltimore is in trouble. But it’s not the only major city seeing big changes. That’s because several shifts are happening behind the scenes, leaving big cities like Chicago and New York less inhabited. The architecture hasn’t changed, but the residents have…

Big Tech CEOs Ask for More Regulation
There’s mounting criticism that social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have allowed the exploitation of personal data. And two of Big Tech’s biggest CEOs have chimed in on the debate, agreeing that government regulation is needed… but is it too little too late?

Here’s What Pops the “Everything Bubble”…
As our editor showed last week, the Fed’s policies haven’t done much for the real economy. And Casey Research’s Nick Giambruno thinks all this “stimulating” has set the stage for something even worse… and when this thing “pops,” it might just take the economy down with it.

MAILBAG

Another mixed mailbag, today: how the Fed caused the Crash of 1929, why “democratic socialism is a delusion,” and our editor even gets accused of sounding “like a communist”…

Mr. Bonner’s point today could not be more poignant. There is little perspective in our dealings, politicians have to get elected, shareholders need their dividends, developers need their tenants. It may take something other than a democracy to rein in our spending, because we show no sign of even having the courage or discipline to act in our children’s best interests. Not everyone can be a prepper. Those folks will be looked back on as the canaries no one heard. Cheers. Live today, for tomorrow, we die. What will it take, sir?

– Michael C.

Did you know that the Federal Reserve caused the 1929 market collapse? At that time, most speculators were on the margin. Sometimes, as much as 1/5 of the stock price. The Federal Reserve thought this was dangerous and decided to eliminate the margins, but instead of doing it over six months, it did it overnight. The stock market collapsed as the first step in the Great Depression. Was this deliberate sabotage of perhaps the greatest president that the U.S. has had since Lincoln? Perhaps. I suspect it was just stupidity. But they are capable of that all the time. You do not get the brightest people in civil service jobs. How many of them, if any, have ever been followers of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, or Ludwig von Mises? I suspect, none!

– Harry G.

Most supporters of Democratic socialism point to the Scandinavian countries. But they are basically free-market economies, albeit, they have generous benefits for their populations, mainly because they’re relatively small. But even they are cutting back on those benefits. In 2012, the Danish government realized that only three of its 98 municipalities had a majority of residents working. A survey discovered that those on welfare were living better than working citizens. The Danes have a high tax rate and aging population. So, they began to overhaul entitlements.

A couple years ago, Finland was testing a three-year universal income program. It abandoned it two years into the program, because it was costing too much. Sweden cut back on entitlements when 30% of the population was supporting everyone. Young entrepreneurs were leaving the country in droves seeking to set up businesses in tax-friendly countries. Democratic socialism is a delusion.

– Helga N.

Why is it you sound like a communist? So, you voted for Hillary, huh? Did it ever occur to you that there is no middle class under communism/socialism?

– Richard B.

And a couple of dear readers are still enjoying last Friday’s Diary where eight gauchos paid Bill a visit at Gualfin…

What a great column! A lesson in history. You must have been thrilled to welcome these kindred spirits. Love the pictures!

– Garth H.

This is great, and the first thing you’ve written that makes me think maybe the disconnected feeling of that expatriate life might be something one might get beyond.

– Diane D.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Thanks to a new executive order, the feds may start installing strange-looking devices in communities all across the U.S…

In short, these devices will help protect local communities from being attacked by outside forces like Russia.

While this is an urgent security matter, early investors in this new tech could see their money multiply 64 times over. But investors must act soon. Read on here.

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