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Hedge fund billionaires, running on ignorance and ...

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Syria’s dirty secret

Faisal Yafai at TheNational writes that “the dirty secret in Syria today is that, if the presidential election were free and fair, Bashar Assad would still win. However unpalatable it is, the man who has overseen the systematic destruction of the country, who has made more refugees than anyone else in the Middle East this century, is still popular.”

Why? asks Mr. Yafai.

Before the civil war “life was getting better in Syria. It wasn’t moving fast enough and the country was riddled with corruption, but for many of the urban middle-class in Damascus and Aleppo, life was better than it had been. Syria was safer than any neighboring country. The chaos of Iraq next door felt far away.

“The uprising changed that. Many who supported it in the beginning, when it looked like it would swiftly topple a long-standing regime, regretted their position as months became a year and a year became three.”

Now, Mr. Yafai says, many Syrians see in Assad a possible return to stability and in the badly divided opposition no real prospect of economic or democratic progress.

Hedge fund mystery

John Cassidy in The New Yorker wonders why hedge fund managers make such enormous piles of money. At the top of this year’s published estimates: David Tepper — $3.5 billion; Stephen Cohen — $2.4 billion; John Paulson — $2.3 billion.

He notes that last week “Vox’s Matt Yglesias pointed out that the $21.1 billion accumulated by the top 25 hedgies in 2013 was more than the combined salaries of all the kindergarten teachers in the country.” Meanwhile, “for five years in a row, hedge-fund returns have trailed the stock market. Last year … the S&P 500 … generated a 32 percent return. According to Bloomberg, the typical hedge-fund return (net after fees) was 7.4 percent.”

Big investors, Mr. Cassidy writes, “paid through the nose for this underperformance.” Still, they continue to give hedge fund managers a standard $2,000 for every $100,000 invested vs. the $100 a big brokerage would charge to manage an index fund — PLUS a “performance fee” of 20 percent.

Mr. Cassidy is flummoxed as to why free market competition hasn’t driven down the hedge-funders’ fees.

Obama the teenager

Via Atlantic Wire: Eliot Cohen at The Wall Street Journal on Barack Obama’s adolescent administration: “As American foreign policy continues its long string of failures, the question becomes: Why?

“Clues may be found in the president’s selfie with the attractive Danish prime minister at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in December; in State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in March cheerily holding up a sign with the Twitter hashtag #UnitedForUkraine while giving a thumbs up; or Michelle Obama looking glum, … holding up another Twitter sign: #BringBackOurGirls …”

“Often, members of the Obama administration speak and, worse, think and act, like a bunch of teenagers. When officials roll their eyes at Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea with the line that this is ‘19th-century behavior,’ the tone is not that different from a disdainful remark about a hairstyle being ‘so 1980s.’ ”

The ignorance war rages

The Borowitz Report: “After claiming [last] Sunday that human activity does not cause climate change, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., suddenly found his ignorance credentials under attack by potential rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

“ ‘Now that Marco’s thinking of running for president, he doesn’t believe in climate change,’ said Texas Gov. Rick Perry. ‘To those of us with long track records of ignorance on this issue, he seems a little late to the rodeo.’

“Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., echoed Gov. Perry’s criticism, calling Sen. Rubio a ‘dummy-come-lately’ on climate change. At the end of the day, I have faith that Republican voters can tell the difference between someone who’s truly uninformed and someone who’s just faking it,’ he said. These comments by Marco don’t pass the smell test …”

“A defensive Sen. Rubio was pushing back against the attacks, … ‘My refusal to accept the scientific research on climate change is a matter of public record,’ he said. ‘On this issue and many others, my ignorance should take a back seat to no one’s.’ ”

Compiled by Greg Victor (gvictor@post-gazette.com).


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