About The Schmooze

Economist Joseph Stiglitz goes analog to rebut Trump at Davos in real time

Addressing a packed auditorium in the World Economic Forum in Davos, on the first morning of the conference, President Trump painted a rosy picture of the American economy, crediting his administration’s policies with achieving “an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before.” It’s true that unemployment is currently at 3.6%, the lowest it’s been since 1969. This statistic is expected to be one of Trump’s major talking points as election season ramps up.

But others argue that this much-hyped number is misleadingly positive and ultimately obfuscates the economic hardships facing middle class and low income Americans. To counter the president, Joseph Stiglitz — a Nobel Prize-winning economist who’s a prominent critic of free-market capitalism — came up with his own numbers, penning a memo that places not growth but growing inequality at the heart of American economic life.

What’s more, the memo made its way directly into the hands of Davos attendees thanks to Stiglitz’s wife, Columbia professor Anya Schiffrin. Armed with printouts, she prowled the audience during Trump’s speech.

Among Stiglitz’s claims: despite low unemployment, 44% of Americans are employed in low-wage jobs that pay less than $18,000 a year. The median wage of a full-time male worker is still 3% less than it was forty years ago, and “little progress has been made in reducing racial disparities” in wages. And by 2026, when Trump’s 2017 tax cut takes effect, taxes will increase for “almost 70% of middle-income families.”

Recipients posted pictures on the handout on Twitter throughout the morning. “This is what I call teamwork,” commented Washington Post Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah. There may only be a few years before climate change, in Stiglitz’s own words, “roasts” us all — but in the meantime, true love is not yet dead.

Davos draws its attendees from across the political spectrum, but because they tend to be world leaders and economic titans at the top of the economic ladder, the forum has weathered (in other words, successfully ignored) charges of indifference to the reality of those of us who cannot be categorized as world leaders or economic titans. In 2018, Stiglitz himself wrote a scathing critique of the forum’s “greed is good” ethos, arguing that “these economic elites barely grasp the extent to which this system [globalization] has failed large swaths of the population.”

Irene Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

Meet The Israeli Performance Artist Critiquing Americans’ Obsession With Money

Who would pay a million dollars for a briefcase stuffed with just half of that?

That’s what Capitalist Man wanted to find out.

Dressed in a star-spangled blazer and bowtie, Capitalist Man has been strolling New York’s streets with a clear briefcase full of $100 bills. Accompanied by a security guard, he talked to passers-by about money, their own relationship to it, and how much that briefcase is worth to them.

To his friends and family, Capitalist Man is Israeli-born Eitan Baron, who created the character after a rewarding but frustrating career in property development. Behind the character is a more complicated narrative about the American dream, success, and Americans’ funhouse-mirror feelings around money and success.

The briefcase stunt got Baron kicked out of Art Basel Miami Beach last month. He called it “performance art”. Organizers disagreed, saying he “was detracting from the artists who had paid to exhibit their works,” according to one report. Mind you, this was the same art fair where Maurizio Cattalan’s Comedian — a banana taped to the wall — sold for $120,000 before someone ate the banana.

The Forward caught up with Baron by phone from New York, where he lives with his wife and son.

So who is Capitalist Man?
Capitalist Man is the species that becomes the economic machine. So Capitalist Man is all of us. For me, it’s a personal thing. I came from Israel, and I was chasing the American dream. In order to achieve it, you have to play in that economic system. I’d done it for almost 18 years. It brought me glory and success, but also anger and pain.

Are performances like “Briefcash” and “Student Loans” - where you chain yourself to a cash-filled briefcase labeled “DEBT” at a college graduation - intended to suggest another system entirely?
It’s about taking the economic machine and distributing the wealth more fairly. On a personal ground, I would say that for me, doing these acts helps reverse the feelings about why I’m doing the acts to begin with.

When did you make your first appearance as Capitalist Man?
Around 2013, I’d just finished a real-estate project. I felt like I was at a fork in the road. Someone offered to back me up with a $100 million portfolio for my next project. He said, “Do what you want.” Instead of celebrating, I had so much anger, and a sense of emptiness. I decided to take a break - no more entrepreneur, no more real estate, no more American dream.

I know nothing about art, so I went to Burning Man in 2013. Since early childhood, I’d always dreamed about walking around with money, so I stuffed money into an oxygen tank and took it around. People clapped. And when I got back I became depressed, like what actors experience when they finish a movie. I felt I couldn’t wait another year to do it again, and the character was born. I started by dispensing $100 bills on the street.

What was that like?
It was almost like being Superman — but I was Capitalist Man. I interacted with people affected by that act. People would talk to me like I was a psychiatrist. A mother told me her daughter had just graduated law school with huge debt. All of the acts of showing money in public are connected to very real political characteristics. When I chain myself to money, as in “0% APR”, I’m comparing it to an American in deep consumer debt.

There are so many stereotypes about Jews and money, and it’s a very fraught time. Has anti-Semitism ever come up?

I’m sure it will. Right now, I enjoy the luxury that not a lot of people know me. It’s fascinating to tie yourself to money and walk down the street. I can’t even describe the feeling. You shine. The way I work is also very direct. For ”Student Loans”, I took the project to a graduation. It’s the day students receive their debt, and their parents are there. I focus on them and their environment only. I don’t say anything, and I let them respond. And they do.

Did growing up in Israel influence the concept of Capitalist Man?
Yes. My parents owned a store in Azur, the small town near Holon where I grew up. I worked in that store, and when you work in a family business, you learn very early that every dollar counts. I think that environment shaped my economic views. Everything’s very practical. Everything’s very calculated.

What happened last month at Art Basel Miami Beach?
I didn’t understand it. I thought, I’m an artist, and this venue is supposed to welcome artists. I was drawing crowds, but drawing too much attention. I was carrying something worth carrying. It was like the golden calf. Carrying money in a briefcase is like carrying the modern golden calf.

Are you still involved in real estate?
I’m trying to exit it completely. With the Capitalist Man character, I’m fun and confident. Switching from my former career to this has been like stepping from a horror movie into a comedy.

What’s next for Capitalist Man?
My hope is to have an auction where we sell the briefcase and other accessories and all the money goes to charity. Maybe it’ll happen in a gallery somewhere. My first milestone will be selling that half-million dollars for a million. I need to find the same kind of people who paid $120,000 for that banana.

Where’s Waldo? A striped t-shirt becomes an American Jewish sensation

The Siyum HaShas — a nationwide celebration that ends each cycle of Talmud study — occurs only once every seven and a half years. So when Brooklyn accountant Yonatan Gray had a belated idea for how to celebrate it, he had to wait a long time to put it in action.

At the 2012 Siyum, which took place at New Jersey’s Met Life stadium, Gray looked out at the sea of black-clad attendees and thought about how funny it might be to dress up as the perennially missing children’s book character “Where’s Waldo”. During this year’s Siyum, he did exactly that, donning a red and white striped shirt and cap long enough to snap some photos against the crowd. Not wanting to disrespect the proceedings, Gray took off the costume after a few minutes. But before he even left the stadium, he was inundated with messages from friends who had seen the photo on Twitter alongside captions like, “Waldo does Daf Yomi. So can you.” He had already gone viral.

“My phone was pretty much blowing up,” he said.

On Twitter, pictures appeared of sweatshirts emblazoned with his image and the hashtag #Siyum2020. Gray posted a snapshot of a Siyum attendee in England copying his look. He even appeared as a meme in the Flatbush Jewish Journal, an Orthodox publication.

The taste of instant fame inspired Gray to reprise the costume on a slightly different occasion: the “No Hate No Fear” rally that took place just a few days after the Siyum in protest against the epidemic of anti-Semitic incidents that has swept through New York this fall. His colorful t-shirt wasn’t as noticeable among wide array signs and slogans, but by now he was sufficiently famous that strangers approached him for pictures.

On his way home that same day, Gray made the news for a third time — but not the way he would’ve liked. As he was riding on the subway, a woman noticed his yarmulke and began verbally harassing him, shouting anti-Semitic slurs until he eventually left the train.

“Not the reason I wanted to be on TV,” Gray captured a video of the incident on Twitter. The NYPD has since filed the incident as a hate crime.

The costume’s multi-day odyssey across New York (and across Twitter) captured the spirit of this particularly tumultuous moment in American Jewish life, a time when the Jewish community gathers to celebrate beloved texts and protest fiercely against resurgent anti-Semitism in the span of a few days, all while traveling in public with caution.

And perhaps the timing explains Waldo’s appeal. “I think people always need that moment of humor,” Gray said.

On social media and in person, strangers have contacted Gray, offering congratulations, condolences, and even overnight accommodations — one admirer told Gray to feel welcome at his house if he ever passes through Vancouver. But Waldo’s most lasting impact may be on Gray’s dating life: Gray said (and the Schmooze has independently confirmed) that since his adventures as Waldo began, his dating “resume” has made the rounds of several WhatsApp group chats in the frum community. Recently, a friend told him it was circulating as far afield as Israel.

One thing’s for sure: If any successful set-up happens in the next few months, it’ll be a great story to tell the kids.

Irene Connelly is an intern at the forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

Timothée Chalamet to portray Bob Dylan in upcoming biopic

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, he didn’t know that the greatest accolade of his life still lay ahead — the honor of being portrayed by an actor whose face is so precious people make money by superimposing it on Impressionist art.

In other words, Timothée Chalamet.

On January 6, Fox Searchlight announced to Entertainment Weekly that Chalamet is in talks to portray the folk rock hero in an upcoming biopic directed by ‘Ford v Ferrari’ alum James Mangold.

Titled ‘Going Electric,’ the film will focus on Dylan’s transition from folk to rock, embodied in his controversial decision to perform with an amp at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival (the audience roundly booed what they saw as a betrayal of traditional acoustics. Among the crowd, singer Pete Seeger declared, ““If I had an axe, I’d chop the microphone cable right now.”).

Chalamet, whose exceptionally expressive eyebrows and charming bone structure give him the aura of a brooding princeling on the cusp of adulthood, has had a busy year portraying brooding princelings on the cusp of adulthood: He’s conquered England as Henry V in Netflix’s ‘The King,’ and provided holiday feels as the charmingly dissipated (slash serious mansplainer, but that’s a story for another day) robber-baron Laurie in ‘Little Women.’ At promotional events for both projects — once at a photo shoot and another time during a red carpet premiere — he’s distributed treats from Tompkins Square Bagels, thus fulfilling the ancient Talmudic commandment that enjoins Jewish starlets to give back by aggressively promoting their preferred bagel purveyors.

Given that Chalamet and Dylan are two of the only people that most of the Twitterverse can agree to stan, as the youth say, the number of delighted memes and side-by-side pout comparisons that have emerged in the hours since the announcement shouldn’t be surprising.

But let’s not get too hopeful about the prospect of these two schmoozing on the red carpet — Dylan didn’t bother to schlep to Sweden to claim his literal Nobel Prize, so it doesn’t seem terribly likely he’ll show up for the, um, third biopic lavished upon him.

Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

Karlie Kloss’s Kushner Connections Come Under Fire on Project Runway

On Thursday, our favorite new member of the tribe Karlie Kloss was called to answer for her political connections on the literal runway. The supermodel-turned-coder, who serves as a judge on the current season of Project Runway, was taken aback when a contestant sardonically asked if she would wear one of his creations to dinner with her in-laws, White House advisors Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

This week’s episode challenged contestants to create an ensemble that Kloss could wear to an upcoming event in Paris. Aspiring designer Tyler Neasloney was already in hot water for the skirt-and-blouse combo he presented: one of the judges had lambasted the outfit, saying that while it might be acceptable “in some place that is neither Paris nor Montauk nor Martha’s Vineyard” (in other words, some place where ordinary people might conceivably live) — it wasn’t fit for Kloss to wear on any occasion.

This sick burn might have leveled the Schmooze, but Neasloney was ready. “Not even to dinner with the Kushners?” he quipped.

Karlie dated Joshua Kushner, scion-in-waiting to the Kushner real estate clan, for six years before marrying him in an intimate ceremony in October 2018. Their relationship reportedly faced intense opposition from Joshua’s family, and Kloss converted to Judaism before her wedding.

While Karlie, Joshua, Jared, and Ivanka share the same well-serumed skin and propensity for private jet travel, the younger Kushners have emerged as a liberal contrast to their White House counterparts. Fans on social media greet their every fashionably progressive gesture — from an Instagram selfie Kloss posted of herself voting for Hillary to Joshua’s decision to attend the first Women’s March while Jared was celebrating his father-in-law’s inauguration — as a symbol of the #resistance, especially spicy because of their proximity to the people being resisted.

But neither member of this power couple likes to resist very openly. Kloss, who is famously private about her marriage and usually declines to comment on her in-laws, came closest to stating open opposition in an interview with British Vogue, when she affirmed her decision “to focus on the values that I share with my husband.”

In a now-viral video clip, Kloss spent a few seconds pursing her lips like a mom who’s disappointed but not angry with whatever you just did. Composure recovered, she returned drag for drag, calling Neasloney’s fabrics “cheap” and his pockets “ill-placed.” Ultimately, she concluded, he “missed the mark on all accounts.”

We have to hand it to her, she has a point: Neasloney’s skirt-and-blouse ensemble was something that an ordinary person might conceivably wear, which means it was altogether too proletarian for Kloss’s Instagram feed.

Neasloney was promptly given the boot from Project Runway, but never fear — his memory will be a blessing in many a meme to come.

Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

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