INTERVIEW: The Mooch: ‘Relax — none of us are getting out of here alive’

INTERVIEW: The Mooch: ‘Relax — none of us are getting out of here alive’
(Illustration by Luis Grañena)
Updated 03 December 2019

INTERVIEW: The Mooch: ‘Relax — none of us are getting out of here alive’

INTERVIEW: The Mooch: ‘Relax — none of us are getting out of here alive’
  • Anthony Scaramucci discusses Saudi Arabia’s global image and why he will not abandon his campaign against Trump

You cannot publish everything Anthony Scaramucci tells you. I’ve had conversations with him several times on recent visits to the Middle East where he has offered views — for example, on the state of health of the president of the US — that would not make it into a family newspaper on grounds of taste, or legality, or both.

Fortunately, what you can publish is more than enough to make a decent interview, so it was with a sense of expectation that I started a phone call with the hedge fund manager and communications adviser to President Donald Trump, whom many call “The Mooch.” I was not disappointed.

He wanted to talk first about the forthcoming forum he is staging in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, the SALT Conference, named after his financial business Skybridge, which he said is “one of the joys of my life.”

The event has been going since 2009, with a must-attend annual gathering in Las Vegas, Nevada as its flagship event. But this is the first time it has come to the Middle East. It was a choice between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, he said, and he went for Abu Dhabi because it is “a little more open,” he explained.

“I know Saudi Arabia is in the process of opening, but Abu Dhabi was the most collaborative of the places we considered. We’ve been able to mix our DNA with theirs to make a blended version,” he said.

Scaramucci was especially impressed with Ahmed Al-Sayegh, the executive chairman of the Abu Dhabi Global Market where the SALT event will be held. “He’s my guy. He’s the guy I want to do business with,” he said.


BIO

BORN: Long Island, NY, 1964.

EDUCATION:

  • Paul D Schreiber Senior High School.
  • BA in economics Tuft’s University
  • Doctor of Jurisprudence, Harvard Law School.

 

CAREER:

  • Investment banker, Goldman Sachs.
  • Co-founder, Oscar Capital Management.
  • Lehman Brothers.
  • Founder and managing partner, Skybridge.

 


With the SALT plug over, we talked more about the Middle East. He has been coming to the region since 2005, when he started doing investment business for some big Saudi investors, and only Yemen remains on the list of places he has not visited. His most recent trip was to the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh.

“I’ve never been to a conference like that before, and I’ve been to Davos and hundreds of others around the world. I was blown away by the FII, by the amount of money spent and by the range of people there. I met maybe 100 people I’d never have met anywhere else,” he said.

Before that, we had chatted at the Peace to Prosperity conference organized by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in Manama, Bahrain. “Trump hired a 38-year-old to bring peace to the Middle East, hoping he’d figure it out. I don’t think there’s going to be peace as a result,” he said dismissively.

He called the Middle East “a rough neighborhood,” but said Western media often exaggerates the problems there, especially on cable TV. “The Western media isn’t going to like me saying this, but I get along with these people in the region, they are very welcoming. And the cities are very modern. New York and London are layered over by modernity, but here they’ve done an amazing job on infrastructure. I’d trade Dubai international airport for JFK tonight,” he said.

And it’s not just physical facilities he admires. “They’re working hard on tolerance. I realize things are not perfect and we live in a rough world, but you’ve got to keep working towards modernity and racial and religious tolerance,” he said.

Our conversation came round to the late Jamal Khashoggi, who was a regular guest at Scaramucci’s annual gathering at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “It (his death) was an unmitigated disaster and tragedy. Sometime decisions and institutions are flawed, and have tragic consequences.”

But he does not think the incident should lead to a reduction of US involvement in the Middle East, as some US politicians have advocated. “At the same time, I want a better place for my children, so it’s a good thing for us to have a presence in the region,” he said.

“Obviously, mistakes were made in Saudi Arabia, but when I see what’s been going on in the Kingdom, it will be a more tolerant and open place than it was 20 years ago,” he said.

The damage caused by the Khashoggi affair will linger for some time, he believes. “It will not be solved quickly. If I was on the Kingdom’s crisis management team, I’d advise the crown prince to open up more to the press. I wrote an article in the US stating that the media was not the ‘enemy of the people,’ and the president did not like that, but leaders get too sensitive about criticism from the press.

“A free and fair press globally helps society by providing a voice to the people and makes them feel empowered. It teaches young people to think freely. A lot of economic innovation, like Facebook and Google, comes from that,” he said.

His advice to the Saudi leadership in the wake of Khashoggi is simple: “You’re winning. Ignore the criticism. The House of Saudi has enjoyed 80 years of peace and security despite some obvious problems. Having a free press would allow you to help fix those problems.”

But he is not telling the Kingdom how to organize its affairs. “I’m very respectful of other systems and cultures. The West often makes the mistake of trying to impose our systems and values on others. I’m just advising them to open it up a little bit.” 

Scaramucci was at the receiving end of a “free and fair press” during his brief stint as director of communications for Trump in 2017. His ten days in the White House ended in a tirade of scurrilous comments on his enemies in the administration after a journalist published what he regarded as off-the-record remarks delivered with characteristic candidness.




Panelists are shown in this still image of a video taken during the SALT conference in Las Vegas last May. (Screengrab from YouTube video)

It was a life-changing moment for The Mooch. He had been a backer of Democrats in the past, but became a Trump supporter during the 2016 campaign. After his dismissal from the White House, and especially after some of Trump’s most vicious anti-immigrant comments, he turned gradually into one of the administration’s most vociferous opponents.

He is now actively campaigning to have Trump removed from office, and encouraging other Republicans to stand against him in next year’s election. His Twitter feed is one of the main sources of “resistance” to the Trump administration.

“Given his rank lawlessness and criminal activity, the lack of resistance in the Republican party to him tells you a lot about the hypocrisy in America today. He has clearly broken the law, but he has a group of sycophants and acolytes who won’t condemn what he’s doing.

“I just think he’s the wrong leader for the US. Our system is supposed to ensure that everyone is subject to the law. The president is supposed to serve, not rule. I think the guy is a traitor,” he said.

He thinks that Joe Biden, the former vice president in the Obama administration, has the best chance of beating Trump next year because he can flip vital states in the midwest that narrowly chose Trump in 2016. “The Trump campaign is most afraid of Biden, which is why they’re working overtime to try to dig up dirt on him,” he said.

On the Republican side, he has championed the cause of Utah Senator Mitt Romney, but he does not see any serious challenge from the Republicans. “I don’t think anyone with a real chance will step up. The people best positioned are standing aside in order to prepare themselves for the future. They hate his guts, but they’re afraid of him,” he said.

Whatever happens in the run-up to the election, Scaramucci will not be giving up his campaign against the president, despite a relative truce in the Twitter war between himself and Trump. “He has not hit back against me since August because he doesn’t want to escalate the situation, but I’m going to keep hitting him. I’m not a politician — I know how to handle myself in a streetlight.”

To illustrate his determination to fight the Trump administration, as well as his overall life philosophy, The Mooch told me his favorite slogan, taken from the great American film director and comedian Mel Brooks: “Relax. None of us are getting out of here alive.”


Dubai government agency first to approve job titles for remote work

Dubai government agency first to approve job titles for remote work
Updated 20 min 5 sec ago

Dubai government agency first to approve job titles for remote work

Dubai government agency first to approve job titles for remote work
  • Remote work can now be done under normal circumstances, the department said

DUBAI: Dubai Municipality has become the first government agency in the UAE to approve job titles for remote work, state news agency WAM has reported.
Remote work can now be done under normal circumstances, the department said, parallel to its other work setups such as its shifting system.
The move comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has made private, and even public, workplaces rethink ways to continue their operations despite the crisis.
Workplace innovation is not new to Dubai Municipality, as it pioneered flexible work systems for government departments in the UAE in 2007.
The pandemic has also made the municipality accelerate its smart transformation, to make the remote work system effective.


Mubadala-owned GlobalFoundries invests $6bn amid worldwide chip shortage

Mubadala-owned GlobalFoundries invests $6bn amid worldwide chip shortage
Updated 42 min 20 sec ago

Mubadala-owned GlobalFoundries invests $6bn amid worldwide chip shortage

Mubadala-owned GlobalFoundries invests $6bn amid worldwide chip shortage
  • Tuesday’s expansion is in addition to the company’s previously announced plan to invest $1.4 billion in 2021 alone to expand its manufacturing capacity

SINGAPORE: Chipmaker GlobalFoundries said on Tuesday it will spend $6 billion to expand capacity at its factories in Singapore, Germany and the United States amid a chip shortage that is hurting automakers and electronics firms globally.
The US-based company, owned by Abu Dhabi’s state-owned fund Mubadala, said it will invest more than $4 billion in Singapore, and $1 billion each in the others over the next two years. The unlisted company’s Singapore operations contribute about a third of its revenue.
“I think the next five to eight years, we’re going to be chasing supply not demand as an industry,” GlobalFoundries CEO Thomas Caulfield told a media briefing. He added that the company was prioritising automotive customers.
Tuesday’s expansion is in addition to the company’s previously announced plan to invest $1.4 billion in 2021 alone to expand its manufacturing capacity.
The chip shortage, which began in earnest in late December, was caused in part by automakers miscalculating demand for semiconductors in the pandemic. It was aggravated by electronics manufacturers placing more chip orders as work-from-home practices fueled a surge in sales of computers and other devices.
Large chipmakers including Intel Corp. have warned that the shortage will last well into next year. Intel announced in March a $20 billion plan to expand its advanced chip making capacity, while Taiwan’s TSMC said in April it will invest $100 billion over the next three years.
As well, governments, including those of the United States and Japan, have intervened to urge faster supplies. Earlier this month, the United States approved $54 billion in funds to increase US production and research into semiconductors and telecom equipment.
Caulfield said funding for GlobalFoundries’ expansion plan included investments from governments and pre-payments from customers.
The $4 billion investment in Singapore is the first of a phased expansion program planned by the company for the next five to 10 years, the CEO said. He did not specify a total amount.
The new Singapore fab will add capacity of 450,000 wafers per year, taking the campus’s total to 1.5 million, and the company expects to begin production in early 2023. Most of the added production will come online by end 2023.
The factory will make chips for cars and 5G technology, with long-term customer agreements already in place. It will add about 1,000 jobs in Singapore.


Sudan to abolish official customs dollar exchange rate

Sudan to abolish official customs dollar exchange rate
Updated 46 min 35 sec ago

Sudan to abolish official customs dollar exchange rate

Sudan to abolish official customs dollar exchange rate
  • The customs dollar exchange rate has been problematic for importers historically as it has valued the local currency at a higher rate

RIYADH: Sudan has taken the decision to abolish the official customs dollar exchange rate, Asharq Business reported, citing unnamed sources.
Sudan’s Finance Minister Jibril Ibrahim earlier pledged that the government was committed to canceling the so-called customs exchange rate used to determine import duties. It comes amid ongoing fiscal reforms that have been encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and other donors.
The customs dollar exchange rate has been problematic for importers historically as it has valued the local currency at a higher rate than reflected by the black market.
Ibrahim said the government would press ahead with its liberalization program until the country’s economy recovered from previous distortions.
He also said that the subsidy for wheat, cooking gas and fuel oil that is used in the production of electricity will not be canceled this year.
Devaluing the currency is one of a number of economic reforms that Sudan hopes will help it emerge from an enduring economic crisis.

 


Abu Dhabi creates tourism company to promote the emirate

Abu Dhabi creates tourism company to promote the emirate
Updated 53 min 23 sec ago

Abu Dhabi creates tourism company to promote the emirate

Abu Dhabi creates tourism company to promote the emirate
  • Tourism 365 will support ADNEC’s broader rule to position Abu Dhabi as a key tourist destination in the region

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) has launched a new company to develop the UAE capital’s tourism sector, state news agency WAM has reported.
Tourism 365 will support ADNEC’s broader rule to position Abu Dhabi as a key tourist destination in the region.
It will work with big industry players in Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s tourism scene, including the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism, as well as private firms locally and abroad.
The new company aims to increase leisure visitors in the emirate, and ultimately enhance guest experiences.
While Dubai has long been the UAE's dominant tourism market, other emirates within the country are raising their profile and positioning themselves in slightly different segments. Ras Al Khaimah, the UAE's northernmost emirate is also heavily investing in the sector and targeting outdoor adventure-seekers while Abu Dhabi has in the recent past focused on its cultural offering.
“Over the coming months, Tourism 365 will collaborate closely with other tourism-focused entities, helping to collectively grow the future of the tourism sector,” its executive director, Roula Jouny, said.
“Our subsidiaries will bolster the wider tourism offerings of not just Abu Dhabi, but the UAE as a whole, increasing visitor numbers and promoting the nation’s tourism assets across the globe,” she added.
It comes as the UAE gradually eases travel restrictions for both incoming and outgoing travelers


Lebanon raises price of bread amid crippling economic crisis

Lebanon raises price of bread amid crippling economic crisis
Updated 36 min 48 sec ago

Lebanon raises price of bread amid crippling economic crisis

Lebanon raises price of bread amid crippling economic crisis
  • Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s economy ministry on Tuesday raised the price of subsidized bread for the fifth time in a year amid the tiny country’s worsening economic and financial crisis.
The ministry said the reason behind the latest increase is that the central bank has ended sugar subsidies, which adds to the cost of bread production. 
Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history — one that the World Bank has said is likely to rank as one of the worst the world has seen in the past 150 years.
The World Bank said in a report this month that Lebanon’s gross domestic product is projected to contract 9.5 percent in 2021, after shrinking by 20.3 percent in 2020 and 6.7 percent the year before.
Lebanon’s currency has lost 90 percent of its value, breaking a record low earlier this month of 15,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on the black market. The official exchange rate remains 1,507 pounds to the dollar.
The central bank has been cutting back on subsidies as foreign currency reserves have dropped from $30 billion at the start of the crisis in October 2019, to nearly $15 billion at the present time.
Most Lebanese have seen their purchase power drop and more than half the population now lives below the poverty line. There are severe shortages in gasoline, medicines and other vital products. Electricity cuts last for much of the day.
The government in June last year raised the price of flatbread, a staple in Lebanon, by more than 30 percent — for the first time in a decade. It has since raised the price three times before Tuesday.
The Ministry of Economy says 910 grams (2 pounds) of bread will be sold for 3,250 pounds. It used to be sold for 2,750 pounds before the latest increase.