The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Obama Starts to Cash In

It took Bill and Hillary years to get to 100 million. The Obamas, well…

Barack and Michelle Obama have sold the rights to their next books to Penguin Random House for a sum that has reportedly passed $60 million, according to a report by the Financial Times. (They will be writing separate books, but the rights were sold jointly.) As far as past and present presidential book deals go, this one’s a biggie: It surpasses previous records set by George W. Bush’s reported $7 million deal and Bill Clinton’s reported $15 million dollar advance.

Penguin-Random House, of course, is the result of a merger that Obama’s administration should not have allowed.

I’m waiting for the speeches, those should be wonderful.

I think this is only fair, though. Clinton may have carried water for the rich, but Obama played a huge part in making sure that they didn’t lose all their money after the financial crisis (yes, Bush and Bernanke started the bailouts, but Obama had them all by the short and curlies and could easily have put almost every senior executive in the financial industry in prison for fraud, and could have spiked large parts of the bailouts had he chosen to do so.)

This is why I don’t get very worked up about Trump’s conflicts of interest. They are real, but the only difference is that he’s getting paid now as opposed to later. Politicians exist to do what rich people want, Trump is only cutting out the middle man and the partial delay.

This is an important point, and I want to encourage you to read this longer article on how politicians are paid by rich people to fuck over ordinary people. It’s not about donations for elections.

Obama continued the trend, which has gotten worse for decades, of the rich getting more and more of all the gains of the economy. He did not try, in any way, to reverse it. And that’s because he knew he was being paid to funnel money to the rich. That was his job, he did it, and now he is getting his reward.

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  1. Arthur

    In other words he was bought and stayed bought. Great line from one of my favorite mob movies ‘The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre’: “We buy one mayor. He loses we buy the next.”

  2. realitychecker

    Gee, what a surprise.

  3. realitychecker

    Could you use a little more Vaseline, please, sir?

    Much appreciated.

  4. Hugh

    From wiki, “Bribery is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty.” This is illegal. So the powers that be simply reverse the order of the actions. Instead of I give you something, and you do something, now we have you do something, and I give you something. Now it’s all legal and nice and tidy.

    No one really cares what Bill and Hillary Clinton have to say about anything, and certainly not at the prices they’ve been paid. But every future President and spouse see what they have gotten, and they go damn! that’s me too. And it influences their conduct. The people and groups that can pay these prices have your ear, and why not, they are your kind of people. And even if they don’t start as your kind of people, they become your kind of people. Or rather, you may not start out as their kind of people, but you achieve enough power and you become and are treated like their kind of people.

    So does anyone think that Penguin-Random House is going to make any money off this deal? Of course not. Yet isn’t that what American corporations are all about? Not just to make a profit but maximize it. So where is the pay off for them? Well, as Ian notes, they already got it.

    And as Ian says in his link, this works for those in Congress, their senior staff, and high level bureaucrats. The revolving door isn’t just about gaining special access. It is how modern “legal” bribery is done nowadays.

    Every so often, there is some kabuki moves to curb the more blatant of these practises, but they are usually laughable. Like lobbying bans. Trump, for example, is promoting a 5 year lobbying ban. But the last time, the Congress did one of these A) they had a lot of rats “retire” before the deadline and B) those who remained simply became “consultants” when they left. They got paid more and worked even less.

    And here too it works the opposite way. Anyone remember how Obama wasn’t going to hire any lobbyists? Anyone remember how long that lasted or how many “exceptions” were made? Short answer: not long and lots. The argument is that bans “limit” the candidate pool. Or look at Trump’s ban again, or rather how he gets around it. He doesn’t hire the lobbyists. He hires their bosses. The umpteen appointees from Goldman Sachs and the billionaire Cabinet picks. When these guys leave, they won’t become lobbyists. They’ll go back to hiring them.

    A final note: How much of these books do you think that Barack and Michelle are actually going to write? Can you see them huddled over their laptops for at least 4-5 hours a day for the next six months to year? Me either.

  5. Kris R

    Not that I disagree with the inherent conflicts of interest, or how the rich control the politicians, but in this case he’s a clearly popular ex-President who’s sold his book rights. Why would this be an example of cronyism? Wouldn’t this be in high demand regardless?

  6. realitychecker

    @ Kris R

    Oh, yes, I.m sure they are both such great writers, the read will really be worth the money.

    Wanna buy a bridge? Only slightly rusted . . .

  7. Ian Welsh

    Sixty million?

    Somehow Carter and before just didn’t get deals like that, even in inflation adjusted amounts. No matter how popular they were.

    I wonder why.

  8. NR

    The $60 million is an advance on royalties. It’s not about how good they are as writers, it’s about how many books they’re going to sell. If you don’t Obama’s book is going to sell like crazy, you’re out of your mind. The publishers know this is going to fly off the shelves, that’s why they’re paying such a large advance.

    I completely agree with the point that it’s blatant corruption for politicians to essentially get bribes after they leave office, but this isn’t a good example of that.

  9. Willy

    The problem with persuading the typical liberal lemming to a more accurate point of view, is that the Obama family was historically black, there’s the historic precedent of POTUS books and speeches, his final approvals were at 60% or so, and publishers are known to fight over such business opportunities.

    The second problem is many don’t even know what a neoliberal is. They’re still stuck in the place where neoconservatives are the mortal enemy, and they’re oblivious that their mindless occupation bickering with such is probably by kleptocratic design.

  10. Ian Welsh

    Advances don’t have to be paid back.

    The author of Twilight got about 750K advances for her three Twilight novels.

    The Obamas will have to sell a LOT of books to earn back that advance, even at the (presumably) very generous royalty levels they got.

    Obama made 6.8 million dollars on his his bio about his father, and 8.8 on his “letters to my very rich kids”. To earn out this new advance he would have to sell a little under 9 times as many books as he did on fathers. Heck, call it 8 for book inflation. (Use 7 from letters if you wish, it changes little).

    Fathers was the 4th best selling bio of since 2001. Selling 8 times as many books would mean it would sell approximately 5.6 million books, which would make it more than 5 times more successful than the #1 best selling biography of since 2001.

    So, no, this is corruption. The odds of him earning out that entire advance are bad and this is a fine example of that.

    You people get hurt badly by politicians and then make excuses for their crooked self-dealing, excuses which wouldn’t hold up to 2 minutes of googling, at that.

    This is before we even get to pols over the last 40 years lowering the tax rates. Try this stunt 40 years ago and you would have paid far more of it to the taxman.

    (Here are some other celebrity advances. Not one of them is 1/10th Obama’s:

  11. I wonder when Michelle for President will happen.

  12. Ed

    Actually, there’s a very good chance Penguin-Random House will make their money back. There’s a long storied tradition of political think tanks, lobbying groups, campaigns, etc. making bulk book buys (usually in a timed way to get on the best sellers’ lists) and then giving those books away. It works a lot better for politicians who are currently in office, but it should still work for the Obamas.

  13. Bill Hicks

    I always love it when I pass a bargain bin for books about a year or so after these pieces of propaganda garbage are published and see 50 hardback copies being sold for $4.98. The difference between presidential memoirs and Mein Kampf is that while nobody read any of them after they were published, the Germans actually paid to have Hitler’s book on their coffee tables.

  14. Bill Hicks

    Ed–what you’re describing is exactly where the payoff is…rich people funneling money to the Obamas without giving the appearance of doing so directly.

  15. Tom W Harris

    Michelle will have to wait until Oprah’s out of office.

  16. Hugh

    I agree with Ian. My seat of the pants calculation ran something like this (and no I am not in publishing):

    Retail price: $25
    Production cost: $5
    Retail/Amazon cut: $10
    Publisher cut: $10

    With numbers like these, it would take 6 million units between the two books before the publisher made back any money. Bulk purchases by political interested groups are probably at most in the low tens of thousands and are meant to push rankings at the NYT and Amazon. They are a minor factor overall.

    I think that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was the number one hardback in 2016 and sold about 4 million copies in the US. Not sure what the top nonfiction one was but I assume it sold a lot less

  17. NR

    That list you cited of best-selling biographies is for UK sales only. For proof, they list Obama’s “Dreams of My Father” at only 700,000 sales, when the book has actually sold 4.6 million copies:

    So if the new book sold 8 times as many copies, that would be somewhere around 36 million copies. Easily enough to justify a $30 million dollar advance (remember, the $60 million is for two books).

    Will it sell that much? I don’t know. But the publisher is betting it will.

  18. NR

    Hugh: “Dreams of my Father” sold 4.6 million copies (see the link in my previous comment). 6 million sales for the new book isn’t that far-fetched.

  19. Ian Welsh


    it doesn’t change the math. He’d still have to sell 7 X as much, since the amount earned was not taken from that article.

    So what you’re saying is that he’d need to sell 7 x 4.6 million.

    Yup, not happening and no, I don’t think the publisher believes it will sell that much.

    But we’ll know in a few years. I wonder if there’ll have been a new financial crisis by then, since Obama did everything in his power to make sure there would be another one. Lucky him, Trump will probably get all the blame if there is one.

  20. NR

    3.5X as much, since the advance was for two books. Or let’s say about 5X as much, since Michelle’s book probably won’t sell as many copies.

    Not a given that it will sell that much, but certainly not impossible either.

    But you’re right; we’ll see in a few years.

  21. Ian Welsh

    Right, you have the math correct, I think. We’ll see. Whatever the case , cashing in for 60 million on the Presidency, from a company whose merger you approved (and shouldn’t have) is unseemly.

    At best.

  22. markfromireland

    @ Ian

    Unseemly at best? Oh come now Ian sytemic corruption isn’t really corruption. And anyway that sort of law is really only meant for the little people at the implementation level and not the grand high strategic panjandurums for whom at most it’s a guideline as to seemly behaviour.

  23. Hugh

    Having googled a bit, I find that the only people who have semi-reliable counts of books sold are book publishers who generally don’t release actual numbers to the public and an expensive subscription only service called Bookscan.

    Re Dreams From My Father, a hardcover edition was published in 1995 and a paperback in 1996. It initially sold less than 10,000 hardcover copies and went out of print. It was reprinted again as a hardcover in 2004, audio CD in 2005, hardcover and ebook in 2007, and paperback in 2008. Various translated editions appeared in 2008 and 2009. So even if we accept a 4.6 million number, we are looking at numerous editions, publishers, and platforms with very different costs and profit margins, not to mention remaindering.

    All this brings us around to the fact that it is extremely unlikely that Penguin will make much if any profit from this book deal, which brings up the question of why they would expend so much of their time, resources, and money on it.

  24. Tom

    Well Obama was far more Brazen than Bush, so it doesn’t surprise me. He protected the Bankers, expanded the wars, made them worse, and started new ones with the after effects. He intervened when he shouldn’t have and didn’t intervene when he should have. He supported dictators instead of the people.

    And he brought this home by protecting Snyder who poisoned the children of Flint.

  25. Dan Meadows

    Hugh, Don’t forget marketing costs, which on a book they’re shelling out this kind of advance, will be a hefty payout. Advertising, buying placement on front tables in bookstores, etc. They also heavily discount print editions these days as part of their strategy to undercut ebooks marketshare. And then there’s remainders, which aren’t as big a cost suck as they used to be thanks to Amazon, but that only means we’re talking about 20% of print runs instead of 40%. I highly doubt they’ll make their money back. Anything’s possible, I suppose, but these would have to be record setting Harry Potter/50 Shades sales numbers for these types of books to even get close. Pulling that on a pair of memoirs from a former president and first lady? Good luck.

    They also do this before they’re in office as well. HRC reportedly got a $14 million advance for Hard Choices, her manifesto leading into this presidential run. That one was even more insanely out of line if it were actually about making money. Lo and behold, they didn’t even come close to earning that back and very likely lost millions.

  26. highrpm

    barack serving tables at his local denny’s diner? are you kidding? just like malcolom x. hell, they’re the visionaries. leave that low level hourly wage stuff to the slave commoners.

  27. Willy

    Wouldn’t they increase the percentage choom by having it printed in China?

  28. Bill Hicks

    I would ask anyone who doesn’t think this is a total scam how they think it is possible that Ann Coulter has published about a dozen books, all of which have hit the bestseller lists. Do you really think anyone other than a few political wonks actually reads that sewage? The people behind this racket are billionaires. Paying to make these books look like they are popular is merely optics for them.

    Similarly, now that the Washington ComPost has been bought by Jeff Bozos (intentional misspelling) it no longer matters whether that McCarthyite rag makes a profit. It has become the propaganda ministry for the wealthy and powerful, and to him worth every dime he may lose by owning it.

  29. EverythingsJake

    Obama was a very good enabler of abuse, talking people into believing they weren’t getting raped by the rich. A good acquaintance was an OFA volunteer and she simply would not have it, even after years of evidence to the contrary, that Obama didn’t give a hoot about her, and moreover well knew he assisted knowingly, willingly and deeply in her daily misery. He earned his thirty pieces well.

  30. markfromireland

    @Bill Hicks March 2, 2017

    It has become the propaganda ministry for the wealthy and powerful, and to him worth every dime he may lose by owning it.

    I wonder how much of those losses you’re subsidising in the form of tax write-offs.

  31. EmilianoZ

    Nice try to tarnish our beloved 0bama, but it doesnt stand to the tiniest scrutiny.

    0bama saved the top 10%. By saving the banks, he saved the assets of all of them. Some benefited more than others, but they all owe him. By the corruption model, they should all pay him something. But in reality, he will only receive something from a handful of people. Penguin/Random House are ponying up big time. Maybe he’ll get a gig or two from Goldman. But what about the majority of the 10%? Are they gonna reimburse Penguin or Goldman? Are they freeloaders? Are freeloaders tolerated among the 10%? God knows freeloaders arent tolerated among the 99%, especially the perceived freeloaders of the sun-tanned kind. What’s happening? Are the 0.01% happy to pay for the 10%? How socialist of them! Come on, we all know they’re just as divided and envious of each other as we are. We all know this aint how things work.

    The truth is that Penguin/Random got themselves the deal of the century. And it’s a double deal, a husband/wife thing. Everybody will want to buy both books to compare the 2 different points of view on the same events. You can already imagine a fascinating Rashomon kinda movie. And Penguin/Random has announced that a large part of the profits will go the charities. What’s not lo like?

  32. Z

    The backdoor bribe …


  33. Isn’t this the greatest thing since sliced bread, it keeps happening and get a load of all the people thinking this is legit, christ o mighty, is anyone ever going to wake up to this shit !!! Dems call themselves the thinking party, huh !!!!

  34. Lisa

    I do not give a F**k after writing 3,000+ words defending trans kids from MoA’s transphobic ”’trans supporting parents are like the parents of suicide bombers’ crap ..

    I have enough of this hatred…

    Hey come at me..all you want … do not attack trans kids you miserable cowardly pieces of crap. You disgust me.

  35. markfromireland


    How is this relevant to the topic at hand ?

  36. Willy

    “we all know they’re just as divided and envious of each other as we are. We all know this aint how things work.”

    They’re just like us? In that world, if you don’t play the game you risk getting wacked. I know the financial advisor to a former top tech for a large utility, who was “wacked” for not playing along with the corrupt whims of a certain well-known national senator. He couldn’t find work anywhere after being scapegoated. By all accounts the advisor and tech were high integrity guys, the senator a corporate lobby culture beneficiary. Anecdotal bullshit? I’ve seen this sort of thing many times at many levels. This is how power rolls. They are not like us. Know any whistleblowers? Ever wonder how people like say, PCRoberts, are doing? In that world you rock the boat you get shunned. Or usually worse.

    I’m most curious about how these authors will address the decline in worker economics, (which certainly appears to be becoming a major concern moving forward).

  37. S Brennan


    I used to read/consider your posts and often comment upon them, now I ignore all of them. Why? Same subject only the segue differs.

    I want all to live safely, peacefully and with respect for their similarly peaceful neighbor. I think people with non-conformal gender id, who are otherwise well socialized, should be able to seek employment & housing without discrimination.

    Having said that, I do not think non-conformal gender id is the only subject worthy of discussion. Similarly, I do not believe b was wise to make it a topic of discussion at MOA…and I said as much…why bring it here? I really wish you’d go back to posting relevant comments.

  38. Hugh

    So do you think Obama is going to create a family foundation/Global Initiative and give lots of highly paid speeches?

    Suggested names for his initiative: Obama Organization for Peace and Security (Oops), Security Obama-style (SOS), Policy Initiative for a Secure Society (PISS), or Mission Obama for a New Economy and You (MONEY)

  39. Ché Pasa

    After the Revolution comes, we should make it a rule that after their term of office, high government officials should go immediately to jail or to a nunnery/monastery under a strict vow of silence, poverty and charity so that they cannot in any way, ever, profit from their time in office.

    The very idea.

  40. b.

    I agree with the sentiments, but I suspect you oversimplify. Obama (either) is cashing in as a celebrity, in the Ophrama mold – unless there will be an access-brokering meta-charity (serving the founders, not the “beneficiaries’) the powered couple from the Chicago gentrification machine might just leave it at that. The only reason for the “Shining One” to go further would be a desire for power for its own sake, not for payoff. That’s certainly what drives Clinton – the Foundation might have a reduced take now, but how much money did the two of them expect to need?

    Obama being board-of-directored, or working with the tycoons of redirected information (Thiel, Zuck in the various steeringhouses of a “captain of industry”, now those would certainly be examples of payoff deferral. Unfortunately we still define the honesty of a politician as proportional to the time gap between service and retainerment benefits.

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