Movie Review: The King’s Speech

I may be a bit late to the party but last weekend I (Steve) watched “The King’s Speech” for the first time. I was blown away. The acting was extraordinary, the story true but more importantly, the life lessons profound.

The story is set in England just prior to World War II. It revolves around Prince Albert who would later become King of England. Albert has a speech impediment, a severe stammer, which causes him to be withdrawn and not at all eager to perform public duties. However, since he has an older brother Edward, Duke of Windsor, Albert takes comfort in knowing he will likely never be King.

At the same time, Hitler has risen to power within Germany and its army is on the march to conquer Europe.  The stammering Prince must face the emergence of radio as a means of communication. His stammer is now for all the world to hear. Undeterred, Albert gives speeches as best he can, often so terrified he freezes up during their presentations. He has hired and fired a variety of speech coaches to help overcome the problem but to no avail. Nothing seemed to work. None-the-less his wife, Elizabeth I, remains intent on helping him and stumbles upon an Australian speech therapist who looks promising. This is where the movie begins.

Colin Firth plays Prince Albert and Geoffrey Rush the part of, Lionel, the speech therapist. Lionel is a self-possessed man who is not intimidated by the Prince. He sets the terms and conditions of therapy and demands the Prince come to his office.  He says within those walls the two would be equals. Lionel calls Albert “Bertie,” a family nickname. It infuriates Albert as do many of Lionel’s methods. Lionel acquiesces to but one of Albert’s demands: that therapy be limited to vocal exercises and breathing techniques with no delving into personal matters. This despite Lionel’s certainty that they would eventually have to get at the emotional trauma that caused the stammer to begin with, as was the case with all stammers.

Somehow, during the process of therapy, an unlikely trust and friendship develops between the two men.  Such that when their father, King George V dies and Prince Edward ascends to the throne, the unlikely becomes Albert’s greatest nightmare. His brother abdicates the throne to marry an American divorcee. Albert visits Lionel at his office and the two share a cup of tea and the soon-to-be crowned King reveals his past. A nanny who deprived him of food, inflicted physical pain and favored his brother. Further, parents so disengaged that it took them a year to notice he was emaciated. There was the origin of the stammer. Finally revealing this long buried shame, Prince Albert becomes King George VI.

There are two remarkable messages from this movie that can serve us all. Carole and I share them both here.

Steve

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins speaks at length about working on oneself. For example, he has had many clients who made fortunes only to lose them. When Robbins probed to find out why some achieved great success only to lose it, he discovered that he could teach them techniques but if the client did not make the deep and lasting changes in their thinking, success would be temporary. One example was a client would repeatedly make money only to lose it a short time later. Robbins discovered that his client had grown up very poor. Making money made him uncomfortable so he reverted to what was comfortable and what he had been, poor.

George VI knows the stakes are huge. Hitler’s Germany is on the march and many lives will be lost if the King is not able to rally his people. He must address the nation on the eve of war. Faced with the challenge of his life, George succumbs totally to the speech therapist’s direction.  He does the necessary deep work and discovers where his stammer originated. He takes to radio and inspires a rapt nation. Humility and courage. These are the tools of greatness.

Carole

Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth. The supportive strength that Queen Elizabeth provides her terrified husband cannot be overestimated. While Albert, as both Prince and King, wants to throw it all away, give up or run and hide, it is his wife who shares her own fears and secrets that give her husband the will to prevail.

The most poignant scene between the two occurs the night before Albert is to appear before the counsel of Lords to assume the naming of him as King George VI. Prince Albert slumps at his desk weeping over how little he knows of kingship and its responsibilities. He says he was not “meant to be King”…his brother was. Elizabeth wraps her arms around her troubled husband and shares that she, too, never wanted a public life. She says that falling in love with him caused her to wonder if she could survive such a marriage. But she reveals that she took comfort in the fact that he had “such a lovely stammer” she would never have to worry about the likelihood.  Elizabeth was showing him that she, too, was about to face an unintended life but face it, none-the-less, with grace.  She was his rock.

Much is made of the “divine feminine” aspect of God; but, much of it misses the mark. The divine feminine is that aspect of creation that supplies nourishment in every aspect of life. It is not just about child bearing or motherhood.  Whether in the bedroom, boardroom or corridors of government, the divine feminine is the support and counterbalance to the divine masculine. It is power not force. It is compassion not pity. It is the courage to be “love in action.”

Both of us

The “King’s Speech” received 12 Oscars. It deserved them all.  Of greater and more lasting importance are the life lessons learned from from two people faced with circumstances they preferred not to encounter. Courage and humility go a long way in conquering the unanticipated and the unknown. They go even further when true power is used as it was intended: as unconditional love in action.

 

 

 

Curing Depression, Anxiety and Fear

Depression, anxiety, and fear are symptoms not causes. So when I read today that recently compiled statistics show that “one in 10 distressed Americans in 2014 did not have health insurance that would give them access to a psychiatrist or mental health counselor” I understood the point… but think it overshot the mark.

We have a tendency to treat symptoms not causes. I think its because as awful as symptoms can be they usually arise from causes we’d rather not confront. Whether it’s a lesion on our body or our psyche, we instinctively know that it will take less effort, and require less honesty and introspection, to treat the symptom rather than the cause.

The article went on to say each of these stress related conditions has escalated since the 2008 financial crisis. That the economic hit people took, the careers that were eviscerated overnight, the enduring personal debts that accrued due to loss of income have all been contributing factors. Well, yes.  And so it’s why I understand the concern for inadequate health insurance to address the symptoms, because psychiatrists and mental health counselors treat symptoms.

Only the individual can treat causes, and treating causes requires courage and honesty rather than government assistance or health insurance.

Of course the financial crisis of 2008 was hard on everyone (well, nearly everyone except those on the inside who are still profiting from their foreknowledge and connections) but even the near collapse was a symptom of a deeper cause. It was a symptom of a culture where values and principles have been discarded in favor of materialism and technology.

If you want to treat the cause of depression, anxiety and fear you have to look at the quality of your life, the choices you make, the things to which you aspire, the love in your heart for yourself and others. You have to put those you love before the things you want. You have to find gratitude in everything you have…not mourn or resent that which eludes you.

We went way off track decades ago. It began in the 1960’s in an innocent enough way. It began with the rising phoenix of individualism, no better exemplified that by four, hot-looking musicians from Britain with outrageously long hair and lyrics that dared speak truth about life as they saw it.  It was an exhilarating time when anything went and love, or at least sex, was a free-for-all.

Much could have come from that innocence but what, in fact, followed were decades of ever increasing self-absorption, self-indulgence and separation. We became a culture that wanted everything bigger, better, faster.

The millennials, who think they have their priorities on straight and are opting out of the “bigger” are still enslaved to the better and the faster. That is because they were raised by technology not human hands and hearts. In the world of technology, newer and faster are the “un-status” status symbols. Every generation has them…the seductions of the material world. It’s just that in each generation they are cloaked somewhat differently.

An appreciation for the material is not a sin. We live in physical world with things of beauty all around. Some are creations of God and some are creations on mankind. Both are here for our enjoyment not our enslavement.

I know firsthand about materialism and depression, anxiety and fear. I was raised with money. My parents had lots and, therefore, I had lots of things that were the status symbols of my generation. Three corvettes before the age of 20 paints an accurate picture. I was also riddled with depression, anxiety and fear. So, between the ages of 20 and 30, I saw a psychiatrist and a couple of mental health counselors. Its why I feel the authority to write about symptoms and causes.

I had stomach problems (symptom) that led to intestinal surgery at age 16.  At age 23, I was very depressed (symptom) so Triavil was prescribed. I used those to try to commit suicide (symptom). I was married and divorced in 11 months (symptom) followed by a series of unsuccessful relationships (symptom). I developed fibromyalgia (symptom) in my 30’s and struggled with it for almost two decades until I had enough of symptoms, their treatments and their cures.

I decided to address the cause, which turns out to be a full time job of being honest with myself and others, holding myself accountable for my actions, finding a connection to God, birthing my creativity and generally living life as an adult with principles and values that I live by not just espouse.

I have come to believe that most physical and psychological illnesses are the result of a spiritual imbalance. A soul at odds with higher laws. So, looking to government or the medical community often turns out to be an excuse for not looking within and up. I think we could cure a lot of our nation’s ailments by a willingness to look into the causes of our individual discontent and righting those aspects of ourselves that have gone belly up.              Carole

The Death of Compassion

Twenty years ago I saw a play called An Inspector Calls.

The premise was that a police detective is called to investigate the death of a young lady who works for a prominent family to discover how she died. The family is horrified, and initially confused, as to why the Inspector is called to interview them. What follows is a tense and uncomfortable investigation. In the end, the family discovers that they were all, in fact, caught up in this poor girl’s death.

Although no one in the family actually killed her each, in their own way, was complicit and responsible for her death. Through neglect or indifference, the combination and culmination of all their actions led to her untimely demise.

The play has stayed with me over the years because it touches on how each of our seemingly separate lives is intertwined. There is no escaping our responsibility to one another. There are always consequences to our actions. I was starkly reminded of this when, a few weeks ago in my home town of Austin, TX, a man shot and killed three people. He fled, was hunted by police and, near capture, killed himself. Although I did not know him, I knew many people who did.

What I do know is that he was behind on his bills as many of his customers had not paid him. Normally, he could cope with financial pressures; but, with his wife diagnosed with cancer and no medical insurance, his needs were more pressing.  Add to that a daughter ready to go to off to college, and I would imagine his lack of receivables and worries put him over the edge.

As a contractor, he had recently done a great deal of work for a local family who refused to pay him. He killed the couple and their neighbor. The couple he killed had a reputation for “stiffing” contractors…getting free work any way they could. Two weeks ago their luck ran out. Perhaps had his other customers paid him timely he might have been able to shrug off that particular insult. Clearly he could not. The result of it all is four dead people. Yes, the contractor is responsible for the deaths of four people. But, as I am reminded of that play many years ago, it seems all the others were quite complicit in this tragedy as well.

Not one of us is disconnected from the whole. None of us fully, or necessarily ever, knows the damage we do to other people through carelessness, insensitive, neglect or maliciousness. In this case, it was not paying bills on time for work received.

In the Catholic faith, we believe not only are there sins committed through our actions but also by our inaction (sins of omission). This theology supports the reality that we are not bystanders in life. We will be held accountable for what we do… and what we fail to do.

The recent story of attacks on Jews in Europe triggered my thoughts on this subject. Recently, in Europe, there has been a sharp uptick in attacks on Jews. This has been well documented and tied to the influx of new, poorly vetted immigrants. Yet, there has been no coordinated effort anywhere, by Jews or non-Jews, to stop this. I am not Jewish; but, I have many friends who are. Most of them carry a fury about what happened during the Holocaust and have vowed “never again. Yet, all of them go on with their lives…work, play, dinner with friends etc. None of them have boarded a plane to France to help defend their brethren. They are all bystanders. For all of their talk, none of have taken action to help their brothers in faith.

Still, I am no different. The ongoing, global attacks on Christians and Catholics have also been on the rise and I’ve not taken up arms to help them. Although I served in the military and fought in a just war, throwing the Iraqi’s out of Kuwait, and did my duty, I have been remiss in my duties to my fellow Catholics who are being slaughtered all over the Middle East. I am a spectator from afar. And yes, it pains me that I am like everyone else. I have my own responsibilities with six kids to feed, clothe and take care of and so I tend to what is in front of me and push to the back of my mind, and my priorities, what is not.

However, we have examples of people who take up the fight. In the Bible we have the story of Moses, who fled his homeland and settled down to start a new life. But the gnawing feeling of the oppression he witnessed in Egypt stayed with him. After nine years, he left his wife and son to return to Egypt to help his People.  In more modern times, there was Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King. When reading their stories, all I can think of is, “Would I be able to make such a sacrifice?”

Even at home, here in the U.S., when give the chance to defend our rights we do not. In the recent United Airlines scandal, not one passenger intervened when a fellow passenger was assaulted and forcibly dragged from the aircraft. They acted like sheep. Maybe instead of watching they could have tried to stop the police from doing something illegal. Or maybe all of the passengers could have disembarked from the plane to protest the egregious act. Yet, they did none of that. They all sat on their rear ends because they had things to do elsewhere and places to go. They were weak because they did not want to complicate their lives.

United Airlines dragged a passenger off the plane because they knew the other passengers would do nothing. The airline knew they could get away with it. Even our government knows this as they brazenly pass laws and regulations contradictory to our Constitution. They know it when they empower TSA agents to exceed their boundaries and terrorize passengers with what are clearly illegal searches. The architect of Obamacare brazenly said the Administration lied to the public and then bragged to the press about how it passed the Affordable Care Act…because he and they knew Americans were “too stupid” and too lazy to fight, or even challenge, the law. This is our state of affairs.

We are getting close to a tipping point as our public and private institutions continue to treat the general public with revulsion and disdain. It hurts me to say we deserve it. If we, as individuals, are not willing to fight for our rights, why should we expect it from others? There irony is, of course, that in forgetting how connected we all are, and how action and inaction affects us all, our silence as individuals in the face of oppression will be the undoing of us all.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

MOAB Then and Now

Today the United States dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat. It was dropped in Afghanistan on the caves used by ISIS affiliate Khorasan to attack U.S. troops. The bomb is a GBU-43 named “Massive Ordinance Air Bomb, or MOAB. Am I the only one who was riveted by that acronym?

Moab is a name I am very familiar with since it is on the mountain Nebo, in the Land of Moab, that Moses gazed upon the Promised Land and died without ever having entered it. Why? Because Moses disobeyed God’s direction.  During the Exodus, while the Israelites were wandering in the desert on their way to the Land of Canaan, God instructed Moses to “speak to” the rock so that water could be brought forth to show the people that God would provide for them. Moses “struck” the rock instead and the water poured out.  The consequence of Moses having disobeyed God was that Moses would bring the Israelites to the land but never enter it himself. He died there.

What was so terrible? So he struck it instead of speaking to it. Wasn’t the purpose to get the water out to show God’s willingness to provide? Well, no. The purpose was to be humble, witness faith and be an example of patience with a doubting people. Moses brought forth the water in anger. Faith and patience know not anger. Then, to add insult to injury, he took credit for the miracle!

I don’t want to get all religious on you here. I write about energy not theology. From that perspective, different energies have different frequencies and effect different ends. The type of energy you use has a direct impact on the end you affect…on the outcome.

I remember what a teacher once told me when I was taking a class in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. He said, “Of course you have to discipline your child. And sometimes it’s necessary to appear to be stern or even angry. That is fine as long as you are angry in appearance only, not in your heart. When you seem angry to that child, you must be holding love in your heart.”

It’s a nuanced approach but I get it. What originate from love can only create good. What originates from anger can only create more anger. Speaking to the rock would have done it without anger. When Moses struck that rock he was angry. So what began in anger ended poorly…for him.

We live in troubled times and, too often, we think we have all the answers. In our hubris, we act precipitously and take credit for the outcome, conveniently forgetting that there is a higher power that provides us with the basics of how we are to live our lives and who assures victory.  Have faith and be love. Its simple. We are still allowed to defend ourselves, or the oppressed, but we must do so with an awareness and circumspection of what is in our hearts. We must understand our connection to all that is. If evil was set back today, and good comes of it, let us understand that it was divine intervention that succeeded not egoic politicians.

So what’s the connection between Moab and MOAB?  I sure hope those pilots had love in their hearts when they dropped that thing.                     Carole

The Untold Story of United Airlines Brutality

The story of what happened on United Airlines has been about the violence and brutality inflicted upon a passenger. That story is not nearly as troubling as the one no one is writing about. What happened on that flight was how the German government, led by Adolph Hitler, was able to kill twelve million people. What happened on that flight was cowardice in the face of abuse of power.

None of us know what we will do in an emergency or life threatening situation until we are there. So it’s easy to say what we would have done had we been there. Hindsight is not only 20/20…it’s also safe. What can be said is that if you know what you believe in, and you know what is worth facing consequences for, then your action in such unanticipated moments will be motivated not by what is expedient or beneficial to you, but rather by your guiding principle.

Everyone on that flight knew that was happening was wrong. I don’t care what United’s Rule 25 says or what its CEO says in justifying the assault and battery that occurred. Nor do I care a whit about United employees who “needed to get where they had to go.” Everyone knows that what happened was wrong. It was the application of brute force with total disregard and disrespect for another human being. It must have been horrifying to watch right before your very eyes. Yet no one present did anything about it.

Why?

We say gold is a rare commodity and difficult to mine but courage is much harder to find. It was totally lacking on that flight. Three hundred people watched, horrified, and did nothing about it. What could they have done? Well, if they weren’t trying to make certain that they weren’t next, and they had a principle of which they were certain, they could have stood and said, “We’re all leaving this plane. You just bloodied a passenger because he was resisting disembarking. Now you can have the whole aircraft for non-paying United employees because we’re getting off and never flying United again.”

That’s what courage looks and sounds like. But instead, what happened on the flight was precisely what German Lutheran Pastor Martin Neimoller wrote about:

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out…

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out…

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out…

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me….and there was no one left to speak for me.”

He was one Asian man, minding his own business, sitting in a seat he had paid for, harming no one. His history and his background are irrelevant. Unless, of course, you are looking for a reason to justify or excuse, in your own mind, why what was done to him was not so bad.

And those people present on that plane? Well, it was happening but not to them. It wasn’t their seat, it wasn’t their problem. Best to not draw attention to one’s self and perhaps be the next victim.

What breeds victims is an unwillingness to stand in the face of evil. Whether it is a bully in a school yard, an abusive spouse, a rogue cop, ISIS, or a corporate policy that justifies violence…the failure to refuse to tolerate what we know is wrong is the slippery slope to enslavement.

It is Passover. It is a holiday that exists to remind us that we are only enslaved to others when we tolerate indignity and deny the laws of God in so doing. Yes, it takes courage to walk into the unknown and risk the safety of what is. But when what is robs you of your humanity then the unknown should be welcomed and the risk worth taking.

On Palm Sunday 50 Coptic Christians were killed in a suicide bombing in Alexandria, Egypt.  First they came for the passenger and we did nothing…                           Carole

 

Trump and The Middle Class

There is no doubt Trump’s election was a victory for the middle class. It was fed up with Obama, the media and the lies that politicians were feeding them. While the media reported on the economic boom and the benefits of Obamacare, the middle class was dealing with lower wages, higher inflation and a shrinking job market.

The middle class had enough and elected someone who they believed would help them.

President Trump’s election highlighted divisions that already existed. The middle class and the Conservative movement hated the policies of Barack Obama; but, they acted in a manner respectful of the Presidency. To the contrary, President Trump has not been given the same measure of respect by the Left whose members have come at him with figurative pitch forks.

I believe we’re approaching what may well be the most dangerous period in our country’s political history. We face a myriad of serious problems, starting off with a twenty trillion dollar deficit. Yet, I continue to be optimistic that what lies ahead will be great for the country.

Because of our enormous debt and the size of government, President Trump has implemented a hiring freeze on all federal employees. Government employees have been put on notice that change is the order of the day, but they are not alone. Lobbyists, and all those who make money off of the government, are worried as well. President Trump is a threat to their way of life and of doing business. When Boeing airlines made known the price of the New Air Force One, the President balked and said, “No. It is too expensive.” It was an unequivocal message to all contractors that the days of bilking the government were over.

The main push back for the President has come from the Deep State. The “Deep State” has been referred to as “the secret government-within-the-government” that actually holds tremendous power.  Many of the government secrets and power structure reside in the Deep State and many members of our government operate there.

Presidents come and go; but, people who have real power often stay in government positions for decades. For example, there are 79 members who have been in Congress for at least twenty years. Now add in all the career government employees, over 1 million, that work at all of the government agencies and you get an idea of what comprises the Deep State. These people  have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. This President is a threat to all of them.

The key to understanding the war being fought between the Deep State and President Trump’s vision of America is knowing how money flows in the United States. For the last 30 or so years, the U.S. economy has been built around a model that created vast power in Washington. This model has three key components.

First, we have a highly “progressive” income tax. This ensures that anyone who makes significant income will pay the majority share of the government’s expenses. We live in a country where half the country pays zero taxes and the top 10% pay  80% of all taxes paid. Because of this, the electorate continues to vote for more and more government. They do so because the pay off is no taxes and increased benefits.

Secondly, the government has an incredibly powerful regulatory scheme in place. This allows Washington to essentially control vast segments of our economy.  Healthcare and Wall Street come to mind. Look at Wall Street, for example. Who gets to sell a bond or stock to the public? Only those approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission.  This power results in a tremendous amounts of graft– legal fees, fines, and hidden lobbying that flows into Washington to feed the parasites. The Left’s rallying cry to harness capitalism revolves around regulation. But these regulations only make the players in the industry more powerful while simultaneously shielding them from new competitors. The regulations only exacerbate the problem for the consumer and benefit business…the opposite of what was intended.

Thirdly, there is  the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which gutted the U.S. manufacturing sector when it was sold as a means of boosting it! In addition, these trade agreements have allowed our country to export all of the inflation generated by our central banks, since the U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency. This has led to decades of declining interest rates and allowed the government to borrow endless amounts of money without any serious consequences.

I believe these three policies are the foundation of the Deep State. President Trump has started to attack many of these pillars. He has begun a fight with the Deep State. His opposition is coming from all sides. The media and the politicians are trying to obfuscate the issue; but this opposition is real and dangerous because they know the President has the power to dismantle The Beast.

What President Trump is doing right now by way of  his border-adjustment tax (taxes on imports), additional tax reform, and regulatory rollback is targeting each of these pillars at the same time. If he succeeds (“wins” in Trump speak) the power that has been consolidated in Washington, D.C. over the past 40 years will evaporate.

The Left and the Right have both been enemies of the middle class. Take a look at NAFTA.  The case for NAFTA was that it would allow American consumers access to cheaper products, thus helping them. That it did, but at what price? It devastated the manufacturing industry.  So although the the middle class had access to cheaper goods, they did not have the money to buy them. So where did the money go? To Washington and to the top 10% of America’s wealthiest who were able to access foreign markets and shield the resulting income from America’s tax system! Shameful.

Then, take a look at our tax system with its complexity and aggressiveness that have hurt the middle class the most . The U.S. is the only industrial country in the world with global income taxation. That’s right. You have to pay federal income tax no matter where you live. So what have the big corporations and wealthy individuals done? They have moved their assets offshore and set up companies outside the purview the U.S. government thereby shielding their assets from Washington.  The result is that the tax burden has fallen on the middle class to make up this shortfall…punishing wage earners while rewarding individuals and corporations who use overseas labor.  While the rich shield their money the poor pay no taxes. Voila! The middle class foots the entire bill. The result has been a decline in real, after-tax wages over the last 40 years.

Such is the recipe that has destroyed the middle class.

Trump’s tax plan is to effectively lower income taxes to 25% and implement a value-added tax to discourage foreign production of U.S. products. In an nutshell, this tax plan will force companies to come back to the U.S. and produce their goods here. Companies will no longer be able to hide overseas. These two changes will turn this entire economic structure on its ear and gravely hurt the Deep State which controls it. The winners will be the middle class, small-business owners, wage earners, and America’s manufacturing base. The losers? All of those who have invested heavily in the current Deep State regime.

With passage of the bill,  Trump’s new economic model could become a reality by the end of 2017 and initiate a new economic paradigm for the United States. The line is drawn. Let’s keep a close eye on who is standing on which side and why. Then when midterms roll around, let’s hold accountable those who stood on the side of the Deep State in opposition to middle class Americans. No more secrets and accountability. Wouldn’t that be novel.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

 

The Heart of the Presidency

I abhor war. Any sane person does.

I also don’t support the concept of nation building or think it is the job of my country to impose its culture or form of government upon other nations. I am not a nationalist or isolationist. I’m just an American who knows she is blessed to have been born in the United States.

I am also a Jew.

So when I watch Syrian children writhing in pain and unable to breathe because a barbarian named Hafez al-Assad used nerve gas on innocents, I am vividly reminded of the abhorrent use gas played in the 20th century history of my people. It reminds of a world that stood by silently and watched. And it makes me surprisingly proud of President Trump.

Why?

Because at the very least, bullies only understand an equal and opposite force. They don’t understand diplomacy, they don’t care about public opinion, and they mock “red lines in the sand” that are all talk and no action. In fact, they call it cowardice.

Such was the case with Barack Obama and Assad. What every Arab, and every Israeli, knows is that in tribal cultures such as exist throughout the Arab world, the failure to meet force with force is perceived not only as cowardice but also as an invitation for even greater brutality. Barack Obama invited the growing chaos of the Middle East and the spread of ISIS precisely because his repeated inaction was taken as weakness and he would not, or could not, see the damage he was doing due to his own ideology and ego.

Some are saying that in raining Tomahawk missiles down on Syria Trump was finally “Presidential.” It reminds me of Michael Douglas’s line from the movie “American President” when he orders a retaliatory bombing strike against a munitions warehouse in Libya, knowing he would, in the process, kill the innocent night watchman who was just doing his job. One of Douglas’ staff remarks,”Mr. President, what you did tonight was very Presidential.” To which Douglas replies, “What I did tonight is the least Presidential thing I do.”

Killing is never something to be glorified.

What President Trump did last night had nothing to do with being presidential. It had everything to do with being human. Regardless of your politics, we are Americans and do not stand by and watch children’s lungs incinerated in real time while we stand frozen in either ineptitude or fear. We do not make political calculations or take a poll to see what the popular response should be. We aspire to elect people who, in such moments, understand what is at stake and have the personal fortitude to stand and say, “No. Not on my watch.”

I watched a Syrian man interviewed on CNN who had suffered the chemical attack by Assad’s forces and survived. He was thanking President Trump for his action last night. He said it brought hope to the Syrian people who have been pleading for 6 years for some sign of support from the United States. He begged our President not to stop. When the CNN anchor then asked him what he thought of the President’s immigration ban, he said, ‘We do not want to be immigrants. We want safe zones in Syria. We want to live in our own country without being slaughtered.” So much for the anchor’s failed attempt to invite criticism into a moment of praise.

I rest easier tonight not because my President bombed a country and flexed a muscle. I rest easier because he saw those children, as did I, and his heart hurt.  Oh yes, and because last night he said to bullies everywhere, “No. Not on my watch.”                 Carole

Why You Matter

It’s so easy to blame the politicians and the media. It’s always easiest to blame someone, or something, other than ourselves. But the dire situations we find ourselves in, politically and socially, are no one’s fault but our own.

For decades we have turned a blind eye to wrong doing. For those same decades we have become dependent upon, even expected, government to take care of us.  We have abdicated personal responsibility in almost every aspect of our lives for the corners we cut, the white lies we tell, the principles we say we believe in yet neglect to be heard in their defense.

Politicians are not our masters. They are simply individuals in public service who reflect the health or sickness of the society they serve. Our leaders have not been forced upon us. We have stood by and allowed the inept, the dishonest and the corrupt to seek and obtain positions of power. We have willingly enslaved ourselves to them and those who keep them in power.

After 2008, ask almost any trader on Wall Street and they will tell you they saw it coming. They saw it coming but did nothing about it. It was too lucrative. Mortgages and private school tuition had to be paid. Vacations were booked. Cocaine was costly.

It’s easier to go with the flow than swim against the current. Isn’t that always the case? But what happens when the current is carrying you to your destruction? Blame the current…or your unwillingness to fight against it?

A group of boys and young men of various ages, raped a 14-year old girl in Chicago this week and they did it on Facebook. Live. At least 40 people watched it and not one called the police.

It seems like a long way from the banking collapse of 2008 to live rape…but not really. The perpetrators in both cases knew what they were doing was wrong and so did those who watched. It’s a slippery slope when you give up conscience and all that is decent about human behavior; when self-satisfaction is the ultimate goal and any means to getting there is acceptable.

Every day we read about the corruption in Washington and fake news by the media. It’s all a distraction. The real news and what we should care about is how each of us in our daily lives lays another brick in the foundation of cultural destruction as we justify the corners we cut, the blind eyes we turn and the irretrievable and precious time we deny friends and family because we are addicted to our iphones.

It’s never about someone else. It’s always about ourselves. While none of us may have any control over what Washington or the New York Times does, each of us has total control over what we do in our own lives. Where we invest out time, what principles we stand for, what we value all define, in a very literal sense, our immediate world.

You comfort and excuse yourself because you are, after all, just one person and so what can you do?

Last year I moved into a condominium in Austin, Texas. I quickly learned that there was corrupt management that had drained the finances of the community and neglected the maintenance of the structures. I also learned that for 12 years, various homeowners had tried, unsuccessfully, to do something about it. So , everyone had given up and acquiesced to the corruption and neglect.

I spent a year investigating and compiling evidence of both the corruption and the neglect. I uncovered a privileged relationship between certain owners, the Board of Directors included, and the corrupt management company. I presented the findings at association meetings. I endured an organized effort by those involved to discredit me, including being sued, individually, for my efforts. But I  knew that what was occurring was wrong and I was determined to, as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In spite of it all I endured.

It took 12 months, several court appearances and all the energy and skill I could muster. But the Board resigned and, as new President of the Board, I fired the corrupt management company. We now have exceptional, new management and a law suit against those who depleted or finances and neglected our physical assets.

Was it hard? About as hard as anything I’ve done in my life. Were there times I thought I could not go on? Absolutely. Was every conceivable effort made to stop me? Yes. So why did I keep at it?

The whole is no more than the sum of our parts. I am a part of my community, my society, my country, my species. If I do no stand for what I know to be right, what hope is there that others will do the same?

It’s never about anyone else. It’s always about ourselves. In humanity, it’s not top down. It’s what we as individuals are willing to put on the line for what we believe in. This is what makes the difference and that is what ultimately defines us.

A Christian Polish woman who fed Jews and kept them alive less than than a mile from a concentration camp was asked, recently, how she came to do the right thing given the behavior of those around her. Her reply was simply, “The righteous didn’t suddenly become righteous. We just refused to go off the cliff with everyone else.”

We are each confronted daily with personal cliffs. Now more so than ever with the rapid pace of technology and the warp speed at which AI is developing. If, in hindsight, you can see why it wasn’t such a long way from 2008 to live rape…wait until you see what’s just around the corner. One voice, one person, one principle upheld can save the world. Remember, the next corner you cut, blind eye you turn, or principle you fail to uphold… could be our last.                Carole

No Acronyms Allowed!

“We have to depart the LZ by 0500 so that the recon can be complete by 0600.”  That was about all I remembered from the briefing…or all that I could understand.

The briefing was given in the mess hall of a navy ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. I was part of a Marine unit that was deployed to the Middle East for six months. Given the instability in the world, the MEU Commander had to develop contingency plans for all types of situations.

These types of briefings are normal during a float. For example, if an embassy had to be evacuated, the Colonel of the deployment had to formulate a plan on how to accomplish the evacuation. Logistical complexities of such missions require that the Marine Officer would have to brief the Colonel, in a single meeting, on the strategy to employ. If any of the proposals seemed out of whack, or needed to be fixed, this was the platform where it was done.

Briefings usually lasted about an hour.  It was not uncommon to have thirty or so people presenting. Air officers, helicopter pilots, infantry officers, ordinance officers, radio specialist, etc. would all have their say. In order to make the briefings quick and keep them moving along, acronym’s were used to speed things up.  But given the number of groups inputting their perspectives and expertise, each with its own lexicon, it was like listening to a cacophony of terms that, for the uninitiated, was super confusing.

The U.S. Marines have been around for over 200 years. To their credit, they have been able to successfully orchestrate the system that brings all this diversity of information together. Luckily for me, I was able to figure out what was being said!

When I transitioned to finance and started working at an emerging markets desk, I had to once again learn a new language: this time it was “finance speak” and the acronyms used in that world.

The nature of the finance world is that it is secretive and cut throat. I did the best I could with the new language, but it was close to impossible to understand all of the jargon. In the Marine Corps, the officers would go out of their way to make people understand what they were saying (afterall, lives were on the line). But in finance, it was common for people to give vague and unhelpful answers.

Michael Burry, who made millions of dollars shorting the housing market, said one of the reasons he looked into the trades with greater scrutiny was the sheer number of acronyms and jargon used to describe the housing market. When he called bond salespersons to walk him through the details of the structures he was thinking of buying, he realized that for all of their pedigree they understood very little about what they were selling.

So, to educate himself on all the terminology, he ordered a variety of prospectuses and started combing through them to understand all of the terms. He created a dictionary of those terms and acronyms until he understood everything that was being marketed and sold to investors.  Armed with that knowledge and understanding he bet against Wall Street… knowing that the firms selling those instruments had no idea what they were doing.

Ray Dalio, the hedge fund manager of Bridgewater, does not allow any acronyms to be used in meetings or reports. Everything has to be explained down to the last detail, so that everyone within his firm understands what they are doing. He has stated that acronyms become like a code and secret language behind which people hide.

True knowledge comes from being able to explain things;  even the most complex things.

Part of the reason most of the major financial institutions went under during the last crisis was because information was hidden and guarded. Many of the employees at the banks had no idea the extent of the recklessness of their mortgage departments.  At the time, I worked at Merrill Lynch on a bond desk.  We were having a great year and had no idea the damage the mortgage department was causing. We were shocked by the amount of risk they had taken.  Be assured that had more people been informed of the risks the mortgage area was taking, the positions would have been wound down and the bank saved.

In reading memoirs written prior to the crash about working at a bank and trading for one,  what stands out for me is the lengths to which employees, as well as management, guarded their trading secrets. The mindset was, “If show people how I am making money, the firm will fire me and do it for themselves.” So the information was never shared.

Contrast this attitude with Google which gives away all of its information for free.

Part of the reason Bridgewater is so successful is because it shares its information. Bredgewater is relentless in getting at the truth…even down to the language it uses.  No abbreviations.  No acronyms. If you work for Bridgewater and want to share something, you must explain your thoughts fully…down to the last detail. Imagine if that same rigor and search for the truth had been the standard for the banking industry prior to 2008. How different our lives would be  today!

It really makes you wonder why its ever done otherwise.  Truth is inevitably revealed and when it is, it also prevails. Both companies and individuals willing to embrace that fact are the ones that will survive and prosper this time of cultural transition.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Hacking Trump

Maureen Dowd doesn’t believe in moderation. If she did, she would have written a column about the pitfalls of hubris and the learning curve that is the Presidency. Instead she came after Donald Trump with the literary equivalent of a chainsaw.

Dowd makes certain valid points about the failed process of attempting to “replace” Obamacare this week, for which Trump owns the consequences. But in her haste to take down the President, she is both obvious and unapologetic in her glee to have the opportunity to do so.

Whenever I wrote about then candidate Trump, or now President Trump, I always feel the need to set the stage: I neither supported his candidacy nor voted for him. I restate this all the time because, when finding anything remotely good about him, #nevertrump’ers immediately draw certain conclusions about my political affiliation and agenda. Its a mistake to do so since the assumptions are almost always wrong. I am now a 15 year recovering Democrat and blossoming Libertarian.

Dowd’s scathing column is indicative of a larger problem.

We no longer seem capable of seeing any good what-so-ever in people who have differing opinions from our own. Even more disturbing is the “waiting to pounce” viciousness that erupts at the slightest opportunity to condemn one another for our differences.

Diversity, like “Hope and Change” is nothing more than a bumper sticker unless we find common ground in defining it. Diversity is more than just having a person from each race perfectly positioned, in full camera view, behind a politician’s podium. Its more than making sure that a certain number of minorities are admitted to a university.

Diversity of thought is the cornerstone of a free society and the free expression of ideas is the foundation of a tolerant society. When we find it necessary to destroy, verbally or otherwise, those whose ideas or actions differ from our own, we undermine that foundation.

I am not saying that Donald Trump is a good or bad President. It would be premature to draw a conclusion either way. But while we are busy picking over the carcass, following the withdrawn Congressional vote this past week, like vultures on roadkill…where were the voices, to be quick and on the record, in praise of President Trump for a brilliant and ethical Supreme Court nominee? Those same voices, now front and center like Dowd’s, who wish to seize the moment and “take down” the President were nowhere to be found when credit was, and is, due.

If we, as a nation, were in our right mind (which as of late is dubious at best) we would dismiss the hawkers of polarization and give little consideration to those who are quick to throw the baby out with the bath water. Trump is not perfect. But he is not always wrong, either. I prefer patience and tolerance to the alternatives.

Maureen Dowd and I differ on this. Yet, I can and will say she has written many good and thoughtful columns. This was just not one of them. Such is my ability and willingness to give credit where it is due… and withhold it when it is not. Perhaps we all need to take a refresher course in diversity.                   Carole