Corrupt Hollywood Accounting

There’s an old joke in the movie industry about the 1997 movie “Titanic” which was the highest grossing movie ever made.  The joke goes something like this: “Titanic was the first movie in Hollywood to have ever made any money.”

You see, Hollywood movies never make money…at least not on paper or in what is reported to the government.  Of course this must be a mistake since cinema is a multi-billion dollar business. However, for accounting purposes, movies lose money.

Mel Brooks, the famed director and Broadway producer, actually wrote a play about it. “The Producers” follows a Broadway producer whose star is fading. He stumbles onto the fact that a terrible play can actually make more money than a great one and so proceeds to write the worst musical comedy ever.  The scheme fails because his play actually becomes a surprise hit leaving him in financial ruin.

This whole notion is explored in detail in a fascinating book,  “The Hollywood Economist” which delves into the accounting practices of movie making. The write-offs, tax breaks and deals in which everybody gets paid but nobody makes any money is laid out for all to see.  Further, the book explores the political correctness that pervades everything in today’s society. It points out that big business is the only “enemy” that has no lobbyist fighting on its behalf.

Then there’s the irony and paradox: Hollywood loves to make movies about the evils of capitalism and the many ways businesses rob and hurt the little guy. Here is just a tiny sample of famous movies where big business was portrayed by Hollywood as pure evil:

*Wall Street – Michael Douglas plays the ruthlessness of a Wall Street financier.

*Avatar – Sigourney Weaver battles a ruthless corporation that tries to mine minerals on a distant planet.

*Erin Brockovich – Julia Roberts takes on the malfeasance of an energy company and the damage done to the environment.

The “chutzpah” of making of these types of movies is unbelievable! A Hollywood director making a movie about the evils and greed of big business while financing it in such a way that is completely unethical and deceitful… for the purposes of evading income tax obligations.

If you think hedge funds are ruthless, “The Hollywood Economist” cites numerous examples of how Hollywood’s power brokers fleeced many a hedge funds through chicanery. Even these masters of finance were unaware of the depths of corruptions that exist in Hollywood. Yet, these same power brokers make films and TV shows about how hedge funds fleece the American public while they themselves fleece the hedge funds! Most recently, check out “Billions” on Showtime.

This “entertainment economy” reminds me of the famous painter M.C. Escher whose paintings made it hard to distinguish which way is up. In his painting “Relativity” a maze of stairs interconnects, each with a different orientation to gravity. The paths wind and intertwine. There is no “up” or “down.”

Filmmakers making movies about corruption while financing movies in a corrupt manner make it hard to tell which end is up.

Ironically, you would have thought Hollywood to be one of the best places to work given the abundance of films about championing the underdog. For decades, those protectors of women and gays wore their righteous indignation for all to see and applaud; yet, it t urns out Hollywood is engulfed in sexual harassment scandals that objectified women and gays during those same decades. What hypocrisy!

Famed producer Harvey Weinstein, who produced some of the biggest hits in Hollywood, seems to be the poster boy for everything wrong in the industry. For years he was lauded for his contributions to the Democratic Party:  “Party of the Oppressed.”  All the while his disgusting behavior was apparently well known, documented and joked about. The entire industry was complicit.  One of the most powerful actresses of stage and screen , Meryl Steep, once compared Harvey Weinstein to God. Yet she had no problem denouncing Donald Trump for his poor behavior towards a man with disability (later found to be untrue) or rally to support women who allege harassment by him.

In 2013, TV producer Seth McFarlane read the list of female actresses nominated for award recognition and actually joked  (on live T.V.) that the real award was that that “they no longer had to sleep with Harvey Weinstein.”  How do Meryl Streep and other powerful women in the film industry claim they had no knowledge about his predatory ways?  If Streep had real courage she would have spoken about what she surely knew. But she didn’t. Why? Because it would have hurt her career and her income. Rather than take the truly courageous step and expose the abuse she weighed her options, reviewed her finances and remained silent

Good art is meant to challenge us. It serves a purpose by mirroring society in order to challenge conventional wisdom, shine a light upon the oppressed and, hopefully, elevate the human condition. Having been a connoisseur and champion of the arts, I feel saddened by the great lengths members of the film industry have gone to amass their fortunes and cover-up the exploitation of women. The arts (not unlike the press) have their roles as critics of society. When it comes to Hollywood, the claim to have been there fighting the battles all along belies the truth that they were silent and complicit.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran Pastor who sought to bring down Hitler, said “Not to speak is to speak. Not to stand is to stand.”  Hello? Meryl?

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

The Reality of Jerusalem

One of the most eye-opening lessons of having been a divorce attorney for close to 15 years was the realization that most, if not all, clients know the truth of their relationship even if they choose not to believe it. This means that whatever the reason turned out to be for the failed marriage, the underlying truth of the deficiency was known but ignored. Sometimes the reason “for looking the other way” was financial; sometimes it was because it was easier to stay the course than brave the unknown…but an awareness of the underlying truth was none-the-less present. It made me acutely aware of our propensity to see only what we want to see and only what supports our current belief system.

This propensity isn’t limited to our personal relationships. It’s starkly evident in our politics. You either hate Donald Trump, seeing everything he does as evil, or you love him, believing he can do no harm. Yet, truth is not so clearly defined.

Donald Trump is human and, therefore, flawed. This means that he sometimes makes good decisions and sometime bad ones. It means he can be emotionally arrested at, perhaps, some adolescent stage of development while at the same time being intellectually competent and able to strategize with a high degree of success. There is no incompatibility in the co-existence of such facts even if the combination of them if less than ideal. He is who he is.

I try and make my evaluations of the President’s behavior not within the context of the “love him or hate him model” but rather upon the wisdom, or lack thereof, of each individual action. This allows me to sometimes stand with him and sometimes stand in opposition to him.

This brings me to where I stand on his decision regarding Jerusalem.

As I stated at the outset of this post, we humans have a hard time with reality when it flies in the face of what we prefer to believe. So, the wife who denies that her husband is having an affair, even when all the evidence points to the contrary, has much in common with the person who denies Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, even when all the evidence points to the contrary.

The evidence was factually and succinctly set forth in President Trump’s announcement of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel:

It was 70 years ago that the United States, under President Truman, recognized the State of Israel. Ever since then, Israel has made its capital in the city of Jerusalem — the capital the Jewish people established in ancient times. Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the Prime Minister and the President. It is the headquarters of many government ministries.  For decades, visiting American presidents, secretaries of state, and military leaders have met their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem, as I did on my trip to Israel earlier this year.

Facts are pesky things to those who deny their existence. But denial of fact does little to diminish its existence.

As an American Jew, you might think I have a dog in this hunt and maybe I do. But as a lawyer, I can tell you that many a juror has a vested interest in some aspect of a case they may be seated in deciding. But we ask such jurors if “despite your feelings or experience, do you think you can hear the facts of this particular case and make a fair and impartial decision based upon the facts?” When the answer is “yes” we seat that juror.

Having an interest does not necessarily translate into having a bias.

In the instance of Jerusalem I cannot comprehend why any American, especially Jewish Americans, cannot put their political lens aside and simply examine the facts as set forth by the President in his decision-making process. The capital of Israel is Jerusalem whether you are a Democrat or Republican…unless, of course, you are first-and-foremost a single issue, political creature rather than a human who discerns and accepts facts, distinguishing them from agenda or wishful thinking.

My way of analyzing President Trump is a balanced approach which allows me to see the totality of the man while at the same time distinguishing between his weaknesses and his strengths. It allows me to be repulsed by the way he has referred to women or demeaned his opponents; yet, it also allows me to take great comfort and pride in his courage to speak truth to power and stand for what is right by recognizing Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of Israel.

Carole

(contact@carolegold.com)

How To Profit

Last week saw the final step in closing a deal that would have made me a decent amount of money in the short run and, potentially, a great deal of money in the long run. I could have ignored my principles and my gut thereby finalizing the details of the deal. Or, I could have stood on principal, followed my gut and likely caused the deal to crash and burn. I stood my ground.  It crashed and burned. I feel really good. If making money is the measure of success, I failed. But if the measure is what was ethical, legal and honest then I scored big. This deserves an explanation.

I had been in negotiations with the creator of an app.  He was trying to raise seed money; first round investors. Even if you’ve got a great product or service, which this guy seems to have, that first round of fundraising is always a challenge. After all, you’re doing it with no profits or sales to back up your claim of value. And of course, the developer always thinks the value of his product is worth gazillions and the investors always think it’s not. There was a target amount to be raised by a date certain and I was trying to reach that target by that date. One week prior to the deadline I had succeeded in securing an investor willing to put up 50% of the target. Further, I had contacted an additional investor who had an interest and, if terms were agreeable, was willing to put up twice the target amount in addition to the 50% I had already secured.

Terms. The magic word.

You see, from the first presentation that I attended as a potential fundraiser, the terms for potential investors were vague and changeable. In fact, whenever the developer was asked the terms, he repeatedly said, “everything’s negotiable.” Trouble was, what he said and what he did were inconsistent. When it came to terms he was inflexible and demanding. In fact, he was dictatorial in his delivery. Further, he refused to put anything in writing.

I am a lawyer. Terms in writing, even offers to contract that are yet subject to negotiation, need to be in writing. This is not a quirk of mine. This is standard legal and business practice. Further, this developer was refusing to put in writing even the terms that pertained to me as a broker.

I grew up watching my father, a successful entrepreneur, make many a deal on a handshake or someone’s word. I am “of that school” even though I am also a trained attorney. So, in this particular instance, sharing some common cultural background with the developer and wanting to believe the best of him, I was proceeding as if on a handshake.

But things started to not feel good in that “gut” I spoke of earlier. I call it intuition but it’s the same thing. It’s an internal instinct and “caution” light that goes on which says, “Pay attention. Something is out of alignment and doesn’t feel good.” It was the developer’s continuing refusal to commit to writing along with his increasing disrespect towards me and my investor’s rights the more certain he was that the investor was on board and the closer we got to closing the deal.

Three days before the target deadline, the developer sent me an email with terms. They were not the terms repeatedly discussed and those which were there were woefully inadequate and poorly defined. The email closed with a “take it or leave it” directive and a demand that I not respond with any counter-offer or other terms. I was to reply simply “Yes” or “No.”

Well, there’s the kiss of death to a lawyer. Under the best of circumstances I am unlikely to not have something to add! And these were definitely not the best of circumstances. So I replied with a detailed explanation of terms as my investor believed them to be based upon representations made to him (and me). Further, I set forth in detail why those terms were in everyone’s financial interest.

I received no direct reply. However, three days later, on the target date deadline, I received a call from a third party involved in the fundraising who informed me that the developer’s “team” had advised him to accept the terms as I had forwarded them. However, I was also told he was in another city that day trying to raise other money.

Well, we were at a deadline set up by the developer, not me. He had not replied to my email of three days prior. My investor was calling me to ask why there was no contract to sign as this was the target date. So, I sent an email and text to the developer at 5PM stating that if I did not have confirmation in writing by 6PM of an agreement to terms and proof of the remaining 50% of funds raised as per the budget that my investor’s offer would have to be renegotiated once the 6PM deadline passed. At 6:35PM I received a scathing email from the developer who suggested that his lawyer contact a third party in the fundraising and attempt to negotiate the close of the deal. The last sentence of the email was , “But I am completely okay with us not doing business.”

We did not do business.

I could have let the refusal to commit to writing go; I could have ignored the ever changing terms; I could have disregarded the firm deadline; I could have overlooked the increasing disrespect; I could have seen grey everywhere instead of seeing black and white. After all, a lot of money was potentially in my future. A lot! As in similar to owning early shares of Apple or Uber.

But I think letting all that go is one of the primary ways this country got itself into the economic mess it’s in. Without principles we are lost. Without principles, it’s impossible to know when to leave the room…or the deal. Without principles money isn’t our means of transaction, it’s our god.

The terms should have been set forth, committed to writing and respectfully negotiated back and forth until the point of mutual agreement. The deadline, set by the developer, should have been able to be counted on and honored by all sides. The manner in which communication was exchanged should have been respectful and not demeaning.

I feel sorry for people who do not know the core principles that form the basis for their existence. These are my principles. So when they were not met, it was easy to know when to leave the room and the deal. I do not have the money that was a part of that opportunity but I have my self-respect and I have not added to the decline of values and principles that so many in our nation bemoan the loss of. I am not part of the problem I am part of the solution. It’s a different kind of profit that I made on the deal…but profit none-the-less.

Carole (contact@carolegold.com)

What Binds Us

The other day I was listening to the Bill Simmons podcast where he talked about an old  skit on Saturday Night Live. It was about the Brady Bunch meeting the Partridge Family. He remarked how funny it was back then and how that same skit could never work today because, as a society, we no longer have common cultural experiences. In other words, not enough people would get the jokes. He theorized that in our current society there is no one thing that we all share and understand. A mere thirty years ago, everyone in my generation watched those two shows, knew the characters and “got” the inside jokes.

Today, there are no longer common cultural events and national traditions which bind us together. With the advent of cable T.V, YouTube, Netflix and Amazon there are no longer shows we all watch and, therefore, experience together. Today T.V shows, books and movies are created to target niche consumers.  There are few cultural events, aside from sports or politics, where we have a reference point that helps us understand the culture at large.

The ongoing scandal within the NFL where players are “taking a knee” highlights for me the disparate views of what I clearly thought was a cultural norm: standing out of respect for the American flag. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on my current thoughts about the NFL and its players kneeling.  I argued they should stand. The response I got blew me away. Some people loved the post while others called mea plantation owner for harboring such thoughts.” The vitriol spewed my way was eye opening.

Part of what shocked me was the divide. There was no consensus. We have come to the point where, as a nation, we are no longer able to agree that standing for the national anthem is the right thing to do.  Perhaps it is the result of growing and entrenched regional biases. I actually understand this possibility better than most. I grew up in the liberal northeast and now live in Texas. The opinions of these two regional groups of people could not be more different. With few exceptions, I can generally gauge in advance where each will stand on most issues. Yet, this prospect saddens and depresses me as I watch this divide grow with passing time.

These divisions are slowly ripping our nation apart. Ironically, I believe many of the problems that we now suffer are similar to the dissolution of a marriage.

In the Catholic faith, when a couple gets married, the priest utters a line that says “…and the two shall became one.”  On a physical plane it is impossible for two peoples’ bodies to morph into one, so the church is referring to something deeper that happens on the spiritual plane where souls merge. A few years ago a friend of mine got divorced. He told me that he experienced such trauma over the issue that he was in immense pain for quite some time. He prayed about it and had a dream where he saw a sword cutting apart he and his former wife with whom he had been “joined.” The sword was cutting the one body into two separate beings. The pain that he was suffering was due to the trauma of cutting away one’s flesh.

Nationally, we find ourselves divorced from the principles on which the nation was founded. How else can you justify the candidacy of Bernie Sanders who campaigned on a socialist platform while living in a capitalist country? Our culture no longer has any shared values. Blue states believe in one America while red states believe in another. There is no common ground.  This post began identifying how even in our expression of entertainment we no longer share a common culture.  Today, the majority of skits on “Saturday Night Live” are focused on politics (always a divisive issue) precisely because there are so few subject matter skits that an entire audience would get.

Sadly, I realize that I no longer live in the same country as my fellow Americans. The country founded upon a document declaring we have unalienable rights from our creator co-exists with one which believes there is no God.  We have become a country where a significant amount of people believe there is no such thing as a man or woman; there is no objective truth; only that with which we “identify” or what gives credence to our preferences. Babies aren’t babies they’re tissue and the definition of marriage is dependent upon what a legislature decides.  The ever changing tide of popular opinion is now what defines and moves our nation, not principals.

If you believe everything is fine and the things I’ve cited here are no big deal I wish I could experience your delusion. I wish I could crawl into that bubble with you… but I can’t. The forces shaping our country are leading us to ruin. We no longer have sufficient commonality to bind us in a meaningful way.  We are a collection of isolated states that happen to occupy a piece of land called America.  We are no longer united.

Over 2000 years ago the Greek storyteller, Aesop, said it best: “United we stand, divided we fall.” If that’s too far back in history for you, then turn over that dollar bill in your wallet.  “E pluribis unum“, adopted by the Founders in 1782, translates as “out of many, One.”  So whether 2000+ years ago or 235…we have turned this principle of standing united on its head. The current mantra of the United States of America is best expressed as “out of One, many.”  Since the past is often instructive, perhaps its worth more than a moment’s reflection on Aesop’s warning: divided we fall.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

The Dead End of Justified Means

In a recent conversation about AI, a business acquaintance told me why, in his opinion, Elon Musk will not succeed. “It’s because Musk allows his beliefs and ethics to enter into his business,” he said. “Musk doesn’t like AI and so he is not pursuing its implementation to the extent he should.” My reply was that as I understood it, it isn’t that Musk doesn’t like AI but rather doesn’t trust it given the insufficient moral parameters being established around its development and implementation. His response? “Well, when consumers see the benefits and ease of products and services that utilize AI they won’t ask or care about the morality or ethics.”

That’s when I decided to end the discussion.

Convincing a 39 year old businessman otherwise, who actually thinks that ethics and morals are irrelevant to AI or should be, is more energy that I wanted to expend. After all, he’s pretty cooked at his age. It doesn’t mean I was not surprised and slightly appalled by his perspective. It just means that if you don’t understand the connection between a culture lacking  ethics in business that has also run amok with sexual harassment in the workplace… you’re probably way down the road of no return on the relationship between ethics and AI. In fact, his final words to me on the subject were “AI will be our slaves.” To which I replied, “Or we will be theirs.”

Perhaps I come from an old school. I am willing to own that accusation. I remember a world where everything wasn’t instant, people didn’t have tech sex with virtual strangers and where they actually cared what others thought about how they behaved and the consequences of their actions. Maybe I am a cultural dinosaur. But I am not alone. I talk to plenty of other creatures from that “cultural  Jurrasic period” where values and principles mattered and people sought out and knew how to have personal relationships.

What is so disturbing is that people like the entrepreneur I spoke with about Elon Musk are in the majority not the minority. Ethics be damned. They slow things down. They get in the way of progress. Think of how high that tower could be…why it could go all the way to the sky…if we didn’t have to consider the consequences of building it in the first place. Oops. We did that one, didn’t we?

I like that Elon Musk is bothered by the potential of an AI world absent ethical and moral considerations. I am bothered by the fact that Google isn’t.  Large tech giants like Facebook and Google have already proven themselves not to be beyond crossing all sorts of ethical lines…or at least not past using mind control and preference mapping…to reach their profit driven ends. At least Musk has a conscience and isn’t afraid to make that known or stand by what he believes in.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s what is all comes down to. Belief.

We seem to have stopped believing in anything beyond self-satisfaction. Don’t misunderstand me. I think we humans are in charge of our own destiny and can choose to find joy even in the hard times. We deserve to be happy. But in satisfying one self, a total disregard for our connection to all living things and especially to a higher power that is essentially good, self-satisfaction soon morphs into self-absorption which, in an AI-virtual world, ends in addiction and enslavement: if not to a government then to a machine that anticipates our every need and fulfills our every desire.

Live long enough and you learn, hopefully, that joy and satisfaction come as much from living within certain ethical and moral parameters as from hard work, patience and forgiveness. Absent those parameters anything goes. Given our human propensity to abuse power and self-destruct in the doing, we are more likely to devolve then evolve. If memory serves me, we’ve done that before as well. I wonder why we can’t seem to get this one right?

Carole (contact@carolegold.com)

Not All Money Is Green

I use to be part of a team that sold emerging market bonds for a bank. We consistently made millions of dollars annually. Yet, in many ways, our team was not well respected. In fact, there were other traders and sales people who made less money, contributed less, and were paid more.

It always use to bother me that even though my efforts created more value for the bank other people were paid more. It was as if the money I made was not “green enough” for the bank. I came to learn that in corporate America, pay is not only dependent on technical skills but on political skill as well.  Given the clients I handled I had no political power.

The golden boys at my firm had gone to the best schools and were groomed by the bank to handle the biggest accounts. Their careers would typically start out having them act as back up traders for large accounts and, as they matured, take over those accounts and even larger ones. To their credit, those guys were super smart, worked super hard and did well for their accounts.  In turn, the firm loved them because they maintained a steady flow of income for the banks.

What they did was not particularly hard. They were given the keys to the kingdom. Their real job was simply to not mess up.

My colleagues talked and traded with PIMCO, Fidelity and Soros. They traveled to California and played on some of the best golf courses throughout the U.S.  Meanwhile, I was shlepping around the streets of Bogota, Colombia visiting local brokers trying to successfully close small trades.  The search for those deals had me traveling to some pretty remote places. My hunch had been that there were a lot more deals to be done with some of those financial institutions because they were not being properly engaged and serviced.

The compliance department, the traders and management hated me for bringing these accounts. It was simply outside their wheelhouse and comfort zone…not to mention lacking in the requisite social standing. I traded with family offices in Venezuela, pension funds in Jamaica and trust companies in Trinidad.  Then, after a few short years, I was doing some of the largest trades in my firm with, admittedly, the oddest account list. That’s when I got noticed. It took me years but the money I was earning suddenly became green.

My story is not unusual.

If you study the historical development of the Jewish community in both the legal system and on Wall Street, you see the same story play out. The reason there are so many Jewish lawyers working in mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street is due, in large part, to the fact that early on those positions were looked down upon. None of the banks, or golden boys, wanted to do the grunt work in the legal space. This resulted in that market not being served. Given that many Jews could not get into the top investment banks, they were left with covering the scraps of the “fine print” on deals. Guess what happened?  As that area became in high demand, the only firms that could service the deals were Jewish law firms. (If you want to find out more about this evolution, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s, David vs Goliath).

Even in my current business dealings, I witness firsthand how people are looked down upon when they are perceived to lack the right pedigree. Just recently, I was in a meeting with some pretty high powered people for a capital raise and, by far, the wealthiest man in the room was the most humble and least ostentatious. The manner in which he spoke and his attire suggested that he did not have the means to even be in that meeting. During a discussion round table following the capital presentation, a banker asked this unassuming attendee if he was familiar with a certain well-respected and high ranking bank in the city in which the humble man lived. His reply was, “I am that bank. I own it.”  You could have heard a pin drop as the room went silent. Suddenly, a man who had been previously humored for his questions and comments was the authority in the room…whose every word had the undivided attention of all those present.

After the meeting, I asked him what had driven him to own a bank. He proceeded to tell me that earlier in his career he had lost everything because the bank he used would not extend him credit on the real estate deals he had done. Their refusal   forced him into bankruptcy. He vowed it would not happen to him again. With whatever funds had survived bankruptcy, and what he was able to bring to the table, he bought one of the worst banks around for a fraction of its worth and grew it into what it is today: lucrative, well-respected and top rated. In a room full of lawyers, wall street financiers and tech whiz kids, this man was by far the most successful and least assuming. How had he done it? He saw potential, embraced what others judged as worthless, and then did the hard work.

The famed real estate developer Frank McKinney, who builds only million dollars homes on speculation, got his start buying apartments in the worst parts of Florida. The locations were dangerous and his margins small; but, over time, he grew and transitioned his talents to high end real estate. His success stemmed from the fact that he was willing to do the job no one else wanted to do. When he told his peers about his low end real estate deals he was looked down upon. I would characterize their reaction as “his money wasn’t green enough.” But the experience he gained doing jobs that others would not do propelled him to the heights of his profession.

These stories have a common thread and timeless moral.  Career capital was amassed from a series of unusual opportunities…opportunities shunned by most for their “appearance sake” yet ultimately the source of enviable value for those who could see past appearances and who were willing to do the heavy lifting.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Perspective Is Everything

The Second Coming, alien invasion or the end of the world? No matter which you believe (or perhaps you have some alternative theory) everyone knows something is happening. Why? Because everywhere you look things are falling apart.

Or are they?

I read an essay by the former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks, in which he tells the story of diarist Samuel Pepys who, in 1663 paid a visit to a Spanish synagogue in London. Worship there had been banned since 1290 but Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, lifted the ban. The synagogue was actually a private house accommodated to function as such. Pepys had been in the house one time previously for a memorial service for its deceased owner. Upon entering the then newly sanctioned synagogue, Pepys was shocked and repulsed by what he saw which he described, in part, as follows:

“Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out the press (Torah scroll) and are carried by several men. …Whether it is that everyone desires to have the carrying of it I cannot tell. Thus they carried it around the room while such a service is singing…But, Lord! To see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing true God would make a man forswear ever seeing them more….” [Emphasis added].

What Pepys did not know was that he had entered the synagogue on the biblical holiday of Simchat Torah, the service that celebrates the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. It is a celebration that can last for hours, marked by joyous dancing and singing as the Torah scroll is carried about the congregation.

Pepys expected the solemnity of traditional worship. What he encountered was unbridled joy. Lacking context, he formed a misguided opinion of an entire religion and its people.

Perspective is everything.

It is likely that many, if not all, of the people you meet these days think we are in dire straits.  After all, in every direction you turn there is chaos, deception, division and corruption. Regardless of in which “camp” you define yourself as standing, most would agree upon this fact. Most. Not all.

I have a different perspective.

Calm and order are not the historical norm of humankind. In fact, periods of relative calm are the exception rather than the rule. Human history is a timeline of long periods of upheaval followed by relatively brief periods of stability. Because we just transited one of those relatively stable periods (1950 – 2000) makes the present upheaval particularly difficult to adapt to…especially for those old enough to have lived through, at least part of, the preceding period of stability. It is why it’s so easy to think we are going to hell; but, what if we are actually moving closer to “heaven?”

I look at the unmasking or exposure of the deception, division, corruption and simultaneous chaos as a really good sign. It means there are no longer sufficient ways in which to conceal destructive behavior.

The saying “there are no accidents” is predicated upon a belief that everything happens for a reason. It is frequently cited when an event (or series of events) seem(s) to provide necessary meaning to an otherwise meaningless set of occurrences. For example, take the news.

The investigation into possible U.S. election tampering by a foreign entity is turning out to expose a deeper level of corruption and deceit than thought to exist; an entire entertainment industry (and perhaps others as well) is being exposed for its repetitive use of sexual abuse; individuals profiting from the manufacture and excessive distribution of addictive opioid medications are being exposed for their complicity; corrupt politicians are either being exposed for their deceit or leaving politics altogether rather than face such exposure; the former Prime Minister of Qatar has gone public to expose the U.S.-Saudi-Qatar connection and cooperation in arming ISIS and al-Qaeda in attempting to effect regime change in Syria; courts and municipalities allegedly with the “best interest of children” as their mantra are being exposed for giving full, joint parenting rights to rapists and, in Nevada and other states, we’re exposing fraudulent guardianship programs allowing corrupt individuals to kidnap legally competent senior citizens in order to steal their assets and real property.

This is all good news. Why? Because it’s exposing the ways in which we have lost our way and you cannot find your way home unless and until you realize you are lost and decide to do something about it.

Personally, I prefer the explanation for all this exposure to be simply about energy. The right use of energy. Here’s the analogy: if you use energy wrongly it’s destructive. Plug a 110v appliance into a 220V receptacle and you will short the circuit and likely blow your appliance. That’s why when traveling to Europe with an appliance made for U.S. use, for example, you need to take a converter to plug into the outlet in Europe.

We are energy. That’s what we humans are. Giant packets of energy. Use it correctly and all is well. Use it wrongly and…well…if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, likely blow the society.

For quite some time, we have been in denial about our misuse of energy. We have simply reached the point where failure or refusal to recognize the misuse is resulting in destruction. It need not be total destruction. However, in order to avoid it we are in desperate need of a “converter.”

I find words enlightening and believe their true meaning has often been hijacked by some to control others. For example, take the words “righteousness” and “converter.”

It you remove the letter “o” from the word righteousness you’re left with right-eus-ness…as in the “right-use-ness” of energy. What you need to affect the right-use-ness of energy in an environment different from one in which you have been used to applying it is a “converter.”

At critical times in our conscious evolution, we giant energy packets have been gifted converters. Abraham, Moses, Hillel the Elder and Jesus to name some of the more effective ones. They have always shown up shining light upon darkness born of the misuse of energy. It’s the resulting light that exposes and reveals the effects of that misuse.

So, here we are. I am confident that there is a converter in our midst supporting us in the right-use-ness of energy. This is reason to feel joyful. Like I said, perspective is everything.

Carole (contact@carolegold.com)

The NFL, The Owners & Kneeling

The NFL still has a problem.  Players continue to kneel while some are not participating at all. Others have added raising their fists in protest.  At first, the owners did nothing as the repercussions were minimal. However, once President Trump came down strongly on the side that players should stand, the whole topic moved center stage.

I find it fascinating that it was President Trump’s comments that spawned subsequent action by the American public. After all, the “controversy” had started a year prior without any real decline in ratings. Fans had neither boycotted nor expressed their displeasure over the kneeling. But when the President said out loud what many people had been thinking and feeling, it provided the impetus to finally turn off the television sets and stop going to the games.

The NFL has shifted into damage-control mode and is doing everything it can to make this story go away. Their attempts  now include allowing players to remain in the locker room instead of protesting on the sidelines.

The owners’ positions fell apart and turned around once they realized that a majority of paying customers opposed the players antics. The operative words in that last sentence were “paying customers.”  These owners are billionaires and know perfectly well how to finance deals; however, most of these stadiums are funded by public financing.  The casual fan has no idea that it’s his money paying for the stadium. Fans not only get charged for attending the game, they also gets taxed at work for the stadium they build. Adding insult to injury, they have to sit and watch the country they love be disrespected by the owners’ employees (a/k/a/ players)!

Given that it is 1) a public stadium; 2) funded by taxpayer dollars and 3) a public event, there should be no issue for the participants to engage and show proper respect for the public ceremony. Some may argue that going to the NFL is a private event; but, Congress created the NFL monopoly. Such legislation allows NFL members huge advantages, including taxpayer funded stadiums. Therefore, they are public events. Common decency toward the nation via the flag is a reasonable expectation under the circumstances.

There are two major points that have been obfuscated.

  1. The players do not have a right to protest. This is not a First Amendment free speech issue;
  2. A property owner has the right to do what he/she desires to do with his/her property.

I have worked at plenty of companies, and in situations, where I was bound by applicable rules. For example, in the military, it is prohibited to speak to the media about politics. Such commentary has the potential to undermine the system. I could express my misgivings personally but not in a public forum. Having taken civics in the sixth grade, I knew that property owners’ rights are virtually unlimited as long as they do not violate the Constitutional rights of one’s employees.

Demanding that your employee-players not take a knee isn’t a violation of anybody’s Constitutional rights.

Admittedly, workers have rights as well. In a free society, a worker has the right to quit his job any time he wishes to do so. In my own case, I could have subsequently left the military, started a magazine bashing the military and nobody would or could have stopped me. Personal opinion expressed publicly on my own time.

If NFL players feel so repressed, or oppressed, they can quit and take another job any time they so choose.

What I think the protests are really about is attacking the culture. At the heart of every culture is a generally accepted code of conduct without which no culture can survive. This is why the NFL protests are a big deal. In previous generations, there were manners and ways to address your concerns while heeding the culture’s code of conduct, protocol, symbolism, and traditions.  Those used to include respecting the flag.

Our Founding Fathers established a culture that made the “experiment” called America the greatest and most liberty-focused society on earth. There are countless benefits to being born here. These benefits are memorialized within our founding documents and have been maintained, in no small measure, by the sacrifices of life made by prior generations. Take a look at the citation for a Medal of Honor Winner. You will come away with profound insight into the depth of anger felt by so many Americans towards NFL players and owners who perpetuate and allow this behavior.

Nobody wants to see the rights of the players infringed upon; but the venue they are choosing is neither the time nor the place to exercise those rights. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Bitcoin and The Banks

Over the last few weeks Jamie Dimon, Chief Executive of J.P. Morgan, has been leading the charge against bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.  Given that J.P Morgan had revenues of over 90 billion dollars last year, it at first seemed odd to me that Dimon would be so vocal in his opposition. Yet he has repeatedly gone out of his way over the past few months to trash bitcoin, even going so far as saying it should be banned. Dimon is no fool. He knows bitcoin has the potential to upend the banking industry. This is precisely why he is trying to kill it before it gets even close.

Banks work as a depository of information. In order to open an account, you have to go to a bank and give them the requisite information. Once that’s done, the bank is able to track all of the transactions that you conduct. For example, when I buy gas at Shell Oil, Shell’s computer system talks to JP Morgan’s computer system and verifies my information. It, Morgan, verifies that I have sufficient funds in my account to approve the transaction in question.

Governments like banks because of this central ledger system. It allows government as well to go to one “location” to track all of an individual’s transactions. So, if the I.R.S. wants to freeze my accounts and garnish my wages, all they have to do is go to the bank and direct the bank to do so.  The courts love it as well because in bankruptcy cases and civil judgements  there is an easy mechanism for freezing and seizing assets.

Enter bitcoin and its not so easy. Allow me to explain.

The underlying software behind bitcoin is called “block chain technology” which is a radical breakthrough in software technology. Information is spread out and stored in various locations.  To conduct a trade in bitcoin requires the use of a “distributive ledger” as opposed to banks which operate with one central ledger. Obtaining information via bitcoin requires accessing multiple distributive ledgers.

Picture a wall full of books with a single book at the center of the wall. All of the other books around it support each other and are linked to each other. If I were to remove that one book, every other book around it would be impacted and would have to agree to the move. It is the same way with bitcoin. When I pay someone in bitcoin, a signal gets sent out to all of these ledgers that have to agree that I actually own this bitcoin. Once verified, I am able to “send” this bitcoin to where the transaction is verified and another “block” is built…which is verified by all of the other ledgers.

An additional benefit of bitcoin is that the individual’s  identity is masked. There are no name associated with the amount of bitcoin you own. If someone were to look at a bitcoin transaction, all they would be able to see is “xys456 paid 26xgjky.” Without names, neither you nor anyone else can determine who owns these bitcoins.

Given 1) anonymity and  2) a distributive ledger bitcoin ownership has exploded. The fact is bitcoin and the block chain technology are going to move ahead with or without approval of the U.S. government with the banking industry exposed to  the potential of being left behind. Think internet in the 1990’s: banning it would have been pointless and not getting on board would have made you the equivalent of a technological dinosaur.

What most people don’t realize is that the U.S. has the most to lose with the advent of bitcoin because we have, by far, the deepest and strongest capital markets which force people to use the U.S. dollar. In addition, all commodity transactions are priced in dollars with the most important one being oil.  Given the enormity of these markets, there is always a demand for dollars as well as government bonds. Our economy literally “sucks in” dollars from all over the world and our power is based on the fact that we are the reserve currency of the world.

Because there is such a demand for U.S. dollars we have the ability, through banking sanctions, to cut off countries from those dollars. Those central ledgers that banks control have allowed the U.S. to act as the global policeman. Look at Cuba. It was shut off from the global economy with debilitating result.

Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and block chain technology have the ability to upend the global banking system and U.S. dominance of it. This is why Jamie Dimon is bashing bitcoin.  Its worth noting that Goldman Sachs, one of J.P. Morgan’s biggest competitors, has seen the light of this new technology and now employs more people in its technology department than Linkedin or Twitter.

Block-Chain technology will change and impact our lives  in ways not yet imagined. Bitcoin offers an economy outside and irrespective of the U.S. dollar. It ends U.S. dominance of the world economy. This is the banking sectors greatest fear…and the terror of those who have disproportionately profited from that system.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

The Answer

Want to know why you’re fed up and feeling lost?

In what will surely be known as the Age of Data Collection, we know virtually nothing about the Las Vegas shooter.  The Clinton’s got away with their “Foundation” profiting to the tune of $145,000,000 in donations from Russian sources while Secretary Clinton approved the sale of 1/4 of the U.S. uranium supply to Russia. Sex trafficking in children is at an all-time high and some of the worst perpetrators are here in the U.S.  Pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies are the monthly purveyors of millions of illegal opioids while Americans grow more and more addicted. Then there is Harvey Weinstein and all of those complicit and silent, for decades, in Hollywood’s sordid saga.

We are not a dying a culture. We are a dead one.

This isn’t about politics. Politics is the distraction. It’s the “look over here so I can keep you from looking over there.” No thinking person can conclude that any politician, regardless of party, can or will save us. Politicians have been corrupt as far back as recorded history. This includes the politicians who disguise themselves as religious leaders and attempt to control and enslave millions in the name of God.

For as long as I can remember, I have instinctively known that you cannot legislate morality. Morals and ethics are internal commitments by individuals who have a conscience and a sense of higher purpose. Such knowing cannot be externally imposed and it certainly cannot be forced upon others through legal enactments. Morals and ethics may be discussed intellectually, laws can be passed in an attempt to express a society’s opposition to certain behavior, but in the end it is individuals acting voluntarily in accordance with a personal commitment to higher principles that define a culture.

Our culture, in the second decade of the twenty first century, is experiencing the ugly truth that it is devoid of such principles.

A society’s culture is a complex adaptive system that needs tending to. Because each of us is a contributor and functional part of that system, our individual actions matter and affect the whole.  Each of us needs to be aware when we are out of balance and take the necessary steps in returning toward equilibrium. Make no mistake. For too long, we have turned a collective blind eye to deceit, corruption, abuse, and limitless greed. Like an untreated bacteria or virus, we allowed these pathogens to infect us and go untreated. They have made our culture toxic. They have eaten away at our foundation and left us wandering and lost in the void.

What matters now is what we do about it. There is little time to waste and less time than that to beat our chests wailing “woe is me.” Energy abhors a vacuum. Something is going to fill the void. Blame is not helpful. We are all at fault, each in our own way. If we cannot face how we’ve abdicated free will and personal responsibility then we are surely doomed. We must reclaim both and use them wisely. If not, the fear mongers who live off of the pathogens, will prevail.

Each of us has the power of creation at our fingertips. All that is needed is to reach out and claim it. This is accomplished by the realization that, like morals and ethics, all wisdom resides within. No one and nothing external to you is the source. Your power is the wisdom within you combined with trust that you are directly connected to the highest Source there Is in order to be the best you can be. It is really the essential message of all true religions…once you strip them of their politics and politicians.

No one wants to hear that “it all rest on you.” But the truth is there is only one of us and so it does. We are united in our hearts if temporarily at war within our minds. What can provide comfort as we seek to find our way out of the void is the oldest message in the universe: the heart prevails.

Be the light, shine your light and watch what happens to the darkness. Something is going to fill the void. What will your contribution be?

Carole contact@carolegold.com