Obama And Biden Award Themselves Medals

Ricky Gervais a few years back hosted the Golden Globes Awards and he joked to the audience about the uselessness of awards “Remember if you do win tonight, no one cares about that award as much as you do. Don’t get emotional, it’s embarrassing. That award is, no offense, worthless. It’s a bit of metal some nice old confused journalists wanted to give you in person so they could meet you and have a selfie with you, okay? That’s all it is!” Ricky Gervais had won three of these awards for his past performances and yet he thought so little of the award that they were used as doorstops in his house.

The joke is funny because it is true. Because over time, the majority of awards and titles mean nothing to the general public. They only matter to the people who receive them.

Which leads me to President Obama and Vice President Biden who awarded themselves service medals during the last few weeks in office. President Obama awarded himself the Distinguished Public Service Medal for his own appreciation as his time as Commander in Chief while Vice President Biden won the Medal of Freedom award, the nations highest civilian award.

Many pundits were incredulous at the awards. And on many of the comment feeds on the articles have likened the awards to a much maligned “participation medal” and many others were even more skeptical of Obama giving himself a medal.

In Latin America the practice of the government awarding themselves participation medals is quite common. It is not uncommon to see a general in uniform stacked with medals and ribbons This is especially bizarre given none of them have seen any combat in generations. So self deluded with power and aggrandizement they award themselves medals to let people know how important they are.

Not all medals and awards are useless. Take a look at any serviceman who won the Medal Of Honor and you will get a glimpse if what real heroism looks like. I know many combat veterans here in the U.S who were actively engaged in combat operations and by ways of medals, have very little to show for it. The point being these awards were meant to really mean something.

For example in Mel Gibson’s latest movie Hacksaw Ridge about a Navy Medic, Desmond Doss, the movie depicts the heroism of Desmond as he saved countless lives on the battlefield. For his actions, he won the Medal Of Honor and I can guarantee you that every man in his unit will be forever thankful and indebted to Desmond for his actions and truly honored for him to win such an award.

Contrast this to President Obama winning his award for being an excellent Commander and Chief, the whole sordid notion reeks of desperation. Military awards are always given by their superiors to their junior leaders to recognize their efforts. Being that he is the most senior military leader, he nominated, recommended and awarded himself the award. President Obama winning that award is comparable to a mid level employee at Apple giving an award to Steve Jobs for his leadership abilities. That is how pathetic this whole thing is. In the military a junior officer can never recommend or award his superior an award, it is not the protocol and it is not conducive to good leadership.

The whole ceremony reminded me of the the famous line from Shakespeare: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” from Hamlet. The saying  has been used as a figure of speech to describe someone’s overly frequent and vehement attempts to convince others of some matter of which the opposite is true, thereby making themselves appear defensive and insincere.

These two must know how desperate this whole scenario reeks of so they award themselves medals to hide their incompetence.Since no one else will give them the credit they so rightly deserve, they award it to themselves. They really really want to let people how good, heroic and noble they were. And yet we have Benghazi.

During an attack on a U.S embassy in Libya, the president and his staff would not support Americans actively engaged in combat during the firefight where Ambassador Stevens was killed as well as four other Americans.The participants on the ground repeatedly called for help and even though there were Marines ready to go in, they were denied. We as a country had no problem putting Americans lives in harms way, and yet the Obama administration would not protect them when called.

With the Benghazi story as the backdrop of how not to behave in combat, during the invasion of Iraq, I remember reading a story about a Marine General who was relived of his duties during the attack quite simply because his units were moving too slowly causing other units in the attack unnecessary risk. I called my former Company Commander to see if he knew the story and if he could add clarity to the article. My former Company Commander said it was a highly unusual move for a commander to be relived of duty during combat operations as the General’s honor would forever be destroyed. He said “Most marine commanders would rather commit suicide than to face the eternal shame of failing in combat.”

His comments did not shock me as they rang true.For many not acquainted with military culture, this is exactly how mature military leaders think, and yet when President Obama had the chance to help fellow Americans in combat, he reportedly slept through the night.

Add this to his recent pardon of Bradley Manning who Obama commuted the sentence of a solider who went into a war zone, stole tons of classified files, and gave them to WikiLeaks. Manning released hundreds of thousands of secret documents relating to national security, during a time of war, with no regard to how it would undermine our war efforts and put lives at risk.  In any other time, Bradley Manning would have been shot for treason.

The whole thing is so outrageous that words don’t do it justice. The pardon of Manning along side his own award for leadership stand as juxtaposition of a man gone mad. A truly despicable finale to his presidency.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

The Price of Excellence

I met Donovan Waite when he was in his mid-30’s

Donovan was single and supported himself by giving Aikido classes to other students. He lived in the “dojo” where he paid rent for a tiny, spartan-like room yet with with no real privacy.

His back story was that he had achieved the level of black belt by age 14 and spent the next ten years mastering his craft before moving to the New York Aikido dojo.  He then spent 5 to 7 hours per day training at his craft. Aikido is hard, arduous and time consuming. Injuries are common. Bones are broken, knees are decimated and backs are wrenched yet over a 25 year period he never missed one day of practice.

He would show up before practice began and stretch for thirty minutes then stay after practice to do the same. I know this first hand because I used to copy his stretching routine.

He was a paradox: violent yet humble. If pushed, he could be violent. Yet he always adjusted his training to meet his partner’s ability so as not to harm them .

On one occasion, a former student came in and was bragging that he had recently completed Navy Seal training and how hard it was. Donovan walked up to him gently and asked if he could use him in the next class to demonstrate a few techniques. Donovan moved to the front of the class, affording him use of the entire length of the dojo. Within minutes,  he began throwing the Navy Seal from one side of the room to the other!   He repeatedly “launched” the seal over 10 yards in the air until the Seal was spent.

The point had been made. Stay humble.

He and I weren’t friends; but, by watching and training with him I learned more about personal excellence than anyone else I’ve ever met.  Never have I met any as proficient in their field of endeavor as Donovan was in Aikido. I have read books on Warren Buffet and the single minded vision that he had. But for me, Donovan was a  something first hand experience that exemplified a focused and unwavering commitment to a goal. He sacrificed his youth, finances, family, personal health and well being for one goal: to master aikido.  And while I practiced aikido for many years, and was good, I was never jealous of Donovan’s ability. He made sacrifices I was simply unwilling to make.

Interestingly, in aikido these is no end. For Buffett, the tangible gain of his massive effort was wealth. Donovan would never get to experience that. There are no riches on the other side of the  aikido rainbow. There is no payday when he could expect reward. Donovan pursued excellence pure and simple. Nothing more.  In fact, I’d be surprised if he ever made more than $1,000 a month during the 10 years he spent at the dojo.  Today he travels the world and runs his own dojo. I’ve heard that, with age, he now occasionally takes a day off. But, even as he ages, his Aikido techniques are a thing of power and beauty.

I am happy to have trained with him. I took with me 10 things I learned from Donovan Waite:

  • Practice Every Day.
    • Not only did he practice every day, he worked out for multiple hours at a time.  He showed what it means to be a professional.
  • Stretch every day.
    • His stretching sessions were lengthy. He stretched to take care of his body so that it would not get hurt. That preparation made him stronger and more flexible…able to affect throws that most men would never attempt.
  • Push yourself every day.
    • He was forever challenging himself. He would work out with men much bigger and stronger to refine his technique. Alternatively, his practice was slow and deliberate as he tried to break down every part of the move so he could later put it back together…at twice the speed.
  • Teach every day.
    • Donovan took many classes during the day, but he always taught. The teaching helped him become a better student and he used teaching to help him better understand the intricacies of techniques.
  • Clean every day
    • Every day the students in the dojo had to wash the mats. It was a ritual and never missed. A messy and sloppy environment was not conducive to training or excellence!
  • Adjust your technique every day
    • He knew Aikido so well that each and every move had a different and varied adjustment he was able to make. Never satisfied, he was forever experimenting, tinkering and playing with technique.
  • Be a good Ukemi.
    • Ukemi is the art of being a good partner. In boxing, they are called sparing partners. To learn a technique requires someone to receive and take your blows so that you can see if your strikes are effective. In Aikido being a good ukemi is also meant to help you protect yourself from other combatants.
  • Be relentless
    • He never quit. He always showed up and was always on time. He was was always “here.” He was fully present for the task at hand. Some people can do something hard for a few months or even a year. Donovan trained hours, every day, for years.. If he was hurt, he would work on techniques to protect himself or train very softly, but he always trained.
  • Never give up.
    • By the time he was thirty, Donovan was already one of the greatest Aikido practitioners in the world with hardly a peer. He could easily have gone off on his own. But he continued to push to bring his skill set to a place unseen before in Aikido
  • Be willing to sacrifice everything for greatness
    • He gave up everything for mastery. All of his time and all of his resources were spent on one thing: to be great at Aikido. By the time I met him, he was already great; but, he kept on pursuing.

If you are ever in New York City,  try and visit one of his classes because they are truly inspiring. A small part of you will be forever uplifted by seeing something so graceful yet powerful.

Excellence crosses all disciplines. It’s attainment and ultimate achievement require the same steps regardless of the goal. I  strive to apply what I’ve learned to many aspects of my life, not just Aikido.

For this priceless wisdom I am forever grateful to Donovan Waite.

 

Steve Clark

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

I Only Film What I Can See

In my opinion, there are two things that can absolutely not be carried to the screen: the realistic presentation of the sexual act and praying to God.” ― Orson Welles

 

Orson Wells believed praying like sex where two profound activities that could not be captured by film, in other words something deeper was talking place that could not be captured by the naked eye.

But alas, any show nowadays is awash with sex. I am no prude but it seems any good show on t.v now includes a gratuitous sex scene wether it is needed or not. It’s as if all the directors in the film world got together and decided that it was a prerequisite for any tv show.

 

Lately I have become am a bit more annoyed with this trend especially after watching the first episode of Orphan Black.

The TV series focuses on a woman named Sara who assumes the identity of one of her fellow clones, Elizabeth , after witnessing Elizabeth’s suicide. Seeing the uncanny resemblance between the two, Sara embarks on a journey to find out who this person was. At first, Sara did not know she was a clone so she digs into the origin of her story and how she came to be. The show raises issues about the moral and ethical implications of human cloning, and its effect on issues of personal identity and what it really means to be human. Truly a fascinating premise.

After watching it for a few minutes I was  hooked me and wanted to watch more. But, half way through the show, there was a scene in which we are shown two men cleaning up after sex followed by Sara having sex with a man she just met. Not sure how theses two scenes were suppose to meant to advance the story, but nevertheless they were added.

The director must have felt he was losing the audience so he added these scenes to make sure they stayed engaged. The additional scenes reminded me a book my teenage daughter wanted me to read a few years ago. The premise of the book was that the earth had split in two after a cosmic hurricane that caused 90% of the population to be wiped out and caused complete chaos on the earth, but the story was about to get worse because of a great rain that was coming. It wasn’t enough that the earth had split in two, it was the rain that was suppose to cause the real excitement of the book.

And just like in Orphan Black, the whole concept of cloning and its moral implications were not enough, the sex scenes had to be added to really spice up the show.

Yet our culture is truly saturated with porn which is totally free and ubiquitous. It has pervaded all aspects of entertainment and web content. Any and all explicit sexual acts are free and easily accessible to be viewed at any time. And yet even on the most random shows that we watch, the artistic community feels compelled to feed us more sex.

Because sex is so ubiquitous,I would think an artist these days would have more freedom to show the ideas without having to include a sex scene. The reason people watch a show like Orphan Black is because of the premise The viewer is not tuning in for more sex.

I think the truly avant-garde show of today would be to show  a series solely based on ideas, story and dialogue. Sex scenes, pre 1960’s, were alluded to but never shown. If the director wanted to make the point that the couples were about to have sex, a fade to black or a closing of the bedroom door was enough for the audience to get the message

But today in many films,  even bodily functions are filmed. Yes we are all human, so yes we do have to respond when nature calls but is it really something necessary to be filmed? In the great film Panic Room with Jodi Foster, she was filmed going to the bathroom, but for what reason? Art in its best form is meant to inspire and bring out the best in man. In this present day art form it seems we are more concerned on how low the human condition can go.

Viewership in all of the traditional media channels is in serious decline being replaced with on-demand devices. Audiences in all media  is a fraction of what they used to be- and maybe the cause is the decline of quality programming.

Years ago I heard an interview with Sherwood Schwartz who was the producer of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island. In many ways both shows are quite simple and can be easily dismissed as novelty shows of their era. The disk jockey, although not disrespectful of his work did not seem to appreciate Schwartz work or his shows.

Schwartz said that all of his shows have been in syndication for years and there is a constant demand by the cable companies to air these shows. “Take the show Gilligan’s Island about a group of people stranded on an island. The show had a cross section of people; the rich, the famous, the fool, the farmer, the scientist and the captain. All as different as can be and yet all coming together to work on a common goal. And so  for many they see a simple show, yet what I created in my small way was a show about struggle and about mans search to make his lot better even when stranded with little hope for rescue.”

“The reason why people still flock to watch that show is because in my own way I tapped into those feelings about what it means to come together and work for something greater than oneself. You might laugh, but my audience and cable companies still buy and watch that show because they know the message rings true.”

Our shows no longer even strive for this optimistic message any more as the anti-hero has displaced the hero in todays culture. People so flawed we find repellent- think Walter White or Don Draper. The sex we see on shows today is not meant to uplift but rather to debase us. To remind us how flawed we all are, and for that we are all worse off.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

A Chain of Events

One anchor. One person. One person was responsible for bringing in thirty people legally into the United States.

How did it happen? By one act of kindness.

Was it good for America? Not at all.

Magical World

My father was an entrepreneur who started many companies. Some failed while others did very well. And over his life he employed lots of people and helped create a lot of wealth for them One of his employees was families had immigrated from Colombia.

She was a lovely lady who cleaned the office and helped around wherever she could. In her later years she helped my father and mother at their home.She did not speak English and first came here illegally. Since my father did not want any problems with the authorities, he paid for a lawyer and got her a green card. And over time  she got all of her documents, paid her taxes and became a U.S citizen.

Yet having lived here her entire life, she never learned English. Never took the time to learn the culture and never fully integrated into American life. She always lived as an outsider within the American system. And she knew her life was far better here than it ever could be in Colombia.

So now as a U.S citizen with full rights, she helped bring over her entire family from Colombia.. Her sister, daughter, husband, and nieces all immigrated here. And even today, she continues to bring over her extended family, all legally.

I always had a good relationship with Lydia and it became closer when I married my wife Rocio. When I moved back to N.Y, Lydia and my wife hit it off since they both spoke Spanish. And as I had children, Lydia helped me with my kids.

Lydia was the first person that opened my eyes to an America and a system that I never knew existed and would never be part of. It all happened when one of my daughters got sick and I had to take her to the emergency room. When Lydia saw the bill I had to pay, Lydia was first shocked that I paid and even more dismayed by my naïveté for paying the bill.

Lydia seeing how I overpaid for my daughters medical bills and other such things began to educate me informed me there are many ways to go to the emergency room and not have to pay the bill. In fact she began to teach me about the massive government system of services that are free to almost anybody, a system that I had no idea that existed.

It reminded me of a Lydia who skit done years ago on Saturday Night Live where the black comedian Eddie Murphy dressed up as a white man in a  comedy and goes out to what it was like to live as a white man in America.

In the first scene the white Eddie Murphy enters a newsstand is not allowed to pay for the newspaper by the white owner, and as he surmises “I guess white people give each other things when black people are not around.”

In another scene, Eddie Murphy is on a bus which breaks out into a grand party after the last black person departs. Finally when Eddie Murphy goes to a bank to get a loan and is rejected by the black banker because he had no i.d, no job and no collateral, he eventually gets a $50,000 loan in cash, when a white banker intervenes on his behalf .

The skit is hilarious in that it was clearly over the top and yet when I began to see how Lydia lived, it reminded me of that skit. Comedy works because it touches on the nerves of truth. We all know that there are diffrent experiences people have that we will never be part of  because of our race, color or gender. It is normal. However, comedy of  my association with Lydia I was able to get a glimpse into the world of government programs and assistance that the majority of Americans have no idea they existed how they operated

Lydia had none or practically  no medical bills (Medicaid). She could go a Doctor at virtually no cost.She had access to free food (food stamps, E.B.T program). She received several monthly checks from a smorgasbord of government agencies that helped her pay for her housing and other miscellaneous expenses. She was set.

Although these programs and doors are supposedly open to all Americans, I would never be able to access them. They were never meant for people like me. They were not meant for “Normal Americans”. Think I am wrong? Take a look at how veterans are treated with sub standard care at the Veterans Administration Hospitals. These are the types of the because government programs normal Americans receive. It was designed that way.

A few years back I went to a finance conference where one of the panelist argued how efficiently the government operated. The panel laughed at her comments, but she continued “The money in government is by being inefficient. For example many companies can bid on a government contracts- and for many  they will never win the contract nor ever be able to complete the application. But with the right contact (and payoff) within the government, you will actually get your application completed and win the job.” That was my epiphany. The government is actually quite receive efficient if you know how to pull the right levers.

The reason why Lydia had great benefits and veterans have terrible ones is because Lydia and her ilk know how to bring the votes. The communities Lydia lives in know how to get people elected and keep them in power and because of that the government responds to people like her. Veterans don’t vote as a uniform block and because of that, they are recipients of an inefficient government.  Minority communities generally speaking  live close to each other (think Chicago, NYC) which makes it easier to concentrate their power. While veterans are spread out all over the United States.

Lydia did what any rational person would do, she told her family about the amazing benefits she received and tried to bring in as many of them as she could.And now as a U.S citizen she continues to live off the government.

As a country we are worse off having allowed Lydia into our country. It pains me to say it but it is the truth. The people she brought over came here to consume and better their own lives and their received but not the country which has given them so much. The irony was that my father was a veteran who never once took anything form the government and yet has helped many others to do so.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Death By Injection

A good friend of mines son named Jacob died recently. He was only 20.

heroin

He injected heroin into his veins and died a few hours later.

He was a good kid. I liked him. I had not seen him in a years but I had met when he was a boy. He was a sweet person. He was one of those adorable kids you remember because of the goodness that oozes out of them.

He went to school, had a job and a girlfriend. And like most of us he was trying to better his lot in life. From what I understand he did not have a drug problem but did use drugs recreationally.

On this one instance, his occasional drug use cost him his life. His parents and friends will forever be saddened by this needless loss of life.

When I was in my teens, the recreational drugs that circulated were marijuana and some times cocaine. That was about it, because that was about the only thing that was accessible.

But as I have gotten older, it seems the amount of drugs available have skyrocketed. I would argue that it all changed in the late 1990’s with a change in the law.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I write quite a bit about politics, because  even the slightest changes in the law affect us all. Even though you might think changes in laws don’t affect you, they inevitably do.

I believe the genesis of the heroin boom began in the late 1990’s when drug companies were given the green light to start making new pain medication drugs. At the time, there were no real alternatives for patients who suffered from chronic pain. That is not to say there was no pain medications available, but there was not enough variety for the many ailments people suffered from. Some long time pain sufferers had no real recourse to alleviate their suffering and had lived it with it for years.

Lawmakers had been reluctant to open up the markets for new pain killing medicines as they were worried about the real possibility of an increase in drug addiction. But given the pressure by their constituents and the drug companies, a new industry was created.

One of the drugs that hit the markets in the mid 90’s was Oxycontin an opioid type medication similar to heroin. Both drugs are chemically similar, they are equally addictive, and both drugs are considered very difficult to withdraw from. Yet one was legal.

Drug companies and doctors benefited immensely by prescribing OxyContin as there was lots of money to be made. But there was a nasty side effect to the business, the patients got addicted. Doctors were happy to prescribe them to a point but once they started noticing that there patients were now addicts they had to cut them off. Doctors liked the money but were smart enough to know that they could lose their license if they started prescribing too much of it.

Desperate for their fix, the patients started buying the drugs in the black market and in Florida, pill mills started popping up to fill the need. A  pill mill is an operation in which a doctor, clinic or pharmacy pre- scribes and/or dispenses narcotics without a legitimate medical purpose. These doctors used their pre-scription pads to flood their communities with illegal narcotics.

These mills started booming all over Florida and became the epi-center for the drug trade. Patients, now cut off from their doctors found ample supplies through these pill mills. And when the addicts could no longer afford them they turned to heroin for their fix. Given the similar nature between these two drugs, the heroin market took off.

Clearly taking a pill is preferable to the alternative of heroin which is injected by a needle into the vein, but given that heroin is cheaper, people flocked to heroin. For example an 80 mg OxyContin can cost $60 to $100 a pill. In contrast, heroin costs about $45 to $60 for a multiple-dose supply. So many normal people” would never would have thought of injecting something onto their veins began to do so regularly did so because of their addiction and the cheapness of heroin.

Unlike Oxytocin where the doses and amounts are closely monitored, heroin is unregulated and manufactured in the black market. So when someone injects heroin into their veins, that person is literally in the hands of the drug dealer who made that batch. Growing up it was unheard of anybody who did heroin. It was the stuff of the hard drug users. But not anymore. Heroin has come to middle America. This is how a sweet kid, from a solid family with good economic prospects ends up killing himself. He used heroin because it is cheap and available and widely used as a drug of choice for many now. The stigma of heroin now longer exists.

This is how a change in law from 20 years ago can have major consequences many year later It was widely reported that during Donald Trumps campaign, he was  astonished by the amount of people that came up to him asking for help to solve the scourge of heroin. Drug use was not one of his main policy points but given the amount of sad stories he heard, he actually began to address this issues at many of his stops.

Now with marijuana being made legal in many states, who knows what future awaits us twenty years down the line. Living in Texas I have meet many recent Colorado transplants who have told me the main reason for leaving the state was the widespread use of marijuana. So we have already begun to see people take action due to this new law.

Right now, 3,999 American children die every month from an accidental overdose of heroin. That’s right, 129 people a day die from an overdose. This is the impact of laws. This is the impact of politics and this is how one change in law can affect us all.

Rest in peace Jacob. You will be missed.

Steve Clark

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Hate To The Left and Right of Us

I’ve never before re-posted a blog. But what follows is my post prior to the election of Donald Trump. It pains me to say it is more relevant since his election than before it. (Originally posted September 23, 2016).

My co-blogger, Steve Clark, texted me a link earlier today with the following comment: “This is what passes for journalism!” So, naturally, I had to click through.

love-and-hate

Where I landed was at GQ online and an article by, correspondent and author, Drew Magary titled, “If You Vote For Trump, Then Screw You.”  Creative and engrossing title, don’t you think?  Yeah, me neither. Not so much. But, in all fairness, and since I respect Steve, I read the article. So I fully understand Steve’s incredulity.

It’s an adolescent, vulgar, profanity-laced rant by…well, an adolescent. I’d say more about the “correspondent” but that sentence pretty much sums up space occupied by nine paragraphs of filth and unrestrained emotional immaturity. I’d much rather write about how Magary’s rant is symptomatic of something much larger.

We are a nation divided and that’s not a bad thing. From true diversity of thought comes new ideas. When it comes to problem solving, difference is the petri dish of creativity. The catch is that each side of the divide has to honor the differences of the other so that they can communicate and, hopefully, zero in on the merits of each others’ arguments. Name calling, accusation, disrespect, hyperbole…these are impediments to problem solving. All they do is cause the object of their slings and arrows to defend positions rather than remain open and receptive to possible solutions.

The real harm of the verbal filth spewed by Magary in his self-indulgent tirade is not done to Donald Trump. To give him credit for his honesty (evidenced by the article’s title) Magary makes his intention pretty clear. His hatred is directed at anyone who sees merit in the candidate or who would vote for him. So, Magary hates his fellow Americans who disagree with his particular political preference.

Where does such intolerance and narrowness of thought leave us?

If we take the Magary approach, close to half the country needs to hate the other half. To me, this is a bit like using your left arm to beat up your right arm if you have an irritation. While it may, in the moment, address a superficial and temporary annoyance, in the long run (and we need to think about the long run) you will have done serious damage to a part of you that needs to be functional and cooperative.

You see, there is only one of us. Yes, you read that correctly, There is only one of us. We are all branches on that one tree called humanity. It serves no one, and nothing, for us to treat one another as if harming someone else never comes back to harm us.  Hatred, whether its the fuel for Islamic terror or fuel for a so-called “correspondent”… is still hatred.  Hatred is a cancer of the soul and does as much damage,  perhaps more, to the host than it does to its intended object.

After all, there are only two emotions. Love and fear. Every negative emotion, including hate, is a derivative of fear. So in the end, the Drew Magarys of the world are afraid. Of what, I don’t know. But so much hate is really so much fear.

So, I would recommend that Drew Magary re-think what’s eating at him ( literally I might add) and perhaps understand that there are people out here who seriously disagree with him but who love him all the same.

The Answer To Suffering

A farmer and a blue collar worker were in line to vote last Tuesday. Someone overheard their conversation in which both were sharing that they had not had a good year financially since 2000. That’s 16 years. They were suffering and they were voting for Trump.

hope

I know a lot about suffering. It’s the same whether it’s an individual or the collective consciousness of a nation.  My knowledge and understanding comes from years of suffering depression which culminated in an attempted suicide at age 24. Individuals, like nations, who misplace hope and choose suicide as an option, don’t really want to die. Notice I said, “misplace” hope. Hope is never gone…but when suffering is prolonged enough and there seems no cure for its cause and no end in sight, hope gets obscured by the pain. And when the pain is bad enough, rational thought is cast aside for any solution, regardless of how irrational or self-destructive.

A person may choose suicide as a seemingly rational end to their suffering. But what does a nation filled with people who have misplaced hope do?

The seeds of national suicide were sprouting in 2008. Barack Obama, and the Democrats recognized this and so, knowing the nation was suffering, offered “Hope and Change”. They ignited the flame of hope that the nation was in need of and with that held out the promise of an end to the early stages of suffering. But the promise was empty and as time passed, the pain and suffering grew more intense.  With that increased pain, came a decreased optimism…hope…that there was a “cure” or light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, from 2008 until now, that light has been progressively (no pun intended) harder and harder to see.

Pain and suffering increased over the past eight years to the point that hope was obscured and with it rational thought.  What resulted was a populace who would, in its desperation, settle for giving the most powerful position in its nation to either a greedy thief or an egomaniacal illusionist. We chose the illusionist.

That is how a nation commits suicide.

My experience of attempted suicide taught me an invaluable lesson. It’s the certainty that hope always exists; it’s just up to us to have the patience and determination find it. Donald Trump will not save us for he was chosen in a period of national darkness. Whether he is well intentioned or not, there are those around him who recognized our perilous time of suffering and glammed on for the ride and for their own agendas, not for the national best interest.

When I was in the emergency room, I had an out of body experience. As they were pumping the drugs out of me, I was up in the corner of the room, looking down at what they were doing, and thinking, “Why don’t they let that body go?” At which point I “felt” a distant voice say, “You have to go back, Carole, you have work to do.”

Our nation is on that table. We are looking at it and wanting the suffering to stop and for the pain to go away. There are no guarantees. But this I know.

Hope exists if we are patient and determined to be the best we can be. No one will save us but for ourselves. Giving it over to someone else is an act of suicide. Its up to us to demand of ourselves personal accountability. Its up to us to demand of our government accountability to the founding principles. So, fellow citizens, we have to go back. There is work to do.

Carole Gold

 

Theft in The Financial Markets

Many people in positions of  power tend to think of themselves as being God-like.

bankers-theft

No where is this more apparent than among the financial and government planners who beset the West. Educated at the best schools and responsible for the finances of the rich and powerful, it is understandable that they think of themselves way. They have come to believe, due to their education and responsibilities, that they know better than mere mortals. This hubris and arrogance was given credence in part by a British economist named John Keynes.

Keynes developed an economic model of thought which asserted that the government had a rightful role to play in the financial markets. Central to Keynes’s theory was the premise that the economy was just a matter of inputs and outputs that could be tinkered with to effect greater efficiency. The main thrust of Keynes’s argument was that whenever the economy stalled the government had an obligation to inject money into the economy to get it moving again.  Keynes’s theory is known as “Keynesian economics” and his disciples now act as the main policy makers in the West.

Today, it is standard practice for government officials to start meddling in the private sector whenever there is a slowdown. They cite Keynesian economics for their actions. During recessionary times, government officials will increase public spending, create more public works projects and inject money into the banking system. President Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama, both presidents during recessionary periods,  resorted to massive government spending to aid the economy.

Keynesian economics has become the dominant form of monetary policy today in government circles. The way policy makers inject money into the economy is by lowering the cost of money. They do this by manipulating the financial markets. The idea behind it is that cheaper money will stimulate the economy and create new jobs.

For example, during the last eight years, most major central banks have been buying their own debt to lower the yields. But these lower yields have not spurred any economic activity. Rather, it has caused actual investors to earn less interest income. If government bonds actually yielded something tangible, private investors would be earning a return on their money and putting that money to productive use. But since that money is not going to individual investors, the economy is continuing to stall.

The slower growth that we have seen over the last few years has pushed the government to enact more and more policies for even cheaper money. The end result is that, in many countries, we now see negative interest rates.

Figuring out what interest rates should be is not hard.  Take GDP growth (currently 2%) and add  2.5% for inflation and you get your money which should be 4.5%.  However, currently bond yields are only 2.15%. The difference between 4.5% and 2.15% rates is the money that is being stolen by these bad policies. Given the size of the market, we are talking billions of dollars that are not flowing into the private sector.

For some reason, this theft by the government is never reported as such. Instead, we use the terms “quantitative easing”, “buy backs” and stimulus packages to mask the central planners’ actions.  Call it what you will, its theft.

Pension funds, IRA’s, and retirement plans all use the rates on the bond market to plan their investments. However, because the bond markets have been so distorted by government interference, the yields that investors were expecting are no longer there. Investors have been forced to speculate and invest more heavily in the market to recoup this “stolen” money.

The scope of this government manipulation of global stock and bonds markets is enormous —larger than the U.S. government’s manipulation of housing prices when they kept rates low and used Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to back housing loans. Most economist believe central banks around the world have created more than $11 trillion in new money, all of which has been invested in financial securities, real estate and commodities. The amount of government investment and intervention has never before been done on such a massive scale.

There is simply no way for this to end well.

Eventually, markets  always correct themselves. The U.S. stock market is trading at record highs and at record-high valuations; but, earnings have fallen for five straight quarters. This simple observation is obvious to many but somehow not to our elected leaders. The world’s major economies are groaning with inflated securities prices and a debt burden they can not afford.

Who knows what will happen when investors realize that the party has ended? When investors scramble for the exits, there will be nowhere to go. By law (The Volcker Rule and others) banks will not be able to act as as intermediary for the majority of these trades.

We have forgotten the seed of all growth is capital. Capital is essentially the surplus from our economic activity which is then used to fund future growth. With rates being what they are, investors are being forced to risk and speculate in the markets and not save that all  important seed —  capital. Our government policies are discouraging capital formation.

When the market implodes, and it will, there will be no capital stored up to start over. It will all have been destroyed. So while we’re distracted by demonstrations and the illusory insanity of politics, the very foundation of our thriving nation has been eroded right before our eyes by the very people we trust to use good judgment in protecting it.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

New York State & Airbnb

Did you ever see the 2002 movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise? It is a great film with a brilliant premise which is that  it is better to stop a crime before it ever happens. Tom Cruise plays a police officer in a unit called “The Pre-Crime Task Force.”  With the aid of super psychics, they use their abilities to stop crimes just prior to their commission.

precrime

Once notified by the psychics, the police officers arrest the perpetrators before the crime is committed and incarcerate the “criminals”  before they can take action. So, even though they’ve committed no actual crimes, they are still sent to prison.

The “intent” was all that mattered.

Although it’s a science fiction movie and takes place in the “future” you’re left with the impression that the idea is far fetched and could never happen. That is….until now.

Just last week Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York State, signed a bill making it illegal to advertise your home for short-term rentals on websites like Airbnb. So, even though you might not ever rent your space, the sheer fact of publicizing your intent to rent will run you afoul of the law. Like pre-crime, you don’t even have to rent out your unit to get into trouble.  You just need the intent. No it’s not science fiction…its New York State.

As it stands, New York already has a law on the books making it illegal to rent out your home, or rooms, to short term tenants. The state also has heavy handed condo Boards that rule and restrict New York real estate associations. Most of them have stringent measures that forbid short term rentals.

The penalties to advertise carry up to a $7500 fine. Seem egregious? Yes…when D.W.I fines in N.Y range from $500 to $5,000 dollars and reckless driving fines are only $300 dollars! These are fine for actual crimes not an intent to commit one.

The fact is, Airbnb solved a huge issue for visitors to N.Y.  New York, especially New York City, has some of the highest hotel rates in the world along with some of the highest hotel occupancy rates. It is hard to find a hotel room that rents for less than $200 a night in New York City, so cheaper alternatives were needed.

Companies such as Airbnb filled a need. It’s not like New York City isn’t benefiting. Airbnb generated over $400 million dollars for New York City property owners last year.  So, at face value, it would seem everybody would be better off by having Airbnb in New York.  Hotels still have high occupancy rates that are not being negatively effected and property owners can generate additional income while having visitors enjoy a better experience. Finally, even the politicians get their tax slice of the $400 million.

Now those benefits are gone.

The reason why Airbnb was barred was alleged to be “safety reasons.” This seems always to be the justification of every action the government takes.  The statement read, “The government must ensure that all buildings comply with fire, building and other safety codes relative to their class.”

Give me a break!

I lived in New York City. You can barely walk down the street without obtaining a multitude of permits. Now, all of a sudden, those rental properties built over the years somehow slipped through licensing and zoning agency purview and were built without the government’s oversight in the first place? Please.
 
State Senator Liz Krueger issued a statement in favor of the law, calling it “a huge victory for regular New Yorkers over the interests of a thirty-billion dollar corporation.” Really?  The majority of Airbnb’s profits flow to individuals. In fact, the company Airbnb has lost billions of dollars since it was founded. It has never generated a profit. The platform was designed for individual parties to benefit, not corporations. Senate Liz Kruger is a liar for saying something so blatantly false and misleading!

So this “victory” is actually one for the power brokers and against regular New Yorkers…ordinary people who use the site to generate extra income and help make ends meet. These people will now lose that needed extra income.

With stupidity like this so pervasive in government, especially in N.Y., it’s no wonder why people are leaving the state. Since the 2010 census  653,071 people have left the state. This was the largest decrease of any state, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of estimated population since the start of the decade.

The Empire State doesn’t say why residents are leaving, but we can think of several possible reasons: high taxes, high unemployment upstate, high housing costs in the city, and a large (and corrupt) bureaucracy—for starters.

Ironically, New York City already has the infrastructure within the surveillance state to “detect” pre-crime…not unlike the world which “Minority Report” portrayed.  So it should not come as a shock that in real life, and in real time, the bureaucrats and administrators are already writing laws that will allow them to impose upon New Yorkers what they obviously thought was a darn good plot.

Truly scary stuff.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Boredom and the Digital Age

When I was a young kid I spent my summer months by myself in Ecuador.

boredom

Well that is not entirely true.  I stayed with my grandparents. But, since my grandmother was bedridden and my grandfather spent all day at work, I was left on my own.

My day began at 7am and from that point on I was on my own. I had no friends and nobody to play with. All of my cousins were at school so I only saw them on Sundays.  Being away from home,  I had none of my usual toys to entertain me.

Those years were pre-internet. TV was out of the question because there were only three channels anyway and the TV was in my grandmother’s room. I was really left up to my own devices so I learned how to deal with silence and boredom and how to entertain myself.

I grew up in boredom and know how to use it. That experience taught me how to work independently and without much guidance.  Its fair to say that the seeds of my independence were born during those years..

Now, I look at my children and see that they have no periods of boredom. They are continually connected through their phones, computers, video games and streaming companies such as Hulu and Netflix. I do limit their use but its an ongoing battle.

My oldest child is really a fan of pop culture and will “binge watch” shows for hours on end. I know this is bad for her and have implemented ways to budget her time; yet, she still finds a way to watch her shows. I am not alone on this. Many of my friends’ parents have expressed their dismay at the amount of time their children spend on electronic devices.

Admittedly, all of these mediums have some benefits to them if used in the proper context. However, I personally fell that, in the end, these new tools can become vices that seductively lure us away from a meaningful life. Boredom never enters into the minds of children today simply because they are forever being entertained. That quiet space where self-direction and creativity are born is disappearing.

Boredom trained me to become patient and to allow things to unfold naturally.

When I was in the Marine Corps, we had to do one particular training on how to plot ambushes.  An ambush is a tactic where the attacker hides him/herself and waits for the enemy to walk into its trap. One emphasis of the exercise was to stay in position, motionless, for hours on end. Regardless of the weather conditions, bodily needs and mental state, we had to learn to stay quiet and still without moving. Even the Marine Corps, which prides itself on its aggressiveness, understood the need to be silent and still for long periods of time in order to be successful in war…even if t iss maddeningly boring!

My tenure as a professional bond trader also required immense patience. One of the main skills needed was the ability to watch computer screens for hours on end in order to identify subtle price movements  It was not uncommon for me to spend eight hours a day glued to my screen, unable to leave my desk, because of the demands of the job. Many times, the days were tedious and the work grueling; but, I was self-trained in knowing I could sit there and do the work. Part of the job was to sit, watch and pounce like a tiger when price aberrations appeared on the screen. The success only came to the traders who had the ability to watch and wait for long periods of time, the ones who could handle boredom, and be there in the moment to seize the opportunity when it arose.

I am not so sure that our devices and our culture are forming the types of people who can sit down and do the grueling  work that is needed to accomplish so many necessary aspects of productivity.

Take the classic song Hallelujah written and performed by Leonard Cohen which was released in 1984 and never found an audience. The reason was that the first iteration of the song was not very good and Cohen knew it. But he also he knew the song contained seeds of greatness.  Cohen would not relent. He went over and over the song. He picked at it and picked at it n an effort to refine it. For him it never became a hit. And yet other artists saw the beauty and power within the song and, for years fiddled, with it for years. For years. It wasn’t until an artist named Jeff Buckley shortened the song and edited the lyrics that it became a hit. That was 15 years after Leonard Cohen wrote it.

“Hallelujah” is now considered one of the greatest songs of all time. Some songwriters call it one of the top ten songs of all time. One of the reasons that the song is considered great is because of the sheer amount of effort by various artists over the years who took the time, and exhibited the patience, to do the work. They studied, played and tinkered until a masterpiece was emerged.

Think about it. A five minute song took 13 years to create.

Admittedly, I too have been affected by this digital age. I’ve wasted plenty of time on my phone knowing the time was being misused. But at least I have a point of reference.  I have something against which to measure myself..all those years when I learned the value of downtime.

All of these terrific companies that have been created over the last few years such as Facebook, Instagram and Snap Chat are a testament to the genius of their creators; yet, there was a “method to their madness.”  They were designing systems and processes to grab your attention so you’d waste your time on their platforms and to their economic gain.

Slavery comes in many forms.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com