Instruments Of Debt

Having grown up in a large city I know full well how the public education system works. I grew up in the 70’s in New York City on the west side. My neighborhood bordered Hell’s Kitchen ( an Irish Mafia enclave), the housing projects where the lower class lived, and Spanish Harlem to the north. My child hood was not safe by any means and I was mugged, robbed and beaten up by a collection of these packs during my formative years. Given the quality of degenerates that bordered my dwelling, my parents sent me to a Catholic school in order for me to get a decent education.


The public schools in my neighborhood were really bad and every one knew it. These schools were merely warehouses to hold the delinquents until they moved on. The teachers were out manned, the schools run down and the level of instruction was minimal. As always there were heroic students  who actually went there to learn, but given the circumstances it was really hard for them to get ahead.

Between 2000-2010 I lived in Jersey City and in many ways the area was the same as NYC in the 70’s including the schools. I actually got to know many of the students from some of these schools and although they were all great kids for the most part, the majority were illiterate. In one particular case I helped write a high school’s senior report and I was amazed that this kid could barely read or write. His writing skills were probably no better than a 3rd grader and although he was proud of the work he did, it slowly dawned on him during our meetings he had been woefully unprepared to tackle life. In no way could I tell you the sorrow that I felt for this kid as I was truly heartbroken on what the school system had done to him. They had robbed him of a future, he had wanted to learn but none of the teachers had helped him or maybe they were not capable of helping him.

There is a running joke in Baltimore that the public school system is otherwise known as pre-prison. In most cases the public education system in most major U.S  cities has evolved into a public works project for teachers, administrators, suppliers and the related parties. The kids and their education is more of an afterthought. The public sector unions in education has found a way to get job security, pensions,and cushy jobs and if somehow these kids learn anything, it is a perk. John Stossel has done some great work on the public education system and I recommend taking a look at his work here:    For whatever reason the teachers are either incapable or incompetent to teach this generation of kids. Charter schools have come about as a way to get some of these kids into new schools outside the public education system and many of these parents are desperate for help, but the main opposition has been the same teachers unions. If you want a better understanding of this take a look at the great documentary “Waiting on Superman”.

After these kids are sent out in the real world and realizes they can’t compete, many of these same kids turn to crime as a way to survive. If these kids do end up in prison they again become a cash cow to the prison system as these felons need to be fed, housed, administered, and counseled…there is a lot of money in keeping people stupid and in prison. The angst and anger that this underclass has is well deserved and at some point it will explode once more as history repeats itself (Watts, Detroit, etc). The U.S political class has been able to tame this mass of people through food stamps and welfare but with 90 million people in the U.S no longer working due to this economic downturn the next up-rising really will be something to behold.

Given that public education is funded by taxpayers currently there is simply less dollars to go around given the economic landscape. The  mobs of administrators and teachers something  will want to be satiated  but the cities will have to curtail spending in order to pay down the debts.  The ending will be horrific and comical in nature; an underclass rioting to survive with the unions by their side asking for more

Steven Clark


Failure as a Guide

In 1992 I first entered into an Aikido dojo and took my 1st class,at the time I was in the best physical shape in my life. In my first class of doing Aikido I was horrendous, I couldn’t even do the most basic of movements. I had always considered myself athletic, I had been an athlete in high school and in college- playing football, wrestling and doing a variety of marital arts  so for me to go into an Aikido class and fail stupendously caught my attention.


The hardest part of Aikido is that it is unnatural, when you move to the right it is done by first shifting your weight on the left. In Aikido the 1st motion is to defend and not to strike, to move back instead of forward and this is unlike other sports where moving fast, forward and with power is required. In my 1st year alone I must have taken over 300 classes and was only marginally better after the year. When I looked around the mat,  I always noticed how gracefully all the senior students moved. It was only on further inspection that the majority had been training for over 10 years. It was the time, work and consistency of practice that made them good. And as such, I emulated their regimes and after 10 years I finally became a black belt.

If I had known starting out that it would have taken over 10 years to master Aikdio I probably would never have started. It would have seemed too long, too time consuming to master, but after 10 years in training I became a black belt. The joke in Aikido is that once you obtain your black belt it is only then your education really begins. For me getting my black belt in Aikido only left me with the feeling how inadequate I was in the sport, and that was the paradox of the sport. It is analogous to reading a book on a subject you think you really know only to realize how little you do know.

To get good at any technique in Aikdio is a long arduous process as at 1st you really can’t do anything; but it is the process that really helped me understand success. In that in order to get good at something I first had to risk to be really bad at something. Most people never master Aikido because they don’t want to look foolish but it is this vulnerability in any new endeavor that makes us grow and become better versions of ourselves.

We see this all the time in business where the media loves to portray people as overnight successes but when the veil is uncovered we usually find out that person had  put in lots of time and effort to become a success. Success takes time. In the realm of business, owners find out right away what works and what does not and are punished for the mistakes they make. It is the process that makes them become good at their craft. In a sense it is rewarding to get that instant feedback if your efforts are being fruitful or not.

Contrast this to politics where failure and continued failure is rewarded.We all seem to understand that success in business takes skill and mastery but when applied to the field of politics we all seem to throw out our common sense. Take the latest government foray into health care otherwise known as ObamaCare. Crafted by Barack Obama who is not a Dr and never worked in health care or for that matter the private sector. If he tried to implement this plan in the private sector he would have been laughed out of the room for one reason— he had no experience and thus no way to gauge if his plan would work. But yet in politics, people can fail miserably time and time again and be rewarded for their failures. Why else would he have been re-elected? His signature piece of legislature was a failure. Our collective political biases allows us to  hope and believe in a certain political party will enact  plans that work. But believing in political fantasies can have disastrous results.

Detroit has been governed by the 1960’s by radical leftists and have not elected a Republican candidate in over 50 years. Detroit use to be one of the most prosperous cities in the US but it is now considered the worst. Houses that use to fetch thousands of dollars now can be bought for less than a used car. Entire areas of Detroit are now being destroyed and being given back to nature because no one wants to live there.  One would think a change in party might bring a different result but that is not to be as people would rather believe the political fantasy that Democrats are for the people.

Better to bet on people who failed, lost and then succeeded as they all give us guide posts on how things can work.

Steven Clark

Obama and Shinseki Intended VA Treatment Failure

If you cannot imagine how or why the Veterans Administration has been so shamefully negligent and criminally deceptive in its treatment and record keeping look no further than what Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said on March 12, 2009. At that time, he stated that the Obama Administration had a proposal which would require U.S. military personnel to pay for their own medical treatment for injuries sustained while in the line of duty. A proposal the Administration refused to take off the table when petitioned to do so by Veterans’ groups. Yes, you read that correctly. U.S. soldiers to pay for injuries sustained while fighting or defending, for or on behalf of this country, with private medical insurance paid for by those same  soldiers out-of-pocket.

harmFast forward 5 years and what do we discover? The same Administration and the same players, President Obama and Secretary Shinseki, have allowed or created a system of medical care for Vets so negligent, so duplicitous and so deadly that it just might either 1) cause soldiers to actually seek private medical insurance or 2) convince the public that the VA can no longer  afford to effectively and efficiently manage the system…thereby recommending some private form of self-insurance.

Do you really believe that people who think our soldiers should pay for their own healthcare for injuries sustained in the line of battle are going to efficiently, and with integrity, administer VA hospitals in a way that encourages Vets to seek treatment?  President Obama is “madder than hell?” You believe he cares! Why in the world would you?

The ends justifies the means. The motto of an Obama Presidency and Progressives generally.

Whether its leaving behind 4 Americans in Benghazi, turning a blind eye for 52 days to a Vet chained to pirson walls in Mexico for having made a wrong turn on the freeway at the U.S.-Mexico border, or failing to provide the most basic medical care to courageous men and women who answered this Nation’s call to service, this Administration is a disgrace and so too will be a Nation that allows itself to continue to be duped and manipulated by these same people and a complicitous media.

Stupid is as stupid does. The problem isn’t them. Its us.

Do you realize we have just had 139 primary races across this country in advance of the November mid-term elections and NOT ONE incumbent was outvoted by their challenger. We just voted to keep the same crooks, incompetents, and professional political class in office in which we have a 20% trust factor.

I know you’re busy and dancing as fast as you can to keep up with your life. But that’s the plan. Overwhelm you so you’re just too tired and feel too helpless to affect anything. Exhaust you so you’re a good little sheep and go your merry way…never realizing the whole herd is being driven right off a cliff.

Stop feeling dis-empowered. Its the wrong attitude and leads to a disastrous outcome. Until we find a better shepherd for this flock let’s stop following the one we’ve got and start thinking for ourselves.


Lost But Not Yet Found?

Have we not lost our way when a U.S. Veteran having served in Iraq and Afghanistan languishes chained in a Mexican prison because he accidentally drove over the border with his weapons in his vehicle while our President and Congress are doing everything they can to fast track illegal aliens (many criminal) to becoming U.S. Citizens?

LostHave we not lost our way when President Obama personally takes time to call Georgetown University law student Sandra Flock to congratulate her for seeking taxpayer money to fund her choice of contraception while the same President does not take the time to fire the head of the Veteran’s Administration for a cover-up and total failure to provide medical care for our Veterans?

Have we not lost our way when a federally mandated academic curriculum called “Common Core” is designed to stifle creative and independent thinking while using public education to promote a political agenda while gathering intrusive personal data on both students and parents alike?

Have we not lost our way when you need a photo ID to obtain a driver’s license, obtain any hospital out-patient or in-patient procedure, purchase over-the-counter sinus medication, donate blood, carry out bank transactions (even deposits now!), cash A check or pay for purchases by check, purchase a gun, obtain Social Security benefits, be booked for arrest, visit a school if you’re a non-student, adopt a child, pick up packages at the post office, produce at a routine traffic stop…but not to VOTE?

Have we not lost our way when we march and protest over cruelty to animals but are indifferent to 50,000,000+ U.S. abortions (many of them late term) in the last 30 years?

Have we not lost our way when schools teach, as early as third grade, the intimacies and technicalities of sexual acts but teachers, administrators and politicians rebel at the mention of God in those same classrooms?

Have we not lost our way when a parent is arrested at a school board meeting for objecting to prurient and pornographic subject matter in his child’s textbook and every other parent, present with the same objection, sits by silently in fear without standing up for the father?

Have we not lost our way when we make believe that some politician will reverse the social and economic nightmare we are living rather than take responsibility ourselves for what needs to be done?

Have we not lost our way?


To Know or Not To Know?

One of the reasons Steve Clark and I not only write to this blog but also podcast “Above The Fray” is to share our differing opinions and encourage each of our readers and listeners to value their own truths while respecting the truths of others. It is to that end that I write today’s post. I wish to honor and respectfully disagree with something Steve wrote in his most recent post titled “A Secret To Society.”

KnowledgeIn making his excellent point that government, politicians, educators and those with political agendas alike all use opinion and disinformation rather than fact to manipulate the masses, Steve provided the following personal example:

“I spent many years learning about my Catholic faith. As I grew more serious with my studies, I asked for a good list of books to read to deepen my faith and grow in understanding. As I read more and found other books that I thought would help with my understanding, my spiritual adviser would counsel me not to read certain books because they were not doctrinally sound. In other words, some of these books were good but the premise of their writings was not sound and they would have left me with more questions than answers.”

While I admire Steve’s dedication to learning, I disagree that “unsanctioned’ source material can be harmful. Source matters, but only as it relates to the weight a reader gives it. As a Jew, I read things that both support and question my belief. And while I give greater credibility to Judaic sources, I keep an open mind as to the questions both healthy skepticism and opposing viewpoints can prompt.  My understanding of the Creator is that It would have me challenge my belief in It’s existence and by so doing (like Job of the Torah/Old Testament) strengthen my faith.

Having made that point as it relates to faith, desiring more information not less isn’t limited to religious inquiry. Whether religion, history, philosophy, science, or the humanities (just to name a few) I am certain that it is easier and wiser to filter out excess information than try and grow from a place of deficiency.

So I’ll conclude with the thought that while this post may be more information than Steve wants, we will remain friends and colleagues because that’s what it means to go Above The Fray.


Group Think in Finance

When I went to graduate school for finance I took a class on financial analysis. One of the main topics covered was financial forecasting as it related to stock prices and earnings. Before a publicly traded company releases its earnings, stock market analysts will predict for their clients what those numbers will be.

groupthinkThe reason for this is that if the analyst is right about his prediction, he can alert his clients about potential gains to be made. Given that it is inherently difficult to predict a company’s earnings from quarter to quarter, I naturally thought the analysts predictions would have a wide variety of different forecasts.

In reality, most analyst predictions were almost always the same. After thinking about it for a while, the answer became obvious. Analysts have families and a career to manage; so, if their picks are that far off from the consensus they could lose their job if and when shown to have been wrong. They learned early on to follow the pack in that it is hard to fire one analyst if all of the other analysts made the same mistake. So an analyst quickly learned not to stick your his or her  head out lest it get chopped off.

After graduate school, I ended up trading bonds for Merrill Lynch on an emerging markets desk. Since we were an international group we had a smattering of foreigners with remainder being Americans. However whenever I walked around around to the other trading desks they were all staffed by Americans, with the preponderance of employees educated at Ivy League schools. Finance can get quite complex and some of the instruments that are traded require a deep understanding of math and finance. So I understood the need to hire “the best and the brightest.”  What was unclear was why would a firm like Merrill Lynch hire the majority of their employees from Ivy League schools. This applied not only to Merrill Lynch but all the other main Wall Street banks as well.

This method of hiring from only a select set of schools was very different when I first applied to the Marine Corps Officer Program where selection was actually based upon a broad selection of officers with variety of backgrounds from a a broad array of schools. In my class alone there were officers from the Naval Academy, the Ivy Leagues, the SEC, as well as former Marines who earned their degrees via correspondence schools. The philosophy in hiring such a diverse set of people was that in a war time situation, it was better to have a broad selection of viewpoints. In that way group-think was unlikely to set in. There would always be somebody who would consider certain risks that others could not.

During the financial crisis of 2007-2008, all the major banks except one (JP Morgan) made the same mistakes that were to cause their financial ruin… the over leveraging of their balance sheets by holding mortgage bonds. A partial list of the financial institutions that either folded or merged during that period included: Lehman Brothers, AIG, Bear Stearns, Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, and Wachovia.  I concluded that all of these banks believed in the false premise (among many others) that since all the mortgage bonds had an implicit guarantee by the government that they would not default. But the mortgage bonds did default and it created the financial destruction from which we have still not recovered.

Since the majority of all of these employees were educated at the same institutions and were trained philosophically in the same manner, they were not able to see a fatal mistake in the financial system that so many others could see (mainly hedge funds). This is the fatal flaw of group-think. Once everyone believes things to operate a certain way their minds remain closed to alternate viewpoints.

The people in these banks could not envision that the products that they sold and traded would destroy them.

At Merrill Lynch, the head of the mortgage market prior to the crisis in 2007-2008 was fired for expressing his concerns over this very issue. Instead of embracing his perspective and seeking his wisdom, developed over many years of successful trading, he was fired for not taking on more risk.  Then, he was rehired after the damage had been done in the hopes that he could salvage the mess. By that time, of course, it was too late.

There is perhaps no more on-point, real-time example of the disastrous consequences that result from being unable or unwilling to listen to and acknowledge alternative viewpoints.

Steve Clark

A Secret To Society

What do Progressives, Communists, teachers, advertisers and skilled writers all have in common than many people never realize?  They each know that a reader is inviting and allowing a writer, of whatever perspective, to “get inside” and “tinker with” the reader’s thoughts.

textbook In addition to those just mentioned, government officials know this all too well which is why they try and dominate both the media and public education. For example,  “At Jimmy Carter’s inaugural, almost all the events were open to the public, and most of them were free. Reagan’s inauguration was by invitation only, and the invitations were expensive. One inauguration planner said it was all about ‘class and dignity.’ Harry Truman would have been horrified, but many Americans seemed awed by the glitter and glamor.” 

The statement in italics implies that the author knows how Harry Truman would have felt. Well, maybe he would have felt that way nut maybe he would not. The bias in this text seems inconsequential. However, over the course of many years, the reprinting in textbooks of such opinions (as opposed to facts) has a cumulative and determinative affect upon a child’s mind and opinions.

Textbooks are a subtle (and at times not so subtle) way to manipulate and tinker with our children’s minds. To earn a good grade, the child must absorb the underlying politics in order to understand the question and provide the “correct” response…be it in a classroom or on an exam.  This is simply mind control and programming at its most basic.

As a father of six, I am always checking and looking at my kids textbooks to explain to them the full picture of the material at hand. Since children are learning things for the first time it becomes easy for them to accept the bias since they don’t know otherwise. My children are in public schools (and although I live in Texas, I don’t trust government initiated instruction and don’t want them to be indoctrinated to trust what htey are told siply becasue it comes from government or school Administrators.

I spent many years learning about my Catholic faith. As I grew more serious with my studies, I asked for a good list of books to read to deepen my faith and grow in understanding. As I read more and found other books that I thought would help with my understanding, my spiritual advisor would counsel me not to read certain books because they were not doctrinally sound. In other words, some of these books were good but the premise of their writings was not sound and they would have left me with more questions than answers.

So it is quite important what we fill our minds with the right things in order to be educated.  The irony is that the government benefits from an uneducated populace, the less intelligent we are the more power the government has. For example, many Progressives argue that a higher minimum wage would help people on the lower rungs of society make more money. Although the theory sounds appealing it has never been proven by any economist of merit; a higher minimum wage always causes more unemployment, the exact opposite of what the lawmakers are trying to achieve.

If the Progressives can sell this political fantasy they know they will be able to extract more from the business community. They know that by making business comply with their laws they will be able to extract more and more political donations from business leaders (pay them to go away). If the general public had taken the time to understand the issues at hand, politicians would never get away with their political dreams.


Steve Clark