A World Turned Upside Down

The system is broken. The government, the people and the business community know it. However, many of the reporters within the media still don’t get it. They are clueless about the state of the world in which we find ourselves. It’s why they don’t report it.

upside down world

We live in a country with 18 trillion dollars worth of debt on top of 40 trillion in unfunded liabilities. We live in a bankrupt country yet, not a peep out of the media. The emperor has no clothes… but you would be hard pressed to find that information anywhere.

Unlike the media, however, the average citizen knows that something is not right in America. We know when the government reports that unemployment is at 5% its impossible with 90 million people out of the labor force. Its Donald Trump who is giving a voice to the masses- pontificating, teaching and telling the people what is wrong with America and his plans to fix it. Having been grilled by both Megyn Kelly and Chuck Todd, the media class can’t believe he is still standing. The clueless pundits are flabbergasted. Their ignorance misses the point that while they have been negligent in not reporting the issues of the day these issues are of paramount importance to the voters.

Our governing institutions have become totally unrecognizable from their original design evidencing how far government has fallen.

For example:

  • The Department of Defense . We won’t even defend our borders. Thousand of people illegally cross our border every day.  We still have troops on the border of Korea protecting the South over a war that ended in 1953!  We also have troops stationed in Germany as a result of World War II which ended in 1945!  Yet, here in the U.S, we won’t send troops to protect our own borders.
  • New Name: “Department of War“: Since the end of World War II, here is just a small sample of all of the conflicts in which the U.S has been involved, deployed troops to and fought battles in: Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Environmental Protection Agency was born in the wake of elevated concerns about environmental pollution. The EPA was established to ensure environmental protection.
  • New Name: Environmental Deconstruction Agency:”  Just look at the latest tragedy in Colorado where the EPA spilled an estimated 1 million gallons of wastewater out of an abandoned mine area in the southern part of the state, turning the Animas River orange and prompting the Environmental Protection Agency to tell locals to avoid it.
  • The Department of Education was formed to turn the U.S into an educational powerhouse.
  • New Name: “Department of Dis/Mis-Information:” Our test scores are some of the lowest in the developed world and since the Department was formed our scores have gotten worse…not better.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Established to do the obvious and the tool the President is to use under the Constitution he swore an oath to in order to “preserve, protect and defend” the Nation.
  • New Name:  “Department of Border Entry Assistance:” If anything, our last two Presidents (Bush and Obama) have ignored that part of their oath and Constitutional duty to instead assist and allow in millions of illegals.

We now exist in a world where the institutions that were created for a specific reason actually do the opposite of what they were supposed to do. The government, and the people who work in those departments, have perverted our system to such an extent that we no longer recall the functions they were meant to perform.

What else can be said but, “The the system is broken!”

Our government bears little resemblance to the one envisioned by the Founding Fathers and their emphasis on separation of powers and limited government. None of the three branches of government are trusted by the American people and that’s to be expected given how far we have fallen.

Lost footing is not the sole purview of the public sector. Other pillars of society have lost the trust of the public as well… private institutions are widely perceived as being just as corrupt as public ones (or worse). Take a look at some of these iconic names of American business: Goldman-Sachs, Chase, General Motors, NY Times and you can see that these institutions no longer have the respect of the American public.

Part of the problem was due to the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis which consolidated the power and wealth of the big banks, and gave the Federal Reserve ultimate power over the economy. This helped the largest institutions at the expense of the individual, who needed help as much if not more.

The transparency available due to the technology has seen us inundated with scandal after scandal revealing systemic corruption

And then there are media scandals:

  • Brian Williams’ fabricated war zone stories;
  • George Stephanopoulos’ attempt to conceal his conflicts of interest with the Clinton Foundation;
  • Dan Rather fabricated story about George Bush’s service record, and,
  • Candy Crowley, the moderator, interjecting herself into a Presidential debate to defend Obama.

If the media wonders why they are no longer trusted or respected…well…they might read this post for starters.

The factors are piling up beyond our capacity to excuse them away. Trump has been doing the unmasking of the fragility of the “American Empire” and those still in power, who built it, are freaking out.

Our Nation is exhausted from endless wars and threats of terrorism. We have turned cynical to the false promise of “Hope and Change.” Time unmasked that lie. Our civil rights have been destroyed. We no longer have anything resembling privacy. Our religious liberties have been destroyed. We can no longer act as our conscious and our faith dictate but rather must comply with what the Supreme Court rules…the last entity that should ever have become politicized. Yet, sadly, it has.

Exhaustion without relief becomes illness. Illness untreated can be fatal.  As a nation we’ve passed exhaustion. We’ve been ill for awhile now and unwilling to embark upon the necessary treatment. Without radical intervention to cut out the diseased portions, there may remain but that one tragic and final option.

Let’s pray not. That is, if prayer is still permitted.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Trump, China, Money and Desperate Choices

As the Chinese financial markets plummet and the U.S. market reacts, there is no surprise and there shouldn’t be. There may be a bit of panic and a bit of despair, but no one who has been listening and watching should be caught blindsided.

This, and more, has been on the horizon for a while.

Monopoly

You cannot live in the real world and act as if you’re playing with monopoly money or chips at a casino. Printing money with no reserve value to back it up, which is what not just the U.S. but many other P5+1 countries have been doing, is living in a make-believe world. So, as markets begin to toss and tumble, the inevitable decline of those economies may well have begun.

In times of crisis it is human nature to want the quick fix. Having lived in a world where, aided by technology, everything seems instant…we’ve become accustomed, even demanding of, having our needs gratified in the short term without much regard for the long term. Its why, for example, there is so much controversy and warning, after the fact, about the damage done to succeeding generations by the bailout of 2008. Sure we “fixed” our immediate problem but at what price? Hindsight, being what it is, is 20/20.

So let’s be smart about the next big choice we see on the horizon. The 2016 Presidential election.

With the unstable economic conditions, Donald Trump is likely to continue to gain momentum and supporters. After all, he’s the “business and jobs” guy. What American doesn’t want to “make America great again?” The caution is to think yet again in the short run. It’s so easy to say “it’s the economy, stupid” so let’s get the guy who knows how to cut deals and make money. Then everything else will resolve itself.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Money and financial success cannot and will not solve moral and ethical issues. Money cannot and will not make us more compassionate. Money cannot and will not make us less self-centered and more charitable. Money cannot and will not make us more courageous or truthful. Money cannot and will not cause us to see our connection to one another. These are qualities that money does not inspire yet are qualities that have made this country great since its inception.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think money, good negotiating and financial success are bad things. In fact, I co-authored a book with Steven Clark titled, “Money: How To See It, Get It and Keep It.” But as we explain in the book with real-life examples, it’s the values and principles that you hold which affect the role that money plays in life… and the good or ill it’s use creates.

As if to prove the point, Steve Clark writes a corresponding post to the blog laying out the harm China has brought upon itself through a “money and economy” first approach to governance.

So, in 2016 we need to curb our propensity for the quick fix and look for candidates who have the values, principles, and policies that will help correct and rebuild our nation for the long haul.

This is not to say that Donald Trump is not such a candidate. Nor is it to say he is. We are yet a long way from making that decision and much can intervene and likely will. It is simply to say that if we keep it simple and keep it narrow without asking the tough questions and demanding the tough answers, along with a comprehensive approach that includes not only the nuts and bolts of repair but also the principled underpinnings, we may well choose the equivalent of “Hope and Change” once again. It would be a true tragedy if that occurs.

Even in monopoly, there are only so many “Get out of jail free” cards.

I think we are out of them.

Carole

 

The China Miracle

I have worked in emerging markets for over 20 years and I have been fascinated by the China story as the massive growth of that economy has lead to many serious issues within China that need to be resolved in order for that economy to continue to grow. Given the worldwide economic slowdown, the world needs China more than ever.

chinadragonMost economists and market participants believe the next century will belong to China just as the last century belonged to the U.S.

In order to understand how China has grown over the last 30 years, it is is important to understand how the U.S first became the dominant player in the global market.

A big component, and less understood success, of the U.S economy has been the influence of England upon our culture which installed a firm belief in property rights and rule of law. The fact is we are a former colony of the U.K and benefited from their political and economic systems as our country was formed. We are also a Judaeo-Christian culture which underpins the governing principles in all of our dealings. The main tenants of don’t “lie, cheat or steal” are taught to our children at an early age. The adage of “do onto others as you would have them do unto you” is also a commonly understood refrain in the business community.

The point is that in Western Culture there is an explicit understanding that in order to make money a service has to be provided that benefits the customer. This culture has been nurtured and reinforced for hundreds of years, and it is on this rock that our Nation was built.

Although China is a much older culture then ours, it’s guiding principle is “To be rich is glorious.” This was articulated by Deng Xiaoping, a Chinese communist leader, who led China after the Cultural Revolution and implemented the “socialist market economy.”

The Cultural Revolution occurred between 1958-1976 and was a movement to purge capitalism from China. The campaign was aimed at rapidly transforming the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist society through rapid industrialization and collectivization.

Chinese citizens went through a mandatory agricultural collectivization while prohibiting private farming. This campaign caused famine and revolution and ended in catastrophe, resulting in tens of millions of deaths.  Estimates of the death toll range from 18 million to 45 million.

Deng Xiaoping’s simple statement which he uttered in 1976 on wealth, sent a massive signal to the Chinese masses that the cultural revolution was over and that China was in business.  So, the population went to work as quickly as possible to make as much money as possible. China’s growth has been outstanding as China’s GDP has grown at a 9% clip since 1989. To put that in context, the U.S. is ecstatic when growth rates are above 3%.

Because China is still a Socialist State, there is a collective push in everything they do. Part of this collective push has been to limit the population growth. Currently, the population in China is around 1.3 billion. In addition all actions, goals and desires are subject to the collective goals of the State which include, but are not limited to, restricting religious affiliation. The Chinese government’s belief is that  religion discourages loyalty to the State and encourages independence of thought which is anathema to the State.

Which leads to the problems in China. Given that there is no cultural institutions that foster cultural norms, and principles such as truth and honesty, Deng Xiaoping’s directive of becoming rich has been the driving principle behind all of China’s dealings.

This tenant getting rich at all costs has become a problem for China and has led to societal erosion. Here are a few examples:

  • In the early 2000’s a woman became famous for suing a stranger who found her lying on the sidewalk and took her to a hospital. She claimed that he had pushed her to the ground in an attempt to catch a bus. Her injuries cost thousands of dollars and the courts convicted him, without any evidence, because the judge ruled no ordinary person would help somebody unless he had caused the injury.
  • In 2008, thousands of babies became sick from tainted milk powder. The company responsible for this had paid off government regulators for inspection-free privileges.
  • Mengniu, a milk company in China operating under declining profit margins, started to add water and a chemical called melamine to hide the dilution which led to dozens of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations.
  • It is common knowledge that cooking oil in China  is often laced with oil and food waste gathered from the gutters. Anyone with economic means avoids these products.

These are a just a small sample of some of the legal and business practices in China. As a result, the Chinese prefer multi-national food products over domestic products for safety reasons. You know things are bad when the Chinese themselves prefer to buy products from foreigners because they have no faith in the ethics of their Chinese brethren.

Another example of the belief in results over principles has led to China building massive “phantom” cities as this construction has improved their GDP numbers. Go on YouTube and search for phantom cities to see these remarkable monstrosities that exist but have no private or commercial inhabitants.!

Given the global slowdown taking place throughout the world, economist’s wait with baited breath for the China miracle to continue. But, Americans need to be astute about what is happening in the world and realize the critical importance of cultural norms and values. They are the basis from which economic growth proceeds and is ultimately measured.

For the U.S. economy to continue to grow, we must inspire and nurture the national virtues that have sustained us since the founding of our  country lest we morph into “a China,” where its own citizen have no faith in the products they themselves produce. The hope is that Chinese will  foster sound virtues and business practices which will allow them to take the lead in a new and robust economic world order.

Should they fail in taking that necessary next step… we are all doomed.

This article was inspired by these two great books on China:

Tiger Woman On Wall Street

Mr. China

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Planned Parenthood’s House of Horrors

In Jewish mysticism, commonly known as Kabbalah, the belief is that when the Messiah comes there will be a new covenant based upon a second circumcision…the circumcision of our hearts. The meaning is clear.

What the Messianic era will usher in is a removal of the foreskin over humanity’s “hardened heart” as exhibited by our propensity to be aware of the suffering of fellow humans and remain silent in the face of such suffering.

Repair

If a Messianic era is at hand, it will surely be hastened by the depravity of Planned Parenthood and our silence in the face of it.

It is now impossible to claim innocence or ignorance of the barbarity and torture inflicted by the publicly funded killing machine known as Planned Parenthood. As if the first few videos released by The Center for Medical Research were not horrifying enough, the latest one, and the accompanying testimony of a former employee, goes beyond what a civilized society can justify.

Here is an excerpt from the former employee that accompanies the video:

“O’Donnell says, I am sitting here looking at this fetus and its heart is beating and I don’t know what to think.’” She said she didn’t know if  the child was alive or dead but ‘it had a face. It wasn’t completely torn up. Its nose was very pronounced. It had eyelids and its mouth was pronounced.’”

“The medical technician said the child was so intact that they could ‘procure a lot from it. We’re going to procure a brain.’ The tech told O’Donnell they would need to go through the face. The medical tech took scissors and cut through the child’s lower jaw up through the mouth. O’Donnell was directed to cut the rest of the way through ‘the middle of the face.”

Who are we and what have we become?

There are stages to this decent into Hell. First, there is a society that legalizes killing of the unborn. Second, there is a business culture that seeks to profit off of that killing. Third, there is the revelation that inhumanity and torture are occurring followed by the absence of an immediate termination of the process with condemnation and prosecution of the specific entity guilty of these acts.

Instead, as with my neighbor who is Pro-Choice, many choose to turn a blind eye. A week ago, I forwarded to her a link to one of the Planned Parenthood undercover videos. I suggested she watch it beginning to end and then tell me she remains Pro-Choice. She agreed to do so. Yesterday, she told me that as of yet, she has been unable to make herself watch.

Like ISIS, evil unmasked does not disappear simply by turning a blind eye.

We have many issues to face and most of them are potentially disastrous. From the economy to the border to ISIS we are being challenged on every front. We are overwhelmed personally and doing our best to emotionally and financially survive day to day.

The economy will take time and creative effort to resolve. The border will take new leadership, time-consuming construction and technological oversight. ISIS will take national resolve and a global coalition. But Planned Parenthood? It will take no more than seven days of public outcry to stop the torture being committed daily within our borders. It will take no more than you and me calling, writing, marching and taking nothing less than full capitulation on the part of Congress to stop the public funds from flowing into this house of horrors and to shut them down. For a society that has come to love instant everything this should have great appeal.

As much as I would like to live in a world where the lion lays down with the lamb, we will not see such a day while our hearts are hardened. And, having learned from the lesson of Pharaoh’s total destruction because he continued to “harden his heart,” I prefer to heed the call before our Creator needs to intervene, attach blame and exact retribution.

Yesterday I listened to a Q&A between Hilary Clinton and a representative of Black Lives Matter. In answering his question about how we go about changing the system in which police persecute Blacks, her reply was, “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts,” Clinton said, arguing that the movement can’t change deep seated racism. “I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not.”

If we can’t change our hearts when we are face to face with torture or inhumanity or prejudice…then we are done. It is exactly the gift of Free Will which enables us to change our hearts when we choose to behave from our higher, and not lower, selves. If we think and act as if legislation can dictate and enforce morality, ethics and compassion then we have missed the purpose and meaning of life.

The purpose and meaning of live is to choose. When we choose poorly we get to choose again until we choose wisely. Free Will is an individual gift not a collective one. With it comes personal responsibility for its best and highest use.

In Judaism the concept of “tikkun olam” means to repair the world. We are here to heal the world by our thoughts, deeds and actions not make it more grotesque. There can be no question that the slaughter, torture and profiteering being perpetrated by Planned Parenthood are destruction at its worst.

We are here to heal the world. Let us begin now by eradicating the disease called Planned Parenthood.

Carole

Lessons From Childhood

When I was a child, the only time I felt I had the full attention of my parents was when I was either sick or in some sort of difficulty. Otherwise, real or imagined, I felt invisible. As a result, I “learned” that being sick or having some kind of crisis was a way to feel loved. I developed a pattern around that system that lasted well into adulthood. I am certain my parents never intended to create that kind of reaction or outcome. In hindsight, I am certain they loved me, but the system that was in place was perverse and led to disastrous outcomes.toddler So it is with our government.

I believe that well-intentioned, good people go to Washington to serve this nation. But even the most honorable men and women find themselves trying to navigate a federal government that has been corrupted and, as a result, creates perverse outcomes. I am not saying that every public servant is honorable. For those who seek public office for personal gain, the system, as it now functions, provides him or her with almost limitless opportunities to accumulate such gain. But for those who genuinely seek to serve, it is an impossibility to do so in the face of systemic corruption.

Two cases in point. Hilary Clinton and Ted Cruz.

Hilary Clinton has been in and around public office all of her adult life. She is the consummate Washington insider. She has made no significant contribution to the public she serves; has been on the edge of several scandals; is currently mistrusted by the majority of Americans. Yet, she is her party’s front running candidate for the Presidency and, in no small measure, has amassed for herself and her family a financial fortune. She is the epitome of how the broken system supports ignoring those served in favor of self-aggrandizement

Ted Cruz has been in the United States Senate for approximately three years. He has kept every promise made to his constituents when he ran for office. His was the director of the Office of Policy Planning at the Federal Trade Commission, an associate Deputy General at the U.S. Department of Justice, and domestic policy advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush on the 2000 Bush-Cheyney campaign. He served as Solicitor General of Texas from 2003 to May 2008.  He has stood, literally stood, before the United States Senate by filibustering funding of Obamacare and publicly, from the floor of the Senate, called Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority leader and a member of Cruz’s own party) a liar by producing supporting evidence. A popular candidate among Republicans for the party’s Presidential nominee in 2016, he is ostracized, maligned and marginalized by the entire system for his courage and his honesty.

Because it isn’t about the individual but rather about the system, the point being made here is best exemplified by Donald Trump. Donald Trump, a surprise favorite for the Republican nomination for President, said the problem is that “our leaders are stupid.” Whether Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, or Ted Cruz I think the case can be made that these people are anything but stupid. The problem isn’t about individuals, it’s about a corrupted and broken system that, as I said earlier, is a breeding ground for the ill-intentioned and quicksand for the well-intentioned. (Note: This reference to Trump and the individual vs. the system is taken from Glenn Beck’s comments during his radio show today).

Therefore, replacing one smart person with another is not the answer. One of my favorite refrains over the past three decades has been that intelligence, absent moral and ethical underpinnings, is a potentially dangerous gift. Swapping out leaders without also cleaning out the swamp will only get us more of the same, not matter how well-intentioned. Cleaning out the swamp in this context means shrinking the size of the swamp (the federal government) and then draining it of rot by holding those individuals accountable, without regard for political standing or wealth, who operate outside the Constitution and the legal system. Then of course, it means putting into office not the charismatic but the principled.

I think Donald Trump represents two very specific things we seek. First, we have become an angry, divided and mistrustful nation because we have allowed ourselves to be controlled and manipulated by fear and political correctness. Trump represents an expression of our anger with his total disregard for political correctness. Secondly, each of us wants financial security and most of us harbor some overt or latent desire to be successful and wealthy. Trump is both of those. He is the embodiment of who we want to be: fearless, independent and rich.

Vicarious living is like virtual reality. It’s make believe. Vicariously enjoying what Donald Trump has done with his life and how he gets in the face of the politically correct will not solve your problems, mine or the nation’s. Its just one more way to postpone the inevitable.

The inevitable is that government is too big and too corrupt. The inevitable is that we must return to adherence to the structure that first built this nation, the Constitution. The inevitable is that we must decide what our principles are as individuals first, and as citizens second, then make our decisions in accordance with those principles. The inevitable is that we must each exhibit courage in the face of danger and be willing to die rather than live enslaved…either to a corrupt U.S. government or ISIS.

The inevitable is that unless we exercise our uniquely granted free will to make better choices that we have made of late we will become, tragically, a lost opportunity in the history of humankind’s potential.

Carole

A Response to Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, has one question he asks all entrepreneurs as a way to test the originality of their thinking: “Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.”

My answer? Contraception.

contraception

The universal belief about contraception is the following:

  • Some family planning methods, such as condoms, help prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases;
  • Contraception reduces the need for abortion, especially unsafe abortion;
  • Contraception reinforces peoples’ rights to determine the number and spacing of their children, and
  • By preventing unintended pregnancy, family planning /contraception prevents deaths of mothers and children.

When contraception was first introduced, proponents believed that  it would eliminate the fear of pregnancy and, therefore, cause people to engage in sexual activity in a more responsible way. But if you look at any of the cultural markers in society, contraception has ushered in a decline in our culture and increased the number of abortions. The exact opposite of what contraception supporters believed.

Look at the following:

“In Sweden, between 1995 and 2001, teen abortion rates grew 32% during a period of low-cost condoms, oral contraceptives and over-the-counter emergency contraception. Similarly, National Review recently reported that “out of 23 studies on the effects of increased access to ECs, not one study could show a reduction in unintended pregnancies or abortions.”

A recent ten-year study in Spain was reported to have found the same thing:

[C]ontraception use increased by about 60%, the abortion rate doubled. In other words, even with an increase in contraception use, there weren’t fewer unwanted pregnancies, there were more.

Upon its introduction, contraception was heralded as a great step forward for females. There was however one man, Pope Paul VI, who saw the inevitable end game. He wrote a paper called Humane Vitae, where he laid out the dangers of contraception. Sadly, his predictions have all come true. Here were his four major predictions:

  1. Infidelity and Moral Decline. The Pope believed that contraception would lead to infidelity and the general lowering of morality. The U.S has experienced cultural rot since the advent of contraception with an increase in the number of divorces, out of wedlock pregnancies as well as the rise of S.T.D’s. The availability of contraception has encouraged sexual activity and accelerated the spread of diseases associated with it.
  2. Lost Respect For Women. Pope Paul VI claimed that with the advent of contraception men would lose respect for women, no  longer caring for their physical and psychological well being. He predicted men would come to consider females as mere instruments of selfish pleasure and no longer think of them as respected and beloved companions. One only need look at the rise of pornography and human trafficking where women’s bodies are treated as mechanical instruments strictly for pleasure.
  3. Abuse of Power. The Pope thought contraception would become a dangerous weapon in the hands of public authorities. Look at the history of family planning programs instituted by the U.N in the Third World where many people have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent. Look at China’s “one child” that has forced abortions and the deliberate killing of female babies, leaving China with  more males than females.  Under this cultural preference and corresponding inheritance laws, it is not uncommon for couples to abort their 1st child if they know it will be female… preferring to roll the dice for a boy on the next pregnancy.
  4. Unlimited Dominion. Pope Paul’s other warning was that contraception would lead mankind to believe that he had unlimited dominion over his body. Men and women now sterilize themselves as a from of contraception, extending our dominion to our sexual reproduction.  We have become a culture so convinced of our right to control our own bodies, we now have large parts of the population altering their gender. Test Tube babies is another indication of our unwillingness to accept the body’s limitations. We now live in a day where we adjust our desires, bodies and timetables rather than the other way around.  One of the downside of test tube babies is that the woman is injected with multiples fetuses knowing that some will die. However, it is not uncommon for a woman under such circumstances to become pregnant with twins and even triplets. Many times, those viable fetuses arer killed inside the womb because the mother “only wanted one baby.”

The tragic and inevitable end result of heralding contraception as a saving grace is the recent scandal involving Planned Parenthood. The organizations almost inconceivable cruelty and barbarism in killing viable infants in utero for the profitable selling of their organs, tissues and body parts is a blight upon us all. But we can thank contraception and increased sexual activity for bringing us to where we capitalize on this human tragedy.

Our society no longer has the capacity to distinguish right from wrong and our institutions have become completely perverted.  Instead of women going to deliver babies at hospitals they now go to Planned Parenthood facilities to kill them. Instead of babies being delivered into the world they are vacuumed out of women’s stomachs (sometimes only after crushing their skulls in order not to damage marketable organs body parts). The biggest advocates for Planned Parenthood claim it advances women’s health without acknowledging that half of the 55 million babies that have been aborted since the advent of Roe v. Wade have been female. How is killing over 25 million baby girls advancing women’s health?

Our culture, especially as it relates to contraception, abortion and women’s health has become a carnival-like mirror reflecting a completely distorted vision of reality. This was Pope Paul VI’s warning laid out over 40 years ago. There are Prophets in or time. It is not their fault if we turn away from what we do not want know.  Its not their fault but it is our responsibility and will be our consequence.

How many readers of this post have watched one of the four Planned Parenthood videos?

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

For more on Peter Thiel Check out his book.

 

A Recovering Democrat

I grew up in a family of Democrats. Liberal, suburban, Jewish Democrats. My father was a high school educated, self-made millionaire. He was a social Democrat although on fiscal matters he was very much a conservative Republican (he would have railed against such a description and denied it vehemently had anyone dared tell him that). So it was natural, and probably expected, that as a youth and young woman I, too, was a registered Democrat. In fact, I worked on the political campaign of William J. Green who went on to be elected the Democratic Mayor of Philadelphia and at the outset of his Administration, was appointed to the Department of Revenue’s Delinquent Tax Section to process bankruptcies for the city.

TheoryI remember many a dinner table conversation where I was the most liberal voice in the room. I was young, and the combination of youthful idealism and my family’s political affiliation had me espousing a lot of theory that sounded great but for which I had, or knew of, no practical application. Youth is like that. And, like most Democrats then and now, I bought into the prevailing belief that if you had a heart, cared about the poor, wanted a just society…well then…the Democrat Party was the only party.

It was a few decades in the real world of employment and social practicalities that I slowly, but surely, became more and more conservative. Libertarian, actually. I don’t think it had to do with age as much as with a growing awareness of the distinction between what looks good on paper, sounds good in conversation, but actually is good in real life.

I have come to believe that most of the social problems we now face, and the cultural chaos rampant in this country, are the result of 100 years of teaching several generations what to think rather than how to think; not practical knowledge but theoretical knowledge. Combine that with a generation raised on as much virtual reality as reality, and you have a cultural mindset that is ill equipped to use reason, logic, common sense and conscience to think its way out of a box.

In law school, I experienced the height of this impractical approach. Any law student will tell you that law school has nothing to do with the practice of law. What they mean by that is in law school you learn all the theory. Then you graduate, seek a job with a firm (or worse go out on your own as I did) and you know NOTHING about the actual practice of law. I remember my first case and first day walking into a Child Support hearing with my client. I still remember the terror I felt when I realized I didn’t know which counsel table I was supposed to sit at! While it’s a simplistic and almost meaningless example, you get my drift.  We teach theory not practicality.

How much more tragic is it that we educate in theory only for 12 years of primary school, 4 years of college, in some cases 2-6 years more for various professionals and produce people who 1) have little to no practical skills and 2) don’t know how to critically, or creatively, think!

Liberalism is the mother ship of theoretical ideas that have little practical application in everyday life and, when applied politically, shows up as pure Socialism. This is the reason for the Bernie Sanders rise within the Democrat primary field. He is the epitome of wishful thinking in a world desperately in need of practical solutions but unable to make the distinction. His avowed Socialism, which he wears like a badge of honor, has never worked. Anywhere. Not that it hasn’t been tried. Its latest incarnation is Progressivism. It’s just that every time it is tried there is a baseless belief that “this time” it will work. It hasn’t and it won’t. But it’s eternally appealing to those who want something for nothing.

Where are the great leaders? Where are the minds that inspire us? Where are the heroes? Where are the truth-tellers? Questions such as these are not answerable in theory. They demand the presence of flesh and blood, front and center, ready to do the heavy lifting. It’s what is so appealing, and so potentially dangerous, about Donald Trump. He’s a doer. A larger than life persona who knows how to navigate the world of practicality.

In our quest for open-mindedness we have produced mindlessness. In our determination to treat every student equally we have produced systemic mediocrity. In our haste to develop technologically we have abandoned our spirituality. In theory, an individual could come along who will right all that is wrong. In practicality, it’s more likely that it won’t be one person but rather each of us awakening to the realization that we’ve been misled by a century’s worth of Progressivism in our schools, our culture, our government and, most insidiously, in our thinking.

We can continue to live as children, believing The Lie that diminishes and enslaves: that wishing makes it so, and if not, an added dose of violence will. Or we can, as individuals and as a Nation, accept the fact that it’s time for us to grow up, push back that theoretical chair from the dinner table conversation and get on with the heavy lifting of life.

Carole

 

 

 

One Song

In the great movie Walk the Line that details the life of Johnny Cash, Cash struggles for years writing music before he gets his break. However, prior to launching his music career he sustained himself as a traveling salesman, only able to practice nights and weekends.

One day, he stumbled into a record studio and pleaded with the executive for an audition and was granted one. As the movie depicts, the audition did not go well. The studio executive could tell that Cash’s music was just a rehash of everything he was hearing on the radio and knew that sound wouldn’t sell. What the executive was looking for was a new voice and a new sound. Cash felt insulted. Perplexed by Cash’s response, the studio executive was flabbergasted and admonished him. “You mean to tell me, if you were laying on the road about to die and had to sing one song, that’s the song that you would sing? Or would you see something else?

In his heart he knew the executive was right. Cash had been writing songs for years but he had not showed his best to the world because he thought his songs were not good or authentic enough. This scene from the movie is one of my favorites of all time because that question is one we all need to answer: Do we sing what everybody else is singing or do we sing something else?

Johnny Cash then broke out in in his famous song “Folsom Prison Blues” and, as the saying goes, the rest is history

The reason I love this scene is because it touches upon the issue of greatness.  As youngsters, we go to school and are all measured against one another. The person who is an A student is obviously better than a B student and we begin to measure ourselves against this standard.  For the rest of us, who are not A students, the feeling of inadequacy lingers.

A few years ago, I was working on a road paving contract and had to learn the science behind the compounds that made the product we were selling unique. One of my business associates, Larry, was a graduate from Harvard and had an MBA from Harvard as well. He was a smart cookie. When the presenter finished and asked for a recap of the presentation, Larry literally was able to parrot back all the information completely. I was blown away! It seemed he had completely understood the science behind the materials while I was still struggling with the basic concepts.

Upon reflection, I could see why Larry had done so well academically. He could literally repeat back anything that was said to him. But upon reflection I realized he had no greater depth of understanding of what had been presented than I did. What Larry did have was the ability to synthesize information quickly and regurgitate it back. Larry was and is a smart guy… but in that moment I was comparing myself to somebody who had a different skill set that I did.

I worked on Wall Street for many years and worked with many guys like Larry. If I had compared myself to their skill set, I would have failed miserably. Instead, I just focused on the skills I possessed and brought them to my job. I had been in the Marines and spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East. I had lived in South America.  I spoke Spanish. I had read hundreds of books on finance and was a Libertarian so I had a world view different than my colleagues. It was the intersection of my skills, studies, and language abilities that gave me a skill set my colleagues could never have. In the end, I developed a client base that valued my insights because it was a voice within the markets they could not get elsewhere.

I think my mistake early in my career was trying to be something I was not and failed miserably. But it is a mistake we all make because we  compare ourselves to someone else. When I didn’t use my voice and opined on the markets, my opinions were hollow as they were just rehashed and recycled ideas of someone else. My accounts could have easily found these opinions anywhere. There was no risk in what I was saying and it was reflected in my numbers.

By giving the same thought and opinions on the market,  I was competing against the hundreds of voices already in that space. That space was filled and, therefore, my service was useless. When I truly connected and made money for my accounts it was when I shared and expressed only the unfiltered thoughts that I offered. Some clients hated my ideas while others loved them. But, both groups came back for more because my voice was unique.

As Seth Godin so eloquently said: “Without a doubt, there’s someone taller than you, faster than you, cuter than you. We don’t have to look very far to find someone who is better paid, more respected and getting more than his fair share of credit. And social media: Of course there are people with more followers, more likes and more of just about anything you’d like to measure. So what? What is the comparison for? Is your job to be the most at a thing? Just because a thing can be noticed, or compared, or fretted over doesn’t mean it’s important, or even relevant. Better, I think, to decide what’s important, what needs to change, what’s worth accomplishing. And then ignore all comparisons that don’t relate. The most important comparison, in fact, is comparing your work to what you’re capable of. Sure, compare. But compare the things that matter to the journey you’re on. The rest is noise.”

Rise above and go beyond the noise. That’s why you were created.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Friendly Banks

I went to Chase Bank yesterday and deposited $10.00 in cash. The bank teller asked for my identification. Why? Because all cash despots at Chase banks now require an ID.

Bank RobberyThis should concern you because it’s evidence of the government’s anxiety. Chase Bank is not asking of their own accord, they are being told by the Feds to demand this information. The government is beginning to track how cash is circulating in the economy.

Recently, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert (R), was recently indicted for paying hush money to an “unnamed individual.” Hastert was caught because of the frequency and amounts of  cash withdrawals he was making. Let’s remove the politics from the story and focus on the salient point. His bank contacted the federal authorities over the cash withdrawals. There is no crime for taking your money out of your bank; yet his bank contacted the Federal authorities initiating an investigation.

I use to travel frequently overseas and I always had to notify my bank, in advance, so that my ATM card would work overseas. But these simple policies (ID cards, permission) implemented by the banks are also psychological triggers to control and monitor the populace. I had to ask the bank to give me permission to take out my cash.  The American public has been complacent in letting the banks dictate how and when we can use our cash to the extent that we have forgotten it’s our cash!

If you look at the glowing reports by the media and the government, you would think that the economy is doing great. Interest rates are low, unemployment is down, the stock markets are higher and housing is in the uptick. Yet, if everything was doing so great why would the government care what you were doing with your money?  Why would they track cash deposits and, for that matters, cash withdrawals?

When a government over regulates and over taxes, as ours does, citizens will inevitably resort to barter and cash to escape the heavy hand of government. When banks start tracking when you deposit or withdraw cash, you know something is amiss. The government knows that when things are over regulated, people will resort to cash to avoid paying taxes. In addition, when an economy is weak, the government knows it is imperative that people keep their money in the system, lest a bank run begin.

This is why they are monitoring all cash transactions.

In fact, the government is manipulating the economic numbers to present a picture of robustness. If  the economy was doing so well, Donald Trump would not be leading in the polls! His platform of getting America’s business back on track, and workers back to work, has catapulted him into the lead because the American public knows the economy is not doing well.

If you look at TV or magazine ads, the banks try to portray themselves as friendly and willing to help you. America’s biggest banks spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create a pristine image. They’re here to help out families and small businesses. They’re conservative stewards of your capital and they play by the rules. In reality, they are not your friends. In reality, they are in cahoots with the government to watch and track you.

These banks are not friendly institutions. Many have engaged in criminal activities. Yet they treat their retail clients as potential criminals and alert the Feds whenever they think you might be doing something suspicious.

Here is a small sample of some of the crimes that the banks have committed:

  • Wells Fargo, which owns Wachovia bank, paid a $160 million fine for conspiring with cocaine cartels to finance their operations.
  • Citibank was caught laundering money for a Mexican drug Kingpin in 2001.
  • American Express Bank admitted to laundering $55 million in drug money in 2007.

However,  these crimes are small change compared to the massive crimes they have committed in the financial markets. These crimes are so massive they affect us all by defrauding  customers and rigging financial markets.

For example:

  • In 2011, Bank of America paid a $335 million fine for discriminating against minority borrowers.
  • In 2013, J.P. Morgan paid $410 million for manipulating the electricity market. They also paid $13 billion to settle claims that it knowingly sold toxic loans.
  • In 2014, Bank of America paid a $6.3 billion fine for selling faulty mortgages.
  • And in 2015, five big banks paid $5.8 billion for rigging the currency markets.

These banks have no problem breaking the law when it benefits them. Yet, when their customers deposit or withdraw cash they are the first to alert the authorities over your “suspicious” behavior. We are living in a world where the fox is guarding the hen house. The banks have been caught time after time taking advantage of their customers… while helping criminals skirt the law. The result? Their only penalty has been to pay small fines. They see that merely as the cost of doing business.  After all, they make far more money from illegal activities than they pay in fines.

With the nation’s largest banks operating this way, how much faith do you have that our banks will be able to withstand the next financial crisis when it comes?

I’m just sayin’…

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Thanks to Bill Bonner and his team which inspired this article

Please Hold Me

I used to work on an emerging markets bond trading desk. When the Spanish speaking clients called to trade with the English speaking traders, hilarity ensued. Because it was imperative that both parties understood each other explicitly lest a mistake be made, the traders  quickly learned that brevity (and nicknames) were the best way to survive.

UncertainityWe had a broker out of Texas who would only talk to “Bob Low,” an Argentine trader whose real name was “Pablo.” For some reason, the broker couldn’t say Pablo so he called him Bob Low instead. When the desk got busy, and there was no time to do anything other than put the calls on hold, we had a group of Spanish clients who knew this and would  call and request “Please hold me” instead of “Please place me on hold.”

We also used code names to identify the clients in order to be able to pass them off as quickly as possible to the appropriate trader.  The traders dubbed Jim, a laconic and slow speaking broker, “Dead Jim.” Another broker was aptly named “George War” as this was the perfect translation of his Spanish name and, hence, much easier for the “gringos” to remember.

Life can be like our trading desk. We all use code words and names to make our lives easier. Sometimes we have to much too process in too short a time span and the quicker we can codify and package things, the quicker we can engage the tasks at hand.

We do this with larger problems as well. Whenever there is any type of crisis, especially in the U.S, the pundits, media and the population all clamor for help. We look for simple and quick ways to solve the problem and for remedies that prevent a recurrence of the problem. For example, after the banking crisis in 2008, the media faulted the banks for the errors they made then clamored for more regulation and supervision. Or when General Motors went bankrupt, the workers as well as the creditors begged the government for help lest the company go by the wayside.

In both instances , we wanted a simple answer for what happened and a quick solution to ease our frazzled nerves. The fact is, the banking crisis of 2008 and the bankruptcy of GM were caused by a multitude of complex issues. To this very day, the history is still being written with new books cropping up with new perspectives. In both instances, the causes were nuanced and far from simple.

What amazes me is our tendency to always look to government for help. Our society has gotten so weak and feeble that our first response is to look outside of ourselves for solutions. One only need look to Nature for the randomness and unpredictability of life: floods, famines, tsunamis, volcanoes and tornadoes are just a small sampling of the unpredictability of life.

Yet, when it comes to our own lives, we somehow expect to be immune from that unpredictability and the corresponding tragedies that often accompany it.

During the financial crisis of 2008, I saw most of my life’s savings wiped out. Most of my holdings were locked up in the company’s stock and I was prohibited from selling it. I  fared better than most people in the financial industry as my company was eventually taken over and  I was able to recoup a small percentage of my assets. But I had done nothing wrong. I had worked hard and made a lot of money for my firm. Yet there I was with 90% of my wealth gone.  Many of my colleagues who were wiped out completely, in some cases losing millions of dollars, were forced to start all over again with no money, a family to support and a mortgage to pay.

Practically all of these people who worked in finance and lost all of their savings did not work in the real estate market. They had zero responsibility for what caused the housing crisis. Like the victims of a tsunami these people were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The banking solution to the crisis was the Dodd- Frank bill which essentially halted all trading by the banks. The law has caused a massive global slowdown in trading; a problem, which left unattended, could cause a financial crisis much worse than what we experienced in 2008.With GM we resurrected a bankrupt company, wiped out all the creditors (a first) and gave all the money to union workers. GM is a dead company, on its way to bankruptcy again- with the same problems as before. The postponing of the bankruptcy solved none of the issues.

Such political solutions solved nothing but they satiated the public’s clamor that something be done. We wanted a simple solution and the government gave us one. Yet, simple solutions never fix complex problems.  In fact, they often make them worse.

My formal training in the military and in finance was built upon embracing uncertainty. My first job out of college was as a Marine Infantry Officer. We were evaluated on how well we coped with uncertainty. For example, we had to navigate a platoon of Marines (40 + people) though thick and dense woods after dark. The distance between the first and last man could be as much as 400 meters while the most you could see was 10 meters in any direction. I assure you that when an instructor is barking at you and you’re trying to navigate for hours on end without knowing where everyone… is it’s extremely unnerving.  Yet, if you trusted the map and followed the process of land navigation, it usually wasn’t a problem. But the lesson was invaluable: get comfortable with not being able to control everything.. because you can’t, When later, I worked in finance and learned that the whole industry is based on imperfect information, I quickly learned that the force of the market is greater than any one individual. And so the uncertainty principle was brought home to me once again.

The politicians know if they give us the simple answer and solution it gets them more power and better yet, assures they stay in office. How ironic that in our knowledge of life’s uncertainty we reach out to politicians, people in whom we have no trust, to provide us with certainty. It is this irony that causes us conflict.

Given the enormity of problems we face, it is wiser and easier for us try and break down the issues to make things as simple and manageable as possible at the most local level. Things will change only when we can live with the discomfort of not knowing and avoid demanding that our politicians give us that quick fix.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s a motto to live by in an ever-changing world.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com