Enlightened Conflict

75000 dollars (and the haves and have nots)

October 17th, 2015

rich people paying rich people

“…. the very rich are different from you and me.”

F Scott Fitzgerald


“… it is not easy for men to rise whose qualities are thwarted by poverty.”


<55 AD-127 AD>


“… the doctrine of enlightened “self-interest rightly understood” was a part of America’s DNA from its founding.”

Reflections on Alexis de Tocqueville








This is kind of about the haves and have-nots … but mostly it is a reflection upon how the wealthy have little, or no, link to the reality of what everyday schmucks like me <non wealthy> think or feel.



That said.


The fact that an NBA star spent $75,000 for a ‘5 day get away’ made me sit back and shake my head saying to myself “… and wealthy people wonder why no god nooooothe everyday schmuck like me gets aggravated over the whole wealthy & inequality discussion?”



Set aside any herb Viagra drug discussion or the fact the getaway was at a brothel <both legal> because what a person wants to do in their personal time is their choice <whether I agree with it or not> … this is about $75,000 spent on one long weekend.



I have earned some very nice annual salaries in my past but this is the kind of money I cannot grasp even thinking about past salaries I had.


The most I maybe spent was 10% of this amount on a week long trip to Europe … and I didn’t part with that money casually.



Think about the fact that $75,000 out of pocket is a family of 4 who earns maybe $120,000 annually <taking out taxes & social security & deductions to get back to the $75,000 real cash on hand annually>.



Think about the fact that $75,000 out of pocket maybe allows one of my best friends to partially help pay for his 3 kid’s college degrees.



I think about $75,000 out of pocket to me <and pretty much any of my friends & acquaintances> … well … I cannot fathom how my life would be lived differently if I had it. Suffice it to say … it would be easier and I wouldn’t be plunking it down for one weekend of ‘getting away.’



And, coincidentally with regard to this $75k, according to a study <conducted by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton> on Americans and how they evaluate their happiness, a salary of $75,000 a year is the magic number after which people’s day-to-day happiness no longer improves. According to their numbers, you won’t be any happier on a day-to-day basis if you’re making $75,000 or $750,000—though you’ll likely feel like you’ve got a better life overall.

My point?

With all due respect to someone who almost died … this jerk spent $75,000 on a 5 day getaway.

To circle back to Alexis de Tocqueville … self interest rightly understood this is not.






I do not begrudge people earning money.


I do not begrudge wealth.


I do not begrudge vacations and ‘needing to get away.’



On the other side of this discussion …  nor do I believe an ‘entitled mentality’ benefits any culture … let alone benefits the self-esteem & self-actualization of individuals. Working for something and getting it, or being fairly rewarded, creates better people psychologically.



But what I do know is that a culture with a healthy fairly distributed structure of wealth dream big and pass alongdistribution <low to high> creates a healthy economy and mindset. Research has shown again and again a natural distribution of wealth encourages people to work hard and achieve fair compensation for their efforts <and permits people to dream and also establish what they want in their minds as well as find some level of what they feel comfortable with>.



But I also know that research consistently shows that when wealth inequality reaches absurd scale it is detrimental to attitudes & behaviors <which inhibit economic growth and foster bad attitudes>.




$75,000 on one weekend.



I do want to bitch about the really rich today and wealth inequality.



But I’m not going to bludgeon people with statistics because I am fairly sure most of us have the gist of the issue.



I will point out two key wealth inequality thoughts:




– The growing gap between the poor and rich is a global phenomenon. According to Oxfam, the richest 1% have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014 and are on track to own more than the other 99% by 2016.




– In US, over the last three decades, the wealth owned by the top 0.1% households increased from 7% to 22% even as the wealth of the bottom 90% of households declined.




And I will also point out that even though I earned a good salary in the past <nowhere near some of these high numbers> I struggle to believe I can put myself into the shoes, let alone the minds, of the super wealthy. Shit. I am fairly sure 99.9% of us cannot.



I said that as a preface to me saying that I recognize that wealth or not … they have their issues & problems too.



I was reminded of this when I saw that some NYC therapist discussed the problems he discusses with his super rich clientele:




“If you are part of the 1%, you still have problems and they are legitimate to you. Even when you say: ‘I don’t have to struggle for money’, there are other parts of your life.

Money is not the only thing that defines you. Your problems are legitimate.”

Clay Cockrell therapist to the 1%




Here is the thing.



choosing shit


Although the 1% of the 1% have problems … they still have choices because of their wealth.



The 99.9% have no such choice … they just have to get on with getting on with it.



This makes me suggest that it’s not really the wealth that bothers me … it’s the way that money is spent.





And also maybe the fact that systems, and a world, originally conceived to serve everyone and give everyone a fair chance … can be ‘bought into’, redesigned and develop its own set of rules to favor not only the needs of the wealthy … and, maybe the worst, is being reconstructed for the protection of wealth and the wealthy.




My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I’ve worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions.

In short, fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.

Warren Buffett





Simplistically … more wealth begets more wealth.



In it’s most sneaky way it does it in a way I call the double down of being wealthy.



What I mean is that the more money you have the more additional free shit you get <and, worse, wealthy people feel they are entitled to these things … uhm … yeah … I called it ‘entitlement’>.



Poor people … shit … everyday people … would be shocked if they knew all the perks rich people get simply for being rich.



Forget the tax breaks and loopholes a wealthy person has access to maintain their wealth.




Rich people often get paid to wear jewelry.



They get paid to lose weight.



They’re given free laptops and TVs.



They get ‘comped’ rooms or upgrades that eliminate expenses.



They get expense report reimbursements.

bullshit no way



The most ludicrous is when the celebrity wealthy get gift bags just for attending big award shows, bags filled with “goodies” worth $20,000 — which is more than a full-time minimum wage worker earns in a year.




Inequality has an even uglier side.



It’s pretty obvious to state that having more money affords you more food, more clothes, more housing, and more “stuff.”



But the richest families actually spend less on food, clothes, housing, and cars than the poorest families as a share of their income. The real difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich spend a larger share of their much larger income on insurance, education, and, when you analyze the housing component, mortgages—all of which are directly related to building wealth and preserving wealth.




The richest 10% spend much less of their income on food.


The richest 10% spend much more of their income on insurance <and relatively more than all but the very poorest on education>.



This means that when you have money you actually spend less on the stuff that ensures you survive and more on the stuff that ensures that you <and your children, possessions, and wealth> survive and thrive.



Poverty … shit … even income-stressed … means no future … only a Life lived in the present tense.



While we, who have money, can suggest those with less money should work harder, be smarter and look to the future … reality dictates that the anxiety of having no money all the time forces poorer families to keep focused on immediate needs & concerns.



Bottom line?



The poor spend relatively more on what will keep them alive.



The wealthy spend more on what will keep them rich.



This leads me to address the “big” issue.



Or what some people call “redistribution” <which I do not>.


It is admittedly a tricky discussion.


It can quickly devolve into a socialist type discussion. But it is not.



It is as simple, and complex, as fairness. And I mean fairness not in wealth distribution but rather social mobility.



Since 1980 America has been experiencing a significant increase in income inequality. In 1980 the top 5% represented 16.5% of total national income and the bottom 40percent represented 14.4percent. By 2008 the 16.5 was 21.5 and the 14.4 dropped to 12%.


Suffice it to say the distribution worsens when you look at wealth rather than income.



Attach that to the fact that the United States ranks worst among major economies in social <upward> mobility. Yup. America now lags behind many European countries in the rate of upward mobility <so much for the “land of opportunity” concept>.



Basically the lower end of the middle class truly is getting, and had gotten, royally screwed.


Those with just a high-school degree or less have seen their relative earnings sink.


odds 1 richAnd over the past decade those who attended college but did not earn a degree have also seen their earnings sink.


Incomes at the top, meanwhile, rose significantly during the whole period.
The result was a dramatic divergence in fortunes.



Please note … this is about capitalism … and it isn’t.



Increasing income inequality is certainly a reflection of a broader transformation in how capitalism is transforming itself in the 21st century.



While capitalism has certainly offered tremendous benefits – it has helped increased standard of living as well as lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the emerging markets and provided cheaper, and new, goods and services to everyone – it has also hollowed out the incomes and wealth of the American lower-to-mid middle class.


All the while the rich at the very top got richer.



Here is my main factoid.



The inequality can mainly be reflected in the fact that only 40% of American neighborhoods now have an average income within 20% of the national median … compared with 60% in the 1970s.



There are consequences on society <beyond just making people angry>.


Now … one could start asking me what is creating this deep lack of social mobility.





Think of something called ‘opportunity hoarding.’



Some guy named Matthew O’Brien wrote about “opportunity hoarding,” the idea that rich people are talented at doing all the right things you need to stay rich and make sure your kids get rich, too. Rich couples live in richer districts, read more to their kids, send them to better schools, hook them up with better internships, slide them into better entry-level jobs (or, better yet, into the family business), and finally pass down their insured and well invested wealth. Even education, the great American equalizer, makes for a poor equalizer. And it’s not only because wealthy teenagers are more likely to go to school. Young people born to rich families who don’t go to college are 2.5 times more likely to end up in the richest quartile than young people born to poor families who do go college.




But the real point with opportunity hoarding is that the wealthy, looking at the widening gap between the haves & the have nots, are more inclined to do whatever it takes to protect themselves from falling INTO that gap.


They hoard their opportunities as well as their wealth, therefore, others cannot shift into the space because it is blocked out.






The reality is that the market isn’t so good at making sure that the wealth that’s produced is being distributed fairly or wisely. Some of that wealth has to be reinvested back into education, so that the next generation has a fair chance, economy hey lookand reinvested into our infrastructure <which makes the economy efficient>, and provide some sort of safety net for those who lose out in a market economy.



Aw shit.



I didn’t want to rant about inequality … I wanted to rant about the absurd view the wealthy seem to have with regard to the world.



The super-rich have some absurdly distorted ideas about the world. They are, on more than average, to believe their achievements are the product of their superior brains and hard work.






When you end up talking about inequality and haves and have nots it becomes a convoluted passionate discussion.



The divide between the haves and the have-nots is nothing new in America, but in recent decades that gap has been getting wider as the middle class shrinks and the very richest Americans keep getting richer.





Inequality and ‘economic growth’ are inextricably tied … but maybe in the wrong way.



We’ve all been effectively told, and sold, that endless growth is essential to maintain and improve our quality of life.

This is not only absurd it also couldn’t be further from the truth.



We seem to forget that after World War 2 worldwide competition was relatively nonexistent therefore US companies could afford to pay average workers – with average skills – above-average wages, complete with pensions.



In addition the GI Bill got “single-family home ownership” started for the everyday working people. Before WWII single-family home ownership was not something the average common person strived for let alone even thought was possible.



These two factors created the largest middle class ever created. Affordable, one-family homes were built everywhere and millions of people all of a sudden had “good jobs” and were able to afford these houses being built.
Average people working on assembly lines, doing fairly simple work, were making house buying money.





And then the natural evolution of ‘if I have this I should be working toward this’ attitude kicked in <psychologically called ‘hedonistic adaptation’>.



Not only did we get used to owning a home we got used to a higher standard of living and we got used to ‘moving up the economic ladder.’



We were NOT used to finding comfort and staying at that comfort level.


We have come to accept moving up should be the one constant in our lives.


THIS is what we are always looking to go back to.


Just think about that for a second.


The average blue collar worker … the one with a high school diploma putting a nut on a bolt all day making enough to buy a house, two cars, yearly vacation, and dinner out every week … is that possible in today’s world? Is that even realistic?



We can talk about CEO pay, the 1%, and corporations all we want but maybe a part of it is that the good old days of average people living above-average lives are over.



I say that but I also want to remind everyone about some of these average everyday people.


poor and poverty

And we seem to forget as we look at the $75000 weekenders that the billion dollar profits that McDonald’s make are mostly created by the ‘burger flippers’ and NOT the shareholder. Yup. The real wealth creators are the ones who work long grinding hours <these are the people who are also living in the ‘present tense’ with regard to money>.



We sometimes seem to forget that even if everybody had a PhD we still need garbage men, plumbers and sewer workers. All of whom most certainly contribute more to society than say wall street speculators who make money off of making money <not making anything or doing anything>.



We seem to forget as we bitch & moan about subsidizing low-paid workers with food stamps and other ‘entitlement’ initiatives that our anger is directed at those who actually work 10 hours 6 days a week trying to make ends meet and sustain a family … rather than the companies and wall street groups that rake in billions of dollars.



We seem to forget about those things so well that we then decide to focus on people who do have wealth and go out of our way to protect it for them <because they earned it>.







I read somewhere that the True Measure of Any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.



And when I think about that I start thinking about the utterly despicable, self-absorbed actions of those who spend $75,000 on a long weekend.



I want a world of the future which will value real skills … and real morality.



In the end.



While there is certainly a higher moral road … the basic road business walks is ‘produce something and make money from it’ and that is the same basic road for a healthy society.



Wall Street makes wealth from wealth.



The everyday schmuck makes wealth from doing something.



That has to count for something … doesn’t it?



Only a sense of shared social sacrifice in the pursuit of ‘what makes this country great’ will generate the progress we need and desire.



When I see a headline that someone paid $75,000 for a long weekend <as I stare at my $136 electricity bill> I recognize today’s world is relentlessly driven and categorized by money. I know it shouldn’t be but I would have to be delusional to not recognize this.



We live n a world where if you do not earn and spend conspicuously you are failing.capitalism poor with money



We use material things as a substitute for feelings and hopes <why else would you go to a brothel for $75,000 or have a $25 million mansion for just you and your spouse>.



Our culture seemingly has a price tag for every dream.





I can feel compassion for the super-rich. They got problems too.



But if I got 99 problems I can guarantee you the 1 thing that would help resolve most of them would be $75,000 <and most of hte 99.9% would be raising their hand saying ‘hallelujah’ right with me> .




So please forgive me if I feel slightly less than compassionate when I see wealthy people spending $75,000 for one weekend of fun to ‘get away.’



“Self interest rightly understood.” $75,000 for a long weekend <at a brothel>.


Someone somewhere has lost sight of what is reality.

who hates who in middle east

October 19th, 2014

conflict enlightened

“One of the enduring problems with certain societies in the world – and this is certainly true of a lot of places in the Middle East – is that the capacity for self-governance and self-organizing just isn’t there. It has to do with history.”


“Everybody in the Middle East wants to explain why they’re right.”


P.J. O’Rourke





If you live in America you tend to believe any and all of these things:


–          Everyone in the Middle East hates America more than anyone else


–          Muslims hate Christians more than anyone else


–          We can protect ourselves from terrorists in the Middle East by doing something in the Middle East


–          The Middle East is made up of one big Muslim war mongering horde under the guise of multiple borders with some country names


–          The Middle East is representative of a new conflict driven by recent foreign policy decisions





I could keep writing but my head is beginning to hurt.


While I think about this topic a lot I do not write often about it because the Middle East is so complex and has so many historical aspects that it can get frustrating to try and make sense of a relatively confusing intertwined issue.


And then I came across this amazing infographic of “who hates whom in the middle east”:







I imagine my main thought to share is that while we Americans like to believe the world revolves around us … it doesn’t.


Sometimes <simply because we are the biggest & typically most proactively involved nation>.


But most times not.




I will close after viewing the infographic one more time by answering the beliefs I began with:


Hugh McLeod popularity

Hugh McLeod popularity

–          America is not the most hated in the Middle East.




–          Muslims actually hate some other Muslims more than they hate America.



–          We cannot protect America from terrorist activity by doing something in the Middle East. Why? Because every time we do something it gives others in the area the opportunity to use America as a ‘reason for being.’ By the way … that goes for any non-Muslim country.




The idea a country of 300+million can stop one terrorist or a small group of terrorists dedicated to doing something … is ludicrous. The implication behind that is we will always be smarter than the other guys. The ‘other side’ has smart people too. Bad people with focused intentions to do bad things are very difficult to stop.


Sadly … they will win on occasion.



–          The Middle East is a complex mix of countries with varying government structures within a religion that does not separate ‘church & state.’ Their religion is integral to their governing.


Americans like lines. Lines as in borders. It gives us some sense of order and ways to judge who is in the right and who is in the wrong. In some places in the Middle East borders, these lines we like so much, are sometimes blurry if not arbitrary. We need to remember, particularly in the Middle East, that countries are defined more often by ideas and not by borders.



–          The most recent conflict in the middle east was not created by America <which the thought America “created this” is actually such an arrogant pompous thought it makes those in the middle east even grumpier> foreign policy … our foreign policy may have stifled the conflict on occasion or exacerbated the conflict on occasion but the conflict has existed since before America ever existed. Our only true failing, with good intentions, was that as a new country with a fresh ideology we believed we could resolve the ongoing gg answers are everywhereconflict.

And in failing to do so <as anyone would have failed> we failed to step back but instead have not accepted the failure and have continuously tried to course correct <with ongoing zig zags of positive & negative effects of which our political pundits pick & choose the aspects they want to pontificate over>.



That’s it.

My Middle East rant for the month.


If you want to view my favorite Middle East post here you go:



the day began the building of the cold wall

August 13th, 2014

berlin wall border



“Sometimes our walls exist just to see who has the strength to knock
them down.”


Darnell Lamont Walker





Today I have a historical note.



Because today marks the day the Berlin Wall was established.



In the early hours of Sunday August 13th in 1961 there was a sudden swoop upon the demarcation lines of the border between east and west Berlin by Russian and East German <DDR> troops and tanks with barbed wire and mesh <ironically bought from the British>.



This was the true harbinger of the cold war.


berlin wall watchtower no mans land

The blocks and bricks and steel traps and watch towers.






14 foot height.


96 miles long around West Berlin.


302 watchtowers <always posted by 2 men from different parts of the country – so they could check on each other – the guards at the wall had permission to shoot at any time>.



The East Germans called it “the anti fascist barrier to protect the DDR” and in their propaganda the barrier was promoted as a victory.



But in those early hours there was no wall <yet>.



Apparently the first people to know anything was wrong were the cab drivers of Berlin as they were unusually being stopped and searched when they crossed the boundaries between the allied zones and the Soviet zone.



This was something that on every other night would be routine.



But for one last night in the early morning hours the East let people back to the West … and most of these were the bar crowd who found themselves stuck in the East and parted from families.


That is the night the cold war truly began.

Berlin Wall 1


Over the next four nights, as barbed wire and temporary mesh & concrete fences fell across what were once busy streets … there was little East Berliners <some separated from family & friends in the West> and the Americans <of which it was mainly their zone initially affected> could do but watch or, in rare cases, make a last bid for freedom.



The building of the Berlin Wall <which began not with concrete but rather steel barbed wire> … ‘stacheldraht’ in German … stretched across roads, parks, through buildings, even crossing rivers.



The wall included electrified fences, fortifications, and guard posts.
The Soviet named ‘anti-fascist protection rampart’ would not look like the Wall we typically remember until the concrete version was put up in 1965 <updated in 1975>.



The Berlin Wall was just the most famous portion of what was called ‘the iron curtain.’



The DDR build this wall in the eastern part of Berlin and later this was a part of what Churchill called an Iron curtain from the Baltic to the Adriatic.


berlin wall constructie



Today, August 13th, in the morning that the Berlin Wall came into existence after the East German government closed the border between east and west sectors of Berlin with barbed wire to discourage emigration to the West.


The barbed wire was replaced by a 12 foot-high concrete wall eventually extending 103 miles (166 km) around the perimeter of West Berlin.



It was the symbol of the Cold War … in real life … and in fiction.



I admit that one of my favorite reading genres is espionage fiction.



John Gardner’s Herbie Kruger series.


Bill Granger Devereux series.


Le Carre Smiley series.



Others I can’t remember as I write this …


And if you read these books you would recognize that much of socialist East Germany was not exactly an idyllic situation.


Checkpoint Charlie 1965

Checkpoint Charlie 1965




In spy fiction and in spy movies the Wall has provided one of the greatest of dramatic backdrops especially with Checkpoint Charlie which was the one designated cross over point between East & West Germany <in the American zone>.



In reality … Checkpoint Charlie was the scene of a number of real escapes from Communist East to capitalist West Berlin.



In one of the most dramatic and tragic incidents, an 18-year-old East German man was shot by Communist border guards and left to bleed to death in no man’s land.



berlin checkpoint stand off
It was also the spot where Soviet and American tanks faced each other, engines running and aimed at each other, for six days in 1961 only weeks after the building of the Berlin Wall.



<historical note: this was overshadowed by the Cuban missile crisis … and yet … one could argue this event brought us closer to war with the Soviet Union than anything else>



Through espionage fiction the Wall has been crossed in any number of imaginative ways … tunneling, crossed by foot, smashed through, crossed by improvised plane or balloon, driven through as hidden passengers … and been the source of swaps of numerous captured agents.



Visually and in the written word the Wall represented danger, secrecy, ‘the other side’ < ‘druben’> … a symbolic metaphor for the meeting of the US <and The West> and the Soviet Union and the impasse of the Cold War.




Last note.



A pensive thought.


While this was historical … and hopefully interesting … I cannot help but think about what would take place if this happened today.
How would we respond?



Would there be the shouts of a ‘weak America’ if our tanks stood down as they did at the end of the 6 days in 1961?



Would there be shouts of ‘failed foreign policy’ as the iron curtain fell from the Baltic to the Balkans?



Watching media in today’s world the outrage of the pontificators seem to suggest obvious solutions.




“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.”


Evelyn Waugh




The outrage suggests lack of immediate response is the sign of lack of direction.



The outrage suggests no action is weak.




I am not smart enough to know if action or inaction is the right, and best, course of action.




I take solace in the fact that the greatest diplomatic and foreign affairs minds can only truly be that smart in hindsight.




I take solace in the fact that in 1961 there was a wall that seemed impenetrable … and 50 years later … there was no wall.Mauerbau 1961 / Sebastianstra§e



We can only wish foreign policy could always be so simply summarized.




Because I am not sure if the true foreign policy lesson is found in the summary … or in reviewing the second guessing and gnashing of teeth of those “who know, and knew, better” what to do … within those 50 years.



the genius of the American constitution and government

July 11th, 2014

constitution american-flag-all-rights-reserved-by-jade-leyva


‘On great occasions every good officer must be ready to risk himself in going beyond the strict line of the law when the public preservation requires it. A strict observance of the law is doubtless one of the highest duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of a higher obligation … to lose our country to a scrupulous adherence to a written law would be to lose the law itself.”

Thomas Jefferson in his “great occasions” speech



When viewing American politics I certainly hesitate to use the word ‘genius.’


Absurd yes.


Genius no.

politics lies and truth and repeating

Politics has always been absurd to me … mostly because I think we all want the same objective <something better> and we all end up haggling over how to meet the objective so much and so often … we end up doing nothing <and I would rather do the wrong thing than nothing>.



Politics has always been absurd to me because even when a decision is made and implementation is in progress … it starts getting pecked to death by the ducks. Most governmental decisions … shit … most good business decisions … have limited short term successes … and need to be evaluated on the echoes of the decision. I would rather invest all energy in implementing well <even the wrong thing> than second guessing or ‘pecking’ which could affect the long term success.


And now politics has reached a whole new level of absurdity in that the current American president is so divisive among pundit views … that we are starting to act like presidents have never acted like the current one.


That President Obama is ‘more illegal acting’ than any president before <and therefore a dictator or imperial or some nonsense type wording>.




“President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, isyes or no crazy the foundational problem here. It’s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along. It’s time to impeach.”

Sarah Palin








This is what presidents do.


Make decisions … popular or not … and let the chips fall as they may.


People may bitch and complain … but if they really do have a bitch or complaint … impeachment is the measurement of actions.


But … let’s be clear … all presidents <and I imagine all country leaders> “break” the law.


They do not rewrite the constitution or act like criminals … they simply do what leaders are supposed to do … take action for the benefit of the larger organization.



freedom and responsibility
Thomas Jefferson said it best in his “great occasions” speech …. ‘A strict observance of the law is doubtless one of the highest duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of a higher obligation … to lose our country to a scrupulous adherence to a written law would be to lose the law itself.”


That said.


These leaders take these actions without moral dereliction of duty.


The decisions may be difficult and unpopular and unclear with regard to strict legality … and sometimes even come at the expense of citizens … but if anyone suggests an American president takes immoral action … well … they are the absurd ones then.



Suing a president? Silly <if not stupid>.


Bringing criminal charges against a president? Silly <if not stupid>.


Impeachment is the ultimate measurement of a president’s actions. And I would like to point out that talking about impeachment and actually agreeing to an impeachable action is very very different.





Serendipity is a funny character in Life.


Just as I listened to some mind numbing diatribe on some talk radio show I read some interesting words from author Martin Gross in a book he wrote in the late 80’s <I believe>.


I thought I would share.



<excerpts from words spoken in a court of law by one of the characters in a book of author Martin Gross>


The commander in chief cannot declare war … that’s up to congress, but he can make war and he’s done that more than congress. We have had military hostilities over 200 times … maybe 20 or so considered ‘serious’ and congress has only declared war maybe 5 times. Andrew Jackson took Spanish Florida without congressional approval. We had invaded Mexican territory for 3 weeks before congress approved it. Truman made war in Korea without global unrest pining for a worldcongress approval ad Roosevelt started a sea war with Nazi submarines before world war 2. The Monroe doctrine was never authorized by congress. Reagan made war in Grenada and we bombed Libya … and congress did nothing. Bush did the same in Panama and most likely would have one the same in Iraq whether congress agreed or not. The president is far more than an ordinary person with regard to the law.

Presidents have always been sneaky. In a crisis they generally try and do what they can before congress can get their hands on them. President Tyler made a secret deal with the Republic of Texas to get them into the United States and almost got impeached for it. President Jefferson grabbed the chance to make the Louisiana Purchase from a poor Napoleon for 15 million dollars. When congress complained they hadn’t authorized the money Jefferson asked if he should give back the land. Even Lincoln was sneaky. Before congress could meet in the civil war he raised an army, spent money on arms and even eliminated habeas corpus.

I sometimes think the founding fathers made the separation of powers of the president and the congress somewhat vague so that this battle – a political one really, of public support, or lack of support – could go on.

The constitution outlines what is legal and what isn’t by a president by providing impeachment. Outside of impeachment where the people’s representatives speak, the president has been able to do whatever he can get away with. If you want him to stop doing something … whatever … you have to impeach him. If he is not impeached by default it’s apparently legal <or justified>. Constitutionally and practically.

This is what presidents do. Make decisions … popular or not … and let the chips fall as they may. People may bitch and complain … but impeachment is the measurement of actions.


Thomas Jefferson said it best in his “great occasions” speech:

‘On great occasions every good officer must be ready to risk himself in going beyond the strict line of the law when the public preservation requires it. A strict observance of the law is doubtless one of the highest duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of a higher obligation … to lose our country to a scrupulous adherence to a written law would be to lose the law itself.”


The constitution is almost perfect in this discussion. It rests in the people. And the people not only rest in the president , the only one elected by us all, but in the congress as well. So, the congress can always kick out an evil president. That’s what makes the perfection. The constitution accommodates both politics and legality. The people’s will within a framework of law.


Will we ever answer the question of what a resident can or cannot constitutionally do?

“Never if God grants us continued liberty someone will always be sitting in some chair a hundred years from now arguing the same battle and the same issues … searching for the right answer. That’s the genius of the American constitution and government.”



Whew. What a great speech.


In the end.


We will never really answer the limits of any president.

And that is the genius of the American Constitution and government.


We will constantly be searching for the right answer and seek the right limits.


liberty freedomnotfortimidthumb


And we will do so because we have the liberty and freedom to argue about it yesterday, today … and 100 years from now.



And I hope we are still debating it 100 years from now.



I simply wish that politicians and right & left wing pundits would embrace the genius aspect of who America is rather than the idiot * absurd aspect. I wish they would think of it all as ‘work in progress’ rather than ‘faults.’


I wish they, and everyone, would remember one person will never destroy a great idea and great ideas do not just happen by themselves … nor do they occur as planned.


independence, ideals, celebration … pride of being American

July 4th, 2014

USA American soccer fan face paint from USA photo by Monte Isom


“I don’t believe there’s any problem in this country, no matter how tough it is, that Americans, when they roll up their sleeves, can’t completely solve.”


Americans have a way of doing things ‘big.’ We are vocal and loud-ish and unequivocally … well … American.


4th of July is a perfect example.
For some time before I traveled and met others from around the world … I was convinced that every country had an Independence Day that they celebrated with the same gusto <if not fierceness> as America does.
But at some point I realized this isn’t the norm everywhere.


That isn’t to say that most countries don’t celebrate <or at least acknowledge> their independence day <for example … a place like Finland celebrates its independence from Russia> … it’s just that no one seems to do it as bombastically as we Americans.




There’s nothing wrong with patriotism.
And certainly there’s nothing wrong with independence <and celebrating it>.


Independence is an ideal.


Ideals often don’t live up to their expectations when faced with reality … but that doesn’t make it any less powerful


Ideals are ideas.

Ideals are hope.

Ideals are a vision.

Ideals are … well … frustrating.


If you have ever personally sought the ‘ideal weight’ <not to diminish freedom & independence … just to personalize the discussion> you know that progress never comes as fast as you desire, you make mistakes, you have setbacks … you have successes … and the moment you take your eye off the ‘ideal’ you lose Belgium vs USAprogress if not slip backwards a little.


Living with an ideal in mind is difficult.


Hopeful but difficult.


Using my metaphor … think of it as 317 million people stepping onto 317 million different scales 365 days of the year … evaluating their ideal weight against the ideal weight the country bears.


Not everyone is going to be happy. Some people will be frustrated. some will quit. some will shrug. some will soldier on. some will swear. some will cry.




All of the somes, the sum total, will get back on that frickin’ scale again the next day … and if not the next … the day after that. That is what we do. That is what we are.


And you know what?


That is independence. And that is the ideal we measure ourselves and our country against.


The bar is high.

But we Americans aim high.


Suffice it to say I am grateful for the country I grew up in and the freedoms we have in America that we often take for granted.


And I do not subscribe to the theory of blind patriotism that some people suggest follow along with holidays like the Fourth.

I do not because I believe it is on days like this we are reminded of the work in progress ideal we strive for … and our founders strove for.


We are reminded, sometimes painfully, of the work in progress aspects.


But we are also reminded of … well … independence. And everything good that comes along with it.


And in thinking about it … and the value it has to our souls and hearts … and the fact we know we have flaws and are still , sometimes sluggishly, working towards that ideal … we are self-conscious in our Americanism.


“It is, I think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most self- conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief that the other nations are in a conspiracy to under-value them.”
Henry James


I have seen someone call this self consciousness … self pity.

I don’t.


And I would argue until my last breath it has nothing to do with pity or any ‘woe is me’ attitude.


I would say it has something to do with that ‘high bar’ I stated earlier.


I would say that having earned independence we have assumed and responsibility to an ideal. And it is an ideal that is most likely truly unattainable <as most ideals are>. And as Americans who like to complete, do and succeed … we are self-conscious about the fact we are still working our way toward that ideal.





Yes … but … on this day … we celebrate the ideal.


And you know what? That is a big deal.


And we do it big.

Many people in other countries do not seem to understand patriotism the way Americans celebrate the 4th.


They see it as our typical over the top celebration of pride.




We have parades to celebrate America and being American.


Yes.how to be an explorer
We have spectacular firework extravaganzas that everyone goes to.


We have massive parties that entire towns attend.


Sometimes we go a little wacko with the red, white & blue.
But that is because we look at America differently than others may look at their own countries.

I am not suggesting it better or worse .. just … different.


We celebrate our ideal.

And unlike some other countries who feel like they embody their ‘ideal’ … we do … and we don’t.


We know we have an ideal … but have not reached the ideal state.

In fact … on the 4th … oddly we are celebrating our flaws.


And I wish we Americans would say that more often.

Celebrate our flaws.


Because in doing so we admit we are celebrating the reach … the aiming high … the place of hope.


Set aside the celebration aspect <which is certainly an American trait>.

The 4th is and is not about pride.
If it were solely about pride many would hesitate because we are flawed.


But to think the USA has more dirty laundry than other countries is … frankly … silly <and slightly absurd> … and no excuse for not being proud to be an American.


And we should have some pride in that we hold an ideal out for everyone … just beyond their grasp … and say ‘go get it.’
4th of July is fun.


america one heartbeatMillions sit around with family.


Millions of beer drinking guys stand and grill the shit out of everything and anything they can get their hands on.
And other millions go out and spend an hour setting things on fire.
On this day maybe 300 million people <I will allow maybe 15 million curmudgeonly unhappy tools to sit around and gripe about how bad things are and how flawed our country is> set differences aside and have some fun.


Fun with an ideal in mind.


“Americans… are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.”
Kurt Vonnegut


What I love about America is the searching.

Do I personally get frustrated, angry, proud, excited, disappointed and reflectively optimistic & skeptical … all at the same time … when viewing America?

Sure I do.


Geez. I am an American for god’s sake. I wouldn’t be American if I didn’t.


All that said. I am American. Unequivocally proud … and relentless with reagd to the ideal and the search.
And on the 4th …

… we celebrate the search

… we celebrate the hope

… we celebrate the ideal.


And we should.


On the other 364 days we grind it out working toward the ideal in fits & starts, and hugs & pushing away, and tears & laughter, and anger & joy, and disappointment & triumph … and failure & success.
In places it can seemingly never be … we see what could be.
And maybe that is why Americans are so damn obnoxious in their 4th of July celebration.


america capt am
We are celebrating what could be … not just what is.


A better America.


I would suggest the attempt to being better than what you are today is worthy of a celebration … the biggest most obnoxious darndest celebration you can have.



Happy 4th of July.

stamping out hunger … or incentive to work (and the middle class)

April 10th, 2014


 food stamps wtf

“When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatise those who let people die, not those who struggle to live.” —Sarah Kendzior





When you begin discussing food stamps or unemployment benefits or even minimum wage it seems to me that you begin wandering into the poverty discussion.

And then it suddenly becomes this slightly odd, and slightly disturbing, discussion swinging back & forth between basic sustenance to survive versus the ability to prosper type stuff … as well as … incentive to work or ‘do better’ in life stuff.


I imagine the issue is that discussing food stamps and any unemployment budget cuts crosses both ideological and the practical.

As well as opinion versus practical.




I keep using practical because while we invest a lot of energy debating theory <desire to work versus ‘sucking the system dry’> … practically … what we are discussing is a proverbial doom loop.


I recently heard someone said something like: “… food stamps <and unemployment benefits> drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives if America didn’t make cuts to food stamps <or slow the support system in some way>.”



The idea that actually having food could possibly drain the will of someone <in any way> is slightly absurd.




How about hunger motivating ambition?

That seems almost as absurd.




I would like to point out that something like 40% of households on food stamps have at least one person working.


I would also like to point out some basic truths about people.


courage doesnt always roarIn general … the majority want to work <or do something worthwhile in terms of productivity>. People like to ‘do.’



In general <if you do not agree with the first statement> I could suggest that America has a ‘shirking segment’ at both the top and bottom …. shirking work <yet … we seem to focus on the bottom>.


In general … an even larger majority are willing to do what it takes to not have to worry about how they can afford next week … let alone next day .


In general it is only a sliver of the population who takes advantage of the system <which implies they don’t want to really work>. It is foolish to believe one person <or a smaller minority> which may actually feel this way … or behave this way … defines the behavior of the entire group.



I admit I find it slightly shocking that this level of ignorance <or cynicism> is so common in America.


I would also like to point out that the highest food stamp amount a single person receives is something like $200 a month <you try living on that>.




Take a minute.


Divide 200 by 30. This is $6.66 a day.


Yet if I receive one more email touting that the poor were dining on prime filet steaks and lobster … or that all the unemployed were lazy unincentived-to-work couch potatoes … my head will explode.




I think I am surprised at how simplistically we address this issue <among others>.


We can take food stamps away … but in the end … someone has to pay for the food.


Me <being me> I will use children as an example.


According to census and government data from 2012, 22% of American children live in poverty and 16 million live in households that are food insecure food stamps food insecurewhich means one in five children do not have regular access to enough food.


In 2012, the No Kid Hungry Campaign surveyed more than 1000 K-8 public school teachers across the country with results that should give everyone pause.


–          Three out of five teachers reported regularly seeing children in their classrooms who come to school hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home.

–          56% of teachers said that “a lot” or “most” of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.

–          More than half of the teachers surveyed said they frequently purchase food out of their own money for hungry kids, spending on average $26 a month.


Around 30.6m lunches and 13.15 million breakfasts are served to kids on a daily basis.



And think about this.

Although the meals are heavily subsidized, with some kids qualifying for free meals and a smaller proportion for reduced price meals <40cents for lunch and 30cents for breakfast>, parents are still struggling to pay and defaults are on the rise.


A February 2012 survey carried out by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) found that among their members 53% of school districts were experiencing an increase in unpaid meals.


According to Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson for the SNA “it seems to be a lot of the families that are hovering around the threshold of poverty <that is families not poor enough to qualify for free meals but still too poor to pay the reduced rate> are the ones who can’t pay.”


Suffice it to say that a food stamp program isn’t a crutch but rather plays an integral role in basic sustenance for a shitload of people.


But … you know what?


We have a bigger issue.


We have an attitude issue.


Now, don’t get me wrong, poverty is a real issue.


But the perception of poverty <to middle class> has become a reality in many people’s minds. This is an attitudinal issue. By the way … this is as ‘real’ to people as the actual thing <scary but true>.


So this perception, while only a perception, makes it a real issue.


Government figures show one in seven Americans is food insecure.

According to Gallup, in August, one in five said they have, at times during the last year, lacked money <i.e., did not have> to buy food that they or their families needed. I do not need a Gallup poll to know that an even larger percentage feel they lack the money <i.e., believed they did not have> to meet the needs of their family <that is the attitudinal part>


By the way … just to get some politics out of the way … both figures are roughly the same as when Obama was elected.



This is not an administrative issue but a cultural issue.


However you want to discuss the topic of cuts or benefits … the question is not whether the vulnerable will be hammered … but rather by how much.


And poverty reaches into the heads of everyone at all income levels as a perception issue.


Middle class people feel like they could become poverty stricken at any moment.

Therefore. They are feeling like they are getting hammered too.


<so how sympathetic can you actually be to someone else getting hammered if your own head is getting bashed in>


In the past five years or so the middle class and the poor people have been getting slammed.


Slammed in terms of having less.

Less , in the case of middle class, may not be actual poverty but it FEELS like poverty to them because it is ‘less than I had.’


Overall the problem is the gnawing away of average living standards and coping head thoughtsspecifically how the effects hammer you even moreso the lower your income.


So maybe while real poverty is important to discuss and think about … in order to get everyone aligned attitudinally we should be thinking about a poverty attitude at all income levels <albeit the highest income ‘less than’ is ludicrous to anyone in another income class>.

What we seem to be ignoring is that this group … a large group … has simply fallen into a coping strategy.


In fact … I could argue that all of America has simply fallen into a coping strategy.


And as noted in a variety of business opinion papers I have written … coping is stagnant seeking and not growth seeking.


To make my point that coping is not effective attitudinally.


–          in Michigan black male life expectancy is lower than male life expectancy in Uzbekistan;

–          in Detroit black infant mortality is on a par with Syria (before the war).

–          over a period of 18 years, America’s white working class – particularly women – have started dying younger.



I shared that to suggest there are tangible outcomes to simply coping and we need to address the coping strategy as the issue.


Is this about equality or inequality? Or even the ‘haves versus the have nots’?


Not really.


This is attitudinal.

Attitudinal with real world behavioral repercussions.


It makes it simpler to focus it on poverty … and that is okay … as long as we recognize that poverty is a combination of reality <people focused on surviving life> and perception <people worried about surviving lifestyle>.


I also imagine it all harkens back to President Lyndon Johnson in a way.


He used lots of great words to express some insightful thoughts on this issue.


In attempting to help people out of poverty, Johnson realized that he was making American society more egalitarian by lessening the gap between rich and poor, but he did not see the action he was taking as detrimental to the wealthy.


His thoughts on solving the poverty issue were not a zero sum game … in which one group’s gains promised another group’s losses.


“Our history has proved that each time we broaden the base of abundance we create new industry, higher production, increased earnings, and better income for all.” – L.  Johnson


We should all have this attitude.


But it is difficult to do so in the USA because we have a slightly warped view on poverty.

<and I do not share this to not suggest poverty is real … just that we have a skewed perspective in the USofA>.


Poverty for a United States household of 4 is defined as annual income of $23,492.coping want life back

This is $2,000 MORE THAN the median household income for a family of 4 in … well <insert a big ‘gulp’ sound here> … uhm … Great Britain.



It is  fact that the amount of true poverty in the US is considerably less than in the EU. US is a prosperous nation.


However … the definition of poverty in the USA is far more generous than in the EU and grows annually.


I imagine I am asking that we should not confuse the definition of poverty with its reality.


Timbro <a Swedish economics research institution> published “eu vs us” showing how the various EU countries would rank in terms of prosperity if they were US states.

Pretty nearly the entire EU would rank about 45th to beyond 51st in terms of prosperity.

UK would rank 48th <along with Arkansas and Mississippi> and 55% of the British would be defined as living in poverty.


The analysis includes measures of material prosperity for “Americans living in poverty” and for ALL Europeans.

By most measures the average poor American has a higher standard of living than the average non poor European.


The US poor are more likely to own their own homes, have more rooms and living space, have more property, are more likely to own 2 or more cars, have an attached garage and have more household appliances, TV’s, computers, cell phones, etc. than the average “non poor” European.




That doesn’t necessarily refer to ‘poverty’ but I am attempting to give some perspective on what ‘poor’ is in reality.



I don’t believe it is important that we argue whether we feel impoverished or not but instead we discuss increasing abundance for all.



Things like food stamps … fighting poverty … using LBJ words … come down to a moral basis:


    “Because it is right, because it is wise.”


To me, attitudinally, we need to create a mindset of an America ‘in which every citizen shares all the opportunities of his society.’



I use these words in comparison to ‘citizens simply coping.’




There is a term called ‘soulless wealth.’


‘Soulless wealth’ is abundant wealth that remains inaccessible to all but a relative few.


Soulless wealth typifies a society divided between haves and have-nots.




I would suggest that soulless wealth is not just a tangible economic concept but one that resides in the minds of people … at all class levels and income levels.


Whoa … how can that be?


–          Those at the lower incomes who use <or abuse> the system to attain whatever wealth level they achieve is soulless.


–          Those at the higher levels who abuse the system to create abundant wealth is soulless.


–          Those in the middle class who, out of fear of poverty, use the system by whatever means to avoid the fear is soulless.


Soulless wealth, the issue, is attitudinal. And attitudinal at all income levels.


I say that because we talk about welfare and food stamps and unemployment benefits as if they are dollars and cents like decisions … and as we say those things we are avoiding the overall attitude of America.


The few talking heads who blather away on TV have lost touch.

They use soaring words of hope … and bow their heads when speaking of the despair of poverty … and then move into working hard and earning … and … well … they have lost touch.


The truth?


People are simply coping.


And coping means that all this other talk is irrelevant.



Here is the real deal.



For all the talk about ‘getting a free pass in life’ through handouts … most people know that Life is hard.


And they are okay with that.


It reminds me of a great scene in West Wing:

I never imagined at $55,000 a year, I’d have trouble making ends meet. And my wife brings in another 25. My son’s in public school. It’s no good. I mean, there’s 37 kids in the class, uh, no art and music, no advanced placement classes. Other kids, their mother has to make them practice the piano. You can’t pull my son away from the piano. He needs teachers. I spend half the day thinking about what happens if I slip and fall down on my own front porch, you know? It should be hard. I like that it’s hard. Putting your daughter through college, that’s-that’s a man’s job. A man’s accomplishment. But it should be a little easier. Just a little easier. ‘Cause in that difference is… everything.



People are willing to work hard.


coping and hoping They just ask for two things:


–          I don’t want to cope … I want hope.


–          I am willing to work hard … but could you just make it a little easier.



Unfortunately … there are some dollars and cents attached to this.


People are willing to work hard if they think they are getting a fair deal in return.

People are willing to work hard if they get a little help now and then to give them a breather.


By the way.


This isn’t about ‘getting something for free’ … this is about fairness and being the best you can be.




Coping sucks.

Coping isn’t fair.

Coping isn’t being your best.

Coping doesn’t lead to greatness.


But we have a coping economy and population.


That’s the issue.


That’s why people are so angry about perceived handouts and the so called ‘welfare state’ and things like that.


We all need to remember … poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. We should be less angry … be interested in refinding our soul <as we continue to seek some wealth – which is a good thing by the way> … and our leaders need to figure out how to get people to stop coping and start thinking bigger.



Before you get angry <on this topic>.


I do not begrudge anyone who is feeling like they are coping … but it would be nice if most of us kept coping in perspective.  Using myself to begin the perspective … I discuss poverty … and I certainly understand financial stress … but I doubt I, and many others,  do not truly grasp poverty.


I have never been in a situation where I was afraid I would starve to death while I worked to death.


Just think about that before you get too angry.

Enlightened Conflict