Category Archives: Pontifications

“Not My President!”

I’ve heard this frequently lately.  I struggle to understand what people mean when they say these words.  Emotions are still running high as we approach inauguration Continue reading

The Banks Backed Down – Can We Chalk a Victory for OWS?

Bank of America and the other biggest banks announced their intent to charge a monthly fee to their customers for the use of debit cards.   Their customers stood up and said: “No!”.  They not only said “No!” in Zucotti Park and the streets, many said  “No!” by moving their deposits out of the big banks and into local and regional institutions, such as credit unions.  The big banks got the message very quickly and backed down.  They announced that they had decided not to charge the fee.  Hooray for common sense!

Can we chalk it up as a victory for OWS?  That’s a lot less certain.   But, in my opinion, it is much less likely that the big banks would have changed course if there had not been an OWS movement.  I hold this opinion for three reasons.  One, without the OWS movement and the media attention it garnered it would have been a lot more difficult for the voices saying “No!” to be heard or to realize that they were part of something bigger.  In this aspect, OWS acted as a megaphone.  Two, OWS gave an immediate example that  people acting in concert could affect change.  I was quite surprised at how quickly individuals began moving money out of the big banks and how quickly the big banks noticed.  Three, OWS showed that individual financial decisions can be a voice, one that speaks a language the big banks understand.  As each of us decide what bank, what broker, what financial advisor and what fund manager we shall take our custom to,  that choice matters.  We have options about where to invest our 60% share of the wealth.  If we don’t like how the poster boys of excess: the overly compensated executives and fund managers and bankers are behaving with our money, we have the ability to take it away.  And, the poster boys have just been reminded of that. OWS has helped us realize that we aren’t stuck with what the 1% want to give us.  Changing the business culture is possible.   And, perhaps, not as difficult as we imagined.

As the police clear the tents in Zucotti Park and the other places around the world where the vanguard of the Occupy Wall Street Movement first made itself visible, it is important to note that they haven’t cleared the people, the idea or the movement away.  I think making the big banks back down showed that OWS has momentum.  Once a movement has momentum it is not arrested by clearing out a location.  Just as the Occupy Wall Street Movement quickly spread from Zucotti Park around the world, it is not tied to Zucotti Park.  The tents are not a requirement.

What is required is that the Movement remain visible and vocal.     The movement can come back to the parks and streets where and  when the need arises.  None of the demonstrations or sit-ins of the sixties lasted nearly as long as the encampment in Zucotti Park.  They appeared at one place briefly and then another.  The important thing was that they kept appearing.  And, back then, internet organized flash mobs were unknown. Having stayed at Zucotti Park so long, the OWS movement demonstrated the breadth of its support.  By my guage, the OWS has a much broader base of support in the general populace than any of the 60’s protests and demonstrations.

One thing about a movement is that it has a flow, like a river.  You can’t dam it completely, the water will always find a way around.  If you force the river out of one place it flows to another.    Where the river’s channel is narrowed, the water simply flows faster and more forcefully through it.   Push the movement out of Zuccoti Park and it will simply appear somewhere else, and it may gain force in the process.  So, let us not mourn the the loss of some tents.  Let us instead realize that, like the river, the OWS movement flows on and is gaining volume and force.

Zuccotti Park – Tip of the Iceberg

The epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement is Zuccotti Park.   It’s become a significant problem for the Mayor of New York City.  Mayor Bloomberg  has thus far successfully walked the tight-rope.  He has to keep the City open for business and, at the same time, not infringe the right of Occupy Wall Street to protest how that very business is conducted.  I’m not without admiration for Mayor Bloomberg.  But, brilliant and measured, as he is, he doesn’t understand what the Occupy Wall Street Movement is, or is becoming.  Consider this quote, as reported in the New York Times:

“My personal view is, why don’t you get out there and try to do something about the things that you don’t like, create the jobs that we are lacking, rather than just yell and scream,” Mr. Bloomberg said Thursday. “But if you want to yell and scream, we’ll make sure you can do it.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/04/nyregion/for-bloomberg-wall-street-protest-poses-a-challenge.html?_r=1&smid=fb-nytimes&WT.mc_id=NY-SM-E-FB-SM-LIN-FBW-110411-NYT-NA&WT.mc_ev=click; visited 11/7/11

Perhaps it’s his personal wealth that blinds him.  Mayor Bloomberg is clearly at the top of the 1%.  He is reported to be the 12th richest person in the country with a net worth of $19.5 billion, most of it from and still invested on Wall Street. http://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/; visited 11/7/11.   He sees the Occupy Wall Street Movement as just kids yelling and screaming in a park in his city.  He supports their right to yell and scream but like the many of the rest of the 1%, he’s not listening, yet.  He probably thinks that the movement will go away, perhaps with bitter cold in a winter only weeks away.  I hope he’s wrong.  I hope that Occupy Wall Street will  prove that it can’t be driven away so conveniently.  Perhaps then Mayor Bloomberg and more of the 1% will begin to hear what is being said.

If Mayor Bloomberg was hearing what Occupy Wall Street was saying he wouldn’t make a comment that essentially boils down to “Get a Job!”  Isn’t that the point here.  We have rescued the machinery that the 1% uses to create and hold their wealth.  But, they aren’t putting that money to work on Main Street.  They’re sitting on it.  Credit for small business and ordinary people remains tight, despite attempts by the government to ease it.  Unemployment remains above 9%, despite government attempts to reduce it.  Job creation is improving but remains tenuous and anemic.  Current job growth will take many years to make a substantial reduction in unemployment.

Occupy Wall Street is trying to tell Mayor Bloomberg and others that there are too few jobs.  They are pointing out that the 1% is hording money and not putting it to work where it can create jobs.  The furor over excessive executive compensation is but a first focus on this problem.  But,it is something Occupy Wall Street is clearly pointing out. The admonition to quit yelling and screaming and get a job in these circumstances evidences  ignorance and avoidance of responsibility.  Who has the greater ability to create jobs, the folks in Zuccotti Park or Mayor Bloomberg and the 1%?  Who is failing the nation on this issue?

Beneath the ignorance evidenced by Mayor Bloomberg’s “Get a Job!” statement is an even more troubling lack of perception.  The “kids” in Zuccotti Park and whether they have jobs isn’t the whole issue.  They are just the tip of the iceberg.  They really do represent the unrest, dissatisfaction and desire for change in the way business is conducted of  much of the 99% .     The amount of money held in the IRAs, 401Ks, and straightforward savings and investments by the 99% is substantial.  It is  a little bit greater than the amount held by the 1%.  Mayor Bloomberg and the rest of the 1% need to listen to the yelling in Zuccotti Park.  It’s a warning.  They are the voice standing on the tip of the iceberg .  They are yelling: “Change course for your own good!”  The 1% would be wise to listen.

I’m Too Old to Sit in the Street

I’ve never been the public protesting type.   And, now, even though there is a protest I’d like to join, I’m too old and soft to be sitting in the street.   But, I believe that Occupy Wall Street offers a real hope of changing our business culture, especially the business of financial services.  So, what can I do.

Well, I can do the same thing that a lot of the 99% can do.  You see,many of the 99% have some wealth.  No, we don’t have the seven and eight figure incomes of the 1%.  Most of us are still working for a daily living and only dreaming of being able to retire.  But, we are the ones who hold most of the IRAs, 401Ks and have some savings and investments.  We’ve worked hard and saved.

In our savings and retirement plans is our voice to add to those who occupy the streets.  And, we can speak a language that Wall Street already understands.  We can go to our brokers and advisers and tell them that we want investments evaluated differently and we want to invest in ways that will change the culture of Wall Street.

I read Mark Cuban’s blog: Blog Maverick, on his advice to Occupy Wall Street. http://blogmaverick.com/2011/10/14/my-soapbox-advice-to-the-ows-movement-and-then-some.  He puts forth some very interesting ideas.

But the point is that you don’t have to go sit in the street to raise a voice of protest.  There are other ways that may also be effective.

OWS, Please Don’t Go to Washington

One of the critiques of the Occupy Wall Street movement, usually leveled by the objects of the protest, is that the movement needs to focus its attention on Washington.  The gist of the critic’s comment is: “take your complaints to the government.  It’s their job to fix this.”  What that means is: we’re not going to fix it.  We have ours and we like it that way.  It’s also a tactic to deflect your movement.  Wall Street wants you to spend your energy flailing away at politicians.

Please don’t fall for it.  Stay where you are.  You’re in the right place.  Taking your movement to Washington will only dissipate its energy.  Your business is to create a new financial culture.  Washington won’t help you do that.  Even if we set aside for a moment the current lack of Washington’s ability to govern, cultural change is not the business of government.  Governments form and reform as response to culture and cultural change.  They don’t create it.

Stay the course right where you are.  You’re in the right place and you are talking to the right people.  God willing, they eventually will listen to you.

At Dawn on Wall Street

I have been very interested in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.  I have the impression that I am watching the dawn.  It’s new.  There’s light, heat and lots of color.  There is promise and fresh potential.  The new day does not yet burn white hot.  You can look directly at it and see what will later become obscured by its own intensity.
For many years, I have believed that I live in a culture that is in the process of deconstruction.  I’m a middle child of the baby boom, born in the second half of the decade following the conclusion of the Great Depression  and WWII.  I was born as the United States emerged, center stage, as a world power.
The culture that had arisen in the founding of the nation and carried it through its Civil War, industrialization and Westward Expansion was struggling to deal with the new realities of a changed position in the world.   My impression is that, for the most part, we handled it like a clumsy adolescent.  There were lots of mistakes and irresponsible behavior, punctuated by moments that showed amazing promise.
And, like adolescents, growing into a new role creates strain, struggle and ultimately old ways must give way to new. That struggle ate away at the cultural institutions we inherited.  Many of them are proving to be inadequate to our new challenges and must change or die away.   Cultures may always be in the process of deconstruction and reconstruction; but, that can also be seen as evolution.  I perceive that what we are experiencing is more severe, perhaps more analogous to an extinction than an ongoing gradual modification.
One of the hallmarks of cultural deconstruction on that scale is the peoples loss of trust in the existing cultural institutions.   There seem to markers, where tipping points were reached and the loss of faith in an institution generalized in the population.   We first lost trust in our legislative representatives.   The exact tipping point is probably fading from memory.  It could have been any of several.  I think about things like “Red Scares” and some of the more noted scandals that led to convictions and prison terms.  But, finally Congress spent so much time and energy on the election process that  they stopped doing the business of governing altogether.  The Watergate scandal marked the end of our trust in the Office of the President.    Similarly, the O. J. Simpson trial marked the end of our trust in the judiciary.   Our churches began to do as much spinning and posturing as anyone else engaged in the quest for power.   Some, actively abused the trust placed in them to steal either treasure or innocence.  Probably the tipping point was the uncovering of the child abuse so desperately covered up.
I don’t mean to imply that these have been universal or that there haven’t been great, wonderous and inspired people and moments.  There have been.  We are still the culture the rest of the world turns to for example and help.  We’re still the people who pull together in times of greatest travail and do the most to help feed, house and treat the ill in the world.  We always are at the head of the line to provide disaster relief.  When disaster strikes the world knows it can expect the people of the United States to be generously compassionate.
Yet, even that has been perverted before our eyes.  Since September 11th, 2001 I have watched amazing unity in the face of assault wither into a cynicism that has critically eroded freedoms fundamental to who we believe ourselves to be.  It’s like we have sought the safety and security of a jail.
One of the last of our institutions to fail us was business.  The end of trust in our business was marked by: the Enron and Worldcom scandals.  They were the revelation that business was gaming the financial system.  Sub-prime loans, credit default swaps, derivatives and and just plain stealing that brought us recession and unemployment were just the expansion of that game.
 But, this last failure of business brought a genuine crisis and created a broader picture of the cultural failure.  For example, our government responded with bailouts of businesses that created these problems.  Business convinced  cloying politicians that they were “too big to fail” and if we rescued them they would rescue the rest of us.  Well, we rescued them and they, have failed to rescue the rest of us.  They have shown that in their existing culture all that matters is: “I’ve got mine.”
Now we being forced to see through that hogwash.  Still, though, we wanted our institutions to succeed so badly, to avoid the necessary changes, that we gave them another chance to fix things.  Then in the debt ceiling debates of last summer we were forced to the realization that our existing institutions are not going to “fix it.”  At that time, I sensed a general attitude shift to: “If we’re going to end this recession, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.  There’s no use waiting for government or big finance to help.  They aren’t going to.  We had better get at it”  And, that brings me to “Occupy Wall Street”.  The “Occupy Wall Street” is a movement.
It is a movement away from what has become a dysfunctional financial culture to a new one.   It is, I believe, one of the first moments we can identify as new culture in construction.  It is the glow on the horizon.  At present it mostly expresses outrage and frustration at the failure of  the old culture.  That frustration that captured in the slogan: “We’re the 99%”.  But, there is more than just the voices of frustration.  The movement is about doing something to relieve that frustration. The movement is still in the process of determining what it wants a new financial system to look like.  There is discussion and no resolution, yet, about what fair distribution of wealth and opportunity to acquire wealth should look like.
But, if I’m right, eventually that consensus will develop.  When it does, that consensus will become the paradigm for the new financial culture.  Don’t expect that consensus to come easily or soon.  Their are many voices to be heard and the fringes will have to be trimmed away to get to the core.  It won’t be an easy or short process.  But, I am getting the sense that the people on the front line of the movement, the ones in the parks and camps, realize this and are preparing to stay engaged until that consensus develops and is on its way to being adopted.  Constructing a new culture is not light work.
The “Occupy Wall Street”  movement, in my opinion, has a significance far beyond what is being reported in most of the media. Ben Hecht said: “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time, by watching the secondhand on a clock.”  I think that analogy applies to media coverage of “Occupy Wall Street”.
I also think Occuppy Wall Street’s  significance is being missed by those most invested in the culture that is being replaced. The denizens of Wall Street seem to think that this is just kids occupying time, and it will all go away.  I think they’re wrong.
A new day is upon us, it’s dawn.  It’s time to embrace the new day and make the most of it.  The folks in the Occupy Wall Street movement are ready to get up and get at it.

Open Kitchen Syndrome

A friend recently diagnosed us with “Open Kitchen Syndrome.” I’m quite sure his diagnosis is correct.

“Open Kitchen Syndrome” is a lifestyle related condition. The primary symptom is numerous “children” in and around your kitchen, especially the refrigerator. The onset of the condition is almost invariably when the afflicted’s children are in their late teens, starting to drive and attending High School. Beyond that the symptoms seem to vary widely. Ours include strange noises in the night: “Hey, Mike your folks are out of chile. How can your Dad be out of chile?” or “They moved the cereal!” Some of our other symptoms are: frequent unusual arrival time of these “children” around meal times, one particular “child” has the uncanny ability to detect the existence of the little cartons of take out Chinese in our refrigerator from great distances. There are many more symptoms, but this should give you a fair idea of what to watch for, if you believe you may be developing “Open Kitchen Syndrome.”

I am able to pinpoint the exact moment when we began to develop “Open Kitchen Syndrome.” I’m sure this information will be very valuable to the Center for Disease Control. It will give a firm anchor point for the disease vector. It began innocently enough. Our oldest son called one Friday night, during his sophomore year:
“Dad, we just got out of the movie, can we come to our house and watch another one.”
“Sure, you want some pizza to go with the movie?”
“Yeah, that’d be great!”
I wasn’t sure at that first pizza party what we were getting into.

The next weekend, same story. This time it took us a couple of seconds to think: now, do we want to continue buying pizza and pop for these kids for the next umpteen years. We have never regretted our conclusion that yes, we did. As our daughter and younger son entered and emerged from High School the pattern continued and recreates itself every time they come home for a visit. They filled our family room on more nights than I can number. Not only do we have no regrets about developing “Open Kitchen Syndrome”, we have been greatly rewarded.

We are grateful to our own three children for being willing to bring their friends into our home. We are grateful to all of those who, though not our biological children, have become the Children of Our Hearts. They have blessed us with their friendship.

We were privileged to watch so many extraordinary young people finish their growing up. They generously included us in their lives, sometimes asking our advice, and always showering us with their love. They made our lives immeasurably more full, joyous and noisy. (Quiet is nice, but can be overrated.) They brought us their triumphs and occasionally their tragedies.

They have graduated from High School and moved into young adulthood. Blessedly, they are still very much a part of our lives. It has been reassuring to watch them go out into the world. They give us hope that they can solve the horridly difficult problems that they are inheriting. They are pursuing careers in psychology, medicine, ministry, teaching, counseling, firefighting, business, art therapy, engineering, acting and other fields. Many have taken time out to do the work of volunteer service in many areas and for extended periods of time.

Deb and I shall never be all of the change in the world that we thought we would be when we were their age. They may be the agents of some that change for us. I heard a wise man recently say: “If your trying to solve a problem that can be solved in your lifetime, you’re thinking too small!” There is a lot of truth to that and I feel assured that those future solutions are in good hands.

When they come to our kitchen now, they come with great tales of their journeys out into the world. Some come with spouses and partners, now. It can’t be too long before they will bring little ones. They will always be welcome. Sometimes it’s still pizza, sometimes its burgers and brats. Oh and, now that they are all old enough, they share their superior taste in beer. It’s always simple. It’s always more for the gathering than the eating. It is always rich and fun and we can never get enough of it.

We never regretted developing “Open Kitchen Syndrome.” It’s the finest affliction we shall ever enjoy.