You are more important than you think

“How can I help you?”
“I was calling to close my Citi accounts.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. And why are you wanting to close your account?”
“Well, after I’ve been reading about the part that Citi played in buying and selling mortgage bond derivatives, going into huge debt, which caused the market to collapse, I feel that I can’t do business with them.”
“Uh. Ok. So you’re closing your bank account because of the mortgage bond derivatives or whatever?”
“Yes.”
“Ok.”
Silence.
“You know, back in 2008 the market crashed-”
“Oh, I know. I’ve been an account specialist for 10 years.”
“Ok”
“So you’re closing your Citi account? Are you not having a bank account anymore…?”
“I’m closing all my Wall St bank accounts. And keeping my accounts with my local bank.”
“Ok. Well, I can’t turn back the clock, unfortunately. It looks like you had a lot of activity on your accounts.”
“Yes.”
“So 4 years later you’re closing your account..”
“Yes, I would’ve done it sooner, but I didn’t know things would turn out like they did.”
“Well, I can’t speak to the actions of the bank, but restitution has been made and we’ve moved ahead.”
“I don’t think it has. The US market collapsed, and, you know, there’s blame to go around, but I think the banks need to face the consequence of their actions.”

The best part about living in a free society is that if someone does wrong, we don’t have to work for them if we don’t want to. We can quit. Or if there is someone who works for us and they do wrong? We can fire them if the government won’t do it.

The government, of course, encouraged the banks to give out mortgages by providing them the money, which led to homes being overvalued, and people getting homes who wouldn’t have been given mortgages before, but then defaulting on their payments.

But the bankers made the bad loans, and the Wall St banks deceptively packaged the bad loans with the good and sold them with good ratings, so it feels right that I fired all the Wall Street bankers that were working for me. Given, I’m still part of the system. And my money is still coming from a corporation, since I work for one. But it’s not coming from the most carelessly powerful corporations of all. The ones that the government is allowing to exist in the same too-big-to-fail capacity that they were in before the crash of 2008. Apparently, these banks should be called too-big-to-control.

But I controlled my business with them. And if we all do that, and make it known we will not stand for such clear carelessness and deceit, and we will not have our bank accounts, 401k’s, or credit cards with them, then I think the banks will be controlled. And they will be controlled in the best way possible:

By the customers who they have wronged and who must pay for their bailout.

And that’s you and me.

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Who do you trust?

I was at the Nelsonville Music Festival this past weekend, at what may be the most underrated music festival in the whole of our United States of America. Under glorious clear skies, I walked around watching everyone sharing the campgrounds. There was no harassing, no thievery. You met others, shared what you had, and enjoyed yourself. There was a feeling of trust. A trust that is missing in many of the places we live.

Trust is powerful. It allows us to flourish. Trust builds friendship. It allows us to talk with others and expect to be respected. It gives us patience with life. But that’s just the start of it.

Trust makes you do the right thing

When you trust that others will do the right thing, then you will do the right thing regardless if that doesn’t do much to change the big picture, like if you choose to abstain from eating animals when most everyone else does not. Or being honest with the company expense account while others skim a little. Or moving your money out of Wall St banks when most other continue to use them. Or voting for a third party while most do not because they think it’s “throwing a vote away”. If everyone doesn’t trust others to do the right thing, then everyone will continue doing the wrong thing.

Trust brings about prosperity

When we work together, each with our expertise, we do great things. When we specialize in our areas of mastery, we can share the fruits of our labor equally in a collective society. Trust makes others know you will come through for them, just like they will come through for you. And the appreciation from others gives us a feeling of purpose. A reason to feel important in a world where it can be confusing to know what truly is important.

Matt Ridley makes a great observation of this in his book, The Rational Optimist: Self-sufficiency is associated with less wealth, while specialization with more wealth. And self-sufficiency takes a lot of time! The leisure time most of us have today is significant. And in a way, this leisure is more important than trust. This past weekend, it was this leisure time that allowed me to see trust demonstrated by interacting with others, by building a small community of respect and value.

How we use our leisure time is important, but it all starts with building confidence in our fellow human beings. Trust is having courage in the face of the unknown. It’s knowing that whatever happens, it’s going to be ok.

I felt that trust this weekend. I was reminded of how it made life better. It also reminded me that without it, we are likely lost.

After enough time, even important things fade into the background

Things fade into the background if they’re no immediate danger to us. The aging nuclear power plant that provides power but is not in compliance with safety regulations and sits near an earthquake fault line (like the Indian Point nuclear reactor outside of NYC). Or the cost of war in lives and money that doesn’t effect you… yet. Or the bank that continues to go into debt making risky bets because the government bailed them out by also going into debt. And without making cuts in government services…yet.

Last week the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, made an interesting announcment. The company lost over $2 billion dollars continuing their risky betting. Now, this is a fraction of their hundreds of billions of dollars in income. (Income, not profit: They have 3 times as much debt as assets.) So is Dimon preparing us for worse to come? Maybe. Or is he trying to establish an environment of acceptance of risky betting? Dimon said the investments were a “terrible, egregious mistake” but “we maintain our fortress balance sheet and capital strength to withstand setbacks like this.” Was this a PR move to instill trust in a market that is losing it?

In 1912, JP Morgan, the founder of this company, was speaking in a testimony with Congress. He was asked whether banking debt is based on money or property.
He answered that it was about character, “before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it…Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.”

Do you trust a market where you buy things like a television? How about a market that buys…money? There’s a big difference that needs to be appreciated. One is in the business of creating cheap goods and services for money. The other is in the business of creating money. One is less government driven and difficult to corrupt, while the other is more government driven and much easier to corrupt. What they have in common is that the consumer decides whether to buy their goods or services.

And that consumer is you and me.

Remove the money gag

How would you rate the following in importance?

-Tax breaks for gay and straight married couples
-Wall Street banks paying fines a fraction of the $30 trillion the government loaned them to keep their collapse from taking down our economy.
-Government money to cover contraception

What do we need to focus on? All of these involve controlling money. Is that the problem?

The money isn’t the problem. It’s how the government is engineering the country as if money is our only motivator.

Good leaders trust the human spirit, not carrots and sticks

Good leaders don’t use regulations and incentives. But our leaders are doing so today. They’re trying to regulate Wall St bankers to prevent their recklessness from hurting us again in the future. But regulations restrict us and push us to find a way around them. That is why three times since 1990, the banks have almost collapsed and why the government bailed them out each time. If you knew you were going to get your money back, would you be more or less careless when spending it?

And incentives? Incentives bribe us. Research shows that when you start giving rewards, people are pretty predictable. They stop doing for the sake of doing, and shift to doing for the reward. When you start going to work so that you can get money to buy stuff, the stuff becomes the reward and the job becomes less of a choice.

We’re not animals. But if you use carrots and sticks on us, we will tune our motivations to that type of environment

How can these two things be the foundation of leadership, of government, of a community?

They can’t.

Are there any leaders today that inspire you? Most leaders of today aren’t going to be the people in government. Those who seek power in a system that has been compromised have compromised themselves. Granted, they may change some things. They may nibble at the fringes. But that cancer still grows inside.

Despite what media and culture tells us, leaders aren’t special. They aren’t chosen by divine providence or fate. They don’t have abilities different than you and me. Do you empower others? Ask people what they think? Do you encourage people? Then you’re probably a leader, or you can become one now that you see what it takes.

Leaders make things happen, yes. But:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”

This Taoist quote tells us it’s about us doing something. It’s always been about us. And I think we can do this. It’s going to require us to remove the gag of money that has both silenced and motivated us. It’s going to require looking past the “I want to get mine if they’re getting theirs”. It’s going to require stopping the consumer train, and looking at what we’re feeding the engine. It’s going to require putting our heads together and not letting party or social class or emotions divide us and distract us from doing the right thing.

Let’s kill the noise and start listening to reality

Elections are where we can flex our muscle. But we’ve got to do our homework before then. Listen to what’s being reported. Do you think it’s important? We’ve got to talk to people and not be afraid to ask them why they believe what they do. Your neighbor isn’t stupid or lazy, and neither are you. Politics isn’t personal. It’s what a community depends on for its survival! And if we think one party or one person can fix this country, we’ve missed the point. This country is here because people had the courage of their convictions to join together and risk everything for what they believed in.

I think we can step up and be leaders again.

MLK commemorative post: Dr. King fought against the majority. Today we have the same fight.

Dr. King once said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.” And so, today, we too, must sacrifice to take control of our lives once again.

Dr. King fought against the apathy of the white majority and today we also fight against the apathy of a majority

Dr King inspired others to face the powerful and established practice of discrimination. The discrimination which Dr King fought against was based on race, but it didn’t affect the mostly white US population. Society went about its business, just like today, but today our apathy led us to a recession that almost resulted in the total economic collapse of our country.

A corporate system without consumer oversight is a system that will promote inequality

Today we have a cultural acceptance of our powerful financial system, which has slowly grown and allows us to spend less and have more money in our bank accounts. The benefits of this system are for everyone, from the corporation to the consumer. Still, the situation threatens the very structure of our free society.

Power follows money, and today we see a movement of power from elected officials to a corporate minority. This concentration of power has grown so large that when the existence of a few banking and automobile corporations was threatened, the whole country was affected: Regardless if you were rich or poor, we lost businesses, jobs, and retirement savings.

We can reclaim power over the institutions if we follow Dr. King’s advice: Sacrifice.

A sacrifice of personal financial growth. As Dr King sacrificed, we too must sacrifice our way of life to correct the injustices of today: We must turn away the money that trickles down from careless and dishonest Wall Street bankers and the corporations. We must control our own finances and earnings to take back the power we are giving them. We must move our money to local banks and credit unions. Institutions should be dependent on us. Not us on them.

Race cannot be used to determine who is given opportunity, and neither can capital

Today, as in the past, we have a grave danger that cannot be ignored. We cannot continue to be apathetic about the division of the country into rich and poor, just as the population before the 1960s was apathetic about the division of the country by race. We cannot continue to watch our capital accumulate in the hands of the minority. The future of our society depends on our capacity to sacrifice and to recognize the power we have as consumers.

Yes. We can.

TED Talk Tuesday: Your neighbor isn’t stupid or lazy



Why is there apathy? Meslin says it is because our environment encourages it. Apathy is in our nature, just like our determination, selfishness, and kindness. But our environment is a powerful promoter, of both good and bad traits. Meslin describes how society makes it hard to to be active in your community, how media depicts heroism as being for the chosen few, and how the system makes political involvement uninspiring and the political process complicated and manipulative.

“As long as we believe that people, our own neighbors, are selfish, stupid or lazy, then there’s no hope.”

Meslin made me realize that the bigger and more complicated our system grows, the more apathy will creep into our actions. If we can see that the system we are building is making our future both easier and impersonal, we can change it. In effect, we must save us from ourselves. And in a society so free, if we do not, we only have ourselves to blame.

So let’s reach out and empower ourselves. Start buying more from the people in our community. Let’s not give our money to careless and dishonest Wall Street bankers. Let’s vote less for the two parties and more for the third party that hasn’t been compromised by money. We can make the change. As Ghandi said,

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Your neighbor isn’t stupid or lazy.

And neither are you.


Follow me and I will take you away from the everyday.

If this is something you care about, then SHARE it. Let’s get out of the stands and into the game. Let’s interact.

The ant and the grasshopper

The ants worked and the grasshoppers played. The grasshoppers had a giant nest that was always stocked with food, so they spent their summers relaxing. They largely ignored the ants, but noticed that the ants would sometimes bring back shiny pebbles with their food. The grasshoppers offered the ants some of their food in exchange for the pebbles. The ants agreed. The grasshoppers grew to love the shiny pebbles, so the ants decided to collect more pebbles for the grasshoppers in exchange for their food. After a time, the grasshoppers’ nests were both finely decorated and stocked with food.

Years went by like this, but soon the grasshoppers’ food stock got dangerously low and they didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, a boy came, and curious about nature, decided to feed and observe the grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were happy again, and the ants continued with their work, gathering food and providing pebbles.
Years and years went by. The grasshoppers grew old, and so did the boy, and he started visiting less and less frequently. The grasshoppers didn’t mind at first, but soon their food was almost gone. They tried going out and finding food, but discovered they had forgotten how to hunt and scavenge. They went to the ants and asked for food, but the ants told them they didn’t need the grasshoppers anymore.

The grasshoppers were confused.

“What do you mean?”

The ants moved their feelers sympathetically. “We have found ways to live without you or the boy anymore.” The grasshoppers were still confused. The ants explained, “Whenever the boy visited you, he cleared a path through the grasses, making it easier for us go out and find food. And before, you would give us food for the pebbles. But now, we’ve found a way to grow our food. Right here.” They showed the grasshopper their nest full of food, which looked just as the grasshoppers’ nest had looked many, many years ago. Then the grasshoppers saw the ants had started their own garden, filled with whole fruits!

The grasshoppers didn’t have a choice. They asked the ants, “Please, can we do anything for you in exchange for some food?”

The ants thought about it and decided they could still use the grasshoppers.

And soon the grasshoppers found themselves an integral part in the growing careers of food service, landscaping, and housekeeping.

Dr. King fought against the majority and today we have the same fight

In Washington DC yesterday there was a commemoration of a monument to honor Martin Luther King Jr. A number of speakers talked about Dr. King…about his words and how they inspired so many, but also spoke of his actions. And the mention of action made me hopeful. Dr. King once said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.” And so, today, we too, must sacrifice to take control of our lives once again. We must fight to utilize the consumer power of the majority against the concentration of power in the corporation.

Dr. King fought against the apathy of the white majority and today we also fight against the apathy of a majority

Dr King inspired others to face the powerful and established practice of discrimination. The discrimination which Dr King fought against was based on race, but it didn’t affect the mostly white US population.  Society went about its business, just like today, but today our apathy led us to a recession that almost resulted in the total economic collapse of our country.

A corporate system without consumer oversight is a system that will promote inequality

Today we have a cultural acceptance of our powerful financial system, which has slowly grown and allows us to spend less and have more money in our bank accounts.  The benefits of this system are for everyone, from the corporation to the consumer.  Still, the situation threatens the very structure of our free society.

Power follows money, and today we see a movement of power from elected officials to a corporate minority.  This concentration of power has grown so large that when the existence of a few banking and automobile corporations was threatened, the whole country was affected: Regardless if you were rich or poor, we lost businesses, jobs, and retirement savings.

We can reclaim power over the institutions if we follow Dr. King’s advice: Sacrifice

A sacrifice of personal financial growth. As Dr King sacrificed, we too must sacrifice our way of life to correct the injustices of today: We must turn away the money that trickles down from Wall Street and the corporations. We must control our own finances and earnings to take back the power we are giving the Wall Street bankers and the corporations. We must move our money to local banks and credit unions. Institutions should be dependent on us. Not us on them.

Race cannot be used to determine who is given opportunity, and neither can capital

Today, as in the past, we have a grave danger that cannot be ignored.  We cannot continue to be apathetic about the division of the country into rich and poor, just as the population before the 1960s was apathetic about the division of the country by race.  We cannot continue to watch our capital accumulate in the hands of the minority. The future of our society depends on our capacity to sacrifice and to recognize the power we have as consumers. Perhaps Dr King’s quote should be amended slightly:

We shall match OUR capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.