Schultz 2020

A couple years ago I got involved with a cool little cannabis company.  It was retail, and very early stage, but it had a ton of character and was being done really, really well.  As I was preparing them for a capital raise, I had to create a quick comparison with an existing business that others would recognize.  We landed on, ‘the young Starbucks of cannabis’.  I figured that if I was going to make a bold claim of that nature, I had better know that company inside and out.  Part of that was reading Howard Schultz’s book, Pour Your Heart Into It.  

I actually listened to it while on a mini-road trip and I was immediately a fan of the guy.  He had true humble beginnings.  His path did not lack adversity.  And his success did not cost him his humility.  In hearing how he approached the obstacles he faced throughout his career, you could tell that he was a person of integrity and strong values.  Not just a smart person, but the kind of person who uses their smarts to try and make life better for others.

When Donald Trump ran for president, a lot of people were saying that getting a business mind into the White House was a great idea and that Donald Trump was an ideal candidate.  I think that someone who truly understands the fundamentals of business is capable of running an organization of any shape or size.  I also think that those who are most capable of running a government are not in politics.  I had actually been hoping to see a great business mind in the White House for years but I also knew that Donald Trump was not that person.  His approach to building and running businesses (into bankruptcy) was not transferable to building and running a government.  I still think that Hillary would’ve been a far more competent and far less corrupt leader than Trump, but it still shows that the American voter is looking for a change from the status quo.  They can sense that the talent pool within the political system is thin and that our best and brightest operate in the private sector.

Over the last 3 years or so, I’ve paid a great deal of attention to American politics.  Far more than I ever had in my life.  And in order to keep up, I had to learn a ton about how things work.  And like many of us, it led me to a place where I wanted help create change for the better.  I think Howard Schultz has ended up there as well.  He’s been asked about running for office various times over the years and in most cases, he’s suggested that he’s interested but not that interested.  My impression is that he was motivated to make the world a better place but that he would rather do that through Starbucks and his charitable work than attempt to navigate the corrupt landscape of politics.  But that all changed when Trump came along.  Schultz sees what I see, and it means that his sense of responsibility to make the world a better place now weighs more heavily on him than his desire to stay out of politics.

When I say that both Trump and Clinton were terrible candidates, people ask me who I would vote for or who I would want to run.  For the last two years, I’ve been saying Howard Schultz.  The guy actually grew up in the projects so he knows what it means to come from humble beginnings and what it takes to rise up out of those circumstances.  In Starbucks, he built a world-class organization that made a name for itself by treating its employees really well.  As an individual, he’s demonstrated that he’s a person of character and integrity.  And the bonus, if he ran, I was pretty sure it would be as an independent.

Well, a couple days ago, Schultz was interviewed on the news and he told the audience that he was considering a run in 2020.  Fuck ya.  Not just that, but that he was going to run as an independent and a centrist.  He called out both parties for doing more politicking than governing and I expected no less from the guy.  As a real life billionaire, he’s capable of funding his own campaign and doesn’t need to hitch himself to any special interests.  And that seems to be ruffling some feathers.

First you had Trump that managed to embarrass himself more effectively in one tweet than any dig from Schultz would have.  Trump started by saying that Schultz didn’t have the guts to run for president.  Weird flex considering that if Schultz does run, he starts the game 1 – 0 against Trump.  Then Trump takes a shot at Schultz’s intelligence, claiming that he himself is the smartest person in America.  Meanwhile, what Trump was referencing was when Schultz said that he’s not always the smartest person in the room.  From what I’ve observed, this is what smart people say when they’re being modest and it’s often because they’re smart enough to spent time with even smarter people.  Finally, Trump tries to wrap it up by establishing dominance, asking if Schultz has paid him his rent for the Starbucks location inside Trump tower.  Cringe-worthy.

What I saw from Trump was expected.  Trump’s tactics are reminiscent of a bully on a playground.  He starts with, “you don’t have the guts to play here”.   Then he teases him and calls him stupid.  Then he brags about something that’s clearly a lie.  Then he makes  play for his lunch money.  Straight off the playground.  And if Schultz has any political strategists already on board, they’re loving it.  Trump plays the role of the bully well, but he’s a shadow of himself when it doesn’t work.  It’s also why I don’t think you should protect kids from bullying as much as you should prepare them to overcome it.  Schultz was no stranger to bullies growing up and has dealt with bullies of all shapes and sizes in the private sector.  If someone of Trump’s character is easy pickings for someone like me, Schultz is going to eat him alive.  I really do think that of all the potential candidates that may run against Trump, Trump would fear Schultz the most.  Fortunately for Trump, there’s a good chance he won’t make it to 2020.

While that was Trump’s reaction, the republican reaction has been more muted.  I don’t think they know what to say just yet.  The republican national committee seems to have thrown their full weight behind Trump which seems a bit suspicious given his current poll numbers and impending proceedings.  I guess we’ll see how that turns out.  But either way, right wing media has been more focused on the democrats response to Schultz’s announcement than anything.. and perhaps rightfully so.

The Democrat’s response to Schultz looking into a 2020 presidential run has been a giant, steaming pile of horse shit.  Every democrat that I’ve seen speak on this, including some top brass, has been strongly against Schultz running for president.  As they’ll tell you, it has almost nothing to do with his policies or his credentials, and everything with him running as an independent.  As they put it, the greatest concern is defeating Donald Trump and by introducing a popular independent candidate, you risk ‘splitting the anti-Trump vote’.  They’re afraid that Donald Trump has 40% of the voter base on lock, and that if you split the remaining 60% of voters between Schultz and a democrat candidate, you end up with another 4 years of Trump.  Fuck that.

From what I understand, one of the biggest flaws in American politics is a 2 party system.  It’s an effective duopoly of American democracy.  One in which *both* parties have demonstrated that they are deeply corrupt and beholden to special interest groups.  One of the best things we could do for democracy is to have elected representatives who voted exclusively on what their constituents want, rather than voting along party lines or voting for special interests on promises of future campaign contributions.  This change isn’t only grass roots, in large organizations, it happens from the top down.  But how would we accomplish that it costs a billion dollars to run for president and most people can only access that kind of capital as a democrat or republican candidate?  99.9% can’t, and that’s the point.  That’s why it’s a duopoly.  That’s why every president in the last however many years has been produced by one of two organizations.  It’s why no matter who’s in office, nothing ever seems to change.  And we’re now at a point where it all desperately needs to change.  And the democrats are now the ones trying to stand in the way.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened either.  This is literally what happened with Bernie Sanders in 2016.  Bernie was a better candidate than Hillary and he was certainly a better candidate than Trump.  The democrats thought Hillary was a stronger candidate and did what they could to give her the party’s nomination.  Considering that Bernie is an independent, I wonder if someone from the democrats approached him before he decided to run and encouraged him to run as a democrat instead of as an independent.  You know, because of how important it was to not split the anti-trump vote.

Things are a bit different this time though.  Trump is the dumpster fire that everyone predicted and it’s left the republicans in a tight spot.  Trump has solidified about 20% of voters into a cult of personality who, right now, would follow him off a cliff.  As long as Trump stays out of jail, keeps yelling at immigrants, and the economy keeps growing, he’s probably their only candidate for 2020.  Meanwhile, democrats had their blue wave during the midterm, and bunch of new blood in congress, and Pelosi is just starting to flex her muscles.  They’re primed for a big comeback in 2020 with a broad selection of candidates from career politicians to career politicians.  As far as they’re concerned, 2020 is theirs to lose.  The problem with that though, is that this isn’t about them.  It’s about the country.  And the people.  And the democratic process.  And they’re treating it like trying to win a big, 4 year government contract.  Fuck that.

Right now, my full weight is behind Schultz.  This notion that we should avoid putting our best leaders forward because it might reduce the chances of a democrat candidate beating a republican candidate sound remarkably undemocratic.  First and foremost, both political parties are playing divisive politics and catering to the more vocal and extreme ends of their base.  Most of us are not represented by these individuals and together, we represent the silent majority.  We are people who might lean left or right, but generally speaking, hold a balanced view.  It’s people who are here that realize that good and bad ideas can be found on either end of the political spectrum.  And that despite all our differences, we have far more in common with one another.  Someone needs to step up for the silent majority.. and represent reason.. and common sense.. and community.. and being good to one another again.  Right now I think Schultz is our best chance at giving those people a voice.

The second reason, which should be obvious, is that Schultz has just as much of a chance to take votes off of the republican candidate as it would with the democrat one.  Most people who voted for Trump did so because he was a challenge to Washington’s status quo.  They wanted an outsider with a background in business to come and shake things up.  They wanted it so desperately that they didn’t bother looking too close when Trump said he was exactly what they were looking for.  If Trump goes down in flames, which I bet he will.. his base sure as hell won’t be voting for a rank and file democrat.. but I could certainly see them voting for someone like Schultz.  Someone who isn’t afraid to stand up to the ridiculous politics of the left, I think that’s going to mean a lot for them.  Someone who can go on to Fox News and lay down the boom as a self-made billionaire who was the CEO of a fortune 500 company.  I think there’s a strong contingency in the Trump base who would love a guy who did all that.  And if they had someone they trusted to root for, who was also telling us that we all gotta get along with one another if we’re going to make any progress… I think things get a lot better.

Third, and perhaps the biggest reason.. is dishonesty.  You have the democrat brass coming out of the wood work sternly telling Schultz not to run because it’ll improve the chances of Trump being elected.  Bullshit.  You don’t want Schultz to run because it’ll decrease the chances of a democrat candidate taking office.  And not just in 2020.  If Schultz gets in there and does a good job, he’s getting another 4 years.  And within that 8 year period, as we learn the lessons of identity politics and learn to embrace our individuality… what happens to the relevancy of the two-party system? How many others run as independents?  How many of us in hindsight want nothing to do with the political tactics of the democrats and republicans?  Howard Schultz winning the 2020 election could quite possibly be the death of the 2 party system in America and that could easily be the best thing to happen to American politics in the last 100 years.

 

Making Sense of the Noise

As someone who has had an excess of free time on their hands over the last two years, I’ve put a fair bit of effort into keeping track of what’s happening in American and global politics.  It started back in 2016 during Trump’s campaign.  Before that, I made a point of avoiding politics and the news.  During the election, my two primary news feeds were the Google app and Facebook.  It was really interesting to see Facebook get as political and dis-informational as it did.  I managed to get into a variety of debates before I chalked it up as a lost cause.  Even the Google feed wasn’t great.  I had to find a better way of staying informed.

I guess you could say I took an interdisciplinary approach to figuring out what was going on.  I read philosophy books to get a better understanding for the fundamental concepts of things like democracy and morality.  I read an astrophysics book to try and connect the small to the big.  I read psychology books to better understand why people do what they do.  I even read a neuroscience book to understand how and why people think the way that they think.  And all the while, I was consuming about 10-20 news articles a day.  That was probably on top of another 10-20 search queries a day, just on random things I wanted to know.

It was a lot of information, and it didn’t happen quickly, but I eventually started to piece it all together.  There are certainly gaps in my understanding of what’s happening as I’m missing key pieces of information.  But for what’s on the public record, I got a pretty good handle as to what’s going on.  My friends have actually started to tease me for it but they also use me for updates so I think my efforts are appreciated.

One of my friends asked me the other day what my process is for making sense of all this noise. She wanted to know what sources she could trust, or where she should be looking, or anything to help make things a bit more clear.  I’ve given that some thought and I’ve tried to isolate the algorithm that my brain uses to go from data to information to knowledge.

Step 1: Find a platform that effectively aggregates news sources and stories according to your preferences.  Personally, I’ve found Reddit to be most effective.  It’s open platform means that voices of all shapes and sizes are on there.  I can check in on what the far right thinks about a major event, and then just as easy, check in on what the far left are saying.  I’ve found that these communities, when not censored, provide some great insight into what people are thinking and feeling.  While far from perfect, there’s also a degree of accountability within the community and that makes for some solid fact checking.  After I curated my home feed, I was able to receive an effectively unlimited feed of interesting data.  It’s extremely easy to navigate as well since it just shows up as a scrolling feed of headlines, pictures, and videos.

Step 2: Scan the headlines.  I’ve found that most news reports these days contain one new relevant data point, surrounded by filler.  The filler is usually a summary of previous reports leading up to the the current report, and it’s often filled with biased commentary.  And for each new data point being reported on, dozens of publications will write a story on it.  Being able to scan headlines for key info not only keeps you from reading redundant material, it also helps you stay focused on the facts.

Step 3: Does the article provide a question or an answer?  I’ve found that a common approach to filling in the news cycle is asking the question that we’re all thinking, and trying to answer it with no new information.  Something to the effect of, “Robert Mueller Probe to End Soon?”.  We’d all like to know the answer to that question and your headline would suggest that you know something we don’t.  But you never do.  The reality is that if any reporter or news outlet had factual information that indicated when the Mueller probe would end, it would be a story in itself and breaking news.  I tend to filter out the questions, unless it’s one I haven’t asked myself before.  What I’m really looking for while scanning these headlines is answers.

Step 4: Verifying new information.  The first thing I look for is who’s reporting on it.  If the same event is being reported on by all major outlets, there’s a good chance that it happened.  Next step is jumping into one of the articles and looking for the quoted material and who it’s sourced from.  Almost every article will be referencing the same quote so you don’t really have to worry about the bias of the reporter unless you start reading their commentary.  Once you know what was said and who said it, you see how that fits into your larger understanding of the situation.  If it fits in neatly, in it goes and your understanding of what’s happening has grown.  If it doesn’t fit in neatly, it’s time to figure out why.

Step 5: Analysis.  When a headline or quote fits neatly into what I already know about what’s going on, it’s like adding a collectible to your collection.  In most cases, I knew what I was looking for, I was already looking for it, and I knew exactly where it would go once I found it.  But now and then, a new piece of information doesn’t fit neatly into what I already know and I now have to figure out why.  Sometimes the information is incorrect, sometimes my understanding of the situation is incorrect, and sometimes it’s somewhere in between.  Regardless, the process is always the same, to dig in until I understand what’s going on.  More often than one might expect, it leads me down some rather deep rabbit holes.  These journeys can take me through a variety of sources, including news articles, Wikipedia articles, scientific studies, historical texts, and plain old books.  Until I understand it, it doesn’t get added to my understanding.  I’d like to think that one of my most valuable skills in this process is being okay with leaving things in the maybe pile and not jumping to conclusions.

Step 5: Adoption.  Once a new data point is verified and it clicks into place, I move on.  I don’t mind having to go back and undo some of that work because something isn’t what I thought it was.  I’ve found that the conspiracy theory crowd have a hard time seeing the bigger picture because they get stuck on the validity of key details.  It’s like the scientific consensus, you don’t need to be 100% certain to move on, just 99%.  If someone presents new evidence that doesn’t align with what you previously thought?  Sweet.  Time to go figure out why and learn something new.

 

It would seem as though the filtering process that I’m applying to my data feed is an elaborate IF statement.  If the new data passed my verification process, I add it to my programming.  If it doesn’t, I analyze further.  If it’s because the data is corrupt, I identify it as such and set it aside.  If the data proves to be valid, I perform a self-diagnostic to understand why it conflicts with my existing programming.  More often than not, it’s my existing programming which needs to be updated to accommodate for the new data.  Sometimes the self-diagnostic can’t find anything wrong with the data or the programming, in which case it’s identified as such as set aside for further review.  Every once in a while, I’ll get an update which helps me make sense of something that was set aside for further review.  Then, even that piece of information gets tucked away neatly where it belongs.  Maybe a bit methodical, but I gotta say.. seems like a good way to go about things.

Trump’s Honesty

I didn’t know much about Trump before he ran for office.  I knew he was a wealthy business person, had hotels, and was on the apprentice.  I also remember him promoting a Trump board game way back in the day.  I’ve paid close attention over the last 3 years and I’ve learned a fair bit since.  For those who take the time to understand him, he’s a fascinating person.

One of the things that’s had my attention since he took to twitter was his sense of honesty.  It was bewildering for Trump to lie so frequently and so obviously, and then to see it resonate so well with his base.  All this talk of drain the swamp had so much to do with dishonesty in how politicians interact with the public.  Yet here was a person who lied freely while his audience was chanting ‘drain the swamp’.  A lot of people write that off as a cult of personality or a result of poor education.  Both are likely to be true but I suspect there’s more to it than that.

As we’ve seen, there’s no shortage of wealthy people who are fans of Trump.  One of them is a friend of mine and we’ve been debating the topic of Trump for nearly 3 years now.  My friend is a good man, runs a good business, and really does value things like honesty.  Early on, I kept asking him why he was supportive of someone who lied so often and so freely.  At first he denied the lies.  So I kept pointing them out.  Then he said that it was par for the course in politics.  So I showed him stats that suggested he was in a league of his own.  He said my fact checking sites were biased.  He had barricaded himself in… so I had to try another approach.

One of his favorite authors had a blog which talked politics and economics, and I wanted to see what he had said about Trump.  There was a very interesting line about “taking trump seriously, but not literally.’  Something clicked.  If you took Trump literally, then he was a very dishonest person and not very smart.  But if you took him seriously, well that didn’t require him to be intellectually honest.

I really does seem like we’re approaching some type of grand tipping point here.  One of the things I keep seeing is a battle within our own minds between thought and emotion.  They’re very different parts or the brain that have evolved for very different purposes.  100,000 years ago, the emotional part of our brains were far more valuable to us than the logical side.  But in a world full of abstract concepts and so heavily supported by technology, thought has become more valuable.  I suspect that this is something that’s rarely thought about, let alone discussed.  But I think that tension exists and it’s manifesting in a variety of different ways.  Including Donald Trump.

Trump doesn’t have an intellectual sense of honesty.  It’s rather obvious at this point as even my wealthy friend has conceded.  Now it’s not about what he says, but rather about what he does.  He’s seen as a ‘salty sailor’, the kind of person who cusses and isn’t politically correct, but also the kind of person who wouldn’t hesitate to pull you out of a burning building.  For the record, I don’t think captain bone spurs is pulling anyone out of a burning building.  Trump hasn’t demonstrated much of an internal compass outside of self-preservation and ‘winning’.  For him, I suspect life is a zero-sum game where nothing really matters besides beating your opponent.  In that context, he’s found intellectual dishonesty to be far more advantageous.  But it’s not the only form of honesty.

I still see Trump supporters talk about how honest he is.  And when they make references, I kinda get it.  He’s willing to say all kinds of things that your average politician wouldn’t be willing to say.  Much if not most is misleading or inaccurate, but the topics his willing to talk about aren’t.  I would think to myself that if only he would actually be honest on these topics, this would transform politics in the best way.  But there’s still something here.

It dawned on me this morning… that Trump is intellectually dishonest, and emotionally honest.  He has no emotional filter.  When you see Trump, you get Trump.  There’s this wonderful authenticity to him when he brags or when he gets angry, because that’s actually him.  That’s not the polished politician who we’ve become accustomed to.  We’re used to politicians presenting themselves the way they think we want them to present themselves.  The end result is a product which we all known is a front.  Hillary Clinton probably would’ve been a fine president, but the people couldn’t get through her emotional dishonesty and she paid the price for it.  Curious that American politics finally made us choose between dishonesty and dishonesty.

For decades, we’ve wanted to see behind the veil and know who these leaders really are.  Trump was the first President to be emotionally honest with the people.  Perhaps, in many ways, Trump was the first president that we really got to know.  Even better, the whole world will probably get to know him a lot better over the next couple years as the Mueller report pulls back the curtain on the rest.

 

Where I draw the line with the right

The city I live in is relatively progressive.  Not necessarily in a ‘leftist’ sorta way, but more so in a classic liberal sort of way.  In this landscape, it’s difficult for right-wing nonsense to get any kind of traction.  But that’s not to say that I don’t see it.  I have a close friend who has started following some of the center-right media like Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder.  He’s been testing me with some of his nonsense.  So perhaps it’s time to call it out here too.

Trans people are people.  I don’t think we’d be in this free speech mess around gender pronouns if we hadn’t collectively been giant assholes to transgender people.  Throughout history, we’ve treated those who we didn’t understand with contempt and history has never looked kindly upon it.  It happened with people from unfamiliar cultures, it happened with people with unfamiliar skin colors, it happened with people with an unfamiliar sexuality, and it happened with trans people.  Conservatism has never been on the right side of human rights because the role of conservatism is to avoid change.  If those who are different are understood, accepted, and appreciated, they don’t special protections.

Full-time work needs to pay a living wage.  There’s a suggestion that a minimum wage is a bad idea.  Apparently, by allowing businesses to pay wages lower than the current minimum wage, workers will make more money.  That open market model only works if two forces are firmly in play: A strong incentive to pay the workers as little as possible (to maximize company profits), and a strong incentive to pay the workers as much as possible (to maximize talent acquisition).  If the incentive to maximize company profits is stronger than the incentive to maximize talent acquisition, there is a strong downward pressure on wages.  That downward pressure can be so strong that someone working 40 hours a week may not make enough to make a living wage.  If we’re in an environment where the cost of living is rising quickly, it gets even worse.  And who benefits?  Clearly it’s not the worker.  The business will benefit from better margins, but for how long?  An underpaid workforce is more of a liability than an asset.  When business owners under pay their employees less, they rely more heavily on social assistance programs.  These programs are funded by tax payers, and not the ones who aren’t making enough money to pay any significant tax.  Paying your laborers less than what it costs them to live a middle class life is a terrible idea for any economy.

Racism still exists.  Racism exists, sexism exists, ageism exists… there’s no lack of ways in which we try to generalize others to their detriment.  I wish we could solve them all at once by understanding that prejudice leads to inaccurate understandings and bad decisions.. but we have to start somewhere.  And I’m not interested in addressing controversial racism like who got kicked out of a Starbucks or who’s modelling a black panther costume.  I’m talking about that KKK shit.  That sand n*gger shit.  That BUILD THE WALL shit.  That is some of the ugliest behavior I’ve seen in western society and the right needs to do a better job of standing up to it.  Everyone on the right wishes the moderate left would call out their more extreme counter-parts.  Well everyone on the left wants the same from the right.  It can’t be a, ‘sure, we all know that racism exists but it’s not the problem here.’  Without racism, we wouldn’t have Trump.  Without racism, we wouldn’t have a government shutdown right now.  Without racism, Fox News wouldn’t have been fear mongering around a migrant caravan.  It might not be at the center of all our problems, but it does seem to make most of our problems worse.  Identity politics exist on both sides, and both sides need to hold their crazies accountable.

Stop cherry picking your science.  Climate change is real.  Humans have contributed to it significantly.  The scientific consensus here is over 99%.  Why are you still arguing this?  I understand if you’re a stake holder in the fossil fuel industry, but otherwise you’re just being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative.  Even if it wasn’t man made, our window of opportunity for maintaining an ecosystem that’s habitable for humans is closing.  We should be all hands on deck, but the right is dragging their feet.  If you have no interest in listening to scientists on this, then you’re about as useful as those on the far left which ignore biology to advance their gender politics agenda.

Religion.  Religion exists across the political spectrum, but the right seems to have their own approach to it.  The evangelicals denounced a democratic president for having an immoral character, then celebrated Trump on the basis that moral character isn’t an important consideration.  The religious right also argues that abortion is a religious issue when the bible offers no such guidance beyond telling you how to do one.  They’re also quick to point out all the flaws of religions like Islam, while failing to acknowledging the dark history of western religions or the issues of today.  And to make it all worse, politicians are now abusing religion again, excusing their actions as some twisted act of god.  Next time you see a politician say “well that’s what I believe”, look closely.

Feminism is a big deal.  I’m not talking about the man-hating variety that seems to be pushing it’s way into the mainstream today.  I’m talking about a movement that started centuries ago.. maybe even millennia.  It’s about our species evolving to the point where men didn’t have to be hunters and gatherers, and women didn’t have to forage and care for the kids.  It’s about men no longer having to go out and do hard labor and women being able to join the work force.  It’s about moving past our traditional blueprints of what men and women were supposed to be, and exploring the freedom of what we can be within a modern society.  One of the smartest things western society ever did was bring women into the work force.  There’s still more ground to cover.

You overestimate your abilities.  I used to assume that people who were wealthy were naturally hardworking and very smart.  Then I started to meet some of them.  Many of them were smart and many of them were hard working, but what they were more likely to have in common was an inflated sense of ego.  They took responsibility for their actions, and since they were successful, they were responsible for their success.  But then I would look behind them and see an incredible amount of support.  More often than not, it included a good family, a private school, an ivy league education, connections, and an inheritance.  Bit of a stretch to say you’re responsible for all those factors too.  What I’ve noticed from the right is that tend to equate financial success with human value.  Those who find a path to financial success overestimate what their contribution was to that point, and underestimate what was already in motion.  And then they dismiss those who are less fortunate as lazy or uninspired.

You’re selfish.  Something else I’ve noticed about the right is their tendency to be selfish, after they’ve ‘made it’.  When I was younger, I wasn’t all that interested in helping my fellow human.  It was about being as successful as possible, as soon as possible, and then helping my fellow human.  I see a lot of people take a similar path, but when they arrive at success, they’re much less interested in helping others.  Now it’s about paying the least amount of tax possible, or doing away with social assistance programs that you don’t personally use, or avoiding giving money to the homeless ‘because they’re just gonna use it on drugs anyways’.  And what I find remarkable is that liberals do this too, just not when they’re poor.  The rich shouldn’t give to the poor out of sympathy.  The few should invest in the many, because none of us truly do anything on our own.

Your immigration policies suck.  Besides the fact that they’re currently rooted in racism, they’re also shortsighted.  Most people would be surprised to find that children of wealthy families make ill-equipped leaders.  But it’s not that hard to understand why.  When you go through adversity, you experience challenges that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.  Parents who have fled to the US from a harsh environment provide a powerful and unique environment for children to grow up in.  That home is more likely to produce a world leader or Pulitzer prize winner than someone who was so rich that they didn’t need to bother learning the local language.  Written on the statue of liberty is, ““Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, where you escape from terrible conditions and are given the chance to make something of yourself.  This is the secret sauce of the American immigration policy. If we close the doors to all that have made us great, and only open our doors to those who are already ‘great’, I think we’re in trouble.

You can be an argumentative dick.  I know, because I used to be one too.  Back in university, everyone was for gay marriage but me.  I had no issues with gay people… or them getting married.. but I didn’t like that everyone was agreeing with one another on something they hadn’t really thought about.  So I said I was down with them being legally married, but wasn’t OK with them appropriating a ceremony from a religion which was expressly against gay marriage.  I may have had a point, but I was arguing for the sake of arguing.  I see this happen from the right so often.  You realize that your up against someone who hasn’t quite thought things through, and rather than help them get there, you pick them apart and try to make them feel like they don’t know what they’re talking about.  Meanwhile, it’s quite possible that they had a point and just weren’t able to argue it effectively.  Or maybe they had a good idea but didn’t quite know how to make it a reality.  Fantastic, you won that argument.. but at what cost?  At what point is the pursuit of truth more important to you than ‘winning’?

The relentless spin. If I were to guess, the right is more intelligent than the left.  It’s not that a ‘right-wing’ ideology produces smarter people, it’s that intelligence lends to success,, success lends to wanting to keep things as-is, and wanting to keep things as-is lends to conservatism.  You know, conserving the good life.  So when the less fortunate get together and say things aren’t fair, we need change… you say that things are fair, that you’re an example of how to be successful, and to just keep working hard.  But then the less fortunate notice that there are far more hardworking poor people than rich people.  At the end of the day, the left might not have the best idea for how to get things done, but they are often right about what needs to be done.  And no matter what they present you with, you’ll spin it to your favor.  If you were up against someone who could debate you properly, you’d look absolutely foolish.  But the mainstream media doesn’t provide that format so everyone’s left speaking into their echo chambers.  I can’t tell you how many times colleagues of mine have tried to spin the most ridiculous Trump lies into something reasonable.  Recently, they’ve started to give up.. suggesting that it’s not what he says but what he does.  Well he’s behaving like the most compromised or corrupt politician in modern American history.. and you’re still trying to spin it.

You don’t want a meritocracy.  I’m a big fan of equal opportunity over equal outcome.  So is the right.. it’s one of their primary arguments against social security programs.  The left hasn’t been able to wrap their head around the concept in a way that fits their ideology.  I think the political spectrum is generally clueless about what a meritocracy really entails.  For example, there’s a good chance that in a true meritocracy, most top CEOs would still be men.  But you know what else happens in a meritocracy?  Those responsible for educating future generations aren’t living paycheck to paycheck.  But perhaps the most powerful example, in a meritocracy, inheritance wouldn’t exist.  In a meritocracy, you receive resources in exchange for the creation of value.  The more value you produce, the more resources you have to work with.  In that model, someone like an Elon Musk would be one of the most well resourced individuals in the world while someone like Trump would be broke.  But in a world where Trump can leave billions in wealth to his children.. something’s not right.  In a world where future generations of your family can enjoy substantial resources despite having not created any value… something not right.  In a meritocracy, Harvard isn’t filled with legacy students and lucrative internships aren’t filled with people who’s parents know an executive at the company.  That whole idea of an inside track.. the powerful helping the powerful.. none of it exists.

 

If we could find a way to cast aside all the nonsense… from all sides of the political spectrum… and come together to be effective for the greater good… we could probably do something pretty darn special.

President Pelosi

In my excess of free time, I’ve paid a great deal of attention to the world stage as things are unfolding around Trump.  It would seem as though we’re approaching the season finale of Mueller’s investigation and I can’t help but give some thought to what 2019 has in store.

Trump is now known as Individual-1, and in all likelihood is the central target in the redacted “President Donald J. Trump Criminal Investigation”.  He’s now been identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in a case by the SDNY in which Coen has admitted to committing campaign finance violations at the direction of  Trump for the purpose of influencing a federal election.  I doubt they would’ve brought this case against the President if all they had was Coen’s testimony.

Impeachment exists for high crimes and misdemeanors, and it is Congress’s responsibility to provide oversight for the executive branch.  They will be bound by duty and law to draft and pass articles of impeachment.  I think it’ll get past the house, but I think the senate is a wildcard.  If it’s only campaign finance violations, even if it was for paying off porn stars to keep quiet about affairs to boost your chances of winning an election, I’m not confident the republican senate will care.  At least some will argue that it wasn’t to influence the election or that Obama had a campaign finance violation and he wasn’t impeached for it.  Others will realize that the Republican landscape for the 2020 senate rate is a steep uphill battle and that choosing party over country during historic impeachment proceedings might be political suicide.  Knowing Trump, he might just be able to create enough noise and disinformation to keep people within their party lines.

Enter season 2.  I’m not sure what happens first: Mueller releases his report or the Democrats take the house.  Whichever happens first, it’s likely going to kick off a rather dramatic series of events.  If Mueller releases his report, it’s likely to show conclusive evidence that Trump was a criminal prior to his presidential bid, won the election through criminal means, and has been operating a criminal presidency.  If the democrats take the house first, they’ll use their subpoena powers to obtain records like Trump’s tax returns, and probably leak them to the public shortly after.  I would be surprised if it didn’t show direct or indirect ties to Russian money laundering.   However this plays out, the first few months of 2019 will be a reckoning for Trump and Republicans by extension.

A lot of Trump supporters say that if Mueller had anything on Trump, they would’ve released it already.  They suggest that an absence of evidence available to the public, is the same as an absence of evidence within the investigation.  I would disagree.  If Trump is the criminal that he appears to be, Mueller needs to deliver the most conclusive report possible.  There’s a saying, something along the lines of, ‘if you’re going to shoot the king, aim for the head.’  It suggests that if you’re going to deliver evidence against the most powerful person in the world, suggesting that they should be removed from power and placed in jail, you’ll only have the one shot.  The report needs to be so complete, and so conclusive, that it leaves no doubt in any rational person’s mind.  And creates doubt in the minds of those who aren’t rational.

I don’t think the Republican party will survive that report.  It’s going to be a very interesting demonstration of self-preservation.  I suspect that multiple members of the Republican party were compromised via the Russian’s hack on the RNC email server.  Those individuals will support Trump well beyond what most would consider to be reasonable.  Then you’ll have those who are looking to tow the party line but are unsure about whether it’s the party of Trump or the party of Republican values.  Then you’ll have conservatives who realize that their best chance of staying alive is to stand up for traditional American values again.  I think it’s that latter group that can give the Senate enough votes to remove Trump from office.

Should Trump be removed from office for crimes relating to a fraudulent election, it wouldn’t make sense that his administration would be allowed to continue under Mike Pence.  If I’m not mistaken, the chain of command actually falls to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.  In a very roundabout way, 2016 may have actually given us our first female President.

I know a bit about her but not nearly enough to have an educated opinion.  From what I’ve seen, it suggests that she’s a capable individual who could probably mind an interim-presidency.  Should it pan out this way, I would encourage her to recognize her role, not one as leader of the American people, but rather as a custodian of the Presidency until the next election.  And during that time, I would encourage her to focus on damage control.  There are alliances around the world which need to be repaired, policy decisions which need to be undone, trade agreements that need to be redone.. all of it.  I also think this would be a remarkable opportunity to truly drain the swamp.  Republicans, democrats, lobbyists, dark money, foreign influencers… all of it.

It’s about time we cleaned things up a bit.

Politics/Finance Need New Metrics

I just got a notification from Yahoo finance (a surprisingly good app), “Nobody has a clue what’s happening: Bumper jobs growth after Poloz calls economy disappointing.”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard a stat suggesting that job growth and unemployment are at their best numbers ever.  Not the first time I’ve heard someone refer to the economy as disappointing either.  What I personally find disappointing is the comment that nobody has a clue as to what’s going on.

Let’s start by pointing out a few key facts.  Wealth has systematically shifted from the many to the few.  Cost of living has grown several times faster than wages.  Full-time work no longer guarantees a living wage.  The majority of North America is now living paycheck to paycheck.  Automation has replaced most unskilled labor.  Millennials are the most educated generation yet.  Student loan debt is at an all time high.  Depression is at an all-time high.  Drug use is at an all-time high.  Suicide rates are at all-time highs.

Damn right we need new metrics.

Every time someone says unemployment rates are at all-time lows, I get rather frustrated.  It’s only part of the picture.  The idea of a job for everyone who wants a job is a great idea.  But you know what else has a 100% employment rate? Slavery.  The difference between the two is that with employment, you’re paid for your services and can choose to work elsewhere.  And that you’re responsible for your own cost of living. And if nobody is willing to pay you a livable wage, that’s your problem.

Where I live, someone came up with the stat that it cost a little over $300,000 in annual income to support a middle class lifestyle.  This was defined as owning a modest home, 2 cars, 2 kids, university educations, and annual vacations.  The average household income here is about $75,000.  The unemployment rate takes none of that into consideration.  We could have a 0% unemployment rate and the city would still be filled with people who couldn’t afford to buy a home, raise a family, or any of what we have come to understand as basic entitlements.  Perhaps home ownership isn’t something we should feel entitled towards.. perhaps the same with having a family.  But then I ask why we’ve had to give these up, and it just doesn’t add up. Then I ask what happens if we just accept it.. and it’s not good for anyone.

First things first, we have to agree on what we’re all aiming for.  I think the most universal answer to that is happiness.  Everyone just wants to be happy, and for those who prefer things like power.. well.. they have the current system.  If happiness is the goal, we need to start focusing on the metrics that are most closely correlated.  Two things that we know of that are strongly and negatively correlated with happiness are cost of living and debt.  While breaking unemployment records, North America is also setting new records in debt and cost of living.  That seems to tell a story:  The average American is educated, overworked, underpaid, in debt, and losing hope.

Tell me again about how great our unemployment rates are.

Or maybe recognize that an unemployment rate is only part of the equation and that equal attention much be paid to the rest.  First would be the alignment between the skills of your workforce and the jobs they’re in.  If you have a nation of computer programmers, scientists, and writers but your job market is filled with part-time customer service jobs, you did it wrong.  Second would be whether or not your workforce was being fairly compensated.  If you have a low unemployment rate and most of most of your workforce can’t afford a basic cost of living, you did it wrong.  Third would be how well prepared your workforce is for the future.  Jobs are being lost to automation at an increasing rate and we’re likely approaching an economy where AI and robotics will be able to handle 80% of the existing jobs within the next 20 years.  If you’re bragging about anything that’s happening this year without preparing for that future, you’re doing it wrong.

You see a lot of stats when you read articles or watch the news.  We use them to try and understand what’s important.. but in the process of doing so, we seem to have lost sight of what’s important.  It really is about being happy.  Imagine a national happiness index being reporting on quarterly.  Imagine politicians seeing that number as their most important metric.  If you knew that increasing the cost of living would lead to stress and unhappiness, why would you celebrate a real estate boom?  If you knew that the bottom 80% of Americans only own about 7% of the stock market’s value, would you really be celebrating a booming stock market?

How about this stat, a ratio of healthcare spending against military spending.  Let’s be honest about it and see how much we’re willing to spend on healing people versus harming people. Or let’s push that a step further and compare military spending to humanitarian spending.  How much money are you willing to spend on helping versus hurting.  I can just about guarantee that would be a far better foreign policy than what we’ve seen play out of the last 20 years.

What about a stat that shows up how much tax large multi-national corporations are paying?  Something that takes all sources of government funding into consideration so we know just how much of their operations are subsidized by tax-payers.  Military defense contracts anyone?  What about major tax breaks for fossil fuel companies..

We gotta have something that covers national debt too.  A big deal was made of this years ago but the story got stale.  Now we have a president who was notorious for running up debt and bankrupting businesses.  As a result, in a matter of a few years, the country’s single largest expense will be it’s debt payment.    Maybe we need a catastrophe more than we need a metric on this one.

The whole point of statistics is to reduce a great deal of information down into key points.  When done well, those key points illuminate the important parts of what should be an ongoing conversation.  Unfortunately, we now have stats for the sake of stats.  And it’s no longer a conversation but an argument.  It’s not a pursuit of the truth or a more accurate understanding of the situation, it’s a tribal battle for power in which stats are only used to support your argument or undermine theirs.  I wish we could get back to the same side of the table.

2019: The Second Great Depression

The most beautiful things are always besides the darkest.

Today, I seriously thought about killing you.

Kanye has reached the bat-shit-crazy stage of his creative genius.. but it doesn’t stop him from coming up with gems like that one.  For me, those lines are a reminder to let your mind wander freely and not to be afraid of the darkness within us.  Instead, explore what’s there and look to understand it.  In my experience, the darkness was never what I had assumed it to be.  More often than not, it represented my fear of the unknown.  And through those experiences, I’ve gained a sense of calm while there.

I’m reflecting on this now because I’ve realized how many others are facing that darkness today.  When I was younger, I kept this side of me buried.  I was in this loop that went from challenged, to productive, to happy… and little did I know, that was only half the spectrum.  As I got older, I learned about the other side.. being unproductive and unhappy.  My initial instincts were to run back to what I knew.. but fate was not so kind.  I was encouraged to stay there and rest for a moment… to find myself within the darkness so to speak.  I’m glad I did.

I spent much of my life in a positive state of mind, and without much compassion for those who didn’t.  It was easy for me to say things like ‘you just need to work harder’, ‘don’t be so negative’, or ‘get over it’.  I hadn’t realized how backwards that all sounded to someone who was living the inverse of my situation.  But as I started to venture out into my darkness, I began to understand.

Gratitude for being unproductive and unhappy might sound like a strange thing, but for me, it’s real.  It’s given me a much deeper understanding of who we are as people and it’s made me a far more compassionate individual.  It’s also given me the ability to relate to so many of those who are struggling today.

When we reflect on the great depression that began in 1929, we think primarily about the stock market.  It’s when the market had it’s biggest crash, a ton of investors lost their money, and then everyone was poor for a while.  But something occurred to me the other day… what was the mental and emotional state of those who went through it?  I’d expect to find higher rates of suicide, anxiety, stress, and yes, depression.  But we weren’t so keen on measuring mental health back then so we might be hard pressed to find that information.  We measure those things today.

A couple years ago, I saw that the capital markets were overdue for a correction but couldn’t yet see the catalyst for what would cause it.  With Trump taking office, I was confident that it would happen sooner than later, and probably as a result of Trump’s policies and corruption.  Now with JP Morgan saying that it’ll most likely happen within the next 2 years, it seems to be an impending reality.  I expect this correction to start with the US, but eventually turn into a global correction.  I also think that this correction will be more significant than 2008, suggesting that we’ll reach levels similar to that of the great depression.  It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as the vast majority of wealth which will be lost, will be lost by the top 1% as the bottom half of the economy are still living paycheck to paycheck.  As interesting as it is for me to try and understand how it’ll all play out, I can’t help but think more on those who are going through it… the depressed.

Currently, suicides are more common than homicides.  Perhaps this is a sign of a civilized nation, but not when amid weekly mass shootings.  And not amid historic suicide rates all over developed world.  Having been at the point where I’ve toyed with the idea, it became important for me to understand what was happening.  I think it’s a result of our failing mental health.  Stress.. anxiety.. depression… these states of mind are becoming the status quo.  I saw a tweet the other day which said something to the effect of, ‘imagine waking up after a good night’s sleep, having an awesome day, and then being able to do it again’.  It made it to the front page of Reddit.  I couldn’t help but find that relatable… I probably average 3-4 good sleeps a year.  Days where I was consecutively happy?  It was before my current venture.. before my career in wealth management.. before my dad died… that’s going on 8 years now.  I was fortunate in that I had the tools to maintain my pursuit of happiness despite it all.. but the longer it takes, the more challenging it’s become.  And how many have been at it longer than me?  How many are going through it without the tools to keep their head above water?

When I see unemployment numbers at their lowest ever but I also see people struggling to afford the most basic cost of living, I can’t help but see something deeply wrong with how we’ve organized ourselves.  So many of us are working excessive hours at low-paying jobs that we know will be automated within the coming years.  Others invested the time and money into a post-secondary education, only to find entry-level work and seemingly inescapable debt.  And those of us who have found well-paying jobs.. we have to recognize our good fortune and appreciate that it isn’t just a matter of hard work.  Everyone’s working hard.. or at least everyone is willing to work hard when they’re doing something that matters.

The problem that I see, is that we’re quickly running out of work that matters.  Many of the jobs which exist in the economy today only exist because of cheap labor.  If people were being paid a rate which would allow them to afford a standard cost of living, businesses would have to accelerate their path to automation.  A $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers?  Have fun ordering from a touchscreen.  Increased wages for warehouse workers?  More robots.  Increased wages for taxi drivers?  How about automated cars.  And for those already in those positions, they know this is coming.  Entire industries will be swallowed up by automation.. and that’s OK.  Automation is here to take over repetitive and programmable tasks… exactly the kinds of activities that we struggle to find meaningful.

Perhaps this is what the death of an old economy looks like.  We used to rely on physical labor to produce physical goods and relied on our ability to consume these goods to push the economy forward.  When we talk about a strong middle class.. that was the equilibrium for that style of economy.  Now that we’ve been able to automate most physical labor, businesses are better able to retain the earnings that would’ve gone to employees.  Without being able to find comparable jobs with other employers, things start to shift.  Business owners become more wealthy while the working class loses ground to stagnant wages and a quickly rising cost of living.  The working class will find ways to make ends meet, like multiple part-time jobs or debt, but this doesn’t improve things for anyone.  If the top 1% hordes all the disposable income, who’s going to buy their stuff?  This is a point Jeff Bezos made years ago, pointing out that he could only buy so many pairs of jeans.

So where do we go from here?  For most, there’s a lack of clarity on what the future looks like and a lack of certainty on if we’ll even make it there.  It’s become easier to assume that things will get worse before they get better.  For many, it’s a state of hopelessness.  They want to be hopeful… I think in many ways, it’s a natural state of the human mind.  But when you slowly and systematically strip away the reasons to be hopeful.. we should find little surprise at where we’ve arrived.

As we prepare ourselves for this next great depression, perhaps we’d do well put place our emphasis on the people and not the markets.  The market was always meant to be a reflection of humanity’s ability to be productive, not the other way around.  If we’re losing ground to hopelessness, and we won’t face it until our economy comes crashing down around us… perhaps that’s exactly what we need.  I don’t expect it to be easy… but I’m reminded of a quote, “in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike us as the most beautiful.”  Through this struggle, we’ll have the ability to right so many wrongs and realign ourselves with a bright future which is fast approaching.  I don’t know exactly how this will play out.. but I am optimistic.