Margin Notes - Blog

The Assault of the Wealthy

The uproar over the so-called Panama Papers is certainly appropriate – it’s yet another example of the degree to which PTSD of the Soul is afflicting corporate, investment and cultural “elites” in the U.S. For those who haven’t seen the news, these documents confirm that thousands and thousands of politicians, business executives and Wall Streeters are waging war on their fellow citizens by avoiding taxes.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who doesn’t want to pay lower taxes? Finding ways to send less to Uncle Sam is a national obsession. And apparently, what these individuals are doing is legal. It is not, however, ethical. Not on the enormous scale they’re doing it. And not with the collateral damage they’re inflicting.

You see tax avoidance by the wealthy isn’t a victimless assault. Hiding away their millions (or billions) is an IED that maims everyone but the perpetrators. They enjoy the rights, stability and creature comforts of the U.S., but they don’t want to help cover the costs. So, they use law firms and loopholes to force the rest of us to foot the bill, in effect ripping apart our way of life so they can enjoy a better one.

Worse, the wealth of many of these 1 percenters was ill gotten. As the protagonists do in my book A Prescription for the Soul, they gas the stock market with insider information to pad their investment returns, they strangle the wage growth of their employees to pad their own paychecks and they drop defective products into cars and grocery stores to pad their bottom line. And all of their donations to charities and hospitals, universities and veterans groups don’t change that.

These people are sick. Their condition lays waste to our quality of life and eviscerates the American Dream for our kids and grandkids. It’s time we forced them to take their medicine.

       April 7th, 2016    

This Political Season of Unconditional Warfare

Why is every debate in this year’s Presidential race more like a life or death battle than a discussion of how to make American lives better?

Why do the candidates speak of one another as if they were mortal enemies rather than Americans with different points of view?

Why has our political process turned into unconditional warfare rather than an opportunity to find the best way forward for America?

The answer is PTSD of the soul, a condition that afflicts many, many Americans.

Having been subjected to almost 75 years of war-after-war on distant battlefields and war-after-war to address our social, cultural and economic challenges at home, the American people are combat weary.

And tragically, some of us are now conditioned to see everything in life through the lens of warfare. It affects the way they conduct themselves at work – witness the CEOs who lay off thousands even as they gild their own paychecks – in government – witness the elected officials who can’t agree even to discuss key bills and appointments – and on Wall Street – witness the crass greed and law breaking of hedge fund hooligans and investment bank bandits.

These Americans are sick. Their illness not only warps their own spirit, it harms millions of us who happen to get in their way or are unintentionally in their target ring. We are their collateral damage.

But that doesn’t make us helpless victims.

We have the power to force them to stop. We can release their hold on our businesses, our political system, and our financial institutions. We can reject their corruption of our lives.

And we must.

       March 10th, 2016    

Boomers: The Unfinished Generation

We Boomers are the unfinished generation. Not lost, but short of a legacy worthy of our youthful dreams.

Yes, we’ve worked hard and achieved a lot, but there’s more – much more – still within us. We’ve not exhausted our potential or depleted our aspirations. Despite what the age bigots might think (or wish), the door isn’t shut on the consequence of our passage.

And these times – these rancor-filled, disuniting days – demand our attention. They may present as a national sourness or an economic-driven anger, but they are far more deep-seated and dangerous. These days are the sign of a societal sickness, a malicious condition that gnaws at us, but worse, eats away at the heritage of our kids and grandkids.

Finding a cure for this condition won’t be easy. Its cause is elusive, hidden by a myopic fixation. We can see the symptoms – we wake up with them, take them to work with us and bring them home again in the evening. They are always there, so we focus our attention on them.

They are the political system that fails to find solutions or a consensus for the greater good. They are the companies that fail the planet and the workers who create their success. And they are the Wall Street banks and hedge funds that fail their investors and the public as well.

These sores are a scourge on our wellbeing, but they do not cause our condition. Treating them will relieve some pain, but not prevent its return. And that must be our goal. To eliminate once and for all the source of this dysfunction, the root of our spiritual disability.

That pathogen is not a failing of our institutions, but of the people in them. The people who direct them and the people who follow their instructions. It is We the People who are ill. Not all of us, to be sure. Not even most of us. But too many – far too many – to ignore.

They practice unconditional warfare on our body politic, insisting that only they are right, only they have what it takes to win, only they deserve to succeed,. They are the politicians who refuse to govern for all of us. The corporate leaders who refuse to accept responsibility for anyone but themselves. The bankers and hedge fund tycoons who refuse to acknowledge ethical standards. And, the 1 percenters who refuse to be bound by the rules that govern the rest of us.

But, they are also We the People who allow them to behave that way.

We are the enablers of those who commit these abuses, and renouncing that role is the unfinished work of the Boomer generation. We must step out of our passivity and stand up for a nation that serves all of its people. Beginning today – at this very moment – we must begin a campaign to call out, reject, boycott and abandon the corruptors of our democracy.

Shouldering this responsibility will be a severe test. It will try our determination, challenge our courage and push us to the limits of our abilities. But in accomplishing it, in making it our generation’s final gift to our kids and grandkids, we will have left a worthy mark. A legacy of which we can be proud. A finish to be remembered and revered.

       February 17th, 2016    

A Prescription for What Ails Us

There’s a reason economics is called the “dismal science.” Most economists are never happier than when they’re predicting gloom and doom. Case in point – the recent book by Robert J. Gordon, a professor (of course) at Northwestern University. His title says it all: The Rise and Fall of American Growth.

Now, don’t get me wrong. As my novel A Prescription for the Soul makes clear, I’m not afraid to acknowledge America’s problems. I don’t stick my head in the sand and ignore reality. We definitely have some issues to resolve. But – as my title makes clear – there are other factors shaping a nation’s future than those that can be measured with numbers and formulae.

Stuff like spunk. Guts. Heart. They are the “goods” that shape Humanity, not the so-called “rational man” of economics.

Those “goods” aren’t important enough to be recognized in economics, and that’s precisely why economists are so wrong so often. They’ve managed to take people out of their equations. And, it’s the American people – with all of their irrationality and faults – who are my prescription for what ails us.

       January 21st, 2016    

Standing Up to the Warriors of Greed

The New York Times reports that America’s ultra-rich employ “a phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists” – a group they lovingly call the “income defense industry” – to ensure they pay far lower taxes than middle class Americans. So, let’s call this behavior what it is. The wealthiest Americans are waging a war of greed on the rest of us.

Today’s hedge funders, investment bankers and corporate chieftains are battling to secure “unconditional victory” – unmatched and untouched wealth – for themselves and their fellow 1-percenters. They enjoy the benefits of living in this country, but refuse to pay for them, forcing the rest of us to pick up the tab. And that tab is pushing an ever growing percentage of Americans out of the American Dream.

What’s behind this perverse behavior? How did one of the most generous countries in history breed a caste of such self-indulgent and unrepentant societal warriors? That’s the question A Prescription for the Soul explores.

The novel intertwines two tales – one takes place in the towns of northern Italy in 1963, the other on the gold coast of Connecticut in 2007. The first is a coming of age story involving teenaged Baby Boomers. The second is a coming of wisdom story for those same characters. Both chronicle the spread of a virulent condition – a PTSD of the Soul – that warps the moral compass of too many Americans.

This book, however, does not end with hand-wringing about the state of the nation. It doesn’t take on the fear mongering of Presidential candidates who proclaim only they can save us. No, A Prescription for the Soul issues a call to service … a challenge to Baby Boomers to do the job themselves. To take on a task that will establish their generation as one every bit as great as those that preceded it. And to leave a fitting legacy – the opportunity to be even greater than they – for their kids and grandkids.

       January 12th, 2016    

A Noble Mission

Fahad Manjoo recently penned a column in The New York Times entitled, “The Internet is Breaking the Outrage Meter.” He noted that “If you’ve logged on to Twitter and Facebook in the waning weeks of 2015, you’ve surely noticed that the Internet now seems to be on constant boil. Your social feed has always been loud, shrill, reflexive and ugly, but this year everything has been turned up to 11.”

In most cases, this vitriol isn’t caused by honest disagreements or even by passionately held positions, it’s driven by a social phenomenon best described as “unconditional warfare.” We’re battling with ourselves. Over government ineptitude. Business malpractice. Cultural and religious concerns. And what seems like a thousand other flashpoints.

Some blame social media for this turmoil. Others point to the 24 hour news cycle. And still others say it’s the uncertainty and fear created by a world in flux.

Those are all powerful forces to be sure, but they are not the source of our “uncivil war.”

To find the real first cause, we have to look in the mirror. We have to acknowledge that it’s we the people who are doing this to ourselves. We are living the symptoms of a condition that’s weakened our unity and crippled our compassion. We are the agents of our own distress.

There is no fault here, however. This condition happened to us. Boomers, especially, have had to deal with it their entire lives. So, I think it’s appropriate that Boomers should take up the banner of eradicating it, of dislodging its hold on them, their kids and grandkids.

I’m a Boomer so I know what I’m proposing is a big step. At this stage in our lives, we’ve earned a bit of retirement rest. But consider the benefit: taking on this challenge enables us to reconnect with the idealism of our youth and to forge a legacy that’s every bit as great as that of the generations which preceded us. It is a noble mission and A Prescription for the Soul.

       December 11th, 2015    

There’s Still Time to Do More

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote “There are no second acts in American lives.” Maybe that was so when the average American lifespan was less than 65 years. Today, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.7 years and rising. To put a fine point on it, there’s no lack of time to do more.

For Boomers, that longevity is both a relief and a challenge. We are hurtling past the temporal seam that marks our 65th year, but we haven’t yet even opened our second act. There’s still the opportunity to do something historic. Something great. We just have to figure out what that is.

Or, do we?

Pick up the paper (a quaint idea, I know) or check out online news sites or social media, and the answer is immediately clear. In fact, it’s impossible to miss. Whether it’s in our politics, our business culture or our response to societal problems, we are facing off against one another as if we are enemies. We are waging “unconditional warfare” on ourselves.

Not most of us, to be sure. But too many of us and, certainly, far too many of our so-called leaders. They talk and act as if all electoral and commercial competition and all disagreements, especially those dealing with the most difficult issues, must be decided in a winner-takes-all battle. They believe these are conflicts in which victory consigns all but one to defeat.

That’s not democracy, it’s combat.

In such a noxious environment, collateral damage is inevitable. The war-like behavior of a very small segment of our population is maiming the lives of tens of millions of Americans caught in the middle. It is ravaging their American experience and scorching their American Dream.

I call this condition “PTSD of the soul.” And curing it is the great mission of the Baby Boom generation. It is our second act. Our chance to stand tall in the long line of Americans who stood tall before us.

       December 1st, 2015    

Before Boomers Call It a Life

Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia, writes that today’s college protestors are consumed not with rage but with fear. Their insistence on “safe places” and “trigger warnings” does not signal an intolerance of bigotry, but instead “a crisis of confidence” on campus.

Now, don’t misunderstand, Gitlin is not saying this generation of college students lacks passion and even courage. Rather, he’s making the point that their anger is throttled by trepidation. Their progress in facing down dimwitted administrators and systemic bigotry is held in check by their compulsive need to feel safe.

And why shouldn’t they?

They’ve lived their entire lives in a country deformed by “unconditional warfare.” In its politics, its business community, its government, its social and cultural movements, its financial industry, even its sports.

They’re afraid because they’re about to inherit a country that is attacking itself. They’ve grown up watching their parents and grandparents do battle with one another, convinced that anything goes so long as you win because there’s only one winner and everybody else must be a loser.

Want to know why the U.S. Congress doesn’t work? That’s why.

Want to know why there’s so much corruption on Wall Street? That’s why.

Want to know why companies pay their executives big bonuses even as they lay off workers? That’s why.

It’s a hellova’ legacy to leave our kids.

I call it PTSD of the Soul. And it’s what Boomers need to fix before they call it a life.

       November 23rd, 2015    

The Great Leave Behind Others Who Are Greater

One of the principal themes in A Prescription for the Soul is the legacy of generations and the future they create for their kids.

I’m a Boomer, so the book focuses on that generation, but understanding its legacy requires an understanding of the work done by the generation that preceded it. The men and women who fought in World War II are striding off into history, having risen to the challenge of defeating heinous ideologies and truly terrible foes. They are justifiably described as a great generation … but Tom Brokaw and others err in calling them “the greatest.”

That assertion is not meant to diminish, in any way, what they accomplished. They deserve our deepest gratitude and our veneration. But talk to almost any man who fought in the trenches or any woman who hammered rivets into bombers, and they’ll tell you they are uncomfortable with such an exclusive superlative. By definition, there can only be one “greatest,” and they fought for a more inclusive, more deeply rooted legacy.

As an Army Brat, I’ve been around military people – including the soldiers of World War II – my entire life. To a person, they were proud of the extraordinary feats they had accomplished. However, what drove them to such heroic heights was not the quest for unmatched glory, but exactly the opposite. They fought to protect a country where their kids’ could grow up to be even greater than they, and their grandkids still greater yet.

That was their American Dream. To leave behind a nation defined not by a single greatest generation, but by a long, unending line of generations, each greater than the one before. Each determined to forge a legacy that would be recognized and cherished for the better future it offered to those who followed.

Which brings me to the essential question my book explores. What will be the legacy of Boomers? How will they become the next great American generation?

       November 16th, 2015    

Boomers & the Sunset

It’s not yet time for Boomers to ride off into the sunset. There’s still work to be done.

The country is ill. It is suffering from PTSD of the soul. From the post traumatic stress of the continuous conflicts Americans have faced since World War II. The Korean War, Viet Nam War, Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and back in Iraq and the battles over civil rights, poverty, gender and sexual rights and income inequality. This cycle of constant warfare has conditioned a class of Americans to see every aspect of human endeavor – business, politics, investing, even sports – as a gladiatorial pit where there is only one winner and the rest are losers.

If you have any doubt about that, look at the behavior of those on Wall Street and in the hedge funds on Connecticut’s Gold Coast, in the U.S. Congress and the chattering class in politics today, and among the executive elites of American business and their lobbyists on K Street in Washington, D.C..

Look at the president of Volkwagen in the U.S., for example. The New York Times reports that he knew about the company’s cheating on U.S. emissions test over a year ago and did nothing. Why? Because when you are afflicted with PTSD of the soul, you will stop at nothing and do anything to come out on top. You are a warrior as ruthless as any jungle fighter – you take no prisoners and wage unconditional warfare.

And that’s what Boomer must fix. That’s the great challenge awaiting this generation. Forget retirement. Forget the sunset. It’s dawn and the time has come for Boomers to claim their spot in the long line of great generations that have preceded them in America. It’s time to step forward and cure what ails our nation’s soul.

       October 9th, 2015    

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