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    • Six Lessons From Genghis Khan’s Victories
      Some years ago I wrote about the genius of Temujin—Genghis Khan. I want to return to this, but take a different approach. Why was Temujin so successful? “Hired A’s” Yeah, I hate startup culture too. But, the bottom line is that Temujin’s main lieutenants were all brilliant too. Subodei is in the running for one […]
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Thursday Morning Breakfast

A month from now, I will have lost the muffin top and will be lounging around somewhere in Maui drinking Bad Ass Coffee for breakfast.  I will toss my red hair in the trade winds and laugh, “ha-hahhhh!”  Until then, four more weeks in frickin’ New Jersey with an eighth grader who is making my life miserable because I decided to do an academic intervention and send her to an intense five weeks of algebra this summer.  (No, she didn’t fail anything.  She’s just an underachieving G&T kid who refuses to do her homework).  Seven more days of adolescent sturm and drang before she aces the final and killing her becomes a lot less attractive as a coping mechanism.  I can’t wait.

Bad Ass Coffee

Bad Ass Coffee

In the meantime, lean your surfboard against the wall, grab a cup of kona and read the news.

Corzine *still* trails Christie by 10+ points in the NJ Governor’s race.  {{smirk!}}  Karma’s a bitch, Jon.  Oh, by the way, Hillary hasn’t completely ruled out running for President but she says it’s really unlikely.

Obama has pulled out all of the stops and is asking the public to support his health care plan. First bloggers, now a direct appeal to the rest of us.  What’s the hurry?  It won’t take effect until 2013 anyway and as reform goes, it isn’t that great.  As long as we have four years to implement it, why not take it niiiiice and sloooow and work all of the bugs out of the system.  if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?  Color me suspicious on the rush job.  For instance, take this “Oh, really?” bit of BS:

With Republicans and some moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill balking at both the specifics of the legislation and Mr. Obama’s timetable for House and Senate passage of the bills, the White House is now trying to rally legislative support and public opinion by linking health care to the nation’s economic health and offering the promise of tangible benefits to Americans.

“If we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit,” he said. “If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket.” He acknowledged that Americans were anxious, saying, “Folks are skeptical, and that is entirely legitimate.”

Folks are skeptical because for the vast majority of us, reform ain’t gonna happen.  We’ll be locked into our current plan and insurers can continue to maximize profits.  Costs and deficits are going to continue to rise for four more years until this baby takes effect and eve the Congressional Budget Office says the current plan will do nothing to curb costs.  The insurance industry seems to be getting a great deal out of this one.  Maybe that’s why they want to seal this deal before anyone finds out.  Call it Son of TARP.

And this is just silly:

At first, House Democrats were weighing a tax on Americans making more than $280,000 a year; now there is talk of imposing the tax on those households earning $1 million or more, an idea Mr. Obama said he favored because it would not put the burden of paying for the bill on the middle class.

“To me, that meets my principle, that it’s not being shouldered by families who are already having a tough time,” he said.

Mr. Obama also signaled that he might be open to another idea under consideration in the Senate : taxing employer-provided health benefits, as long as the tax did not fall on the middle class.

I don’t think the middle class who make less than a million a year would mind a small tax increase if the quality of the health care insurance that everyone received improved.  You can make a small tax very attractive if the results are significantly better than what we’ve got.  Think Social Security.  That’s not what this bill proposes.  But it doesn’t surprise me that Obama would throw out this not-very-well-thought-out, disjointed statement. He doesn’t lead from principle.  He doesn’t lead.  He follows.  And it’s becoming clear that he is worried about media driven public opinion but not terribly worried about doing the right thing.  So what else is new?

Meanwhile, back in Sudan, Iraq, Iran, China and Kyrgystan (Kyrgystan??)…  There are a heck of a lot of foreign news stories on the frontpage.  What’s up with that?  Are these all turning into hotspots or are they just bright shiny objects?

The Birthers are back. Birther prophylactic: we are not nor ever have been associated with the birther movement.  It’s a pointless distraction.  I figure that the Clinton Campaign would have been perfectly within its rights to have Obama disqualified if he were not a natural born citizen.  It wouldn’t have been character assassination.  It would have been a constittuional issue.  But Bill Clinton himself said that Obama met the minimum requirements for being president, which I interpret to mean that they looked into it and there’s no THERE there.  I don’t know why Obama needs to produce the exact original of his birth certificate to satisfy the birther crowd but I can think of a really good reason why he wouldn’t: it makes the birthers look like a bunch of complete loonies if he occasionally stirs up the issue.  Birthers, please don’t try to defend yourselves on this blog.  We’re really not interested.

For those of you who are getting blindsided by the shifting frames of the media on who’s who in the Democratic caucus and who’s screwing up health care reform, check out The Blue Dogs Flunk Obedience School. In summary, Obama, who doesn’t have a political philosophy but for some reason really, really likes bipartisanship for its own sake, has ignored his progressive base and has now become hostage to conservative blue dog Democrats.  These DINOs come from conservative districts where voters are vulnerable to media messaging about tax and spend liberals.  So far as I’ve seen, our current Congressional session skews heavily to the right.  There’s still a lot of taxing and spending going on but nary a liberal intiative in sight.  And as long as the blue dogs remain unprimaried, that’s the way it will stay.

H1N1 is laying low for now but could be a real problem in the fall.  Still no need to panic.  Get your flu shot if you’re offered one, have your doctor’s phone number available if you get sick, ask your employer about plans in case of a public health emergency and follow your public health official’s guidelines to prevent spread of infection.  Let’s hope our precautions make this the biggest non-story of the year.

Podcasts of the day: I have heard it said recently that the world is undergoing a shift in consciousness in a way that is similar to the shift from polytheism to monotheism.  It is a shift away from traditional monotheism to a more logical, holistic vision of the universe and its source of wonder.  It was difficult to see this shift while the country was in the grips of the fundamentalist evangelical base and their Christ for Rich People stuff.  It’s funny that so many religious people vote for politicians who do not believe in holding people accountable for bad behavior.  I might be wrong but it feels like it is time for the country to regain its sense of ethical behavior.  And as we know from bitter experience, it isn’t always to be found in the pews of your nearest megachurch.  Here are several podcasts that have common themes though they aren’t all obvious at first. There is a lot of material to chew on about reason, first principles, inclusiveness and the evolution of the human spirit:

Melvyn Bragg’s in Our Time discusses the Vienna Circle’s Logical Positivism

Bill Moyer’s interviewed Robert Wright on The Evolution of God

Anything from Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith.  I have really become addicted to her podcasts. There’s something here for everyone, atheists included.  Tippet is the Terry Gross of the divine but what passes for divine these days may surprise you.   Most of her interviews are not overtly about religion at all but are more about how different faith and ethical  experiences allow individuals to view life, the universe and everything from a more holistic point of view. The Ecstatic Faith  of Rumi won a Peabody and it’s easy to hear why.  It’s poetic and beautiful.  But Tippett also explores The Biology of Spirit with neurosurgeon Sherwin Nuland, freelance monotheism with Karen Armstrong and a more modern form of logical positivism with Echard Tolle.  Her interview with Rick Warren and his wife Kay was fascinating.  The Warrens initially sound like shallow, corporate religious types and don’t quite shake that image with the listener in spite of all of their recent philanthropic efforts. Quite revealing in completely unexpected ways.  All highly recommended.

Heartless employer of the day: Drugmaker Wyeth, in the process of merging with equally heartless Pfizer, sent an email offering a resume writing workshop to all employees. (no link.  I was informed by some former colleagues) I love the way they are promoting the fiction that there are any companies, not in India and China, where their employees have any hope of actually finding a job.  All of the companies I know are in the midst of their own layoffs and endless hiring freezes, leaving projects short staffed and scrambling for outside contractors.  The Pfizer-Wyeth merger will result in the loss of thousands of scientific jobs, burdening further the unemployment rolls of NJ, PA, CT and NY.  I’m sure the workshop is  going to lead to greater productivity between now and when the real layoffs begin.  Just write off real drug development from that new behemoth for the next several years.  The Wall Street guys and the mega shareholders just won’t be satisfied until these companies are reduced to cheap, overseas scientific staff and a bunch of stateside marketers and executives.  So much for American innovation.  Contracting your brain trust from overseas is incredibly short sighted.  It’s like eating your seed corn.  Pretty soon, all that will be left are MBAs.  And what have they innovated lately?

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Monday: Connexions

Remember when Lady Catherine De Bourgh condescended to pay Miss Elizabeth Bennet a visit to warn her not to quit her sphere because she had no connections (or connexions in my edition) to benefit her wealthy young nephew?  I always wondered what the heck she meant by “connections”.  It seemed to mean more than just embarrassing relatives.

I didn’t really get it until recently when I listened to my podcast of the day recommendation, The Aristocracy- How the Ruling Class Survives by BBC-4’s Melvyn Bragg.  You’ll note that although the aristocracy in England had its salad days back in the 18th century, Melvyn is using the present tense in his title.  But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The aristocracy took hold in England after William the Conqueror lucked out at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  The Norman ruling style was radically different from the Anglo-Saxon’s.  To the victor go the spoils might not have originated with the Normans but they did have an efficient way of administering and organizing it as the Doomsday Book will attest.  By the time the aristocracy finally reached their zenith, a little over 700 people owned more than two thirds of all of the land in England.  Pretty sweet if you were an aristocrat; not so much if you were a tenant farmer who owed your lord’s fields more attention than your own measley strips of land.  And since the land was all when agriculture was everybody’s business, you could say the aristocracy had a lock on the country’s wealth.

The English  did hang on to one nasty little artifact of Norman administration a bit too long however.  Primogeniture was the practice of bequeathing estates to the first born, preferably males. This was a way to keep the land intact and power undiluted.  The artistocrats who were peers were also ensured seats in The House of Lords.  The problem with primogeniture was that it left out a lot of very well-born children who had inherited no wealth or title.  These children became commoners and their only hope of advancement was through good marriages and connections, which I interpret as some sort of patronage system.  Meanwhile, the eldests went on to lead lives of wealth and privelege regardless of intelligence or character.  They spent lavishly because, well, it was their money and they deserved it.

Those younger sons, some of them tired of waiting around for their older brothers to die off so they could get an instant promotion, took matters into their own hands.  They couldn’t become members of the House of Lords but lo and behold! the House of Commons was wide open!  What better way to rig the game in their favor than to run for office.  And so many of them did.  Before long, both houses of Parliament were run by aristocrats.  Then the peasants started to get restless in the 19th century and pointed to the French Revolution across the channel.  That lead to the Great Reform Acts of the 19th century that allowed more commoners the right to vote.  The rest, as we say, was history.

Which leads me to the second podcast for the day.  (Whoo-hoo! a twofer!)  This is a recent podcast from Planet Money about the compensation of the busy little worker bees in the finance industry.  Oh, these poor souls, so put upon, moving columns of numbers around a spreadsheet and forced to make the same trades day after day.  Certainly they deserved those multi-million dollar bonuses.  Turns out, not so much.  These modern day aristocrats and their connections who have cornered the country’s wealth in their 1% sphere are ridiculously overpaid according to studies.  They just might not deserve it after all.  But the way they got their greesy little mitts on all that money is very instructive.  It all has to do with deregulation that happened in the early eighties when Ronald Reagan was in office and Congress was amenable to a little experimentation.

And then it hit me.  I made my own connection.  Hasn’t the Republican party been the party of entrenched wealth?  By American standards, the GOP is the home of the Rockefellers and the Forbes.  But in the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a lot of very wealthy businessmen buying their way into the Democratic party as well.  Jon Corzine, multimillionaire and former CEO of Goldman-Sachs is a prime example.  These days, you can’t even start a campaign for Congress or the Senate without a massive warchest.  If it turns out that Congress is not responsive to the wretched poor and middle class anymore, it could be that for the most part, they have no connection with us anymore.  We’re in the grip of the aristocrats.

It may seem obvious but the connection goes deeper than one of mere money.  It’s a mindset, a social sphere.  They won’t respond to us because it’s not our country anymore.  It’s theirs.  They own it now.  They appoint the judges to look after their wealth.  And we are going to have to be very clever and tenacious to get it back.

Like, what would happen if everyone who has a 401K stopped contributing en masse?


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