Sunday, September 14, 2014

Good Luck… for a Person Like You

These words were the last words uttered by a mid-Western wealth manager and his team as they walked out of the house of an NBA superstar several days ago.  For the preceding 90 minutes, we had methodically dissected a financial report that was filled with material misstatements, opaque investment instruments, and responses to questions which were evasive and untrue.  "For a person like" - the wealth manager's racist epithet meaning "for an African American athlete who, in his early 30's is retired and unlikely to understand how he's being duped" - was the justification for:
  • not disclosing management fees;
  • not reporting actual investment returns for normal periods (like years or quarters);
  • not publishing performance benchmarks;
  • not explaining the construction of an asset allocation; and,
  • numerous negligent acts.
At one point in the conversation, when pressed on why the senior manager couldn't opine on whether a gross portfolio return of less than 4.5% in 2013 was good or bad (with a portfolio with nearly 50% U.S. equities exposure when the market was up nearly 30%), the investment advisor alleged that I simply "didn't understand the family's objectives," like their team did. 

This week the media jumped all over the latest professional athlete domestic violence cases with predictable ferocity.  In a week when thousands of women and children were beaten and abused by bankers, factory workers, accountants, politicians, and preachers, breathless coverage advised us about the desperate condition of families in professional sports.  Let's be totally clear.  Domestic violence is categorically unjustifiable.  Period!  And psychopaths - from malevolent sociopaths to religious corporal punishment apologists - are all perpetuating a culture of violence and abuse that destroys the fiber of humanity.  But we don't speak about the persistent helplessness experienced by many abusers which contributes to inflaming their terrible acts of violence.  Like having a 60+ year-old, white, paternalistic "wealth manager" steal money under the banner of a globally recognized bank and know that he can do so with impunity.  Like having "advisors" begin sentences about investments, careers, and accountability with a demeaning and derogatory preamble of "For a person like…".

When I first met Chris Uma of the Mekamui Defense Force in Bougainville, I knew of his militant activities and was warned that I should fear him.  After 45 minutes of deeply personal conversation, he and I were able to share enough information to realize that the real enemy in his world was the opaque colonial exploitation that was happening in Australia, the UK, and America - not simply from their agents on the ground in Bougainville.  No one has held the mining companies in Australia accountable for well-documented (and admitted) illegal acts.  The ASX, the SEC and the UK Serious Fraud Office have ignored every alert and notice to hold accountable companies trading on their exchanges that are in violation of national and international law.  Why?  Simple.  Because, "for a person like…" the person living around Arawa or coming from urban America our espoused civil standards of transparency, truth, and accountability simply don't apply!  And then we wonder why "they" become militant. 

Worse still, what we're unwilling to face is that while at the surface, we want to applaud what we wish were advances in dealing with racism and ethnic delusions of superiority, in fact the "for a person like…" is an antecedent to countless racist expectations of cognitive capacity, entitlement to transparency, and consensus social values.  And, while we can tirelessly roll the tape when violence and abuse erupts, there are no cameras when the systemic abusers callously rob, willfully misadvise, and gratuitously pander to those they see as the class (or classes) beneath their accountability. 

What was never supposed to happen in the predictable elitist world is that the NBA player was never going to be provided the opportunity to see the game film on how credentialed wealth managers steal money while blaming the player and his family for living an extravagant lifestyle.  What was never supposed to happen is a tenacious combatant was never supposed to be taught about stock price manipulation and securities laws violations to understand that his government - not just foreign corporations - were in fact shielding each other from accountability.  From sports agents to mining ministers - the same graft and corruption have the same effect: desperation and hopelessness.  But….

Things changed.  You can put names like Rio and Merrill in front of your corruption but that won't hide what crooked individuals are doing any longer.  You can sit in Raleigh, Columbus, Sydney, or Port Moresby and think that the veil of ignorance will never be rent.  But here's the part that you never calculated in your insular opulence.  If you're one of the world's best athletes or a military commander, you've probably got extraordinary capacities to learn and assimilate.  You've probably developed unusual capacity for strategic thinking and tactical adaptation with speed and precision that is deadened by countless steak dinners at country clubs.  And if "a Person like" is provided with the language and the strategy on how the game has been played against them, there's an outside chance that they may change the equation.  Dismissive contempt for any population has a half-life of the maintenance of segregation x completeness of ignorance.  Change one of those variables and you achieve a linear effect.  Change both and it's a logarithmic function.  And that's just the unwinding piece. 

What we're doing now is introducing a whole new calculus in which the genius of high level performance manifest in one domain can be adapted to perform in markets, political systems, and social reality.  By assuming that excellence is derived from integration and knowledge, we're not beating the system at an old game - one in which we merely change the abuser - but we're actually changing the paradigm altogether. 

Good Luck?  Where we're going, we don't rely on luck, gimmicks, tricks, or deceit.  Where we're going is a place where we're measured by the content of character rather than the conceit of consensus.  Let Justice roll down!

1 comment:

  1. Hello,David! I really admire your courage and bravery in naming the things with their real name and exposing things like the ones you talk about in this and other posts. From time to time I think is fair to acknowledge the brightness you spread in the world with your integrity and your work. I guess that sometimes for you it must be despairing to go against the (what is considered "normal") current. With real appreciation.


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave