Playing the Game of Chicken

Playing Chicken

This is how it started;

“James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” – Donald Trump Tweet on 5-12-17

This is how it was challenged;

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” – James Comey testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on 6-8-17

This is how it ended;

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are “tapes” or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.” – Donald Trump Tweet on 6-22-17

The origin of the Game of Chicken involves two automobiles driving towards each other on a collision course: one driver must swerve, or both may die in the crash, but if one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved will be called a “chicken”, meaning they are a coward. Trump loves the Game of Chicken. I would suspect he has made and lost millions of dollars in his business career playing the game.

I spent 30 years in the real estate development business and played “Chicken” intentionally and unintentionally seemingly every week. Someone makes you a low ball offer for a property you desperately need to sell. The offer covers your cost but puts no money in your pocket. You ignore it, Play Chicken, banking on a better offer from someone else or the low baller upping their price because they want it worse than you need to sell it.

The odds of winning or losing at Chicken are 50-50. So in every case, in order to win, you must absolutely be prepared to lose.

I leased an office building in town for a contractor who had what I can only describe as a very shitty reputation. I was working with a tenant who had identified the contractors building, despite my warnings about his reputation, as the spot they wanted to move their company to. Before I began negotiations with the contractor I got him to sign a commission agreement which spelled out what he would owe me and when it was due if we got a deal done. Short of getting cash in advance this was the most protection I could secure.

After several weeks of heated and tense negotiations and despite my continued pleas of finding another space with a more amenable and pleasant landlord we got the deal done. I sent the contractor a bill for my services and waited. Weeks passed. Phone calls were not returned. Emails and certified letters were ignored. Finally one morning I parked in his personal parking spot waiting for him to arrive at work. He pulled up behind my car and rolled down his window. I asked if I could pick-up a check for the money he owed me and he uttered these two simple words, “Sue me”. Mr. Contractor wanted to play Chicken.

Now what he knew, and what I knew as well is that I would lose money suing him. Yes, if I won I would collect the commission he owed me, and maybe some of my “reasonable” attorneys fees but what I wouldn’t be compensated for is the time I would spend over the next year or two trying to collect my commission in court. The contractor played Chicken with me and won……this time.

Several years later the contractor refused to finish a job that he had been paid to do. He had received 95% of the money and only completed 50% of the work for an out-of-town owner when he walked off the job. When the owner confronted him about finishing the work or returning the money the contractor uttered his favorite two words, “Sue me”.

This time he picked the wrong guy to play Chicken with. After several years of depositions, counter suits and attorney fees the contractor filed for bankruptcy and though I wouldn’t have wished this on my worst enemy also developed Pancreatic cancer during the process which ultimately and slowly killed him.

If you read Trumps tweets or listen to his speeches in the context of “Playing Chicken” you realize very quickly this is how he operates everyday. But no one plays Chicken by themselves, there has to be another car and another driver. Trump plays this game like a man with nothing to lose, which is the only way to win, the only way anyone can win. He dares you and I and the rest of the world to swerve. So far we have, but I got a sneaky feeling that is getting ready to change just as it did today, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

“Wow, USA Today did todays cover story on my record in lawsuits. Verdict: 450 wins, 38 losses. Isn’t that what you want for your president?” –  Donald Trump Tweet on 6-2-16

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“I just don’t want a poor person”

“These are people that are great, brilliant business minds. That’s what we need. That’s what we have to have. So the world doesn’t take advantage. We can’t have the world taking advantage of us anymore. I love all people. It rich or poor. But in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense? If you insist, I’ll do it — but I like it better this way.” – Donald Trump at his ego-rally in Iowa Wednesday night

To those of us who aren’t big fans of “our” President it comes as no surprise that he held another ego-rally last night in “Trump Country”, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It would also not surprise us that The Donald talked about his favorite topic in the entire world, wait for it, Donald J. Trump.

As usual his tweets reflect what is most important to him, again wait for it, him, “Great night in Iowa – special people. Thank you!”. In the meantime Tropical Storm Cindy has hit the Texas-Louisiana coast dumping heavy rains and causing massive flooding. What have we heard from “our” President about this? Nothing, zip, zero.

Trump has made no effort to be the President of the people, for the people of the United States. He has chosen his favorites, those that idolize and worship his every move and the rest of us are on are own. He is the wedge, the wedge that separates this country and he hammers it harder and deeper everyday.

At his ego-rally last night Trump defended his appointment of rich people on his cabinet, several of them Wall Street billionaires. “I love all people,” he remarked, “..rich or poor. But in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person.” For me maybe this would have been the kind of thought you had swirling around under your cotton candy hair but not one you actually verbalize in public, and certainly not one you would ever boast about.

I just don’t want a poor person.” In Donald Trump’s mind poor people are poor because they are stupid, or incompetent. Otherwise, they wouldn’t poor. Rich people are rich because they are smart or in his words great” with brilliant business minds”. For me this is simply one more wedge Trump is using to separate this country, the haves get more and the have-nots stay in the shadows.

I could write an entire post about all the lies and bullshit “our” President spewed at his ego-rally last night but there are plenty of websites you can google to fact check this one and his previous ones (once a month into his Presidency). But I just don’t want a poor person” really struck me last night. Maybe it is because I see the poor. I see them standing in the rain waiting on the bus. I see the kind of homes and apartments they are crammed into. I see the convenience stores they shop at for food because there are no grocery stores in their neighborhoods. I see the kind of jobs they are having to work because they don’t have the right tools or education to earn more than a minimum wage.

Poverty is a cycle and like the color of your skin, your sex, or your nationality, poverty discriminates. Breaking the chains of poverty requires help, support and opportunities. Poor people in this country don’t have a voice and they certainly don’t have an advocate or any representation at the top, I just don’t want a poor person”.

So as the poor continue to suffer and struggle in this country. As Tropical Storm Cindy floods and destroys the homes of both the poor and wealthy alike this is what “our” Presidents is worried about this morning per his tweet storm;

1. “Former Homeland Security Advisor Jeh Johnson is latest top intelligence official to state there was no grand scheme between Trump & Russia.”

2. “By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn’t they stop them?”

3. “…Why did Democratic National Committee turn down the DHS offer to protect against hacks (long prior to election). It’s all a big Dem HOAX!”

4. “…Why did the DNC REFUSE to turn over its Server to the FBI, and still hasn’t? It’s all a big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election!”

5. “I certainly hope the Democrats do not force Nancy P out. That would be very bad for the Republican Party – and please let Cryin’ Chuck stay!”

I am disgusted by what this man obsesses and cares about but we created him, you and I. We fed his ego. We allowed him to run over us. We held him up as a shinning example of what is so great about this country, the accumulation of wealth, trinkets and expensive toys. He is who he is because we encouraged it, we supported it, we cheered for it, we dreamed about it for ourselves, and now…….we are paying for it. May God have mercy on the blind, ignorant and deplorable souls of America.

“Most Christian ‘believers’ tend to echo the cultural prejudices and worldviews of the dominant group in their country, with only a minority revealing any real transformation of attitudes or consciousness. It has been true of slavery and racism, classism and consumerism and issues of immigration and health care for the poor.” – Richard Rohr

 

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What divides us

There is a church down the street from my house that uses a sanctuary that once housed a neighborhood Southern Baptist Church. The church that occupies this building today has a catchy, hip name but when you read their “beliefs” they are still basically a Southern Baptist Church in a different candy wrapper. My community is dotted with these kind of old traditional structures that have been filled with pastors who don’t wear robes or ties and congregations attending services in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. It is a casual brand of fire and brimstone with guitars replacing organs and big screens replacing hymnals.

I am not criticizing this new brand of worship. Both my kids, who grew-up in a very traditional Presbyterian Church, attend these kind of churches. Thankfully just ones a little less conservative than the one near my house.

This church sits on a prime piece of real estate and given that the crowds look a little sparse to me every Sunday I decided to check-out their website to see if I could learn anything about how they were doing. What struck me immediately was how they described their beliefs. The Bible is the “written Word of God”. It is the “essential and infallible record of God’s self-disclosure to mankind”. The Bible is “fully and verbally inspired by God” and therefore “free of error”. And here is the fun one for me, the Bible is “totally sufficient and must not be added to, superseded or changed by later tradition, extra-biblical revelation or worldly wisdom”.

I really struggle with groups who proclaim to take a literal interruption of the Bible. The fallacy in this approach is it is a biased, human interruption of stories written 2,000 years ago. For me, the idea of fitting the Bible into our modern context or adding “worldly wisdom” means having a living and growing base to work from. We should appreciate and understand the time, place, and background of the scriptures, and recognize that, like our faith, the scriptures should grow with us, not against us. Rob Bell, author and founder of the Mars Hill Bible Church summed it up best for me, “To take statements made in a letter from one person living in a real place at a moment in history writing to another person living in a real place out of their context and apply them to today without first understanding their original context sucks the life out of them.”

If you have spent anytime reading my blog you know that I am not a fan of Franklin Graham. Mr. Graham, at least for me, epitomizes the type of biased, human interruption of scripture that continues to divide this country. I consider his remarks, and views as self-serving and hateful rather than inclusive and compassionate.

Recently Mr. Graham asserted that it was his belief that Donald Trump would remain in power until God’s purposes had been accomplished and completed in the United States. What exactly that purpose is I am not sure and Mr. Graham didn’t or hasn’t offered any hints. He truly believes that Trump’s election was divine intervention. He stated in an interview about Trump, “He did everything wrong, offended almost every group of people, but I believe he won because of God.”

The list of things dividing this country is enormous and sadly growing everyday. In Washington it is a battle between Republicans, and Democrats, Conservatives, and Liberals and those battles have spilled into the homes of every American. Religion shouldn’t be a divide, faith in whatever you believe shouldn’t be a line in the sand with us and them on either side. But it is, made so by extremist such as ISIS and the Franklin Graham’s of the world and yes, there are parallels. Words and actions matter and can be just as harmful and deadly as bombs, just as deadly as bombs Mr. Graham.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” –  Luke 6:35    

 

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Leadership

In 2008 an unknown wide receivers staff coach named Dabo Swinney became the interim head football coach, mid-season, of the Clemson Tigers college football team. He was 39 years old. At the end of the season and after beating Clemson’s instate rival, the University of South Carolina, he was named Clemson’s 27th head coach and proceeded to lose to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.

Among die-hard Clemson fans Dabo was not a popular hire. He wasn’t old enough, smart enough, or mean enough. He may have been a great a recruiter but his ah shucks, rah-rah cheerleading style rubbed hard-core Tiger fans who worshiped the tobacco chewing, mean as a rattle snake former head coaching icons of Danny Ford and Frank Howard the wrong way.

But in just eight short years Dabo did the unthinkable, he won a national championship, something Clemson last did under Ford in 1981. As you can well imagine everyone, except South Carolina fans, now love Dabo. Crusty old Clemson fans melt in the palm of his hands. Anything he wants, anything he needs to keep Clemson football at the top of polls he gets.

How did he do it? How did Clemson go from the middle of the pack to the top in eight short years? Dabo will tell you the formula is real simple, he assembled a great team of people, helped them establish their goals and let them do their job under his watchful eye. Dabo understands his role as the head cheerleader, supporting and encouraging the smart people he has hired and stepping in, when he needs too, to make the hard decisions necessary to advance and succeed. As Lee Iacocca once stated “I hire people brighter than me and I get out of their way.” That is how a leader leads, not by bragging or boasting about being the smartest and not by blaming others for your puck-ups either.

There are 558 key positions requiring Senate confirmation in Donald Trump’s administration. As of today, 411 of those positions have no nominee, 11 are awaiting nomination, 94 have been formally nominated and 42 have been confirmed by the, do I need to remind you, Republican majority Senate.

Keep in mind the 558 are key executive branch positions which include Cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions. The 558 are just a portion of the roughly 1,200 total positions that require Senate confirmation.

The Senate can only act on nominations that have been formally submitted by the Trump administration. “Awaiting nomination” means the person has been announced but not yet submitted. Those classified as “formally nominated” are awaiting action by the Senate.

Unlike Dabo Swinney, “our” President hasn’t or can’t assemble a great team and at this point I believe the “hasn’t” and the “can’t” are interrelated. Remember, per our President he is ……like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.” Certainly I feel better knowing that we have “like, a smart person” running the country but you know what would make me feel even better, 558 more smart people running the country instead of just the handful that we currently have.

Trump has blamed the obstructionist Democrats in tweets for his inability to fill key executive branch positions. Obviously sane, rational citizens know that is a wheelbarrow full of bullshit given he is working with a rubber stamp approval with a majority Republican Senate. The bottom line, he can’t find people. He can’t find people willing to accept the risk of working with an administration that fly’s by the seat of its pants. An administrations whose head coach could, would and can undermine all of your work and efforts with his thumbs in one 140 character tweet.

This country is running on autopilot and like any business or household that is not a sustainable future nor direction. The old adage of “I don’t know where I am going but I am making great time” applies here. We don’t know where we are going, honestly if the truth be told, we don’t really know who is driving the ship at this point. I have written from the very beginning Trump had one plan in place and one plan only, get elected President and in 150 days on the job that is really the only thing he has accomplished.   

“I’m the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.” –  Donald Trump

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Characters we meet along the way

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When my girls were young and not so health conscious, which means they still enjoyed hot dogs, french fries and drank milk shakes, we ate lunch at a local fast food restaurant almost every Saturday.

In my community most, if not all, of theses local restaurants are owned by Greeks and have some variation of Pete’s or Fine Foods in their name. I don’t know why this is the case or how it came to be but it has been like this since the 1950’s. Most of these restaurants are now being run by the second and third generations of these families. Some of the families are related, some are not, but the restaurants are all pretty much the same.

The menus are very simple. I order a Jumbo cheeseburger plate with half and half and a sweet tea, translated, a cheeseburger, a cup of slaw and a half order of fries and half order of onion rings. Given my age, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol I don’t order this as often as I once did but every Saturday, for many years, this was my standard lunch fare.

Our go to restaurant is down the street from our house and is owned by a father and his son. The father, Bill, came to the United States from Greece in 1956 as a 16-year-old and opened his own restaurant three years later after working in other Greek immigrants (probably family members) restaurants. Bill died yesterday at the age of 77 from cancer and with his death I lost another character that I loved and part of my kids childhood has passed away as well.

Lunch on Saturdays at Fine Foods was a big deal to my girls. They would get a hot dog or a grilled cheese sandwich and Mr. Bill would make them a peanut-butter and chocolate milk shake, a real shake with ice-cream and globs of peanut butter so thick a straw was useless. He would always give them the metal cup he mixed the shake in which they fought over every Saturday. I had to remember who got to “lick the cup” the last time which I didn’t always recall correctly. Bill knew he was stirring up a hornets every time he brought the mixing cup to the table, and he would just grin at me at the chaos he was creating.

When we ordered at the counter he would peer down at my girls and ask them which one of them was paying today. The answer was always the same from my girls “I don’t have any money” and Bill would said “Then Dad is washing dishes” both would grin at me and say “Bye Dad” and head to “our” table.

I can’t even begin to estimate how many onion rings or cheeseburgers I have eaten there on Saturday’s. But then we stopped. The kids got busy. Eating “junk” wasn’t good or fun anymore. The youngest stuck it out with me for a year or two but then I lost her too and without the kids there was no way Mom was going to eat there with me. It was the beginning of the end for dear old Dad, they would rather hangout with their friends than eat a hot dog and be seen with me.

Bill died Sunday but our memories didn’t. He gave a young family a fun place to build memories of milk shakes, hot dogs and laughs. A place they could take their friends and feel like a big shot because the owner knew their name. A place where an old man dotted on them making them his special milk shake and teasing them a little to boot.

I texted both of them this morning and told them Mr. Bill had died and got back what only millennium kids could offer a sad face emoji. Sad face emoji indeed.

When Bill’s son told me a couple of months ago that his Dad had only a few months to live I sent him a long note thanking him for being such an important part of our family. His son told me how much the note meant to his Dad. I am glad I took the time to write it. I am glad I took the time to share my memories with him, memories that he helped create.

We all have characters in our lives. People who fill the cracks and crevices of the space we call living but it is up to each of us to recognize their contribution to our busy lives. Rest in peace Bill and thank you for the memories.

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Fat, drunk and stupid……

“Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” – Bluto, Animal House

Animal House was released in 1978 when I was 17 years old. I would venture to guess I have watched this “classic” well over a 100 times. I know every scene, every character, and every line uttered in this movie. 39 years later I still laugh, and sadly, still watch it much to the dismiss of anyone in the den with me.

Stephen Furst, the actor who played Flounder in Animal House died last week at the age of 63. He joins John Belushi (Bluto) and Douglas Kenney (Stork) as the other members of the Delta Tau Chi Fraternity that have departed this earth. Flounder was the recipient of Dean Wormer’s advice that “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” A classic line I have used, and probably received on more than one occasion.

When I was in college Animal House was the standard which all “fun” Fraternities tried to emulate, mine included. Toga parties were a quarterly occurrence as were road trips. I met the future Mrs. Ends and Beginnings on a road trip having “borrowed” my little brothers car after promising him that I wouldn’t leave town. When I showed up at a bar 150 miles away and saw him standing there after promising NOT not to drive his car very far I told him the same thing Otter told Flounder “you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You F’ed up… you trusted us!”

I had a couple of good Animal House years in college but with each passing semester I would lose Fraternity brothers who were immersed in the Animal House culture. By my junior year there were only three of us out of a pledge class of fourteen still enrolled in college. They were trying to live the life of “Fat, drunk and stupid” and professors and the parents supporting these ambitious goals (mine included) just didn’t see the value or a future in these dreams.

Heading into my junior year, and with the encouragement of the future Mrs. Ends and Beginnings and my Dad telling me that the money was getting ready to run out I buckled down, opened a book and put the toga away. The Animal House lifestyle is a young mans game. It is not conducive to surviving, or passing an 8 am class let alone trying to have a meaningful relationship with someone you might spend the next 32 years and counting with. But it was fun while it lasted and there are days that I look back now and wonder how I lived to tell about it. I still don’t know how I survived my two years of living the Animal House life, certainly I have brain cells that would tell you differently.

“Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the f’ing Peace Corps.” – Bluto, Animal House

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Why are we here?

I read the obituaries everyday, something that I have done for the last 30 years. But a couple of years ago the way I read the obituaries changed. Rather then looking for names I know or recognize now I look at the age (men only) of those that have passed and compare it to my age. For instance, Bud age 85 – 29 years older than me, Fred age 76 – 20 years older than me, David age 54 – 2 years younger than me. Yea I know, this is weird. My kids would categorize it as morbid but it all boils down to my fascination with living and why we are here.

If you ask a Christian “Why are we here?” you will get some long drawn out explanation about a relation with God, Yada Yada which I interpret as we are simply entertainment for the Big Guy upstairs. Part of me understands this. We are an entertaining lot. Have you seen our President? But for those of us that have our God uncertainties the question remains, “Why are we here?”.

As I look back over my 56 years of living and categorize what I have accomplished two things stand out at this point. One, I have been married to the same women for 32 years (God bless her) and two, we have created, together, two very smart, very worldly, very successful, independent women. Sure, I have had some business success, and civic success. I have a nice house, a few friends, a wonderful extended family, some fun stuff I own but other than my wife and kids is there really anything of lasting value to justify “Why I am here?”

Why do you think we are here? Why do some get to spend 100 years here and others 25 or less? Is it just a shell game? The luck of the draw? Are we really expected to make some contribution or is it okay, as Thoreau noted to “lead lives of quiet desperation.”  

It’s Friday, think about your answer if you need too. Have a beer, a glass of Merlot, smoke a joint and get back to me. I really want to know your thoughts. “Why are you here?”, “Why am I  here?”, “Why are we here?”  

“What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Philosophers have pondered that question for centuries. I’m afraid the answer is disappointingly simple: Mating. That’s it.” – Oliver Markus

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