Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thomas Eric Duncan died because he went to the aid of a pregnant teen who collapsed in the street near his home. He took her to three medical facilities that turned her away and was left with no choice but to return and carry her in his arms to her home. A less compassionate person would have stood back; others in the village did just that.

He had his ticket for a long planned trip to America to marry the love of his life. We'll never know if he might have done less - or been more cautious- had he known that the teenaged girl had Ebola, none of his neighbors knew, the taxi driver didn't suspect; Duncan acted as the good man he was.

He had no symptoms when he boarded the plane. Days after he arrived and displayed symptoms he went to a hospital where he disclosed that he was from an Ebola hotbed. The nurse who saw him ignored the importance of that disclosure. For a time the hospital claimed the doctor who saw him didn't know of that disclosure - a nonsensical lie - but in spite of that huge red flag they sent Duncan home with a Z-pack.

We will never know if Thomas Eric Duncan might have lived had the hospital personnel paid attention to their job and began treatment days earlier. We know that the world has lost a good and compassionate human being, Thomas Eric Duncan. Who knows what he might have achieved and contributed to our nation if he had lived, we just know that America failed him.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Published 2014.06.03

Credit Suisse - 
You Can’t Put A Bank In Jail

Credit Suisse, a Swiss monster bank apparently has copped a plea with the United States Justice Department. This story has been seeping out since United States Attorney General Eric Holder declared several weeks ago that no bank is “too big to jail.” While that sounds tough, the fact is that banks do not go to jail, people go to jail. And in this case nobody is going to jail. Justice is trumpeting the $2.6 billion dollar fine they got Credit Suisse to cough up. That sounds like a lot but it’s next to nothing given their massive criminal activity.

Credit Suisse sent hustlers out to recruit ultra-rich Americans. They arranged trips to Switzerland to open a secret Swiss bank account. Now, we’re not talking about a handful of rich folks; there are more than 20,000 Americans who are said to have as much as $12 billion stashed overseas with Credit Suisse. In that light the bank got off really easy. Meanwhile it’s business as usual at the bank; in fact their stock went up one percent the day this deal came out.

How are the Credit Suisse hustlers who recruited the ultra-rich and guided them into this tax racket anything but crooks? If they recruited rich Americans to show them how to hide their bucks from the IRS in secret Swiss bank accounts, that sounds to us like they conspired to defraud the United States government. If there are billions overseas still hidden away in Credit Suisse accounts, how have the American people been served?

Why aren’t the Americans who lapped up this deal being named? Why aren’t they being charged? Why aren’t the bankers who recruited them being charged? Why aren’t their bosses who sent them out to recruit tax cheats being charged? And their bosses’ bosses and the CEO of the bank, Brady Dougan, why aren’t they all being charged? Are we to believe Credit Suisse had a crew of hustlers vacuuming American bucks – as much as $12 billion – into secret bank accounts and Dougan didn’t know? It isn’t like he is a stranger in our land; Brady Dougan is a US citizen. One wonders, does Dougan have a secret Swiss account?

We have bankers laundering dirty money of every kind, telling the drug cartels, “If it’s cash we’ve got your stash.” We have bankers scheming to fix international interest rates and help rogue nations avoid sanctions. And now adding recruiting tax cheats to their litany of bad behaviors. AG Eric Holder maintains that sending these criminals to jail might jeopardize the world economy. Really? Instead we give them fines that they see as no more serious than a parking ticket. Yet, just let any of these banks have a couple of bad quarters and watch their top guy get the boot. Executive turnover is an everyday thing; to imagine that bankers are too important to jail is madness.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Published 2014.05.20

Hacking the Royals 
Shakespeare has left us with a picture of the Danes -especially members of the Royal family like Hamlet- as rather pouty young guys. In fact they are really nice people and Denmark is a very nice (if a bit chilly) small nation, most famous for design and Legos. Scandal is not a word you expect to connect to the Danes at all. However, last Tuesday (2014.05.14) they were hit with what they consider a “Major media scandal.”

It seems that back in 2008 the younger son of the queen was taking a second try at marriage. Joachim Holger Waldemar Christian, the Count of Monpezat, was married to Marie Cavallier a Parisian advertising executive. While their wedding was quite public their honeymoon plans were not. You can imagine their surprise when a reporter from a Danish celebrity magazine turned up on their flight home. The reporter got his interview (he says they answered his questions politely) and until last week the Prince and his bride had no idea how he found them. Therein lies the scandal, the magazine paid off a source who hacked the credit card used to book the flight. This revelation has triggered a firestorm of legal and regulatory activity in Demark.

Alas Denmark’s “Tuesday” in the media scandal spotlight was not to last, the very next day Clive Goodman, one of Rupert Murdoch’s editors told a court in London that he hacked the phones of Prince William, Kate Middleton and Price Harry over 200 times. That was in 2007 the year before Goodman was caught and jailed for this and similar “research” efforts. Perhaps the Danes picked up the Royal Hack idea from the Murdoch pond scum school of journalism.

While this is all great fun, we need to look at the serious side. There is more to our right to know than gossip and much more to journalism than the Murdoch minions’ petty view imagines. A British Parliamentary Committee found that “Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”. Clive Goodman and others steeped in Murdoch’s duplicitous culture have felt the weight of the law. The question remains, why have they not felt it in America?

Rupert Murdoch is a United States citizen; he had to become an American before he could own radio and television stations in our country. It’s one thing for him to be deemed “not a fit person” in Great Britain, in America it’s the law. Bribing foreign officials is illegal. Murdoch’s operations in Great Britain routinely bribed law enforcement officers and other officials. Murdoch should be stripped of his American broadcast stations. He should be charged and tried for his illegal activities along with his henchmen who flaunt America’s laws. The Danes are taking care of their business, it’s time for America to take of ours.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Published 2014.05.13
A New Gilded Age?

By: W.T. “Bill” McKibben

In 1873 Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The name stuck, roughly covering the period from the end of the Civil War to the Trust Busting Teddy Roosevelt era. At its height around 1900 the top 10% percent of Americans soaked up about half the income with the top 1% getting about 40% of that amount. That left the 90% to divvy up the other half, slim pickings at best.

After Teddy Roosevelt leveled the playing field and the labor movement spread the bucks around even more, income inequality was not as big an issue. The two World Wars that devastated the infrastructure of nearly all developed economies, except the United States gave America a running start during most of the last 100 years. However, toward the end of the 20th Century and into the early part of the 21st the rich and powerful began to tilt the table in their direction again. The laws put in place following the Great Depression that protected little folks fell to a “Deregulation Era.” Enter a new Gilded Age.

Tax loopholes and corporate subsidies added in to tilt the American landscape toward the super rich. So we find ourselves just where we were in the last Gilded Age, half the bucks going to the top 10% and 40% of that going to the top 1%. The middle class has been devastated and the poor are scrambling to keep their heads above water. Basically a set of social problems covered by a “thin gold gilding” the same outlook seen by Twain and Warner in 1873.

That leaves some questions. Is it morally and ethically acceptable? Is it financially sustainable? Teddy Roosevelt didn’t think it fit inside any of those parameters. He saw it as just wrong. It isn’t as if this new Gilded Age came about through the efforts of those who are benefiting. When the laws of the land are twisted to give any group an advantage it’s just plain wrong. What’s really bad about the current situation is that the recession so many are struggling to crawl out from under was triggered by reckless bankers who we had to bailout to avoid a major depression. They are now doing better than ever and the stock market is booming.

A recent Pew Research Center study shows that almost all Americans understand how the makeup of this Gilded Age came to be. Given an open-end question the answers came in all over, however, two out of five pinpointed loopholes and our tax system, followed by all the usual suspects, government policies, corporate influence, greed, etc., etc., etc. Although remarkably 10% believe that a poor work ethic and reliance on government handouts created inequality; really! A gilded age is unsustainable; it’s bad for the poor and for the rich.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Published 2014.05.06

Walking the Edge of the Razor Blade

It would be hard to find anything gone farther astray from its intended purpose in our society than our capital markets. The New York Stock Exchange and all other such entities in the world of finance as played in the United States have forgotten their purpose, to create a source of capital for Capitalism. Instead they have succumbed to enriching the players. Those who manage the markets have allowed the investment banks and the traders to run the show. The exchanges’ purpose is to support the companies listed, not the bankers and traders.

The investment banks have strayed far from their purpose to aid in the creation of capital and to “make a market” for those “going public.” They have wandered off into the world of legalized gambling, having convinced the Congress that laws against gambling should not apply to them. It was a easy step from there into the toxic derivative instruments that plunged the world into the recession where we little folk still struggle. Traders serve little or no purpose except to generate fees for the markets and their middlemen. This is especially true of the latest breed, those rigging the markets with penny skimming high-speed trading.

These ills are just the latest in the distortions that have increasingly plagued the markets. The whole crazy focus on “Playing the Market” instead of investing has corporate management aiming for short-term goals instead of long-term growth. All it takes to unseat an otherwise great CEO is an unexpected-could-happen-to-any-company event. Take Target’s CEO Gregg Steinhafel, who joined the giant retailer right out of college and worked himself up the ladder. Since moving into the top job he has been walking the razor sharp edge between upscale department stores and grungy discounters.

Steinhafel has moved Target deftly along, playing the quarterly results game and introducing new merchandise lines without losing the chain’s flair for quality and value. His foray into Canada has not gone as well as hoped, but it’s not altogether bad and it’s far from a bad idea. Then came the massive waiting-to-happen-to-someone breech of Target’s credit card systems. While the chain lost volume, it’s a testament to Steinhafel’s solid management style that Target did not lose more. And truth be known, the fault lies more with our banking sector’s refusal to move to a more secure RFID based credit card system a generation ago with the rest of the world.

We understand that in the current climate Gregg Steinhafel had to pay the price for what happened under his watch. But there is a lesson to be learned here, and every publicly held corporate CEO has to be thanking their lucky stars that they aren’t in his shoes. They should take the ethical and moral high ground and use their clout with the Congress to focus on long-term financial health. The Wall Street anything goes Wild West financial world is bad news for everyone, for the people, for investors, for corporate America.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Published 2014.04.30

Sticky Arena Floor Ethics
The Staples Center in Los Angeles may be different from other arenas, but in most such sports palaces the floor is usually a little sticky, scummy if you will. It’s that kind of feeling that this whole Donald Sterling mess leaves us with. Ethically it is so far out of bounds that it’s out of sight. Sterling is still the owner of the LA Clippers, but he has been sent to the woodshed, the door has been slammed and he doesn’t even have a knothole to peek out at his club.

The brand new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took swift action banning the long time Clipper’s owner from anything to do with his basketball franchise or anything else connected to the NBA, “forever.” And he slapped him with the maximum fine under NBA rules $2.5 million; pocket change for Sterling.

It’s not that Sterling hasn’t been in a woodshed before. He has a history as a bad boy who has managed to buy his way out of one mess after another. When you are a billionaire you can do that sort of thing. In Sterling’s case everything about him and his fortune leaves the bottom of your shoes sticky. He is a lawyer who started out in the Barracuda Bar, suing for a big share of the settlements. But that wasn’t enough. He moved into the landlord business, and that’s how he got into the “Ten Digit Club” – a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars.

Sterling has never been convicted of serious wrongdoing. However, he is certainly not the kind of landlord most of us would choose. He has been hauled into court for refusing to rent to minorities, blacks and Hispanics. All of these actions were settled before the court imposed a penalty; one even eclipsed the NBA fine a discrimination suit that settled for $2.765-million dollars; still pocket change.

Reckless, would describe a lot of Donald Sterling’s public life. His parading the women money buys for him in public. He seems to have left his moral compass in pieces somewhere along the road. You wonder how someone can fall to this level. Surprisingly it is easy. We have no idea how Donald Sterling lost his way. But those who wander from the life most of the rest of us strive to maintain have no intention of ending up like the sticky scum on an arena floor.

It begins easily enough; it’s just a little thing. Any number of emotions can trigger it: fear, jealousy, envy; the emotions we all feel and on occasion have allowed to turn our heads. It’s those who can’t turn back who are in danger of following a path that ends up in the rejection and degradation that Donald Sterling has on his head. It’s our guess that Sterling is so far down that path that he doesn’t care. Be sure that you don’t let that easy first step off the path lead you to a place you never intended to find yourself. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Published 2014.04.29

Ethics, Easy, Right? Wrong!!

Nothing to it, ethics is simple. All you have to do, is do “The Right Thing.” The problem comes when “The Right Thing” is not all that simple. It isn’t easy to speak up when your job is on the line. It isn’t even easy to speak up when a friend drops an inappropriate “F-Bomb” or worse makes an always inappropriate racist joke. A lot has to do with personality. Some are gifted with the ability to speak up in such situations. Others, who would never behave unethically, are just not able to speak out against unethical behavior. Some don’t want to alienate anyone.

And while the day-to-day situations we face are important, there are other cases where we must act; especially in the workplace. We have to act if a fellow worker is taking shortcuts that could endanger others, or just not providing service at the level promised. We have to act when we know the company is cooking the books as they did at Enron, or in the Libor scandal. When millions are being ripped off as they were when Enron manipulated energy costs. Even worse, hundreds of millions were hurt when a handful of traders manipulated Libor, impacting every entity and every person paying interest in every corner of the globe.

Some of these examples are illegal, others are unethical. Too often people fail to understand that the ethical line is drawn far from the legal line. Compliance and ethics get mashed together; corporate responsibility for ethics is given to legal counsel. Bad move, attorneys are trained to stay inside legal bounds. Some companies never learn. Hewlett Packard hired another lawyer to oversee ethics replacing Kevin Hunsaker, a lawyer who narrowly escaped jail time when he advised that a witch hunt for a Board of Directors leak was legal. It wasn’t legal and it was miles from ethical. If Hunsaker had based his advice on ethics, it would have saved all those involved worlds of trouble.

High speed trading, the practice of literally manipulating the stock markets could not be more unethical. Its practitioners dart in and out in milliseconds seeking those about to buy a stock, beating them to it and jacking up the price the buyer ultimately pays. Grandma’s pension fund and others lose. These buccaneers of our capital seas cry out that what they do is legal. At the moment so it is, however, it is far from ethical.

It is not always easy to see the ethical line and sometimes it is not easy to hew to that line. It takes practice and sometimes courage. It takes a willingness to risk everything from the loss of a friend to the loss of a career. You will likely find other friends, but you may not find another job. However, if you remain silent to keep a job, you will forever wish you had spoken out. And that job will grow heavy and seem sour every day when you cross over the threshold to your workplace.