AIG Bonuses – Now Is Not The Time For Irresponsible Rhetoric Senator Grassley

March 16, 2009

aigthumb How many adjectives can we use to describe the feelings associated with the news that AIG paid $165 million in bonuses when the Federal Government spend over $170 Billion – yes, that is Billion, in bail out money to save the ailing giant?

There is outrage and many in government leadership are expressing their opinions about how they feel about the audicity of AIG to effect those payments.  That said, it is also important to make sure that leadership on both sides of the isle don’t get carried away with their comments.

CNN reported the following comments:

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa didn’t appear to be joking, however, when he spoke with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, radio station WMT.charles-grassley

“I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little better toward them [AIG executives] is if they follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, ‘I am sorry,’ and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide,” he said.

“And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide.”

Now I know that emotions are high, but come on Senator Grassley – that is political rhetoric and frankly is uncalled for.  I can’t believe for a minute that Grassley would, in fact, want anyone to commit suicide.  After all – we are talking about money and money can be replaced – human life can’t.

Perhaps as the night wears on cooler heads will prevail.  The right and ethical thing to do is reconsider how and when bonuses should be paid to a company that – but for the help of the taxpayers – would be bankrupt and out of business.  Further, more – this whole scenario should serve as a less for other businesses that line up to receive their bailout money.

Bonuses should be paid for outstanding performance.  When performance is lacking and, in fact, when a company faces the very real possibility of not continuing, then different choices should be made.  As a business ethics speaker, I understand Grassley’s frustration, but would hope that he would be more careful with his words.   Now is the time for level headed leadership, not sound bites spoken to garner media attention.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


The Ethics of Change – A Letter To President Elect Barack Obama

November 5, 2008

Today – the day after the election – we, as Americans, have seen yet another historic moment in a life that has seen many. Those of us with some age have seen the end of wars and the beginning of others; we have seen space travel and a man on the moon; we have seen technology change everything about our daily lives; and we have seen a man rise up and break barriers that once were thought to be iron clad. Mr. President Elect – your election may be historic for African-Americans, but, more important, it is historic for all Americans as we see through you a change of attitude and focus – we see hope in your eyes.

With the above said, Mr. President Elect, I must caution, in the midst of celebration, that we not lose sight ofbarack-obama-smiling what got you there and what your task at hand is. President Elect Obama – we must restore a sense of ethics to this great nation and make choices – tough choices at times – based on sound ethical and moral principles that have guided us for so long.

I, of all people, have no right to lecture you on ethics or change – after all, you are our new President elect. But, like you, I know a thing or two about adversity and obstacles. As a former convicted felon (not something I am proud of) now professional speaker, I have risen above my poor choices from the past and become a voice for CHOICE and ETHICS. Regardless of the choices made, we can moving forward make better choices that will bring about positive results.

You said, “it’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America.” Your statement is true…we have turned for too long away from choices that empower people to achieve greatness and focused on what’s wrong and how we exercise our muscle to the detriment of others.

You, Mr. President Elect, are aware of the challenges ahead. Your words reveal it, “For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime — two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.” You know, as do we all, that the only way to succeed is to do so by making choices founded on the ethical foundation of our forefathers as they founded this great Nation.

I speak on ethics today, founded on the lessons I learned from not living an ethical life. Perhaps, as a Nation, we have not made the best choices – or even ethical choices. The challenges ahead are significant and you, yes you – Mr. President Elect – will be tempted beyond belief, after all you are the most powerful man in the world. Don’t lose your sense of ethics, sir. Remember your promise! “But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.”

Regardless of who authored these next comments you delivered – and delivered well – they form a promise of an ethical foundation for your Presidency.

“So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.

In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

Mr. President Elect – we need that foundation that you have stated so well – a foundation of hope and promise and belief that as American’s we can be proud of who we are and what we stand for – that we can be proud to call ourselves American’s here and around the world. You have given us that hope and for that we say – Thank you!

Regardless of political belief, I think we are witnessing the dawn of an new age for America. We will succeed or fail based on the choices we make moving forward. If our choices are based on fear, ego and power, we may find that we will be no better than we have been and perhaps even worse. Those choices and not based on sound ethical principles. On the other hand, if we make choices that foster freedom, opportunity and a spirit of selfless cooperation we might see the dawn of the “Age of Aquarius.”

Let me end with your words…

“America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves — if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.”

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McCain – Obama Dance Off…Business Ethics? – NO… Campaign Fun? – YES!

October 27, 2008

As a 51 year old business ethics speaker, I must say…this presidential election has been interesting.  Not only is it historic but the level of creativity has been over the top.

For the younger generation – history has been made as the first black man in history has won the nomination of his party and is a viable candidate for president of the United States.  And, had it not been Obama chosen, then history would still have been made as the nomination of her party would have been a female.  Either way, this is an historic election.

Likewise, the selection of Sarah Palin as a VP candidate has been attention getting in and of itself.  Should McCain win – many will credit his victory to Sarah’s down home charm.  Should he lose – there is not doubt she will be blamed.  Either way the governor of Alaska has received national attention.

So…with a race that some say is not so close…what can we do to bring some excitement to this race.  Well…here’s a solution.  Click on this next link – give it time to download and enjoy.  As I said, the creativity that has come from all sectors is rather amazing.

Dance off


Politics, Religion and Ethics – Obama’s Presidential Campaign and Messages from the Pulpit!

October 27, 2008

Let me begin by saying, this writing is 100% about law, ethics and the application of the law.  I am in no way, taking a political stand through the content of this entry.  Rather, I am amazed as what I believe is the flagrant violation of the law when it comes to influencing votes in this presidential campaign.

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of ethics is the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.  Now, that definition is broad and clearly subject to interpretation.  However, good and bad must also be judged in accordance with the law.  One might judge a particular action to be good and ethical, but that same action might be against the law.  Hence, regardless of opinion, the action is unethical.

So, what does this have to do with the election?  Well…it is generally presumed to be against the law for a non-profit religious organization to use their pulpit (I use that term loosly) to influence public opinion for election results or outcome.   Non-profit religious organization can lose their non-profit status if they openly work to endorse a political candidate.  This loss could be costly indeed.

So how would one know if such a thing is happening?  Funny you should ask.  But today I received information about the link I am providing.  It was sent to me raising a question as to what my opinion was related to ethics, politics and the law.  What I saw was amazing – a flagrant disregard for the law and the non-profit status at stake.

PLEASE NOTE:  The following, should you decide to watch, is anti-Obama.  The message is clear.  What is more serious is that someone would knowingly and publically risk the non-profit status with such a clear political message.

Judge for yourself.  Here’s the link.  The message is from ATLAH World Ministries and it’s steamy.  Again, I express no opinion other than the amazement as to the message and risk inherent in its delivery.

WHAT ARE OTHERS SAYING:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the IRS to investigate the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, N.J. and Rock Christian Fellowship in Espanola, New Mexico.

According to AU’s letter to the IRS, Roman Catholic Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli has published a letter on Catholic Diocese of Paterson, N.J.’s website and newspaper attacking Barack Obama.”

The letter criticizes Obama for his pro-choice stance and encourages parishioners not to vote for Obama.

AU also wants the IRS to investigate Rock Christian Fellowship in Espanola, New Mexico for posting a large display that encourages voters to support republican candidates over democratic candidates.

In my opinion, what the above mentioned organizations have done is small change in contract to the ATLAH video.

An NPR article states the following:

On Sunday, 33 ministers will take part in a nationwide effort to violate the 54-year-old ban on political preaching and endorse or oppose a candidate from the pulpit. The effort is called the Pulpit Initiative.

Two weeks ago, more than 100 pastors squeezed into a hotel meeting room in Washington, D.C., to learn about the Pulpit Initiative, a brain child of the conservative legal group, Alliance Defense Fund. Attorney Erik Stanley walked them through it.

“If the IRS chooses to come after these churches, we will sue the IRS in federal court,” Stanley said.

Stanley says pastors are fed up. In the past four years, the IRS has stepped up its investigations of clergy. It sent letters to 47 churches, including some liberal ones — not just for explicit endorsements, but also for using code words like pro-choice or pro-life in relation to candidates.

“What’s been happening is that the government has been able to go into the pulpits of America, look over the pastor’s shoulder, and parse the content of their sermon. And that’s unconstitutional,” Stanley said. “No government official should entangle itself with religion in that way.”

HERE’S THE QUESTION FOR YOU – THE READER:  Which is ethical – (1) for the church to follow the dictates of the law and avoid endorsing or disparaging a politicial candidate or (2) to make a “good” decision based on a moral duty and obligation (in the face of the law)?

If you watch the ATLAH video…come back to this site and share your opinion.  Otherwise, your comments welcome on the ethics of religion and politics.


Sarah Palin – Ethics Violation? I Violated Nothing!

October 11, 2008

Nothing more contentious than a hot presidential election, especially when everyone is looking for dirt – for that one fatal choice that could cost the election.  On Friday, it was reported that Palin violated Alaska ethics law when she tried to get her former brother-in-law fired.

Sarah claims – NO VIOLATION!

According to a report on CNN:

“If you read the report, you will see that there was nothing unlawful,” Palin said as she emerged from her hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

According to the report Palin violated state ethics law by trying to get her former brother-in-law fired from the state police, a state investigator’s report for the bipartisan Legislative Council concluded Friday.

“Gov. Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda,” the report states.

The investigator’s report states Palin’s efforts to get Wooten fired broke a state ethics law that bars public officials from pursuing personal interest through official action.

Of course Palin’s attorneys have stated in a CNN report:

Any abuse of power, they said, was on the part of the Legislative Council members, not the Palins.

“Sen. French and Sen. Green may have abused their government power by using public money to pursue a personal vendetta against the governor…”

“Put bluntly, Branchflower completely misapplied the Ethics Act and has instead sought to create a headline to smear the governor,” the lawyers wrote.

McCain spokeswoman Stapleton said the Legislature exceeded its mandate in finding an ethics violation. “Lacking evidence to support the original Monegan allegation, the Legislative Council seriously overreached.”

Ethics Violation or not?  In Presidential politics the issue of truth may not be important.  Rather, illusion and the ability to sway popular opinion seem to be more important than the truth.

Do you think Palin violated ethics law in Alaska or do you think that this is mostly a political ploy?  Your comments are welcome.


A State Ethics Law Violation – Report Says Palin Abused Power!

October 10, 2008

There is nothing easy about politics – not state politics and certainly not presidential politics. Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was cited in a state investigators report today for abuse of power and a violation of state ethics law. Palin is accused of trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the state police.

Now, this investigation was already on track before John McCain made his surprise announcement that Sarah Palin was his choice as running mate. Palin certainly brings spice to the election as McCain (clearly a powerful and smart man) lacks in the spice department. But what McCain does not need at the crucial time in the election is to have any part of his campaign (which appears to be dying) fail.

“Gov. Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda,” the report states.

Now, let’s face it…Alaska is a small state when it comes to politics and perhaps without national media attention Palin could get by with attempting to exert undue pressure to influence who is hired or fired as the case may be. But, Sarah, this is the big league and every move you make will, no doubt, be under heavy scrutiny.

According to a CNN report:

Palin and her husband, Todd, have consistently denied wrongdoing, describing Wooten as a “rogue trooper” who had threatened their family — allegations Branchflower discounted.

“I conclude that such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins’ real motivation: to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family reasons,” Branchflower wrote.

The Branchflower report states Todd Palin used his wife’s office and its resources to press for Wooten’s removal, and the governor “failed to act” to stop it. But because Todd Palin is not a state employee, the report makes no finding regarding his conduct.

The bipartisan Legislative Council, which commissioned the investigation after Monegan was fired, unanimously adopted the 263-page public report after a marathon executive session Friday. About 1,000 more pages of documents compiled during the inquiry will remain confidential, the council’s chairman, state Sen. Kim Elton, said.

Here’s the question – did, in fact, Sarah Palin violate state ethics law. While she may have been vindicated of the allegation of an improper filing, that does not mean that she walks away scott free. Of course, the McCain camp says that this is a democratic ploy in a hotly contested election. Others, however, might say that the report is accurate – ethics laws were violated.

The full report can be found here.

With all that is taking place in America right now, one thing we do not need is a newly elected official being tarnished when entering office. As an ethics speaker, I am reminded daily of how easy it is to make the wrong choice in the heat of the moment – only to find that the consequences are far worse than you could every have imagined.

What do you think – Ethics Violation – or not? Your Comments are welcome!


Business Ethics, Bank Failures and Government Bailouts – Are They Compatable?

October 5, 2008

Just last night I was having dinner with with the head of a company and two retired physicians, none of whom I knew before my wife and I were seated.  As one might expect, the conversation turned to career as we played the get to know you game.

“What do you do,” one of the retired physicians asked?

“I speak across the country to businesses and associations on ‘ethics’,” I replied.

“Well,” the business exec at the table spoke up immediately, “you should be booked solid now.  I’ve never seen it so bad.  Seems that those guys on Wall Street and in Washington need your service desperately.”

With those comments the table broke into a sad sort of laughter, although the comment made was no laughing matter.  Rarely, if ever, in my lifetime (and I’m 51) have we seen a time in our country where the choices that have been made have had the potential for a more disastrous outcome.

Before the month of October begins in earnest the headline late on a Sunday night on CNN is: U. S. bank failures almost certain to increase in next year. Based on all that we’ve seen in the short scope of the last two months I tend to agree.  And here’s what is more baffling – people much smarter than I must have known that we would one day face this outcome.  The writing was on the wall.  You can’t extend credit to someone who can’t afford to pay you back and assume that everything will somehow work out.

Every choice has a consequence.  That is a universal law (although it seems that many people would prefer to ignor its existence).  All we heard for the past several years is how robust the US economy was.  The housing market was strong in most sectors of the nation and it would appear that we were set to continue to enjoy long term economic prosperity.  Really?  Here’s a segment of the CNN story:

Weakened by huge losses on risky home loans, the banking industry is now on the shakiest ground since the early 1990s, when more than 800 federally insured institutions failed in a three-year period. That was during the clean-up phase of a decade-long savings-and-loan meltdown that wound up costing U.S. taxpayers $170 billion to $205 billion, after adjusting for inflation.

Now, like many who read this, I was around during the Savings and Loan crisis.  It wasn’t pretty and friends, I hate to say this, but this is no savings and loan crisis.  That economic hardship pales in comparison to what we could face based on bad choices and business ethics gone awry.  The government bailout – hum, let me rephrase – the taxpayer bailout may preserve some of the “stronger” institutions, but there is a substantial belief that many more will fail, buried under the weight of their poor choices.

The following quote from the CNN article is very accurate:

“I don’t see why things will be that much different this time,” said Joseph Mason, an economist who worked for the U.S. Treasury Department in the 1990s and is now a finance professor at Louisiana State University. “We just had a big party where people and businesses overborrowed. We had a bubble and now we want to get back to normal. Is it going to be painless? No.”

I think it is interesting his choice of words, “people and businesses overborrowed.”   That statement is factual, but the more significant underlying question is how did that occur and why?  The answer to that is where – ETHICS – comes into play.

Now let me simply define ETHICS for the purpose of this discussion:  “Ethics is the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.”

So let me get back to the comment “people and businesses overborrowed.”  While the comment is true neither people or businesses had control of the purse strings.  People were “unethically” encouraged to overborrow.  Rarely a day would go by without the mailbox being filled with credit offers.  “Zero percent this and transfer balance that.”  We saw big burley viking men touting Capital One and God knows my college aged son received more offers for credit than he could count – even though he had no source of income.

While there is plenty of blame to go around, YOU CAN’T BLAME THE PEOPLE.  People did what people do – they responded to effective marketing campaigns and accepted offers made by many of those very banks who soon will be buried in the business grave yard of failure.  Poor business choices combined with poor business ethics will equal business failure.

We hear all too much about the mortgage crisis again with many stating that people over borrowed.  That may be true, but the bank or financial institution again controlled access to the money.  Now if a bank is so overzealous to prop up growth and earnings that they make loans to unqualified individuals or loan against property that is overvalued, I contend that is unethical.

Banks have more than a duty to earn money and grow, their greater duty is to do both of those things and (most importantly) survive!  Their moral duty and obligation (their ethical duty) is to survive while achieving success.  I agree with my dinner mates, if there is ever a time for ethical reflection it is now!

Another comment from the article that has alarming numbers attached:

Using statistics from the S&L crisis as a guide, Mason estimates total deposits in banks that fail during the current crisis at $1.1 trillion. After calculating gains from selling deposits and some of the assets of the failed banks, Mason estimates the clean-up this time will cost the FDIC $140 billion to $200 billion.

The FDIC’s fund currently has about $45 billion, a five-year low. But the agency can make up for any shortfalls by borrowing from the U.S. Treasury and eventually repaying the money by raising the premiums that it charges the healthy banks and S&Ls.

Perhaps next is the issue of Goverment Ethics.  By all accounts, Alan Greenspan reported to Congress many years back – talking in “Greenspeak” about what was likely to happen and how it could be avoided.  Did the government take action?  NO!  The concern, it seems, for most politicians is staying elected or getting elected, not making ethical decisions.  The moral duty and obligation that our elected officials have (or should have) is to represent those they govern and protect them from the disaster we are now facing.

And, not to be a cynic, but when have you known any financial projection to come in at or under the budget or estimate.  In my lifetime – never!  So by guess is the $700 billion will be more like $2 trillion when it is over.  The bailout here and proping up the FDIC there, not counting what else will arise that is undisclosed at this time.  It all adds up and is dumped on our shoulders.  In reality all we, as a nation, are doing is on a bigger scale exactly what the “people and businesses” did – borrow to pay off what we could not afford in the first place.

So back to the question – Bank Failure and Government Bailouts – are they compatable?  Neither represent good business ethics and yet both will happen.  Perhaps the comment was right at dinner, I need to camp out in Washington and NY – although now it might be too little too late.

For information about my presentations visit my web site.  Your comments, by the way, are welcome.