Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Accountability and Denials: the Financial Reform and Climate Change Debates

At a time when everyone is wondering what is going to happen to the economy if reform does not come quickly, financial institutions’ executives and bankers are finding numerous ways to deny the obvious: the excesses of their industry nearly brought the economy to a grinding halt. At a time when Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations had began exploring what exactly went wrong two years ago when boggled derivatives, mortgage debacle and felicitous insurance instruments nearly called to question the viability of the US dollar as an international currency, top bankers are denying that they abetted the housing market would fail, played the market by selling sub-prime mortgages, mopped them up, and shuddered the responsibility of their failures to the taxpayers. Finance Executives challenged the allegation around the practices in their industry, retorting, “We are just part of an industry that was doing things that are not necessarily the main reason for the failure of the financial market.” Really?

Ask the petro-chemical and oil industries’ executives similar questions regarding their oil refining and exploration practices and you would probably get similar response: we are not solely responsible for the pollution of the water bodies or the immediate environment in off-shore drilling. Not withstanding the preponderance of evidence against these two industries, both will continue to deny responsibility for their actions. It is not surprising that leaders in industries that have established expectations, who attempt to minimize risk in business decisions, will go to the extent of pleading the fifth, when the question of accountability is raised regarding their business practices. Business executives never accept responsibility, even in the most dire circumstances.

Why do things as these happen? Most executives always underestimate their poor judgment and often shift responsibility for their actions elsewhere. We have all watched our neighbors who were not qualified for home loans offered sweet deals and even handed flat-screen televisions to cover the deadly ARM-loans that are more than toxic, that were sold to them. We all saw brokers and securities firms executives behave like prodigal sons as they squandered the trusts of their clients, selling bundled poor instruments as viable investments products while at the same time insuring against the possibility of these products failing in the market place. Oil and carbon-based fuel executives watch deadly explosions lead to deaths of their employees due to poor safety standards around their mines and drilling platforms and still insist it is not completely atonality to their negligence and ineptitude in monitoring and managing exploration activities.

You see, corporate executives are schooled in the art of substitutions: When accountability fails, lower expectations to accommodate change, substitute alternatives for non-performers and interchange expectations to help you deliver the desired results. Coming from this type of background or philosophy, it is no surprise that you find David Viniar, Goldman Sachs’s Chief Financial Officer telling the Sennate investigative panel: “We share the responsibility for the financial crisis… we care very much about ethic at Goldman Sachs”. This and other statements made all day by the Chief Executive Officer of the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history, Lloyd Blankfeindo, fail to speak to the issue of claiming responsibility for the allegation against their firm and or industry; including impropriety in the way their company sold mortgage-linked investments. And if the Chairman of the investigative panel, Senator Levin, was looking for the securities firm executives to fess up to their mistakes and distasteful behavior, he probably did not get much. All he probably came out with are: these men do not think they have a duty to their clients or the American investors, to deal uprightly and prevent the failed financial instruments. For them, in all cases, failure or success of a finacial instrument, they win! They win when they recoup excessive profits, they win when the investment instruments tank, they win when their firm is considered too big to fail and thus shored up with tax payers money; and, they win when they are given millions in severance payments as they move away from Wall street in their golden parachuttes for blissful places over the globe. What a way to go!

You could probably substitute the executives of the financial industries for those of the big oil company, who just had a spill in the Louisiana coast or the coal mining firm executives at Massey Energy of West Virginia denying that their mining safety records are something to look keenly at and that their activities pollute the environment, kill people and wild life; and, probably contribute more to the disproportionate climatic changes that is alluded to by many in the environmental conservation world. Following the denial of responsibility, the executives of the oil and coal firms would maintain their innocence, probably plead the fifth if necessary and engage in double take to ensure that conversations about their practices and executive decisions does not expose them to scrunity in an environment of accountability.

The question of how did these happen, are often met with some cold face, hand-wriggling and sometimes arrogance that continue to baffle many, outside these industries. To the outsider, the question, how do these people go to their beds at night and still sleep peacefully, is justifiable. To these Chief Executives, this is just another day of doing business. We don’t have to take responsibility for our actions, we must not accept negative criticisms of our actions, because we are considered the industry leaders and the best that is, and we must always portray the “Mr. Nice guy” posture associated with our office or profile. Rather than face the reality of their failures, the consequences of their actions or in actions, they always prefer to feign ignorance, deny their predicaments and cite some other issues that have no relevance to the matter at hand, as the reason for the failure of their executive decisions or actions; and, not what is predominantly accepted as the reason(s) among the observers and sometimes, the industries’ insiders, as the causes of the crisis or problems.

To help the Chief executives appreciate the gravity of their respective actions or inaction and the essence of claiming responsibility for the sake of accountability, I will proface the following recommendations in line with the suggestions of one of the executives of a Methodist hospital in Ohio, Ohio Riverside Methodist Church Executive, Mr. Andy Manzer:
1) Acknowledge that your action as an executive does have implications and there is always a need to demonstrate accountability in whatever decisions you make regarding your organization's processes;
2) Always endeavor to find out why your acceptance or denial of responsibility is impacting your sense of accountability and costing many in your industry and those outside, money every time;
3) Address barriers to accountability within your industry and executive suites and fight the ingratitude or arrogance so endemic with your profile or executive office;
4) Get educated about the importance of accountability and develop a common understanding of its relevance to the business enterprise or portfolios in your company;
5) Make clear agreements for accountability and discuss their consequences upfront with all your employees and partners;
6) Commit to "calling out" lack of accountability in all your business and executive processes; and
7) Communicate from top to bottom accountability message and why all in the industry and your company must now take it very seriously.

It is only by doing all of these and more, can we start mending the fences, healing the wounds or making atonement for the sins or in actions that precipitated the last national financial debacle or crises, or the last accident mishaps or the pollution of the environment from oil spills.

Thursday, April 22, 2010






Saturday, April 17, 2010

Succession to the Icelandic Volcanic Eruption: Implications for the Climate Change Bill Experience

Regardless of your position on the Climate Change Bill, HR 2452, American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, we will eventually have to deal with the challenge of either passing or not passing the bill. Unless you believe that there is actually nothing like climate change because there is yet no credible data to convince skeptics like you, you would still have to transition from unbelieving to a believer when the impact of this problem actually hits you in the face. I can hear you say: heresy! But look at what just happened in Iceland?

This past week, meteorologists recorded wind speed of 40 miles an hour with ashes and volcanic waste due to the volcano eruption in that country. The 30,000 foot of volcanic explosion in far away Iceland is resulting in flooding which no one in Iceland or elsewhere, contemplated a month ago. Imagine if someone had informed residents of Iceland three weeks ago that they would experience a volcanic eruption of that magnitude or that three out of every five flights in Europe would be cancelled because the air is so polluted to the extent that pilots and airports’ managers consider it unsafe to fly a plane. They would have probably brushed that thought aside, just the way we are doing regarding climate change. Imagine also having 50,000 passengers on Euro rail an hour because flights in the larger part of Europe are cancelled or there is no flight in Europe until further notice because of the effect of the Icelandic volcanoes. Imagine further that the level of flight cancellations in some of our airlines heading for Europe becomes behemoth to an extent that millions are trapped in American airports and hotels due to the impact of an environmental event as far away as Iceland.  Finally, who could imagine that a volcanic eruption, an act of God in Iceland, can impact such a large number of people, countries, continents and overall world airline businesses? This is the reality of the unexpected, which the challenge of climate change may result into or precipitate, if nothing is done right now in Congress or around the world. The world is really getting smaller than we expect or conceive and the timing of an unexpected climate change can have a ripple effect far away from regions and or continents.

To help America and Americans prepare for the unexpected, which climate change falls under, it is about time we start sharing the development or non-development on the debate on climate change and what exactly is holding the bill behind in Congress. Citizens must seek a full floor consideration of the benefits or non-benefits of HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act. We must not allow the lawmakers alone to define whether the nation needs to pass a climate change bill or not. We can all be hit by the vagaries of climate change and no congressman can save us, if it happens right today! If we are not paying attention to what takes place in congress around a bill, if we fail to document what is being done and what isn’t, we face the chances of dealing with the impact of inaction and probably have to deal with the trade-offs of inaction on an issue that is important as our climate. The public needs to be asking questions right now about what is exactly holding back HR 2452, American Clean Energy and Security Act, and attempt to facilitate reconsideration of the bill by many lawmakers who have been working against the bill.

One aspect of successions of volcanic eruptions in Iceland is its impact on air quality in most of Europe. If Europeans had been prepared for this unexpected volcanic eruption, maybe they would have gained on time and energy to deal with the repercussion of the behemoth explosion. If some of our lawmakers maintain that we do not have to be worried about the problem of climate change, simply because we do not yet have credible data on the problem, we may want to be cautious, because it is unwise to put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to the unexpected impact of energy shortage or climate change. We must attempt to edge against risk of climate change. We need to make laws that would help us help ourselves, even if we do not have the total information on the problem of climate change.

How do we mobilize the public once again behind the climate change bill? We may want to contemplate multiple things to bring to the table on the issue of climate change and the need to provide some energy security or the need to encourage lawmakers to resuscitate the climate change bill all over again. Here are some suggestions for the public to help resuscitate HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act in congress:
  • Write your congressman describing how you capture the possibility of the impact of climate change or energy insecurity on your immediate environment or the legislator’s constituency and why the lawmaker need to revisit HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act, again;
  • Develop a one-year calendar from the day HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act was introduced in congress, and your expectation from your congressperson on this bill;
  • Create and annotated Rolex of the key events that has taken place since the introduction of the bill in congress and what milestones you want accomplished and which of the milestones have been ignored by congress in the past six months;
  • Keep note of what your representative is doing on HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act, your communication with his or her office on your request for him or her to make a change on the  essential effort to pass the bill and the sequencing of the relegated parliamentary procedure that has been holding the bill back in congress;
  • Start a file on tips and tricks to move bills in congress and what has been failing with respect to HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act. Describe what is expedient for your representative to do, to help demonstrate the importance you place on the issue of climate change and energy security;
  • Create a profile of consequences of failing to edge against unexpected environmental events like the volcanoes in Iceland, earthquakes in California, Chile and Haiti; show the deplorable impact on human sufferings, energy security and death when we fail to act;
  • Offer to serve as  your precinct contact person  for the congressman regarding the majority feeling about HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act, and what you are willing to expend to help the congressman feel the tempo of his or her constituency;
  • Capture critical personal stories regarding events considered as act of God, which the Climate Change impacts may fall under, and call the attention of your congressman to the benefits of taking some steps to address part of the potential impact of the climate change experience;
  • Make notes on what you wished you had known about how congress passes a bill and see what you can change right now, to help you come to speed regarding how to move a bill ahead in congress and work towards your shortcoming to help redirect the fortunes of t HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act; and
  • Invite other members of your precinct or constituency to follow through with similar effort to help bring up the urgency and need to help pass HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act in the 111th Congress;
It is close to six months that the Climate Change bill has been lying fallow in the House of Representatives. Although the bill is currently being looked over by members of congress, who once proposed the bill and have persistently worked towards helping the bill move along in congress, the difficulty and challenges of oppositions and skepticisms from some lawmakers have been a set back and albatross around the neck of the bill. If we all can talk and highlight our concerns regarding HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act, if we can share information regarding the potential impact of climate change on the environment and the possible repercussion of not being prepared on our quality of life, we may be able to bring the lawmakers to our side and our wish to see that our lawmakers attend to our concerns on the climate change bill. Many lawmakers search around for ideas and initiatives on many bills and often they do not have all the information necessary to make informed and responsive decision regarding the bill. We must support our congressman to do what is in our interest in congress. It is absolutely fortuitous if our representatives do what we want regarding a bill in congress, however, when they don’t, it is partly because we fail to have our voice known or registered on the issues in consideration on a bill. We can no longer afford that luxury on HR 2452 - American Clean Energy and Security Act. We need to get back to work!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Language Use in political discuss: What the political consultants and Lobbyists are doing to our Democracy

“I love this country”. “We have boundless opportunities.” These are two statements often made by many Americans who subscribe to our Democracy. They are also statements subscribed to by members of the militias spread across the country, tea party members, anti-tax groups and pro tax groups. You might also be surprised that many in the political fringes, including television news and radio personalities, who use infuriating and destabilizing languages, consultants who serve cohorts of political parties’ extremists, and numerous hate groups, will also tell you they love this country. Who then shall we believe? Is it the lawmaker who takes language use notes to kill a bill that is designed to reform the financial upheaval that nearly brought the country to her knees about two years ago? Is it the radio talk-show personality who considers anyone who does not share his opinion on any political issue, a socialist, communist or a bastard that must be voted out of office; or, ‘that one’ that we must take our country from? Is it the lawmakers who are so subjective in their assessments of public policies that they allow politics to becloud their sense of judgment? Is it the politician who rises every morning and sees all issues through the prism of his political affiliation, Democratic or Republican? All these questions we must now answer, in light of our current experience with the tea party, the slow moving financial reform bill and the climate bill that has hit a big bump in congress. Until we are able to provide answers to these series of questions, it may just be difficult to move ahead with many of the domestic agendas that are crucial to the survival of this Democracy under the Obama’s Whitehouse.

It is no secret that many politicians use language consultants in writing their speeches and making comments, even on bills under consideration in congress. What would have been considered as treasonable language in the past, are readily used by some politicians on both aisle of congress? Languages that would have made previous generations of political leaders in this country shriek, has been randomly thrown around by some leaders of political parties in congress of today. Daily, you hear reported that a certain legislator said this or that regarding the President of the United States. Some of those things that are said are not only hurtful; they are languages that are better imagined than said, if we live in a cordial environment. However, it seems what is considered as cordial in some civilized communities, is foreign to some politicians or groups of persons. Interestingly enough, some of these languages are watering down to the general public. For example, how do you explain the comments of a chief executive of a coal mining firm that killed 29 of his workers, saying the President of the United States is uninformed about the laxities on safety issues in his firm?

Literarily, language consultants have put at the finger tips of many politicians what would objectively be considered aggravating discussion of political subjects. Type a key word into your search engine regarding bills before the United States Congress and viola, you see some comments from our politicians that make you wonder, how on earth, this kind of person got to be elected from his or her constituency to congress. I am not making it up, this is real. Try this one on google.com, bing.com or yahoo.com. The downside of using words and languages smitten by consultants that rarely appreciate where you are coming from as a person or politician, is that you end up with comments that to say the least, are embarrassing, even to the most shameless of politicians. Having different or several language consultants working for you as a politician, puts you in the middle of a milieu of comments that are considered sour, even by your spouse. Frankly, current languages accredited to some political leaders on very serious items of national discuss, have the potential of fractionizing our democracy. It is time, that as member of public with some decency, we begin to call lawmakers out on their use of language or words, not only for the sake of harmony in that august body called the United States Congress, but because of the implication of such languages or words to the safety of other lawmakers.

Imagine words as “pull the trigger”, “you’re a liar” “take back our country”, “Nazi”, “Obamacare” and “Commander-in-Thief”, among others. Are these responsible languages from any decent American? These are the types of comments that have come from politicians, Tea Party members and others, protesting public policies on issues of national security, health care, financial reform, taxation and immigration. If you go back thirty years, could you have heard our politicians using such derogative and inciting languages? Many of these languages capture the imagination of our children to the extent that our daughter inquired from us at the dinner table the other night, why are people so demeaning to Obama? We had to offer close to genuine rebuttals that many of those carrying the placards on national news with demeaning or derogative signs, are not necessarily mean to the President, they are just finding a way to express their frustration, which no one with a level of decency, can put a hand on, right away. To some of us, the right to first amendment is now being stretched to the limit and there is a need for us to say: halt, we are all red blooded Americans, would you like this if it was said about your uncle, brother, or father?

To cope with the reality of having to explain to our daughter when adults are not behaving as adults, we have had to draw from grandma’s book of acceptable decorum: “If what you are going to say is not going to add any pleasantries to a discussion, then say nothing! Politicians like citizens need to be watchful of what they say about themselves or about public policies under discussion, either in congress or in our little worlds, called our homes. What you would not ordinarily say to a neighbor, don’t say it at work. For lawmakers, the Congress is their place of work and the presence of the press, as easily misconstrued as a means to get your message out, can be easily abused by politicians and the public, alike. The Press occasionally attempts to capture sensation and the use of words lacking valor are often broadcasted once made by a politician, especially when the politician is considered one of the leaders in his or her party.

Politicians and political action groups who use consultants for speeches and communications, either in congress or public, may want to make sure that the type of language or the form of words advanced by this consultant on an issue of discuss, is one that they effectively subscribe to, because once used, it becomes your language, no one else’s. The language may be used to capture your understanding or reservation on a subject, however, the connotation of the language at that very moment of utterance comes to be yours; both in embodiments and distaste by the average person who appreciates cordiality and decency in the use of language. The tools to capture the essence of your position on a subject do not have to be vulgar to make the necessary impact.

Whether it is public speech or deposition before congress, politicians must reflect rather than continue spinning the wheels on the same position that does not advance any worthiness to the subject at hand. Yes, I want my emotions known on this subject or I want to carry the huge burden of my political affiliation, may be something that is important to you as a politician, but it does not have to be done disparagingly or in explicit vulgarity. There are several tacit tricks used by language consultants just for the razzle-dazzle effect, but not for substance. Don’t be caught in that web of emotions or indecency. Always remember you are a public person in a public arena, always; whether on the floor of congress or in your dentist’s clinic!

Let your language on political and public issues capture the substance of your argument with a decency that your stakeholders (constituency) would be proud of. Crying out with an iota of derogation exposes you to a lot of unkindness that you are attempting to dish out and it portrays you in a very bad light. Learn not to be overtly carried away by the heat of the moment. Your expectation on a subject from other lawmakers or citizens may not just be what you like or feel comfortable with, however; you do not have to submit yourself to baseless crudity! A word is sufficient for the wise.