Posts Tagged ‘Steven Pearlstein’

Breaking The Mold

November 13, 2011

I know I have been absent from this site for about three months, but I thought by taking this hiatus and stepping back from the fray, looking at our world from a distance, would give me deeper insight into the political and ethical mechanisms that run our country and our world.    Well, my absence did not do that; rather, I have come to accept the fact that our political system and overall society is indeed incompetent.  Believe  you me, the situation is even worse than I had thought it to be.   I was confident (read as “naive”) that there had to be “more”, something good that our institutions and politicians knew of and we did not,  that would justify all of their dawdling, lying, personal moral incursions and avoiding the real issues.  The GOP clowns who are running for President along with almost all of our incumbent lawmakers (affiliated with BOTH parties) are no better than the clowns who already hold office.  Our congressmen are not fulfilling their job duties and obligations but instead, continue to obstruct solutions to our real problems and turn their attention to preserving their very own political positions.

Before you jump all over me, even President Obama is guilty for some leadership failure.  However, given our current unworkable government and its political obstructionism, he keeps on trying to alter the landscape.  I still honor his abilities and standards.  However, perhaps the Office of the President is not going to be the venue for him to maximize change.  Maybe he will find another avenue to actually implement his vision.  Unfortunately, the Presidency is not that pathway.  Mind you, this is not an excuse for all of the compromises he has had to make.  Our divided country is deeply divided on ideological terms, political policy and its social agenda.

From our halls of government, corporate board rooms, religious synods, university sports programs and the personal morality of each and every American, we are experiencing a failure in leadership.  Steven Pearlstein writes today about this vast, widespread plague of ignoring justice, honesty and personal morality.  An infection of equal importance is when the individual himself is innocent of any wrongdoing, for not stepping up to the plate and calling the legal or ethical issue into question, better known as the “bystander syndrome”.  Please, please read Pearlstein’s article, as it is a great synopsis of institutional failure.

More important, all of these  failures that Pearlstein writes, occurred just last week.  Mind boggling.  The greater failure is on the individual basis.  My theory is that all of these failures of decent, humane and legal behaviors start with the individual.  I have always maintained that an ethical, productive society starts right at home.   Thus, you often read on this site about raising our children with a firm ethical hand, teaching them, with absolute  tunnel-vision and setting the example, that there will be consequences for their actions.  Pearlstein doesn’t emphasize the fundamental role of the individual in this wider, global leadership failure.

The ongoing ugly, illegal, immoral paths that governments, corporations and religions partake all start with one person.  The various people in The Penn State debacle who have been punished for their actions are not only the perpetrators of wrong acts; most of them, like Mr. Paterno, the university President, etc., were witnesses, not the actual perpetrator.  This is called the “bystander syndrome” and is a very real phenomenon.  The watchers, like the people of Germany and really the entire world during Hitler’s reign, are just as guilty as the people who actually committed the atrocities.

The worst part of this global leadership failure is that we accept it mainly because it is so prevalent.  Thus, the perpetrators, driven by their need for power and personal lucre, continue their atrocious behaviors because —– yes, indeedy —– they are getting away with it.  Their violations of any legal and personal code of ethics is the accepted state of affairs.

I remain amazed by the GOP presidential candidates because they are displaying an enormous vacuum regarding their political, historical and economic intellect, turning instead to half-remembered facts, lots of misinformation and boning up on the political ropes of a campaign instead of opening the books on history, economics and international relations.  However, Bill Maher’s take on this week’s happenings will not only reinforce their dull abilities and clownish antics, but shall be one of the funniest back-and-forth in the world of politics.  It has to do with candidate Herman Cain.  Cain announced today that “God wants him to be President.”  In return, Bill Maher commented relevantly.  But this is one of the funniest lines I ever heard.  After informing us today of Cain’s special relationship with God, Maher pipes up (and I paraphrase):

“Since God advised Cain to run, he must be fucking over the other Republican presidential candidates who have also claimed that God was their advisor.”

Oh no! Do we have another failure here?  And if so, has God messed up?  Is He lying?  Is He a fickle God, subject to all the temptations out there, kind of like the forces affecting those that rule?  Oh well.  If God is such a damaged force, if He can commit such hypocrisy, well then, why can’t the rest of us follow his lead?  Citing God as the ultimate decider is one big excuse for not fulfilling accepted standards of behavior.

So no: my three-month vacation from all of this nonsense backfired.  Things ARE exactly as they seem.  However, my fire has been rekindled.  Go for it, Occupy Wall Street.  Throw everything you’ve got at ’em, Elizabeth Warren.  Jam up the phone lines of your Congressmen and continue to let them know that they will not get your vote if they back illegal and unethical behavior.  Boycott those enterprises that are thieves.  Ma and Pop Jones, please stay active in your local schools.

Above all, teach your children well the morality that will result in a safer, saner and viable world.  For Heaven’s sake, sit down to a family dinner every single evening and discuss the larger implications of your day’s events in relation to world events.  Do not answer the telephone during those meals and turn off the damn television.  We can complain that events have a life of their own and that we really have no influence over those events.  Wrong.  Each and every one of us has the responsibility to alter our world, starting with our children right at home.  If we do not take advantage of that control in our own homes, then yes, we are doomed.  Mostly, children learn by example.  Set the right example for them.  Forgo the new, large-screen TV or a bigger house.  Instead sock away that money into a college fund for your kids.

Failure of leadership is a reality.  It doesn’t have to be so in your own home.  Break the current, static mold of legal and ethical deficiency.  Hammer home, often and consistently, the role of personal responsibility.  Then, watch how the “good stuff” becomes internalized into your child’s world.  Hopefully, desperately, the next generation can provide the world with a new mindset, a new path of transformation, a world where it is a real shame, a failure, to conduct and condone wrongful behavior.

Imagine a world where legality, social justice, honest economic rewards and individual responsibility ruled the roost.  Just suppose that leading a moral and productive life came back into vogue.  What a world it would be if we practiced what we preached.  It would be so self-reinforcing to strive for the good.  I’m in; are you?

The United States of Vegas

March 12, 2010

O.  My.  God.  Holy derivatives.  Although not surprising given the vacuous, moral state of affairs of our financial underpinnings, America is planning to weaken further the integrity of our financial institutions by expanding its role as a veritable betting parlor.  Not possible, you say?  Listen up.

First, you must read this article by Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post today …. and read it very carefully:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/11/AR2010031104794.html?sub=AR

I was dumbfounded when I read this .  Isn’t it enough that our great investment banking houses have securitized financial instruments such as derivatives, that nearly (and the possibility still very much exists because there have been no new regulations passed to curb derivative transactions) brought our nation to its greedy feet?  As Pearlstein notes: of course these banks had no qualms about selling mortgages to unqualified people.  The banks just lumped together all of these liens, good ones but mostly bad ones, into various pools of dung and sold them to even greedier entities looking to make a killing in the market.  No attention was ever paid to the individual debts that made up these portfolios of crap.

Now Hollywood wants to securitize the earning potential of movies.  Please, please tell me how this is any different from betting on who will win the Superbowl, where the next earthquake will hit and how strong a rating it will  merit on the Richter Scale, how many children and of what gender Malia and Sascha Obama will have and finally, when a comet will crash into the earth?

The investment banking firm of Cantor Fitzgerald, one and the same as the company that had a major presence in the World Trade Center when it went down on 9/11 and who lost hundreds of employees, plans on jumping into the Hollywood futures market by peddling these hollow investment opportunities.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

America has turned its financial foundation, i.e. huge banking enterprises, into a casino.  The worst part though, is that there will be a market for these instruments.  As greedy as the bankers are, their customers complete the circle of avarice by purchasing these vehicles.   We are part of a world guided by a dearth of morals, seeking only the ego-fulfilling high that an immediate windfall, or in this case, the hope of a windfall, can provide.

How on earth can our economic structure survive when the most basic building block is the riskiest?  The concept of that good old “investment triangle” is based on the most secure investments filling up the larger, bottom third of investment strategy.  If this portion of asset allocation is composed of the riskiest investments, there is no foundation.  Our economic architecture then becomes a house of cards, ready to collapse at any moment.

The thought that fiduciary entities, whose primary instructions are to be prudent with their investor’s monies, will be buying these supposed “investment” vehicles, makes me sick.  Pension funds, unions, charities, and individuals will no doubt be powerless to deny themselves the chance of  higher returns.  Peoples’ hard-earned money may very likely go down the drain, along with their retirement funds and general well-being.  Just remember this: no more bailouts for stupid, greedy behavior whose dangers have been outlined at the outset.  Enough is enough.

It is not like we haven’t been down this road already.  But as I mentioned the other day, since America no longer makes any tangible goods (thanks to our infinite wisdom to send those tasks overseas where the labor is cheaper and, alas, the quality control practically nonexistent), we have had to design new “products” that can be sold.  These creative products, like derivatives, are often empty shells, offering returns only for the companies that sell them.

We are certainly the United States.  We are united in our stupidity and greed.  The United States of Vegas.  When will America wake up and smell the roses?  Forewarned is forearmed.

A MUST-READ: THE FINANCIAL REFORM SPEECH THAT WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR

http://kaufman.senate.gov/press/floor_statements/statement/?id=aca5b91a-6e51-4d6b-a367-414ad9641500

Addendum to Our Foxy Sarah

January 13, 2010

Just after I published my last post, “Our Foxy Sarah”, I found this article in the Washington Post by Steven Pearlstein:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/12/AR2010011203671.html

In his commentary on what ails NBC, Pearlstein makes it clear that the mismanagement responsible for NBC’s short, distorted outlook is exactly and equally what is at work in all levels of country today.  Regarding my last post re: Sarah Palin, she smells from the same disease, i.e. reaping short term monetary and media popularity rewards while sacrificing long term strides in quality and depth of real development.

Pearlstein hit the nail right on the head.

Depraved Health Reform

August 7, 2009

I know that I include a lot of reading from other sources on this website, but the teacher in me always wants to educate.  Plus, many other writers speak to the issues so much better than I do.  In that same vein, this weekend’s assignment will be  heavy.  And then, if you do your required reading first, I promise you a fun-filled post on the wonders, relevance and memories of summer camp.

Today’s showcase article is by Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post.  The title is “Republicans Propagating Falsehoods in Attacks on Health-Care Reform”:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/06/AR2009080603854.html?sub=AR

There are a few specifics, among many,  that I want to point out in this article.  First, Pearlstein starts out by saying that the issues of the day are SO important that he, like myself, will bring to bear the personal motives of the people with whom he disagrees.  This tack is similar to my ridiculing of Sarah Palin as a deterrent to her EVER becoming one of our future Presidents.  Better safe than sorry:

As a columnist who regularly dishes out sharp criticism, I try not to question the motives of people with whom I don’t agree. Today, I’m going to step over that line.

Pearlstein also calls the GOP “political terrorists”.  This is an apt moniker for the members of that party who really do place elitism, class distinction, personal ambition,  political revenge and most of all, bucks in their coffers,  above the cause for the betterment of the people.  Their placement of “shills” at the town hall meetings to instigate and incite citizens on such made-up issues as “socialized medicine” and  “euthanasia” is the lowest tactic of all.  Definitely depraved, but not surprising.  It is the “big lie”: scare the people silly and they will believe almost anything.

Please read the entire article, as it fully explains the rancorous opposition with which we are faced.  Finally, Pearlstein’s last paragraph is perfect:

Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society — whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.

Pearlstein correctly makes the leap from the issue of health care reform to the possible corollary of the collapse of our society-at-large.

The second article I will cite is by Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post.  Despite his conservative and anti-Obama stance, he often is quite perceptive in his writing.  Here is today’s piece:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/06/AR2009080602933.html

While Krauthammer is so correct in his premise that true health care reform can happen only if it accompanied by tort reform and a revamping of employers’ responsibility for providing coverage, he and I disagree on the solutions.  Contrary to Krauthammer’s opinion, of course we need a public option to ensure that the private insurers offer and deliver to their policyholders what they promised.  I would even take this public option one step further: require our legislators to subscribe to the public option, thus giving that program a better chance of staying honest and sensitive to their policyholders’ needs.  Additionally, Krauthammer is not truthful when he says that the GOP does not want the status quo.  Of course they do.  They are the “Party of No” and their overriding goal is to have the Obama administration fail.  Period.

The final article that you must read is the cover story in Business Week, written by Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein.  Their premise is that the insurance companies have “already won”:

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_33/b4143034820260.htm?chan=magazine+channel_top+stories

Among the  factors affecting  the proposed reform, such as political motives, tort reform, costs  and tax policy, the final nail in the coffin is our corrupt medical insurance industry.  Certainly after you read my post of yesterday, “The Sick Status Quo”, and viewed the horrible tactics of UnitedHealth Care, this Business Week article will not significantly shock you.  One would think that the the likes of our Cignas, Aetnas, Blues and of course, UnitedHeath Care, would be on the side of the angels.  After all, even after acknowledging the fact that we are a capitalist  nation, surely the health care insurance industry would have some regard for the products that they sell, which are oftentimes the deciding factor between living and dying.  But not so.  Once again, I am incensed that the profit statistics of these companies track almost identically  the increase in premiums.  All the variables falling in between the premiums paid and profits taken, like the actual health care, seem to be immaterial; the business that these companies sell, the actual delivery of services and coverage,  is merely a footnote for these companies.  Is it no wonder that our health care system is deceitful, crooked and weighted to reward the industry at large and the executives at hand?  Also, when the insurance companies deny payment on often, already delivered life-saving treatment by calling the service “experimental”, “cosmetic” or just the all-encompassing “unnecessary”, the ripple effect could eventually tear apart our economy and social structure.  Is it fair that the hospitals, physicians and pharmacies that have already delivered these services not get reimbursed based on the retroactive whim of the insurance carrier?  In the end, these health care providers are the ones who really pay the price of the insurance industry’s greed and dishonesty.  So the insurers get to keep their premiums while the costs of delivered treatment are borne by the providers.  No wonder the insurers reap 30% profits.  Quite a racket.

For our politicians to assume that what we have is good enough is a blatant lie.  Also, don’t think for a minute that it is only  the Republicans who are wrong in their status quo premise.  The Blue Dog Democrats are just as at fault.  Statistics show that the funds they receive from the health care lobby are significantly higher than the amount other Democrats take in from that same source.   What, with lining their pockets and PACS with money from the trial lawyers association and the private insurers, their intentions are no more admirable than their GOP rivals.

So my comrades in cahoots, an overhaul in our health care industry is a must.  The reform must include —-  even if it is only experimental in nature and an overall framework rather than a detailed plan —a public option, tort reform, a shift from financially crippling employer based plans to independent pools of risk, and a recognition by ALL INVOLVED PARTIES, i.e. the consumer, the health care provider  and the insurance company,  of the costs versus the benefits, expectations versus the realities, that things will have to change across the board.  All of us will need to accept change, to alter our wants, to ante up and pay a reasonable amount for our health coverage, to sacrifice the past for the future,  so that we can eliminate the ugly status quo.

Steven Pearlstien was prescient in his appraisal of the first necessary requirement for reform: accepting that our current system is dead in the water.  Until we all come together to make the necessary changes, the chance of total inundation is very much alive.