Thursday, September 29, 2016

New Best Friends

Sticks and stones can break my bones
But words can never hurt me.
A child’s reply to a taunt

It was a truly heart-warming couple of days-the rapprochement of two former bitter rivals, one of whom, in a moment of amazing grace, buried the hatchet and the other, in a similarly generous gesture, assisted in the burial. It was reminiscent of the small boys who, having quarreled, are instructed by their mothers to kiss and make up to show that they are, in fact, best friends. Any small boy who has kissed another small boy after a quarrel can attest to the unpleasantness of the task even though mandated by well-meaning mothers. The mothers in this case are expediency and the little boys none other than Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. It was all brought to mind because of Mr. Cruz’s recent acknowledgement that he plans to vote for Mr. Trump. It cannot have been an easy decision, given some of the unkind things that Mr. Trump said about Mr. Cruz, his wife, and his father, during the primary season and it shows how truly magnanimous Mr. Cruz can be when magnanimity and self-interest demand it.

The animosity between Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump finds its genesis in their respective efforts to get their party’s nomination for president in 2016. In his effort to convince voters that he would be a better president than Mr. Cruz, Mr. Trump employed a number of creative tactics that had not theretofore been used in national elections. Comparing the beauty of candidates’ wives was one. Mr. Trump has had three beautiful wives whereas Mr. Cruz has had only one beautiful wife. That gives Mr. Trump a three to one advantage over Mr. Cruz and, as if to emphasize that advantage, Mr. Trump posted on the twitter account of which he is so fond, a picture of his beautiful wife and an unflattering picture of Mr. Cruz’s beautiful wife. Not content to rely on an unflattering photo of a beautiful woman in order to show how beautiful his own and current wife is, Mr. Trump also ominously said he would eventually spill the beans on Mr. Cruz’s wife. That was apparently an idle threat since there were no beans to be found. The foregoing is not meant to suggest that Mr. Trump was a one issue candidate. He also brought Mr. Cruz’s father into the picture.

A tabloid published a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s assassin, distributing pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans. Mr. Oswald was accompanied by another man that the tabloid said was Mr. Cruz’s father, an assertion that was denied by Mr. Cruz and never proved. Not deterred by the fact that there was no evidence that the unidentified man was Mr. Cruz’s father, Mr. Trump pretended it was and said it was “horrible” that he’d been with the assassin two days before the assassin killed the president. After Mr. Trump had accepted the nomination at the Republican National Convention, he again repeated the assertion about Mr. Cruz’s father, apparently miffed that Mr. Cruz had not endorsed Mr. Trump in his convention speech.

Mr. Cruz was, as most decent people were, upset by Mr. Trump’s comments. The day after Mr. Trump’s comments about his father, Mr. Cruz explained why he had not honored his pledge to endorse the eventual nominee of the Republican party saying: “[T]hat pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,” Everyone who has a wife and/or a father applauded Mr. Cruz for his strong defense of family. Mr. Trump was not the least bit upset by Mr. Cruz’s decision not to endorse him saying: “If he gives it, I will not accept it.”

On September 23, Mr. Cruz became, as he had earlier described what he would be were he to endorse Mr. Trump, a servile puppy dog. He attributed his puppy dog like servility to his earlier pledge to support the Republican nominee, irrespective of who that might be, the pledge he had described two months earlier as “abrogated.”

Readers will be forgiven if they assume that Mr. Cruz’s endorsement of Mr. Trump would be ignored by Mr. Trump who had said, after the Republican convention, that he would not accept the endorsement even if offered. Instead of acting on his earlier announced intention to decline an endorsement from Mr. Cruz whom he had persistently addressed as “Lyin’ Ted” during the primary season, Mr. Trump accepted the endorsement saying: “We have fought the battle, and he was a tough and brilliant opponent. I look forward to working with him for many years to come in order to make America great again.”

It was almost certainly a distasteful kiss for both men. Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trump and Stumpf

So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear, Farewell remorse; all good to me is lost; Evil, be thou my good.
—John Milton, Paradise Lost

Wells Fargo is a metaphor for the Donald Trump campaign. The difference is that it is easier to effect a claw back in the Wells Fargo case than in the case of Donald Trump. In the Wells Fargo case, the need for a claw back is a disappointment. In the case of Donald Trump, it will be a disaster.

Wells Fargo was more happily in the news in June 2015, when it was announced that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was taking all its accounts away from the bank because the bank was running ads featuring same sex couples who use the services of Wells Fargo. Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, urged his followers to boycott the bank saying they “should speak out as Christians” in protest of the bank’s advertising practices. The bank was unmoved. That was the Wells Fargo that showed how a bank could take a stand on matters of principle irrespective of its effect on business. Its Donald Trump moment is more distressing.

September 2016 brought news that Wells Fargo employees had been pressured by their superiors to open unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts for existing customers. The more accounts they opened, the greater their bonuses. The fact that the customers neither requested nor knew of the benefits that bonus hungry employees were bestowing on them was of no consequence. The important thing was to open the accounts. Employees were expected to open three to four new accounts each day and the easiest way to do that was to open accounts for customers who already had accounts since the employees had all the information about the customers that they needed in order to open the accounts. September 8 it was disclosed that the bank was paying $185 million in fines and penalties because of that practice. There may have been more than 2 million deposit and credit card accounts created without the knowledge of the beneficiaries of the practice.

The director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said that the fine is the largest fine ever imposed by the Bureau. The bank has thus far fired 5,300 low level employees for engaging in the practice and more firings of low level employees may be in the offing. No senior employees have been punished. John Stumpf is CEO. The only adverse effect he has suffered as a result of the malfeasance of his bank, is being grilled by members of the Senate Finance Committee. Another person who suffered no adverse consequences as a result of the activity is Carrie Tolstedt.

Ms. Tolstedt is the divisional senior vice president for community banking and it was she who supervised the 6,000 branch banks where the fictitious accounts were being created. Although Mr. Stumpf knew about the fictitious accounts created under the watchful eye of Ms. Tolstedt, he described her as a “role model for responsible leadership” and “a standard-bearer of our culture.” She may be all those things and the proof would be found in the retirement package she will receive when she retires at the end of the year. In addition to $23 million in compensation that was paid to her during the last three years of her employment, she will leave with benefits that could be worth as much as $125 million. According to Bloomberg News, however, the company might be able to claw back $17 million in unvested shares owned by Carrie if the board of directors believes that to be appropriate. And therein the difference between Wells Fargo and Donald Trump.

Just as Wells Fargo employees were earning money by creating fictitious accounts for customers, Mr. Trump is gathering votes by creating a fictitious narrative about the world, the country in which we live, and the qualities of his opponent. His campaign is built on lies he is able to tell with a straight face and not the least bit of embarrassment when caught out. He has lied for so much of his life, that he himself may often not recall what truth is. His lies range from the birthplace of President Obama, his supposed opposition to the Iraq war from its inception, and his assertion that there are 30 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. For the week beginning September 9, a website that is fact checking Trump’s statements found 38 lies and described the week as being perhaps “Donald Trump’s greatest week of lies yet.”

Here is the difference between Wells Fargo’s victims and the American people. Wells will hold defrauded customers harmless and its board of directors can decide to claw back some of the compensation paid to Mr. Stumpf, Ms. Tolstedt and other high level employees who should have stopped the practice. It could even decide to fire responsible executives. Should Donald Trump win the presidency as a result of his fraudulent campaign, there is no way the American people will be held harmless. If they suffer voters’ remorse, they will be unable to claw back their votes. They will have to wait four years to fire him. That’s too bad.

For links see this column at Huffington Post

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Mosquito and the Politician

[A] vile insect that has risen up in contempt
against the majesty of Heaven and earth.
— Johnathan Edwards, The Justice of God . . . . (1734)

It turns out it didn’t make all that much difference except for the 1,700 newly confirmed cases of individuals who contracted the Zika virus during the time Congress was on holiday and whose fetuses may suffer life altering birth defects as a result. (Members of Congress do not refer to their time off as holiday. They call it “the district work period” a description that fools no one but makes members feel a lot better about being gone.)

When Congress went on vacation on July 14, 2016, it left many matters unattended to. One pertained to the right of individuals to fly the confederate flag in federal cemeteries, an important issue to be sure. It was an issue because in May a Bill was passed in the House that provided that Confederate Flags could no longer be flown in federal cemeteries. The provision restoring the right to fly the flag was part of the even more important issue of providing $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus. There were no consequences for failing to act on the issue of the confederate flag. There were dire consequences for failure to provide funds to fight the Zika virus as health officials had warned Congress there would be.

Of the 1,700 new cases of people infected by the Zika virus, Florida got a share. When the House left Washington in July, Florida had four reported cases of Zika infection that were believed to have been caused by members of the local mosquito population as distinguished from having been imported from outside the United States. While members of Congress were enjoying their seven-week vacation, the mosquitos in Florida and elsewhere were enjoying a vacation from whatever actions those seeking to control its activities might have implemented had funding been provided by Congress. By the time Congress got back to Washington after its vacation, there had been a 13-fold increase in the number of locally transmitted cases of Zika in Florida. The new victims were, of course, distressed at their plight but members of Congress, like the uncontrolled mosquitos in Florida, had enjoyed a care free seven weeks during which they could conduct themselves as they saw fit.

If the Zika bearing mosquitos thought that, with the return of Congress to Washington in early September, their days free from federal interference would come to an end, they did not need to have been concerned. Congress has, as of this writing, been back in session for almost two weeks and there is no sign it will provide funding to combat the mosquito, pay for research on potential vaccines or develop ways of quickly identifying those infected by Zika. In the case of Florida, however, that does not mean nothing is being done.

When in early August it became apparent that there had been four home grown cases of Zika, Governor Rick Scott announced that Zika prevention kits paid for with state funds would be distributed by the Florida Department of Health in order to curb the virus. Since this was Florida, however, Planned Parenthood clinics were exempt from the state sponsored distribution. They have not received any of the kits even though they serve a segment of the population that is low income and lacks the ability to get the kits for themselves. Planned Parenthood clinics did not receive kits from the state because, among other things, some Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortion services. When it comes to a question of whether (a) to help the mosquito by not providing state kits for Planned Parenthood to distribute to fight the Zika virus or (b) distribute kits to help Planned Parenthood fight the Zika carrying mosquito, Governor Scott has come down on the side of the mosquito. He favors the mosquito even though the funding for Planned Parenthood to help fight the Zika virus is to be used to pay for Zika testing and has nothing to do with providing abortions. Planned Parenthood is distributing its own kits through a door to door campaign in areas with high populations of women of child bearing age. The effort is being funded with funds provided by the national Planned Parenthood organization.

Here is what the foregoing tells us. For some members of Congress and Governor Scott, taking a stand against funding Planned Parenthood for any of its operations makes sense because some Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortion services that end the life of the fetus. Those people care about the lives of the unborn. They do not realize that failure to fund the fight against the Zika virus increases the chance that some children will be born with distressing birth defects. Someone should tell them.