An Immigrant’s Message

It was interesting getting out of Washington D.C. this week and talking to people outside the Capital about what they were thinking.
During Presidential campaigns and debates, I always hear the candidates say, “And let me tell me about (whoever) that I met from (wherever) and they told me (whatever).”Usually, when I hear these anecdotes, I wonder what the real meaning of these are, given that they are hand-selected by the candidates to prove their points of view.So I tried it myself in Florida this week to see what people where thinking about Washington and our national predicament—I asked, “What do you think?”Well let me start by saying that I didn’t talk to as many people as a presidential candidate does—that’s for sure—but I also wasn’t looking a tag line for my next rally or speech.

So here are a few things I heard from everyday people, most of them immigrants or children of immigrants.

One person I spoke to was from Haiti and had settled in Florida.  So I asked what his concerns were.  He told me about the suffering back in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and how so little (relatively-speaking) had been rebuilt.  So far, I wasn’t really shocked at anything he said.  But then he went on to tell me how people in the Haitian community believed that the cause of the catastrophe was (no, not mother nature, but rather) that the U.S. government was testing new weapons in the Caribbean (from underwater submarines) and that this (accidentally) triggered the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

I asked what made them think this, and he told me how the people back in Haiti had witnessed U.S. response efforts and how zones were “mysteriously closed off” and the event was handled in tremendous stealth.  I asked was it just him whom thought this?  And he told me that this was a widely held belief by the people there.

Well, this was not like anything I had heard in the any of the candidate speeches during the election.  Maybe this guy was just an oddball, crazy, and telling wives tales about the going-ons in the Beltway, and everyone else was just feeling rosy.

So I spoke to someone else, a cabdriver from Romania living here for nearly 30 years – old enough to remember his country of birth but experienced enough to compare life there and here. He told me that he felt the people in Washington D.C. did not really care about him or others in the country. I asked what he meant by that.  He questioned our leaders of many decades (with the exception of two in the last 40 years—which I won’t name to protect the others), and he said that the others are basically just in it for themselves.

With regards to the “fiscal cliff,” he said, “No one is willing to make the real decisions that the country needs.”  He went on to add, “Unfortunately, politics has become just a profession.” Moreover, he said that “People aren’t even thinking short-term [let alone long-term], they’re just not thinking at all!”

This immigrant said he was worried generally about the future of the country and warned of what he believed was civil unrest to come, because he felt nobody was really dealing with our serious financial problems. He said that he had lived through a thousand-percent inflation back in his home country, literally, and that he felt we were going down the same road. Matter-of-factly he said, “Washington has bankrupted this country.”

Again, this was very different from the spin on most of the news shows these days, where the real estate recovery (however slight), consumer confidence (rising but on the edge with the rest of “the cliff”), and healthy personal and corporate balance sheets are all the rave. “What, me worry?” is the dominant attitude, not only about the “fiscal cliff” and the well known $16 trillion deficit, but also the other $86.8 trillion in national debt for entitlements, which according to the Wall Street Journal (27 November 2012) is not readily discussed.

My wife spent time talking to a woman less about politics, but more about her life predicament. Her husband passed away after 27 years of marriage, and she was just eking out a living primarily on the survivor benefits. She was living in a trailer, and having trouble finding a job. (“There is a lot of age discrimination out there,” she said.) She said she was lonely, despite her boyfriend, and that what mattered to her was just having some nice people in her life to talk with.  Her current plans were to continue monitoring her boyfriend’s activities on dating sites—he didn’t realize she could do that – and visit Bulgaria. There, she would meet the family of her late father, who unbeknownst to her had a child with a mistress that she only learned about upon his passing. She was angry at the doctor who prescribed her hormones, which she is certain gave her breast cancer, and she indicated that if she could do it over again she wouldn’t have listened so unquestioningly to what he said. For her, alternative healing such as attending a “drumming circle” was helpful, especially in calming all “the chatter “and worry on her mind.

While she didn’t talk about the country per se, this lady was clearly having a tough time in life and although she smiled frequently, the pain she felt was clear not only by the stories she told, but by the look on her face.

So, these were some stories that I heard—a little different from campaign fodder—but very telling in a way about what REAL people out there are thinking and feeling—versus the sound bites.

Now, we need to figure out how to dispel the negativity out there and help people and the country get it together.  It’s not enough to bicker, but we need a grand vision, a genuine strategy to get there, and the ability to articulate it to the masses—sacrifice will be needed, it’s time to get down to it and be real for at least the third time in 2 generations. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Goldman Sachs Reputation Sacked?

Sacking_of_rome

When Greg Smith published his editorial in the New York Times (14 March 2012) on the alleged debased culture and greedy exploits at Goldman Sachs, this was far from surprising after the many misdeeds of Corporate America over the last decade that saw the rise of Sarbanes Oxley in 2002 and the massive financial bailouts in 2008, which does not represent who we really are and can be.

It’s not that Corporate America is bad, it’s just that they frequently get rewarded for doing the wrong things.

All too often, promotions, corner offices, year-end bonuses, and stock options are the rewards for racking in profits, but are not necessarily tied to innovation and/or customer satisfaction.

I believe over the years this has taken many word forms from snake oil salesman, charlatans, spoilers, and many others.

Greg Smith who worked for a dozen years at Goldman–in of all things “recruiting and mentoring”–described the venerable Goldman Sachs as a place where:

– “Interest of clients continue to be sidelined”

– “Decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to it’s long-term survival.”

– If you make enough money for the firm…you will be promoted.”

– At sales meetings, “not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients.”

– Leaders callously “talk about ripping off clients” and call their clients “muppets,” a British slang terms for “idiots.”

The funny-sad thing is that after all these horrific accusations, Goldman has not come out and full-on-full repudiated these claims.

On March 15, the Wall Street Journal reported “Goldman Plays Damage Control” saying that “it will examine the claims.” 

Rather than denying the accusations in specific ways and pointing out their true moral fiber, the Chairman in a memo to employees chose to downplay the accuser calling him only one “of nearly 12,000 vice presidents” of 30,000 employees. In other words, this is just the opinion of a lone wolf.

More generally, the Chairman wrote coyly that this does “not reflect our values,our culture, and how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think of the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients.”

In another article, in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (19-25 March 2012), it states similarly that “Goldman Sachs would have you believe it’s learned from the financial crisis. Don’t be fooled.”

The article goes on to list a scathing history of scandal from Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation that “blew up” after the stock market crash of 1929 to Goldman’s settlement with the SEC for a whopping $550 million in 2010. Further, it describes a current conflict of interest case with El Paso and Kinder Morgan that they call a Goldman “heads-I-win, tails-you-lose approach.”

While I have always respected the likes of Goldman Sachs for their unbelievable brainpower and talent,the accusations against them and by extension against others in Corporate America is very concerning.

The notion that customers are but idiots for Corporate America to pillage and plunder is not democracy and capitalism, but greed and evil.

When we no longer value a creed of service above pure profiteering then moral bankruptcy is just a prelude to financial bankruptcy.

No company can stay afloat and be competitive over time, if they do not work to strengthen their balance sheets, income statements, and cash flows.

However, at the same time, no competitor can thrive for long on a culture of greed and duplicity that sees people as victims to spoil, rather than as customers to serve.

While I do not know the details of Greg Smith’s accusations, this last part I know in my heart to be truth.

(Source Photo: here)

>Technology Cannot Save Us From Arrogance

>

This week we saw firsthand what uncontrolled deficit spending can do to a modern democratic nation, such as Greece.

For all intents and purposes, Greece is bankrupt except for the ~$150 billion bailout they are getting from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union that will keep them afloat.

In return for the funds, Greece has to adopt “austerity measures” that will limit jobs, programs, and social spending.

The result this week was social unrest, rioting in the streets, and civilians killed.

Other European nations with high deficits to GDP spending are at risk, such as Portugal, Spain, and Italy, as well as major Asian countries like Japan.

The uncertainty and fear of this chaotic situation struck the U.S. stock market hard—with the S&P falling almost 800 points this week, during a time of supposed economic recovery.

Last evening, I watched on the news as a professor from Columbia University debated with the newscaster about whether or not the U.S. was susceptible to the same type of debacle that we are witnessing overseas.

The newscaster took the position that our $13 trillion national deficit—much larger than Greece’s—certainly put us at similar risk, even though we have a much larger GDP.

The professor countered that we are not like Greece—we are different and that what is happening there cannot happen here in America.

Why?

The professor said that he thought that we are more innovative, more technologically savvy, and more able to grow our way—economically—out of this. He laughed at the prospect of America running into any sort of grave financial difficulty, because of “who we are.”

As someone who is focused on the importance of technological prowess, innovation, and progressive change to our economic health, competitiveness and national security, I fully appreciate the vital importance of these factors.

Yet at the same time, it seems to me to be stretching credulity to say that technology and innovation alone can save us from the consequences of fiscal unrestraint.

While I believe in our strong political, social, and economic foundation, I question whether we are truly so different from our neighbors overseas.

For IT leaders, the point is that just because we drive investments in new technology—“the art of the possible”—that does not make us invincible.

While technology can help us grow in amazing ways and potentially solve our most complex and challenging problems, it is not a mystical, magical elixir and cannot solve our deficit no matter how large it gets unchallenged.

It seems to me that our greatest challenge is arrogance.

As a nation, we can by proud of our ideology and many achievements, but we cannot rest on our laurels, thinking that we are immune to the consequences of our mistakes. We must accept that our spending will catch up with us, unless we course-correct.