The Hubris of Wall Street–Location, location, location

There’s an old saying in real estate: your property’s value is determined by one thing: location, location and location.

I guess the same is true when we’re discussing criminal culpability when you steal hundreds of millions of dollars from your investors.

Today, Russell Wasendorf got the book thrown at him. He’s the disgraced investment manager from Cedar Falls, Iowa who bilked his 13,000 clients out of $215 million over a 20 year Ponzi career. For his crimes, he received the maximum sentence of 50 years in jail. He’ll be 107 when he gets out.

Good. He deserves every day in jail he received.

But what about Wasendorf’s counterparts on Wall Street? The same sort of Ponzi scheme guys that robbed America of billions and sent us perilously close to the brink of financial ruin?

Too bad Russell, an additional offense is that you live and work in the wrong zip code. Remember, location, location, location.

Since the Great Financial Meltdown of 2008 began, which had its epicenter in Wall Street greed, the Obama Administration, SEC, and Treasury Departments have largely sat on their hands and let time elapse without taking any concrete action to prevent what happened from happening all over again. While they trumpet the Dodd-Frank legislation, it doesn’t seem to address the real causes of the Meltdown.

And what’s worse is that the Administration has been even more lax on bringing any of the Ponzi crowd to justice. And that’s raised the ire of Iowa’s senior Senator, Chuck Grassley.

In a tersely worded letter to the U.S. Attorney General, Senator Grassley asked if “too big to fail” now also means “too big to jail.” Senator Grassley’s ire is well placed, and the Administration’s policy of handling these cases is nearly incomprehensible.

And if this isn’t enough to raise your blood pressure yet, then please read a recent story in the Washington Post about how Treasury ignored its own guidelines on executive pay at firms that received taxpayer bailouts. Treasury approved compensation packages of more than $3 million last year for the senior ranks at General Motors, Ally Financial and American International Group.

It is absolutely shocking to me that the people who ran these companies into the ground and then leaned on the taxpayers of the US for massive bailouts should (a) have a job, much less (b) get a paycheck and certainly not (c) ever get a bonus.

So what’s the moral of this story for Russell Wasendorf?

Well, had he worked and lived on Wall Street, he would have gotten off scot-free. Heck, he probably could have gotten federal funds to bail out his Ponzi scheme, been retained as the firm’s CEO, and then received a bonus from the federal government for his hard work and sacrifice.

Location, location, location.

Leave a comment

Filed under Public Affaris

The Constitutional Conundrum

I’ve been writing, rewriting, and rewriting this post for weeks. It deals with my perspectives on the gun control debate raging across America in the wake of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn.

There have been many voices on this subject over the past few weeks. And one of my favorite writers, Charles Krauthammer, synthesized much of what I planned to write in an article that appeared in Sunday’s Des Moines Register. And of course, Mr. Krauthammer’s article was much better than any of my previous drafts. There’s a reason he’s a nationally syndicated writer, and I’m not.

My premise in this debate is rather simple: We need to focus not only on Second Amendment rights. We also need to focus on free speech rights of the First Amendment; due process rights of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments; and equal protection rights of the 14th Amendment. The ultimate solution, if people are serious about finding one, will involve concessions from all corners of the Constitution and from all interested.

As Mr. Krauthammer stated,

That’s a lot of impingement, a lot of amendments. But there’s no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.

We made that trade after 9/11. We make it every time the Transportation Security Administration invades your body at an airport. How much are we prepared to trade away after Newtown?

Those who are serious about getting to the bottom of this issue will speak clearly to that point. They will take the time to discuss infringement of all rights before focusing on the infringement of any rights.

Those who are only interested in demagoguery will only address selected rights.

We will know immediately that they are not serious about solving this problem or protecting public safety. They will be interested only in scoring cheap political points.  On this subject, we’ve had far too much of that already.

Leave a comment

Filed under Legislative Affairs, Public Affaris

Under Discussion: Big Business or Small Business

On my recent appearance on WHO-TV Insiders with Dave Price, we spent a lot of time discussing where the Iowa’s emphasis should lie in business generation: Big Business or Small Business. Our extended conversation on this topic can be found here: WHO-TV Insiders

To answer the question, I said “both,” and I think there are many examples of how the Branstad Administration has developed an atmosphere that will attract both big and small businesses. The best example, in my opinion (and, I admit, I’m biased) is Google. The successful partnership between Iowa and Google was highlighted earlier this week in the Omaha World Herald. A worldwide brand, the company has now invested over $1.1 billion in Iowa.

But more importantly, Google has gone above and beyond with the support of small business in Iowa with their Iowa Get Your Business Online efforts. Several thousand Iowa small businesses have benefitted from Google’s and Intuit’s partnership to help businesses get an online presence.

The State’s emphasis on attracting business doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game between Big Business and Small Business. It can, and will, attract both if it continues its sensible path to creating the right atmosphere for investment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Bias, Public Affaris

Under Discussion: The ‘Usefulness’ of the Iowa Straw Poll

On Sunday, I was a guest on WHO-TV’s “Insiders” program, hosted by Dave Price. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Dave over the years as he’s covered politics in Iowa, and he’s one of the shining stars in Iowa journalism. We covered a number of topics in our exchange, one of which was the current discussion over the fate of the Iowa Straw Poll.

The discussion about the fate of the Straw Poll is getting a lot of attention nationally, as well as inside of Iowa. The Governor thinks the event has “outlived its usefulness.” The Republican Party of Iowa has responded with a surprising level of vitriol to his statements.

I’ve had a lot of personal experience with the Straw Poll, traditionally held in Ames. I led the organizational efforts for Texas Senator Phil Gramm in 1995, who miraculously tied Senator Bob Dole that year. In 1999, I led Steve Forbes’ efforts when he placed second to George W. Bush, who won the Straw Poll and went on to become our 43rd President. In 2007 and 2011, I worked with the Republican Party of Iowa to produce the staging, video, lighting and audio elements of the show inside of Hilton Coliseum.

As someone who has been inside and outside the Ames Straw Poll, I have to agree with the Governor. My comments on “Insiders” are highlighted in the segment WHO Insiders, Part 3.

We’re coming off an election where Republicans were soundly drubbed due in large part to organizational weaknesses. Many, if not most, of the great organizational and tactical strides we made in the 2010 elections were cast aside or forgotten.

The Governor identified one of the white elephants in the room: The fate of the Straw Poll is just one of many issues the GOP has to address as it charts a course forward. The Governor deserves credit for being bold enough to start the process.

(Note: My Democratic counterpart on the show corrected me when I likened the Harkin Steak Fry to the Straw Poll. Its cousin in Democratic circles would be the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. There’s a solid reason I’m not asked to opine on Democratic political machinery.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Bias, Public Affaris, Reputation Management

Real Problems at the Root of Fake Scenario

The movie “Janeane from Des Moines” has created a lot of headlines recently. Everyone from the New York Times to Iowa’s home-grown newspaper, The Des Moines Register, has mentioned the issues brought up in this mockumentary.

With our state’s “first in the nation” status, Iowans have the coveted role of meeting political candidates in-person, asking them tough questions and sharing our vision with the rest of the country. We welcomed these candidates into our homes, we introduced them to our friends and we established a bond with them that goes well beyond Election Day. We put our trust and hopes in these candidates to lead us, to make our country a better place to live and work.

One only has to look back over the past few months, with the almost unprecedented presence of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan to see the impact Iowa can have on any given national election. Just last night in his final campaign stop for the 2012 election, President Obama praised Iowa voters for their intellect, their passion and their commitment to the process, Regardless of your political party, those were compliments that should make all Iowans quite proud.

We know the candidates aren’t perfect — they are human after all. But, we do rely on them to have some responses and solutions to the problems weighing voters down. So, when we saw first-hand evidence that candidates struggled with how to respond to voters’ very personal appeals for help, it really shook our beliefs in the people and in the system.

That’s why “Janeane from Des Moines” has really created waves. It pointed out those flaws, and it made those of us working to improve the political process feel like dupes, unable to help. These are real problems our family, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens are facing. We should have been able to provide voters with more than just a campaign’s taglines or talking points.

When I met “Janeane from Des Moines,” I didn’t know it was a fake scenario. I was truly upset at this woman’s obvious distress in not being able to get the answers she so desperately needed. Even after realizing it was a set-up, I was still sympathetic to the issues the actress and the film bring up. Voters in this election cycle — like so many others before it — have real problems they want solved, and it is in the hands of our elected officials to help them.

That said, I have to admit the movie, and my unsuspecting role in it, did bother me. My real beef with Janeane’s (or should I say Jane Edith’s) stunt is this: In Iowa, we depended on the interaction with the candidates to be relevant as an early test ground. It was our opportunity to listen to what they have to say and measure their characters. We took this role very seriously, and so did the candidates. If future candidates come to think Iowa voters are part of some stunt for a movie, or conspiracy to trap them in situations that make them look bad — not real people with real problems — they may choose to stop taking questions and possibly even feel like they can’t be honest with us.

To let this happen would completely undercut the entire premise of Iowa and our status of first in the nation. The lesson learned from this situation is this: It is the voters’ job to be just as honest and as forthcoming as we expect our political candidates and elected officials to be. In return, candidates and elected officials need to continue to do a better job of relating to voters’ problems and give them more than just a campaign-approved sound bite in response.

2 Comments

Filed under Media Bias, Public Affaris, Reputation Management

The ‘Unforgiven’ Eastwood Electrifies Americans, Offends Media

A while back, I wrote a post about Clint Eastwood’s “Halftime in America” advertisement, which ran during the Super Bowl. I thought it was brilliant, catching the exact sentiment of America.

Last night, I watched the same icon in his appearance at the Republican National Convention. It was unscripted. He did not use the TelePrompTer as every other speaker did.

He was allotted five minutes, yet took a full twelve to conduct a faux interview with President Obama. The President was represented by an empty chair, which seemed to electrify the audience in Tampa.

Unfortunately, he also electrified a vitriolic media corps. Today his appearance is being attacked by some in the media (who often show a clear bias in favor of President Obama and more liberal causes).

It doesn’t surprise me that he’s being attacked by these outlets. His offense, in their eyes, is that he appeared at the Republican National Convention at all. Had he made the same appearance at the Democrat’s convention next week, and done the same “interview” of an absent Governor Romney, he would have been hailed as a bold genius.

But the wisdom of Clint Eastwood is this: In his “Halftime in America” advertisement he captured the essence of America, one of hopeful pride, deep strength and resilience. Last night, he did the same in an unscripted, unedited moment. He noted that the fact 23 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed is a national disgrace, one that makes him cry. And that none of us, not even the President, has done enough to help our fellow Americans.

One specific passage in his remarks will resonate deeply with the millions of Americans who watched him last night (allow me to paraphrase):

As Americans, we own this country. It belongs to each and every one of us.

Politicians, and those we elect, are our employees. Not the other way around.

When they don’t do a good job, or don’t do their job at all, we need to let them go and hire a replacement.

Those in elected office (regardless of party) and those in the biased media know the simple power of those truisms. That sentiment is exactly what America feels right now.

In “The Unforgiven,” a retired gunslinger named William Munny comes out of retirement for one last job. Last night, Clint Eastwood did one last job. The biased media knows he was effective, and that’s why today they’re trying to undercut him with such harsh criticism. I’m sure it couldn’t matter less to Clint Eastwood. And it couldn’t matter less to the tens of millions of people whose thoughts he succinctly put into words.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Bias

Does Biz Speak Make You Cringe, Too?

I recently came across a blog post titled “12 Most Offensive Phrases You Could Use In Your Business” authored by a gentleman named Marc Ensign that had me questioning the way I communicate.

I’m not sure what prompted Marc to write this post, but I was hooked after glancing at the opening line “Listening to most business people talk makes me cringe.” In his post, Marc contends that most people who fall into this category “purposely sprinkle their language with fancy schmancy catch phrases and five dollar words…”

Could I be one of those people? Are you?

After reading Marc’s article, I was inspired to continue his mission. Here are a few more thrown about the business world on a daily basis.

  1. “I truly appreciate what a collaborative effort this has been…” which translates to “I fully intend to immediately dismiss your ideas as soon as this conversation is over.”
  2. “It is what it is…” more often than not means that someone on your team didn’t think of this possibility, and now everyone is scrambling to cover their tracks, including you.
  3. “This is a real game changer…” really means you are overpromising something to your client or business partners, and when things go awry, you’ll resort to #2 above.

What are some of your favorite overused and/or offensive phrases overheard in business situations? Give us “your two cents.”

1 Comment

Filed under Reputation Management