Monday, April 30, 2012

Recovery of Dear Loser

Because of the total control of media, the North Korean people are unaware that their “Great Successor” is generally viewed globally as a failing wannabe successor to his late father’s status as a Western-antagonizing, fear inducing leader with a powerful military and the willingness to use it. His first military effort, to launch a long-range rocket capable of carrying a nuclear payload to distant shores (under the guise of a weather satellite), exploded moments after ignition and generated a more humiliating “loser” perception among his enemies.

Some predict that the young man will not be able to rise above the clutter and assume true power in his state. “Officially, Kim Jong-un is part of a triumvirate heading the executive branch of the North Korean government along with Premier Choe Yong-rim and parliament chairman Kim Yong-nam (no relation). Each nominally holds powers equivalent to a third of a president's powers in most other presidential systems. Kim Jong-un commands the armed forces, Choe Yong-rim heads the government and Kim Yong-nam handles foreign relations. In practice, however, it is generally understood that Kim Jong-un, like his father before him, exercises absolute control over the government and the country.” Wikipedia.

Recently, to bolster his ascension to power, Kim’s been getting lots of cool new titles to add to his list: First Chairman of the ruling National Defense Commission (the top military post) and first secretary of the Workers’ (Communist) Party, a newly-created position that would seem to give him the authority to rule the isolated East Asian country. And while he loves the armored car deliveries of U.S. currency (in exchange for cheap assembly line labor at an industrial park a few miles north of the DMZ) to pay for his decadent Western luxuries, he seems recently to be more focused on proving his manhood to the world with a litany of new threats to South Korea and its leadership, whom Kim claims disrespectfully snubbed his father’s funeral tributes. The West also challenged his right to launch this “weather satellite” following his agreement to suspend nuclear and missile tests in exchange for food and medical supplies.

On April 23rd, Kim accused the South of slandering his leadership, and promised “special actions” by his military in retaliation. “[T]he North Korean military said it would act ‘soon’ and named its targets, including the government of President Lee and several South Korean newspapers and television stations… ‘The special actions of our revolutionary armed forces will start soon to meet the reckless challenge of the group of traitors,’ the North Korean military command’s ‘special operation action group’ said in a statement carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. ‘They will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style.’…

“North Korea has regularly threatened to attack the government of President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea. In recent weeks, its threats have become harsher and more specific, prompting some analysts to warn that North Korea’s new leadership under Kim Jong-un might instigate a military provocation as part of its effort to establish Mr. Kim’s authority at home and boost his negotiating leverage with the United States…Mr. Lee called the launch a waste of money that could have been used to buy food for the North Koreans. Last week, he also advised ‘the young leader in the North’ to abandon his country’s collective farm system to resolve its food problem. South Korea also unveiled a new cruise missile capable of hitting targets anywhere in the North… North Korea staged mass rallies of soldiers and workers calling the Lee government ‘a group of rats’ - an extremely offensive phrase in Korean culture -- and vowing to destroy it.” New York Times, April 23rd.

While the South generally does not respond to such threats, there are signs that both the United States and the South Korean leadership have raised the alert levels in the South, and no one would be surprised if in fact some form of attack occurred.

To make matters even worse, North Korea appears about to test its third underground nuclear device sometime in the immediate future in clear defiance of its pledges and the desires of most of the rest of the world. Previous tests occurred in 2006 and 2009. Kim seems hell-bent on showing the world that his cherubic face and diminutive stature belie a fundamental “devil may care” bravado.

The United States was powerless to neutralize North Korea’s ascension to nuclear weapons status during the reign of Kim Jong-il, young Kim’s father, because Korea sat under the protective umbrella of the Peoples Republic of China, and, to a lesser extent, Russia. But clearly, his most recent round of saber-rattling has even his allies concerned. As usual, the coming months are going to provide interesting insights – perhaps with dangerous consequences – into this nascent leader’s bid to justify his rise to power in the eyes of the world, and perhaps in the eyes of his own military leadership.

I’m Peter Dekom, and history is replete with tragedies generated by deeply insecure dictators with too many weapons at their disposal.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Walk This Way

Our sieve-like border protection is Coyote ugly. With a couple of thousand miles of “fencing” required to contain our entire border with Mexico, the math of such an undertaking was unsustainable even back in 2007: “The cost of building and maintaining a double set of steel fences along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border could be five to 25 times greater than congressional leaders forecast last year, or as much as $49 billion over the expected 25-year life span of the fence, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.” (January 8, 2007). 700 miles? Oh, and that doesn’t include the cost of acquiring the underlying land, not all of which is public.

$3 billion later, a failed attempt to implement a viable barrier, and where are we? First, that old fence project is over; it just didn’t work. We’re on to “virtual fences” now, with lots of bells and whistles and tracking capability. Phase one of the virtual fence – $1 billion worth – didn’t work a whole lot better. Next. On to phase two: bigger, better and more expensive. You know, cameras, radar, sensors, that kind of stuff (some of the $1 billion dollar “stuff” will survive into the next try). Arizona got 53 miles of that phase one “virtual fence” at a stunning $15 million a mile.

On to the next BIG phase... one little, teeny weenie catch: don’t expect anything working anytime soon. Testifying on March 15th before a House subcommittee on border and maritime security, Government Accountability Office director of homeland security and justice officer, Richard Stana told the representatives that the full virtual barrier wouldn’t be fully operative for a decade or more, and that the smaller target, Arizona – first on the list – probably wouldn’t be operative until 2015-16... assuming the government does anything on time. Wonder if Arizona’s immigrant-hostile legislation moved them up on the priority list? Government claims that it’s the busiest illicit border-crossing spot in the nation. Squeaky wheel theory and all that.

Texas Republican Mike McCaul asked one heck of a relevant question: “‘You are talking 10 to 15 years. It took us a decade to put a man on the moon,’ McCaul said. ‘I don’t understand why it takes so long. You have a crisis going on down there. Everyone knows it. We know how dangerous it is in Mexico, we know how dangerous it is on the border. Why can’t we ramp up this process?’… Mark Borkowski, Customs and Border Protection assistant commissioner for technology innovation and acquisition, said the new equipment could be bought more quickly if Congress allocated the money — the Arizona project is expected to have a price tag of about $755 million — but where to put what equipment has not been determined.” Washington Post, March 15th. Wanna bet whether it will cost $755 million? And what’s that I hear… if Congress pays more money, it will happen faster. More money, eh?

No matter what your position on undocumented aliens working in the United States, the plain fact is that a country ought to be able to control its own borders, especially when most of the border reaches of America are oceans and not even other countries! None of the technology is particularly cutting edge, and we know that as it is implemented, it will constantly be in need of “upgrades.” But has our educational system failed so profoundly that we don’t have the know-how to build a solid virtual fence relatively quickly that works… in 2011?

I’m Peter Dekom, and frankly this entire wasteful process is of-fensive!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

April Rocket and Missile Showers

This past April 2012, rainy season? Showers from above and even attempted showers. After all, what good is a wonderful nuclear weapon if you don’t have the means to deliver that cutie to the enemy of your choice? Deliver it by a bomber? That so 1980s! Not to mention that planes are so easy to shoot down, and your bomber crew could get killed. Oooooh! Can’t have that! ‘Sides, the United States can launch nukes from far, far away and even from undersea via big old nuclear submarines. Naw, rockets and missiles are the way to deliver the gift that stops all giving.

April showers kind of started with a failed North Korean attempt to launch a rocket capable of delivering hate to locations as far away as Europe or Hawaii. On Friday, April 13th, under the guise of sending a weather satellite into orbit, North Korea fired off its Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 rocket (left above) amid much hoopla and lots of invited foreign guests and journalists. Fortunately for most of the world, that launch followed a North Korea tradition, blowing apart shortly after take-off. With that humiliation safely in hand, the North began preparing for its third underground nuclear test to prove to the world that they can at least blow more stuff up than their own rockets. After all, in the world of geo-politics and military hardware, size matters… even if it often is just for show.

[A] pair of German missile experts have gone public with evidence suggesting that new missiles that the North rolled out with much pomp at a parade just days later were mock-ups, and clumsy ones at that… After a close analysis of photographs from the parade, the missile experts, Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, found what they said were tell-tale signs of fakery. The warhead’s surface, they wrote in a paper posted on a respected arms control Web site, is undulated, ‘as if a thin metal sheet was fixed onto a simple inner frame.’ The missiles were slightly different from each other, with covers mounted horizontally on one missile and vertically on another, and they did not even fit the launchers they were carried on, the analysts said.” New York Times, April 27. So if you are wondering what young Kim is up to, it does seem to be all about perception.

Then India, which has been watching already unstable Pakistan, a nuclear power, move more virulently into an Islamist camp, wanted to send a message that it was more than capable of handling any aggressive moves, particularly if their northern neighbor harbored any thoughts of taking over the hotly contested, primarily Muslim, state of Kashmir. What better message than a new and improved missile (right above), sent soaring into the air for the world to admire?

“India declared the launch of the Agni 5 [named for the Hindu God of Fire] missile as success and that the country had joined a new club of nations and capable of long-range nuclear strikes. Once operational, the Agni 5 will be able to carry a nuclear warhead over 3,000 miles. India's rocket test and came just days after North Korea's failed launch, but didn't spark the same international uproar… The Indian government says the missile, which can reach as far Beijing, is a game-changer in the region, but has been quick to emphasize that the missile is meant as a deterrent.”, April 19th.

The US mildly castigated India for its effort, and the Chinese noted the American double standard pointing out how much stronger the U.S. reaction was to the North Korean effort. The PRC government emphasized that there should be more “strategic cooperation” China and India, but their state-controlled press, notably the Global Times, slammed the Indian effort as a “missile delusion,” adding that “India should not overestimate its strength.”

OK, “I can blow the world all to hell” fans, Pakistan was not about to let its arch enemy India have their way with nuclear weapons platforms. On April 25th, Pakistan joined the fray by launching an intermediate-range ballistic missile: “Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, a retired lieutenant general who leads the Pakistani military’s Strategic Plans Division, said the improved version of his country’s missile, which can carry a nuclear warhead, would ‘further strengthen and consolidate Pakistan’s deterrence capabilities.’ Pakistani officials said [the April 25th] test was witnessed by senior military authorities, scientists and engineers involved in the country’s missile program. The impact point of the missile was said to be in the Indian Ocean.

“Mansoor Ahmed, a defense analyst in Islamabad, the capital, said Wednesday’s launching appeared to be of an improved intermediate-range missile, with a possible range of 466 to 620 miles. The missile could be equipped with warheads designed to evade missile-defense systems, he added.” New York Times, April 25th. Makes it so much easier to sleep at night knowing that there are a lot of angry or fearful nations on earth with nuclear weapons and the increasing means of delivering them farther and farther away. Not to mention anti-Western groups desperately wanting to get their hands on such weapons to show the world how many Americans or Europeans they can kill or jealous nations believing that somehow, maybe they should have such weapons if their enemies have them. The only problem with all that extra sleep at night is whether or not you get to wake up.

I’m Peter Dekom, and I keep remembering that it really takes only one slip with one nuclear weapon to destabilize the entire planet… the worst kind of global warming.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Never Hire a Happy Person?

Greet your customers with a smile… but don’t even think of being truly happy at your job. Well, that’s what a recent study seems to suggest: “In a study by University of New South Wales psychology professor Joe Forgas, 117 students viewed video clips designed to put them in good or bad moods, according to the story. Later they were asked to view a film of people being asked about the theft of a movie ticket. The happy students were unable to detect guilt above chance level. The unhappy students did better.” ABA Journal, April 5th. Hmmm…

It gets worse, you miserable (but productive) fools! “Researchers point to studies showing people reporting high levels of happiness early in their lives or in college earned less money later in life than those who were less cheerful…” ABA Journal. Yup, being too happy is bad for your wallet, it seems, and you just might have impaired judgment that employers might not want: “Studies show that there is a darker side to feeling good and that the pursuit of happiness can sometimes make you . . . well, less happy. Too much cheerfulness can make you gullible, selfish, less successful — and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.” Washington Post, April 2nd. So trying to be happy makes you miserable, but if you are happy, you might make a miserable employee? Any other risks? “Psychologists say high levels of positive feelings are associated with risk taking behaviors, such as alcohol and drug consumption, and can hurt career success…” ABA Journal. And I was going to propose a toast to happiness. Oh well….

Uh oh, I am beginning to feel truly unhappy, and that’s good, right? But earning less money has to make folks… er… less happy? “Psychologist Edward Diener, renowned for his happiness research, and his colleagues analyzed a variety of studies, including data from more than 16,000 people around the world, and discovered that those who early in their lives reported the highest life satisfaction (for example, judging it at 5 on a 5-point scale) years later reported lower income than those who felt slightly less merry when young. What’s more, they dropped out of school earlier.” The Post. So the guy who washes my car and is humming a happy tune is someone I would prefer to be? I am so confused! Mom, why did you push me so hard to do well in school?!

“…Diener explains why too much happiness may not benefit your career. People who don’t experience much sadness or anxiety aren’t as likely to find a better job or get more education… Studies also show that sad people pay more attention to details and think in a more systematic manner, the story says. Happy people, on the other hand, may be more prone to rely on stereotypes. They are also easier to deceive, which may mean that guilty defendants want them on juries, the story says.” ABA Journal.

But are there any benefits at all to being a happy person? “Happiness does have benefits (beyond feeling good, of course). It can protect us from stroke and from the common cold, makes us more resistant to pain and even prolongs our lives. Yet, June Gruber, a professor of psychology at Yale University who has studied happiness, warns that it’s important to experience positive moods in moderation.” The Post. Yeah, without moderation, you are will become a total loser! Long impoverish existence sounds truly sucky, but sadness is good for business! I guess this simply proves that maxim: “Companies love misery”!

I’m Peter Dekom, and I am now delighted at my sadness but hoping that this joy won’t hurt my productivity.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Down Scopes

Science and religion have had a rocky path throughout history… whether in the turbulent period of Inquisition-infested Europe as Galileo tried to foster the heliocentric view of our solar system in the 17th century… or in the legendary Scopes trial where evolution was put to the test in a legal trial: “In the summer of 1925, a young schoolteacher named John Scopes stood trial in Dayton, Tennessee, for violating the state law against the teaching of evolution. Two of the country's most famous attorneys faced off in the trial. William Jennings Bryan, 65 years old and a three time Democratic presidential nominee, prosecuted; 67-year-old Clarence Darrow, who was a staunch agnostic and who had defended Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb the year before, represented the defense. Bryan declared that ‘the contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death.’…

“[After a heated courtroom debate between these two great orators,] Darrow changed his client's plea to guilty. Scopes was convicted and fined $100. However, the conviction was thrown out on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme Court (that the judge, and not the jury, had determined the $100 fine). In 1967, the Supreme Court struck down Tennessee's anti-evolution law for violating the Constitution’s prohibition against the establishment of religion. Five days after the trial's conclusion, Bryan died of apoplexy. The journalist H.L. Mencken wrote of Bryan: ‘He came into life a hero, a Galahad, in bright and shining armor. He was passing out a poor mountebank.’ As for Scopes, he left teaching and became a chemical engineer in the oil industry. He died at age 70 in 1970.”

Well, Tennessee and its legislature is back at it, attempting to reform what can and cannot be discussed or taught in its public classrooms, making sure that the topics stay on the “right” side of conservative Christian teachings. “[This April,] it enacted a controversial new law — dubbed the ‘monkey bill’ — giving schoolteachers broad new rights to question the validity of evolution and to teach students creationism.

“The Tennessee legislature has been on a determined campaign to impose an ideological agenda on the state’s schools. [In the third week of April], the house education committee passed the so-called ‘Don’t say gay’ bill, which would make it illegal to teach about homosexuality. The state senate just passed a bill to update the abstinence-based sex-education curriculum to define hand holding as a ‘gateway sexual activity.’

“Unlike those bills, Tennessee’s ‘monkey bill’ is now law. School boards and education administrators are now required to give support to teachers who want to ‘present the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses’ of various ‘scientific theories,’ including ‘biological evolution’ and ‘the chemical origins of life.’ The new law also supports teachers who want to question accepted scientific thinking on two other hobgoblins of the far right: global warming and human cloning.

The Tennessee law has been criticized as a solution in search of a nonexistent problem. In fact, it is worse than that. Tennessee’s problem is not that its schools are teaching too much evolution, but too little. Becky Ashe, president of the Tennessee Association of Science Teachers, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that even before the law was passed Tennessee teachers were avoiding teaching the politically charged subjects of the origins of life and the ascent of man. ‘We know enough to stay away from that,’ she told the newspaper.

“In the Scopes ‘monkey trial,’ the forces of creationism were defeated. Scopes was found guilty, but the verdict was reversed on a technicality and he was freed. This time, the antievolution forces have prevailed, and their attack on science could spread. Louisiana passed its own ‘monkey bill’ in 2008, and battles over similar bills have raged this year in New Hampshire, Indiana, Oklahoma and other states. Even in states without ‘monkey bills,’ evolution is not being taught consistently. A 2011 survey found that about 13% of biology teachers across the country are currently teaching creationism or the ‘intelligent design’ theory as legitimate alternatives to evolution. ” Time Magazine, April 23rd.

It seems that notwithstanding the prohibition of fostering a state religion violates the precepts of the First Amendment to our Constitution, self-censorship may be even more pernicious than actual violative laws that insert the very specific views of one religion into our public classrooms. But teachers, aware that controversy puts them in the cross-hairs of public attack and may impact their assignments as well as their chances for promotion, are simply avoiding obvious subjects that have been taught freely for decades to keep their careers intact. Thus, many of our students are getting nothing at all in the way of an education in these subject areas. Whether we like it or not, evangelical Christianity is not the established faith of this nation, and our Founding Fathers saw fit to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. In Tennessee, however, the majority is most loath to give up that tyranny!

I’m Peter Dekom, and pummeling science with religious precepts is generally a way to turn a younger generation away from faith, not a structure to reinforce those religious beliefs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Healthcare costs had been rising by about 9% per annum in the last few years, but that growth has slowed to 7.1% and folks are hoping to get it down further, maybe to 5.4% per annum. Problem is, of course, that our incomes are not remotely going up that fast, and while there is Medicaid for those on the lowest economic rungs and Medicare for the elderly, not only are both those programs being cut, but Medicare doesn’t remotely cover the actual costs of care for its constituency. The Kaiser Family Foundation tells us: “The percentage of these workers [in private business] offered coverage rose from 80.8% in 1995 to 84.1% in 2001, before falling back to 80.4% in 2005.” CBS News (April 25th) tells us that employers offered health insurance to 72% of workers last year, but that number has fallen to 67.5% today. Companies just cannot afford the cost.

We have built a system that we can no longer afford, and consumers are hardly able to price-shop on comparable hospital services because of the complexity of all the items in a typical hospital bill or are they in any condition to bargain in an emergency. A simple appendectomy can run from $8K to ten times that amount depending on the hospital, and the list of separate add-ons takes pages to print out. Medicare will cover only $7.5K for this procedure, which is below cost at the lowest end of the spectrum.

To save money, employers and insurance companies have begun to apply coverage that only recognizes Medicare rates to all covered services, shifting the balance to the insured. Almost no one is sufficiently covered from a hospital stay under this system, and folks with health insurance are facing medical bankruptcy because their coverage is so bad! “[Insurance] companies, across the country, [are] rapidly shifting to another calculation method, based on Medicare rates, that usually reduces reimbursement substantially… ‘It’s deplorable,’ said Chad Glaser, a sales manager for a seafood company near Buffalo, who learned that he was facing hundreds of dollars more in out-of-pocket costs for his son’s checkups with a specialist who had performed a lifesaving liver transplant. ‘I could get balance-billed hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I have no protection.’

“Insurance companies defend the shift toward Medicare-based rates under the settlement, which allowed any clear, objective method of calculating reimbursement. They say that premiums would be even costlier if reimbursements were more generous, and that exorbitant doctors’ fees are largely to blame.” New York Times, April 23rd. When “Obamacare” passed, the competitive alternative – government-provided health insurance – was clipped from the package to respond to the insurance lobby. The ability to buy cheaper pharmaceuticals overseas will clipped to respond to the pharma lobby. And even now, the Supreme Court may toss the program out, in whole or in part.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s plan would let consumers buy healthcare plans and take a tax deduction for the premium. “While offering consumers more choices, Romney's plan would give companies strong incentives to stop providing insurance to workers. It also would overhaul the 46-year-old Medicare and Medicaid programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

… The plan could swell the federal deficit; a similar plan backed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the 2008 presidential campaign would have cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years, on par with the price tag for the Obama healthcare law.” Los Angeles Times, April 23rd.

There are millions still without healthcare, still caught in the trap of being “in the middle” where coverage is a consumer obligation. And while costs are moderating, the system is only getting worse in terms of general affordability. If we cannot protect even those with health insurance coverage from catastrophic losses, the system has collapsed. Even the most anti-government healthcare protestors find a different tune when they have a medical emergency that they cannot afford. We need to stop sloganeering, stop trying the easy fixes, and realize that America has one of the worst healthcare systems for its average citizens in the first world, and clearly the most expensive. We need competition without lobbyist carved outs, transparency and a reality check… and we need it yesterday.

I’m Peter Dekom, and I truly wonder how so many people who oppose government intervention on healthcare actually can afford the coverage they need.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Leveling the Playing Field with Bribes

But everybody does it and unless they really want what you’re selling – like military hardware – you don’t have a prayer unless you are willing to grease a few palms. After all that’s what the competition is doing, and you’ve gotta do what you gotta do to compete. Hey, we do what we do, hire an “expediter,” and look the other way. That’s the attitude of too many American companies doing business in countries where bribery is a fact of life. Until not too long ago, some Western European nations even allowed such bribes to be legitimate deductions against a company’s income tax. Nations figured that as long as the bribes were being made “over there” and not in the home country, their businesses shouldn’t be disadvantaged where “that’s just the way it is.” Today, most modern countries have laws that proscribe such “business-enhancing” activities. And of course bribery is against the law in most countries, even if it is a way of life.

Despite the fact that such statutes are on the books of most countries, these laws are seldom enforced… except in the United States which applies its ban on bribing officials overseas to U.S. citizens, residents, companies that operate from the United States, etc. And hiring that expediter when you know or should know what is going to happen with all that money doesn’t get you off the hook. Treating officials to lavish trips or serious gifts on the road to a big sale is also a no-no. It’s a felony with huge fines and jail time for the participants. There are a few loopholes, that may still violate local law, like paying to have something happen faster if getting what you want would otherwise be certain… if later.

Here’s how the Department of Justice describes our laws on their website: “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, as amended, 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1, et seq. ("FCPA"), was enacted for the purpose of making it unlawful for certain classes of persons and entities to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. Specifically, the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA prohibit the willful use of the mails or any means of instrumentality of interstate commerce corruptly in furtherance of any offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of money or anything of value to any person, while knowing that all or a portion of such money or thing of value will be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official to influence the foreign official in his or her official capacity, induce the foreign official to do or omit to do an act in violation of his or her lawful duty, or to secure any improper advantage in order to assist in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person.”

In the mid-1970s, investigations showed hundreds of millions of dollars of bribes being paid by US. companies to get deals done. Lockheed forked over a purported $22 million to sell fighter jets, and Chiquita paid allegedly paid a Honduran president $2.5 million to keep export taxes on bananas low. Think of Nigeria or Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan or so many corrupt regimes in Asia, Africa, Latin America… etc. I’m not talking about the common bribes in the United States that grab the headlines from time to time, but about legitimate businesses trying to sell products and services in a corrupt global environment. Big non-U.S. companies with a strong U.S. presence can get nailed too: “Daimler AG, the German automaker, [paid] big fines to the U.S. government because two of its subsidiaries, one in Germany and the other in Russia, made improper payments to government officials of countries other than the U.S., such as China, Egypt and Serbia.” Time Magazine, April 7, 2010.

It even happens to companies that try to project down-home “apple pie and motherhood” American values. A huge scandal is brewing involving America own Wal*Mart and its Mexican subsidiary, Wal*Mart de Mexico. When a former executive of the company sent an email to the home office about how Wal*Mart was able to expand its operations in Mexico so fast, “he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country. .. The former executive gave names, dates and bribe amounts. He knew so much, he explained, because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits for Wal-Mart de Mexico.

“Wal-Mart dispatched investigators to Mexico City, and within days they unearthed evidence of widespread bribery. They found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million. They also found documents showing that Wal-Mart de Mexico’s top executives not only knew about the payments, but had taken steps to conceal them from Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. In a confidential report to his superiors, Wal-Mart’s lead investigator, a former F.B.I. special agent, summed up their initial findings this way: ‘There is reasonable suspicion to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.’ … The lead investigator recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation… Instead, an examination by The New York Times found, Wal-Mart’s leaders [purportedly] shut it down.

“Neither American nor Mexican law enforcement officials were notified. None of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s leaders were disciplined. Indeed, its chief executive, Eduardo Castro-Wright, identified by the former executive as the driving force behind years of bribery, was promoted to vice chairman of Wal-Mart in 2008. Until [the NY Times] article, the allegations and Wal-Mart’s investigation had never been publicly disclosed… Under fire from labor critics, worried about press leaks and facing a sagging stock price, Wal-Mart’s leaders recognized that the allegations could have devastating consequences, documents and interviews show. Wal-Mart de Mexico was the company’s brightest success story, pitched to investors as a model for future growth. (Today, one in five Wal-Mart stores is in Mexico.) Confronted with evidence of corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing.” New York Times, April 21st.

What’s even more shocking is what the company wanted to have happen in the United States: “Wal-Mart, the giant retailer now under fire over allegations of bribery in Mexico, has participated in an aggressive and high-priced lobbying campaign to amend the long-standing U.S. anti-bribery law that the company may have violated.” Washington Post, April 24th.

How this saga will end and whether there will be a successful prosecution of the FCPA remains open, but America’s corporate and business leaders should be acutely aware that the federal government has stepped up prosecution of FCPA cases, and are looking for stiffer fines and real jail time for selected corporate miscreants who enabled the process.

I’m Peter Dekom, and you have got to believe that banning bribery and corruption wherever it occurs is a necessary moral practice.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Proposition 7

The seventies in California were the time of the Ron Reagan governorship, conservative politics in what was believed to be a liberal state and a flurry of California’s infamous propositions on the ballot. One of the most stridently conservative propositions, passed in 1978, pushed and expanded California’s death penalty, making the state among the toughest in the United States. But $4 billion later and running an annual tab of $185 million (during the greatest budget crisis the state has ever faced), the same conservative sponsors of that initiative – Proposition 7 – are thinking that the state’s experience with the death penalty suggests that the time for this radical punishment is over; it’s just too expensive.

Prisoners linger on death row for years as the appellate process (automatic in death penalty cases) winds on, sometimes for decades. The prisoners are in special housing, and, when the day for retribution arrives, it is a massively expensive process that locks down the entire prison. “The [original Prop 7] campaign was run by Ron Briggs, today a farmer and Republican member of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors. It was championed by his father, John V. Briggs, a state senator. And it was written by Donald J. Heller, a former prosecutor in the New York district attorney’s office who had moved to Sacramento… Thirty-four years later, another initiative is going on the California ballot, this time to repeal the death penalty and replace it with mandatory life without parole. And two of its biggest advocates are Ron Briggs and Mr. Heller, who are trying to reverse what they have come to view as one of the biggest mistakes of their lives… Partly, they changed their minds for moral reasons. But they also have a political argument to make.” New York Times, April 6th.

The notion of swift justice evaporated in the above legal process, and the people of California (and any other American jurisdiction that has the death penalty) are paying vastly more to execute these felons than they would to incarcerate them for life. Not to mention the occasional “innocent” who was wrongly convicted along the way. The process is so tedious that only 13 California prisoners have actually been executed over the past 34 years. Are the taxpayers safer as a result of the death penalty or is it more “an eye for an eye” retribution that makes this ultimate punishment so popular? A Field Poll conducted last summer notes that Californians are overwhelmingly supportive (68%) of the death penalty for very serious crimes. It will be exceptionally difficult to reverse this initiative, even though the arguments in favor of abolishing the death sentence are beyond compelling.

“‘At the time, we were of the impression that it would do swift justice, that it would get the criminals and murderers through the system quickly and apply them the death penalty,’ Mr. Briggs, 54, said… ‘But it’s not working… [My] dad always says, admit the obvious. We started with 300 on death row when we did Prop 7, and we now have over 720 — and it’s cost us $4 billion. I tell my Republican friends, ‘Close your eyes for a moment. If there was a state program that was costing $185 million a year and only gave the money to lawyers and criminals, what would you do with it?’ ’..

“But Ron Briggs and Mr. Heller bring to this campaign a powerful and evocative story: a bid for personal redemption and a call for renewed consideration of the arguments they themselves once made in favor of the death sentence… ‘It’s been a colossal failure,’ Mr. Heller said in his Sacramento office. ‘The cost of our system of capital punishment is so enormous that any benefit that could be obtained from it — and now I think there’s very little or zero benefit — is so dollar-wasteful that it serves no effective purpose.’” NY Times. In the end, regardless of moral predispositions, we need to pay what we can afford and find efficient solutions for our public safety. There is little in the way of pragmatic value to the death penalty anymore. It’s time to kill that ultimate punishment.

I’m Peter Dekom, and for those advocates of the death penalty, perhaps an annual tax surcharge of $1000 for every supporter is the viable alternative.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pecker Wood

We’re finding out all kinds of new facts about the health risks to highly competitive athletes, stuff you wouldn’t expect. For example super-endurance athletes face the “athletic heart syndrome” (an enlarged heart), small muscle tears to the hearts of some of most extreme endurance participants (causing permanent damage), or the dangerous presence of a heart enzyme called cardiac troponin I, which happens to be the most sensitive and specific marker for the detection of heart-muscle death, some of which leads to heart attacks immediately (as with the presence of excessive troponin) or, more likely, later in life.

And, in addition to the immediate blurred vision, loss of balance, speech impairments, headaches and disorientation, we’ve all been watching the increased depression or dementia that seems to accompany athletes, particularly in the hard contact sports of ice hockey and football, who have had three or more concussions. Some of these symptoms don’t appear until decades after the athlete has stopped practicing his or her sport. Some effects, as reflected in the suicides of several younger ice hockey plays, occur a whole lot sooner. And currently, helmets are more protection against skull fracture than they are against concussions. “Remember that helmets do not prevent concussions, but putting protection on the head to limit any blow or linear force to the head can only help combat one of the big problems with re-occurrence: smaller required forces. It should be well-known by now that after sustaining one concussion the research suggests that it takes less force to contribute to another cascade process resulting in a concussion.”, April 1st.

First, what is a concussion? It is often confused with other forms of milder brain injury (which are more properly termed “mild traumatic brain injury” {MTBI}), a general category which does include concussions. The latter, technically-speaking, come from a violent shaking of the brain and often result in stretching of brain tissue. This shaking can come from pure shaking, a blow to the head, or any number of collision types. In the NFL, the forces that slam players together often mirror a head-on collision between two cars. While the damage can be worse in the larger, stronger sports professionals, some of these issues remain relevant for amateur and high school/college players as well. Some sports, like boxing, actually are built on the premise of causing a concussion in an opponent (a knockout).

There is a lot of pressure to build helmets that do more than stop skull fractures, but no one has really created a helmet that adds much of a difference. So scientists have looked to nature to see real-world examples of animals which routinely live with violent blows to the head, most notably the humble woodpecker, whose beak slams repeatedly into tree bark and wood in its quest for insects. This jackhammer effect is a violent stress on the bird’s head, but nature seems to have addressed the issue in a way that might lead researchers to solutions for human beings as well: “Woodpeckers' head-pounding pecking against trees and telephone poles subjects them to enormous forces — they can easily slam their beaks against wood with a force 1,000 times that of gravity. (In comparison, Air Force tests in the 1950s pegged the maximum survivable g-force for a human at around 46 times that of gravity, though race-car drivers have reportedly survived crashes of over 100 G's.)

“Researchers had previously figured out that thick neck muscles diffuse the blow, and a third inner eyelid prevents the birds' eyeballs from popping out… Notably, the woodpecker's brain is surrounded by thick, platelike spongy bone. At a microscopic level, woodpeckers have a large number of trabeculae, tiny beamlike projections of bone that form the mineral ‘mesh’ that makes up this spongy bone plate. These trabeculae are also closer together than they are in [a] skylark skull, suggesting this microstructure acts as armor protecting the brain… The woodpecker's beak does not differ much from the lark's in strength, but it contains many microscopic rod structures and thinner trabeculae. It's possible that the beak is adapted to deform during pecking, absorbing the impact instead of transferring it toward the brain, the researchers report in the journal Science China Life Sciences.” Huffington Post, April 10th. With 50,000 U.S. deaths from brain trauma every year, and the ancillary symptoms noted above, research into this area is most necessary.

If sports equipment, from neck protectors to helmets, can be constructed to mirror “woodpecker technology,” we can expect to see some mitigation is this life impairing (if not ending) trauma, but it does help to understand the limitations of today’s helmets and padding.

I’m Peter Dekom, and when we can’t solve some of life problems, it is not stupid to look to solutions that nature has provided for millennia.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Structural Unemployment

Economic collapse tends to separate viable companies from those whose remaining relevance appears to be hitting a wall of obsolescence. These latter firms have just been buying time with their cash, but when a recession takes that cushion away, they fall like a house of cards in a windstorm. And so it is with job skills, often at these same declining companies, which become marginalized in a confluence of global competition, hyper-accelerating social and technological change, shifting consumer demand and dwindling economic resources.

This severely disappointing reality is particularly hard on older workers who have lost their jobs, too young to retire (or those who retirement savings have vaporized) and too old (often in their own minds) to retrain. At least they lived part of their lives with the dignity of an honest day’s pay, but there are tons of younger people, no longer able to afford to continue their educations because of the economic downturn and poorly educated in a failed public educational primary and secondary environment, who face chronic unemployment and contracting economic opportunities in a world where their skill level is easily replicated with vastly cheaper labor somewhere in the distant international outsourced marketplace. They find low-paying work with limited benefits in “food services” and “custodial care for the elderly or disabled,” and the fall in construction work due to the collapsed housing market and the unattractiveness of stoop labor in the fields put them in a strange place not faced by any generation since The Great Depression.

On March 26th, Fed. Chairman Ben Bernanke addressed this nation’s seeming inability materially to accelerate the employment statistics, and his words were both chilling and telling of the new American world to come. “In a speech that sought to deflate by turns both optimism and pessimism about the labor market, Mr. Bernanke said the Fed’s efforts to stimulate growth were gradually reducing unemployment, but that the scale and duration of the problem could leave lasting scars on the economy…

“Mr. Bernanke said he was particularly concerned about the unusually large share of the unemployed who have been unable to find work for six months or more. Roughly 40 percent of the unemployed fall into this category, according to government statistics, compared to 25 percent after other recent recessions… In addition to the heavy toll on workers and families, he noted that ‘Because of its negative effects on workers’ skills and attachment to the labor force, long-term unemployment may ultimately reduce the productive capacity of our economy.’” New York Times, March 26th. Weakness in consumer demand and the availability of cheaper foreign imports also makes recovery problematical. That the government is pulling back on spending can only contract that demand further.

While the Fed can provide monetary relief and guide some of our fiscal policies, there is little it can do about retraining older workers or repairing an educational system that, for the most part, is churning out workers rather unprepared to provide relevant job skills for the current and anticipated marketplace. “Unemployment remains at a high level, but those concerned about inflation say the Fed’s policies cannot help many of those people because they lack skills… Economists describe this kind of problem as ‘structural’ unemployment, rather than cyclical unemployment, which is caused by general economic weakness.” NY Times. For those politicians cutting just about everything in sight, usually without regard for the long-term consequences, I have a very simple question to ask: where exactly is the next generation of value-producing jobs for Americans without training or education going to come from?

I’m Peter Dekom, and I appear to be living in a country where the obvious isn’t.

Could the United States Use an Extra $1 Trillion?

For years, Hollywood feasted on stories of the battle between the G-men – notably “untouchable” Elliott Ness – and the rum-runners and speakeasies during Prohibition. In 1919, the total U.S. ban – effected by a Constitutional amendment – on the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages created a war between a whole pile of ordinary citizens wanting their cup of gin or their glass of fine Bordeaux, aided and abetted by a complex lattice of organized crime, against axe-wielding federal officers and religious groups happy that once and for all demon rum was gone from American shores. Thompson sub-machine gun fire punctuated the late night streets of major cities across the land, and booze flowed like a river, even financing future political dynasties like the powerful Massachusetts Kennedy clan that spawned a U.S. president in the 1960s. By 1933, the experiment had run its course – an utter failure – and Prohibition was repealed. Apparently, we learned nothing from this experience.

Addiction is nasty business, and the impact of hard narcotics on productivity, families and the world around addicts is deep and profoundly negative. Perhaps we wouldn’t care so much if addicts only damaged themselves, but they clearly decimate those who are nearest and dearest to them, often committing crimes to feed their ugly habits. Making such drugs illegal, of course, only increases the street price, which places more pressure on addicts to commit bigger or more frequent crimes to the extent that they cannot otherwise afford their habits. If we actually were effective in reducing consumption levels with illegality, that would certainly justify the harsh treatment we mete out for dealers and junkies alike. Unfortunately, with all the laws against drug trafficking, we have yet to make a dent in drug use from casual user to hard core addict.

“Over the past four decades, the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion fighting the war on drugs. The results? In 2011 a global commission on drug policy issued a report signed by George Shultz, Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan; the arch-conservative Peruvian writer-politician Mario Vargas Llosa; former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker; and former Presidents of Brazil and Mexico Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ernesto Zedillo. It begins, ‘The global war on drugs has failed ... Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.’ Its main recommendation is to ‘encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.’” Time Magazine, April 2nd.

So if such narco-legislation is so completely ineffective, why can no politician touch the subject? Why in a time of deficit impairment are we unwilling to legalize and control such trafficking, perhaps adding billions of dollars in annual revenues from the federal and state taxes that would be generated from the legal use of drugs, spending billions every year to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate drug offenders, making the United States the incarceration capital of the world? Such control would certainly reduce the carnage in neighboring Mexico (which has now spilled into the border states) where U.S.-sourced weapons have flooded that nation to support drug cartels keeping the path up to the border open to the free flow of narcotics. It’s useful to keep in mind that over half of the cost of a bottle of distilled spirits in the country is directly attributable to state and federal taxes. Think of the revenues that taxing drugs would generate. Instead, we seem to prefer to spend money to keep the price of drugs high enough to encourage organized crime to keep that business alive.

With global warming opening up shipping channels in the “hotly” contest Arctic regions north of Alaska, even our Coast Guard is unable to keep up with the demand to police our ocean pathways: “The Coast Guard is shrinking and may have to cut back on traditional missions like fisheries protection and drug interdiction to free up resources for new issues like cybersecurity and the thawing of the Arctic, warned the service's commandant, Admiral Robert J. Papp, … at the Navy League's annual Sea-Air-Space convention.”, April 16th. Our uniformed services cannot keep up with the drug runners, and our criminal justice system is, for all practical purposes, spinning out of control because of drug crimes.

“The U.S. has 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. That's not just many more than in most other developed countries but seven to 10 times as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, Germany has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and Britain--with a rate among the highest--has 153. Even developing countries that are well known for their crime problems have a third of U.S. numbers. Mexico has 208 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, and Brazil has 242. As [Pat] Robertson pointed out on his TV show, The 700 Club, ‘We here in America make up 5% of the world's population but we make up 25% of the [world's] jailed prisoners.’

“This wide gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world is relatively recent. In 1980 the U.S.'s prison population was about 150 per 100,000 adults. It has more than quadrupled since then. So something has happened in the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison… That something, of course, is the war on drugs. Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America's federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.” Time.

Want to do something that is a tad less than legalizing all narcotics? How about just legalizing marijuana? “More than 300 economists, including three nobel laureates, have signed a petition calling attention to the findings of a paper by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, which suggests that if the government legalized marijuana it would save $7.7 billion annually by not having to enforce the current prohibition on the drug. The report added that legalization would save an additional $6 billion per year if the government taxed marijuana at rates similar to alcohol and tobacco.” Huffington Post, April 17th. We really need to do something. It is well past the time when we need to rethink this issue before we spend another futile trillion dollars.

I’m Peter Dekom, and sometimes realizing what you cannot do is the most important lesson of all.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Not Swimming but Living in Pools

It seems painfully obvious that as Social Security/Medicare safety nets run out of cash, the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether or not Congress has the constitutional authority to mandate health insurance, as small employers and the self-employed opt out of or cannot afford pension and healthcare benefits, something’s gotta give. Some estimate that one third of Americans rely solely on Social Security for their retirements, at a time when Congress is struggling with ways to cut those benefits beneath the bone. With a graying population and a serious erosion of required skills in the changing labor market – accompanied by the greatest cuts in training and educational programs in modern history – it also seems obvious that the coming generations will not have the ability to perform work at the same high rates of pay necessary to fund these social benefits for the elderly. A perfect storm is brewing with pain and misery in the headlights.

If the government cannot fund these mandates and create affordability for those who need it most, we have to look at alternatives. We have to be willing to open the door to competition in places where lobbyists have been able to shut the door. One of the greatest examples of such anti-competitive statutes is the prohibition against Americans from accessing pharmaceutical prescriptions from European or Canadian sources on the grounds of “public safety” or to support “research.” I don’t know about you, but when it comes to sanitation, I’ll take any large city in Switzerland over any large city in the United States. We cannot afford to continue a corporate social welfare state, protecting bloated American pharmas on the backs of the poor and the elderly, pretending that we believe in a free market while imposing absurd anti-competitive barriers that make our prescription drugs among the most expensive on earth.

We also need to enable masses of people to pool their resources – the original concept behind insurance and even Social Security – to create affordable healthcare and alternatives to current pension structures. Unions traditionally offered benefits to their members, from health insurance to retirement programs. But today such collective bargaining units have a declining power base and reduced membership, and there appear to be limited alternatives where companies simply do not provide such benefits anymore. There are, however, some unique ideas floating out in the ether.

One of the more interesting ideas is getting the states or municipalities to serve as pooling sites for smaller companies that really don’t want to deal with the complexities and requirements of running approved pension plans for their workers. New York City is looking at such a plan, and “[l]awmakers in Connecticut and California have introduced bills to either study or create such a program and the Pennsylvania state Treasurer has expressed interest, although he has no power to introduce legislation himself… At the heart of the proposal is something called a cash-balance pension, a hybrid that combines features of a 401(k) plan with those of a traditional pension plan. Workers can watch their benefits grow each year as an account balance, but the assets that secure the benefits are held in a pooled trust.

‘The structure could be attractive because it would be flexible — employers could reduce the rate of increase during recessions, saving money and reducing the chance of a runaway pension obligation. But the idea could be controversial, because the role of managing the money would fall to state pension systems, now under fire in many places for their handling of city and state workers’ pensions. Republicans have tended to see the idea as one more manifestation of ‘big government.’” New York Times, March 26th.

Regardless of how you feel about government involvement in such programs, the accelerating number of Americans below the poverty line (25% of us) or in the low income category (the next 25% of us) does not mesh well with a society that is getting older and less-skilled. If pools of homeless people, which may include your parents and grandparents someday, are not attractive to you, the time to deal with such issues now. And if we don’t have the money to provide additional government programs, we at least have to facilitate more private solutions.

I’m Peter Dekom, and we need to vote out politicians who are more focused on the next six months than the future of America.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wall Street Rules; the Saga Continues

If you haven’t figured it out by now, folks who can make the biggest campaign contributions – now rocket-powered under the unlimited spending rules promulgated in the Supreme Court’s misdirected Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission Super Pac enabling decision – govern the country. Doesn’t seem to matter whether Republicans or Democrats are in power, Wall Street makes the key decisions, gets bailed out when they screw up, have no liability (criminal or civil) for the economic damage they have heaped on the world, abides by a rule system that would still most certainly allow another over-leveraged and under-regulated global meltdown and given the “carried interest” rule actually pays its taxes as a significantly lower rate than applied to working stiffs. Sure Republicans are more clearly in the rich guys’ camp, but Democrats are hardly pristine on the issues either.

And although people argue that such deregulation and lower taxes are necessary for job growth, nobody, and I do mean nobody, has produced any credible statistical correlation between lower taxes or reduced financial regulation for the power elites, on the one hand, and job creation, on the other. Jobs are a product of consumer/business demand and consumer confidence and not much else. It’s just raw power getting what they want because they want it and can afford to buy the necessary influence and control to implement it.

Despite the hue and cry over reigning in Wall Street excesses, what we really got was a very watered-down Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which itself was marginalized by the fact that Congress didn’t really provide the funding necessary to implement even these minor changes. The result is virtually no new regulations on the Street, and the few rules that do squeak by are laughable by any standards.

One of the most pernicious practices on the Street allowed lenders to take, for example, all their mortgage loans, bundle and sell them to speculators so that they could write a whole pile of new loans and start the cycle again. This over-supplied debt to the home-buying market and spurred the subprime business that literally collapsed the house of cards. This idea of “bundling” or betting on changes in market variables without actually investing in those variables directly is the derivative trade, and while there have been a few minor tweaks to the system, the ability to make and market such seemingly dangerous financial products appears to continue with little in the way of fundamental regulation.

The trading insurance business – where trading risks are often swapped to other investors in exchange for a piece of the upside (as in credit default swaps) – is also part of the financial industry that has lead to unjustified risk-taking, a process that has functioned with support from the debt rating agencies that seem to have overvalued many derivatives just to get more business from the companies that issue such instruments.

Want to see how completely unregulated this derivatives/swap market remains in the United States? “As federal regulators put the finishing touches on an overhaul of the $700 trillion derivatives market, a major provision has been tempered in the face of industry pressure… On [April 18th], the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission [approved] a rule that would exempt broad swaths of energy companies, hedge funds and banks from oversight. Firms would not face scrutiny if they annually arrange less than $8 billion worth of swaps, the derivative contracts tied to interest rates and commodities like oil and gas… The threshold is a not-insignificant sum. By one limited set of regulatory data, 85 percent of companies would not be subject to oversight. After five years, the threshold would reset to $3 billion; it is the same amount suggested by a group of energy companies in a February 2011 letter, according to regulatory records.

“When regulators first proposed the rules in late 2010, they set the exemption at $100 million. At that level, only 30 percent of the players would have been excused from the oversight, which was mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.” New York Times, April 17th. Yup, you read it right. $700 trillion market sector. Virtually unregulated. Our tax dollars rescued these financial miscreants from near-certain doom even though their greed-driven, ethics-lacking activities – with little or no concern for the consequences of their actions – brought down the global economy… and still they get preferential treatment. And remember, this rule-making has occurred in a Democratic administration with a Democrat-appointed majority at the SEC.

Even corporate shareholders are railing at the excesses they see within their own companies. Citigroup needed a bailout to survive, and with that taxpayer support, it struggled back to profitability. Its track record is littered with unsound risk-taking, playing fast and loose with consumer mortgages and resulting foreclosures, but with government help, CEO Vikram Pandit (who worked for a $1 when his leadership was generating massive losses), dragged this financial institution back to profitability. When his board wanted to overpay him, giving him and a few senior managers single-handed credit for the return to profitability (overlooking the bailout that was necessitated by his decision-making), the shareholders finally sent a message: “At Citigroup's annual meeting [April 16th], 55% of the bank's shareholders voted against the pay packages granted to Citigroup's top executives, including Chief Executive Vikram Pandit's nearly $15 million for last year and $10 million in retention pay. The vote is advisory and won't force the bank to change its pay practices, but it did send a powerful message of discontent to Citi's leadership...

“‘This vote is historic,’ said Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of the Value Alliance, a board advisory firm. ‘None of the Wall Street firms have received this kind of a review yet.’ … Wall Street's massive compensation packages have raised the ire of shareholders for years, especially when they appear to have little relation to the performance of specific executives. Bonuses became a flash point of public outrage after the 2008 financial meltdown, which was caused in large part by those same Wall Street firms.” Los Angeles Times, April 18th.

Our government has ceded governing authority over the sector of our nation that caused the greatest economic damage in recent memory to the people who caused the problem. It does not represent or protect the vast majority of Americans – the very taxpayers who provided the bailout support – from the excesses of Wall Street. History is unkind to such machinations, since governments that cater only to small elites at the expense of the vast majority always collapse and fail. It is only a question of time. By ignoring the people in this country, our government seems to have taken some giant steps towards our own demise.

I’m Peter Dekom, and living at a time when the seeds of our self-destruction are being sown, seeing them clearly, is really hard to take.