Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trump and Stumpf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For links see this column at Huffington Post

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Mosquito and the Politician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hold the Applause

Do what thy manhood bid thee do,
From none but self expect applause.
Sir Richard Francis Burton

An ad that was run by the Trump campaign hours after the Republican convention ended answers a question that those of us who have watched speeches given by Mr. Trump have asked ourselves. The question is posed by the way in which Mr. Trump makes his appearance when coming on stage before giving a speech. There are, of course, countless ways that a person preparing to give a speech can come onto the stage.

Someone who is preparing to make an important speech about a substantive matter is often seated on the stage next to the person who is going to introduce the speaker. When the introduction is completed the speaker, and the person who has made the introduction shake hands or briefly hug, and the speaker, as expected, speaks.

In a more raucous setting such as Saturday Night Live or one of the late night television shows, the moderator announces the name of the next guest with great enthusiasm, and the guest comes running out onto the stage from the back, waves eagerly at the crowd, and enthusiastically shakes hands with the moderator before beginning to perform. (Sometimes the hand shaking occurs only after the guest has done whatever it was he or she was invited to do.)

The politician who attends a campaign event in which a speech is to be made, ordinarily passes by a throng of admirers arranged behind the podium, shakes hands and poses for selfies with that group, and waves enthusiastically to those in front of the podium, making eye contact with and smiling amicably at a few familiar faces the candidate spots in the crowd in order to let them know they have been recognized by the speaker. That is done in order to give the recipient of the smile a warm feeling, and inspires him or her to write another check to the candidate’s campaign.

Those are not the only ways in which speakers make their appearance before an audience they intend to address. Mr. Trump has introduced us to another. Frequently, when Mr. Trump appears in the kinds of settings described above, he engages extensively in self-applause. It is not so vigorous as to be audible but is a gesture of self-satisfaction and self-approval. Many of my readers may be unfamiliar with the term “self-applause” and it can best be understood by referring to synonyms for that word that are found on line. They include “pretentious, bombastic, cocky, pompous, arrogant, conceited, egotistical, know-it-all, puffed-up, snooty, vain glorious, full of hot air and swollen-headed.” Any one of those words is a perfect description of Mr. Trump. (For those who like to define words by referring to their antonyms, some of the antonyms that come up when searching the internet include “humble, modest, and self-deprecating.” None of those words comes to mind when considering Donald Trump.)

Although the act of self-applauding affords an excellent description of Mr. Trump when he appears before a crowd, the question remains why he finds it necessary to applaud himself instead of using the time dedicated to self-applause to shaking hands and waving at supporters as others in his position normally do. The answer is that he believes that applause is the most important part of an appearance, even if the applause comes in part from himself. Nothing shows the value he places on applause better that an ad he ran immediately after the Republican convention. The ad ran for 45 seconds and was simple, but effective, as any of my readers who takes the time to look at it, will agree.

There was no narrative in the ad. It starts with a picture of Mr. Trump with his mouth open and his thumb and first or second finger touching, to form an “O” that mirrors his open mouth. (The use of the thumb and forefinger touching is a typical gesture made by Mr. Trump when speaking and helps him emphasize the importance of what he is saying.) Following the opening picture of Mr. Trump, the first words to appear are “75 MINUTES Total Speech Time,” accompanied by an image of Mr. Trump talking, followed a few seconds later by images of an enthusiastic convention crowd over which the words “24 MINUTES total applause,” appear and then a few seconds later, the words “33% Time Spent Applauding.” (The ad first appeared only a couple of hours after the speech had been given, and there was not time for the mathematicians on Mr. Trump’s staff to check the time spent applauding which was, in fact, only 32% and not 33%. That, however, does not take away from the effectiveness of the ad.) None of the images accompanying the ad shows Mr. Trump self-applauding and it is safe to assume the time he spent doing that was not included in the calculation of total applause time since were it otherwise, the numbers would almost certainly be very different. (His words are usually preceded by long periods during which he acknowledges the adulation of his audience by self-applauding.) At first blush it seems odd that Mr. Trump would place more importance on the minutes devoted to applause than to the substance of his speech. Upon considering the substance of his speech, however, it makes perfect sense.