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Halloween Ghouls, Goblins and Goofs

October 26th, 2014 · Blog, Personalities in the News, Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

Sage advice to help you decide who or what you want to be this Halloween.

It is “Trick or Treat” time again. And for all of us who are not members of Congress, where every day seems like trick or treat, we have to decide what we are going to wear as a costume for our Halloween night out.

IMG950118Of course, if you were in Key West with me, your decision would be easy. During the Halloween “Fantasy Fest” (think of Mardi Gras gone bad) happening now in Key West, the most popular dress-up-and-go-out Halloween outfit is your birthday suit. The problem is that for many, their birthday suit sags in all the wrong places. Of course, that makes it even scarier when you see it. You almost don’t dare look.

If you are not into the costume thing but still want to have some ghoulish fun you could go to a Halloween party and about half-way through, start greeting and hugging everyone but admit you’re not feeling too well and describe Ebola-like symptoms.

If you are still undecided about your Halloween attire, take into account that popular regalia for adults (and we’re all adults here, aren’t we?) is to dress up like their favorite celebrity or political leader, so here are some suggestions that might help you out.

Barack Obama – Be the “ghost of leadership lost.” You could run around making aggressive and threatening noises. Then when people snicker and ignore you, you could just go on to the next house.

Joe Biden – Go out as an organ grinder’s monkey. You would have this cute little jacket (but no pants). You could jump up and down at the end of your leash, chattering away, but in a way that no one can understand what you’re saying.

Ray Rice – Simple but effective costume – just wear a wife-beater shirt.

Chris Christie – A no-brainer here: Dress as the “Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man” from Ghostbusters. Just make sure you don’t have to go through a tunnel on the way to the party.michele-bachmann-corndog

Michele Bachmann – Go to the party and offer an alternative to those who think Sarah Palin is too cerebral and rational. To complete the look, walk around nibbling on a foot-long corn dog on a stick.

Mitt Romney – Just dress up as a plastic mannequin with painted black hair (just like that Ronco infomercial). You can enhance the effect by spouting off-hand comments that make you appear to be a non-caring, out-of-touch elitist rich guy.

Adrian Peterson — Just wander around the party with a tree-switch threatening to discipline revelers (preferably those under age 8) who make too much noise.

Hillary Clinton – There are sooooo many options here: You could go as the erstwhile stalking girlfriend who just won’t go away, despite the fact you have moved on. Another option might be to dress as a scratched record (for my younger readers that would be like a damaged CD) that keeps playing the same song over and over and over again (“Why don’t you do right? … like some other men do.”) Do you think going as the “Wicked Witch of DC” would be too obvious?

Sarah Palin – Dress up as a carved-out empty pumpkin-head with a dim candle lighting up your face. By the way did you see Sarah’s Tweet letting us know that she was “praying for the people of Ebola”?

Ted Cruz (senator from Texas)Go out and present yourself as a cross-dressing male Sarah Palin.

rick-perry-gun-photoRick Perry – There are three costumes you could wear: A dumb cowboy who carries a gun and wears horned-rimmed glasses. A guy who is opposed to same sex marriage because he says that gets boring. And … Oh, I forget the third one.

Fox News and MSNBC – Go up to anyone at the party and as you talk distort, mislead and twist everything you see and hear.

CNN – Spend the entire night at the party running around yelling at the top of your voice BREAKING NEWS! BREAKING NEWS! BREAKING NEWS!

Mike Huckabee – Dress up as a fat, guitar-playing Jesus and claim that you are the second coming.

Now, I know there are a lot of other costumes you could wear for your Halloween party, but these are just a few suggestions to get you thinking. I would love to hear some of your thoughts and ideas.

Have a scary and fun time. I know we will in Key West!

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Teams Don’t Lead … Leaders Lead

October 19th, 2014 · Business Management, Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

Consensus is what you seek when you don’t really know what you seek.

After almost six years in the White House President Obama has consistently demonstrated a proclivity to deal with any problem or crisis by seeking a solution based on consensus and coalition. This has resulted in the impression – true or not – of Obama as a ponderous, indecisive and ineffective leader.

Considering Obama’s background as a constitutional lawyer, community organizer and even U.S. senator, it should not be a Obamasurprise that as president he would adopt this collegial, deliberative approach to problem solving. These qualities of consensus building and collaboration can be effective when confronting a problem – indeed are often required – when one lacks clear executive power, but they are ineffective ways to demonstrate the leadership demanded of those vested with power.

Rightly or wrongly, the American people expect their president to lead, not mediate. When it comes to leadership –especially political leadership – the dependence on consensus-building and coalition to set an objective or solve a problem are perceived to be signs of waffling and weakness, not resolve and confidence. It is one of the reasons why – having experienced power and its use in the public arena – state governors and military leaders have tended to be more effective presidents.

Same Old, Same Old

No matter what challenge or crisis that has confronted Obama – health care, immigration, Iraq, Afghanistan, the “Arab Spring,” Libya, Syria and now ISIS – the approach has been the same. He has offered the words of a leader, but the actions of a manager; and a bureaucratic one at that. In effect, Obama has made the most damaging mistake a leader can make and that is to promise more than can be delivered and to deliver less than has been promised. Those who seek to lead or are in positions of leadership must understand that it is the communication of a clear, consistent vision, combined with a focused commitment to a specific plan of action that creates the aura of leadership. In other words, to be successful, leaders must give followers a reason to follow.

Don’t get me wrong here, consensus and coalition are important tools in a leader’s arsenal, but they should never be used by a leader to determine what should be done; they are only effective when used to develop a plan for how the objective is achieved. Teams can be of value in determining actions needed to meet the goals of a plan, but they are ineffective at creating a plan. Teams don’t lead, leaders lead.

Examples of Obama’s inability to demonstrate clear, focused leadership – especially in foreign affairs – are too legion to list fully. After calling for and promising support for the expansion of democracy in the Middle-east and then standing on the sidelines as the tumultuous “Arab Spring” exploded, Obama gave the perception of out-of-touch leadership. The often repeated promise that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad “must and will go,” and yet unwilling to take specific actions to achieve that end, only send a message of confusion and weakness. Remember the infamous “don’t cross this red-line or you will be sorry” message to al-Assad? And then when the line was crossed, Obama blinked and rushed for “consensus” from both friends and enemies to decide what to do. He had offered strong words, but his actions signaled vacillation and weakness of resolve. That is not the way to project strong, confident leadership! The irony is that this opened the door for Russia’s Putin to take the lead and receive the credit for solving the problem.

The projection of weakness always emboldens bullies. One has to wonder if Obama had a reputation for saying what he means and doing what he says, would Putin and Russia have at least thought twice about the incursion into the Ukraine and annexation of Crimea? Did Obama’s often repeated declaration that “the war in Iraq was over” and America would not be involved again embolden ISIS to act?

The threat from ISIS and how to confront it is just the latest example of Obama’s reliance on consensus and coalition that creates the image of confused weak leadership. He calls for the “total destruction” of ISIS, (which is probably impossible, short of nuclear war) but in the same speech limits the involvement of American power to do so and calls on other countries to step up with plans and actions. Obama then directs the arming of rebel groups in Syria to fight ISIA. The very same groups he refused to arm to fight al-Assad, because they were too dangerous to American interests. This does not portray an image – or reality – of clear, consistent leadership. Is it any wonder that other countries are standing back and doing nothing? Can you explain what Obama’s plan for the “total destruction” of ISIS is? That’s the problem, neither can he!

In fairness, any problem presented to a president is complex. There are no easy solutions and Obama is certainly not the first president who has failed to resolve the issues. But there are lessons here that any leader can learn. You can’t portray the image or reality of a strong leader by unequivocally stating that “American troops will not be involved” and then equivocating by slowly but surely creeping back into a war.

The responsibility of the leader – if they want to lead – is to develop, communicate and be committed to a vision that is reasoned, clear and achievable. What confidence will a leader engender by going to the followers and asking: What should we do? The ability to create a consensus and to enlist the support of others are valuable talents for a leader to develop, but they should be used to determine how to do something, not what to do.

Another lesson a leader can learn by observing Obama’s leadership style (or lack thereof) is the value of consistency. Nothing destroys the credibility of a leader faster than saying one thing and then failing to consistently – even stubbornly – stick to what was committed. We have seen the impact on the leadership perception of Obama when his only consistency has been to make commitment and then fail to stick to it. People may not – and really don’t have to – agree with the decision the leader has made, but when they can rely on the unwavering steadfastness of that decision, they will know what to do. Without that decisiveness, followers tend to be immobilized, waiting for the next change.

Reagan1And if you need an example of unremitting presidential decisiveness, recall Ronald Reagan’s leadership when in 1981 he fired virtually all 11,000 of the nation’s striking air traffic controllers. You may disagree with his decision, but you have to admire Reagan’s leadership on this issue and steadfast resolve to stand behind his decision which became viewed as “one of the most important events in late twentieth century U.S. labor history”.

That’s why weak leaders are so contemptuous; they hide behind “consensus and coalition” because this approach to a problem can tamp it down and delay making the tough decisions that will ultimately resolve the problem. This approach may hide a crisis, but the crisis will always return. And when it does, a new leader has probably been installed to meet it.

And the Moral of the Story …

The lesson here is that if you seek to be a leader – at any level – then you have to be willing to lead. As Obama has learned (or should have), leading is not following. The leader must be willing to stand up, stand out and even stand alone to identify, communicate and commit to a clear, attainable vision to problem solving and success. Only after that has been accomplished can consensus and coalition be used as tools to reach the desired objective.

The only path to success as a leader is to first understand that leaders lead and teams follow.

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AIG’s Hank Greenberg is the Poster Child for the Greed, Arrogance, Hubris and Lack of Shame Exhibited by Many Big Bankers and the Denizens of Wall Street

October 12th, 2014 · Business Ethics, Business Management, Financial Services, Improving Your Business Leadership

It is a classic case of megalomaniac superciliousness and brazen hypocrisy. Hank “the snake” Greenberg is suing the U.S. Government for $40 billion. His claim? The government was “unfair” to him and other shareholders when it pumped $184 billion of taxpayer funds into AIG to rescue it from certain bankruptcy.

It may seem like only yesterday when the U.S. was hammered with the worst economic decline since the Great Depression but if you had any delusions that the kind of economic insanity exhibited by bankers, financial gurus and insurance execs who pushed us to the brink of economic annihilation has disappeared, that notion was just shattered by Hank R. Greenberg who has filed a new complaint against Uncle Sam. More about that in a minute.

Greenberg, of course, is the former head of AIG Insurance, and if you don’t remember Hank’s role in this monumental financial firestorm, you’ve probably also forgotten that, not only did Nero play music while his people suffered and Rome burned, but he was a greedy and ineffectual leader in a time of crisis.

The apparent psychotic delusions of Greenberg are so grandiose and in such conflict with the reality of what happened, it is difficult to apply any form of logical sanity to his repugnant action, a fiddling Nero notwithstanding. It is impossible, one could argue, to underestimate the craftiness, deceitfulness and guile of Greenberg and those of his ilk. “Doing the right thing” is the first victim of those like Greenberg who are driven by the testosterone of greed, arrogance and lack of any level of shame or accountability for their actions, no matter how egregious they might be, or how well defined.

gall 1 |gôl|
1 a: brazen boldness coupled with impudent assurance and insolence
1 b:  see temerity or alternately, “Hank Greenberg.”

Greenberg should be in court all right, but he should be the defendant, not a plaintiff. If it were not for the lessons to be learned by dissecting the abhorrent attitude that gives Greenberg the unmitigated gall to take legal action against the government over the AIG bailout, the best thing would be to simply mock him for being so blatantly unscrupulous. But in this latter day immorality play it’s futile to rely on reality and logic when dealing with someone who is so wholly deranged by deep-seated greed and personal hubris.

The Greenberg Lawsuit: a model of fallacious reasoning

The mistakes of history are often repeated when those who made the mistakes are allowed to rewrite the history of those mistakes or when the lessons learned from those mistakes are forgotten by those who were victimized and are allowed to be repeated. It appears that Greenberg is relying on both these factors in his effort to extract more money for himself from the government.

The basis of Greenberg’s litigation is that (1) the government exceeded its constitutional authority by forcing AIG shareholders (of which Greenberg was the largest) to sell 92 percent of their stock to the government for $184 billion. And (2) the terms of loans made to AIG by the government at 14 percent interest were tantamount to “extortion.” By reason of the latter, Greenberg now claims the government (i.e., we taxpayers) owes him $40 billion.

His logic is utter nonsense. As one pundit discussing the lawsuit put it, this is akin to a house fire caused by your own negligence and then, after the fire department saves your home, you sue them for getting your furniture wet. Greenberg’s only hope to be victorious in this lawsuit is that there will be mass amnesia as to the reasons why the government was forced to bail out AIG and its shareholders in the first place.

In September of 2008, AIG, then the largest insurance organization in the world, was on the precipice of bankruptcy. AIG had been pushed to the edge of implosion, because of irrational decisions motivated by the seemingly boundless greed of Hank Greenberg and others at the company. This stupendous lack of good judgment prompted AIG to insure hundreds of billions of dollars in potential losses from toxic mortgage securities sold by virtually every major financial institution in the world. In doing do, Greenberg drove AIG to violate every fundamental insurance law of risk management, all in a self-serving determination to maximize short-term profits and bonuses.

When this mine field of poisonous mortgages began to explode and rip through the economy, AIG found itself saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars in claims that dwarfed the total assets of the company. Not only was AIG insolvent – some say within hours of running out of money and being forced to close its doors – but the companies that had purchased AIG’s “mortgage guarantee insurance” would also face failure. This could have quickly caused the entire American economic structure – if not the global economy –to collapse in panic.

So here’s the sticker:  If Greenberg’s AIG had been isolated in this financial quagmire, the government would probably have kept hands off and allowed it go bankrupt; just as it had in the case of the Lehman Bros. bankruptcy a few months earlier. But Greenberg had allowed AIG to assume so much risky liability from so many companies, that the government arguably had no choice – specific power or not – but to intercede. The potential economic catastrophe of failing to act as AIG collapsed was just too frightening to risk. It is not hyperbole to suggest that such a result could have challenged the very concept of capitalism.

Keep in mind that had the government allowed AIG to fall into bankruptcy and be dissolved (as happened with Lehman Bros. and numerous other companies) then Hank “the snake” Greenberg and every other shareholder would have found their stock to be totally worthless. As it was, in 2010 Greenberg sold his remaining stock of AIG for $278 million; not a bad “reward” for a guy whose greed helped trigger one of the largest and most painful economic declines in American history.

So what is the basis for the Greenberg suit against the government – really all of us as taxpayers?

Greenberg wants to rewrite history. He wants us to forget the chaos and panic that would have been exacerbated by the failure of AIG. With a straight face and feigned indignation, he argues that the government had no legal authority to “seize” his property by forcing him to sell his stock to the government. If anything, this argument just validates what a total sleaze Greenberg really is. He has no concern for the country or anyone but himself.

This snake Greenberg then compounds what should be our utter revulsion of him by claiming that, even if the government did Aig_logo-2have the power to force the sale of his stock, the price the government paid — $184 billion – was a rip-off and he should have been paid a lot more. When the government stepped in, the market value of AIG was $15 billion; and yet the government paid $184 billion. Just who got ripped-off here? And again, let’s not forget that if AIG had been allowed to fail, Greenberg’s stock would have been worthless!

There is a touch of ironic humor in Greenberg’s suit. (Actually, more than a touch if you follow the likes of political satirist Jon Stewart). Initially the government made an emergency loan to AIG of $40 billion dollars. This quick-shot of capital was critical to keeping AIG functioning while a long-term rescue plan was developed. The government charged AIG 14 percent interest on the loan. Now, in his perverted sense of reality, Greenberg is claiming that the loan terms imposed by the government amounted to “extortion.” This jerk has no shame!

The irony here is that AIG was a subprime borrower. The company was insolvent, unable to pay its bills and about to go out of business. With no other option for capital sufficient to save the company – 14 percent was a cheap rate! Can you imagine what a “private equity” firm would have charged AIG if one had the willingness and capital to bail out AIG? And, just for good measure, remember that even with a good credit record, banks charge individuals 18 percent on credit card debt. Yet, Greenberg has the gall to claim that the government ripped off AIG!

But Here is the Worst Part

It would be one thing if Greenberg were an aberration when it comes to the type of mentality and attitude he brazenly exhibits. He could be dismissed as simply a delusional, demented kook. But unfortunately, when it comes to big banks and corporate tycoons, Greenberg is more the norm than the exception. Remember that Greenberg was just a player, albeit a major player, in the economic meltdown.

Believe it or not, there are a number of investment firms and corporations that are supportive of the Greenberg lawsuit. They seem to feel that if they also get “to big to fail” and are about to, that the government will step in and do to them what it did to AIG. They should be so lucky! And the banks – the incompetent herd of complicit conspirators whose actions triggered the financial meltdown in the first place, are now chafing under the new rules (the old ones that had worked so well for 70 years were repealed) designed to keep them away from sharp knives so they can’t hurt themselves or us again. It is mind-boggling how irrational some can be when they rewrite history in their own minds and have self-imposed amnesia when it comes to their mistakes of the past.

And the Moral of the Story …

In the end, I have only one thing to say to Hank “the snake” Greenberg: Go “#@*&” yourself! And while you are at it, all those you rode in with. Take the hundreds of millions you sucked out of the government (taxpayers) and AIG and go crawl back in your hole. You should be the one sued, not the American people.

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