Lessons in History – Conflicts of Interest

Recent headlines, similar to one from today’s Guardian, keep making me reflect on 20th Century events in politics and business. The make me wonder how things will actually play out (if allowed) in comparison to the Teapot Dome and Watergate situations.

Symbols of Government Ethics

Symbols of Government Ethics

The recent appointees in the developing Trump Administration have interesting, interwoven and strategic situations and alliances. They’re quite similar to the ones of the Teapot Dome flavor.

The Teapot Dome story is also documented on Wikipedia. The Brookings Institute provided more chronicling of the incident.

Enter Watergate

And then there’s Watergate and the lessons it taught us about being neglectful and too trusting in decisions made by government leaders. Reference.com summarizes that point in history while also available is the Front Line documentary history of the administration that gave rise to Watergate.

A Look at Bribery as Causation

A recent article that appeared in Corporate Counsel considered the impact of bribery on fraudulent practices in government and its influence on conflicts of interest. Some of the statistics are broken out for the reader. One of particular note is:

The United States ranked 20th. It still falls within the top 20 countries that TRACE considers “low risk.” The riskiest area for bribery in the U.S. is “business interactions with government.”

Also earning breakout attention:

• Syria suffered a considerable setback in its bribery environment, followed by Belize, with their overall risk scores rising. Syria is now one of the eight riskiest countries in the world for bribery.
• The seven other riskiest countries in order are Nigeria (199th out of 199 countries), Angola, Yemen, Guinea, Cambodia, Myanmar and South Sudan.

With regard to graft driving contracts approvals in foreign governments, one reader noted that in “. . . Italy, it’s simply accepted that many dealings with businesses or government bodies require a little grease on the wheels. So much so, that base salaries for some civil servants are less relevant than what can be made on top.” That reader recommends the book The Dark Heart of Italy for more edification. It should be noted that similar practices are heavily used in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) as revealed in a recent study conducted through Fuller Seminary. According to that study, the non-Muslim population was/is being subjected to extreme conditions of discrimination that keeps them in conditions of economic distress unless they agree to act as government-sponsored spies against family members.

Ethics Lessons

Should we be learning from history or is it our fate to close our ears and minds and simply allow ourselves to be repeatedly crushed under the Wheel of Time as it rotates? Perhaps it’s time to not only remember the lessons of the past but also become proactive about not reliving them.

When it comes to “conflicts of interest“, the layman can look to Wikipedia for its various definitions and examples or to other books that provide guidance.

Additional Reading:

Consider signing and sharing a petition to evaluate the fitness to serve before confirmation of the President-elect.

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Challenges of Development

PBS is airing a program called Edge of E18teen that examines the lives of several 17-year-olds and the challenges they face as they mature.

Image of young businessman opening door with lights

Image of young businessman opening door with lights

Their circumstances are diverse. One young man was sent to military school. His grades were slipping; he needed more discipline; he needed to learn about taking on responsibility.

A young Cambodian girl is living with her father. Her mother left the family. There was much divisiveness in the home. The parents had vicious arguments. The mother was having an affair. The girl punishes her mother by not responding to her text messages and refusing to communicate or see her at all.

Another boy is about to graduate from high school. He is a devoted Christian and wants to address the student body at his graduation by telling them about Christ. When that idea is rejected by his school, he proposes to have a graduation party for his entire class (400+) and use that as a platform for telling them about Christ. His mother rejects the idea.

All but one say their relationship with their parents is difficult, that they don’t understand.

Our youth face so many challenges as they mature. Are we doing enough to prepare them for what Life and our societies have in store for them? Preparation also comes down to doing things that involve some degree of training and explanation. Small dollops of autonomy grow into taking on full responsibility for various projects, accompanied by nurturing support to catch them if they fall.

But with parents being challenged with low wages that sometimes require two or more jobs to support a family, and constantly increasing costs of living, we are starting to lose the time necessary to provide the building of responsible, independent lives that are ready for adult life challenges at the age of 21 or 18.

How do we successfully prioritize the overwhelming amounts of responsibilities that face us as we create a worthwhile future for our offspring, our progeny, our future?

How can we leap to the heights of doing the things that are necessary to do even a merely adequate job of nurturing the future generations when there are still so many things we ourselves still need to learn and master. There are so many times when I feel inadequate and regret the lessons that are missing.

It would be so good to have the right answers – or at least clues to which are the more important for the path we endeavor to follow or make. Perhaps that is the clue. Determine what the path is: one to be followed or one to be made. The next step is to find the right mentors to offer guidance while we learn by trying and failing and then trying again in order to succeed while the mentor explains what went wrong if we do not examine the broken pieces on the floor to see where the weak spot was.

And therein may lie some of the answers to nurturing our youth.

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Financial Disclosure for Election Candidates

There’s so much to-do about Trump’s tax returns. Some may wonder why the returns are important. Others simply follow the current rhetoric in whatever camp they follow.

The things I attach to the importance of tax returns disclosure are:

  • it’s been the norm and part of the disclosures that Presidential candidates are supposed to make
  • the records show how well the candidate has managed their own finances and therefore become an indicia of how well the funds of the nation will be managed
  • good money management is part of good leadership
  • good money management leads to a healthy, growing economy
  • good money management involves proper allocation of assets and determines to a good extent whether negotiation is a better route compared with use of troops and weaponry

to name a few.

How well the budgets can be managed is what's at stake

How well can the budgets can be managed is what’s at stake

So is the outcry for real Trump tax returns more of the political reality show or is it a legitimate cry for disclosure of good leadership and management abilities?

OpenSecrets.org lists a number of requirements for disclosure by people seeking to hold various federal and government offices. As far as its being a longstanding tradition (if not a requirement), there was analysis of Romney’s disclosing only two years of his returns accompanied by a discussion of whether or not it is a requirement. Following a tradition is admirable but that’s not an indicator of leadership; it’s more evidence of being good at being a lemming.

Consideration of what financial disclosure provides and what about it is meaningless is discussed in an article from Bloomberg. According to Gregory Walden, an attorney who helped Mitt Romney file his disclosure statements, “It’s not intended to be a net worth statement,” he said. “It’s intended to guard against conflicts and potential conflicts.”

In May 2015, the Senate considered making tax return disclosure mandatory under what will be called the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. That act “would require a presidential candidate to release the most recent three years of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) within 15 days of becoming the nominee at the party convention. If the candidate refuses to comply, the Treasury Secretary would provide the tax returns directly to the FEC for public release.” Considering where we are today, the Act has yet to be born. So the accusations continue, as well as the political reality show.

The analysis of the proposed Act is very much worth a read for the education about tax disclosure that it provides. Perhaps it will be enacted after November.

References:

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The Talk

This morning’s news featured an interview of a very attractive and articulate young (30s) professional Black woman and her male complement. They talked about this week’s tensions. They talked about having “the talk” with their children. They noted that the conversation needs to happen as early as possible and in age appropriate vocabulary and concepts.

The talk in these times is not the one about dating and sex. Today the talk in Black families and families that are comprised of individuals who can be considered part of the African Diaspora, is about how to handle yourself when in the presence of peace officers or in public places outside of a Black ghetto. I’ve not been involved in these types of conversations but it doesn’t take a lot to intuit what it covers. As the years have passed since the Civil Rights Era, experiences have grown and awareness was spat in my face. There are some people who will hate you simply because they have been conditioned to do so over the years. It has nothing to do with you, personally, as much as it has to do with the color of your skin and the stereotypes associated with having that form of identity.

But Life is full. There are many things that pull at your attention that are of a higher priority than a genetic adaptation that has absolutely nothing to do with the character of the person within the shell that carries them. Nevertheless, there are far too many times when that adaptation along with the stereotypes that were created because of historic exclusion and denial make attention to one’s physical presence the priority. It should not be that way.

How do you tell a child that it isn’t okay to go to the playground without a parent or adult present? It takes a lot of explaining about why one child may play with a red clear plastic water gun while romping in their yard or in a park while another child will be mistaken as a potential shooter. It takes even more explanation about why a police officer is justified in shooting a ten-year-old child in the back several times merely because of a plastic toy. Oh, now I understand. Certain children are not allowed to play and have toys. Certain children are not allowed to enjoy Life. We are told, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence does not function for them.

Colored Entrance

Have we returned to the pre-Civil Rights America?

How do you tell a child that because of the color of their skin, someone will decide that they are dangerous and anything they do will be construed as a threat to the general public? It should not be part of a child’s education about them or their history that they are inherently not intelligent and therefore unqualified for anything except the most menial. They should not learn that it is acceptable for their creations, their ideas, their work to be claimed by others and their input given no acknowledgement whatsoever. To teach them that is the same as teaching them that they were destroyed at the instant they took their first breath. It’s the same as telling them they are value-less. I have to wonder where society would be were it not for those “value-less” contributions to so many industries by those unqualified dangerous ones.

Why should it be necessary to have that type of conversation with any child? The simple response is it should not be necessary. In fact, there should be no reason to have these types of conversations. It should not be necessary to teach a child that what they wear will determine whether or not they are dangerous. If the owner and found of Facebook can wear a hoodie with impunity, anyone should have the same choice.

To be certain, it is very important to have a conversation about grooming and appropriate dress for certain venues.

However, the talk needs to veer toward the important things in Life and leading a productive one. The talk needs to be about staying focused on what is most important for accomplishing the task, reaching the goal, making a point in conversation so that one’s positive abilities are accentuated. Those abilities include being responsible, having solid emotional intelligence, knowing how to make good choices based on good research and asking the right questions of the right people.

References:

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Questioning the Problem of Gun Violence via Late Night Commentary

Stephen Colbert’s monologue for last night’s The Late Show was a statement about the Orlando mass shooting on June 12, 2016. That was followed (without any break) by an interview of Bill O’Reilly on the subject of mass killings, gun control, and what politicians are saying about the issue.

gunman in search of a target

Young thug with gun isolated on white

As someone from a Facebook conversation yesterday said and as O’Reilly pointed out, what we’re dealing with is a new form of warfare. O’Reilly considers this as a means of legitimizing national gun control laws at the federal level so that states rights does not come into play and so that one law prevails over interpretation of the rule.

Colbert’s monologue was moving. A link to the article about it takes us to the Conan O’Brien monologue that was equally touching.

A few months ago there was a proposal to make it legal for concealed carry in churches. Trump last month, as part of his campaign rhetoric, said teachers should be allowed to carry guns in the classroom. In light of some school officials having been videoed when they have slammed students to the ground, I don’t know that this would be a wise step. And in light of the fact that I know a person who is a teacher who is bi-polar, who refers to their students as savages, and who does things that are dangerous and disrespectful, I have to do the math and realize there are probably many others who have similar sentiments. Those people should not be allowed to even *own* guns, much less carry them.

I agree, the way to solve the problem is to define what the problem is. I agree, this is a travesty and it’s being imposed on us as citizens of a nation that is supposed to be great. I agree, this sickness must stop. What are some first steps toward defining the problem? If it is two-fold, or even multifoliate, what are the issues and how do we prioritize them?

After resolving the identification of the problem(s), what are the solutions.

The Colbert Show monologue and O’Reilly interview are here.

This is a concern. It is troubling that it gets repeated on an increasingly frequent basis but still there is no action to remedy the illness. It’s merely allowed to fester. Perhaps it will result in a national amputation of civility. I hope not. Unfortunately, that appears to be the trend.

Some argue that we need stricter gun control laws. We need to do better background checks. What good are background checks when those who fit the Betty White profile are dismissed as not a threat and don’t need to be investigated? And there’s no record of the fact (fact) that the person uses a BB gun to shoot small animals in their yard.

Reports of violent behavior can result in a person’s becoming unemployable. This is the case in matters of domestic violence. That is why the victim will refrain from filing charges. The abuser is the source of income for the household. Without those purse strings, the entire household will be on the streets in the blink of an eye.

Yet as of this date, a person on the “no fly list” does not prevent that person from being issued a gun license and thereafter being able to purchase guns and weapons. A person on the FBI list of person who should be monitored also has the freedom to become a licensed weapons owner. We need to question the reasonableness of these laws and protocols.

Even though this post was started the day after the Orlando incidents, the issues remain unresolved. Congress, taking a partisan stance to block progress of the other party and thereby prevent that party from receiving credit for being proactive in regard to public safety and welfare, disparaged the Democratic sit-in by calling it grandstanding. Perhaps that attitude is yet another form of grandstanding.

It’s time. It’s time to stop merely shaking our heads as we go numb for a few minutes or days and then pick up our heads and lives and resume Life as usual. It’s time. It’s time to start being about solutions and positive alternatives. It’s time. It’s time to start learning what the issues are. And it’s time to work toward a meeting of the minds in order to resolve this age of strife, unheeded screams for help and attention, and unmet needs of the people. It’s time for this was of humanity to stop.

We don’t need more late night commentaries about gun control. We need daily reasons to live whole and productive, fulfilling and meaningful lives.

References:

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A New Math

It was 1955 when on one day the Second Grade teacher gave a unique lesson to her class. For some of the students, it was a Life lesson. For others, the words were recognizable but the meaning of them was like a foreign language.

Opportunity

Opportunity

Her lecture didn’t come from a textbook. It came from her heart and a desire to feel she had encouraged her young charges to strive for excellence in every aspect of their lives.

It’s difficult to remember when she addressed the fact that her class was comprised of children of color. That fact was conveyed, however, in order for them to understand the importance of the information, especially for them. It was about learning a “new math.” It was about learning how to calculate one’s worth both in reality as well as in terms of how the rest of the world evaluates one’s worth.

Paraphrasing in order to compensate for the passage of time, she counseled, “When you go into the world and are competing against [White people], remember: you need to be three times better in order to be considered half as good.”

In other words, the world as her students interacted with it in any way would find them lacking and unqualified. In order to rise above being shut out of admission to the race for attainment, in order to be accepted and receive the deserved (earned) position, it would be necessary to make certain their skills and abilities were superlative, above reproach, and undeniably three times better than anyone else vying for the same brass ring. She was also telling them to be so overwhelmingly prepared that they could venture into any place and feel confident that they were among the best striving for the same situation. It wasn’t necessary to be embarrassed in any way. The main task was to perform well and thereby bring merit to the work that was done.

Did she tell her novices that in everything they did they were representatives of not only their school and families but also of their racial identity? No. That lesson was for another day and from another teacher. The fact of their ambassadorship was already an unspoken factor in their existence. It was part of why their parents scolded and chided when something about them didn’t measure up to the socially acceptable standard.

It was important to have that lesson in those early years so that it became part of their psyche. It was supposed to become the driving force for those young minds. She wanted all of them to strive to earn more than 90% on each of their tests. She wanted them to absorb all of the knowledge available and then use that knowledge to reach for even greater accomplishments. With that, it would be possible to develop new ideas and techniques. They would be burgeoning founders of many innovations, examples to others of the good work that could be expected of them, as well as those who would be known as “first”s to achieve.

Humility was not part of the lesson that day. Perhaps the talk about humility wasn’t necessary. Perhaps, that also was a lesson for another day and from another teacher. After all, it was a classroom of young coloreds. Being subservient was part of one’s expected deportment no matter where they were. But they were also expected to have dignity, self esteem. Those characteristics did not need apology; they were expected as part of the embodiment of any healthy personality. Dignity, or self esteem, was a quality that came from within and accompanied everything that was done, from the trivial to the grand, and as part of any task that was being performed in any position. Being, even feeling, servile simply was not part of the formula in execution. Being excellent was simply a part of their identity; conversation about it was unnecessary.

That lesson never happened again in any form. There was only one lecture about the new math nor about any related subjects. For some, the lesson was indelible. For others, some of that lesson in foreign language seeped in later comprehension. That was 1955. The landscape has changed. There are more of the coloreds who are allowed to vie for opportunities. A larger percentage of those who dare are not only pushing their way through the door to positions other than in the servile range. The number of those who are of color in leadership positions are no longer the exceptions. We expect them to have all the characteristics that are part of being a leader. If lacking in any of them, the representative is allowed to linger until a suitable replacement is identified and installed. It is a death knell to have less than the best as part of the overall framework.

The Door of Opportunity is now being opened more frequently to those of color. There are times when the formula for that new math is forgotten and the struggle to prevent the Door from closing must begin anew. That’s the danger of forgetting the new math. Now what was that formula again? Let’s see. “3 x 1 = 1/2”. No, it isn’t about inflated ego; it’s actualization of the survival of the fittest in terms of achievement.

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Oscar and Minorities

Hollywood

Hollywood California USA. World Famous Hollywood Sign Concept.

Not the first time in their history, the Oscar Awards ceremony has a boycott in store this year. Started by Jada Pinkett Smith, it didn’t take long for the boycott of the Oscars ceremony (announced the day after the nominations were revealed) would take place. And the announcement was close on the heels of another protest in Hollywood – women’s salaries compared with those of men.

The complaint is there are far too few roles for Blacks on the big screen that result in far too few who are eligible for nomination for having done exceptional work. Some of Hollywood argues back that there aren’t enough stories to be told. In the alternative, the viewing public only identifies with White faces and characters, thus the casting of the parts. But the Oscars acknowledge the work of more than just those on the screen. There are also writers, directors, composers, designers, and more who comprise the entertainment experience. This year none of color were among those nominated. Protests regarding the good ole boys club atmosphere among those who can nominate and vote for Oscar recipients grew with such intensity that protocols were immediately changed and implemented – but too late for this year’s nominees. As long ago as 1970, George C. Scott was noted as having expressed his disdain for the Oscars. “George C. Scott held nothing but contempt for the Oscar organization. He called it a ‘2 hour meat parade’. He said the whole thing was offensive, barbarous, and innately corrupt.”

It was complained that only movies about slaves and slavery or racism are put forward as examples of Blacks who have done superlative work as actors. What about the other portrayals that could have been available? There are far too few. Why is that? It seems one of the complaints expressed during this year’s protest are accurate. It isn’t so much that the parts aren’t available so much as a matter of the parts for Black characters are converted to being played by White actors. This fact was memorialized in a book I happened to discover circa 2007 while at a Los Angeles branch library that dealt with the subject of Black Hollywood. A random opening of the book brought me to a section about the Western, “The Searchers” in which the scout is portrayed as a White man. According to the book, the scout was actually Negro but Hollywood didn’t find it appropriate to portray that fact.

The refusal of Hollywood to cast Black actors in positive roles has been cited as one of the reasons there is still a struggle for Blacks to rise into being viewed as a population other than suspect and available for exploitation. The outcries of 2016 are merely echoes of what was openly expressed in a 1999 paper on ethics wherein the three authors state:

Forcibly brought here as slaves to the white man, blacks have never been treated as completely equal to whites. Stereotypes of blacks as lazy, stupid, foolish, cowardly, submissive, irresponsible, childish, violent, sub-human, and animal-like, are rampant in today’s society. These degrading stereotypes are reinforced and enhanced by the negative portrayal of blacks in the media. Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1 888. But blacks weren’t even hired to portray blacks in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.” (http:/www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/open.htm). By refusing to hire black actors to portray black characters, demeaning stereotypes were being created as blacks were presented in an unfavorable light. In addition, blacks were purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforced white supremacy over blacks. This has had a tremendous effect on our society’s view of blacks since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years.

Add to that representation the unstated but very prevalent attitude that Blacks are an exotic race that is more for the appeasement of sexual gratification and stimulation, not for critical thinking and stubborn business aptitude.

The reference librarian who attempted to help me relocate that book from 2007 found a list of titles that may be helpful to your further inquiry on the subject of Hollywood and accurate portrayal of race. He never found the book. He explained that it may have been removed from the shelves. However, the list of titles he did find is provocative and can be found at the bottom of this post. To get more information about any of the titles, you may visit the page of your favorite book seller or put the title into your favorite search engine.

This boycott and protest is not new to Oscar. The civil rights of a pantheon of actors of all colors and genders, of every sexual preference, has endured throughout the ages. The question, then, is whether this latest wave will be effective in bringing about positive, enduring change.

References:

Other References:

  • Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression, and Race in the Classical Hollywood Era by Ellen C. Scott
  • Reel Racism: Confronting Hollywood’s Construction of Afro-American Culture by Vincent F. Rocchio
  • Race Results: Hollywood vs. Supreme Court ; ten decades of racial decisions and film by Eileen C. Moore
  • Framing the South: Hollywood, Television, and Race during the Civil Rights Struggle by Allison Schoen
  • The subject of film and race : retheorizing politics, ideology, and cinema by Gerald Sim

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