Welcome The New Era Of Responsibility! And Accountability…

 

President Barack Obama’s inaugural pageant was quite something, wasn’t it?  The long-awaited official [peaceful] turnover of the reins of government occurred at precisely 12:00 noon, and President George W. Bush, #43 was now a former chief executive officer and commander-in-chief.  President Barack Obama is now #44.  His inaugural speech was closely watched by everyone, everywhere, it seems to us.

 

Thousands of television, radio and Internet channels carried his words live to far distant corners of the world, including the village in Kenya where his father lived and some of his family now live. But the key audience was here in the United States – he was speaking to American legislators, judges, regulators, social advocates and activists, ordinary citizens, bankers, business owners, corporate executives, corporate board members, heads of social agencies, tens of millions of children watching from school settings, chattering media pundits, journalists, immigrants with legal status and otherwise, and many more of us.

 

We asked this week in a prior column

 

(From January 18 — What shall we call this [era]?  We had the Square Deal for the Common Man (Teddy Roosevelt), and our grandparents welcomed the New Deal in the depths of the Great Depression (Franklin Roosevelt) and cheered the New Frontier of John Kennedy and the Best and the Brightest (of his generation).  Lyndon Johnson brought us the Great Society (at least for a while) and Ronald Reagan brought us Morning in America.  The outgoing George W. Bush promised Compassionate Conservatism.)

 

Now we have our answer:  Welcome to the New Era of Responsibility!  And as we see things through our prism, the Age of Accountability – as in personal and collective and institutional accountability to ourselves, to others and to the common good.

 

We will be parsing the president’s words and phrases and the context of many of his remarks in the days and weeks ahead.  Especially so as he issues executive orders, send draft legislation to Capitol Hill, instructs cabinet members on policy, and creates policy on critical issues, in his wonderful style of consensus building, grants media interviews and conducts press briefings. What does he mean – what does he want? What does he want us to do?

 

For now, let’s savor the words that launched this most remarkable of presidencies, with all of its important historical hinge points and “first times ever that…” references that we will hear over and over again.

 

As he challenged us to service to the nation —

 

Challenges [that the nation faces]…know this, American, they will be met.

 

Whether we face gathering clouds or raging storms (reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s or Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s.)

 

Our enduring spirit…

 

Greatness must be earned (over and over again, as a people and a nation)

 

We must set out to do the work of remaking America…

 

All are equal, all are free, all are deserving of equal opportunity…

 

It’s not the size of government, but what it does…(It’s not whether government is too big or too small but whether it works…)

 

The ground has shifted beneath us…

 

[Speaking of government] We will be held to account…and must be transparent…

 

American ideals must once again excite the rest of the world…

 

We extend our hand [to foreign leaders] if you will unclench your first…

 

There must be fair plan…embody a spirit of service…be selfless…

 

[On responsibility…accountability] this is the price and promise of citizenship…

 

# # #

 

The above is what we heard extemporaneously today as we listened to words, phrases, and context.  This is a serious man – we will now await his actions. After all – January 21st is Day Two – when the real work begins.  Good luck, Mr. President, and to Vice President Joe Biden…and to all of us in the United States of America … … and the nations of the world.  Stay Tuned!

 

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You can read the exact words on line, on the White House Web site, or in the dailies on Wednesday, of course. (Yes, #44 is now in charge of the White House site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/ Go there and read his first official proclamation – January 20th as a “National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation.”  This is a most amazing Web site, in the spirit of the new president’s campaigning, election and inaugural.

 

As the new administration promises…

 

THE JOURNEY TO WASHINGTON: THE NEW PRESIDENT AND VP; TAKE THE TRAIN TO THE START OF A NEW ERA

What shall we call this?  We had the Square Deal for the Common Man (Teddy Roosevelt), and our grandparents welcomed the New Deal in the depths of the Great Depression (Franklin Roosevelt) and cheered the New Frontier of John Kennedy and the Best and the Brightest (of his generation).  Lyndon Johnson brought us the Great Society (at least for a while) and Ronald Reagan brought us Morning in America.  The outgoing George W. Bush promised Compassionate Conservatism.

 

Yesterday we watched the train carrying President-elect Barack Obama and VP-electJoe Biden and their families, friends, aides, supporters and security personnel as it traveled from Philadelphia through Wilmington and Baltimore to Washington’s Union Station.  This was the train ride to glory.  The event brought to mind certain train journeys of the past, such as President Harry Truman’swhistle-stop tours across the country to rally his flagging fortunes – and to be re elected by a whisker in 1948.  Yesterday’s trip was deliberately cast in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s spring 1861 inaugural train ride.

 

Hope Rides the Rails

 

What great hopes ride along the rails this day with our incoming leaders – the economy is in the worst shape its been in for decades; the US Treasury is handing out billions in life support funds for once-mighty financial institutions and manufacturers; we are engaged in two wars in the Middle East, lasting longer than all of WW II for our country; 40 million of us have no medical insurance; 500,000 jobs disappeared just in December, and 2.5 million in all in 2008; there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of “a plan” today to reverse much of this – shall I stop here?

 

The election of November 2008 will be remembered as the start of a movement, or the culmination in the rising of a grassroots movement when Americans from all backgrounds decided on their own and collectively to try to right the course of the nation, to take back the power levers of government from leaders who they believed had largely failed in their responsibilities and accountability to the rest of us, and worked to try to restore a government of, by and for The People.

 

Sure, there were 48 percent or so of the voters who didn’t vote for Barack Obama, and many are still believe that he is under qualified and unprepared to be the nation’s chief executive officer and commander-in-chief.  But the Voice of the People has been heard and the new administration is about to begin its work.

 

The capital city was ablaze in red, white and blue lights when the special train arrived, symbolically following part of the route of President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s journey to Washington a century-and-a-half earlier.  (President-elect Lincoln’s trip took 12 days. President-elect Obama flew from Ohio to Philadelphia; his train trip was 7 hours.)

 

Tomorrow (Monday) the nation will celebrate the birthday of theReverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  He would have been 80 years old.  Cut down by an assassin when he was but 39, Dr. King is honored for his courageous work in advancing social and economic justice and civil rights for minorities.  What would he been thinking today as the nation is about to witness a change of power from an old line traditional WASP family member (President George W. Bush) to Barack Obama, an American of mixed ancestry or middle class means — and who everyone is calling the first African-American to be elected President of the United States!

 

Great Rhetoric – Now Comes the Hard Work

 

Great phrases were sung out into the air along this ride by the incoming president – promising a government that will be accountableto the people!  This a new beginning  …  Lifting our spirits up …  Promises of a better day ahead … we all look forward to a better day!  A new Day of Independence is here …we can perfect our Union in the process… We all hope so!

 

The well-known New York newspaper writer and columnist, Jimmy Breslin, started out as a daily sports writer and moved to feature writing, columnist, book author, and more.  He regularly brought his readers Big Stories from a different perspective, that of a bystander whose Common Man nature often spoke for the rest of us – for We, the People (looking on at the big story).

 

As the train rolled on along the Atlantic seaboard, through the great historic cities, past small rural towns, through the stations of commuter towns, I thought about Jimmy Breslin’s approach. This was a big story, and there were also big stories there in the background, in plain sight.

 

When I ride the Amtrak lines back and forth between Washington and New York, I am always struck by stretches of abandoned factories alongside the tracks where American workers once proudly turned out goods that other Americans and people around the world then purchased and used.  Literally mile-upon-mile there are vacant, boarded up cathedrals of industry that once provided jobs for local people, often located within walking distance of worker housing (city row housing, for example).  Jobs that provided entry to the middle class and in a generation or two, beyond.

 

Where Are All the Workers?

 

Where did all the workers go? I wonder about that.  What are their children and grandchildren doing now that the work has been outsourced and sent abroad?  Their efforts made technologically obsolete?   “Too expensive” to be done here?  Are they the people we’ll put back to work?  From the train you can see the outlines of once-proud neighborhoods of many US towns and cities.  The empty factory complex, sprawling across acres of land.  Huge parking lots.  Rail spurs that brought raw materials in and finished goods out.  (Plenty of weeds growing hereabouts.)  Rows of worker housing nearby.  Small shops abound, or did.  Churches everywhere. Parks, playgrounds.  America-the-Blighted now, with factories boarded up.

 

Too many abandoned houses are plainly in sight from the train en route to/from the capital cities of New York (money and media) and Washington (government and politics).  What do foreign leaders and visitors think of us when they see this evidence of a throw-away society?  (Including tossing out our human assets in business.)  How many houses with families gone are the result of recent subprime loans and predatory lending practices?  How many jobs were sent overseas because the Masters of Wizardry on Wall Street encouraged large publicly-owned corporations to abandon and send away their precious human assets? (Jobs cut = Wall Street cheers/Main Street jeers.)

 

Did You See What I See?

 

As our new president rolled along this route, which his VP knows very well from 36 years of daily commuting between Wilmington, Delaware and Washington’s Union Station just across from Capitol Hill, did he survey the scene as Jimmy Breslin might have…from the perspective of the Common Man who may be feeling abandoned by the elite forces that have changed his or her life and that of the family?  Did he see all the abandoned homes?  Factories?  Neighborhoods in abject states of decay? Crumbling city infrastructure?  Schools in bad condition?

 

We hope so.  The revival of this great country will depend on putting millions of people back to work – productively.  Earning good wages.Promises to keep, as VP-elect Joe Biden told his hometown crowd in Wilmington.  There’s more:  the schools of the cities and towns passed need help. Too many poor kids do not have access to a quality education as their more affluent suburban neighbors do (in better funded public schools and private schools).  After so many advances, we are once again creating a permanent underclass – which has dangerous implications for all of us in the long run.

 

As the whistle blew and the inaugural train rolled on, observation car platform decked out in bunting of red-white-blue, as cheering crowds lined the route, as Obama and Biden cheerily waved back, as fellow passengers peered out of the windows…did they notice these remaining relics of abandoned dreams littering the railroad right-of-way?  And I hope they remember those scenes as they grip the metaphoric levers of government power and literally have in their hands the ability to try to reverse the hollowing out of American industrial jobs of the recent decades, and take steps for the relief of the embattled poor and now-struggling middle class — and start the rebuilding and reinvestments of American cities and towns and rural communities.  Good luck, guys!  Good luck to all of us.

 

Great train ride, too. Please, President Obama and VP Biden — remember the joys of the trip as the capital items and operating budget allocations are discussed for what’s left of America’s great rail road systems.  One sure answer to the energy crisis is the revival and rebuilding of the great rail network that once criss-crossed the whole of these United States.

 

BAM! BAM! BIRDS AND JET ENGINES DON’T MIX – HERO PILOT LANDS AIRBUS PASSENGERS IN NEW YORK’S HUDSON RIVER

It was a cold winter day in New York when passengers boarded US Airways Flight 1549 bound for Charlotte, North Carolina.  Just after takeoff from LaGuardia and flying to the northwest over the Bronx, on a route skirting populous Manhattan Island, the fear of every pilot came true – the two jet engines simply stopped functioning, ending the powerful thrust forward that lifted and propelled the 50+ ton Airbus A-320 jetliner carrying 150+ passengers and crew members and a full load of jet fuel. (As the news media has reported, the plane apparently flew into the path of a flock of birds on climb out.)

 

So where do you go when the engines don’t (go)?  Well, down – and quickly!  Swiftly diminishing choices faced the cockpit crew: turn back to LaGuardia airport, glide to an alternative airport such as general aviation hub Teterboro in New Jersey, or to more distant Newark Airport; look for a large, flat piece of land – or land on the nearest waterway.  And so in the mid-afternoon of Thursday January 15, about where 50th Street intersects Manhattan Island east-west, the pilot and copilot glided their huge airship down to a textbook landing on the broad Hudson River between Manhattan and the New Jersey shoreline.  Splash!

 

Now New York City is a go-into-action town, as the world saw on that terrible day in September 2001 when two large jets were used as suicide bombers flying into the World Trade Center towers.  The waterway was soon alive with rescue boats steaming toward the now-floating jetliner.  Some of the little ferries that carry commuters to and from Manhattan Island from New Jersey were getting ready for the afternoon rush hour, and their crews cast off lines and raced toward the river’s middle.  US Coast Guard vessels sprang into action.  New York City Police Department helicopters quickly arrived and brave police divers dropped into the frigid waters to rescue passengers.  The NYC Fire Department’s Marine Unit raced to the scene. As help arrived, passengers and crew members were standing on the wings and floating tethered in emergency rafts alongside the giant airplane. What a sight!

 

And all of America tuned in to the drama, that afternoon and evening and into Friday and still today, Saturday, the drama is all over the news.  This is the story of the day in Gotham Town and on all the cable news channels.  And the word “hero” and “heroes” are part of very news segment.

 

Heroes Among Us

 

Those who have led men into combat know that is almost impossible to know who (among their squad or platoon or company or battalion etc.) will be a hero, and who will be the coward who cuts and runs when the action comes.  Ordinary men have earned a long list of Congressional Medal of Honor medals, or Silver Stars and Navy Crosses, or at the very least the gratitude of their comrades they served – and served with.

 

We expect certain people to perform as heroes when heroism and especially sacrifice is called for – it’s a given of leadership. We expect them to be accountable and responsible to and for those they lead, especially in difficult or crisis circumstances.  Our expectations are larger than life for the captain of the ship, in war and peace, responsible for the lives of many, whether shipborne warriors or cruise ship vacationers. And we have high expectations for the modern day and most ubiquitous of familiar captains, those with four stripes working in the cockpit of passenger liners in the air, responsible for safely ferrying passengers under every kind of weather and circumstance.

 

Doing His Duty – Accepting Responsibility

 

Today we as a nation are celebrating one of these hero-captains who did what he was trained to do, was supposed to do, and what he instantly recognized his fate would require him to do on January 15, 2009.  He flew his plane under the most difficult of circumstances, with zero power from the engines, just above the towers and cabling of the George Washington Bridge and on to the south, down the Hudson River…until he glided into the river in a picture perfect landing (at least for a land-based airplane!).  And in doing so he saved the people on board – passengers and crew, many “souls” in the words of pilots in command as well as sea captains.

 

Captain Charles B. Sullenberger III(“Sully”) is a veteran airline pilot with almost 40 years’ of service. He was graduated from the US Air Force Academy, served his country as a fighter pilot (Phantom F-4s, the same sturdy craft as the Navy’s famed Blue Angels once flew),  and is both a much-respected pilot and safety expert as well.  After the landing on the surface of the Hudson, the captain twice walked his stricken, sinking airliner to make sure everyone got out safely.  Then he headed for shore with all the passengers and crew.

 

We salute him today for doing his duty, for his care and concern for those souls in his charge, and for carrying out his duties as he accepted them.  All part of being in command, isn’t it?

 

New York Governor David Patterson calls it “the Miracle on the Hudson,” and indeed it is.  The city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg said Capital Sully was a hero (and indeed he is).  The deputy secretary for public safety of the state, former state senator Mike Balboni (a longtime acquaintance and neighbor of ours) spoke to the captain and then told The New York Times: “There was no boasting. No emotions. No nothing…”  Captain Sullenberger told Senator Balboni that he did what he was trained to do.

 

That is not quite accurate; for all the flight simulation and rigorous training that goes on in the life of an airline pilot, they don’t simulate a crash landing on the Hudson River at somewhere north of 150 MPH with a full complement of passengers and a full load of jet fuel!  His long hours of training paid off; his attention to detail paid off; and his clear acceptance of accountability for the lives of those “souls” in his care surely was a deciding factor.

 

Let’s Celebrate All the Heroes on the Hudson

 

So we join the nation in saluting Captain Sully and his able co-pilot,Jeffrey B. Skiles. And hugs all around for the crew, those unsung men and women who helped save the lives of the passengers entrusted to their care once the plane hit the waters of the Hudson.  Thumbs up all around for the quick-thinking captains and crews of the commuter ferries, to tug boat crews, to the Coasties of the New York Harbor who raced in their [Coast Guard] vessels to the scene, and especially to New York’s Finest, the NYPD drivers who dropped into the cold waters to help those in need.  They rushed to the aid of their fellow human beings in a town that very frequently gets a bad rap for being “coldhearted” and mercenary to the rest of America.

 

As the news spread, these were cheering moments for folks not directly involved in the drama.  The rank and file folks who make US Airways hum had their delicious moment to savor, as their fellow workers demonstrated what being a member of an airline team on the line is all about.

 

In Charlotte, North Carolina the hometown folks awaiting the arrival of Flight 1549 that evening got some really good news, instead of the drumbeat of discouraging news about the hometown goliath, Bank of America, which has been buffeted by bad-news reports of late (including that day!).   New Yorkers, while a hardy breed for the most part, got their minds of Bernie Madoff and the missing billions of dollars entrusted to him by individual and institutional investors.   They briefly forgot about the now-fallen captains of prominent Wall Street who disregarded their accountabilities and wrecked so many lives. There was a brief respite from the constant waves of news about the failed leadership of Wall Street and American financial service organizations.

 

Leadership and Accountability

 

And that brings to a point we’ve been thinking about.  Does it take a courageous airline captain and crew and passengers to show us what personal and collective accountability is all about?  What responsibility to our fellow man and woman is all about?  The performance of Captain Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles are inspirations for all of us.

 

And what a contrast this is to the sorry performance of late of some other leaders – captains of industry and government — who had many “souls” in their care.  Employees, their dependents, retirees, shareowners, communities, charities – many have suffered because a certain few “in command” of mighty business organizations set aside their responsibilities in pursuit of … what?  Glory? Unseemly financial reward?  Reward without regard for risk?  Egotistical self-fulfillment?  Too much greed overpowering too little attention to risk?

 

As we await the arrival of the Obama Presidency next week, a spirit of renewal can be felt in the country.  There’s a feeling of we’re all in this together that has emerged as the mortgage crisis deepens, the capital markets continue on their nightmarish path, and as half million jobs a month disappear.  Thanks to all of the participants in this week’s New York City drama for showing us that most of us are still accountable and responsible for each other, and that when the chips are down, the great American Spirit will rise to meet the challenge.

 

The final word goes to another 30-year veteran of US Airways who speaks for many in her former airline and in the airline industry: Kathryn Keene’s letter today to the editor of The New York Timesurges the flying public to look closely at the plight of flight crews, pilots and attendants, and they way their salaries have been pillaged by management and their airlines have been merged mercilessly.  For too long flight crews have been overworked and underpaid, and abused, and yet their professionalism comes through when lives depend on them.  Gallantry and competence, she wrote, were much in evidence in the Miracle of the Hudson.

 

What a metaphor for the once proud and high-flying airline industry…of which this writer was a proud member for many years.  Maybe we can find some heroes once again to man the front offices of the nation’s air carriers.  People like CR Smith, the founder and four-decade CEO of American Airlines, who built his human assets until they were the envy of the airline industry, or Juan Trippe, the CEO of Pan Am as it became the world’s best-known airline, planting its flag everywhere.  It’s time!

SEC: AN AGENCY IN TRANSITION … TO WHAT?

As the calendar pages turn quickly toward January 20, 2009, when the reign of the new Obama Administration will begin, many eyes are focused on what happens now at the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).  By federal statute the SEC is the official watchdog for the nation’s securities industry, its authority stemming from Great Depression era legislative measures passed by Congress in 1933 and 1934 and enthusiastically signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt following each annual session of that 73rd Congress.

 

Obviously much has changed in the capital markets since then – but some events of 2008 and now moving into 2009 that affect investors sounds strikingly familiar to [some] conditions affecting investors after the stock market crash of October 1929.

 

There were no federal regulators of the stock markets then, and only a handful of states had securities laws – notably, New York State, where Governor Franklin Roosevelt had some legal instruments to deal with fraud and stock markets chicanery.  The “Martin Act” (1926) was said to be somewhat of a model for the legislation adopted for the national securities laws in ’33 and ’34.  Interesting:  The Martin Act was used by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to pursue Wall Street’s top investment banks and brokerages houses in recent years.  And the present AG, Andrew Cuomo, is wielding the Act in pursuing wrongdoing in New York State right now.

 

Given the scope of the wreckage in the domestic capital markets, in equities investing, in the bond markets, in the Madoff Schemeblowup, in banking, in mortgage securitizing, etc. – there are important questions being raised about (1) what to do about strengthening regulation and oversight of the different federal agencies involved in the now very complicated markets under their jurisdictions and (2) who should be the government’s chief securities industry watchdog, in the present or perhaps future regulatory framework.

 

President-Elect Obama is fleshing out his leadership team and has named his choice for head of the SEC:  Mary Schapiro, head of FINRA (the Financial Industrial Regulatory Authority – the self-governing oversight board of the American brokerage industry, which oversees 5,000 firms and 680,000 registered securities representatives.  The agency has 3,000 employees and mission is “…to protect investors by maintaining the fairness of capital markets.”

 

Schapiro was an SEC commissioner early in her career; for a brief time was temporary chair of SEC; she later headed by the Commodities Future Trading Commission; and has been head of FINRA.

 

We commented on some of this in our November 10, 2008 column – “As We Survey the Carnage in the Capital Markets, the 2009 Burning Question Will Be:  What Regulations, and Oversight Are Really Needed Going Forward? (link here:

http://www.accountability-central.com/nc/accountability-matters-blog/articles/archive/2008/november/article/as-we-survey-the-carnage-in-the-capital-markets-the-2009-burning-question-will-be-what-regulations/?tx_ttnews%5Bday%5D=10&cHash=1fb27d05db

 

Now commentary regarding the appointment of Mary Schapiro to head SEC is beginning to shape the coming debate about her capabilities (and SEC’s) to be a tough enough watchdog of the capital markets, and about the future of the SEC itself.  We share with you these two commentaries –

 

From The Washington Post (January 7th)   Commentator Steve Pearlstein’s views (“Obama’s SEC Pick is No Joe Kennedy”):

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/06/AR2009010602938.html

 

And a fast rebuttal from the widely-read The Corporate Counsel.net Blog (edited by Broc Romanek and Dave Lynn): “Incoming SEC Chair Schapiro:  A Rebuttal”

 

http://www.thecorporatecounsel.net/blog/archive/001985.html

 

And what about the current head of SEC, Chairman Christopher Cox, as he heads for the exit door?  There has been commentary galore about SEC really being asleep at the switch while Wall Street took the American economy off the cliff with it – “Where Was the SEC?” sums up the headlines.  And about slumbering through the Madoff scandal. See “Rebuilding the SEC” after Chairman Cox leaves in the January 6th The New York Times “Breaking Points.com” commentary:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/business/06views.html?scp=2&sq=Christopher%20Cox&st=cse

 

Read, too the excellent commentary by noted bio author Ron Chernow on the need for a tough capital markets investigator/prosecutor in 2009:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/opinion/06chernow.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

 

Title:  “Where is Our Ferdinand Pecora?”  (He was the former New York prosecutor who paraded Wall Street leaders before the Senate after the 1929 Crash, and his landmark investigative work was an important factor in the 1933 and 1934 federal securities oversight debates.)

 

Should be an interesting time in our nation’s capital when the congressional oversight hearings get underway in both houses, and the Senate confirmation hearings begin on Obama Administration nominees

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And then when everyone is finally in harness, what measures will come to help relieve everyone’s pain and misery from Capital Markets Overload.

 

The 73rd Congress passed The Securities Act of 1933The Exchange Act of 1934The Glass Steagall Act of 1933 (separating banks and Wall Street firms), The Economy Act of 1933The Federal Emergency Relief Act, The National Industrial Recovery Act, and many more measures, some lasting into the 21st Century and 2009.

 

What will we see out of the 111th Congress and our 44th President?

 

All this will be coming to you soon in “Living Color,” on cable channels (they used to say on NBC prime time when the “Walt Disney Hour” was announced).  Hmmm… The Disney Hour…may be an interesting metaphor for some of what is to come in 2009.

 

Do Stay Tuned!