Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

We Deserve Better (2): The Damnation of the Democrats

A few days after President Obama took office I remember him emerging from a meeting at the Pentagon.  The summit was arranged to brief the Commander In Chief on the progress of the wars and to assure the nation that the new president was in-sync with his generals and admirals charged with running the war.  Emerging from the highly publicized meeting America’s new war time president stated “as long as the generals take care of what they have to do, we’ll take care of what we have to do.”  I found the statement to be unsettling.  It implied that  the new administration would not alter the course set by the previous administration insuring that the inertia of Bush’s policies and strategies would continue unabated.  On another level Obama’s statement also seemed to suggest an abdication.  I get nervous to think that the Commander in Chief  has ceded civilian control of the greatest military force the world has ever known.  The decision to pursue war or enjoy peace is too delicate a matter to be left to the decisions of an entrenched military-industrial bureaucracy.  The abdication of assertive control, weather its born from the desire to get along, build consensus or a deep seated need for acceptance has been a disturbing custom of Obama’s presidency and the prevailing characteristic of the Democratic Party.

Obama’s easy surrender to established protocols, processes, precedents has been a hallmark of his presidency.  It exemplifies the failure of the Democratic Party’s oppositional legacy to Republican rule during the two previous Bush Administrations.  At every turn, the Democrats gave in to the Republican conservative legislative agenda with little or no dissent.  The Patriot Act, the blind march to  two unnecessary wars, the dismantling of government oversight and regulatory controls on business, the slavish submission to Republican led expenditures or tax cuts in service to corporate welfare and the tepid lip service to the struggle for social justice made the democrats complicit accomplices in America’s dramatic conservative swing.

The democrats failure as an oppositional force to counter the reactionary juggernaut of neo-conservatism has emboldened the reactionary impulses of the ruthless power elites.  Threatened by economic distress and disintegration of our political institutions, Americas ruling  plutocracy has spawned a malevolent Tea Party movement to crush any progressive populism that may arise to counteract their social position, economic power and political sovereignty. The democrats adamant refusal to stand firmly against the destructive impulses of xenophobia and virulent nationalism has allowed an ugly chorus of fear to become our new national anthem.  The resentful voices of suspicion, intolerance and  exclusion grows ever louder each day as emboldened Falangists and neo-fascists take center stage on a surreal  commercial production of American political theater.

In defense of President Obama his presidential campaign and his administration have expressed a deep desire to pursue a political consensus.  This sentiment is admirable and the ability to form a consensus is an absolute and critical virtue to the health of a democratic society.  The freedom to express differing opinions, voice dissent, air grievances, petition, ability to listen, interest to hear, converse, change opinions and assimilate these competing impulses to form a consensus to express the common will are what makes democracies imperfect yet the fairest expression of governance.  Mr. Obama has sought to pursue and build consensus with an opposition Republican Party that has been nothing short of obstructionist since the democrats assumed control of the Executive office.  Rush “Country Firster” Limbaugh said it best “I hope he fails” set the tone and sealed the intractability of Republicans and any possibility of bipartisan cooperation to deal with the critical issues confronting the nation.

Last summers spectacle of town meetings designed to initiate a national conversation on Health Care Reform devolved into a partisan shouting match and an opportunity for the formation of the Tea Party galvanized by propaganda about a socialist takeover of the economy, death panels, and the idea that President Obama was a fascist dictator.  At this point President Obama still took the opportunity to sit down with the leadership of the GOP in a televised discussion to initiate a dialog.  The Consensus Builder in Chief was rebuffed again.  The democrats responded by killing single-payer and backing down on universal health coverage.  The watered down health care reform bill accomplished an extension of coverage for more, but not all Americans and eliminated preexisting conditions as a disqualification for coverage while also extending the power of insurance companies by making it mandatory that all tax payers purchase health insurance.

This reform is not a significant ground breaking legislative event.  President Obama and the democrats should have recognized early on the inability to work a compromise with the obstructionists in the Republican Party.  As is the case with Cap and Trade legislation, rescinding  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ending the Iraq and Afghanistan war, financial services reform, TARP and the economic stimulus bill;  the GOP, “Party of No” has done everything in its power to derail the efforts of the democratic party to address the deep problems confronting America.  The Democratic Party should have leveraged its control of the legislative and executive branch of the Federal Government to push through a program for a new America.  The pressing circumstances of history required decisive leadership and bold ideas to address the complex problems confronting America.  FDR’s “New Deal” or Johnson’s “Great Society” were ideas accompanied by innovative legislation to solve systemic problems.  The democrats tepid response acquiesced to the conservative demands of the GOP.   The Blue Dog Democrats yelped and barked louder then any rabid GOP hound subverting a robust game changing legislative response to the problems confronting America.

The democrats would again demonstrate their timidity in how they responded to the Gulf Oil Spill.  If the free falling economy was the equivalent of economic Armageddon the Horizon Deep Water catastrophic oil spill was its environmental equivalent.  In each case President Obama fashioned piece meal responses designed not to offend “free market evangelists” for fear of being accused of over reaching.  Both instances provided opportunities to mobilize the nation and its significant resources in these titanic tests of national resolve.  In both instances the cojones challenged donkeys failed to seize the reins of state to wield its power.  I am still shocked by images of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein pulling the strings on Timothy Geithner like a marionette to exact concessions during the banking crisis.  Or consider the high profile of BP CEO,  Tony “I want my life back” Hayward mounting a $50 million PR campaign to quell any concerns that the benevolence of corporate capitalism will eventually “set things right.”    The Republicans turned this into President Obama’s Katrina with Bobby “don’t spend no stim in Louisiana” Jindal taking the EPA to court for declaring a moratorium on deep water drilling.  And the fattest of fat cats Republican Mississippi Governor Haley “rebuild the casinos first” Barbour shaming Obama to spend a portion of his non- Martha Vineyard family vacation swimming in the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a PR disaster for President Obama because he failed to act with the resolve or manner of a strong decisive leader.

But now as the midterms approach the democrats must answer to a crumbling alliance of constituencies that they have taken for granted and failed to help.  They are unable to see  constituents as anything other then a demographic voting block devoid of a face, personality or soul.  The democrats see stereotypes not people.  Labor unions are blue collar voters that now approximate 7% of registered voters.  This year the democratic controlled legislature failed to act on Card Check legislation that would protect the right of labor unions to vote and organize non-union companies.  Another important constituency of the Democratic Party is the LGBT community.  The military said it would comply with the decision of a California District Court  that overturned Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Incredibly, President Obama’s Attorney General appealed the decision and asked the court to reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Teacher unions are also big supporters of the Democratic Party, but many democrats support school vouchers and Charter Schools and seem unconcerned that financial and institutional support of public schools continues to erode.  Working class families and woman  are under severe distress as unemployment rates approach 10%, home foreclosures rise , spiraling cost of living increases spike, the cost of sending kids to college slip out of reach and a marked erosion in quality of life and expectations for a secure future and comfortable retirement evaporate.    The democrats did little to solve these pressing problems save the offer of cheap lip service that they understand their pain.  Charlie Rangel secure in the refuge of his four rent controlled apartments will not feel the cold experienced by a homeless mother and her children this winter;  nor will Hillary Clinton lose any sleep worrying about  deploying Chelsea to fight an incomprehensible war in Afghanistan.

This mid term election democratic candidates are running away from their unpopular president.  They will run on a platform of tax cuts and appear as local election district manifestations of gun toting patriotic Christophanies.  The poverty of a party with no conviction of principle is made plain.  Having no principles, Democrats have not offered a true alternative to reactionary Republicanism.  Nearsightedness has robbed them of a vision for a new republic.  They offer no demarcation with the broken policies that preceded their rule.  The hallmark of their governance has been the complete compromise with an recalcitrant opposition; content to administer a broken and corrupt apparatus rather then chart a new path.  The democrats remain shining examples of self serving politicians retuning to office  on mythical inertia to secure rent controlled apartments while public housing remains an endangered and dear want for many.  They believe themselves to be righteously led by the presiding shame of a president made possible by an epic civil rights struggle who cannot muster the fortitude or conviction to extend the equal right of marriage for one of his liberal constituencies.

We deserve better.

You tube Music Video: Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Compared to What

Risk: democracy, two party political system, liberalism

 

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Bush, conservatism, culture, democracy, democrats, environment, labor, LGBT, Obama, politics, recession, republicans, social justice, TARP, taxation, Tea Party, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Goldman Sachs as Social Entrepreneur

Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein and his largest investor, The Wizard of Omaha, Warren Buffett , descended from the mystical heights of Valhalla with some startling news.  They were bearing a new mythical golden ring.  As they held the ring aloft they made a bold proclamation.  They would embark on one of the grandest social entrepreneurial programs of all time by offering some of the rings precious power, about $500 million worth, to capital starved small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs).  The 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative will distribute $100 million per year over the next five years to SMEs through Community Development Financial Institutions.

These lords of commerce have heard the cries from endangered SMEs.  In their infinite wisdom Blankfein and Buffet understand that the real economy needs to resuscitate and incubate the critical SME segment as an absolute prerequisite to a vibrant economic recovery.    The buzz about this news in the marketplace ranged from cynical suspicion at one extreme to puzzled bemusement and  ecstatic aplomb at the other.

What motivated Goldman to announce this initiative is an interesting question.  Was it guilt, greed or a sense of corporate social responsibility?  Some suggest it is a master PR move to counter a growing public perception that Goldman Sachs,  the poster child of government favoritism and bailout largess,  has leveraged its unfair advantage to achieve historic levels of profitability.  Thus enabling management to pay obscene bonuses to company employees.  But capital has no psyche,  and half a billion dollars is a tall bill to underwrite absolution for some phantom form of guilt.  True to its nature, capital always  seeks a place where it will find its greatest return.  Goldman and Buffett are casting some major bread on the receding waters of a distressed economy.  As its foretold in the Good Book , doing God’s work will produce a tenfold return.  If the Bible’s math is correct, thats a lot of manna that will rain down from heaven for the shareholders of Goldman Sachs and Berkshire Hathaway.  Looks like our modern day version of Moses and Aaron have done it again.  Leading their investors across the dangerous waters of the global economy to live in the promised land of happy shareholders.

As one of the world’s preeminent investment banks and purveyor of capitalist virtues,  company shareholders must be questioning how Goldman’s managers will realize a return on this investment?  Has management examined the potential corporate and societal moral hazards surrounding the program?  Surely shareholders have asked when they expect to be compensated for this significant outlay of capital.   The desire to realize gain is a more plausible motivator and makes more sense for an enterprise like Goldman and the storied investment Wizard from Omaha.

Its wise to ascribe the best intentions and virtuous motivations to actions that we may not fully understand.  This program should be viewed as a seminal event in the history of corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship.  Its important to understand that institutions that practice corporate social responsibility do not engage it solely as a philanthropic  endeavor.  Indeed, the benefits of good corporate citizenship pays multidimensional dividends.  All ultimately accrue to the benefit of company shareholders and the larger community of corporate stakeholders.

Goldman’s  move to walk the point of a capital formation initiative for SMEs seeks to mitigate macroeconomic risk factors that are prolonging the recession and pressuring Goldman’s business.   Goldman needs a vibrant US economy if it is to sustain its profitability,  long term growth and global competitiveness.  Goldman needs a strong regional and local banking sector to support its securitization, investment banking and corporate finance business units.   Healthy SMEs are a critical component to a healthy commercial banking sector.  Goldman recent chartering as an FDIC bank holding company may also be a factor to consider.  This SME lending initiative will provide interesting insights into the dynamics of a market space and potential lines of business that are relatively new to Goldman Sachs.  This initiative might presage a community banking acquisition program by Goldman.  At the very least the community banking sector is plagued with over capacity is in dire need of rationalization.  Goldman’s crack team of corporate finance and M&A professionals expertise would be put to good use here.

Goldman’s action to finance SMEs will also serve to incubate a new class of High Net Worth (HNW) investors.  Flush with cash from successful entrepreneurial endeavors, the nouveau riche will be eager to deploy excess capital into equities and bonds, hedge funds and private equity partnerships.  Healthy equity markets and a growing Alternative Investment Management  market is key to a healthy Goldman business franchise.

Community banks, principal lenders to SMEs are  still reeling from the credit crisis are concerned about troubled assets on their balance sheets.  Bankers can’t afford more write downs on non-performing loans and remain highly risk adverse to credit default exposures.  Local banks have responded by drastically reducing credit risk to SMEs by curtailing new lending activity.  The strain of a two-year recession and limited credit access has taking its toll on SMEs.  The recession has hurt sales growth across all market segments causing SMEs to layoff employees or shut down driving unemployment rates ever higher.  Access to this sector would boost Goldman’s securitization and restructuring advisory businesses positioning it to deepen its participation in the PPIP and TALF programs.

The financial condition of commercial and regional banks are expected to remain stressed for the foreseeable future.  Community banks have large credit exposures to SME and local commercial real estate.  Consumer credit woes and high unemployment rates will generate continued losses from credit cards and auto loans.  Losses from commercial real estate loans due to high vacancy rates are expected to create significant losses for the sector.

Reduced revenue, protracted softness in the business cycle and closed credit channels are creating perfect storm conditions for SME’s. Bank’s reluctance to lend and the high cost of capital from other alternative credit channels coupled with weak cash flows from declining sales are creating liquidity problems for many SMEs.   Its a growing contagion of financial distress.  This contagion could infect Goldman and would have a profound impact on the company’s financial health.

The 10,000 Businesses  initiative will strengthen the free flow of investment capital to finance national economic development and empower SMEs.  It strengthens free market capitalism and has the potential to pool, unleash and focus investment capital into a strategic market segment that has no access to public equity and curtailed lines of traditional bank credit. The 10,000 Businesses initiative  will encourage wider participation by banking and private equity funds.  In the aggregate, this will help to achieve strategic objectives, build wealth and realize broader goals to assure sustainable growth and global competitiveness.  All to the benefit of Goldman Sachs’ shareholders and it global investment banking franchise.

Sum2 believes that corporate social responsibility is a key tenet of a sound practice program. Goldman Sach’s has always been a market leader.  We salute Goldman Sachs’ initiative and welcome its success.

In  September of 2008,  Sum2 announced The Hamilton Plan calling for the founding of an SME Development Bank (SDB).  The SDB would serve as an aggregator of capital from numerous stakeholders to focus capital investment for SME manufactures.   More on the Hamilton Plan can be read here: SME Development Bank.

Risk:  SME, bank, recession, unemployment, credit, private equity

You Tube Music: 10,000 Manaics, Natalie Merchant: Dust Bowl

November 20, 2009 Posted by | banking, corporate social responsibility, Hamilton Plan, hedge funds, investments, off shore, PPIP, private equity, Profit|Optimizer, recession, reputation, reputational risk, SME, sound practices, Sum2, TALF, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment