What Not to Do with Your 401K – Wendy Davis Takes Poetic License with Her Past

Throughout  the United States,  voters are putting a premium on candidates who are skilled at getting out of debt. If anyone has mastered that art it’s Wendy Davis, Democratic frontrunner for this year’s gubernatorial race.

Wendy DavisSenator Davis became famous, not just statewide but nationally, last summer when she filibustered a Texas State bill which would have banned abortions after the twentieth week. That was the beginning of her romance with Texas Democrats. Feeding on her press-fueled momentum, Ms. Davis painted a rags-to-riches story of herself as having been a single teenage mother living in a trailer park who worked her way up and into Harvard Law School.  Some of the details in her artfully woven tale are now starting to fray. On January 20th, the Dallas Morning News reported that Davis was twenty-one (not nineteen) when she and her first husband separated and that she only lived in a mobile home for a few months “before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

It has also come to light that her second husband, Jeff Davis, “cashed in his 401(k) to help fund her education.” (Hilary Hylton “A Storybook Tale Gets Some New Footnotes,” Time Magazine, February 3, 2014).  He paid for Ms. Davis’s last two years at Texas Christian University and kept their two daughters while she studied at Harvard Law School in Boston.

According to Jeff Davis, Wendy Davis “left him the day after he paid off her Harvard loan in 2003.” (Hylton). Following their divorce, he was granted custody of the two girls.

It seems Senator Davis has graduated from Ball-Busting to Filibustering.  This may not necessarily cost her the nomination, as Democratic supporters are treating recent revelations (or should that be clarifications) as a rabid attack by Republicans. As Dallas News correspondent Wayne Slater puts it:

Campaigns… understand that when critical stories appear, advocates on both sides respond like characters in the movie Dodgeball, running to the center of the floor, selecting a ball and ferociously heaving it at their opponents.

This should make for an interesting election year in the State of Texas. In the meantime, Men, hold on to your wallets and your hats.  Everyone knows it’s Wendy.

The Buck Stops Where? What Bridgegate and Benghazi Have in Common

George Washington Bridge Once a popular Broadway musical, Jersey Boys has reinvented itself as mini-series of scandals heading the front pages of our newspapers. Has its star, Governor Chris Christie,  gone from being  “Big Man in Town” to  “Fallen Angel?”

As I write, the Democrats are expanding their “Bridgegate  investigation to look at claims that politics played a role in the distribution of Sandy relief funds.”  (“Democrats Plan to Expand Christie Probe” USA Today, January 20, 2014). Governor Christie’s administration allegedly withheld Sandy recovery aid from the City of Hoboken, when the city rejected a major redevelopment plan.

Regardless of whether Governor Christie knew about, much less authorized, these not-so-natural disasters, the fact is they occurred on his watch.  Executives of corporations, non-profit organizations, and government offices alike have a responsibility to establish a cultural tone, a brand, an ethos, if you will, for the organizations they lead.

One of the tools they have at their disposable for accomplishing this are their Human Resources Directors. They should enable and empower  Human Resources to communicate, promote, and, when necessary, enforce their organizations’ code of ethics. This cultural branding should begin at the recruiting and selection stage and should be reinforced during onboarding.

When a local corporation recently asked me to help screen applications for a Safety Officer opening, I read through stacks and stacks of resumes.  The one resume which jumped out at me belonged to an applicant who, under work experience, had written, “created a culture of safety.”  Yes! That’s what the corporation was looking for.

When you have a position to fill, read resumes not just for the facts they contain but for their tone. You may also take advantage of social media  to assess each applicant’s “personal brand” (how he presents himself online).   Is he a good fit for your organization’s culture?

Next, use new employee orientations to emphasize your organization’s culture and its code of ethics.  Last, but far from least, encourage management to live up to and model that code.  Refer to it in your organization’s newsletters or on your intranet. When someone, anyone, in the organization falls short of  The Code, they should be reminded of what the organization stands for and the behavioral expectations which go with it.

The Buck Stops HereIt seems The Buck Stops Here has gone from a clever sign that President Harry Truman once kept on his desk to  a sometimes overused cliché to, regrettably,  a thing of the past. We saw this when the Democrats attempted to place the blame for the Benghazi attack on the shoulders of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Of course, Benghazi was not so much a breach of ethics, as it was a breach of competence. Either way, it should never have happened. Maybe Governor Christie, like President Obama, didn’t know exactly what was going on with the George Washington Bridge traffic jam until it was too late.  Neither Governor Christie nor President Obama can undo what has been done, but they can take full responsibility for it. President Truman would have done no less. Or so his sign said.

Going forward, all executives (corporate, non-profit, and government alike) would do well to draw on the ethical expertise of their Human Resources Directors, not only to guide them through the often choppy, gray waters of business and politics, but to establish and nurture a culture of ethics among their staffs.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the show. Jersey Boys is in for a long run.

 

Welcome to Millionaire’s Row – The United States Congress

Gold CoinAccording to a survey just released by The Center for Responsible Politics, for the first time in American history, most members of Congress are now millionaires. Republicans in Congress have a median net worth of $1 million, while the Democrats’ median net worth is $1.4 million. Hmm, maybe Democrats are a lot better at business than people think..

Indian Diplomat Expelled for Employment Fraud and Bullying

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Americans have developed a knack  for discerning which of our laws are strictly enforced and which can be broken with little fear of punishment. For diplomats the seemingly fine line between some of these laws may be difficult to discern. For example, it’s common in many areas of the United States to pay cash, no questions asked, for someone to mow your yard or clean your house. If you are determined to go the legal route, be prepared to pay wages in line with a chemical engineer’s for an e-verified, social-security recognized individual, if you can find one willing to do the work.  Oh, and don’t forget to withhold social security and Medicare taxes from that person’s paycheck, to match those withholdings out of your own pocket, and to issue a W-2 in January.

The film A Day without a Mexican captures the predicament of Americans needing assistance with their yards and their housework. The movie begins with border patrol officers in southern California arresting would-be immigrants coming across the Mexican border. Fast forward to the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of all Mexicans from California. Yards and houses and children go unattended. Construction comes to a halt. Restaurant meals go uncooked. Crops go unpicked. The state slowly but surely descends into chaos.

In the film’s final scene, (Spoiler Alert) Mexicans illegally cross the border late at night, then freeze when La Migra (now  ICE)  trains spotlights on them. Only this time the border patrol doesn’t handcuff them and load them into vans. Instead, the officers pat them on the back and welcome them to the U.S.A.

It’s little wonder  Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat living in New York, was confused. What she apparently did not understand when she hired a fellow Indian, Ms. Richards, to cook and clean for her, is that paying cash for household help would have been one thing, but committing outright employment fraud by falsifying documents to secure an employee’s visa is another. However, the greatest error in judgment Ms. Khobragade made may not have been fraud, but her unethical, cruel treatment of Ms. Richards.  Ms. Khobragade reportedly forced the maid to sometimes “work 100-hour weeks, even when sick and often without a day off, for pay as little as $1.22 an hour.”

Living in a country which has made anti-bullying a national campaign, Ms. Khobragade had the audacity to bully her employee, an employee so isolated from her homeland, Ms. Khobragade assumed she wouldn’t fight back.

Is this why Ms. Khobragade felt pressured to falsify documents, so that she could hire a maid from her own country? Was she afraid that a documented American, or even an undocumented Mexican or Central American working in the United States, would not have tolerated such treatment?

Apparently she underestimated her fellow expatriate’s tolerance for abuse. Last June, Ms. Richard told Ms. Khobragade that  she was unhappy with the work conditions and wanted to return home. Ms. Khobragade refused the request and would not return her passport. Ms. Richard then turned to Safe Horizon, which helps trafficking victims, for help.

After being indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on charges of visa fraud and employment fraud, Ms. Khobragrade was granted immunity just long enough to be allowed to leave the United States and return to India. Since then, her name has been  placed on U.S. Immigration watch lists and she cannot return unless she surrenders to the court upon arrival.

In retaliation, India has   asked the U.S.  to withdraw one of its senior diplomats from New Delhi.

Diplomats living in the United States would do well to learn and follow not only American laws, but American ethics and not assume immunity when they violate them.

Risk Management Sochi Style: Snow and Surveillance Top Priorities

I wonder if Edward Snowden will show up in Sochi. That would boost the ratings!  Speaking of  snow—,  did you know that Sochi has stockpiled snow from last winter just in case they run low during the games?  They should get a gold medal for risk management.Sochi Olympics 2014

The Russians will be managing other risks, as well, by listening in on all communications. “Athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics  … will face some of the most invasive and systematic spying and  surveillance in the history of the Games.”

University of Toronto Professor Ron Deibert,  has dubbed the Russian FSB’s   Surveillance System PRISM on Steroids.

Presumably the primary purpose of the system is to protect against terrorism, with Chechen terrorists already threatening to sabotage the games.

Meanwhile, there is some concern among the international LGBT community  that Russia may use its comprehensive surveillance system to identify and target promoters of gay rights, as the country recently  passed a controversial  law banning gay propaganda.

On second thought, this is the sort of event Snowden, Patron Saint of Privacy, is likely to boycott.

Total Compensation: Hot Lunches, Beer, and Cigarettes

Government sponsored alcoholism is now keeping the streets of Amsterdam clean and tidy.  Each morning at 9 a.m., alcoholics arrive at a Rainbow Group Center to begin work, removing litter from the streets and sidewalks, as well as from nearby Oosterpark. These workers ” take extended breaks for beer, cigarettes and a hot lunch, all provided free of charge,” before ending their workday at 3 p.m. So far local residents support the program. Since it began, “local police have received fewer reports of stabbings and muggings in the park.

Oosterpark

Oosterpark, Amsterdam

While the Dutch government does not fund the entire program, it is the primary sponsor. Critiques may complain that the government is not only enabling but fueling alcoholism. Proponents counter that the program offers  meaning and purpose to its participants’ lives. They also point out the savings generated by fewer arrests exceeds the cost of  providing people with beer, cigarettes, and  food in exchange for their services.

What’s your take?  Will this strategy attract unemployed alcoholics to Amsterdam just as the country’s decriminalization of marijuana  has attracted pot users as a Dutch tourist industry? Or is it a creative, humane way to reduce both litter and panhandling in one fell swoop?

The Ceiling May Have Been Cast from Glass, but The Women Had the Floor.

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Today my husband had one of the best ideas I’ve heard yet for solving the ongoing crisis in the Middle East: provide all the women with arms so they can take over their societies. Then they’ll work together for peace.

While he may be accused of reverse gender-discrimination, there is an element of truth behind his idea. In fact, we recently experienced the power of women to set aside conflicts and promote peace right here in the U.S.  Last October, jeopardizing re-election in their home districts, women senators from both parties joined forces to break through the  partisan impasse that was on the verge of shutting down our country. Their “negotiating framework formed the centerpiece of a tentative Senate deal to reopen the federal government and avert a disastrous default.

As Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) put it, “The truth is, women in the Senate is a good thing. We’re all just glad they allowed us to tag along so we could see how it’s done.

I’m still trying to figure out precisely why the women were more willing and more successful at working towards the common good than so many of their male colleagues.  Are women, as a gender, more concerned with the good of the whole than with stoking their own egos or pursuing their own ambitions?  (Certainly I have known many women for whom this is not true!). Could the very characteristics which make women more effective peacemakers or, at least, more inclined to take personal risks to promote peace, be the reason  they do not move up corporate and political ladders with the same speed and alacrity as men?

When Business Executive Jack Donaghy (played Alec Baldwin  in the sorely-missed television show, Thirty Rock), is passed over for a promotion to CEO, he sadly proclaims, ” I cannot go to another business school reunion and sit at the non-CEO table with the women and nice men.”

I would like to think that one’s ability to move up  the ranks of power (be it in business or in government) and one’s ability to work for the good of the whole are not mutually exclusive.  But the truth is I’m not so sure.