Archive for January, 2011


A Great Surgeon With Great Standards

January 26th, 2011
Jim Thomas

The word “Integrity,” evolved in meaning across the centuries. In Biblical times it signified a measure of economic self-sufficiency. In our time, it radiates adhesion—a consistent adherence to the right ideas, convictions, and standards. Many citizens, as well as thinkers, maintain it ranks first among the cardinal virtues.

No practitioner of the healing arts better exemplified Integrity than the greatest surgeon of the twentieth century—Dr. Michael Ellis DeBakey (1908-2008). He was a world-renowned Lebanese-American cardiac surgeon. In addition to surgery, he was a medical innovator, scientist, medical educator, and international medical statesman.

His innovations in cardiac medicine were of monumental importance. They included invention of the roller pump that became an essential component of the heart lung machine. He performed the first patch-graft angioplasty and the first coronary bypass heart surgery. The list is longer.

Here’s the point. The rich and famous came from all over the world for surgery by his skillful hands. He operated on more than 50,000 patients, including heads of state. However, the poor, the meek and the wretched were also admitted to his care at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. There he continued to operate until he was 90. He won the everlasting admiration and respect of colleagues, patients, and hospital administrators for the manner in which he attended all alike. Irrespective of whether the case was grave or routine, irrespective of the patient’s rank, status, position, race, or nationality—each and every one received the same high standards of skill, care, attention to detail, and surgical dexterity of this extraordinary physician.

Dr. Debakey died July 11, 2008, age 99. His career was a standing monument to professional integrity.

A Bureaucrat Who Held Fast to Convictions

January 17th, 2011
Jim Thomas

INTEGRITY, first in rank of the cardinal virtues, radiates adhesion. The adherence is a capacity to stand by the right ideas, even when difficult and unprofitable. Brooksley Born, chairperson ofAn obscure, though important Federal agency, demonstrated INTEGRITY in exemplary fashion.

Born was a partner in the prominent Washington, D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter, where she practiced in the area of securities arbitration and litigation. Extensive experienced convinced her American securities markets require a measure of governmental oversight. Otherwise, they become susceptible to fraud and improper manipulation.

On august 26, 1996, she became chairperson of the Commodities Futures and Trading Commission. The CFTC is a tiny agency that oversees the futures and commodity options markets. At the time, the economy was growing. The stock market was creating enormous wealth. Unemployment was below five percent.

At the CFTC she began review of a new market that was expanding and morphing into a juggernaut—the $27 trillion over-the-counter derivates market. It was free of all regulation. On wall street, it was known as the “black box.” Those engaged in the deal making had access to the transactions and records, but no one else. As a dark market with no transparency whatsoever, Born believed it was wide open for fraud and monetary debacle. In her view, governmental oversight at the CFTC was mandatory.

She confronted a choice of great magnitude. She could remain silent and do nothing. No law or regulation, then in place, required action on her part. . Alternatively, based on information and belief, she could speak out, sound an alarm, and seek reform. After deliberation and a succession of sleepless nights, she chose the latter course. Her’s was the sole and only voice of opposition and warning throughout the government.

She met with the three highest officials in the Clinton Administration with authority to act. She submitted evidence concerning the derivatives market. . She expressed concern. She tendered proposals for legislative language. There were numerous phone calls and a series of face-to-face conferences. To no avail. Her warnings were blandished. Her proposals were rejected, and she herself was intimidated, to the great misfortune of all. When Congress, too, turned its head, Born resigned from the CFTC.

By and by, the U.S. and much of Europe plunged into the financial crisis of 2008. The great recession came. Later identified as a major culprit was the unregulated derivatives market trading in subprime mortgage-backed securities—very market Born identified and upon which she placed her upright perceptive finger.

She received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award in 2009. The commendation read in part “…in appreciation of a far-sighted public servant who acted on principle to protect the people’s interest.”