Monday, May 17, 2010

Post No. 146: Why Dumping on BP is a Bunch of BS

© 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Yesterday, C-Span aired Tuesday’s Senate hearings in connection with the Gulf of Mexico oil “spill,” which is still spilling.

It was interesting to watch the corporate representatives, including the CEO of BP America, perform mental and legal gymnastics in responding to the questions. The world watched as Senators, on both sides of the aisle, posed questions reflecting their incredulousness that this “disaster” even occurred.

While we were impressed with the tap dancing on the part of the spokespeople, we were more impressed with the political savvy of the Senators. President Obama was justifiably incensed at the multi-lateral finger pointing going on, but, we submit, for all the wrong reasons.

We’re willing to bet, and even invest some money in the derivative ultimately crafted, that in the years to come (be it 10, 50, or 100), (1) “accidents” of this type will continue to occur, (2) the companies involved will be no more prepared to deal with them and their consequences, and (3) Senators investigating future accidents will continue to fake their incredulousness that such “accidents” still occur.

Many things in life have less to do with people or the humans who happen to exist at any given point in time, and more to do with the structure or organization within which they function.

We here in America, for a variety of psychological, historical, legal, and systemic reasons, have a “perverted” sense of “corporate responsibility.”

First of all there really is no such thing as “corporate responsibility.” In America, if a corporation screws up, it’s generally going to pay. Being a responsible corporation or a good corporate citizen is only pursued to enhance the bottom line. The consequences of the screw up are generally based on the particular screw up, and even punitive damages can’t be avoided by a “good corporation.”

Second, those Senators asking questions are pretty savvy. They are well aware that a corporation is a legal fiction. They also know (although you might have difficulty believing it considering the way they run the government) that in conducting business, the goal of that entity is to generate profits and try to stay afloat.

Third, and most important, every corporate decision is made in an effort to maximize profits, and is theoretically an educated and calculated guess. However, the reality is that some of the guesses are going to be wrong. Corporate management knows, and the Senators should know, this dirty little secret.

The rest of society apparently does not.

And so we dump on corporations when there is a screw-up, accuse them of mismanagement and devious, under-handed activity, and then slap our jaws and open our mouths with our eyes all bugged (like the kid on “Home Alone”), when the 27th screw-up occurs.

A corporate entity does not have a mind or a conscience similar to that of a human.

Repeat: A corporate entity does not have a mind or a conscience similar to that of a human.

Even though humans run corporations, corporations are separate and apart from humans, somewhere between a human and an inanimate object.

Whereas a human will occasionally make a judgment call against his or her personal interests in pursuit of other goals (like unprotected sex with a stranger), rarely will a corporate entity do so because it is not really its money. It's not even the money of the folks managing the company, at least in the case of a publicly traded corporation.

It is the money and interests of others, the shareholders, which are at risk, not that of the decision makers.

It makes for a unique dynamic.

As a result, fines, penalties, and lawsuits (which are quantifiable and really only about money, not lives) have to be figured into the economic mix as necessary evils.

An entity may try to minimize them, or even delay them if possible, but they know that they are always just around the corner. Corporate management recognizes this for what it is.

They keep this in mind when they're engaged, and then walk away from it and try to live a human life.

Speeches, press conferences, hearings, investigations, fines, and lawsuits, are all perversions designed to distract us from really getting to the root of the matter. Talk about irresponsibility.

If you really want to know what’s going on, talk to the bean counters. It’s all about probabilities and risk management. It’s not about humans, wild life, or the environment.

It’s about time that we recognize that, and then get on with the business of trying to reduce, not eliminate, such “accidents” from happening in the future.

Corporations are not human. They can't be. It's an inherent conflict of interest.

If they don’t make enough in the way of profits, they will not have any put away for a rainy day, or to respond to the fickle changes in consumer tastes.

And as they pass through St. Peter’s bankruptcy gates, we’ll accuse them of mismanagement and sleeping at the switch.

And that ain’t no BS.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Post No. 145: What’s Going On Over There at Wal-Mart?

© 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Logistician’s 89 yr old Father has an operational pearl of wisdom – if one wants to determine what is going on in the economy, one need simply check the newspapers' classified ads.

Being a New Age guy, the Logistician has modified this somewhat, and advises all to check out their local Wal-Mart…classified ads being one of the many sacrifices made to fuel the new economy.

Some years ago, all of the major California grocery store chains were up in arms following Wal-Mart’s announcement that it would start selling groceries (using non-union workers). (Based on the corporate response, one would have thought that an invasion of illegal aliens was to accompany that move.)

And then there was the effort by Wal-Mart a few years later to open a store in Inglewood (near LAX), which was opposed by those with money and jobs, and supported by those without. Despite being put before the citizens in an actual vote, the poor folks lost.

Neither the Logistician nor the Laughingman saw (or visited for that matter) a Wal-Mart in their 40 plus combined years in Southern California (since the cost of the real estate dictates much in life).

On the other hand, Wal-Marts abound in the southeastern region of our country. In fact, there are 4 of them in the immediate vicinity of the Institute, despite the city being home to only 230,000 citizens (while the metropolitan area has roughly 750,000).

Hints of changes in the economy first appeared last year when the 8 self-service automated checkout lines per store were shut down, and customers were forced to proceed to the 4 human checkout lines open (out of the 16 available).

Shortly after Thanksgiving, there was a marked decrease in parking lot traffic. And just days before Christmas, 2 of the local Wal-Marts announced that they would close at midnight.

When advised of these developments, many suggested that the store hours changes did not apply to “Super Centers.” But during an early morning visit to a Super Center in February of this year, patrons found not only that the Murray’s USA Gas was closed, but that the parking lot of the adjacent Wal-Mart was empty. The store was closed.

In April, the Logistician, being the cheapskate that he is and only having 50 cents to his name, proceeded to his trusty Sam’s Choice soda machine in the foyer of the largest Super Center in the area, to get Sam’s 40 cent version of Mountain Dew. Much to his surprise, he could not locate his machine. In fact, there were only Coca-Cola products, all costing $1.25 per can.

Not believing that Sam would abuse his customers in this manner, he turned to a clean-cut, neatly dressed, gregarious Wal-Mart greeter who was standing in the foyer, and blurted out, “I can’t believe that Wal-Mart no longer sells it own sodas and has replaced it with Coke products.”

This generated no response whatsoever on the part of the upbeat, smiling greeter (nor the CEO upon later contact). The Logistician again expressed his disbelief, and when it dawned on him that the greeter had no appreciation of the issue, he asked, “Do you understand what I’m talking about?”

The greeter very politely responded in broken English, “Excuse me, but I’m new here.” Suspecting that the greeter was of European descent, the Logistician tried to chat him up in French, Spanish, and then Portuguese, all to no avail.

The greeter then said that he was from Bulgaria and spoke a Slavic tongue.

After a lengthy discussion about the history of Bulgaria and whether it was a member of the former U.S.S.R, the conversation shifted.

“I ‘ve been in US for 6 weeks.” The Logistician then asked how long he had worked for Wal-Mart, to which the greeter replied, “I’ve been working for Wal-Mart for 6 weeks.”

Thinking that he was perhaps here on a tourist visa, the Logistician kept probing. Our Bulgarian friend had been “lucky,” as he termed it, to acquire a green card, because he had relatives in the area. This was the first and only city in which he had lived since his arrival.

The simple fact of the matter is that while Wal-Mart may be the low priced employer in any given market, it is far from the low priced goods supplier. Wal-Mart’s computer system is second only to that of the United States Census Bureau, and all of that computing power is not dedicated to finding the lowest prices possible, but the highest prices the chain can charge before customers begin to shop elsewhere…and the same goes for quality of service.

Three weeks later, we chatted our greeter up again, now with two whole months of US residence and employment under his belt, during another visit. (You’re going to love what he had to say about Americans and the quality of life here, to be flushed out in our next post.)

All in all, it looks like Dad was pretty spot on….

We also imagine that it’s a good thing that this Wal-Mart is not located in Arizona.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Post No. 144a: Article of Interest: “Responsibility” and Our Physical Borders

In recent weeks, our attention has been focused on U.S. immigration policy and the status of our international borders, in light of Arizona’s efforts to control its own border.

Many of you will recall past efforts by the U.S. to communicate our values and our points of view to those beyond our borders via radio waves.

One of our most significant “trading partners” is currently sharing its values and view of the world with our citizens via the airwaves.

How should we respond, if at all? Do we have an obligation or responsibility to allow other nations to employ such tactics? Should we be more or less concerned about the “immigration” of values and points of view as opposed to physical, human beings? Does the U.S. have the "responsibility" to "protect" its citizens from what might be termed "propaganda" from competitor nations, or should our citizens be left to exercise their good judgment and fend for themselves?

Many in other parts of the world complain of the intrusion of western values on their ways of life. Are they justified? Should the west refrain from doing so?

This following article is taken from the April 25, 2010 edition of the Washington Post.

From China’s Mouth to Texans’ Ears

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010; A01

Galveston, Texas

“Cruise southeast out of Houston, past the NASA exits and the Gulf of Mexico, and you pick up something a little incongruous on the radio, amid country crooners, Rush Limbaugh, hip-hop and all of the freewheeling clamor of the American airwaves.

“’China Radio International,’ a voice intones. ‘This is Beyond Beijing.’

“Way, way beyond Beijing.”

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

Additionally, yesterday C-Span2 Book TV aired a program on the U.S. / Mexico border. For more information regarding the program, and to view it at your convenience, click here. Additionally, it will air again on Monday, May 10, 2010, at 5:00 am EST.

"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™