Friday, August 26, 2011

Post No. 174: Tornadoes, Earthquakes, and Hurricanes, Oh My!

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’re not big fans of folks who let their values dictate their thought processes. It seems to us that one’s analysis of issues ought to be a thing apart from their values. How else does one solve problems?

As the Laughingman often says, “If you think that every problem is a nail, a hammer becomes the only tool in your kit.” Some problems are screws, for which you might need a screwdriver, or two.

Despite this, any reasonable, thinking person would say that God does not approve of much going on in the United States these days, or of President Obama. Seriously.

AIR Worldwide, the catastrophic modeling firm, estimates that insured losses alone, for commercial, residential, and industrial losses following the severe thunderstorm activity in the U.S. in early 2011, will amount to $3.7 billion to $5.5 billion. That storm, under Obama's watch, lasted a mere 6 days in April. Imagine the figure for the entire year, stemming from God’s displeasure with our descent into socialism.

Earlier this week, a fairly significant earthquake shook Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas, sending the government’s work force scurrying for The Ark. The President, obviously prescient, was out of town on vacation.

But now, the heavily populated northeast looks like it may be battered by Hurricane Irene, which many expect to be of a force not seen in decades. Damage estimates in the range of $10 billion are already being made. This may prove to be Obama’s Katrina, God willing. The lines down at the New York City Harbor, where The Ark is currently docked, are reportedly getting pretty long.

There’s a message here somewhere. At least according to some. And of course, all of these so-called natural events can be traced directly to the President.

We are often reminded by the Optimizer of the celebrity who, during her campaign against homosexuality, claimed that God inflicted gays with AIDS as punishment for their wicked ways. And if you thought that the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright were a distraction for then-candidate Obama, you may have missed that one of John McCain’s spiritual advisers was John Hagee.

Hagee claims that God willed Hitler to kill the Jews, so that they would eventually return to Israel, thus hastening the 2nd coming of Christ. In one of his less controversial moments, he argued that Hurricane Katrina was an act of divine retribution due to the presence of homosexuals in New Orleans.

One need not be a celebrity or a televangelist to appreciate that natural forces are somehow related to God’s displeasure. Earlier this week in this part of the Bible Belt, we heard many a person laugh shortly after the tremors were felt in Washington and New York City. In their view, the domestic infidels were getting their due. They opined that citizens in large cities on the coastal shores have led lives justifying their exposure to this impending danger.

Once again, all of this is somehow related to the current Administration and our slide into socialism.

Either fortunately or unfortunately, there is an opposing camp. Back in January, just prior to the Super Bowl, we generated a post, God, Obama, and the Green Bay Packers. After reflecting on how championship athletes claim that God resides in their locker room, we told the story of a fellow who, after dismissing the travails of the Obama Administration, claims that Obama’s opponents will be surprised during the next Presidential election. Why? Because he knows that God is on Obama’s side.

We’ve been mulling this over all week, and we’re at a loss as to what parents (without a direct line to God) should tell their kids about the athletic team, the political party, the city or region, or the ethnic group that God supports.

We suspect that we should all get down on our knees and pray to our higher power this evening, before the full brunt of Mother (or is that Father?) Nature hits our fragile east coast (and our fragile national economy), and hope that God picks our team in the fantasy game.

When President Reagan, never at a loss for words, was being wheeled into the ER after the assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr., he reportedly looked up at the operating team and quipped, “I hope you’re all Republicans.“ The lead surgeon responded with a smile, “Yes Mr. President, today we’re all Republicans.”

We could use all of the players on the field being of the same team on occasion, or perhaps all having the support of the Lord.

Finally, there is one other thought that occurred to us this week, namely the difference between for-profit corporate entities in the private sector, and governmental entities. While we watched governors and the President speak of preparations for, and warn their constituents of, the impending storm, we observed the spending of millions of tax dollars to minimize the possible damage and the criticism post-Irene.

In the corporate world, the focus would be on risk assessment and management, insurance coverage, and probabilities. We could see a corporation reasonably examining the pattern of hurricanes over the past 50 years, and betting against the forecasters, by doing nothing.

That would never do in the public sector.

But we’re still having difficulty figuring out whether God supports governmental intrusion in our lives, which might be termed socialist in nature, or whether God supports limited government, lower taxes, and the functioning of the free markets without excessive regulation.

But as Tina Turner said, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Post No. 173: Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We once generated a post, Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio? At the time, we felt that the nation’s lonely eyes were searching for someone like the Yankee Clipper.

If one were to believe the rants and raves of many out there, one might be hoodwinked into thinking that the solution to our leadership vacuum lies with them. They have all the solutions (although few of them are willing to assume leadership roles), and they are so sure of their positions. To them, pulling us out of economic quicksand is a simple task (not to mention getting other world leaders to go along).

We hate to throw slop on their parade, but we have concerns about their qualifications, motives, and quite frankly, thought processes. We’d rather place our faith in the young and the untested, namely the college students to whom we direct our messages about personal responsibility. We find them less extreme in their ideological leanings, more pragmatic, and in possession of more common sense.

Recently, folks have been comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter. Both rode into office with high expectations and a message of change. Many expect Obama to join the ranks of the one-term presidents, and he probably will, although even Carnac the Magnificent figured that out before Obama was elected. Anyone with any sense knew that the global economy, of which oh by the way the U.S. is a part, was not going to significantly pull out of its slump within 3 years. There was simply no precipitating, motivating factor down the pike.

Unfortunately, the President recently made a reference to American society’s malaise. He obviously did not learn anything from Carter. A leader cannot place any responsibility or blame on the American people for the condition in which they find themselves, even if it’s true.

So we’ll do it. Simply put, we Americans became fat, lazy, and greedy. The title of this post, Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered is a quote from Reggie Fountain, the Richard Petty of speedboat racing.

The former multi-millionaire, having fallen on hard times leading to bankruptcy, was asked about his demise. He said he lived too high and too fast for too long, and became bloated. His summary of his experience is the title of our piece.

Part of our problem is that we can’t handle a straight shooter. We want someone to tell us what we want to hear. George Kennedy was a friend of fellow actor Jimmy Stewart. Turner Classic Movies is currently airing a mini-biography of Stewart, narrated by Kennedy. During the piece, Kennedy refers to Stewart’s “everyman” image. What is interesting is that he refers to “how Americans wanted to see ourselves,” not who we actually were.

We talk a lot about being the greatest country in the history of humankind, but there are some very common sense things we ignore which complicate that assessment.

In the world of business, when a company performs poorly, management re-examines its business model. In the world of governance, the last thing we examine is our governance model.

What we have here - is a failure to appreciate.

Appreciate that there are limitations associated with ANY governance model.

Several (well, maybe more than that) points:

1. In terms of education, we were never really as smart as we claimed to be;

2. When you allow people to live where they want, pursue whatever educational pursuit they desire, marry who they desire, pursue whatever vocational pursuit they want, and retire when they want, you are going to have difficultly managing them. We are a very conflicted people;

3. When you allow or encourage your work force to retire when they still have valuable skills, knowledge, and experience to offer, you become less efficient and you take a loss;

4. You can’t as a people take children out of the work force and continually drive down the number of hours worked from 70, to 60, to 50, to 40, and then 35, and expect your global competitors to do the same;

5. You can’t place the burden of inspiration and motivation on the shoulders of elected officials. Either individual citizens are sufficiently motivated and ambitious enough to pursue their goals, or they are not. And oh by the way, many are not;

6. Spending more than you have coming in only works for so long;

7. When it takes one 30 to 40 years to pay for something, one should re-consider whether it is worth purchasing, since it assumes that you will have 30 to 40 years of steady income;

8. Alexis de Tocqueville warned us in the 1850s that there would be long-term negative consequences associated with slavery. That we engaged in this treatment of other humans for over 200 years says much about us as a nation;

9. When people do not care enough about their personal health to eat properly, exercise, and avoiding smoking and use of certain substances, you really can’t expect them to care about other things in life;

10. It was only so long that we could continue to make millionaires out of people betting on and selling intangible and illusory products;

11. Something is seriously “something” about a country which fought communism so vigorously, abhors socialism, and yet allows the largest communist country in the world to have it by the economic balls (and we’re not referring to Cuba); and

12. Our last point came to us during us during an exchange with a friend. He said that he knew something was shaky about America when his university offered a course entitled, “The Challenge of Leisure.”

Any one of these issues would be a problem for any country. We have all of them at work.

We’ve got some work to do.

P.S. The Roman Empire lasted how long?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Post No. 172a: Why Dumping on Royal Dutch Shell is a Bunch of B.S.

Royal Dutch Shell sprung a leak in the North Sea recently. Once again, a tsunami of criticism has evolved. While we did not come to the defense of British Petroleum (BP) and TransOcean last year in connection with their problems in the Gulf of Mexico, we noted that....

© 2010 and 2011, 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.

"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"™