Thursday, November 19, 2009

Porque Tu Vales!



If only our youth realized this and understood the sacrifices made by the many that came before them so that they might have the little that they have today.  We have so far to go- but I am hopeful that with the work of the committed few our children will seek to value education as the ultimate equalizer in our great country.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Cuando una puerta se cierra, otra se abre"

The words reverberated for me: "When one door closes, another opens". After a tough day with several challenges, all we can do is hope. It started like any other day, the standard routine: wake the girls up, dress them, take the dog out, hustle out the door to get the girls to daycare. Then back to the office to start my day.

The first hit, came mid-day when took our family dog to the vet. He's 12 1/2 years old and has been sickly for the last three to four weeks. No appetite, sluggish and he has lost his thrive. The vet's words were gentle but piercing. I think Jerry has lymphoma or some sort of cancer. Wow, I thought. What a way to go. After all, he's been a super dog all his life. He's put up with my crazy schedule since he was a pup. This still had a battery of tests to do before a final confirmation, but the sheer impact of the word 'cancer' stopped me. Our time comes eventually I thought. Being all too familiar with lymphoma myself, I couldn't believe the parallel.

So I brought him home and made him comfortable. I headed back to the office. About mid-afternoon, I got a call from my wife. She let me know she had just been downsized. Still struggling to comprehend and accept the earlier news I'd received this one knocked me flat. That's two, I thought. I know this stuff comes in threes. What next?

As I struggled to deal with the load of bad news I got in one day, I reached out to my mom. The only thng she could say was "mijo, acuerdate que cuando una puerta se cierra, otra se abre" (son, remember that when one door closes another opens). The story of my life. I've had a series of closing doors myself. Life's challenges that have you wonder 'why?'. This one was tough. Among all the challenges that the economy is handing me daily, I get this now? Who did I piss off? Why us? What am I supposed to learn from all of this? That fucking government of ours. Those stupid people who took out loans that they rightfully knew they could not pay for. The anger swelled inside of me.

In the end, it was my wife's composure that helped me get it together. She shared with me her experience at the mid-day prayer she participated in. She told me how she prayed for 'clarity in her mission in life'. We got it alright, perhaps not how we'd asked fo it but we got it.

Her peacefullness diffused my instinct to react, to lash out. Natural- surely the immediate thing would have been to fire off. I took a step back. Damn this recession. I dug deep at my faith. Another thing my Mom shared with me, rung true. 'God squeezes you, but doesn't crush you' ( sounds better in Spanish). I guess another way of saying it, is he doesn't give you something he doesn't think you can handle. I've been through alot in my life. Most have. Five years from now, I'll be able to look back and laugh at this time. For now, it was time to jump into action. To work through a list and knock of things that we needed to do to secure our household.

Call daycare, revist our family budget and prioritize expenditures.

When I spoke to our youngest daughter's daycare provider- her teacher shared the same words of wisdom about 'closing doors'. It was a teaser for me. Almost a check in to see if I was listening.

"I get it big man"," I know what you are trying to say" I thought. In the end, It is our faith in god that helps us through these times. I realized that I had to trust that he had my back. That he knew what was best for us.

I had to trust. I had to have hope (not in a man on this planet but) in god.

Show me the way lord...

Our Friend Jerry

I had the premonition that it wouldn't be just your average day. You see a week ago, I made the appointment for today to take Jerry into the Vet. He's been favoring his left rear leg for about three weeks now. We'd noticed an enlarged popliteal lynph node on the leg he'd been favoring. A slightly less enlarged node appeared on his right leg. After a week, the larger node lost some of the swelling. Jerry was still favoring the leg. Knowing all too well what swollen lymph nodes can mean, I placed myself in denial. Hoping that it wouldn't mean what I thought it did. Things got worse when Jerry started to become less active and lose his appetite (something we thought was very rare for him). As the days passed, it became more obvious, something is wrong. Finally last Wednesday, I made the appointment.

I've lost two family dogs in my lifetime. Samson, a loveable mutt that we rescued when I was in eigth grade died suddenly on us when I was in college. He tore off his leash and ran into traffic while my Dad was walking him. I don't know what was worse, losing Samson or the look on my dad's face when he told us. We laid him to rest in my parent's backyard- a fitting rest for such a loyal friend. About a month after Samson died, my scoutmaster's wife let us know about another stray that had been left on her doorstep. He was riddled with fleas when we got him. A candidate for a full on flea bath. Duke was his name. A buff colored cocker/golden mix. An odd combination, but as a pup he was adorable. He quickly grew into the family and became a friend to my Dad. A companion for his daily walks. He lived a long life. Approximately 11 years before he started not eating , losing tons of weight and eventually grew so weak he could not even lift his head. I still remember the day we took him to the vet to have him put down. My dad held him while they injected him. I'd never seen my Dad cry like I did that day. He lost his old friend. He swore then that he didn't want another dog.

I got Jerry from a private breeder in Hialeah, Florida the year before I moved back home to Chicago. Jerry was born in August 1996. I remember the day I brought him home, He was tiny enough to fit in one hand. He's always been a smart dog, he was easy to crate train, and quite obediant. He kept me company during my last few months of living in Miami. When I moved home , the winter of '06-'07, he made the trip up North with me in my car. Because of my travel schedule and the fact that I lived alone, Jerry spent periods living with my folks. He became their dog in sorts, even though my Dad swore that he would never have another dog. When Sonia and I married, he stayed with us for longer periods. When I finally left corporate America in 2005, he became a full time part of the house. To say that he's become a member of our family and my extended family is a gross understatement. He's been all two patient with our girls through their ear tugging and grabing of his stub tail. About two months ago, I came home to find his colored in green and orange washable marker when our eldest daughter Sofia, decided to 'color Jerry'. Our memories are rich in moments such as that.

So it made my trip to the vet all the more difficult, I kept revisiting the moments I've had with Jerry. The walks, the mischievous things he's done. His obsessive compulsive games of fetch. The entire trip to the vet. As I looked down at him in the passenger's seat, he looked up at me with his big brown eyes. I wished he could talk.

Dr. McNamara, was great- as I described his progressive deterioration, she explained her thoughts on it. The words rang loud in my ears: "It looks very much like lymphoma". "We need to confirm, but he has many of the symptoms." she said. She gracefully asked how active we wanted to be. I explained my philosphy on the issue with her. She was very understanding. Basically, we wanted to run as many tests as we had to and fully ID what he had. We preferred to keep the care palliative and minimize his pain. She broached the subject of chemotherapy. As a living will supporter myself, I did not see a need to extend his life for our selfish pleasures. So a poke and a prod later, here we are... I won't put him through pain. But I know what the road ahead may yield. I pray that it will be quick and painless. We hope to make his remaining days with us comfortable and full of joy. The dog joy that only they know. A walk in the park. A bone to fetch. Peanut butter.

We love you Jerry.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Right On Time

There is a funny thing about Sunshine. My most favorite is springtime sunshine. As a midwesterner, it is one of those things that you look forward to all winter long.

Today is the first nice sunshine we've had in a long time. It's like a drug. People are nicer. People are walking the streets smiling. They are confident that winter is long behind us.

I am sure we may be challenged once more. For today, it is endless. A perpetual day of bliss.

Sun, Our friend, where have you been?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sports Rivalries



There is nothing that I like more than the start of baseball season. It starts for me around this time of year, once the teams have reported to Spring Training. Usually we get a break or two in the weather. Not alot, but just enough to tease you into leaving that heavy coat at home. To break out the baseball cap and lighter jacket. Sunshine! Ahhh. Have to love it.

For those like myself who are baseball afficionados, it signifies the start of a new season. Hope springs eternal for each of Chicago's teams. Now I'm not your average Chicago baseball fan. Having lived away from home for a few years, I learned to support my Chicago teams. To add to the anomaly, I grew up on the Southside and was schooled on the North side so I learned to appreciate both teams. But one thing is for certain, when push comes to shove there is nothing better than the old Cross town rivalry. All things being equal, I'll cheer the Cubs on, unless they are playing my Sox. If the Cubs were playing say, the Oakland A's, I would be cheering for the Cubbies. But when it's cross-town time- GO SOX.

One thing I found quite perplexing during the 2005 World Series run was how there were so many bitter Cubs fans cheering for the Astros. What the heck? What city do you live in? For the life of me, I will never understand it. I guess in a city that wears their politics on the shirt sleeves. Baseball is one more show of partisanship. Ce'st La Vie, I guess.

With that being said, I have my opening day tickets ready. I'll be cheering for the SOX. Come June 16-18 and 26-28 though, ALL bets are off. Cubbies fans, I feel your pain. 101 years is a looong time. Hopefully your day will come soon.
For now, put last year's catastrophic choke in the past and try to look forward. Perhaps the headlines will be different for you this October- Perhaps not.
I Can't wait for the sunshine, the peanuts, the beer and baseball!
Talking baseball smack and loving Chicago in the summer.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Do We have it all wrong?

As a small-business owner, it seems almost futile these days to be working so hard and getting what would be seemingly very little in return. It's a sentiment that is becoming common among those of us that have taken the risk to pursue our dreams and become our own boss. We are getting it from the banks on one end, a lack of consumer confidence on the other. All the while, our politicians and the media seem content on scaring the living daylights out of everyone.

At times, you start to wonder Why? Why do I put myself through this? I started to suspect that might be the case last year when I first read our president's blueprint for change. When I started to dig into his positions on various issues, I saw a clearcut pattern. The more I heard him speak to address the issues, the more it convinced me. His administration had a total disregard for small-business. A move in the government to take care of the 'have nots' by taking from the 'haves'.

All the while, forgetting that there is a large chunk of us who fall into the middle category. 'In transition', 'middle-America', call it what you want an area often overlooked by politicians. Now before you brand me 'elitist' I think you need to know where I came from. I came from nothing. I was born to working class parents who raised me with a strong work ethic and a focus on making my own path in the world. Not having all the entrapments of the 'priveleged' I respect those who are less fortunate. I see the benefit in helping those who need it. Often though, what happens when we get a left leaning adminstration in office is we go 'overboard as a country'. Our government has a history of giving all with no accountability. No timeline. No plan on how the less fortunate can regain some pride and climb out of the abyss known as welfare, to become productive contributing citizens.

As a small business owner, I don't quite fall into the category of 'a large corporation' or that of being destitute. I get to eat what I hunt and kill. Therefore, I am always hunting. I have worked hard for everything I have and have not been 'given' anything. Having been raised in a union-backed, democratic household, I see the benefits that unions have had for the working class. They played a strong role in the equalization of the labor force at the turn of the 20th century in our country. They served to level the playing field. If it weren't for the steel worker's retiree benefits, my dad would not have the great pension and healthcare benefits he has today.

On the flipside, I am not so 'over the top' and pro-union that I fail to see how unions have also exploited the workers. They have negotiated with their best interest (the union organizers) in mind at times and not necessarily those of the workers. Failing to yield to salary or benefit concessions be it for principle or cause has sometimes led to a companies management making the decision to shutter a plant and take their operations off-shore, accross the border or to a state that is more 'business friendly'. Unions have caused the price of the American laborer to skyrocket. So much that all profitability is removed from business. To regain this profitability, American companies have had to look elsewhere for less expensive labor to manufacture their products.

I'm not so pro-capitalism that I think ethics should be thrown out the window for the sake of profits. Greed is what is killing our country. At all ends: labor and management. Management needs to be fair and ethical with their employees. Labor needs to understand that sometimes you have to give to get and continue getting.

When my business partner and I started KYS, our goal was to be able to afford benefits similiar to what we had in Corporate America for our employees. IRA plans, healthcare benefits, PTO, fair and safe working conditions. The way we saw it, it's ethical business 101. I understand that not ALL companies operate that way. Organized labor's arguement is that they serve the purpose of being the 'conscience' on behalf of labor with management. To ensure that the right thing is done.

I digressed to further impact my point that I feel our country is taking a turn that will hurt economic growth in the long run. Mandated healthcare, 'the card check' bill among many other plans in place will hurt is in the long-run. On top of that, When you look at the stimulus plan that was just passed, It is $739B ,of which approximately 80% of it will go back to the unions that helped get Obama in office. It will go to repay the $450M that they invested in him. If you break it down, that's approximately $1573 they will receive in return for every dollar they spent in campaign contributions. So in fact the decision on the stimulus plan was made 'with all the American public in mind' but it will most benefit the 7.6% (percentage of unionized labor). Great return on investment if you ask me. The appointment of Hilda Solis as the labor secretary furthers the direction that our country will take. One that is pro-labor /anti-business. A short sided vision because you can't have one without the other.

I have paid into a system of social security and workman's compensation for the sixteen years of my employment in corporate america. Here's a scenario to help illustrate my point: "If my business where to fail to thrive this year for whichever reason, there is not a single benefit as a self-employed person in America in Mr. Obama's stimulus plan for me. I have no bailout. Perhaps organized business is a route to take. Demanding more from our elected officials who love us because they can tax and fee us to no end. We are the first to be demonized when labor has a gripe. What many people forget is that most of our large corporations started as small mom and pop companies. The Abbott Laboratories, the Johnson and Johnson and The Ford Motor Company as examples. As they grew, they were able to employ more and more people. Giving them the means to a better future. The risk was squarely on the shoulders of the company's founders and I am sure, like myself they were reminded daily of that risk especially during trying times.

The enclosed passage on primate research caught my eye because is spoke to the plight of the average Joe. The worker 'Bee' who is either motivated or not based on what he is being incented with. The perception of inequity as a primal instinct. The author takes it one step further and makes the connection to bailouts and the lack of motivation. The topic of the day.

I'll take it even one step further than that, to the perspective of the small business owner. Sometimes, it feels like we live in the land of cucumbers and the elected officials live in the land of grapes. They make decisions that disfavor small business- but want us to be around to employ.

The questions I have for Pres. Obama, Mr. Reid, Ms. Pelosi and the other members of our democratic congressional caucus is that while you are making your decisions for the Average American, you forget that you have NO risk at all. You make your decisions, pass your bills, make your laws, issue your mandates. When your term is done you are either re-elected or not. Either way, your government pension and benefits are locked in for life. Regardless of the quality of job done. No Risk! None at all. So don't tell me for one minute that you understand what it is like down here in the land of cucumbers. You haven't a clue. As a small business owner, I have it all on the line. Sink or swim it's on my shoulders. My employee's livelihood. Their families, those of my busines partner. I carry it all on my back. So my question is very simple:

Where is my bailout? Where is my stimulus?

------- to see the original article click on the link embedded in the title below----

Even chimps know when they're not getting paid enough

"10:47 a.m. Tsouderos: Frans de Waal is a primatologist and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta, and he's one of the funniest and most engaging speakers I have seen in my four days here. If you ever get a chance to see him speak, don't hesitate to go.
His talk this morning centered around whether morality is uniquely human or something shared by other animals, in particular chimps and apes and even elephants and dolphins.
De Waal believes other animals are capable of empathy and sympathy and consolation and other behaviors that add up to morality, and he has devised numerous experiments to test that.One, in particular, got a good laugh from the audience, which numbered in the hundreds on this last day of the conference.De Waals put two chimps in two different cages, situated side by side. The chimps were able to see each other. Then, a grad student had each chimp do a simple task in exchange for a reward.In the first trial, the student gave each chimp a piece of cucumber as the reward. Both chimps did the task virtually every time for the cucumber. They refused just 5 percent of the time.But what happens when one chimp gets a cucumber but the other gets a grape -- for doing the same task? The cucumber chimp gets mad. He starts refusing to do the task. He chucks the cucumber out of the cage. He sits in the corner, stewing. Well over half of the time, he refuses to do the task.And what happens when one chimp gets a grape for doing NOTHING while the other chimp gets a piece of cucumber for doing the task? Both chimps begin refusing to do the task at all.De Waals said the chimps' reactions, which happened each time the experiment was run, show chimps have a sense of fairness, of envy, of inequity.It's a feeling that is familiar to many these days, as people express resentment and anger toward enormous bank bailouts (and bonuses for those bankers) in a time in which so many are losing their homes and jobs.As De Waals put it, "we live in cucumber-land and they live in grape-land."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Beef and Guinness Stew

BEEF & GUINNESS STEW

Chef Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cooking School - County Cork, IrelandAdapted by StarChefs Guinness, Ireland's famous black stout, has been brewed in Dublin since 1759.

It has a very special place in Irish life. In Dublin Tenement Life: An Oral History, publican John O'Dwyer recalls the importance of stout in the lives of the poorest tenement dwellers in Dublin: They had nothing. They lived for pints. Drink was the main diet. It was food... they used to call the pint the 'liquid food'.Nowadays the 'liquid food' is used increasingly in cooking. It is a tasty addition to stews and casseroles, helping to tenderize the meat and imparting its distinctive malty flavor to any dish. This recipe makes a wonderful gusty stew which tastes even better a day or two after it is made.Yield: 6-8 servings

2 lb lean stewing beef (I've also used Venison
3 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)
2 tablespoons tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
1 1/4 cups Guinness
2 cups carrots, cut into chunks
sprig of thyme

Method:Trim the meat of any fat or gristle, cut into cubes of 2 inches (5cm) and toss them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon oil. Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in the mixture. Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over a high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions, crushed garlic and tomato puree to the pan, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole, and pour some of the Guinness into the frying pan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan. Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness; add the carrots and the thyme. Stir, taste, and add a little more salt if necessary. Cover with the lid of the casserole and simmer very gently until the meat is tender - 2 to 3 hours. The stew may be cooked on top of the stove or in a low oven at 300 degrees F. Taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Our State of Consciousness

My wife and I have been working on getting our youngest daughter Sarah out of our bed and into her crib for the past month. At six months, she is long over due. While I admit, we've been doing a poor job of it, it has also not been easy. It started out as a matter of mommy's choice since Sarah was being breast-fed. Being that we both have our careers, it was sort of rough on mommy to get up for the two o'clock or three o'clock feedings. It's so much easier to just roll over and do the deed.

As of late, it has really started to get tough. I never thought that a little two foot tall person could take up so much space in the bed. I've awakened with a stiff neck, sore back all from trying to fit into my little piece of the mattress. I can't remember the last time I had some decent REM sleep. Between the assortment of ideas and thoughts running through my head and my current mattress concessions, it's hard to string together a full night's sleep.

So we started the migration process. We renewed our commitment to evicting our little one from from the bed two nights ago. We reluctantly sang victory after the first night as our little one was able to sleep a majority of the night in her own crib. She cried a little at first but quickly went to sleep. Sonia swore that the baby was staring her down with a very serious face the next morning. Almost if to say "You guys got away with last night, wait till tonight". I dismissed Sonia's perception as her reading too much into Sarah's expressions. She did appear to be very solemn and not her usual happy morning self.

Last night was a different story. We battled it out for two hours straight. Fifteen minutes at a time. She would fall asleep in our arms and start yelling the minute she touched her crib's mattress. This went on for about four hours before we finally gave in. Sonia summoned me to get her and bring 'my daughter' back to the bed. The minute Sarah touched down on our bed, she smiled. She looked over to Sonia with a grin and stuck her tongue out as if to say "I won ah-ha".

Sonia and I couldn't help but think how she must clearly know what she is doing. I've read my share of child development books and all state that our conciousness starts early in our infancy. As our brains develop, they start to record. Much of what we record goes into our unconcious state of being. The human version of what ROM is to a computer. These experiences are stored deep, never to be accessed. They start to shape our catalog of what things feel like, what they smell like, wether it was a pleasant or not so pleasant experience.

The personality starts to develop sometime around our fourth to fifth month of life. It is then when babies start to coo back, smile at their parents and the child parent relationship is a bit more mutual. Sarah is at that stage, from what I can tell, she is very jovial (smiles at everyone) and a bit intense. She is not shy and will stare most strangers down, only to win them over with a smile. She has been nicknamed 'the welcome wagon' by her daycare taker Ms. Peggy. Mostly because of the fact that everyone gets one of her smiles when they walk into her room.

But it really got me to thinking, I wonder if Sarah is fully aware that she is 'gaming' Mommy and Daddy. She must be. That little smirk tells me she knows alot more than we think she does. That little stinker.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quality over Quantity?

The recent story of Nadya Suleman, the single unemployed woman from California has gone from a noticeable oddity to outrage. Ms. Suleman is unique not so much because she recently gave birth to premie Octoplets for which she had been artificially inseminated, but because of her 'preexisting' family situation. You see Suleman already has six children under the age of eight at home. Three of those children have developmental disorders. She is a single mom, in debt, unemployed, receiving food stamps and still wanted to have eight more children (through fertilization) to bring the family total to fourteen. Yes, fourteen children under the age of eight. Eight of which will require special attention and care once they are released from the hospital.


Having two children at home under the age of three, I found this unfathomable. As a parent, I view children as a true blessing. One that helps you grow as a person and challenges you daily. I can't start to remember the days of being childless as the happy moments of parenthood have added an even deeper meaning to my life.


When I saw the interview with NBC's Ann Curry my jaw dropped. You see it's timely because my wife and I have been discussing possible timing around a third child. (Not seriously, as we can't seem to find the time to manage the two that we have.) In that same thought, I catch myself saying "I have two, she has fourteen kids!" I can't start to imagine the chaos that will be. How will she care for them by herself? How will she feed them with no job? What will the quality of her interactions be with the children? What possible overall quality of life can those children possibly get?

Giving birth to children is the easy part (relatively speaking). Raising them and educating them in today's society is the real challenge. One that has Sonia and I really thinking if we can handle a third.

For us, the financial consideration is part of the decision process, but quality of care and education is higher in priority. It is estimated that you will spend greater than $15,000.00 in the first year alone for a child. The costs are staggering. So for eight that would be $120,000! Current medical bills are estimated at $500,000 and the babies are no where near ready to be released. It is estimated that the total hospital bill will be well over $1M. Factor in neonatal care due to their premie status, incidentals and you are looking at well over $1.2M dollars! Given Ms. Suleman's unemployed status, it means that the State of California will bear the costs through medi-Cal.


Suleman's situation furthers the sense of irresponsibility in our country. The mindset of "I'll do what I want and worry about the consequences later". A mindset furthered by liberal administrations that foster welfare programs with no accountability. While I don't condone the threats and hateful mail that she has received from individuals unsympathetic to her plight, you have to wonder 'what in the heck was she thinking?' It furthers the divide that exists in our country where civil libertarians would argue in favor of Women's rights. But here is where my radical thinking comes in, If she is on welfare, is unemployed and has no financial means of supporting the children- what business does she have giving birth to eight more? To fulfill her own personal selfish needs? What about the children's needs?


Prayers are with her in the daunting task that lies ahead of her. Society will either be the better or the worst because of her decision.


References:

Octuplet's Mom- 'Everything I do revolves around my Children'- Mike Celizic-NBC

Baby Center- Child Cost Calculator. www.babycenter.com

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chrysler and their Magical Mystery Tour...


Anyone with a shred of common sense and who has a basic understanding of supply chains and inventory management can see that Chrysler's latest announcement is a huge indicator that they have no clear strategy for how they plan on reconstructing themselves. This comes on the recent anouncment that Chrysler management that it will tour the country and have 'fireside chats' with their dealers in efforts to get them to order and stock more product. One can just imagine how these chats will go as Chrysler sits on one of the biggest inventory backlogs that is placing a huge cash flow crunch in their operations. When it is all said and done- I'm sure the metophor of 'fireside chats' will be more like 'putting their dealers feet to the fire' as they force the dealers to shift the liability off Chrysler's books and onto theirs.

In their statements, Chrysler management talks about their December plant idlings forcing them to 'burn through cash' as their employees sit still with no cars to build. Yet, UAW contract provisions are what got them there when as "Rome burned" (i.e. Customers stopped buying their cars) they continued to build, and build and build. Why? Because their Union contracts mandated minimum days they needed to work. Chrysler management is equally to blame as they did not look for other ways to renegotiate their situation with the UAW. Instead they built and built cars to the point that their product has been devalued by the basic law of 'supply and demand'.

There is a lot of 'could have beens' and 'should have beens', but what is most amazing to this taxpayer is how our senate leaders did not did harder into their plans for the $4Billion that they received in bailout money within the last 30 days? As we approach the March 31st deadline for their bailout compliance, you can be sure that "Brontosaurus-Chryslericus' will be pressing down hard on any and all dealers to make sure that they help shoulder part of their problems and shift inventory from Detroit to the car lot near you. Their dealer network could use some contraction and this economy will most likely help with that as our recent 'gold rush' economy saw an expansion so that there seems to be one on every run of strip malls. Our myopic government led by the 'veritable' (wink) Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, on the other hand, didn't think through the supply chain principles and look at how they could help Chrysler help themselves. Instead they did what they do best, throw taxpayer money at the problem showering the Big Three in an orgasm of dollars if you may. A bold display of their newfound majority status.

A better approach would have been to incent Americans to buy cars. Perhaps in the form of a tax voucher or credit that each person could use to buy the product. Then those banks we just lent a ton of money to? Well, how about we get them in on the deal to help finance these autos? As far as the auto makers? The government should have place a condition on their bailout stating that executive pay for the Big three was to be frozen for a period of five years (to be revisited at that point). On the other end of the spectrum- UAW would agree to a cut in pay and benefits for a period of three years (also to be reviewed on the anniversary date). Automakers would need to agree to these terms Unequivocally or find themselves with 'no cigar'.

You see this does a few things, one- it helps move inventory which is one of the biggest problems that the Big three have in the short-term. Long-term it modifies their overhead so that they can reorganize themselves and have a fighting chance to survive. On the banking contingency, it produces accountability (what a novel concept) for the bailout funds that they were afforded. It prevents hoarding and starts currency flowing.

Now Reality: Why our government didn't do this? Well let's see, the incoming surge of Democrats sought to capitalize on the $400million dollars in campaign contributions they received from organized labor. Far be it from them to 'bite' the proverbial 'hand that feeds them'. So as to not upset the constituents that just helped many of them get into office- they dodged any conversation or contingencies that could be placed on the UAW. After all they are for the 'working people'. So why not let the 'working people' fully FUND the reconstruction of the companies for which they work in the form of increased taxes? You see- accountability is a term that is loosely used, but only when it is convenient, NOT when it makes sense and is the most prudent thing to do.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Words of a New ERA

For many Americans, today stood as landmark historical day in the 233 year old history of the United States. As one reads through the written words of Barrack Hussein Obama ,the 44th president of the United States of America, you can see the eloquence of his vision for America. You can feel the 'hope' that exists for a nation on the midst of the most challenging of times. A hope tempered in a long list of things that need to be done. Hope tempered by a world in major turmoil at every corner. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum you can't help but feel proud for our country on this monumental occassion. You can't help but feel like a new era is among us. Enclosed below is the inaugural address in it's entirety.
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Inaugural Address by the 44th President of the United States of America

By BARACK OBAMA

Following is a text of the inaugural address delivered Tuesday after the swearing-in of America's 44th president, Barack Obama.
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.
At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.
Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted, for those who prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.
Rather, it has been the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.
But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.
We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.
The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.
And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you. For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.
We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass, that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve, that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself, and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world . . . that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive . . . that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [IT]."
In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
Thank you.
God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

The First Step of Many We need to take as a country

I've been thinking about this for months. Today, inauguration day and what it means to me. We can get hung up in the cliche's (new start, reason for hope, etc.) but looking at a deeper sense of what the day symbolizes. The conclusion, I've arrived at, is that today is the first step that our country needs to take (of many).

Putting an African-American in the office of president of the United States is a monumental occasion given the history of our country on race relations. It is not the end all though. As I think of what good will come of this. The possibilities are endless. Most importantly, I am hopeful that it allows us to look beyond the obvious differences and focus on the issues that keep people of ALL races (black, brown, pink purple...) from achieving. The lack of education.

You can put money in people's pockets, give them 'jobs', but in the end- the true 'emancipation' is education. It is the ultimate provider of liberties afforded to those who put in the time to improve themselves. It adds a dimension of understanding and communication that you don't see in those that do not challenge themselves to achieve, to feed their minds.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not being elitist. The education can come in many forms. Interestingly, it sometimes doesn't always translate into getting 'the diploma'. The most beneficial form is the ability to understand differences (and overcome them). To obtain facts and make informed decisions. Looking back on my forty-four years of life- it is the journey that has taught me about as much as I've learned reading books. It is however, the combination of the two that have enrichened me.

So as a proud citizen of this country, what I am most hopeful for on this day is that we move beyond the restraints of race that keep us back. The excuses for why accomplishment is not possible. Be it real or perceived- that is the true bondage. I am hopeful that this provides people everywhere with the hope that they too can achieve regardless of their challenges. Stop the complaining , educate ourselves and live to the potential for which we are all born into.

Be proud and Celebrate America... this is just one step with many more to come.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Darwinism in the Business World

In this day and age- we've become very desensitized to the news of retailers going down. Last night, however, when the newswire came accross my blackberry it triggered a sense of respect in me:

"Retailer Circuit City to Liquidate -Consumer-Electronics Pioneer Closing; 34,000 Workers Will Lose Jobs"

Now don't get me wrong, It wasn't a full out love affair with the retailer. Speaking as a consumer, my trips into many of their stores over the years where wrought with dissapointment. Poor customer service, poorly trained sales employees and bad retailing -period. Their stores always seemed to be arranged in a haphazardly fashion and product assortment was mediocre at best. A true 'also ran' retailer weakly trying to compete in a crowded market. Ultimately, to get their bite of the pie in a booming economy.

What caught my attention the most about the demise of this 60 year old appliance & electronics retailer is that their acting CEO James Marcum looked for an out on his own. They sought to 'reorg' by seeking buyers for the chain or the name. Due to tight financing avenues in our ill economy their opportunities dried up. In the end, when up against the deadline they placed their cards face down on the table and folded. Now, I'm not insensitive to the plight of the 30,000 plus employees effected by this. You have to have respect for their management's resolve in seeking a way out of the mess that previous poor leadership created.

Yes, poor leadership. After all, as the second largest electronics retailer in the U.S, they did very little right to keep that spot. In 2007, they fired over 3,400 experienced salespeople in efforts to curb high payroll costs. They were replaced with poorly trained, lesser experienced staff that furthered their spiral. Their (then) CEO Phillip Schoonover was rewarded for his fiscal prowess. Competing in an age where market differentiation is critical,They failed to do just that- differentiate. They were complacent with their position, while Best Buy (their closest competitor) sought to differentiate themselves on customer service. Budget retailers such as Walmart cut into their market share by focusing on price. The same was true for warehouse stores such as Costco and Sam's Club. Office Supply retailers Office Depot, Office Max and Staples- furthered the bleeding by offering deals on flat panel TVs. Big ticket items that were loss leaders for many electronics retailers- but they served to attract buyers that would purchase other higher profit margin items such as cables and DVDs. Circuit City just idled by as the 'me too' retailer with no significant niche of their own. By the holiday shopping season of 2007, the 'red ink' was everywhere. It became an inevitable issue. Failure was eminent- it was just a matter of when. In November 2008 in the midst of a beaten economy, they went up gasping for air for the last time as they entered bankruptcy protection and announced the closing of 1/4 of their stores nationwide. The writing was on the wall.

So now, almost thirty days after Saint Nick made his annual gift run, comes the announcement of their closing. 30K plus more jobs to add to the unemployment ranks. But all of this is not what added to my sense of respect for this retailer and their interim management team. As I read all of this, I had a sudden sense of deja vu. You see, just over a month ago- the American public was subjected to a huge violin concerto courtesy of the CEOs of the Big Three Auto makers as they stood in front of the Senate finance committee and told their tale of why they needed a bailout.

The ultimate 'sales job' on our illustrious Senate. No where in their tale of woes did they accept responsibility for their failure to differentiate themselves in the ultra competitive automobile industry. No where in their soap drama did they accept that both management and UAW employees were responsible for killing the 'golden goose' by accepting to make concessions that would reign in costs. No where in their melodrama did they admit failing to think progressively and invest in R&D for the future. A future free of our interdependance on oil. Instead, they dressed their story of the thousands that would be effected by their eventual demise in a 'suit of blame'. Blame on the declining credit markets. Blame on the high cost of oil. Never stopping to explain that the 'chicken was there' long before 'the egg' of economic ills and the challenging series of events.

They drove their own business into the ground much like the management team at Circuit City. My respect for CC comes from the premise that at that at no time did they sit back and ask for bailouts. There is some dignity in that. They accepted their failure as self-inflicted. You can compare and contrast: 'But Lou- you see there are so many jobs at stake'. 34,000 is not a paltry number I say. 'But Lou- there are so many more factors in play with the automobile industry'. As there are with retailers. It's dog eat dog. You see business is not as fickle as those who fail paint it out to be. It is pretty basic. 1. Build a product. 2. Select an area to focus on that will be different from your competition. 3. Manage your overhead costs and put initiatives in play to drive sales (profitability). 4. When your profitability improves, review, review and review what got you there. 5. Identify where you want to go to grow your business and pursue it with a series of steps that will build you up to your goals. A cycle that is constantly regenerating itself.

While Darwin's theory of natural selection more aptly applies to the animal kingdom. Simply put, the strong live and the weak die as everything lives out it's purpose in life. It serves as a sort of balance in the animal kingdom. It's application in the business world is never more clear than in the times we live in now. If we can only get our government leaders to understand this most basic of principles, so they can stop pumping money into the dinosaurs known as the 'Big 3'. Our leaders should require that the Big 3 innovate, contain costs and be architects of their own reconstruction. Tough decisions? I know. Why not let nature take its course as even in business there is such a thing as 'the food chain'.