Monday, May 30, 2011

She’s Nobody’s Fool

Almost every important economic indicator was either negative or less positive in April. In addition, Q1 GDP came in at a disappointing 1.8%. This resulted in numerous articles declaring the recovery over with disastrous consequences ahead. So what is going on? How much trouble are we in?

Due to the damaged financial system, the housing market collapse, the restructuring of the employment markets and all the problems created during the Great Recession, this recovery is expected to be slower, weaker, and uneven. When the economy stabilized, it started going through “normal” cycles, but at a lower growth rate. The economy now is still cycling, but is moving upward at a slow pace. A strong recovery is able to cast off obstacles the same way Arnold Schwarzenegger is able to cast off women …, sorry I mean cast off attackers in the movies. A weak economy gets diverted by any bumps in the road.

And 2011 has been full of obstacles. The first was (and still is) unusually bad weather. There was very cold weather in the South, ice storms and flooding in the Midwest and huge snowstorms in the East. This weather caused major business disruptions in a wide swath of the nation. This nasty weather has continued into the spring. Tornados and rainstorms are battering the country and hurricane season is just starting. A robust economy absorbs this hit. A strong recovery puts on a jacket and barrels through. But a weak recovery catches a cold.

The next obstacle is the unrest in the Middle East. One of the consequences of our mass mediated news coverage is that we tend to forget the recent past very quickly. Beginning in February, everyone was very worried as protests and revolts started in several nations. We were already fighting two wars, briefly involved in a third and hoping World War Three wasn’t beginning. (On a side note, it is interesting that the “fake” end of the world received extensive media coverage while a potential “real” end of the world, the initial uprising in Saudi Arabia, received relatively minor coverage). Once again, a strong recovery gets past this, but a weak economy gets the shakes.

Of course the Middle East situation caused crude oil prices to spike. Most of this was speculation. You know this because most crude production was briefly affected in Libya (the rebels plan to restart production in their fields soon). Once Moammar and the rebels figured out how to milk the cow and keep fighting each other at the same time, things stabilized. The speculators are keeping the price high because there is still considerable unrest in the region. You can’t really blame them for trying. If the Saudis get overthrown, crude would shoot to over $200/barrel and retail prices would go to $10 a gallon, or the end of the world as we know it.

Higher gas prices are a tough obstacle for any economy and a big problem for this one. High gas prices act just like a tax on disposable income and really hurt lower-income people.

So what is this economy like? It’s sensitive, it’s cautious, it’s mysterious. It can be strong, it can be weak, and without warning it can be anything in between. That’s correct, this economy is a woman! This observation should be viewed as purely descriptive and is not derogatory or sexist in any way.

(Cue Billy Joel)

She can kill with a smile
She can wound with her eyes
She can ruin your faith with her casual lies
And she only reveals what she wants you to see
She hides like a child,
But she's always a woman to me

She can lead you to love
She can take you or leave you
She can ask for the truth
But she'll never believe you
And she'll take what you give her, as long as it's free
Yeah, she steals like a thief
But she's always a woman to me

You see this economy has been hurt very deeply by all the turmoil of the last few years. She has been lied to. She has been deceived. Her trust has been broken. She has been betrayed. She feels like we have been insensitive to her needs, she feels violated.

She is not really moved by some short-term, artificial, stimulus. She wants a real, long-term commitment. This relationship can be restored, but it will take time. She wants to take it slow and cautiously. She wants it to be deep, meaningful and long-lasting.

And she'll promise you more
Than the Garden of Eden
Then she'll carelessly cut you
And laugh while you're bleedin'
But she'll bring out the best
And the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself
Cause she's always a woman to me

She is frequently kind
And she's suddenly cruel
She can do as she pleases
She's nobody's fool
And she can't be convicted
She's earned her degree
And the most she will do
Is throw shadows at you
But she's always a woman to me

We want to tell her that we really didn’t mean anything by it. That we wish that it never happened. That we need to get beyond this and just get back to the way things were before. And we promise that it will never, ever, happen again. We’re sorry baby, we are so very, very, sorry.

So what do we need to get this recovery (or to heal this relationship) to get going again? First, we need for the Middle East to stabilize. We are leaning on Khadafy like Chicago thugs (wonder where that idea came from?) and I actually think that it’s going to work. Second, we need the weather to get back to normal. Third, as the Middle East calms down, so will the speculators demand for crude oil futures. And finally, some Barry White music couldn’t hurt.

She's Always A Woman - Billy Joel

Please check out my new humor blog  Next post: June 2

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fantasy Island Meets Reality

Back in the mid-1980’s my wife and I worked for different manufacturing companies and were covered by two full medical and dental plans. Why would we pay for two plans? That’s the point; we didn’t pay anything for either one. The costs were fully paid by the companies, our only contribution was a modest deductable.

Today, my wife and I work for two different companies and we are covered by two full medical plans and we pay a contribution for both. Why would we pay for two plans? Because Obamacare forced me off my wife’s plan when I started working again. (“First of all, if you’ve got health insurance, you like your doctors, you like your plan, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan. Nobody is talking about taking that away from you.” -- Barak Obama)

Yes, things have changed considerably since the 80’s. Medical costs started to rise rapidly and companies started requiring employees to contribute to the costs. Every year now your employer tells you how much medical insurance costs have increased and you find out how much more you will have to pay.

Similarly, many companies used to provide substantial pension benefits to employees. That benefit also peaked in the 80’s. Most companies started to reduce or eliminate pensions and 401-K accounts with a company contribution became the norm.

And all this is obvious to most working people, but it is a mystery to those living on Fantasy Island where medical and pension benefits remain as they were in 1980’s. While a global economy and global competition were bringing huge changes to the mainland, those on Fantasy Island remained totally separated from the outside world. It’s like every year a plane arrives on the Island with a huge shipment of medical and pension benefits for the people to enjoy. (“Look boss, da plane, da plane!)

It has now become a big issue because the benefits delivered to Fantasy Island are paid for by the people on the mainland. As previously mentioned, the people on the mainland have seen their benefits significantly reduced over the past 30 years. In addition the last three years have been financially very tough on them. Now the people on the mainland have plans to reduce the plane’s cargo.

To this the residents of Fantasy Island scream “Da Plan” Boss. Da Plan. The *$!*?#! Plan! “This reaction is very rational and is to be expected. If you lived on the island, you would respond in the same way. Things have really changed. The way the islanders see it, not only did someone move their cheese, but they are trying to shove it up their cheesehole. They argue that they deserve better benefits because living on Fantasy Island makes them special. They feel attacked, blamed, and victimized. In a way that is true. A great many people have been “attacked” and victimized by The Great Recession. Some are still hurting very much.

The people on the Island shout that it is not fair to cut their benefits. But the people paying for those benefits say it is unfair that benefits continue to grow for one class of people when many people on the mainland are dealing with reduced benefits or no benefit at all.

The people on Fantasy Island were able to obtain great benefits due to the “bosses”. These bosses don’t wear white suits like Mr. Roarke (but they do like fine, Corinthian, leather) but they are very important to the islanders. In the past, the bosses were very important to people on the mainland also. The bosses started out only on the mainland but since many people on the mainland were working for bosses, it made sense that people on Fantasy Island worked for them also. But the value and thus the importance of the bosses started to decline significantly in the 90’s. Global competition and improved work laws have now almost made the bosses obsolete on the mainland.

However the bosses on Fantasy Island were insulated from global competition and not only survived, but kept gaining power. They did this by trading political support for increased benefits for their people. They also extracted money back from the people to entrench their positions. These deals worked because they went on behind a cloak of secrecy and details were rarely communicated to the people on the mainland. But now at this critical juncture, many people are questioning the level of benefits and the details are being brought to public scrutiny. (See links below)

Now the people on Fantasy Island are being forced to literally deal with reality. It is not 1980 anymore. They want to continue living in the past. It is ironic that to protest the attempt to rein in benefits, that some islanders resorted to a “sit-in” a common tactic in the 1960’s. Sit-ins may have been effective then, but have been largely abandoned due to the new technology of the TASER gun. The TASER was not used in this instance due to the expected public outcry if police would have tasered dozens of protesters. However police would have only had to taser one person to disperse the crowd provided that person screamed really loud. Selecting the person in our politically-correct culture would have been tricky, so look out skinny white guy they’re coming after you. (Take that nasty TASER white boy, take that nasty TASER right).

Therefore the main opponent of the Fantasy Islanders is not any politician, nor any political party or organization. Their opponent is Reality. And Reality is tough fighter. If you are not ready, it will slap you silly. It will blindside you and drive you face first into the ground. You can’t fight Reality head on, you can only try to respond and adapt to it.

You never got to see what happened on the television show Fantasy Island the next week after the people returned to reality. That’s because it probably wasn’t very pretty. This won’t be either.

Reality Article #1    Reality Article #2   

Play That Funky Music!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Downsized Dan’s Amazing Adventure

One man’s journey into and out of The Great Recession

Dan arrived at work on a beautiful, sunny, Friday in June 2009. He had flown back home on Thursday from a wonderful Florida vacation. He had decided to return to work on Friday so that he could copy several files that he would need to do some work at home the following week. The offices would be closed the next week due to the July 4 holiday and slow sales. Dan wondered how many employees would have cut their vacation short to do this and how many of the other employees would be doing any work the following week.

Dan had been at work about an hour when he was told by a human resources manager to report to the conference room for a meeting. He knew what was going to happen. The company had been hit very hard by the recession. Sales had been cut in half and there had already been four layoffs, the most recent occurring that Monday when he had been in Florida. Dan had been with the company for 16 years, but that was no defense against this recession. This was not about experience, or even past value, this was about cold, hard, cash.

The two HR managers explained in frigid, sterile, terms what was happening and why. Dan pretended to listen, but he really didn’t hear very much. He was afraid to hear those final words. “We must now remove your 'bolers'.” “Oh please don’t take my bolers”, Dan pleaded. “I have worked for 16 years to grow and develop my bolers. Look how large and shiny they are.” But the HR Reps were unmoved. They then proceeded to cut Dan’s bolers off. “By the way Dan, we are sending your bolers to headquarters in Chicago. I think they are going to be mounted on the executive conference room wall!” Dan was presented with a bag of severance and directed to the exit.

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
drifting through the wind
wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
like a house of cards,
one blow from caving in?

So our hero Dan was thrown out of the land of Employment and into the land of Unemployment. This was a very disheartening thing. The official recession was ending, but millions of people had been cast out of Employment and more were arriving in Unemployment every day. And once you were cast out of Employment it was virtually impossible to get back in quickly. The walls of the city were made of granite and very high. You could see people running full speed into the granite wall trying to get back in. Others just pounded their fist or their head against the wall hoping it would help.

The only way to get back into Employment was to attract the attention of a “hiring nymph”. You then had to convince her that you were would a “good fit” worthy of receiving new bolers. If you were successful, you would get to mate with her and she would escort you back into the land of Employment. But there were very few hiring nymphs to be found. Many had gone to sleep due to the recession. There was great competition to attract the attention of the few nymphs looking for mates. There were almost seven residents of Unemployment for every hiring nymph. The nymphs could be very selective in choosing mates and some nymphs would not even look at you if you had no bolers.

But Dan could not even try get back into the land of Employment for a while. He was suffering intense physical and emotional pain due to the loss of his bolers. He spent some days just staring at where his bolers had been and wishing they were still there. He often thought back to when he had his bolers and how painful it was to have them chopped off.

Dan felt incomplete without his bolers. He just didn’t feel right, he didn’t look right and he didn’t walk right. He initially avoided going out into public because he thought people were staring at his lack of bolers. He lost his self-confidence and sometimes doubted his ability to ever obtain new bolers again. The strange thing was that in reality Dan was the very same person with the same skills and abilities, but he didn’t have his bolers and that left a huge void in his life.

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
6 feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you

After a while Dan healed enough to go to the wall and begin trying to attract the attention of the hiring nymphs. He would yell out, “Do you have any bolers for me today?” But the effect of the recession raged on. There were no nymphs. No matter how loud or how creative you pleaded, there were no nymphs. Day after day Dan and the other people in the land of Unemployment would cry out, but there would be nothing but silence. Dan became very despondent, but he could not quit. He did not want to become like the head bangers. So he pressed on despite the utter futility of the mission.

This went on for months. Dan’s bag of severance was gone. He was tired, he was fearful; he wondered when he would ever have bolers again.

Maybe your reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will blow
And when it's time, you'll know

Then one day he attracted the attention of a hiring nymph. She liked what she saw and didn’t seem to care that Dan had been walking around without bolers for almost nine months. They talked, they winked, and they flirted.

Finally she said, “I want to mate with you.”

“What bolers do I get?” Dan asked.

The nymph then showed him his potential new bolers.

“They are not very big”, said Dan wearingly. “Can’t I have some larger ones please?”

“I’m afraid not, said the nymph. I know that residents of Unemployment are desperate to obtain any bolers at all, so this is all you get. Are you ready to mate?”

Dan reluctantly accepted the offer. As he approached the nymph to begin mating, she said “Great, now turn around and bend over.”

Somehow this was not the way Dan had imagined it would be. It was a classic “low-boler” offer. It is only very enjoyable for the nymph. So Dan complied and received their package and thus was granted access back into the land of Employment.

Dan did feel good to have new bolers. They obviously didn’t fit as well as his previous bolers, but they were bolers. Dan reasoned that if he worked really, really, hard, he might be able to grow these bolers to the size of his old ones, but it would take many years. So he swallowed his pride and went on with his life.

Dan had been re-bolerized for only eight months when suddenly another hiring nymph appeared. “I have been looking for someone special to mate with”, she cooed. “You have everything I am looking for and I wish to mate with you so badly.”

Dan was caught completely by surprise. He had vigorously pursued hiring nymphs while in the land of Unemployment for a long time without success. Now a nymph was pursuing him. She was very hot for him and she liked the fact that he already had bolers and really liked their shape.

But Dan was conflicted. His current nymph had mated with him when no other nymph would. She had given him his bolers back. She had made him feel somewhat whole again. How could he even think about mating with another nymph so soon?

He expressed his concerns to the new nymph.

“That’s nice”, she said. “But I really do want to mate with you. I think you can satisfy all my needs. Oh and by the way, here are your new bolers if you agree to mate with me.”

Dan’s mouth dropped open. The bolers were quite impressive. They were large and shiny. Upon closer inspection the bolers turned out to be even larger than the bolers he had originally lost. Dan had a big decision to make.

“Mate with me now!” The nymph pleaded.

“Wait, just a moment”, said Dan.

Dan had an ethical dilemma. Dan knew what he had to do. He had to consult the Book of Business Rules. Dan had lived his entire career by the book. He had consulted the book frequently and over his tenure had made some difficult decisions based on its direction. He was sure it would give him guidance now.

He hunted feverishly until he found the book. In the table of contents he found a chapter on Business Loyalty that he was sure would have the answer to his dilemma. His hands were shaking when he found the chapter and started thumbing through the pages. But to Dan’s dismay, he found that all the pages in that particular chapter had been erased. He could see where the print used to be, but in effect the pages were now blank. He knew that edits were made to the book from time to time, but he had never seen anything like this. He frantically went through the entire chapter page by page, searching for anything that might help him. But there was nothing left. He was angry at whoever had erased the pages, and then he noticed a hand written notation at the bottom of the last page. It said: “Final edit, December 2007”.

Dan recognized the date as the month the Great Recession began. He thought back to a conference room in June 2009. He remembered a cold, sterile, conversation and then he remembered having his bolers cut off after 16 years of loyal service. He concluded that it’s all about bolers man. He now knew what he had to do.

He ran to the new hiring nymph, ripped off her bodice and vigorously mated with her. After two days of continuous mating, Dan and the nymph achieved mutual orgasmic satisfaction. Now this is how Dan dreamt it would always be.

When Dan informed the other nymph what had happened, her father became furious that Dan had mated with another nymph so soon after mating with his daughter. Dan told him, that it wasn’t personal, but it was all about the bolers man. This explanation did not satisfy the dad. He came after Dan with a large pair of shears and threatened to cut off his new bolers.

Dan ran. He ran faster than he had ever run in his life. He ran so fast that suddenly his feet were not touching the ground. In fact he was no longer running but shooting up towards the sky. He then noticed that sparks were flying off his body.

“Holy Shadrach”, said Dan. “I’m on fiyar, but I’m not being burned.” Then he looked down and saw a pretty, young, woman wearing a bright, short, dress and he heard her singing:

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Ah, ah, ah"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Ah, ah, ah"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon