Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Farewell 2012….Welcome 2013

Time for my Top 10 predictions for 2013. But, before I put those on the record….how did my 2012 forecast turnout?

My 2012 predictions and results.

Prediction Number 1:
The Packers win the Super Bowl. They will beat New England in an epic game that goes down to the wire.

Results: New England made it, but the Packers let me down. The Giants, the NFC representative did win the game. But it was not “an epic” game. Prediction Grade: C-

Prediction Number 2:
Big trouble in the Middle East. Things will come to a head this year and the results will drive up oil prices and cripple the global economy in the second half of the year.

Results: As usual, a lot of problems in the Middle East, but not as bad as predicted and oil prices did not go crazy. Prediction Grade: D

Prediction Number 3:
President Obama gets another term. The Republicans blow it but retain a majority in the House.

Result: Got it right. Prediction Grade: A+

Prediction Number 4:
The U.S. economy overcomes the impact of predictions 2 & 3, limps along and fairs better than many of our global competitors.

Result: Prediction 2 really didn’t come to pass, but #3 was spot on. I think our economy has faired better than most of our global competitors. Prediction Grade: B+

Prediction Number 5:
More crazy weather and rising commodity prices.

Result: Record heat and drought. Rising commodity prices. Prediction Grade: A

Prediction Number 6:
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement grows and becomes better organized.

Result: Did not happen. I guess the rabble went home and worked on getting out the vote for Obama. Prediction Grade: F

Prediction Number 7:
Tiger Woods does not win a major.

Result: Although TW had a good year, he did not win a major. Prediction Grade: A

Prediction Number 8:
The unemployment rate drops below 8% (but then edges back up).

Result: The rate has dropped below 8% and really hasn’t edged back up yet. Prediction Grade: B

Prediction Number 9:
We will add over $1 trillion more to the national debt.

Result: Done. Grade: A+

Prediction Number 10:
The world will not end on December 21, 2012

Result: We’re still here. Grade: A+


And now for those 2013 predictions.

Prediction Number 1:
Green Bay (of course) and Denver meet up in the Super Bowl. But The Pack goes back to Green Bay without the trophy. Denver wins and the game will be a classic.
(Closer to home…Karma kicks Jerry Jones in the ‘nads and the Cowboys lose to the Redskins this Sunday, missing the playoffs yet again.)

Prediction Number 2:
We postpone going over the fiscal cliff by passing a very weak compromise with some tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, caps on future spending and a “commitment” to really address the problem this year.

Prediction Number 3:
We do NOT address our fiscal problems this year, but continue to dance along the edge of the cliff.

Prediction Number 4:
Israel opens up a 55 gallon drum of whip ass on Hamas. Iran makes the mistake of getting directly involved and things go very badly for them as well. The impact on the global economy is severe, but short-lived. Assad finds a way to stay in power another year in Syria.

Prediction Number 5:
The U.S. Economy drifts along with moderate growth. Unemployment finally dips below 7%.

Prediction Number 6:
Attempts to ban the manufacture, sale and ownership of assault weapons will fail again. Additional background checks and restrictions are put in place. More mass shootings will occur.

Prediction Number 7:
Tiger Woods will not win a major.

Prediction Number 8:
Nick Saban will return to the NFL

Prediction Number 9:
A major railroad will purchase a large truckload carrier.

Prediction Number 10:
50% of my predictions will be accurate.

“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” -Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, 6th Century BC

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Letters...It’s a Wonderful Life Isn’t It?

“You keep on talking about the good life, Elton, 'cause it makes me puke.” – Bobby Dupea

(Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie, Five Easy Pieces.)

I will admit to being somewhat of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas. Christmas holds religious significance for me and I really enjoy the way little kids get so excited about Santa Claus. But, I could do without the rest of it. Too many commercials, too many television “Christmas” specials, too much Christmas music playing in the background wherever you go, too many strangers expressing holiday greetings, too many parties, way too many decorations, just too much Christmas stuff period.

But, the thing that I dislike the most about Christmas is the “Christmas Letter”. It should be called the unaudited Annual Report of Your Wonderful Life. Who really wants to read one of these? If I care to know about your life and you care that I should know, then we need to be in contact on a regular basis. Especially in this age of instant information and communication. If I don’t know what’s going on in your life, I probably don’t care to know or need to know. And if I do know what’s really going on in your life, it is likely that I know a lot of stuff you definitely don’t want in your Christmas Letter.

Most Christmas Letters are all about what a wonderful life the person is living. If anything negative is mentioned it’s usually about someone else. But it doesn’t qualify as gossip because it’s “for the best” or a “blessing in disguise” or we need to “keep them in our prayers”. People who write Christmas Letters always have great jobs. Their homes are new or newly remodeled. Worst case, they finally put in that pool they’ve always wanted. Their children are on the honor role. Mom has lost 10 pounds and Dad just ran his first marathon. People who write Christmas Letters always take great vacations and love to tell you about them. People who write Christmas Letters brag about the good deeds their family has done over the past year. People who write Christmas Letters are proud of themselves and you should feel honored that they have chosen to send you this letter along with an air-brushed photo of the family you wish you could be a part of.

Here’s my advice. If you have the urge to write a Christmas Letter, then write an honest Christmas Letter. Write down all of the good and the bad and the ugly. Write about the losses as well as the gains. Count your blessings and your bruises. Acknowledge your regrets and sorrows along with your hopes and joys. Write about what you need to do better next year, not just what you did well over the past year. Take your time and really think about your Christmas Letter. Read it at least three times. Once you are sure that you’ve written all that needs to be written, do yourself and your family and your friends and the hapless souls who somehow found their way into your address book a huge favor….delete it.

Now go… Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I live in one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states in America. I am in the old white guy demographic. Most of my friends are old white guys. Last night I was at a holiday party with old white guys and their ageless, forever young-looking wives. (I am not stupid…someone might actually read this.) Conservative old white guys and their lovely, equally conservative wives. The wives talked about holiday plans, family, food, fashion, football, the horrific Connecticut school shootings and gun control. Their husbands talked about local politics, the fiscal cliff, Obama, deer hunting, the drought, football, the horrific Connecticut school shootings and gun control.

Most folks, especially folks from “the Left”, would predict that this crowd is in the “pry the gun from my cold dead fingers” camp. And I guess, to some degree that is true. But only if we are talking about hunting rifles, shotguns and pistols. Maybe it was just the reaction to the latest mass murder, but no one was advocating that citizens had the right to own automatic or semi-automatic, assault weapons (rifles or pistols). Who needs 15, 20 or 30 round clips of firepower? Sure, there are people on the fringes who are preparing for life after the “big one” (whatever the big one might be.) They are storing food, water and fuel. They are armed to the teeth and prepared to defend themselves against the stupid and unprepared masses that won’t be able to survive when the shelves at Wal-Mart are empty. But these “survivalists” are few and the reality is that they will find a way to arm themselves.

What concerns the mainstream, even the conservative, gun-toting mainstream in places like Texas; is the firepower that is now available to virtually anyone with an ID, a little money and a few days to allow for processing the paperwork. We fear that the next mass murder may be in our school or our church or our mall. As I have written in the past, we are not shocked anymore when these things happen. It’s almost become the norm in our society. While we are not likely to stop the crazies from killing people, we can at least take steps to reduce the body count.

The other concern is that every time we have guns used to commit mass murder, we move closer to the extreme position that citizens should not have guns in the first place. Oh perhaps, you can “own” a deer-rifle or a shotgun for hunting. But those need to be secured in a locker somewhere (not your home) and only accessed during hunting season and with the proper licensing and authorizations. Now that’s not going to happen, but when folks in this part of the country hear liberal knuckleheads preach gun control, we fear even the possibility of such controls and limitations of our gun rights.

Last night I heard conservative, gun-owning and gun-toting Texans saying that something has to change. They weren’t spouting the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” mantra of the NRA. They were saying ENOUGH…we’ve had enough and if we don’t crack down on the ownership and possession of certain types of weapons, we are at risk of losing our rights to own and possess any type of weapons. And, we and our children and our grandchildren are at risks of becoming the next victims of a mass murderer wielding guns designed for killing dozens of people in only a few minutes.

I have friends and family who literally hate guns. Don’t own one and would never allow one in their home. I respect their point of view. Don’t agree with them, but respect their viewpoint. I do own guns for hunting, varmint control and self-defense. I live in a rural area, no police patrols and no next door neighbors. If someone decides to enter my home uninvited while I am there, it is very likely that they will be shot. I have more than one gun in more than one place. This is not unusual for people in this part of the country. (And when kids are around the guns are locked up. So if the bad guys hit us when kids are around I guess we're just SOL.) But I don’t need assault weapons with 20 round clips of ammo. If I can’t stop the bad guys with my .357 revolver or 12 gauge shotguns, then I deserve to be a victim. And if my lovely wife goes off the deep end someday and shoots me, I will probably deserve that as well. So don’t blame the gun.

Gun control will be a hot topic for the next few months. Like most controversial issues, the majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle. Those of us on the right have concerns about losing our guns. But we know that something has to be done to restrict the types of weapons and the level of firepower. We understand that there needs to be more extensive background checking and if that means it takes longer to purchase a gun, so be it. Most of those left of center are not for taking our guns away. They are for banning assault weapons and having tighter controls on who can purchase or possess firearms. We must find solutions. They may not be perfect and they may not satisfy either side completely. But, it will save lives.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Clear Message

I get it. Last week’s blog was too abstract. I liked it or I would not have put it out there. But, I’ve received more than a few “I don’t get it” messages. I was actually planning to put out another list this week that would include certain individuals, activities and creations which would argue against the theory that “humans may be gradually losing intelligence”. But it was going to be a much, much shorter list.

Hopefully, this week’s message is clearer. This is from a friend of mine who pastors a church up in Oklahoma:

“Thanksgiving” is more than a day. The truth of the matter is that on the day we call Thanksgiving there is very little “thanks” given when you compare it to all of the other events of the day. There’s lots of turkey and dressing, ham, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pies. There’s lots of great conversation between family members as we catch up with one another. There’s hours upon hours of football to be enjoyed. It has been my experience, at the Thanksgiving gatherings I’ve attended, that the “thanks” offered would fit nicely in one of the TV timeouts of any of the football games. I’m not as troubled as I used to be by this because I’ve come to the conclusion that Thanksgiving is a lifestyle and not a designated day.

Those who are truly thankful are thankful on the coldest winter night as they are on the hottest summer day. Those who are truly thankful praise God when the sun is shining down on them as well as when the storm clouds are swirling overhead. Those who are truly thankful praise Him on Monday morning when the alarm sounds as well as on Sunday morning when the choir lifts their souls. Those who are truly thankful are able to see His gracious hand in the mundane moments as well as in those majestic moments in life. Those who are truly thankful don’t need any “reason” to praise God–they thank Him for who He is.

Thanksgiving is a conscious effort made by those who choose to live with their eyes wide open, actively looking for God’s bountiful goodness that is poured out upon them each and every day of the year. I want to do a better job, on Thanksgiving Day, of consciously thanking God for all of the many blessings He has showered upon me. Even more than that, I want to live a thank-filled life during each of the days He gives me. Give thanks. “

-Rev. Mike Hays, Britton Christian Church, Oklahoma City, OK.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Human Intelligence

Sometimes a blog post just writes itself.

David Petraeus
Rush Limbaugh
Charlie Sheen
Rachel Maddow
Paula Broadwell
Paula Deen
Chris Matthews
Ann Coulter
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Jerry Jones
Al Sharpton
Sean Hannity
Sean Penn
Tom Cruise
Rahm Emmanuel
Ron Paul
The Electoral College
Barack Obama
Al Gore
Mitt Romney
The Designated Hitter
Anthony Weiner
Glenn Beck
Toby Keith
Mitch McConnell
The Tea Party
James Carville
Tommy Tuberville
Alec Baldwin
Super PACs
Artificial sweeteners
Joe Biden
Long commutes
Automatic weapons
Big Government
Harry Reid
Video games
Brittany Spears…

“Humans may be gradually losing intelligence, according to a new study. The study, published Nov. 12 in the journal Trends in Genetics, argues that humans lost the evolutionary pressure to be smart once we started living in dense agricultural settlements several thousand years ago. "The development of our intellectual abilities and the optimization of thousands of intelligence genes probably occurred in relatively non-verbal, dispersed groups of peoples [living] before our ancestors emerged from Africa," said study author Gerald Crabtree, a researcher at Stanford University, in a statement.”…

The Tax Code
Paul Ryan
Soy products
Bill Clinton
Dick Vitale
Cialis commercials
Daylight Savings Time
Reality Television
Breast Feeding Five Year Olds
Rick Santorum
The Fiscal Cliff
George W. Bush
LeBron James
Mayan Prophecy
Karl Rove
Dick Morris
Katy Perry
The Food Channel
Free Agency
No Child Left Behind
Global Warming
Nancy Pelosi
Home Equity Loans
The Ed Show
High Heels
Fast Food
Fox News
John Boehner
Todd Akin
Justin Bieber
Sarah Palin
Jeremiah Wright
Kenny Chesney
Grover Nordquist
Rick Perry

“Man - a creature made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired.”- Mark Twain

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Great Divide

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So it turns out that the 2012 Presidential Election was not about The Economy after all. There was a lot of talk about The Economy and The Deficit and Taxes. But when one cuts through the rhetoric and gets down to the voting booth, one could argue that it came down to race (or as some would prefer to say, ethnicity.) Of course, the Republicans were hurt by some incredibly stupid comments about rape. Their position on gay marriage and abortion turns off a lot of people too. But most of those folks would not vote Republican regardless of these issues. The auto bailout might have been a difference maker in Ohio (the other rust belt states were voting Democrat no matter what). However, peel back the dirty little onion and it’s clear that the votes came down very much along racial lines.

President Obama got over 90% of the black vote and over 70% of the Latino vote. He got over 70% of the “other non-white” vote. We heard it said loudly and often, “It’s The Economy”. That’s the number one issue. But increasingly, the economy (and let’s throw taxes in with it), boils down to groups of people and their personal economies. It’s all of these Economies, not necessarily “The Economy”, that ultimately determine how people vote. For example, immigration policy has a huge economic impact on Latino families. Of course it has major personal and social consequences. But it’s largely an economic issue for everyone who has a stake in it. (Personally, I’m not a hard-liner on immigration. I don’t agree with the far right of the Republican Party on immigration. But, Republicans put themselves at odds with Latinos over immigration and Republicans paid for it.)

A big chunk of the “white economy” has benefited greatly from lower taxes on the wealthy. (If you don’t believe me, just look at the last 30 years of changes in the tax code.) The “non-white economy” relies heavily on government programs. Right or wrong, they see more money trickling down to them personally from the government than from big business. People vote with their pocket book even if they don’t have one.

It really comes down to the Haves and Have-Nots. The gap between the two is greater than ever and when it comes to voting, the numbers are on the side of the Have-Nots. Of course, there are whites in the Have-Not camp who voted against the Haves. There are also some left-leaning white Haves who voted with the Have-Nots for various reasons. But the difference makers in this election were the vast numbers of non-white voters who perceived voting for Obama to be in their best interests, primarily their best economic interests. Even the emotional voting among blacks for one of their own has at it’s core a belief that “their guy” will do for them what the other guy will not do for them.

The message to the “Haves” should be clear. As long as the government is the most reliable economic resource for the “Have Nots”, they will vote accordingly. And trying to take that away from them will not work. They have the votes. We must educate, motivate, employ and compensate more of our fellow Americans. That will cost money and most of that has to come from the “Haves”. We may not like it, but if we don’t fix this thing, this great country of ours will go down in flames.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sandy, Global Warming, The Election and The Long Run

“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” – Robert F. Kennedy

This is a day for observation, reflection and prediction. And the first observation is that The Big One finally hit The Big Apple. It was going to happen. Not IF, but WHEN. Just like New Orleans was due for a big one, the NY-NJ metro area was due for a big one. Eventually the Big One Earthquake will hit the West Coast. Eventually, a major city in tornado alley will take a direct hit from an EF5. These are not just predictions, they are inevitabilities. The big question is how will we deal with these natural disasters? What should we be doing now to prepare? New Orleans was not prepared for Katrina. The Northeast appears to be only somewhat better prepared to deal with Sandy. But there will be questions and second guessing a plenty. And more natural disasters to come.

The second observation is that Sandy will become the poster child for global warming. If there was ever a single event that shouted “case closed, global warming is for real”; it was Sandy. Sandy this year and Irene last year may indeed be coincidental. It may be that 100-year or 500-year events just happen when they happen and sometimes it’s in consecutive years. And it may be that global warming doesn’t have much to do with it. But, I do think global warming is for real. I’m not sure how much of it is caused by human activity or just natural cycles. But a lot of smart people have studied it and the overwhelming consensus of opinion is that human activity is the primary cause. Now we have the news media and financial capital of the world experiencing catastrophic weather events. Don’t be surprised if Al Gore is the Grand Marshal of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The third observation is that Sandy delivered a late round knock out punch to Mitt Romney. I’ve predicted all along that Obama would get a second term. But I actually began to have second thoughts after the first debate and the Benghazi cover up. Then Sandy comes along and the President gets to be Chris Christie’s new BFF and hug a little old lady. Game over. Only a few days ago, I suggested that Romney might win the popular vote, but come up short on the electoral count. Now I don’t think there’s a chance of that happening. Obama easily wins the electoral vote and probably ends up with 53% of the popular vote. At the end of the day, Presidents are elected on likability. And at this point, Obama is so much more likable than Romney. Just ask Chris Christie or some little old lady.

The final observation is that cancelling “The Long Run”, aka the NYC Marathon was the right thing to do. I was shocked when Mayor Bloomberg first announced that it would still be run. It was going to be the subject of this week’s blog post. Seriously, you just cannot divert resources for an event like that at a time like this. The fact that it was even considered reflects a total disconnect between New York City’s rich and powerful and the less rich and powerful who were most impacted by Sandy. My guess is that Mayor Bloomberg’s surprising public endorsement of Obama is part of his personal brand recovery strategy. Another unintended benefit for Obama in the wake of Sandy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Your Vote Counts....Sort Of

“The United States is the only country that elects a politically powerful president via an electoral college and the only one in which a candidate can become president without having obtained the highest number of votes in the sole or final round of popular voting.”
—George C. Edwards

I’ve already voted. Last week. Not sure what difference it makes, since my state is always a lock for the Republicans. All I can hope for is that if the nationwide popular vote result differs from the Electoral College result, we might once again consider doing away with the Electoral College or, at least, modifying it in some way.

I understand the arguments for the electoral approach and it probably made a lot of sense back in the day. And when you read your history you will note that slavery and women’s voting rights, or lack thereof, played a major part in the agreement to use “electors” to pick the President and Vice-President. There is also a deep conversation about Federalism and states rights woven into the fabric of the electoral debate.

But it’s time to move on. We are living in different times. The electoral system has created a situation where the race for the most powerful office on the planet is determined by a few states. More specifically, by a few key counties within a few key states. I don’t think this was what the founding fathers had in mind when they came up with the electoral concept. (What they really had in mind was for the Congress to elect the President and Vice President. They weren’t real keen on giving too much power to the masses either.)

One can argue the merits of different voting systems and fairness to small states or rural population vs. urban population. But, when it comes down to it, the best approach is one person-one vote. Most votes wins.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Howdy Folks

DALLAS (AP) - Big Tex - the 52-foot-tall metal-and-fabric cowboy that is an icon of the State Fair of Texas - has been destroyed in a fire.
Television footage showed firefighters around the structure Friday morning. Mostly all that remained of the figure was the metal structure. The fabric that made up the structure's hands and sleeves could still be seen.
A Dallas fire spokesman didn't immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.
The fair has been celebrating Big Tex's 60th birthday this year.
With a 75-gallon hat, 50-pound belt buckle and folksy, slow drawl to greet visitors - "Howdy, folks!" - Big Tex has been the star of the fair since 1952.

This is a sad day for Texans. Especially those of us who were born here in the 1950’s, just like Big Tex. I’m not sure what caused the fire. But after the last two OU beat downs on the Texas Longhorns, I just don’t think Big Tex could take it any more. He had probably never heard of “self immolation”. But Big Tex decided to do just that and burned himself up rather than watch another OU-Texas game. Rumor has it that Longhorn fans have delivered matches and a can of gasoline to Mack Brown’s office with a note urging him “to do the right thing”.

I think it’s best that we close with some Steve Earle lyrics (And if you don’t know who Steve Earle is, then I just feel sorry for you.)

Now, nobody lives forever
Nothin' stands the test of time
Oh, you heard 'em say "never say never"
But it's always best to keep it in mind
That every tower ever built tumbles
No matter how strong, no matter how tall
Someday even great walls will crumble
And every idol ever raised falls
And someday even man's best laid plans
Will lie twisted and covered in rust
When we've done all that we can but it slipped through our hands
And it's ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Leaving Las Vegas

“What is the feeling when you're driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? -it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” – Jack Kerouac

This week I attended the American Trucking Association (ATA) Management Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas. It seems like I end up in Vegas at some convention every other year. My first visit to Vegas was back in the late 70’s. So I’ve watched Vegas evolve (or perhaps dissolve) for over 30 years.

Back in the day it was hardcore. Serious gamblers, street whores, drugs and really cheap meals. It was like this giant peep-show for tourists from Middle America. It looked and smelled nasty and dangerous. It felt like the last place on earth you wanted Jesus to find you when He returns. In other words, it was outrageous and naughty fun.

Also, back in the day, amateurs were not welcome at the tables. Dealers were downright rude if you did not know table etiquette, the rules, the words and the gestures. Go play the slots, Opie. The tables were for Wise Guys and WWII vets who knew how to gamble. And if you loved to gamble, Vegas was THE place to go.

Nowadays Vegas is the adult entertainment capital of the world with kiddie rides. It’s the people of Wal-Mart, Godzilla movies and the French Foreign Legion all wearing the same tank tops, stumbling along in the same flip flops, taking the same stupid photos with the same i-phones. There are still a few gamblers, mostly in the poker rooms and sports books. But essentially it’s Branson Missouri and Disney World with shorter lines and more expensive food. If you love to gamble, it is no longer THE place to go.

Fortunately, I was never really that much into gambling. I consider myself a disciplined loser. I take x-amount of money and lose it at a pace commensurate with the length of my stay in Vegas. As I’ve gotten older, I take less money and don’t stay very long. Besides, if I really wanted to gamble I’ve got a couple of ginormous Indian casinos just across the Red River. I can lose just as much money there and keep it in the local economy. The fact that I’ve never set foot in one of those casinos tells you how excited I am about gambling.

So for me, Vegas was never about gambling. It was about the “experience”. It was about watching people roll around in the belly of the beast. It was a human train wreck and you could not take your eyes off of it. There were characters and stories and vows that you would never go back there again. What used to happen in Vegas did NOT stay in Vegas. It stayed with you. Once upon a time Vegas was memorable. Now it’s just an over-priced, premium channel on the big screen that used to be America.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Help Wanted…What Your Government Could Do, But Won’t.

"Politicians like to tell people what they want to hear - and what they want to hear is what won't happen."
-Paul Samuelson

How is it that with so many unemployed and under-employed Americans, we still have over 3 million unfilled jobs? Many economists (and politicians) point to “structural” issues or a significant “skills gap”. People just don’t have the right training for the jobs that are available. I would agree that this is a major factor. I would also suggest that it’s not going to be solved overnight. It’s taken us 40+ years to dig this “structural unemployment” hole and it will take a while to get out of it.

But, there are three other factors which impact the unfilled jobs situation and they could be addressed immediately. These three factors are: Location…Location….Location. In many cases, the people are simply not where the jobs are. It’s that basic. You may say, “Well, it’s a free country. Why don’t they just relocate to the work?”

The truth is that many of them have and many will. But there are still thousands of families that are trapped. It can be a house they can’t sell. Or the spouse has a job that doesn’t pay much but at least they have insurance. Or the kids have been in this school district all of their lives. Or we’ve got “a support system” here (family, church, etc). Or maybe they are just scraping by and literally cannot afford any disruption to whatever income and public/private assistance they are receiving.

But with all of the millions of dollars our state and federal government spends on programs to help people in need, you would think there would be some way to help folks get to where the jobs are. Wouldn’t it be better to have them as productive, tax paying citizens? Well, that depends on how you look at it. They say all politics is local and that is never truer than when you look at how politicians view economic development.

Let’s say I am a Congressman who represents a district that is suffering from high unemployment. I work hard to “take care of my people” with government programs, grants and such. They vote for me. I am on their side fighting against “the powerful forces” that have put them in this predicament. The people keep voting for me. Someday they may figure out that I’m not doing them much good and vote for someone else. But, for the time being they vote for me and one thing I know for sure: if they don’t live in my district, they can’t vote for me. So why would I push for any type of program that creates mobility for my constituents? It is not in my best interest to see these people move to other places even if it means they would be better off there. I am better off with them here, in my district. So I do what I can to keep them pacified and give them a little bit of hope.

If we want to fix this problem (along with many others) we need term limits. Otherwise, we will continue to see tax dollars thrown away just keeping people alive in places where they have little chance of ever making a decent living.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

An Old Testament Story

If you think the Bible is just myth and fairytale, this story is pointless. But if you believe it to be “The Word”, then this story is worthy of consideration…

Genesis 16: 1-12

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.

5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.” 6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the LORD has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”

Genesis 17: 15-22

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

Genesis 21: 8-20
8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer…

The story of Ishmael has been analyzed and interpreted in many ways by people of all faiths and persuasions. For the most part, over-analyzed and often misinterpreted. My own personal take on it is that an omnipotent God, unbound by the constraints of time and space, knew that there would be conflict between the descendents of Ishmael and the descendents of Isaac. That the conflict would include those adopted into the families of faith that trace their origins back to these two individuals whom God chose for his own purpose and design.

People of different faiths will never agree on matters of faith. And there will always be tension between people who disagree on such things. But, it doesn’t have to be the way it is. If we continue to hate each other, we will ultimately destroy each other. Hatred in the name of religion is still hatred and there is way too much of it. And it’s on all sides and in all religions. Unfortunately, it probably won’t change and it’s only likely to get worse. At least until we get to the final story at the end of The Book.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Eastwooding or The Invisible Bluetooth?

“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone”
- Arthur Schopenhauer

Clint Eastwood’s dialogue with the invisible “Mr. Obama” sitting in the empty chair at the RNC has quickly become known as “Eastwooding”. I for one am glad that I now have another option for talking to myself. As an only child and one who really enjoys time alone, I have always been a “self-talker”. There are worse things one can do to one self. So I’ve never thought much about it. But occasionally, someone (usually my wife) will catch me talking to myself. (Again there are worse things she could catch me doing to myself, but that’s another subject).

Before cell phones and bluetooths, I used to tell her that I was practicing a speech or a sales presentation or trying to get rid of my thick Texas drawl. Another one that sometimes works is to say that you are singing. When the other person says, “Well it sounded like you were talking to yourself”, you can respond with something like, “I’m a terrible singer. That’s why I only sing when no one else is around”. If you have pets, you can always say that you were talking to them. That can work even if the dog or cat is nowhere near you. “Gee Honey, I thought Fluffy was over there on the couch.”

But the ultimate cover up for talking to oneself is the Bluetooth. As long as you have one of those in your ear, you can get away with talking to yourself or no one at all. You will not be questioned as long as you have that little gadget hooked on your ear. (Now the truth is that your wife will begin to get suspicious or perhaps jealous if you wear it 24/7.)

And then there is the Invisible Bluetooth. A term that some smart ass came up with when he saw a homeless person wondering down a city street talking to himself. Invisible Bluetooth has caught on and now when you see someone talking to themselves or you get caught talking to yourself, just say Invisible Bluetooth and everyone has a good laugh. As I have gotten older, I find that I am very comfortable wearing the Invisible Bluetooth. Everyone except my wife seems to understand. So my advice to all of you aging baby boomers like me is just go with it. Talk to yourself and if anyone gives you a funny look, point to your ear and say the two magic words: “Invisible Bluetooth”. Besides it’s much easier than carrying a chair around all of the time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Get Drunk and Be Somebody

“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.” – Homer Simpson

Disturbing headline of the week:

College Students Who Binge Drink Say They're Happier.

This was one of several conclusions from a study conducted at Colgate University. The press release goes on to say:

So-called "high-status" and socially powerful college kids are more likely to engage in binge drinking than their less-wealthy, less-connected, lower-status peers, new research reveals. But lower-status students who do binge on alcohol say they are more "socially satisfied" with their college experience than their non-binge-drinking peers.
What this means, say investigators, is that on campuses where binge drinking is a problem, those students who are white, wealthy, straight, male, or fraternity-initiated are much more prone to drink in excess of four to five drinks at a pop than those who are poorer, non-white, female, gay, or unconnected to the frat system.
Higher-status students were also found to be consistently happier with their college social life than lower-status students.
"The study reveals that if you want to understand college binge drinking, you need to understand that college students are reacting to the local campus social situation," said study lead author Carolyn Hsu, an associate professor of sociology and chair in the department of sociology and anthropology at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. "[And] on campuses with a persistently high level of binge drinking, students engage in binge drinking because binge drinking is associated with high status and with social satisfaction."

My take on this is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Young folks have been getting drunk since the discovery of the fermentation process. Today more women are drinking to excess and overall there does seem to be more open admission of excess drinking. But the social pressure to drink up and have a good time has always been there.

The part of the study that I find interesting is the implication that binge drinking = happiness. First of all, what is binge drinking? In this study binge drinking was defined as:

“Drinking four drinks (for women) or five drinks (for men) during a single session at least once within a two-week period. Sixty-four percent of study participants qualified as binge drinkers.”

I’m not sure what the real definition of binge drinking should be, but this one is questionable. Increase the volume by 50% and make it at least a once a week event and you get to belly up to the bar of true binge drinking. Spend some time there and you will find that happiness begins to fade away very quickly.

As for happiness, if being part of the “right crowd” and having the “right friends” makes one happy, then I would agree that many of those who like to party are happy at this point in their lives. There are probably a lot of other factors involved such as money and good looks. But, any way you slice it, this is happiness at its most shallow and superficial level. And it also fades away very quickly.

The real tragedy of the headline: “College Students Who Binge Drink Say They're Happier” is the message that if you want to be happier, just drink a lot of alcohol. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For the record, I am not a teetotaler by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy a few beers or a couple of cocktails and indulge accordingly on a regular basis. But, in my younger days, I did my share of binge drinking; major league, all-star binge drinking. And it wasn’t good and it did not make me or anyone around me happy. Physically, mentally, spiritually...too much alcohol is not good for anyone and it’s deadly for some.

Thankfully, I am one of the lucky ones who learned when to say when. I am also one of the lucky ones who never got a DUI or thrown in jail, although I could have been and probably should have been. But I did say and do a lot of things that wrecked more than a few relationships. In the end, nothing good comes from drinking too much. It’s a shame that one of the headlines of the week suggest otherwise.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Simple Solution

“No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.” – George Bernard Shaw

In the past I’ve written about our nation’s debt crisis and the inability of our so-called leaders to do anything about it. One side doesn’t want to pay more taxes and the other side doesn’t want to cut spending. Both sides better get ready to be unhappy because we need to do both and we need to do it quickly. Doing something quickly is yet another issue. When the politicians talk about doing something, it’s reforming the tax code or drastically reducing one program, but not another one…gore his ox, not mine. Nothing gets done. Even when they put a gun to their own heads, no one can pull the trigger. (Does anyone really think that $109 billion mandated sequester cuts will happen in January 2013? Or that the Bush tax cuts will not be extended?)

Paul Ryan, the newly announced Republican VP candidate, has published his “Path To Prosperity” budget and it contains some worthwhile proposals. But, it’s overly ambitious and too partisan. Regardless of who gets elected, we’ll be debating someone’s “path” for the next four years. And we’ll just keep on digging the hole as long as the Chinese and others are willing to finance the shovels.

So I say let’s keep it simple and get things moving in the right direction, right now. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be the ultimate, end-all program. Here are three of the biggest issues:

1) Our cumulative National Debt is equal to and about to surpass our annual GDP. And most of the growth has occurred over the past 10 years due to increased spending, lower tax rates and a floundering economy. We are at a tipping point and on a trajectory that is unsustainable.
2) Each year we spend more than we take in. In recent years annual tax revenues have been over $1 trillion less than expenditures. But with the soft economy it is very risky to balance the budget immediately. Even if the economy were stronger, extreme increases in taxes or extreme cuts in federal spending would put us at risk of recession.
3) We have a huge unfunded liability associated with Social Security and essentially what amounts to the same thing with Medicare.

I’m not even going to get into the actual numbers…I’ve done that before and it makes my head hurt. I’m just going to layout a basic framework for addressing these problems.

Let’s admit it. We are addicted to over-spending and will need years to wean off of it and get to a balanced budget. Once we get to a balanced budget, we must start chipping away at the national debt. We have to get it down to a more reasonable level, such as no more than 40% of GDP (as a point of reference we’re about $10 Trillion over that today). It may take years to get it done, but getting started now is critical.

We have got a big mountain to climb because once we get the National Debt down to a manageable level we must address funding for Social Security and Medicare. I propose that we take the money we were using to pay down the debt plus some portion of any surplus and begin providing for the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare. We’re in big trouble on this one and probably too far in the hole to get out of it within the lifetime of anyone born prior to 2000. But we can make a dent in it and hang on until demographics, policy changes and economic growth catch up.

What are the specifics?

1) Immediately impose a debt reduction tax surcharge across the board on all individuals and corporations. Don’t change the tax codes and go through all of that crap. Just whatever your tax burden is, it goes up by X-percent. This addresses the need for more revenue. We can rewrite the tax code later when we have more time and more fiscal breathing room. (I recommend that the X-percent be applied to taxable income and the adjusted total is then taxed accordingly. No one will be happy which tends to make it very fair IMHO).

2) We start cutting federal spending across the board by X-percent. This means that every program and every federal government paycheck takes a haircut (with the exceptions of social security payments, government pension checks, veteran's quote MC Hammer…”can’t touch this”). If a program ends up truly under-funded, we’ll fix it. There is still enough money in this bloated system to cover real needs. But it starts with across the board cuts. And with the increased revenue from the “debt reduction” charge, the cuts required to balance the budget will be very manageable. (Other than the above noted exceptions, everyone and everything takes a hit. And as noted above, I tend to think that makes it all the more fair).

3) Debt reduction becomes part of the budget. So going forward with our new balanced budget, it should include a line item for reducing the national debt (at least $100 billion annually). If we have a surplus in some years, half of that goes toward paying off the debt and the other half to a “rainy day fund”. At some point (which may be 10 or even 15 years from now) we’ll have the debt down to less than 40% of GDP. Then we can start putting the $100 billion along with one half of the surplus toward unfunded liabilities.

4) The law we pass balancing the budget and capping federal debt as a % of GDP should include “kickers” for extreme circumstances, i.e. war or a severe economic depression. These overspend “kickers” must be passed by a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate. Annual budgets, by law, must be balanced. If during war or a down economic cycle, there is not enough in the “rainy day fund” and we need to overspend; it is treated as borrowed funds and the principle and interest payments go into future budgets. And remember, it must be approved by a 2/3 majority. And it’s only good for one year. Need to do it again next year? Vote on it. No longer do we just casually pass “spending programs” to stimulate the economy or do anything without paying for it today or within a reasonable period of time.

5) Push back the age at which people become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. It has to be done. So just do it. If no one wants to pick the “born after” date that will determine who is impacted, then have a drawing. There is a birth year window of 10 or 15 years that probably makes sense. For example, how about 1965-1975? Let’s say that the luck of the draw turns up so that those born in 1970 or later have to wait 5 years longer to get their benefits. Good for those born in 1969 or earlier, tough luck for everyone else. But we have to take the step.

How much is enough? How much is the X-percent debt reduction charge and how much is the X-percent spending cut? To avoid quibbling about it, I suggest that we get equal amounts from revenue increases and spending decreases. The maximum for both combined is probably around 3% of GDP, or about $500 billion based on our current GDP. But we cannot start out too aggressively. It would take tax increases and spending cuts in the 7-8% range to hit $500 billion. We will have to settle for much less for now. Major tax increases and/or major spending cuts would cripple the economy. Start with baby steps. Increase taxes by 2% and cut spending by 2% in 2013. Then keep ratcheting up the tax increases and spending cuts annually until we get our fiscal house in order.

Establishing a long-term, legislated program to reduce our debt and address the eligibility age for and funding of Social Security and Medicare would actually jump-start our economy. I think it is likely that we could achieve 4-6% annual growth in GDP once we’ve made the commitment to stop digging the fiscal hole. With strong GDP growth we could hit our debt reduction goals even faster, much faster. Growth covers a multitude of problems. Add $10 trillion to our GDP along with a balanced budget and our national debt/unfunded liability burdens become much more manageable.

Washington has become too dysfunctional and our government too large and too complex. Even if members of Congress were willing to work together, I don’t think we have time for them to untangle this mess and try to fix it one program, or one agency, or one department at a time. No question that, at some point, we need to put every program under the microscope. No question that we need to simplify our tax code. But, today our Rome is burning and the fiddle is already in the fire. We need to act now with a relatively simple program that is easily understood and can be quickly implemented. The pain will be shared by all. We need to lose a lot of weight and a strict diet is required, but it can still be a healthy diet. We just need to get started on it sooner rather than later.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Barney and Me

"The misery of keeping a dog is his dying so soon. But, to be sure, if he lived for fifty years and then died, what would become of me?" – (Sir Walter Scott)

If you haven’t seen the photo of the guy in the water holding his old, arthritic dog; you just weren’t paying attention. And the story that goes with the photo inspires and at the same time breaks your heart.

If you’re a dog person, or just a human being with a heart, you can’t look at that photo and not get a lump in your throat. It really hit me. We have dogs, two very friendly Bichons, Dillon and Boudreaux. They are amusing little guys, low maintenance and great house pets. But once upon a time, we had a real dog. His name was Barney and he was an English Springer Spaniel. The best dog ever. He moved all over the country with us and could handle just about anything or anyone. He was smart, loyal, gentle and absolutely fearless.

Not counting my wife, he was my best friend. But when he died I wasn’t there. Why I wasn’t there is another story and it will be someone else’s to tell someday when I’m not around. But I wasn’t there when he took that long, last ride to the vet. Thankfully my wife was there and to this day she cannot stand to watch the similar scene as it plays out in the movie Marley and Me.

Maybe it was for the best that I wasn’t there. I just don’t know. But I do believe that our dogs will be there for us when we get to heaven. And they will come running to greet us and not only love us, but forgive us for taking so long to get there. (Hell, I can’t even write this post without crying.)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thanks For Wasting My Time (Part 4)

Some weeks back I started this series on the most significant “time wasters” we face in the headhunting business:

_The Client does not really know what they want.
_The Client is not willing to pay for what they want.
_The Client has too many people involved in the process.

This week, I’ll wrap things up with a few comments about the “too many people involved” time waster. This has actually become the Number 1 Time Waster because it usually comes into play late in the process. Most of the time we can tell when a client doesn’t know what they want or knows what they want but aren’t willing to pay for it BEFORE we get in too deep. But when it comes to getting “too many people involved” in the interviewing and hiring process; this deal-killing, time-waster usually doesn’t show up until the final interview. If you’ve ever been in sales, you also know this as the “hidden decision maker(s)”.

Anytime we take a search assignment we always ask who will be involved in the interview process and who will make the hiring decision. Most of the time what we are told is not the way things ultimately play out. The reality is that when it comes time for the “final round of interviews”, many organizations grab whoever is available to interview the candidate. So we not only end up with too many people, we often end up with the wrong people. Three things can happen and two of them are bad. The good outcome is that the interviewers all like the candidate and the candidate is still interested in the job after running the interview gauntlet. The two bad outcomes are that one or more of the interviewers doesn’t like the candidate; or that the candidate gets turned off on the opportunity after interviewing with people who weren’t really “invested” in filling the position or may even be downright opposed to seeing the position filled by an “outsider”.

Another factor here is that increasingly we see companies essentially “hire by committee”. I agree that candidates need to be interviewed by multiple people. It’s good for the candidate as well as for the company. But they need to be the “right people” and they need to ask the “right questions”. And when the interviews are completed, all of those involved need to get together at the same time and make their case for or against hiring the candidate. (Some people will disagree with this approach and prefer to have the hiring authority or HR gather the interviewers' feedback one by one. In my opinion, if the interviewers cannot collectively discuss the interview results, then you've got the wrong people involved in the process.) And if the decision is not to hire, the search firm must be told the reasons for that decision. (Of course, whether or not those reasons are shared with the candidate is a matter of judgment and discretion, not to mention legal liability.)

Unfortunately, many companies do not have a good interview process. And it doesn’t improve if you just keep adding more people to the process. It gets progressively worse. As a result, too often the interviewer with the loudest voice (position and/or influence with the willingness to use them) ends up making the decision, not the hiring authority or even the hiring authority and their team. And in the current business environment where people get more blame for doing something that doesn’t work than for doing nothing that doesn’t work, it is much safer to not hire if there is even one dissenting opinion. So the more people involved in the process, the more likely that someone, for whatever reason is likely to say no, or maybe just “yea but”, and kill the deal.

As a headhunter all you can do is ask the questions up front, see what happens and learn from experience. It would be great if all searches were done on a retainer or we simply got paid by the hour. Then the time wasters might be less inclined to waste our time since they would also be wasting their money. But as long as there are enough idiots like me out there who are willing to work on contingency, I am afraid that the time wasters will keep doing business as usual.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shootings and Sanctions

Decided to take a break from writing the final installment of the “Thanks For Wasting My Time” series. The Colorado shootings and the latest from Happy Valley deserve some attention. There are old posts out there related to both subjects: “Happy Valley” (Nov 10, 2011) and “Why Are We Shocked” (Jan 15, 2011).

“Why Are We Shocked” was written after the Giffords/Tucson shootings. I closed with these words:

“Why are we shocked when a mentally ill person commits a violent crime? Why are we shocked when we find out that a violent act was committed by someone “under the influence”? Why are we shocked that someone did not do something sooner when all the signs were there? Why are we shocked? BECAUSE WE CANNOT FACE REALITY. We cannot face the reality of a problem that is so huge and so unmanageable, that we know it will happen again. So we pacify ourselves by agreeing to “tone down the rhetoric”, to engage in “more civil discourse”, to be nice and respectful, to not use violent metaphors as we compete in politics, sports and commerce. We agree to tip-toe through the crazies and pray that we are not their next target. Why are we shocked?”

Considering this latest incident, I can only say that WE MUST FACE REALITY. While a nutjob like this guy in Colorado might have hit the theater with homemade explosives had he not had guns, the REALITY IS that he did have guns…automatic weapons capable of firing a lot of rounds really fast. Thankfully, his assault rifle jammed or more people would likely have died. The REALITY is that we don’t need people owning these types of weapons. I have guns…revolvers, shotguns and bolt-action rifles. I usually hit what I’m aiming at and I don’t need extra firepower for sport or self-defense. It’s just too easy for any fool to purchase guns that are designed to spray massive amounts of lead in seconds. I know…Guns don’t kill people, people do. It’s just that some guns enable people to kill more than they might otherwise be able to do. Let’s at least address this issue. Will it completely stop crazy people from going on a rampage? No, but it will take some weapons out of their hands.

Then there is Penn State. Other than a few blindly loyal Penn State supporters, I may be the only person in America who thinks the NCAA sanctions were overkill and inappropriate. Here is the REALITY. A terrible and horrific crime has been committed. The guilty parties will be punished if not in criminal court, certainly in civil court. The saddest reality is that victims can never be made whole and their lives are forever ruined. Nothing can make up for that. But they will ultimately receive significant compensatory damages that will do a lot more for them and their families than any sanctions imposed by the NCAA. The reality is that the NCAA should have stayed out of it. But they caved in to public opinion and media pressure. If Penn State chooses to take down Joe Pa’s statue, it’s probably the right call and certainly theirs to make. Should the NCAA have taken away Penn State’s wins from 1998-2011? Taken away scholarships, no bowl games for four years? I’m not so sure. It has symbolic value and perhaps a victim somewhere feels better for it. But, in my opinion, it’s more about the NCAA trying to make the NCAA look good. And we can only hope that some judge or jury in a future civil litigation will not reduce a victim’s award because “poor Penn State has already paid so dearly.”

Penn State is suffering and will suffer for many years. I said back in November, that because Penn State chose to look the other way their “recovery will be long and painful and, perhaps never totally complete.” That certainly appears to be the case. But let’s hope it’s not just because their football team will be less competitive for a few years under the NCAA sanctions. I think Paterno, his coaching staff, the leadership at Penn State and countless others in the community including law enforcement officers were uncomfortable with Sandusky and his relationships with the boys in the Second Mile Foundation. But like a family protecting one of its own, they chose to believe the best about Sandusky and the worst about the boys and the parents who expressed fear and concern over Sandusky’s behavior. In the light of day and with all of the facts in the open, it’s clear that Sandusky was not just being given the benefit of doubt; but that the people around him were deliberately deaf, dumb and blind in not recognizing what he was up to. They should and will face the full measure of legal consequences for their failure to act. But when it comes to the sanctions, the NCAA should have punted.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thanks For Wasting My Time (Part 3)

Last week we wrote about how often clients really aren’t sure what they want. Even if they have a job description it may not go beyond outlining broad areas of responsibility, basic qualifications and a compensation range. This week we’ll look at those clients who know what they want (or eventually figure it out), but aren’t willing to pay for it.

The Number One reason why clients are not willing to pay for what they want is that they cannot make it work within their existing compensation structure. Called “salary compression”, it boils down to this…it creates a lot of problems if a company brings in people from outside and pays them more than they pay their existing employees. Even if the company creates a new job level and title to justify the difference, employees soon figure out that the new hire is basically doing the same job they are doing and getting paid a lot more to do it. But isn’t compensation information confidential? How would they know? People talk. They will find out. They always find out.

So if the client cannot “afford” to hire the talent they really need without upsetting their current employees; what do they do? They call the “headhunter genie” who can surely find A+ talent for B- compensation. That’s why our fees are so outrageous, isn’t it?(No, actually our fees are what they are for a variety of reasons. Come to think of it, that’s a great subject...think I’ll write about it when I finish this series).

The reality is that there is no free lunch, there is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny and Elvis is way dead. A headhunter may well find you A+ talent for something less than A+ compensation, but likely it won’t be much less and don’t expect more than one or two candidates. Compensation tends to find its competitive equilibrium. Unrealistic expectations with regard to compensation, whether the client’s or the candidate’s, is always a red flag for headhunters. When it is clear that the client is unwilling to step up to the required level of compensation, we only have two options: walk away from the search assignment or convince the client to lower their expectations.

The second reason that some clients are not willing to pay for what they want is that they are just cheap. Add patience along with tough negotiating skills and you are in for a long, painful search assignment. Some companies just operate that way, especially in the transportation and logistics markets. It’s a thin margin business where companies are fighting for fractions of pennies. A company cannot afford to overpay for anything and they are always shopping for the best deal. I get that and I’m ok with working under those conditions, up to a point. If the client is way too cheap and way too picky, it's just not worth it.

As noted above, our fees also play a factor. Most companies hate to use a search firm. They think our fees are too high and they should be able to find people without using us. So when they do resort to using us, they try to rationalize it by either going low on compensation or high on candidate requirements. Many times, after we’ve worked a search for weeks trying to find that perfect candidate at the right price, the client will hire someone on their own or promote from within. The person they end up hiring will meet few of the requirements we were given. But the client did not have to pay a fee.

Buying talent on the cheap is not a good long-term strategy. I understand the “salary compression” issue. Some of our clients are in low-cost markets or markets where there is a large supply of talent. They have been able to build a high-performing organization while maintaining a very conservative approach to compensation. If they have to go outside and hire, it’s tough. Usually we end up striking a balance between job requirements and compensation. Ultimately we may have to find a candidate who has other reasons for wanting to join that company in that location. It’s not always all about the money.

But if a company is consistently hiring on the cheap relative to their competition, watch out. These tend to be the ultimate time-wasters and search firms do neither themselves nor their candidates any favors by working with such companies.

Next time we’ll look at perhaps the mother of all time wasters…too many people involved in the hiring process.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thanks For Wasting My Time (Part 2)

Now we get to the biggie when it comes to delays and indecision in the search process…The Client (aka The Employer, The Company, The Hiring Authority.) If you want to know where job searches go to die, just follow some companies through their interview and hiring process. What you will see are missed interviews, rescheduled interviews, changing job requirements, low-ball salary offers and poor communication within the organization and with the candidate/search firm. You will likely see a lot more, but when you boil it all down the problems are related to three major issues:

_The Client does not really know what they want.
_The Client is not willing to pay for what they want.
_The Client has too many people involved in the process.

Each of these issues has multiple “issues” of their own, but we see common themes across many different organizations.

So why would a Client not really know what they want? First it’s worth noting that many clients know exactly what they want and are consistent throughout the search process. Headhunters enjoy working for these clients and give them priority. But a significant number of clients either don’t know what they want or change their minds as the search progresses. Headhunters can be slow learners at times, but eventually they figure out who these clients are and work with them accordingly.

And then there are job descriptions. The client will say that if you are a capable search firm, their job description contains all you should need to know about the position. Unfortunately, most job descriptions are too general, too “HR-ish” and too “buzz-worded”. Best case they may provide a first level filter for sifting through candidates. When it gets down to interviewing and making critical decisions, the Client may still not really know what they need from the position. So they hire the candidate “everyone felt good about”. Which often means they end up hiring a great candidate but for the wrong job.

So for the search firm; dealing with a Client who does not know what they want becomes a process of Q&A, investigation and what-if’s. If we are fortunate enough to be dealing with the ultimate hiring authority and decision-maker, we may be successful. But if we are dealing with HR or a hiring authority that really doesn’t have much authority and is not THE decision-maker, the odds of success go down considerably. And the time investment necessarily goes up. We end up playing show and tell with a variety of candidates; and usually not the highest quality, under-the-radar candidates who tend to resist being “demo-ed” for poorly defined job opportunities. If we take on this type of search, we can only hope that we are not facing either of the other two hurdles.

Next week we’ll take on “The Client is not willing to pay for what they want”.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thanks For Wasting My Time

“You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes…well, you might find,
You get what you need.”
-The Rolling Stones

Back in late May I wrote about the problems we are having with delays and indecision in the search process. After taking a break to write about WWOOF, I am now back on task.
As noted back in May, we are having “issues” with candidates as well as clients. So this week, I am focusing on the candidate side.

I think there are four major factors which are making it difficult for candidates to make a decision regarding a job change these days:

_Job Security
_Compensation & Benefits

We work primarily with mid-career professionals. These are folks who have been around the industry for at least ten years and in many cases twenty+ years. They have been through the good times and the bad times. They know that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Job security is important to them. They have either had a bad experience with a job change or know someone who has. So even though they may be unhappy in their current situation, the fear of making a job change will keep them from pulling the trigger.

However, their fear doesn’t keep them from “kicking the tires” on new job opportunities. And with the easy access to information via company websites, job boards and social networks, we are seeing more of these “tire kickers” testing the water via search firms. It’s a low risk way for them to test the market and “just see what’s out there.” Many of them will even pursue an opportunity, interview and go all the way to an offer before finally deciding that they are better off staying put. Thanks for wasting my time. The challenge for the search firm is figuring out up front how motivated the candidate is to actually make a job change and what are they really looking for.

Relocation is obviously a huge issue. Most of our placements involve moving, so we have a lot of relocation wounds and battle scars. It’s always been an issue, but the collapse of the housing market has elevated it to an insurmountable hurdle for many candidates. The trap for recruiters is that a lot of candidates don’t want to admit it until they have an offer in hand. The recruiter really needs to go through a “relocation reality check” early on in the process. If the candidate is financially upside down on their house, his or her spouse has an established career that would be disturbed by relocation, the kids are in great schools and at “that critical point” of social, educational and extra-curricular activity involvement and development; it is highly unlikely that any job offer will be compelling enough to get that family to move.

But, if the candidate is unhappy enough (or perhaps even unemployed), they will pursue an opportunity. The family may even say, “Yes, we will move if it’s the right thing to do,” all the while lighting candles and keeping their fingers crossed that they will not have to make that decision. But then, after much time and many interviews, an offer finally comes down. And when faced with the decision for real, they just can’t do it.
Thanks for wasting my time.

Pay and benefits have always been an issue and even more so these days. First of all, companies are under the misconception that there are so many unemployed and/or under-employed, qualified candidates on the market that they don’t need to make strong offers.
There are many other issues involving “low offers” which I will address in the next blog about the client’s role in delaying and/or de-railing the placement process. But for a variety of reasons, too often we are forced to present less than stellar offers to candidates. Add that to the candidate’s concerns about job security and barriers to relocation, and it makes it easy for the candidate to “just say no”. Thanks for wasting my time.

And then there is “Ennui”. (I always wanted to use that word in my blog.) It’s French for having a sense of boredom, listlessness or dissatisfaction. And I think it plays a significant role in the difficulty candidates seem to have in making a job change decision.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell, there are a lot of candidates who are unhappy in their career. But it’s not about their company; it’s about the career they have chosen. What they really want is a different career path, but they have so many years invested in logistics that they can’t afford to get completely out of the industry. Thus we see the sales person who wants to “move to the other side of the desk” and become a “supply chain manager” on the “shipper side”. Or the operations person, who is burned out on the grind and thinks they would make a great sales person (play golf, enjoy long leisurely lunches, drink a lot and work from a home office…come to think of it, that sounds a lot like headhunting…but I digress.)

My point is that unhappy candidates who want to make a significant career change are not good candidates for a search firm. Clients engage us to find candidates who have certain qualifications and accomplishments to fill a specific need within their organization. We are headhunters, not life coaches. I don’t mind giving advice to a candidate, but I do mind spending hours interviewing, evaluating, prepping for and debriefing from client interviews, convincing the client that this is the “right candidate, negotiating a great offer; finally getting to first and goal on the one yard line, only to have the candidate tell me that he really doesn’t want to play the game anymore. He wants to do something different; a job that is more rewarding, more fulfilling. Isn’t that special? Thanks for wasting my time.

Next week, I’ll write about how clients waste my time (unless I find something more interesting to write about…).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I took a few days off last week and traveled to the “Outback” of Far West Texas. It’s a region that includes Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and has been the location for some of my favorite movies, most notably Giant and Fandango. I’ve been there before and should know better than to go after May 1 or before October 1, as the region is also part of what is known as the Chihuahuan Desert, except it’s not in Chihuahua (yet).

I could write about a lot of stuff related to the trip and to the region and may do so in the future. But, this week I think I’ll limit it to one subject…Wwoofing. I guess I’m just out of touch. I had no clue about Wwoofing. But, if you go far enough off of “the grid” you run across such things. First, you need to understand that those who visit Far West Texas are very different from those who live there. Those who visit are tourists who leave their money and wonder how anyone could live there year-round. Those who live there take the money and wonder why anyone would go there for vacation. And most of those who live there only use first names. This is either because they are so stoned they’ve forgotten their last names or they are in the federal witness protection program.

At any rate, a number of these desert inhabitants are in effect old hippies. Some are life-time hippies and some are retired folks who finally got to be hippies (they prefer survivalists) when they no longer needed real jobs to support themselves. And some are Wwoofers. Wwoofers are the new generation of hippie/hiker/hobos who roam from place to place exchanging organic farm labor for room and board. WWOOF is the acronym for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. As noted on their website

“WWOOF farms offer a variety of educational opportunities, including growing vegetables, keeping bees, building straw bale houses, working with animals, making wine, and much more…..One-half day of volunteer help is traded for food and accommodation, with no money exchanged. This is not paid work on farms, it is an exchange of education and culture…Any farm, community, or garden project that is willing to host and accommodate volunteers can participate in our program. “

So if you are willing to join this grassroots organization, you too can become a Wwoofer or a Wwoofee. Wwoofing in Far West Texas can’t be easy. I don’t think the Mexican drug cartels support free market capitalism, so I suppose these folks are growing legal herbs and vegetables, raising goats and trying to grow grapes. Lord knows how they get enough water. But based on what I saw, what they do find is not wasted on baths and showers.

I actually had a conversation with a Wwoofer. This guy was in his early 30’s, originally from Berkeley CA (of course) and Hispanic. He was working his way to Costa Rica. In addition to Wwoofing he also had a part-time job at one of the local high-end restaurants. (Which meant that he actually did take a bath now and then. And yes, there are high-end restaurants in the “Outback”. Champagne, caviar and calf-fries.). The next leg of his journey was going due south into Mexico. He had reservations at a friend’s WWOOF farm/hostel/commune located somewhere near Durango. He already had three burros lined up and he was going to take the overland route. I said something about “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” and “no stinking badges” and he nodded and grinned replying “Blazing Saddles…cool”. I just said, “Yeah that too.”

Burros? Seriously? I asked if he was concerned about the drug cartels and other banditos he might encounter along the way. He said no worries; they could tell he didn’t have anything worth stealing. I noted that three burros elevated him to middle class status in that part of Mexico and even if they didn’t value the burros they might just shoot him for being stupid. He laughed and replied that it was something he had always wanted to do. He had been drifting around the States for almost a decade and was ready for a new adventure.

I don’t know if this guy was legit or not. He may be some local who grew up in Presidio and has never been farther away from home than Fort Stockton, but this had the makings of a great story. He said he was keeping a diary. If all went well, he would settle down in Costa Rica and open an organic vegetarian restaurant. I wished him well and urged him to “dream big and think franchising”.

My wife concluded that this guy was just a hustler, probably a switch-hitting male prostitute and that all this Wwoofing talk was bullshit. (Even after I looked up the WWOOF website, she still holds tight to the belief that he was trying to hustle or sell something other than key lime pie.) Maybe she is right, but I hope he makes it to Durango with his three burros and his diary and eventually gets to live out his dream in Costa Rica. I can’t wait to read the book.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

____ or Get Off The Pot

“You don't make spending decisions, investment decisions, hiring decisions, or whether-you're-going-to-look-for-a-job decisions when you don't know what's going to happen.”
Michael Bloomberg

The good news is that we are working a lot of searches these days. The bad news is that a lot of these searches seem to go on forever. I’ve been in the headhunting business for over 10 years and spent 25 years in the transportation industry. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen it take longer for people to make a decision when it comes to extending or accepting a job offer. It’s crazy.

I met with the owner of a company a few weeks ago. Most of his management team was in the meeting. The owner was excited about filling this key position and was raring to go. He asked me how quickly we could move on it. I told him that we would have a least two highly qualified candidates within a week. Based on the job specs, I knew that I had at least three or four candidates (probably more) who were ready to make a move and would be interested in this opportunity.

I also looked the owner in the eye and then glanced around at his management team and said, “As long as you folks respond to our candidate submissions, interview them or tell me why you won’t, we can complete this search in a matter of weeks, not months. But what we’re seeing is that most organizations are taking 2 or 3 weeks just to schedule the first phone interviews and if there are multiple candidates involved, we burn 4 to 6 weeks just getting to the point where there is an in-person interview.”

Well, you can guess the rest of the story…although we submitted two dead-on point candidates within 48 hours; we will be three weeks along before the first telephone interviews occur. The owner has handed the process off to a couple of his key people and I’m sure that he will call me in a week or two wanting to know what’s going on, why haven’t we found someone yet. This call will be after his people have thrown me under the bus. I’ll end up sending the owner date-stamped copies of our candidate submissions, his people will get pissed at me and then go about picking the candidates apart in such away that the owner will ultimately conclude that they need to find another search firm. (We know that’s how it works, because sometimes we are “the other search firm”. Anytime a company comes to us bitching about another firm and we know that firm to be competent and capable, big red flags go up. The problem is nearly always the client, not the search firm.)

And we are seeing almost as many delays and stop-starts on the candidate side. It’s not unusual to submit candidates who say they are motivated to make a job change, only to have them bail out before the first interview. And certainly, we are seeing candidates turn down offers or even worse accept offers then later change their minds.

While I agree with Mayor Bloomberg, quoted above, that uncertainty has a lot to do with the struggle to make decisions, I think there are other more fundamental issues here. Some are specific to the transportation and logistics market while others are in play regardless of the industry segment. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about the delays and difficulties we are seeing with clients and candidates, how they impact the search process and ultimately what it means to their relationship with the search firm.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Study This

The headline reads: “This Is Not a Joke. Government Issues a Study of a Study About Studies.”

It gets worse. This does not involve the EPA or Education or Welfare or even the Treasury. It’s the freakin’ Pentagon and the story goes like this:

“The Pentagon was inundated with so many studies in 2010 that it commissioned a study to determine how much it cost to produce all those studies.
Now the Government Accountability Office has reviewed the Pentagon’s study and concluded in a report this week that it’s a flop.
The study of a study of studies began in 2010 when Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained that his department was “awash in taskings for reports and studies.” He wanted to know how much they cost.
Two years later, the Pentagon review is still continuing, which prompted Congress to ask the GAO to look over the Pentagon’s shoulder. What they found lacked military precision.
The GAO found only nine studies that had been scrutinized by the Pentagon review, but the military was unable to “readily retrieve documentation” for six of the reports.
The Department of Defense’s “approach is not fully consistent with relevant cost estimating best practices and cost accounting standards,” the GAO concluded. In fact, they often did not include items like manpower, the report found.
The Pentagon “partially concurs” with the GAO’s report.
The cost of the study of the study of the studies was not available from the GAO.”

This is crazy. But it has to be true, because you just can’t make up stuff like this. I have concluded that our entire government and all of its agencies are in effect run by consultants who think they have an unlimited budget. In this case, Defense Secretary Gates knew there were a lot of reports and studies being done by his department. But instead of addressing the problem, he wanted to study it. And the first step in studying it was to find out how much it was costing. Either Gates wanted to make a case for reducing the volume of reports and studies or he wanted to justify increasing his budget to cover the cost of reports and studies. Or maybe Gates was just fed up and wanted to make a point before handing the keys over to Leon Panetta and leaving the building. Given that he was a Republican and a holdover from the Bush administration, my guess is that the Obama administration really did have him buried in requests for more and more information. That’s not a slam on Obama, it’s just the way politics work and it’s what happens when a new party takes over. There’s no telling how much money is spent on the information gathering process when there is a change in the White House.

When it was all said and done, the study of the study of the studies was inconclusive. We got very little out of it other than the DOD doesn’t know how to study a study of studies. We also got another example of what’s wrong with too much government having too much money AND being overly politicized. The barrage of information requests that hit Secretary Gates was all about a new administration wanting to not just cover all the bases, but to also cover their ass (CYA) and, if in the process, something turns up that might embarrass the prior administration and the other party, all the better.

In business, we also see the CYA project in operation when a new leadership team takes over an organization. I hear it all the time from newly placed executives. “You would not believe what these guys were doing”. “I don’t know how they stayed in business.” “It’s going to take a lot longer to fix this mess than I expected.” … and on it goes.
But where business differs from politics, is that the CYA/Blame The Other guy effort is just a sideshow, not the main event. When it’s all said and done, business leaders know that they must produce even after resetting expectations and making sure everyone knows what a screwed up mess they inherited. When business leaders continue to put all their energy into playing CYA/Blame The Other Guy, they soon become “the other guy”. They don’t stick around long. Ultimately, shareholders demand results, not excuses.

Citizens also demand results from their government. The problem is that we can’t agree on what those results should look like. In business, there may be some disagreement about strategy and financial objectives, but there is usually agreement about the general concepts of profitability and return on investment. The same cannot be said of our fellow Americans’ expectations of their government. To make matters worse, we essentially have only two flavors of government to choose from which further polarizes the nation.
And those “two flavors” are for the most part bought and paid for by special interests groups. Is this a great country or what?

So we end up in three camps (D’s, R’s and I’s) with two choices (D or R). Every two years we stir the full pot in the House and parts of the pot in the Senate. Every four years we stir the big Presidential pot along with all of the other pots. The politicians continue to play the CYA/Blame The Other Guy game and prepare for the next election. As long as we cannot agree on what we want from government, this is the game that will define the winners and losers in politics. There is no “hope” for “change” unless we change the game.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

To Read The Resume or Not To Read The Resume

Recently this little nugget found its way to my inbox:

Job recruitment website The Ladders conducted a formal survey of job recruiters using eye-tracking technology to figure out what matters most on your resume. Over the course of ten weeks, actual job recruiters' eye movements were measured as they looked through resumes and online profiles, creating visual heat maps. This allowed researchers to determine how long recruiters spent studying which aspects of resumes, and just as importantly, what content was largely ignored.
A key finding of the study: Recruiters spend nearly 80% of their time focusing on six different areas of a resume. These most-important aspects are:
• your name
• current title/company
• previous title/company
• current position start and end dates
• previous position start and end dates
• education
On average, recruiters spent six seconds sizing up these aspects to make the initial decision on whether to trash your resume or consider you for the position. The study also found that visual features such as pictures, graphs, and ads (on employment-related sites like LinkedIn) are distracting, eating up precious time and reducing the recruiter's decision-making ability.

Assuming I’ve had an adequate amount of caffeine, I can read six items such as these in six seconds. (Or maybe they meant six seconds per item, I can definitely do that…even without caffeine). However, I choose not to read resumes in this fashion. As a headhunter, which is sort of like a “job recruiter” only better, I have a real quick draw when it comes to shooting resumes. I don’t need to look at these six items or any six items to tell if I’m interested. I specialize in recruiting experienced management and executive level talent for transportation, logistics and supply chain management organizations. If you aren’t an experienced manager or executive in transportation, logistics or supply chain management, I don’t need to know your name, where you went to school or anything else. That may seem rude and insensitive, but that’s just the way it is. I look at your current title/company. 99% of the time, that tells me whether or not I want to read more. If it does not, then I look at your previous title and company. If the light does not come on for me at that point, then we’re done.

Thankfully, most of the resumes I receive are from experienced managers and executives who work in transportation, logistics or supply chain management. And after my quick glance to confirm that fact, I tend to spend a lot more than a few seconds reading a resume. The first thing I focus on is work history and the frequency of job changes. If there have been a lot of job changes, I want to know why. We frequently ask candidates to fill out a questionnaire that addresses issues which are generally not covered on the resume. Job changes and the reasons for those changes are a key part of that questionnaire.

The second thing I look at is “career progression”. Whether within the same organization or as the candidate has changed companies, the key question is: Are they moving up, moving down or just moving sideways? And progression is not just job titles. A VP in a small operation may be the equivalent of an Operations Manager in a much larger operation. Experienced headhunters who specialize in particular industries recognize and appreciate the differences between companies and how those differences translate into job titles.

The third thing I look for are responsibilities and accomplishments. I want to know the size and scope of your responsibilities and the more these are expressed in measurables the better. How much revenue, how many direct reports, what size budget, how many locations, etc etc ? Then more importantly, what did you accomplish, what were the results? Grew revenue, lowered costs, improved service, reduced accidents and increased profitability. Positive results will motivate me to interview you. But, be prepared…I will ask HOW you did it. Don’t make up stuff just to load your resume. Headhunters and hiring authorities will want to get “behind” the numbers. They better be real and they better be yours.

So work history, career progression and responsibilities/accomplishments are the big three for me in determining if I should invest time interviewing a candidate. If someone appears to be a dead-on match for an existing job opening, I will likely talk to them even if their resume is “weak” in one or more of these key areas. But regardless of matches with existing openings, if I get a candidate who has a stable work history, a solid record of career progression, has held positions with significant management and/or executive responsibilities and has achieved meaningful business results in those positions, we are going to have a conversation.