Sunday, December 24, 2006

Honest Accounting

Matt Miller wrote in Fortune about a way to make corporate financial results more transparent as well as erode the notion that social benefits, particularly healthcare, should be tied to employment.

Called age-based earnings, it would require companies to calculate the average age of its workforce and put the resulting health insurance and pension liabilities on their balance sheets before figuring out profits.

Some argue that would accelerate the switch to 401(k) plans from pensions. However, that notion has already achieved unstoppable momentum.

The real benefit would be a more realistic picture of a company's future. That's essential to folks who invest their retirment savings in the stock market -- which means just about everyone.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Trembling Fourth Estate

The fact that some news media have decided to call the civil war in Iraq a civil war has been certified as a newsworthy event.

It is as if they are declaring themselves brave to describe the conflict in a way objectionable to the Bush administration. Even at that, some, such as the editor of The New York Times, say they will use the dreaded phrase "sparingly." They consider this a bold move worthy of notice but it demonstrates a subservience to the government and demeans the First Amendment.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stupidity Is No Defense

The Wall Street Journal today chronicles the resignations of two more corporate executives who guaranteed themselves big profits by backdating options grants. This time it was Mark King, CEO of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., and Warren Edwards, the company's CFO.

Edwards lawyer says, "He engaged in no intentional misconduct and acted in good faith at all times in connection with the company's longstanding and historic options granting practices." King’s lawyer says, "He acted at all times in good faith and did not engage in any intentional misconduct."

These lads were running a $5.4 billion corporation. Now they declare they were too dumb or too naïve to understand that backdating option grants is illegal unless fully and promptly disclosed to shareholders.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where's My Raise?

Those who drink alcohol earn 10 percent to 14 percent more at their jobs than nondrinkers, according to a Reason Foundation report by economists Bethany Peters and Edward Stringham. “Social drinking builds social capital,” said Stringham, a San Jose State University economics professor. “Social drinkers are networking, building relationships and adding contacts to their BlackBerries that result in bigger paychecks.”

Men who drink earn 10 percent more than those who don’t, and women drinkers earn 14 percent more than nondrinkers. Men who visit bars at least once per month see an income boost of 7 percent; however, the same is not true for women, according to the study.

-- Staffing Industry Report, Nov. 10, 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What Civil War?

At least 75 corpses have been found in the Baghdad area since Monday morning, authorities said today, most of them bound, riddled with bullets, and showing signs of torture. . . .

In addition, at least five bombs exploded in the capital area, killing at least 14 civilians and 6 policemen, and injuring 23 people.
-- The New York Times

Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war.
-- President George W. Bush

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dennis Hastert in the Private Sector

Let’s say Dennis Hastert is the CEO of a $1 billlion, publicly traded corporation. He is informed that one of his most visible executives is sending “inappropriate” emails to a teenage boy.

Hastert instructs one of his aides to tell the errant executive to stop sending the emails.

Unfortunately, the bad boy exec not only doesn’t stop, but ratchets up the sexual content of the emails. Eventually, some of his missives hit the press and scandal erupts.

Hastert's knowledge of the issue also is reported. The company’s share price tumbles, employee morale plummets, and customers wonder if they want to do business with a company so poorly managed.

Hastert is asked in for a chat with the board.

Chairman: What steps did you take after the admonishment?

Hastert: I assumed that he would obey my instructions.

Chairman: You didn’t speak to him directly, follow up in any way, instruct anyone else to follow up and report back or take any other steps to resolve or monitor this potentially explosive situation.

Hastert: Obviously I was wrong.

Chairman: Yes, Dennis, you were. Please excuse us now because we have a personnel matter to discuss. Keep yourself available.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The End is Near

Starbucks Corp. on Thursday said it plans to eventually have 40,000 stores, raising its previous target by 10,000 locations.
-- The Wall Street Journal

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mark Foley and the GOP

Should we show at least a soupcon of compassion for Mark Foley, disgraced ex-congressman, proto-pederast and, he says, alcoholic? Only on one point, his agonized refusal to admit his homosexuality.

As for the GOP leadership, well, it's hypocrisy of a far more cynical sort.

Basic human compassion for Foley is qualified only because there is no information about whether he ever had sex with boys. Fringe arguments from NAMBLA aside, orientation aside, sex with adolescents is wrong and illegal.

But we shouldn't wait to condemn the House GOP leadership. It knew months ago of Foley's emails and simply brushed away his "inappropriate" writings with a "knock it off." After all, he was a solid conservative vote and a mortal lock for a seventh term.

Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republicans defend their cynicism by saying they knew Foley was acting improperly, but they never saw any emails about "stripping down" or using the word "horny."

Republicans have already lost any claim to fiscal conservatism. Now their conerstone of family values is crumbling. All that's left is their plan to bring God into government. Given their track record, the next scandal will probably involve satanic rituals in the members' cloakroom.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The HP (Wrong) Way

Hewlett-Packard’s image as the Goody Two-shoes of corporate American is in ruins and the company is better for it.

A couple of generations of PR and marketing savants convinced investors, the news media and company employees that Bill and Dave’s management style and ethics, forged when the company was housed in a garage, remained the foundation of the company as it morphed into an $86-billion global behemoth.

The spin rate increased as the scandal developed.

Every time CEO Mark Hurd, former Chairman Patricia Dunn and other directors, executives and their hangers-on opened their mouths about the leak probe, they declared that stealing phone numbers, bugging reporters’ computers, and tailing people violated the lofty standards informing the legendary “HP Way.”

Next came denials they ordered or were aware of the nasty things done on their behalf (the Fifth Amendment of the powerful). Then they accepted ultimate responsibility using hackneyed phrases about ship captains and dollar bills. Finally, they sniffled, “I let the company down.”

Such formulaic and cynical responses demonstrated that the “HP Way” – whatever that was -- left the building long ago.

Now, Dunn says she was dismayed anyone connected with HP would employ allegedly illegal techniques. To date, she’s offered no evidence that she or anyone else referenced ethics and standards before or during the snooping. She fought like a tiger to remain on the board, probably because an unprompted resignation might indicate greater responsibility than she wanted to admit.

Hurd fumbled his response from the beginning. At first he said he was only vaguely aware of the investigation. Then he said he knew a little more than he let on initially but never read the report on the mess. That means he wants us to believe that as the CEO of an $86-billion global corporation he didn’t care much about the details of a probe into market-moving leaks from the boardroom. It's sort of a Ken Lay-lite defense.

The company’s top lawyer resigned and is invoking the Fifth. The company lawyer directly responsible for ethics resigned as has the person who supervised the investigations. HP’s chief outside counsel is hiding behind a PR blitz to position him as the eminence grise of Silicon Valley.

Somebody once or currently connected with HP likely will end up with a felony record. The legal sharks are hungry. All the senior managers and the directors are personally and properly embarrassed.

So what is good about this?

HP's true nature -- no better or worse than any other large organization -- has been revealed. No longer will it have an extra half-ounce of credibility on its side of the scales when problems or questions arise because that weight resulted from an image rather than substance. In short, it will have to work damn hard for a long time to earn the trust of its customers, employees and shareholders.

Which is what Dave and Bill did in the beginning.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lieberman v. Bucy

“If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again.”

-- U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman on his opponent as reported in The New York Times

“The plot to blow up a dozen passenger planes is only the latest evidence that our presence in Iraq has done nothing to affect the plans and aims of terrorists. The orderly pullout proposed by Ned Lamont won’t either.”

-- Bill Bucy as reported on

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Bad, Floyd, Bad

Dear Floyd Landis:
As you know, I was most supportive of your quest to win th Tour de France, lauded your bravery in the face of dsiability, and even praised your humble first name as a symbol of solid American values.

Now I find you're a juicer. You pumped your skinny butt full of testosterone to win the race and disappointed tens of thousands of people who supported you. We now see you as a fake, a liar and a scam artist. All the while we followed you and the race you were lying to us. And for nothing more than to boost your ego and put some bucks in your pocket.

Floyd, I hope you end up selling used buggies to the nice Mennonite people with whom you grew up in Farmersville. Not that you'll be very successful. After all, why should they trust anything you say?

The next time you get on a bike, please remove the seat first.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

An Ethics Quiz for Everyone

An American newspaper reporter and an American photographer join an Iraqi insurgent patrol to report from the rebels' perspective.

As the patrol hikes along the rim of a small ravine, the leader signals to take cover. Just below, 20 U.S. Marines are entering the draw. It's the perfect place for an ambush. Unless the Marines are warned, they face certain death.

What is the reporter's ethical duty in this situation?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Go, Floyd, Go

I like Floyd Landis’ chances of winning the Tour de France.

Even more, I favor the idea of a guy named Floyd winning a major sports event.

There aren't a lot of Floyds around today. According to Floyd is the 798th most popular male name in the United States. It seems to have derived from Old French and means “someone who lives near the forest” or in Old English, “the hollow.”

That makes sense to me. The name Floyd comfortably references a mid-20th Century rural or working class life and raises memories of humorous characters from old TV shows. Remember Floyd the barber on Mayberry RFD? Floyd is a name that says down-to-earth. Floyds are supposed to be just regular guys.

And so is Landis. Born to Mennonite parents in Farmersville, Penn., he’s a grinder who worked his way up in the cycling world, by, well, working. In fact he pushed himself so hard he’s already worn out one hip at age 30 and will get it replaced after the Tour concludes. Physicians and competitors are stunned that he can ride at all. Floyd just shrugs and keeps pushing pedals.

Landis’ image as well as his name contrast sharply with former teammate and cycling uber-star Lance Armstrong. (Lance is #232 on the favorite name list.) Glamorous, controversial and with a great comeback story behind him, Armstrong could be named Todd or Tad or Chip and no one would blink. But I’m willing to bet Sheryl Crow would never have told him C'mon, C'mon if he was dubbed Floyd Armstrong.

I don't denigrate Armstrong's achievements when saying I prefer to cheer on Floyd Landis from Farmersville, a regular guy who worked hard and finally is getting the recognition he’s due.

Go, Floyd, go.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dan Pink on My Job Prospects

I recently interviewed Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Free Agent Nation, two of the best books available about the fundamental changes occuring in the U.S. workforce. I asked him what skills and people would prosper in the future. Here's part of his response:

Of the five most important psychological traits that distinguish human beings from one another, openness to new experience stands out as the factor that I think defines who will be more inclined to becoming contingents and enjoying it. That also involves tolerance for risk. I think all of us have the capacity somewhere in us and if the context changes enough we end up moving in that direction.
My argument is that the left-brain abilities — create-a-spreadsheet and zero-in-on-the-right-answer type of thinking — still matter and are necessary but are no longer sufficient. The abilities that are characteristic of the other side of the brain — artistic, empathetic, inventive — are increasingly becoming first among equals in the world of work both at the level of individual careers and at the level of organizational performance.
The reason for that is that some of these left-brain abilities can be done cheaper overseas or faster by computers. For example, about 2 million U.S. tax returns were completed by chartered accountants in India last year and 21 million were completed by individuals using TurboTax software.

At the same time we work in an economy that requires us to deliver not only utility but significance, a sense of meaning or even esthetics. Those forces require people to do something that is hard to outsource and hard to automate and satisfies these other needs of a very abundant age.
(The full interview with Pink will appear in the September issue of Contingent Workforce Strategies magazine.)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Lewis Carroll And The Wall Street Journal

On May 20, 2006, a Wall Street Journal editorial reflected on the government's post-Enron regulatory activities:

"One conclusion is how exceptional those scandals have turned out to be. Far from revealing some larger cultural rot, the corruption was serious but limited to a handful of companies. Prosecutors and regulators used the political opening created by the Enron collapse to hunt for malfeasance far and wide, but the news is how little they found."

On May 27, the newspaper commented on the illegal practice of backdating stock option grants to build in or increase profits for senior executives:

"The number of companies doing this isn't clear, though the SEC is investigating at least 20 and prosecutors have launched criminal probes into a half-dozen...."

Newspapers and Romance

I just read yet another mawkish elegy to daily newspapers which, as usual, blamed the demise of a centuries-old tradition on their owners’ insistence that at least a smudge of black ink show up on the books.

David Carr is the latest in the string,. His piece for the New York Times typifies the lot. He wonders what kind of newspaper his young, talented colleague will find when he returns to the Philadelphia Inquirer from a two-month summer vacation. Carr answers by observation: “While we had our own version of The Conversation, a lucky pigeon in front of us found a lone chip in a foil bag, but it was quickly lost amid a crush of others rushing in for a taste.”

Like the other mourners, Carr conjures up halcyon days when newspapers such as the Inquirer were paragons of a money-be-damned business, “a sprawling enterprise with bureaus all over the world and a sniper’s mentality on the news….” Few newspapers ever operated that way and I hope most journalists reject the image of themselves as people who sneak around and kill in cold blood.

Carr’s piece is the latest in a long string of tales filled with the drama of deadlines, and anecdotes about the revered editor who bucked corrupt officials or the raffish columnist who drank more often than he wrote, all expounded to make themselves feel more important and to impress the uninitiated.

They all reference in some way a belief that newspaper owners have turned their priorities around 180 degrees to favor profits over journalism. Some publishers once placed a higher premium on quality news coverage than they do today, but to contend profits weren’t their overriding concern is naive.

In one way or another, Carr and his fellow mourners all equate the decline of their newspapers with a demise of quality journalism itself. That is not true and only serves to damage their credibility as observers of the world. There are two obvious conclusions to be drawn and newspaper types don’t want to see them.

The first is simple. Newspapers cost a great deal of money to produce. They are labor intensive in all respects, take a long time to manufacture, and must be delivered by hand, one at a time. Electronic media are as inexpensive as a $600 computer and deliver the news instantly (and constantly refreshed) to tens of thousands of people.

The second conclusion is offered by the readers themselves. Newspaper circulation overall is shrinking because people are tired of the medium. By the time they pick up their morning newspaper they have seen and heard far more about the Indonesian earthquake, the primary election results or the verdict in the Enron trial than they can process. And they know about these events from the same sources used by newspapers.

There is nothing to prevent Carr’s young friend from carving out an excellent career in journalism and benefiting society with his trenchant analysis and observations. The young journalist’s work will also be seen and appreciated by far more people and internationally. His output, though, will be expressed in pixels, not ink. And, no, he won’t have to scramble for crumbs, either.

People being people, though, Carr’s friend will eventually conjure up nostalgic sighs about the good old days when “we had to work with laptops that couldn’t send a story faster than 128 KBps upstream and cell phones with only four hours of talk time.” Whether that will be seen as romantic to anyone remains to be seen.

Friday, May 12, 2006

No Democracy in the UK

Whenever the UK is held up as as a democracy, consider this item from the AP that records a decision by an appointed legislative body:

"Britain's House of Lords has rejected a bill to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drug doses to terminally ill patients, reflecting opposition among the public, government and church - to assisted suicide. The vote ends any chance of its passage, as the proposal will not proceed to the lawmaking House of Commons. "

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Plagirism Graduate Seminar

The Raytheon Company board today reduced the 2006 compensation package of its chief executive, William H. Swanson, who admitted to lifting portions of his book, "Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management," from other texts.

New York Times

Unlike the teenage Harvard student who lifted chunks of her novel from others, Bill Swanson hs no hope of redemption.

The only reason for Bill to steal from columnist Dave Barry and other authors is that he thought he was smarter than everyone else, which means he holds everyone who purchased his book in contempt. (See Nov. 21, 2005 post, Email Stupidity.)

Bill said he was sorry. The Raytheon board nicked him for about $1 million yet announced it still had "full confidence" in his abilities. I say bring in the auditors and the Sarbanes-Oxley governance consultants.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Plagiarism 101

Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan turns out to be a literary kleptomaniac instead of a chick lit version of Joyce Maynard, the last adolescent to make a big splash on the writing scene.

Her publisher has canceled her two-book deal and is building a bonfire out of her offending novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. The newspaper where she worked as an intern is picking apart her stories. And if anyone at Harvard has common sense (arguable by some people) an overworked grad student is running all of her college essays and term papers through every database known to humankind.

Viswanathan comes from an educated, upscale family that undoubtedly expected great things from her. They signed her $500,000 book deal because she was only 17 when some creature called a "book packager" offered the contract. So, here was a bright, talented kid not only working hard to get into an elite university, but told to sit down, write a novel, and make a lot of money. Which, of course,would help her get into Harvard.

Viswanathan says she's sorry. She says she read all of the copied books several times, so it's possible she unconsciously picked up the language. But she remains baffled about the extent of the plagiarism. She wants to return to Harvard.

Harvard has very active psychological counseling programs, (given the school is full of Kaavyas) so, in return for allowing a confessed plagiarist to return to The Yard, the school should require she make the student health center her her home-away-from-home.

Why? The teen lit darling doesn't realize she's a thief -- as in people who steal from others for personal gain. She not only ripped off the hard work and creativity of other writers, she stole money, including her advance and the bucks it cost her publishers, Little-Brown, to print, distribute, market, recall and destroy her ersatz prose.

And, she seems to think that saying "sorry" makes it all OK and she can now just move on with her life and fulfill her dreams. I, too, am "sorry," Kaavya, but you have become divorced from reality. If pathological denial isn't an accepted mental disease, it should be.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Workers' Paradise

We should all move to France. Really.

Forget all the cliches about snobbery, the consumption of garden pests and a lack of personal hygiene. Focus on jobs and working conditions.

First, almost as soon as you are hired into a job, you receive legal and social tenure. I’ve checked and that pretty much means you have to murder a co-worker to get fired. Better yet, healthcare is free and you only have to work 35 hours before overtime kicks in. Toss in five weeks off a year to decompress from the pressure at work, retirement at age 55, and France starts to look like a virtual workers’ paradise.

No wonder the whole country is almost literally up in arms about proposed changes to this system. First it was the students who felt dissed because someone raised the idea of delaying their job guarantees until they had been on the payroll for two years. The unions – and pretty much everyone in France belongs to one – are joining in to shut down La Belle France because they figure if the government can get away with changing the rules for young people, they’ll be targeted next.

We’d better hit the road right away, though. If the government buckles under the pressure, there will be maybe zero new jobs created in France for the next half century. And given the demonstrated proclivity of the French for strikes and riots, filling out an application for an existing position could provoke something akin to the revolution that cost a lot of folks their heads.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Get Off My Back Mountain

My ambivalence about whether to see Brokeback Mountain is turning me into a social pariah.

I enjoyed E. Annie Proulx’s short story on which director Ang Lee’s film is based when I read it a few years ago in the New Yorker. She’s a brilliant writer whose sparse prose quickstarts the imagination. I even recommended it to friends. But there was nothing in the story that left me eager to rush to a movie theater to see the screen adaptation.

Now, I am often asked if I have seen the movie. My “No,” usually elicits an expression of horror and the words, “but you have to.”

That’s when the problem starts. Time after time I am told Brokeback Mountain is a certified cultural phenomenon because it is a lushly designed, well-acted movie about two men in love that portrays their relationship as understandalbe (if abhorred in the film’s 1950s America) and in a manner that is accessible to contemporary, mainstream audiences. Really, how could I avoid participation in this seminal filmic event?

Well, I have my reasons and none of them even remotely justify suggestions I might be homophobic, as did one friend.

I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 18 years and was far from naive before that. The fact that two good looking macho guys could fall deeply in love is somewhat less than a revelation to me.

Unlike what some people think, the film is hardly a first. There have been a number of widely released films about men in love over the years. Yes, some of them, like Le Cage aux Folles, and its U.S. remake, The Birdcage, portrayed one gay character as the epitome of a drag stereotype. But both of those films portrayed the campy Albin respectfully and humanely. Only someone with a heart of coal could fail to care about Albin's delimma or be amused by his solution.

There is also the fact that Brokeback Mountain is a chick flick. Change one of the sheepherders to a woman and you would have a dramatic version of Same Time Next Year, in which two people married to others meet once a year for a brief affair. It’s Sleepless in Seattle, with a sad ending. It's Casablanca without the context of a war.

I might see Brokeback Mountain someday. And, from what I’ve read about the acting, directing, and cinematography, I might even enjoy it. But if I do attend, it will be because I want to experience a movie, not get my liberal credentials certified.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Rumsfeld: We're Losing the War on Terror

WASHINGTON — America has made progress in the War on Terror, but the threat today may be greater than ever before because the available weapons are far more dangerous, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.

"The enemy — while weakened and under pressure — is still capable of global reach, and still possesses the determination to kill more Americans — and to do so with the world's most dangerous weapons," Rumsfeld said in remarks prepared for delivery at the National Press Club.


Dear Rummy,
As much as it pains me to say this, I fear you went a bit over the top in your National Press Club speech today.

You see, my friend, pretty much everyone has known for years the terror boys would love to get their hands on nukes, germs or whatever. You mentioned this several times when citing the spread of WMDs as a justification for our nation's visit to Iraq. As you'll remember, we were unable to find any of those nasties so to raise the topic again might invite questions about your credibility.

(I loved the way you stopped just short of saying the bad guys actually had WMDs stashed inside their dish-dashes. Masterful rhetoric.)

I understand the purpose of your address to the nattering nabobs of negativism was intended to shore up support for the president's policies and actions. But to this friendly observer your comments could also have led the unlettered masses to believe we're losing the war on terror.

Take this for what you will, my friend, but I just wanted you to know some of us are still paying attentionn to what you say.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

My Judicial Qualifications

Sam Alito is fully qualified to sit as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. So am I. So is my 80-year-old mother. So is the President of France.

I defy anyone to prove otherwise.

My confidence on this matter is absolute because neither the U.S. Constitution or federal law spells out a single criterion that a candidate must meet to join the eight other folks on the big bench. Zip.

Yes, a sitting president must nominate someone and at least 51 senators must approve. But that's process and says nothing about the nominee's suitability to make big judgments on big issues.

With this in mind, I want everyone to know that I'm ready -- eager, even -- to step onto the bench with Clarence, Ruthie, Dave and the rest of the gang. In anticipation of achieving my goal I have drafted the text of a statement by the second President Clinton announcing my nomination:

"Today, I am sending the Senate a message nominating Bill Bucy to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the impeachment of former Justice Antonin Scalia.

"That Mr. Bucy lives fully qualifies him for this job under the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Bolstering his credentials is the welcome fact Mr. Bucy has never attended law school, worked as a lawyer or worn the black robes of a judge.

"While Mr. Bucy's lack of technical expertise will require intense on-the-job training, I believe his learning curve will be steep. Besides, the clerks make all the decisions and write the opinions, anyway.

"Given that Democrats hold a solid majority in the Senate and most of them owe me big time, I anticipate prompt hearings and a swift confirmation.

"It's customary at this point to ask the nominee to make a few remarks. However, Mr. Bucy has extended his stay in rehab to ensure he has a clear head for the upcoming court term."

"As you might imagine, I won't be taking questions."