Archive for June, 2010

Risk assessment in a “double down” world…

June 17, 2010

Jesus.  One would think that human being’s innate survival instincts would be enough to keep the race off the edge.  But here we are again…and again, and again….looking over the edge at calamitous consequence from making unbelievably stupid decisions that risk everything during an incredibly fragile time where risk taking of these kinds of magnitude should be punishable by death. 

Today it’s the BP Oil Platform Gulf of Mexico cataclysm.  Yesterday, and the day before — and for a long stream of days yet to come, it’s the Goldman Sachs (et al) contrived world economic disaster (I mean cataclysm). For the past 8 years it has been Bush’s insane “war on terror” that sucked us into a soul and international reputation destroying adventure that has near spent us dry.  Along the way the country committed itself to being “uncommitted on global warming” where inaction has raised the already huge stake and life threatening consequence.  We also allowed and encouraged business and banking “roll up” consolidation practices, and instituted rich get richer/everyone else gets poorer tax policies that have devastated the middle class centered society we had taken decades to institutionalize.  And so on… and so on… and so on.  Pick one.

Massive risky decisions each and all…made without regard to the impact of clearly evident potential consequence — with profoundly destructive outcomes. Double down decisions. Each risky as hell…with massive consequence that not only have the potential to change life as we know it, but never should have happened.  Ever.  The risks were…have been…and will forever be…to god damned high.  Way to high to ever been allowed to occur.

But they did occur. And the “all or none”, “scorched earth”, “Katie bar the door”, “I don’t give a damn about the consequence”, “were going in” mentality that fueled and stoked the bravado and shear gall to intentionally deceive — and to deliberately mask intentions — and to shamelessly minimize the risk and potential consequence of what was being considered — and then was done — is simply breathtaking.

Doubling down…is a gambling term.  It means that you bet all you have won up until that point — on the turn of the next card.  You win, you double your winnings.  You lose, you lose all you have won. Doubling down.  Pure, ‘go to hell’, assessment of risk versus size of the prize involved decisions. A loser’s bet. Where the risk of loss is heavily stacked against you…but where the fear of loss, almost always, isn’t strong enough to offset the power of greed.  Huge risk…huge reward.

Generally, gambling risk is limited to the gambler’s own money or resources…so who cares?  Not this time.  This time around the biggest and nastiest and most avaricious big league double down players of our times (banking/securities companies, energy companies, insurance companies, defense companies and outsourced off-balance-sheet military contractors, medical and pharmaceutical companies, et al) have rigged the game where the money and consequence being risked in these massive consequence double down deals isn’t their own money or assets or personal equity.  It’s ours.  Somehow, whenever we are pulled out of our media fog with yet another “too big to ignore” headline that is staggering in the scope of devastating consequence caused by another massively risky decision gone bad – it inevitably reinforces the understanding that the loss and cost and consequence of a risk assessment going the wrong way, is ours to bear – not the deal makers.

How does that happen, you ask?  Easy. Follow the bouncing ball.

Big kids figure out what they want to do and how the hustle goes together.  Then they figure out what needs to be done to get it done…and what needs to be done to sell it.  If it requires a huge lie or and scary event (like maybe terrorist attack on this country) to get people to believe that what they want to do is good and necessary and important for the human condition and for life as we know it…then they work up a plausible communication strategy (read here a lie or a series of deceptions) that people will buy.  If it requires changing existing regulations and oversight infrastructure – well then they go to work on that…and they stay at it until the pathway to get what they want is open and clear.  If they need to block change (legislative or social) to maintain a status quo that benefits them or their particular industry or company — then they will fight tooth and nail to block any and all change that they see as being harmful to their personal or company objectives.  That’s how it’s done. 

Oh, and one other thing:  They figure out how to remove themselves from inherent risk that exists within the hustle they intend to perpetrate. So if something really bad occurs as a consequence of their actions…like starting a soul and economy destroying 10 year war in the middle east…or creating a epoch oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico…or the hollowing out of American business…or a worldwide economic meltdown…or the aggravation and acceleration of global warming trends with the potential to wreck havoc on the ecology and indeed agriculture…or the creation of a world that people can’t afford to live in…or the creation of a bleak and hopeless outlook for 2/3 of the population who have lost almost all the gains made over the past 40 years – and who no longer trust, and belief in America’s promise for the future  — the blame for causing the mess and the liability for the mess created will be placed somewhere other than on their shoulders.  Like on the taxpayers and citizen’s shoulders. 

So, how does it happen that the nasty and avaricious and greedy ‘soul dead’ double down bandits can get away with these kinds of ‘beyond the pale’ hyper risky adventures — without any reasonable challenge as to  the impact of the risks involved, or a reasonable assessment of whether that risk is worth taking…when it is clear to any reasonable person that it is not.  I mean, how does that happen?

Easy. The double down bandits lobby our elected officials who are directly or indirectly in positions to “influence” the game.  They lobby the absolute living hell out of them.  They buy them.  They buy Senators and Congressmen outright or obliquely — through campaign financing loop holes, free staff help, inside information on stock deals, special deals and accommodations, and money.  And subtly and silently the deals get done and the lies get sold and the regulatory and legislative pathways get cleared. And those who we elected – precisely to keep the con artists from being allowed to do really stupid and risky deals that have huge life altering and life threatening consequence – sell us out. That’s how it happens.

People who buy Senators and congressional representatives need to go to jail. Senators and congressional representatives who take money from lobbyists need to go to jail.  That will stop it.  Only that will stop it.

Memorial Day 2010 – Prior Lake, Minnesota

June 3, 2010

On Memorial Day, because it just doesn’t seem to be working real well, I took a pass on the “Vets for Peace” rally down at the State house this year, and I went to small town Prior Lake where I had raised 5 children for a few years back in the 70’s, to see if anything there was making any sense.

“Out-of-a-bag fabric camp chairs” line the streets. I’m across from the two story apartments next to where the car wash used to be – just down from Westwood Elementary. It’s a perfect day. Prior Lake turns out for the big parade.

I’m sitting on a rock next to the big ship propeller the town park is built around. I can hear the parade coming over highway 13. I don’t know a single person. That’s ok. It’s been over 30 years.

What I’m hearing is someone is calling cadence for the color guard (who really need to stay in step). Mostly older Vietnam era guys (and couple of slightly older vets, who must be cold warriors or reservists) – No Iraq/Afganistan guys. At least I don’t see any. A number of VFW types. Bar action.

Maybe 350 people showed up. People who own camp chairs in a bag from Sam’s Club. Prior Lake is now over 25,000 people, so that’s not so good a turn out. We did almost 800 when the population was 4000. I counted 18 cub scouts from 3 packs. Maybe a few more boy scouts. But the Cub Scouts walked in line better. Came right after the PL HS Band…and before 5 Hawks band. That was pretty much the parade give or take a couple of vintage army vehicles, and the town’s fire truck squadron (I’m sure the fleet cost as much as the whole 5 Hawks school did). Someone drove an old soup-ed up custom model T hot rod with an old guy in it (he never waved…and no one seemed to know who he was).

Over ½ the crowd was my age or older. A few Vietnam era moms who lost sons in the war. One or two second war vets left. Speakers repeatedly thanked people “for taking their time out of a busy day to show up”. The Mayor read a letter and a poem…because he said he was having a hard time finding the right things to say. The letter was excepts from William Jennings Bryant Memorial Day speech from 1880. I give him credit for looking.  The VFW commander was sort of free wheeling and forgot the name of the gal who has run the Ladies Auxiliary for the past 20 years (she was appropriately disgusted). The Chaplin read a 5 line prayer…and fumbled words twice. I had hoped for better from the little town in my mind. It’s like they lost the script somewhere over the years and didn’t quite know how to act to what to say.

I really wanted to find community this morning, and a sense that people in small towns still care about what happens to their kids…and to their neighbor’s kids. I wanted simplicity and honesty and straight hard talk about what was done — and how it was all worth it…but, when the speakers who were capable of reflective thought, talked about ultimate sacrifice given — to preserve freedom and honesty…integrity and trust…and freedom from discrimination — and of freedom of religion, and the right to hope for and to achieve a quality education…and for a decent and respectable life – and participation in the American dream and promise — the words exploded in their mouths (or maybe in my ears)…and I was so saddened I had to leave before the names who paid that sacrifice were read. I had read them earlier. It’s a surprisingly long list in Prior Lake that goes back to the civil war.

But I was grateful to those who showed up and included me in their community this morning. No one said much of anything to each other that I could tell…so I don’t really have a sense of what folks were thinking about. Loss maybe.

185 Cub Scouts is the answer.  But that was 30 years ago.

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