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Paterson Art Walk

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It rained all week in Northern New Jersey. The entire Passaic watershed is saturated and as it drains the Great Falls roars with the swelling volume of racing water as the river makes its way to its ultimate release into the Atlantic. Its a good metaphor for the surging rebirth of Paterson as a revitalized center of commerce and culture.

Long a typical neglected northeastern industrial city in decline, Paterson is experiencing a vibrant transitioning and repurposing of it’s heritage as a manufacturing center thanks in part to The Art Factory.

The Art Factory is an incubator encouraging the formation and growth of the creative arts industry. Tourism and cultural enterprises that attract tourists are critical economic drivers necessary for the rebirth of Paterson.  The Art Factory’s offering of working space for artists and commercial enterprises is a critical initiative seeking to build on The Great Falls Historic District’s recent National Park designation that anchors the city’s hopes for a long awaited revitalization.

 The Art Factory is busy renovating the once dilapidated Dolphin Jute factory space and filling it with the creative energies of up and coming professional artists looking for commercial acceptance of their art.

Memorial Day weekend, The Art Factory’s Art Walk showcased a torrent of local artistic talent. The volume of exhibits compliments the range and scope of quality art that met and exceeded the expectations of the many patrons and enthusiasts eagerly exploring a labyrinth of cavernous exhibition rooms located throughout the century old industrial complex.

Indeed half the fun of The Art Walk is making your way through the multiple floors of exhibition space. The thrill of walking stairwells and darkened brick laden passageways opening into old shop floors flooded with art, bathed in the light of industrial windows framing cityscapes of surrounding street life, wooded hills of Garret Mountain and historic skyline of Paterson. Or descend into the bowels of the old factory’s basement storage areas carved out of granite bedrock bleeding water, showcasing multimedia sculptures divined from the subterranean strata of broken bricks, steel scrap, rubbish bins, wooden pallets, cardboard packaging, dexterous hands and fluid imagination.

One of the great pleasures of The Art Walk is experiencing how the art interacts with industrial space. A virtue of The Art Factory is its mission to repurpose dormant manufacturing space and refill it with the creative energy of artists. A great portion of the art on exhibit in The Art Walk addressed the idea of repurposing, industrial stasis and the human and ecological cost of industrialization.

The idea of repurposing industrial artifacts and disposable waste to portray the human cost of rampant consumerism was intelligently portrayed by conceptual artist Aleksandr Razin and his bold installation Jurassic Park.

Comprised of 4 extensive installations filling a large basement space; The Mosquito, (68’x 20’ x 12’); The Paterson Butterfly (51’x54’x12’), The Grasshopper (35’x45’x13’) and The Fly (54’x55’x20’); Jurassic Park was fully constructed from materials culled from the excessive waste of our throw away consumer society. Each installation appears as though its belongs in the dank basement of an industrial complex.

One piece, The Caterpillar, is a boxed construction of corrugated cardboard enclosing an inner lighted workplace of benches, machines, tools and cabinets. One can look inside the caterpillar through windows or enter the piece from an hidden doorway. From the outside the cardboard construction looks like its about to collapse from flimsy construction materials. A caterpillar suggests transition but once inside the caterpillar I imagine a shift of workers trapped in a dangerous workplace at risk of imminent collapse. Certainly a timely observation given the recent catastrophic collapse of a Bangladesh textile factory killing over 1,000 workers manufacturing high end clothing for some of the leading western fashion brands.

The Mosquito installation was equally unsettling. Inside The Mosquito we find outdated school rooms. We can only surmise how school systems are challenged by obsolete teaching methods and institutional distress. Are schools like a mosquito, sucking the life blood out of society’s young minds? To paraphrase the artist statement, Mr. Razin asserts, the size of the installation suggest extinct dinosaurs and that out of control consumerism and toxic waste is threatening life on earth.”

Another large subterranean installation offers a complex tube structure of air blown inflated denim. A haunting soundtrack of industrial sounds echoes through the room; as sparse lighting casts long shadows of the piece and patrons onto walls of bedrock and weathered brick. The patron assumes the role of a consumer who becomes complicit enablers trapped in the denim web of global trade built on the exploitation of third world textile workers.

Jonah The Prophet and The Gates of Hell completed a trinity of subterranean social commentary installations. Jonah, a suspended wire piece portrays a figure devoured by a fish. The room’s floor was covered in broken brick. Scattered cubicle panels lined the walls. Here in the lowest level of The Art Factory we have been consumed, entrapped in the prison of industrial monotony.

 The upper floors of the show mostly featured portraiture, photography and small sculptures. An installation on Industrialism portrayed the hard edges of industrial capitalism. An oil painting, Made In China sympathetically portrays a child attached to a sewing machine.  Its a striking depiction of western consumerism complicity in enabling child labor.

With the exception of the basement installations, for the most part politics and social commentary was absent from the Art Walk. The pieces were clearly positioned for sale; and as I said earlier the quality and subject matter of paintings make this art highly marketable. Refreshments, bands and a wedding added an air of festive lightness to the day and set a consumer friendly atmosphere to The Art Walk.

And that’s how it should be. Though I couldn’t discern any major artistic breakthroughs, commercial development and the art of capitalism is the star of this show. Bravo The Art Factory and The Paterson Art Walk. The journey back from economic doldrums has begun in Paterson and The Art Factory and The Art Walk is a big first step in that journey.

Music Selection: Fats Domino, I’m Walkin

risk: urban renewal, small business, tourism, culture

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May 28, 2013 Posted by | art, commerce, culture, manufacturing, Paterson, photo | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Economic Recovery Gathers Steam

Private-sector employment increased by 217,000 from January to February on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the latest ADP National Employment Report released today. The estimated change of employment from December 2010 to January 2011 was revised up to 189,000 from the previously reported increase of 187,000. This month’s ADP National Employment Report suggests continued solid growth of nonfarm private employment early in 2011. The recent pattern of rising employment gains since the middle of last year was reinforced by today’s report, as the average gain from December through February (217,000) is well above the average gain over the prior six months (63,000).

The fears of a jobless recovery may be receding but the US economy has a long way to go before pre-recession employment levels are achieved. As we stated previously the economy needs to create over 200,000 jobs per month for 48 consecutive months to achieve pre-recession employment levels. The six month average of 63,000 is still well below the required rate of job creation for a robust recovery to occur. The Unemployment Rate still exceeds 9%.

The February report is encouraging because it points to an accelerating pace of job creation. The post Christmas season employment surge represents a 30,000 job gain over January’s strong report that triples the six month moving average. The service sector accounted for over 200,000 of the job gains. The manufacturing and goods producing sector combined to create 35,000 jobs. Construction continues to mirror the moribund housing market shedding an additional 9,000 jobs during the month. The construction industry has lost over 2.1 million jobs since its peak in 2008.

The robust recovery in the service sector is welcomed but sustainable economic growth can only be achieved by a robust turn around in the goods producing and manufacturing sectors. Service sector jobs offer lower wages, tend to be highly correlated to retail consumer spending and positions are often transient in nature. Small and Mid-Sized Enterprises (SME) is where the highest concentration of service jobs are created and the employment figures bear that out with SMEs accounting for over 204,000 jobs created during the month of February.

Large businesses added 13,000 jobs during the month of February. The balance sheets of large corporations are strong. The great recession provided large corporates an opportunity to rationalize their business franchise with layoffs, consolidations and prudent cost management. Benign inflation, global presence, outsourcing, low cost of capital and strong equity markets created ideal conditions for profitability and an improved capital structure. The balance sheets of large corporations are flush with $1 trillion in cash and it appears that the large corporates are deploying this capital resource into non-job creating initiatives.

The restructuring of the economy continues. The Federal stimulus program directed massive funds to support fiscally troubled state and local government budgets. The Federal Stimulus Program was a critical factor that help to stabilize local government workforce levels. The expiration of the Federal stimulus program is forcing state and local governments into draconian measures to balance budgets. Government employment levels are being dramatically pared back to maintain fiscal stability. Public service workers unions are under severe pressure to defend employment, compensation and benefits of workers in an increasingly conservative political climate that insists on fiscal conservatism and is highly adverse to any tax increase.

The elimination of government jobs, the expiration of unemployment funds coupled with rising interest rates, energy and commodity prices will drain significant buying power from the economy and create additional headwinds for the recovery.

Macroeconomic Factors

The principal macroeconomic factors confronting the economy are the continued high unemployment rate, weakness in the housing market, tax policy and deepening fiscal crisis of state, local and federal governments. The Tea Party tax rebellion has returned congress to Republican control and will encourage the federal government to pursue fiscally conservative policies that will dramatically cut federal spending and taxes for the small businesses and the middle class. In the short term, spending cuts in federal programs will result in layoffs, and cuts in entitlement programs will remove purchasing power from the demand side of the market. It is believed that the tax cuts to businesses will provide the necessary incentive for SME’s to invest capital surpluses back into the company to stimulate job creation.

The growing uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa is a significant political risk factor. The expansion of political instability in the Gulf Region particularly Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; a protracted civil war in Libya or a reignited regional conflict involving Israel would have a dramatic impact on oil markets; sparking a rise in commodity prices and interest rates placing additional stress on economic recovery.

Political uncertainty tends to heighten risk aversion in credit markets. The financial rescue of banks with generous capital infusions and accommodating monetary policies from sovereign governments has buttressed the profitability and capital position of banks. Regulatory uncertainty of Basel III, Dodd-Frank, and the continued rationalization of the commercial banking system and continued concern about the quality of credit portfolios continue to curtail availability of credit for SME lending. Governments are encouraging banks to lend more aggressively but banks continue to exercise extreme caution in making loans to financially stressed and capital starved SMEs.

Highlights of the ADP Report for February include:

Private sector employment increased by 217,000

Employment in the service-providing sector rose 202,000

Employment in the goods-producing sector declined 15,000

Employment in the manufacturing sector declined 20,000

Construction employment declined 9,000

Large businesses with 500 or more workers declined 2,000

Medium-size businesses, defined as those with between 50 and 499 workers increased 24,000

Employment among small-size businesses with fewer than 50 workers, increased 21,000

Overview of Numbers

The 202,000 jobs created by the SME sectors represents over 90% of new job creation. Large businesses comprise approximately 20% of the private sector employment and continues to underperform SMEs in post recession job creation. The strong growth of service sector though welcomed continues to mask the under performance of the manufacturing sector. The 11 million manufacturing jobs comprise approximately 10% of the private sector US workforce. The 20 thousand jobs created during February accounted for 10% of new jobs. Considering the severely distressed condition and capacity utilization of the sector and the favorable conditions for export markets and cost of capital the job growth of the sector appears extremely weak. The US economy is still in search of a driver. The automotive manufacturers have returned to profitability due to global sales in Latin America and China with a large portion of the manufacturing done in local oversea markets.

The stock market continues to perform well. The Fed is optimistic that the QE2 initiative will allay bankers credit risk concerns and ease lending restrictions to SMEs. A projected GDP growth rate of 3% appears to be an achievable goal. The danger of a double dip recession is receding but severe geopolitical risk factors continue to keep the possibility alive.

Interest rates have been at historic lows for two years and will begin to notch upward as central bankers continue to manage growth with a mix of inflation and higher costs of capital. The stability of the euro and the EU’s sovereign debt crisis will remain a concern and put upward pressure on interest rates and the dollar.

As the price of commodities and food spikes higher the potential of civil unrest and political instability in emerging markets of Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America grows. Some even suggest this instability may touch China.

The balance sheets of large corporate entities remain flush with cash. The availability of distressed assets and volatile markets will encourage corporate treasurers to put that capital to work to capitalize on emerging opportunities. The day of the lazy corporate balance sheet is over.

Solutions from Sum2

Credit Redi offers SMEs tools to manage financial health and improve corporate credit rating to attract and minimize the cost of capital. Credit Redi helps SMEs improve credit standing and demonstrate to bankers that you are a good credit risk.

For information on the construction and use of the ADP Report, please visit the methodology section of the ADP National Employment Report website.

You Tube Video: John Handy, Hard Work

Risk: unemployment, recession, recovery, SME, political

March 3, 2011 Posted by | commerce, credit, Credit Redi, economics, government, lending, manufacturing, recession, risk management, SME, taxation, Tea Party, unemployment, unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raising My Country’s Flag

Today is the 234th birthday of the United States of America and I’m struggling to articulate my feelings and concerns for my country.   This morning like millions of Americans I walked outside to hoist the flag to honor my country and convey support for its principles and ideals.  I still believe in those principles and ideals but I am having a tremendous crisis of faith on how those principles and ideals are put into action.

When I removed the flag from its draw my first thought was a tinge of personal shame because the flag was not properly folded in the requisite three star triangle.  This former Boy Scout knew of the proper way to fold the flag but when I lowered it after Memorial Day I had no one to assist me in the proper way to fold it.    It takes two people working in common purpose to accomplish the task.  One to fold while the other holds the flag taut.  It brought to mind my country’s ossified two party systems inability to administer effective governance.   Its time we call other care takers who have the conscience and maturity to sacrifice partisanship for the greater good of the country.

Holding the flag I was struck by its age.  I date the flag to the late 40’s.  The flag was given to me by my father and has only 48 stars.  When it was sewn Alaska and Hawaii had yet to join the grand union of states.  They would join in 59 four years after my birth. This flag boasts strong double stitches that holds the stars, stripes and blue field securely in place.  A united conglomeration of shapes, symbols and colors manufactured by top notch craftsmen guided in their work by care and skill to assure quality.  I surmise that  the workers who crafted this flag were inspired by a love of country and pride of workmanship now long gone.  Blue collar workers and the unions that represented them have been crushed by the immutable power of global capital.  In the greater cause of profits workplaces have been dismantled and livelihoods off shored to the outer regions of the global economy.  I wonder how the 11,000,000 people who are unemployed today perceive our flag this morning?  Surely most will  bless the grace of daily bread that is placed on their table today.  I  also wonder if the big time financiers who profit from grief will pause with a moment of reflection during their extravagant soirees on the source of their wealth and the price of their amusements.

My flag has but 48 stars.  In my short lifetime of 54 years my country granted statehood to two states.  Fifty states is a rounded number suggesting a divine hand that predetermined a Pax Americana halfway to a celestial century mark.   I worry that this glorious symbol of Federalism is at danger of unraveling again.    Texas, Alaska, Arizona and a few other stars  have expressed a desire to withdraw their stars from the sacred blue field of our flag.  Seditious murmurs from opportunistic politicians.  They eagerly dip their political cookies into the toxic brew stewed up by pissed off  Teabaggers and other deranged Falangists.  This new confederacy condemns them.  They complain that the rights of individual states are being trampled upon by an oppressive authoritarian government.  They shout  prayers from rooftops, wave hand guns, tote rifles and salute the Don’t Tread On Me flag.  They want the right to be left alone to create a personal version of a world unencumbered by responsibility to anything but a selfish self.  They damn the collective needs of the union and condemn its necessity to operate as an interconnected link in a world fraternity of nations.  The ability to express an  unencumbered will in the pursuit of self interest is their idea of citizenship.  They are prepared to defend it with guns and preemptive aggression to assert the right of the stronger.  They prefer barbarity to civility, selfishness to fraternity, personal affectation to civil rights, sameness to diversity, vigilante tribunals to social justice.

With care and reverence I wrapped the flag around my tree, envisioning flag draped coffins being off loaded from C-130 transport planes onto the impersonal gray tarmac of  a military airbase in Dover.  These selfless souls are reunited with the ground of the land they gave their last full measure of their devotion offered up to senseless conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The fallen will receive a reverence in death that our politicians failed to offer them in life by condemning them to a wasteful demise, wholly avoidable and absolutely unnecessary.  No these unfortunate patriots have not shed their blood in vain.  Their stars will forever burn bright on a blue field of valor as condemnation of the blasphemous  chicken hawks whose screaming squawks for war are nothing but hallow patriotic pronouncements spoken to secure political careers and profit financial backers.

Arranging the flag around the tree the bark of the Black Oak clings to the fabric of Old Glory.  It allows me to run a finger along the long red strip at the base of the flag.  The blood shed for the cause of this flag continues to flow.  When will it ebb?  In the cause of this flag seemingly righteous blood mixes with the awful blood of innocents.  Both stain the hands and conscience of our nation.  My two sons just entering young adulthood  are  proud members of the armed forces.  One in the Navy the other in the Army.  Their blood is my blood.  They speak of  deployment to the “Sand Box” a euphemism for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A future raising of this flag lays on my brain like a nightmare, praying that their blood doesn’t stain the grim crimson of our national symbol.

Stepping back to examine if the flag is properly hung I notice a paint stain on the field of stripes.  The splotch of beige paint now darkly blanched was splashed from a careless paintbrush I used to coat the walls of my boyhood bedroom.  I did not take the proper precaution of removing the flag from the wall before proceeding with the task of painting.  It was a small blotch about the size of a couple of 50 cent pieces lying on a dresser drawer.  It reminds me of the gushing oil spill flowing into the pristine Gulf of Mexico.  This catastrophe will forever alter the ecology and lives of the many social and ecological communities that comprise the Gulf.  This stain will remain on our flag for many generations.  The dimensions of this disaster are still beyond measure or comprehension.  It threatens to forever alter the colorful fabric of our culture, economy and political lives.  The inexorable march of corporate power in pursuit of profit threatens to crush a sustainable human habitat.  We the people alone can call them to account and require that human needs take precedence over corporate greed.

Yet today is not the day for a recitation of what I believe to be wrong with my country.  Readers of this blog can click  any subject on the cloud tag a get my doubled barreled critique of America’s behavior in a rapidly changing world.  But I have been struggling for the past few days about a theme for today’s post.  And it finally came to me when I was dutifully hanging the flag on this meaningful day.  I really want to believe in the correctness and goodness of my country and its people.  Its my country warts and all.  The warts are growing big and uglier everyday.  My country and countrymen have lost their way.  Two seemingly endless and pointless wars, the economic debasement of  “The Great Recession”, the egregious assault on the delicate ecological communities of the Gulf of Mexico, a voracious Falangist movement, the juggernaut of corporatism, the continual erosion of civil liberties, careless concern for social justice and rapidly accelerating slide into an aggressive self seeking raises my sense of outrage.

As a boy growing up this flag hung on the wall of my room for many years.  I put it up on my wall when I was an adolescent still playing with toy soldiers.  I was enamored with national pride by America’s WWII triumphs, John Wayne war heroics and Victory at Sea news reels.  I was a staunch Cold Warrior.  During grammar school I imagined myself dying a hero’s death as I fell in the victory over the USSR’s Red Army at the decisive battle of Washington School.  That patriotic zeal would continue throughout most of the Vietnam War springing to attention at Sargent Barry Sadler’s Ballad of the Green Berets.  On Saturday evenings I would watch the  Channel 5 News.  I can still hear the solemn grimness of the haunting trumpet dirge as the weekly Honor Roll scrolled the names of the fallen from the conflict in Southeast Asia.

As we grow the meanings of symbols change.  Symbols can never remain immutably fixed because its subject changes.  Failure to understand  this the symbol becomes a fiction of stale dogma unconnected to a living reality of real living things in an ever changing world.   Inane nationalists content to swaddle themselves in the flag believe their fervor and force of statement is the test of love of country.   But in fact these unfortunates  trod a dangerous path and in fact pose the greatest risk to the continued wellness of our nations ideals.

As the Sixties gave way to the Seventies the meaning of my flag  evolved.  It became a symbol of  imperial power and distrusted authority as the Vietnam war  droned on.  It became a symbol of naked repression as it quelled urban rebellions.  It became a symbol of  reaction when assassins silenced beloved reform leaders.  It became a symbol of deadly suppression when the Ohio National Guard murdered students at Kent State.   this flag would evolve into the sacrilege of a Warholian commercial symbol.  To my horror this flag became a  weapon in the hands of white racists threatening to use it to impale an African American man during a school busing demonstration in Landsmark in Boston.  During college as my political activism grew, Peace flags, Earth Day flags, Liberation flags, Rainbow flags all captured my imagination and had profound personal meaning but they would never replace the preeminent position the American flag holds in my heart.

I wish my countrymen well on this July 4th.  I behold my incomplete, paint stained, 48 starred Old Glory.  Its in a proper place on a good and proper day.   The white colors tinged in a yellow fade its getting on in age.  But I have hope.  I take consolation from  a voice  resonating in my ear.  As a slight breeze ripples the posted colors I recognize the not so distant call of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas.  He’s whispering “agitate, agitate, agitate”……..

You Tube Music Video: Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA

Risk: democracy, civil liberties, country, culture

July 5, 2010 Posted by | class, culture, democracy, ecological, Federalism, LGBT, manufacturing, psychology, seasons, unions, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sum2’s Hamilton Plan Gets Some Scholarly Attention

The following research paper on The Hamilton Plan was written by Deepak Verma, a business student at Baruch College.  To our knowledge it is the first scholarly research that incorporates the Hamilton Plans theme of a focus on SME manufacturing.

ISSUES MANAGEMENT PROJECT
Prof. Michael Kirk Stauffer

DEEPAK VERMA
The Societal and Governmental Environment of Business
Baruch College, the City University of New York
December 16, 2009

Table of Content

Topic Page No
1. Executive Summary 2
2. The Issue: Shrinking Manufacturing Base 3-4
3. The Origin of the Issue and Solution 4-5
4. Small & Medium Enterprises; Catalyst of Sustainable Growth 6
5. Initiative for Development of SMEs 7-8
6. Future of SME and SMEs in USA 9
7. Appendix : References 10

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Living beyond means is not sustainable. One of the primary reasons of prolonged Economic and Credit Crisis in United States is its low manufacturing base and American way of consuming more than what is produced. This research paper will examine issue of shrinking manufacturing base of USA, unfair and unethical business practices adopted by countries such as China to boost export thereby causing trade deficit to USA, reasons for low manufacturing base and role of small and medium enterprise (SME) manufacturers in developing a sustainable manufacturing base of the US economy.

Prior to coming at Baruch College for pursuing MBA in finance and investments, I worked for over 10 years with Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), an apex financial institution of India engaged in the development and financing of SMEs and micro financial institutions. Having worked with this financial institution, I realized the importance of SMEs in bringing sustainable economic development and employment creation, particularly in a mixed economy like India.

The paper will discuss on public-private initiative in USA for development of SMEs, their efforts and capital investment for empowerment and financing of SMEs. Various initiatives taken by private and public sector will be analyzed. Efforts have been made to forecast future of SMEs vis a vis manufacturing sector, role of community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and flow of commercial bank credit and private equity investment in SMEs in the United States.

THE ISSUE: SHRINKING MANUFACTURING BASE
Why should shrinking manufacturing base be an issue in a market driven service oriented economy like US? Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated on Feb. 28, 2007, “I would say that our economy needs machines and new factories and new buildings and so forth in order for us to have a strong and growing economy.” Strong Manufacturing base is the only solution to rising trade deficit and industrial job loss. Manufacturing promotes innovation which leads to investments in equipment and people, research and development, improved products and processes and increase in productivity and higher standards of living. Increase in manufacturing leads to increase in demand for raw materials and other commercial services.

United States has transitioned from an agricultural economy to Industrial economy to a service economy. Over a period of this transition US has lost its manufacturing base substantially and has been importing goods from around the world which has resulted into huge trade deficit and industrial job losses. IMF has categorized the US current account deficit as unsustainable. Warren Buffet also once commented “The U.S trade deficit is a bigger threat to the domestic economy than either the federal budget deficit or consumer debt and could lead to political turmoil… Right now, the rest of the world owns $3 trillion more of us than we own of them.”

Since the United States joined the WTO, US trade deficit has risen from $150.6 billion in 1994 to $817.3 billion in 2006. US reliance on imports ranges from electronic items to apparels and other consumables. For example, electronic items sold in United States are developed by companies such as Philips, Toshiba, Sony, Hitachi, Samsung and Sharp. We have lost significant market share in Auto Industry also. Toyota has surpassed General Motors to become leading auto manufacturer in terms of global sales. Ironically, items such as clothing and apparel where USA had its dominance are also being imported from foreign countries. Over 90 percent of clothing and shoes sold in the United States are made in foreign countries. US economy has thrived on consumerism which has led to increase in demand for goods over the years but production of domestically manufactured goods has been declining, thereby giving rise to imports from foreign countries and loss of industrial jobs.

Critics of the argument say it is the increase in production efficiencies, resulted from technological innovation and advancement that has resulted in loss of jobs. Additionally, it is the increase in consumption which is the root cause of import deficit rather than shrinking manufacturing base. Undoubtedly long term data indicates an increase in US manufacturing, but the way we are loosing our manufacturing share from last 2 decades and if we continue shrinking, we will soon have no choice but to consume whatever is dumped in our market and will be on the mercy of foreign imported goods. Increase in manufacturing has not kept pace with global growth in manufacturing in USA. Since 2000 global manufacturing growth has been 47%, whereas USA has recorded a growth rate of only 19%.

ORIGIN OF THE ISSUE & SOLUTION
What is causing shrinking manufacturing base in the United States? Is it purely competitive and cheaper products manufactured in Asia and Europe or some other factors are also responsible? Undoubtedly competitive global business environment has severely affected domestic production in the United States, this crisis in large arises due to unfair and unethical business practices adopted by its trading partners mainly China. Some of those practices are significant government subsidies, currency manipulation, large-scale dumping in the U.S. market, and other market-distorting practices. Additionally, unfavorable govt. policies, tax structure, increase in cost involved in healthcare, litigation, and regulation has significantly affected the bottom line. Increase in cost and strict regulation forced manufacturing units to move their facilities to other countries where companies do not face those kinds of impediments. Companies operating in the U.S. started outsourcing low-value tasks like simple assembly or circuit-board stuffing, but lower cost of outsourcing and shrinking margin lured them to continue outsourcing sophisticated engineering and manufacturing capabilities that are crucial for innovation in a wide range of products. As a result, the U.S. has lost or is in the process of losing the knowledge, skilled people, and supplier infrastructure needed to manufacture many of the cutting-edge products it invented.

Is there any way to bring back our manufacturing base? The view that the U.S. should focus on R&D and services is completely flawed. Manufacturing is part of the innovation process and United States has to expand its manufacturing base to remain a world leader.

Following may be suggested to address the issue:

(1) Increase the tariffs on foreign goods so that they are more expensive than domestic goods.
(2) Demand the same level of quality in all foreign goods as American goods.
(3) Diplomatic measures should be taken to create pressure on foreign countries particularly China to stop manipulating their currencies.

Efforts should be made to open up foreign consumption markets adequately to U.S. producers so as to increase export and minimize trade deficit and should endeavor to combat predatory foreign trade practices aimed at undermining U.S. producers in their home market. Next big step is to promote small and medium enterprises to set-up manufacturing units.

SMALL & MEDIUM ENTERPRISES (SMEs); CATALYST OF SUSTAINABLE GROWTH
The issue of shrinking manufacturing base in the United States has been discussed by economist, policymakers, industrialists, and think tanks since economic integration and various measures to improve domestic manufacturing base have been suggested. But considering our free market dominance no sincere efforts were made to expand manufacturing base. Alarming rise in trade deficit and current economic and credit crisis which resulted in to massive industrial job loss has called for immediate intervention of private-public participation to protect and develop domestic manufacturing base for long term sustainable economic growth of United States. It is this time only that the role of SME manufacturers was felt inevitable to address this alarming issue.

President Obama during an interview said “We’ve got to make sure that we’re cultivating small businesses and entrepreneurs who are going to be driving employment growth,” the President said, “so that 20 years from now we can look back and we can say, ‘This was the pivot point, this is where we started to turn the corner.”

US need to change course at this point of time and need to develop a network of small and medium enterprises focusing on cleaner and green technology. The U.S. can explore strategies used in emerging markets for development of SMEs. According to Hau L. Lee, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, “America needs large industrial zones devoted to specific industries–similar to zones in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and much of China. Such areas offer tax breaks, cheap or free land, workforce training, plenty of water and power, and agencies that serve as one-stop shops for all of the necessary permits and regulatory approvals.” A national level specialized financial institution may be created to provide low cost credit to newly setup SMEs in the manufacturing sector. US strength lies in high end technology, innovation, R&D, robust infrastructure, and know-how.

INITIATIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF SMEs

US govt. runs a number of programs for providing technological know-how, contracting opportunities, counseling and assistance, financing, and R&D facilities to small and medium enterprises. Some of the prominent programs run by US department of commerce are Manufacturing Extension Program, Advanced Technology Program, Technology Transfer, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. State govt. and number of govt. agencies are deployed for implementation of these schemes across the United States. SBA provides technical and financial assistance to SMEs through its partner lending institutions.

On November 17, 2009 The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. launched 10,000 Small Businesses — a $500 million initiative for development of 10,000 small businesses across the United States. The plan envisaged to provide greater access to business education, mentors and networks, and financial capital to small businesses. Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs quoted “Small businesses play a vital role in creating jobs and growth in America’s economy.” Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway also mentioned “Our recovery is dependent on hard working small business owners across America who will create the jobs that America needs. I’m proud to be a part of this innovative program which provides greater access to know-how and capital – two ingredients critical to success.”

Sum2 LLC, a firm which assists SMEs in implementing sound business practices by offering a series of programs and products, announced The Hamilton Plan on Labor Day. The Hamilton Plan is a ten point program to foster the development of manufacturing in the United States by tapping the entrepreneurial energy of small and mid-size enterprises (SME). The Hamilton Plan requires concerted focus of investment capital to fund development and establishment of an SME Development Bank (SDB) which will focus, manage and administer capital formation initiatives to incubate and develop SME manufactures.

I contacted James McCallum, CEO of Sum2llc to discuss the issue of shrinking manufacturing base and how SMEs can help in restoring manufacturing base in the United States. In response to my comment here is what he stated “It is pretty amazing that the United States has not done more to specifically encourage and address the unique needs of this critical economic driver. Many Asian countries are miles ahead of the US in SME banking and capital formation. These banks have extensive portfolios of finance products and technical assistance they provide to SME’s. The reasons that the US lacks focus in this area are many. US commitment to free market forces has badly warped our economic infrastructure. SMEs in the US have primarily relied on community banks for financing. Most of which went for real estate and construction projects. SME manufactures have just about disappeared from the economic landscape of the US. The credit crash and the economic malaise are awakening our understanding of the critical nature of SMEs and our need to manufacture products. Goldman’s 10,000 Businesses Initiative coalesces nicely with the Hamilton Plan we developed in 2008.”

USA MANUFACTURING & SMEs IN YEAR 2030

With the concerted government efforts for promotion and development of SMEs and private sector initiatives such as “10,000 Small Businesses plan” by Goldman, SMEs will be largely benefited having access to innovative financial products and services from a network of financial institutions. Ten point program suggested in Hamilton plan, if implemented, will bring cluster based development of SME manufacturers. Cleaner and green technology will drive long term sustainable growth, increase national income and result in employment creation. Healthy SMEs will be focusing on export of goods thereby reducing the trade deficit and offer a new market for commercial banking sector. High-tech growth oriented SMEs will also have access to private equity investments and will offer a new avenue of diversification to private equity industry.

But the task of SME development is a challenging task and requires strong will on the part of different stakeholders. SMEs are considered to be the riskiest segment of borrowers from a financial institution’s perspective and thus struggle for timely and adequate credit. Access to technical and market information, financial assistance and trained and educated workers is the biggest challenge for SMEs. Future SMEs require sound business practices such as corporate governance, risk management, stakeholder communications and regulatory compliance.

I believe that SMEs are sine qua non for manufacturing sector & I can foresee a bigger space for SMEs in next 20 years from now. I am so intrigued with the idea of SMEs development and their contribution in the economic growth that in the long run I wish to work as a freelancer offering consultancy and advisory services on financial and strategic matters to SMEs. I would work with a network of financial institutions, venture capitalists, engineers, environmentalists, social workers, suppliers, and policy makers so as to offer SMEs a comprehensive set of services.

APPENDIX: REFERENCES

U.S. Needs to Return to Its Manufacturing Base
http://seekingalpha.com/article/119136-u-s-needs-to-return-to-its-manufacturing-base

Securing America’s Future: The Case for a Strong Manufacturing Base, A Study by Joel Popkin and Company, Washington, D.C. June 2003, Prepared for the NAM Council of Manufacturing Associations

http://www.pmihome.org/Popkin_Study_3-03.pdf

President predicts it will take decades to revive declining U.S. manufacturing base?

http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/president-predicts-it-will-take-decades-to-revive-declining-us-manufacturing-base/question-637119/

Manufacturing & Investment Around The World: An International Survey Of Factors Affecting Growth & Performance, ISR Publications, revised 2nd edition, 2002. ISBN 978-0-906321-25-6.

Economy Watch: Economy, Investment & Finance Report

http://www.economywatch.com/world_economy/usa/export-import.html

USA Manufacturing output continues to increase (over the long run), Curious cat, Investing and economics blog

http://investing.curiouscatblog.net/2008/12/02/usa-manufacturing-output-continues-to-increase-over-the-long-term/

Alliance for American Manufacturers http://www.americanmanufacturing.org/issues/manufacturing/the-us-manufacturing-crisis-and-its-disproportionate-effects-on-minorities/

Can the future be built in America? http://proquest.umi.com.remote.baruch.cuny.edu/pqdweb?index=28&did=1860761601&SrchMode=1&sid=2&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1259505905&clientId=8851

TO SAVE AMERICAN MANUFACTURING: USBIC’S PLAN FOR AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL RENEWAL BY Kevin L. Kearns, Alan Tonelson, and William Hawkins

http://americaneconomicalert.org/USBIC_Save_American_Manufacturing_Jobs_Plan.pdf

Goldman Sachs Launches 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative

http://www2.goldmansachs.com/our-firm/press/press-releases/current/10-k-business.html

Goldman Sachs as Social Entrepreneur http://sum2llc.wordpress.com/

Hamilton Plan by Sum2llc http://sum2llc.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/sme-development-bank/

You Tube Video: Isley Brothers, Work to Do

Risk: SME, manufacturing, economic revitalization, social wealth

February 3, 2010 Posted by | business, commerce, economics, Hamilton Plan, manufacturing, recession, SME | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Convergence and Innovation Inhibitors: 011110

As we start the second decade of the new millennium, innovation is understood as a critical driver to overcome the economic malaise plaguing the global economy. Economic stasis and political factionalism has made it increasingly evident that faltering economic and social institutions cry out for sweeping reform. These reforms can only be achieved with innovative approaches in policy and practice. Innovation is realized by giving flight to uninhibited thought and the clear application of ideas with decisive action. Though most agree that we badly need reform, we remain at painful odds as to what those reforms should be and how to implement them. The destructive legislative debates on health care and the ugly political theater of town meetings that occurred in the United States over the summer accomplished little in regards to meaningful reform. The exercises  only served to drive a deepening wedge into the ability of a democratic culture to form a transformative consensus.

Our society is a complex ecosystem comprised of many competing interests. The classic definition of politics, “the means to decide how limited resources are allocated to disparate interests” is clearly a truism that must be applied if we are to realize the reform that we desperately need. In a post scarcity society that definition may seem a bit crude or antiquated. America’s history is marked by a culture of innovation and the incubation of industry. Innovation and its commercial expression in entrepreneurialism is a national asset that tempers the hard edges of stringent allocation or resources and has been the source of our great social wealth. Democracies continually require citizens to arbitrate how competing interests are reconciled and converge. As a self professed democracy the United States must break down the barriers that inhibit innovation by confronting the challenges posed by convergence.

Convergence has been the watch word in the tech industry for the past few years. Convergence aggregates, joins and aligns discreet trends, competencies, technologies and missions to spawn innovation and progress. Masters of business innovation understand that a precondition of convergence is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires extended conversations and dialog to understand how competing interests can be reconciled and brought together so that innovation and progress can be achieved. Marketeers invent neologisms like coopetition to brand the idea and lend heft to its thrust. We believe that innovation borne from convergence is the path to rebuild our economy, heal cultural wounds and take a step toward political maturity the United States needs to sustain the great experiment of our democratic republic.

With that in mind we offer a list that outlines the inhibitors to innovation. It is hoped that our nations leaders and people can begin an earnest conversation to address these barriers to growth. Maybe I’m wrong with offering this modest list but I remain willing to discuss it, hopeful that people of good will with a different viewpoint will be open to correct my thinking and contribute to my enlightenment.

1. War: War is inherently wasteful. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are grievous examples of waste and national distraction that hampers the United States economic recovery. At an  Ecumenical Memorial Service held at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terror attacks  a Buddhist Monk stated that  he believed “it was wiser to drop refrigerators on Afghanistan then bombs”.  Almost a decade later and two wars on I can’t help but to think what a meager $100 billion investment in Afghanistan would have returned to the United States tax payers.  More importantly it would have shown the world that above all else America values the sanctity and preservation of life.  It would have also minimized the rising toll of casualties of both citizens and soldiers.   We developed some great bunker buster bombs but we can’t figure out a way to stop a suicide bomber with exploding underpants.  We succeeded in stirring up a hornets nest of angry insurgents and failed to build innovative pathways to peace with steadfast bridges to secure allies and pacify combatants.

2. Politics: To be sure politics is omnipresent  but the politicization of faith institutions and government functions is a great separator of people. When politics infects faith institutions their ability to breach the social divide and  join people together is seriously compromised or downright destructive. The Catholic Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to parishioners based on political biases of the communicant places politics at the center of the Lords alter.  The recent occurrences of  radical Islamists burning down Christian Churches in Malaysia  is tragically ironic.  The violence, a response to the Christians appropriation of the word Allah as a name for God; is  a violent rejection of  language convergence of two great faith traditions.  It would seem that unity is a  threat that God cannot abide and is a growing threat that must be abolished.  In the secular world government agencies  were instructed to withhold scientific climate change research of the National Science Foundation because it did not conform with the politics of the party in power.  The extent of the politicization of the judicial branch of government under the Bush Administration was a seditious move worthy of dictatorships.  Innovative application of constitutional law in defense of civil liberties is one of the greatest challenges the war on terror poses to this country.  The creation of kangaroo courts to support the politics of the ruling party would undermine our system of justice.  It would  transform our judiciary  into a repressive apparatus of the state, our laws into  stale dogmas ill suited to meet the legal challenges  of our time and a  justice system that is indistinguishable from the justice offered by our opponents.

3. Ideology: Only good ideas need apply. Deng Xiaoping said it best “does it matter if its a communist or capitalist mouse trap. The question is, does it catch mice?” Seeing this as a threat, Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution and routed the capitalist roaders as a threat to the Great Proletarian Revolution. After the death of Mao, Deng would be rehabilitated and play a key role in China’s adoption of a market economy and its current ascendancy as a world economic power.  In my mind there is a striking resemblance to the debate about heath care.  Socialized medicine is bad.  Do you want to turn into France?  Canadian health care is too expensive.  UK heath care system is overloaded and can’t cope with demand.   These problems would be solved however after the death panels had a chance to meet  and decide who shall live and who must walk the plank.

4. Entrenched Commercial Interests: Though we are ardent believers in capitalism as an engine of innovation the dictatorship of ROI, entrenched concentrations of capital and an unwillingness or inability to adopt longer term investment horizons hamper innovation. The failure of the United States automobile industry to develop fuel efficient vehicles is a good example of market intransigence. The development of junk bonds by Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert dismantled the manufacturing base of the US economy accelerated the countries decline as a net exporter of products creating the foundation of a debtor nation. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The succeeding administration had them removed. Imagine where the alternative energy industry would be today had it developed this leading edge idea and capitalized on this first mover advantage.

5. Unbridled free markets: The economic carnage of the banking meltdown is a startling example of the excesses the pursuit of profit will create. The boom in commercial and residential real estate construction created massive stocks of unused inventories that misdirected and wasted enormous resource. The energy and capital expended on these wasteful endeavors misdirected funds and created huge social hazards that requires massive amounts of capital to mitigate. Also worth mention is the development of video gaming. Lots of energy and creativity is being expended on the best techno music to use while your Mafia Avatar bashes open the head of your opponent with a baseball bat. We are not suggesting censorship or a prohibition of video games nor centralized economic planning. Its a compensation and social value issue.  Perhaps a communicants denial of participation at the Lord’s Table lead them to leave the church and miss the message about social values.

6. Technology: It may seem odd to include technology as an inhibitor to innovation but technology for technology sake may inhibit the development of innovative applications solutions that are not technological in nature. The technorati of the world is transforming technology into a religion. Deprived of its human dimension it can become a dogma that grows in an antagonistic relationship with its human masters. The United States continues to trumpet its technological prowess as the deciding factors in its war in Afghanistan. But that paradigm was explored during the war in Viet Nam where pungi sticks ultimately trumped napalm bombs. The power of an idea and how it connects and motivates people is force that is mightier then the sword.

7. Fundamentalism: The Pharisees once asked Jesus, “is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Jesus answered that it was always the right time to heal those who are sick. The world recoils in horror at the capacity for destruction fundamentalism regularly visits upon the world. The denial of equal civil rights to LGBT people creates a  bifurcated system of citizenship.  It is an ugly stain on our democratic heritage.  The gravest peril to democracy is the abridgment and denial of civil rights to any group of citizens. Democracy necessitates that all republicans enjoy equal access and rights in order for it to function. The denial of that right based on a fundamentalist reading of religious scriptures makes it particularly abhorrent because civil rights of citizens in a secular democracy is not an issue that is decided by theologians or the adherents to a particular theology.

Tolerance and consensus are both antithetical to the precepts of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not the sole province of religion. It has its secular and ideological adherents as well. Fundamentalism is a pillar of dictatorship; either of a political or theocratic nature both are enemies of secular democracy. Secular democracies require tolerance to respect the diverse ideas and competing viewpoints require in the democratic process. Secular democracies require the trust to converse and hash out the best ideas that serve the greatest good. This is only possible if consensus can be achieved. It is how “out of many becomes one”. It is the true genius of America. It is a worthy innovation of governance that every freedom loving citizen should jealously guard and consciously pursue.

8.  Public Education:  The public education system that the United States built is the true arsenal of democracy and the nations source of wealth and its many contributions it has made to the world.  Without the vast network of learning institutions built and supported by successive generations of Americans the worlds great experiment in representative democracy would have long ago perished.   The public schools sole charter is to create an enlightened citizenship with the skills to discuss, discern and decide in a civil and constructive manner the ever evolving dialectic of a democratic consensus placed at the service of the republic.  It is one of the true geniuses of America and remains her enduring strength.

Today public schools are under attack by forces whose agendas are the pursuit of parochial goals that first and foremost seek their enrichment and interests at the expense of the greatest good of the republic.  The charter school movement is a trend that threatens the public school system by privatizing some of the systems assets and draining away much needed resource and financial support.  It forces public schools to dispense with curriculum offerings like music and arts, sports programs and civic excursions that will convey an understanding of how institutions  interact and support the greater social good. This aspect of the educational experience is supplanted by an exacting examination regime that destroys the love of learning.  Secular learning is also being threatened through the introduction of theological precepts like creationism into the science curriculum of public schools.  Religion and faith are important precepts to offer in a public educational curriculum;  however theology that masquerades  as   science  is an ideological stricture that has no place in public schools.    These  trends are pose great challenges to the  public  schools mission to form enlightened citizens free to think and free to act in the sole service of liberty and participatory democracy.  Innovation and progress is in danger of becoming a secular sin a disease of the soul that needs to be eradicated from the public schools as its threatens to infect the greater body politic.

You Tube Music Video:  Louis Armstrong, I Get Ideas

Risk: innovation, convergence, progress, tolerance

January 11, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, business, Carter, China, Christianity, culture, democracy, economics, faith, history, institutional, manufacturing, Muslim, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, sustainability, terrorism, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

St. Michael Save Us!

Michael_Jackson_an_angel_by_Ice_BeatMichael Jackson is now one with the ages. MJ’s passage from this earth marks the death of an American hero and the birth of an angel or possibly a saint. MJ now joins Elvis and Princess Di to complete a divine celestial trinity.

First there was Elvis, The King. The American dream and the innocence of an age dies way too young. No worries, Col. Parker transforms it into the tragic legend of an unsullied Americana that refuses to die even as its mummified corpse lying in state at Graceland continues to twitch from all the amphetamines old Elvis consumed during his historic run in Vegas.

Elvis, the everyman saint. Rising from the humble estate of a Mississippi delta dirt farmer. Elvis would conquer the hearts of his countrymen with sweet southern charm, an impish smile and an untamable shock of hair that flipped when his hips rocked. His love me tender silky voice had the power to weaken every woman’s knees. Countless men would also be curiously drawn to emulate his persona by adopting the vain King’s more frilly affectations. It was a curious example of socially acceptable homo eroticism in a don’t ask don’t tell and certainly don’t show society.

Princess Di, The Lady of the Lake, would follow Elvis. Her story genuinely tragic because her violent demise was not her doing. Her story truly the stuff out of a very Grimm fairy tale. A more gorgeous Cinderella could not be found. Yet her unprincely prince yearning to free himself from under the shadow of a perpetual queen would flummox his princess bride. It would doom this marriage and force the affection starved Princess into the arms of another. This fairy tale did not end well for the defrocked Princess. Her loyal subjects refused to let this very contemporary aristocrat descend to the pedestrian status of commoner. Her minions jealously guarded the memory of this royal icon. They sought to affirm personal fantasies that attaining royal status, though remote, is a possibility; and that beautiful benevolent monarchs are real people like them who deeply love and identify with their daily trials. Devoted Britoners make pilgrimages to her final resting place that is worthy of Queen Guenevere. Pricess Di is entombed on an island in an ornamental lake known as The Round Oval. The lake is located in Althorp Park’s gardens the ancestral home of Princess Di’s family. The Round Oval is surrounded by a path with thirty-six oak trees, marking each year of her life. Princess Di’s constant sentinels are four black swans that swim the lake amidst water lilies, which, in addition to white roses, were Diana’s favorite flowers.

MJ’s beatification will proceed abetted by fawning fans, a complicit family and entertainment media moguls eager to do large licensing deals to insure that royalties continue to accrue to the King of Pop estate and its agents. His veneration will address the American peoples deep seated need and unending capacity for hero worship. This need is only exceeded by our driving compulsion for instant gratification through gluttonous consumption. For many, this is the principal freedom promised to any and all Americans; an inalienable right to satiate any whim or whimsy money can buy. Nowhere in recent memory do these character deficiencies coalescence so neatly as they do with MJ.

The voracious consumption of culture knows no bounds. Like every other aspect of American life, culture as a commodity is the only culture we know. Radical capitalism has so thoroughly reified itself into the fabric of our everyday life that we find it increasingly difficult to imagine or experience human relations or interactions outside of a commercial transactional exchange. MJ significant buying power purportedly allowed him to bleach his skin, remove a negroid nose, purchase a triptych of white kids, fiance a voracious prescription drug addition and allegedly engage and cover up pedophilia activities.

MJ’s life was the triumph of consumer capitalism. Marketing changed and created MJ and the idea of MJ. From his very first appearance on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine as a member of the Jackson 5, to the ghastly image of his corpse filled body bag being offloaded from a helicopter on its way to the city morgue; MJ was a commercial vehicle, a marketing juggernaut that enriched a multitude of people, fattened his bank account and tormented and robbed his soul.

Yes MJ could have anything and everything money could buy yet he found no peace. This mythic figure created, manufactured and marketed by immutable corporate institutions seeking to seamlessly bind our mind and soul to an existential dream of material opulence in reality is much more the nightmare. It is more akin to imprisonment in a gulag of Walmarts; then the elusive personal liberation tantalizingly dangled by the broken promises of consumer capitalism. MJ’s death truly signals a hair on fire moment for our culture and no metaphor could be more powerful then his Pepsi commercial shoot gone bad.

Our myths instruct us to hold on to our Valium and amphetamine addicted lifestyles. Its the price we must pay to work and acquire the things that hold the illusory promise of freedom. We need heroes to emulate. It fuels our Viagra driven power surges in a queer transference. Its how we escape our daily pedestrian dread. It is how we live to converse with the God’s if only for a few fleeting infrequent moments allowed by the running meters of consumer rapture.

Here we are led to believe that after a heavy day of fighting the power, misogynistic rappers guzzling Christal and lighting Cuban spliffs with hundred dollar bills are the just rewards for speaking truth to power and taking on the man. Madison Avenue business is the creation of virtual mythology.

MJ’s career trajectory perfectly captured the arch of American culture since the Viet Nam war. The perfect antidote to The Black Panthers and Malcolm X, the cutesy Jackson 5 were acceptable Negroes welcomed in all white American living rooms as they stomped on Ed Sullivan’s TV Show. To the final funereal spectacle complete with a homily by Rev. Al Sharpton offering MJ apologetics and the Afro American Hollywood bourgeoisie rolling up to the Staple Center in a caravan of Black Danalis perfectly captured a peculiar resonance of Barack Obama’s America. MJ always at its epicenter. Placed their by the power of Madison Avenue media mavens and blockbuster Tinsel Town agents.

CNN was crowing how this event was about the common folk. Not the stars or glittering sequined gloves worn by MJ pallbearers. Elvis was a Horatio Alger type story. Princess Di let us fantasize about our royalty as we sat in our personal castles of over mortgaged homes cluttered with Rubbermaid artifacts. MJ was evidence of the triumph of marketing and the divinity of packaged consumer capitalism. Look again at the man in the mirror. Let it reveal how consumer fantasy makes every man King and each day a coronation through the availability of fast and easy credit.

Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero Has a Thousand Faces “Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.

As the world begins its frantic search of Travelocity for deals for a Hajj to the Neverland Ranch, some might recall St. Michael the Arch Angel who cast Lucifer out of heaven. MJ will be St. Michael the Second. It may be an ironic twist of fate that MJ will hold second billing for eternity to an Arch Angel portrayed by John Travolta in the film Micheal. I’m sure his publicists are busy planning a PR campaign to rearrange the celestial order of things.

You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: Madison Avenue

Risk: culture, capitalism, marketing,

July 30, 2009 Posted by | branding, commerce, commodities, culture, democracy, institutional, manufacturing, marketing, media, movie, pop, product, reputation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PCA Goes To The Lonesome Valley

PCA RIP

PCA RIP

On Monday came the not surprising news that Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) has filed for bankruptcy.

The practice of selling food additives laced with salmonella bacteria makes it difficult to win back the trust of customers that had been so grievously violated.

PCA’s actions to knowingly ship contaminated products that have resulted in nine deaths and have sickened 637 people in 44 states. PCA’s salmonella laced peanut paste has contaminated 2,226 processed food products. A full list of recalled products can be found on the FDA website. These potentially criminal acts by PCA’s management has demolished the PCA corporate brand making it impossible to continue as a going concern.

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing will liquidate the company. This strategy will protect the PCA shareholders in the privately held firm from the significant legal liability that this event has created. It does not however protect PCA’s company management and accomplices that knowingly shipped contaminated products from potential criminal prosecution. Criminal persecution of those involved should be pursued and if anyone is found guilty punishment must be severe.PCA released its contaminated product into a large and extensive supply chain. Many leading brand food processing manufacturers that use PCA’s peanut paste as an ingredient in their packaged goods products have suffered severe reputational damage to their product and company brands. Though PCA’s corporate liability may be mitigated with the bankruptcy filing, aggrieved consumers will continue to have have legal recource by filing suits against the major consumer product companies that are still in business. This could make for a record breaking class action product liability suit.

Unfortunately this tragic occurrence could have been prevented. PCA’s actions demonstrate a disturbing ambivalence toward effective sound corporate governance practices. Companies that willingly sacrifice risk management and ethical business practices for the sake of short term profits consistently undermine corporate sustainability. All may not result in a dramatic corporate implosion like PCA. But ultimately the song of corporate liquidations remains the same. Unemployment for workers, aggrieved consumers, community desertion, tortured consciences and and in some instances criminal prosecution.

RIP PCA.

You Tube Video: Fairfield Four, Lonesome Valley

Risk: corporate goverance, ethics, risk management, legal

February 18, 2009 Posted by | associations, compliance, manufacturing, Peanut Corporation of America, product liability, supply chain, sustainability | , , , , , | Leave a comment

For the Want of a Nail: Lennar Homes

for the want of a nail

for the want of a nail

Community developer Lennar Homes lawsuit against drywall manufacturers reminds me of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme, “for the want of a nail.” The rhyme begins with a nail that was not available to affix a shoe to the hoof of a horse. The loss of the nail loses the shoe, which loses the horse, which loses the rider, which loses the battle, which loses the war, which loses the king which loses the kingdom. For the want of a nail is an instructive tale of how seemingly insignificant or minute events can create consequences that escalate into a catastrophic incident that impacts and endangers many.

The Lennar lawsuit is yet another egregious example of supply chain contamination that has recently come to light. The discovery of toxic substances within drywall manufactured in China and used in the construction of Florida homes has prompted the lawsuit against manufacturers and a number of installation subcontractors that purchased the contaminated drywall on behalf of Lennar.

Lennar’s lawsuit alleges that subcontractors it employed to install dry wall, substituted high quality domestic brands with the less expensive contaminated drywall. The subcontractors imported the contaminated drywall from China to save on costs of materials in an attempt to boost profits for their contracted work. The drywall was discovered to contain toxic substances after a number of homeowners began to complain of foul odors, product deterioration and in some cases sickness due to exposure to the contaminated product.

It is believed that the Chinese drywall was found to contain a quantity of dry ash which was used as a filler substance in the manufacturing process. Dry ash is a waste by product of coal fired power plants that are so prevalent in China. The dry ash is known to contain concentrations of heavy metals that are considered dangerous to humans.

This event is certainly unwelcome news for the beleaguered construction and real estate industries. Particularly so in deeply distressed markets like southern Florida. It has heightened the risk profile of all parties involved and could spell catastrophic consequences for some of the involved manufacturers, homeowners, and contractors. This event can also impact the profitability of banks that may be forced to write off non-performing mortgages and construction loans sold to affected homeowners and contractors. Insurance companies may be required to pay off clams for product liability and homeowner policies. Municipalities are also at risk due to this event. Tax ratables and property values are threatened due to property abandonment and the suspicion that toxins have been introduced into the community.

This risk event will require the drywall manufacturers to face severe legal liability. It will impact profitability due to the financial stress of remediation expenses. Most significantly these types of events do severe damage to the company brand and reputation. A great deal of company and product branding is about trust. This types of events compromise the trust of brand consumers. Once that trust is violated it is very difficult to win it back.

Lennar violated its customers trust by allowing its supply chain to be contaminated. This violation of trust will result in financial loss and may create a long term health risk for Lennars customers and their families.

The municipalities that welcomed Lennar with the anticipation that development will serve the citizens of their communities have now been scarred by an ecological hazard. This will continue to haunt the reputation of these towns for many years because it threatens the value of both contaminated and non contaminated homes.

The drywall installation contractors face a high probability of bankruptcy and potential criminal prosecution. This event will fire a deepening distrust of Chinese manufactured products. It will certainly add stress to the delicate political balance of the highly codependent China USA trade relationship. Instigating calls for more protectionism and “Buy America” mantra by American based manufacturers. The prospect of added strain with China is particularly delicate due to China’s important roll in financing government spending through its large purchases of US government bonds. All because some subcontractors wanted to realize a little more profit margin. For the want of a nail indeed.

The unfortunate realization is that this risk could have been prevented. Master contractors need to put in place service and supply level agreements that prohibit the use of substituted materials. Master contractors need to manage supply chains by insisting that all materials used by subcontractors meet quality specifications and are sourced from trusted and thoroughly vetted providers. Adherence to international product quality and testing standards must be ascertained before those are accepted into the supply chain. This is just one aspect of ascertaining weather a supplier meets acceptance criteria into a company supply chain.

The Profit|Optimizer helps manufacturers, developers, contractors and lenders conduct a risk assessment of their supply chain. It is something that many businesses often take for granted yet holds the potential to become one of the most dangerous risks to the financial health and stability of the business enterprise.

Sum2 sells nails. The Profit|Optimizer helps business nail down risks that can deconstruct your business. It is a great set of tools to build profits and construct a healthy sustainable business.

Next time you read Mother Goose “for the want of a nail” to a child remind them to pay particular attention to its sage advise. It may be the first lesson in effective risk management that they will receive.

You Tube Music Video: Peter Paul and Mary, If I Had A Hammer

Risk: supply chain, product liability, reputation risk, ecological

February 7, 2009 Posted by | disaster planning, ecological, manufacturing, product liability, reputation, supply chain | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kashi’s Kismet

salmonella

salmonella

Last night as I was researching the Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) peanut paste recall, my wife received an urgent telephone call from our local supermarket. The caller informed us that the Kashi products we purchased were subject to recall. I was a bit astonished by the call for several reasons. The first being notified of the unhappy news that a premium brand product that I so enjoy has the potential to kill me or make me very ill due to Salmonella bacteria. It goes without saying that it was a most bracing experience. I was also a bit bemused about the ability of my local supermarket to track me down to inform me that my favorite breakfast cereal might endanger me. At the very least letting me know that this is no breakfast for champions.

Though this is a positive example of how consumer product data mining and customer tracking business intelligence is employed; the realization that your breakfast eating habits are tucked away in some giant relational database remains a bit unnerving. But that is a different subject for another day.

After checking with the Kashi website the cereal products I purchased were not listed on the recall list. Kashi website lists granola bars and cookies as its only products that are subject to recall. As a committed consumer of the brand I remember when I purchased the cereal a free granola bar was included in the package for product promotional purposes. When I returned home I eagerly consumed the free granola bars. I am happy to report that I have not fallen ill. I’ll have to go back to the supermarket and ask if the non contaminated cereal I still have in my cupboard remains subject to the recall. An interesting product bundling dilemma.

The mechanics and execution of the product recall seems to be effective. The sophisticated use of data mining technologies and the ability of the manufacturer to contact a retail consumer through a digital trail that includes customer loyalty cards, credit card, and product bar codes is pretty impressive.

What is of concern about Kashi and other processed food manufacturers that are dependent on an expanded and complex supply chain is their failure to uncover the risk associated with the supplier. In this case PCA. It is alleged that PCA had a leaky roof that played a role in contaminating the peanut paste. A simple walk through of the facility may have uncovered this risk factor. Certainly if a company fails to perform the most basic facilities maintenance functions (like a leaky roof) odds are that the company has other issues and businesses functions that it is not addressing. This is the cockroach theory. Where you see one there are usually many others. A simple walk through may have revealed that all was not kosher at PCA.

Supply chain risk is becoming more prominent as manufacturers and service providers aggregate components and ingredients from numerous providers to deliver a finished product or service to end user consumers. The implementation of a sound practice program that addresses risk associated with supply chains is a key ingredient for a sustainable business enterprise.

The Profit|Optimizer devotes a section to supply chain risk. All process manufacturers must require suppliers to conduct a thorough risk assessment of processes and functions as outlined in the Profit|Optimizer. The Profit|Optimizer also includes a section on facilities risk. The risk assessment tools offered by the Profit|Optimizer would have uncovered the dangerous risk factors at PCA and may have prevented the fatal and costly release of contaminated products.

The kismet of commercial enterprises like Kashi will continue to be bright so long as the mantra of sound risk management is practiced with more vigilance. In doing so the health and well being of its loyal customers will flower as will the value of its product brands and the sustainability of the business.

You Tube Video: Vince Guaraldi, The Peanuts Theme

Risk: reputation, brand, product liability

February 4, 2009 Posted by | manufacturing, product liability, reputation, risk management, supply chain | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peanut Corporation of America

A salmonella breakout that has been traced to peanut products marketed by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) is an unfortunate and severe example of a company with poor risk management, weak corporate governance controls and questionable ethical business practices. In most instances poor risk management and corporate governance violations primarily victimizes the company that fails to institute them. In the case of the PCA, unsound business practices has unleashed a deadly viral bacteria into a vast consumer market. Since its outbreak in October the salmonella infection is believed to have claimed the lives of 8 people and has sickened over 500. PCA violations will also cast a long shadow on the vibrant US peanut growers and processing industry.

A brief examination of some of the public disclosures that have come to light concerning the PCA speaks of a telling breakdown in sound risk management practices. These disclosures also hints at potential instances of fraud to cover up lax controls and compliance violations cited by FDA and State of Georgia food safety examiners.

The PCA had been cited for violations and lax operational controls during past inspections by regulatory agencies. Inspectors found evidence of roach infestation and mold in the production and storage facilities. Inspections also revealed that product quality had been compromised due to a degraded manufacturing process and improper maintenance of the operating facility. After bringing this to the attention of company management PCA executives sought out food testing companies that would provide results to indicate that product quality met federal safety standards and were safe to ship.

Utilizing industry standard risk analysis tools like the Profit|Optimizer would have revealed several breaches in sound risk management practices at PCA. Lax operational controls, poor facilities and the evasion of corporate governance practices will likely put PCA out of business due to the damage its actions have done to company product brands and reputation.

Problems and risks associated with process manufacturers like PCA add layers of complexity to determine product risk due to its role as a supplier in an intricate and expanded supply chain for processed consumer food products. The melamine contamination of Chinese milk products and the mortgage backed securities market crisis provide examples of how product liability and consumer risk is leveraged due supply chain complexity. The pervasiveness of products that use the peanut paste manufactured by PCA is very similar in many respects. Cookies, ice cream, crackers and other products are subject to recall. Some of the companies affected by PCA’s contaminated products include premium consumer product and brand marketing companies like Kellogg, General Mills, Jenny Craig, Nuti-System and Trader Joes.

Severe product liability events like this unfortunately also cast aspersions on an entire industry. Associations like the American Peanut Council are most concerned that the poor manufacturing practices and product quality standards exhibited by PCA will reflect on how consumers view the industry as a whole. It is a valid concern for the industry association and it must demonstrate to the regulators and consumers that its membership is committed to sound manufacturing practices, product quality and corporate governance excellence. This is not a PR problem. Nor is it a problem born from an industries anathema to regulatory control or a problem unleashed by some renegade industry member. Industries and their representative associations must also help address sound risk management and corporate governance excellence as a cultural issue that is endemic to its membership. Then industry excellence becomes synonymous with product quality and consumer satisfaction.

In all the FDA uncovered 10 violations and has published its report and carries a full listing of recalled products and other resources on the FDA website.

You Tube Video: Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, Salt Peanuts

Risk: product, operations, regulatory, reputation

January 29, 2009 Posted by | associations, manufacturing, operations, Peanut Corporation of America, product liability, regulatory, reputation, risk management, supply chain | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment