Thinking the unthinkable, predicting the unpredictable

The spin these days is that all of these disasters — 9/11, Iraq Insurgency, New Orleans flood — were both unthinkable and unpredictable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

These were all thought of and predicted — way in advance. I can name at least a dozen private (and public) sector firms that spend all of their waking hours dreaming up stuff like this. Not only was all this foreseeable, but its the subject of deep and regular analyses by some very, very bright people.

Indeed, from the office of strategic planning in the Pentagon, to risk management officers in Re-insurance companies to capital preservation specialists at Futures trading firms to doctors who specialize in pandemics at the NIH, all sorts of these "what-could-go-wrong" analyses occurs everyday. Even Wal-Mart plans distribution and routing strategies around all kinds of planned and sudden unplanned weather interruptions (see our earlier discussion). 

On Wall Street, bigger funds consider the "What-if" scenarios all the time.  I have participated in stress-testing asset pools with funds running 100s of billions of dollars:  What happens if a Nuke goes off in DC, if China invades Taiwan, if various heads of different States are assassinated (including the US President and/or VP), if the Royal House of Saud falls. Nukes are fun, cause there are so many scenarios — in addition to the dirty bomb problems, there’s what if N. Korea accidentally blows up a weapon, if Israel nukes Iran, if Russia admits 5 bombs are unaccounted for. Then there’s the accidental US silo disaster, including various alternative misinterpretations (i.e., accident, terrorist, Russian or Chinese espionage, etc.)

All of this is called strategic planning. Up until recently, it was something that was not only carried out by the private sector and the military, but also at he highest levels of US government. Lately, it seems to have become a lost art.

My personal theory for a lot of what has gone wrong over the past few years is that ideology (i.e., Neo-Con) and faith-based belief systems (insert your choice here) have replaced elbow grease, deep thought, and long term strategizing as the methodology of implementing policy.

Its apparent in the anti-intellectual bend of much of the White House. Is it a surprise that pseudo-science is challenging Science? Not if you have been paying any attention.

The bottom line is that this distasteful, difficult stuff — planning, strategizing, executing –  matters. It matters to the nation, its population and ultimately, to their safety from all manners of ordinary, natural and extra-ordinary man-made disasters.

This is one of the few times I get to admonish the public and exhort members of both political parties with words such as these:   

Figure it out — or die.

Category: Economy, Politics, Science, War/Defense, Web/Tech

Compare & Contrast: FEMA vs Wal-MART

There are certain things I expect for my tax dollars:  Schools, Police services, Military protection, Infrastructure, etc.

This is true whether you believe in big government or small. Note that these are not politically charged issues — should the EPA be eliminated, why not privatize NASA, etc.

I am referring to the very basic services government is formed to provide.

Which is why the simply incompetant job performed by FEMA is such a cause for concern: Somehow, we seemed to have lost interest in strategic planning — there is no intelligent design (pun intended) in anything the goverment does lately.

Even more pathetic than the failure at the Federal level is the post-disaster excuse making. Echoing similar 9/11 excuses, the "No one could have seen this coming crowd" is out pushing the same canard.

Let’s put that lie to rest right here, via the WSJ:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency could learn some things from Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24, when Katrina was reclassified to a storm from a tropical depression, Jason Jackson, the retailer’s director of business continuity, started camping out in Wal-Mart’s emergency command center. By Friday, when the hurricane touched down in Florida, he had been joined by 50 Wal-Mart managers and support personnel, ranging from trucking experts to loss-prevention specialists.

On Sunday, before the storm made landfall on the Gulf Coast, Mr. Jackson ordered Wal-Mart warehouses to deliver a variety of emergency supplies, from generators to dry ice to bottled water, to designated staging areas so that company stores would be able to reopen quickly if disaster struck.

Then, when the hurricane knocked out Wal-Mart’s computerized system for automatically updating store inventory levels in the area, he fielded phone calls from stores about what they needed. He also alerted a replenishment team to reorder essential products, such as mops and bleach. And by Tuesday, scores of Wal-Mart trucks, some escorted by police, were setting out to deliver 40 generators and tons of dry ice to company stores across the Gulf that had lost power.

Katrina is the biggest natural disaster Wal-Mart has ever had to confront. Initially, 126 of its stores, including 12 in the New Orleans metropolitan area, and two distribution centers were shuttered because they were in Katrina’s direct path. More than half ended up losing power, some were flooded and 89 have reported damage.

But by this past Friday, all but 15 of the idled stores had reopened. From Boutte, La., to Pass Christian, Miss., Wal-Mart frequently beat FEMA by days in getting trucks filled with emergency supplies to relief workers and citizens whose lives were upended by the storm.

Wal-Mart’s speed in responding to Katrina underscores the extent to which it and other big-box retailers like Home Depot Inc. have become key players in responding to natural disasters. Whereas FEMA has to scramble for resources, Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart has it owns trucks, distribution centers and dozens of stores in most areas of the country. It also has a specific protocol for responding to disasters, and it can activate an emergency command center to coordinate an immediate response. In the short term at least, the hurricane has helped boost Wal-Mart’s tattered image, damaged by a major sex-discrimination suit and allegations that it provides workers stingy pay and benefits.

Its astonishing that some people keep pressing the same old misinformation into service . . .

Source:
At Wal-Mart, Emergency Plan Has Big Payoff
Ann Zimmerman and Valerie Bauerlein
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, September 12, 2005; Page B1
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB112648681539237605,00.html

Read More

Category: Economy, Finance, Politics

Q2 SPX Earnings by Sector

Category: Earnings

Google or Valero?

Category: Trading

Parsing the Fed

Category: Economy, Fixed Income/Interest Rates

Apprenticed Investor: Time Waits for No One

Category: Investing

Rita & Fuel Prices

Category: Commodities, Trading

Incentivizing Your Customers to Steal Your Product

Bob Lefsetz explains to the major labels why they are either incompetant business people, or just plain ol’ dumb:

It’s this kind of stuff that got the labels in trouble in the FIRST PLACE!

Why do these companies feel that their actions have no consequences?
It’s not only record labels, it’s the radio industry too.  They cut the
playlists, added a ton of commercials and what happened??  PEOPLE
STOPPED LISTENING!  Yup, they keep making new people every day, the
population is increasing, but radio listenership is down.

In the nineties the labels released shittier and shittier acts with
only one good track on their CDs that kept going up in price.  The
companies believed they had all the power, that they could DICTATE to
the marketplace.

Wrong.  The customer ALWAYS has the power.  To see P2P services purely
in the context of free is to miss the point.  From the very BEGINNING
of Napster, when fewer people were trading files than today, however
much publicity the practice was receiving, college students were
TESTIFYING!  Albums sucked and were overpriced to boot!  And that they
wanted to acquire music in a new way.

The battle is over.  Apple’s already sold 22 million iPods.  Don’t
expect a fall-off for Christmas.  The iPod Nano will be hotter than any
album released by the Big Four.  iPod users want the file, the CD is
irrelevant, unless it’s used as a ripping device.  WHICH IT CAN NO
LONGER BE!

Instead of looking towards the future, getting AHEAD of the marketplace
and corralling the public in a profit-making venture, the labels want
to keep everybody in the past.  They want to focus on CD sales.  Oh,
Edgar Bronfman, Jr. and the other powers say they BELIEVE in the
digital sphere.  But the iTunes Music Store and Rhapsody and Yahoo
Music are INHERENTLY crippled services that the public is not
interested in.  Only a tiny FRACTION of the public utilizes these
services.  Because they don’t deliver what people want, which is much
more USABLE music at a LOW PRICE!  But, these services do one thing the
labels LOVE!  They make the CD look like a good alternative.  This is
like selling
Hyundais with three wheels and saying horse and buggies look good in comparison! 

Read More

Category: Finance, Music

Goodbye, TiVo

Category: Web/Tech

The Fog of Katrina

Category: Earnings, Economy, Investing, Markets, Psychology