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Chrysler's New Chief, Obama's Crazy Talk

Before we get stuck in the main topics for today, let me just say how relieved I am that Bob Nardelli, former CEO of Home Depot, has been named as the new chairman and CEO of Chrysler Corporation.

If you follow business news, you might recognize Nardelli as the recently ousted Home Depot guy who, after ticking off shareholders with his allegedly imperious demeanour, left with a $210 million compensation package.

Let me repeat that...a $210 million compensation package. Ladies and gentlemen, that ain’t a golden handshake, that’s a golden full body massage with happy ending.

To be fair to the new Chrysler head, he is credited with doubling Home Depot’s sales during his tenure— a tenure which coincided with this country’s enormous housing boom and incredible mortgage financing frenzy. I suspect that a trained monkey with even a slight knowledge of retail and a blackberry could have increased sales for Home Depot during a home building boom. But there you go.

Anyway, he left in January with $210 million, which as you and I know, doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. Now the new private equity owners of Chrysler have decided that Nardelli is the fella to turn around the seriously underperforming car company. His pay package reportedly is tied to the company’s performance. On the surface that sounds good… pay for performance. The flip side is that, in the rarified air of the C level suite, decisions could be made that may benefit the company’s performance in the short term, thus assuring a hefty pay packet, while being less than visionary for the long haul.

All the above makes me sound like some sort of anti-capitalist, everyone should earn the same, stick-it-to-the-Man, hackey-sack playing misfit. Au contraire (a nod to my French speaking comrades.) I’m solidly behind the notion that a person should earn more for assuming more responsibility, risk or challenge. The part that puzzles me is how we always seem to rotate the top corporate positions in America amongst a gaggle of a dozen or so individuals.

Actually, what do you call a small gathering of CEO’s… a herd… a cabal… a load? I’ll check with the PWB research team as soon as they get back from the annual company picnic.

And now… let’s play another round of “Hey that’s just crazy talk”…

This past week produced these two gems, one from the Republican side and one from the Democratic field of candidates:

“There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.”

That of course was from Barack Obama, who later came under fire from Pakistani government officials for his odd James Cagney impersonation. Apparently, the Pakistanis did some checking and confirmed that, yes, they are a sovereign nation and ally of the United States, making Obama’s comments somewhat inflammatory and, uhh, stupid.

Immediately taking the heat off Obama, Republican candidate Tom Tancredo stepped to the podium and suggested that the best way to deter a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States would be to threaten to retaliate by bombing the holiest Islamic sites of Mecca and Medina.

Here’s the thing… the line on Tancredo winning the White House is, I dunno’, somewhere around 30,000 to 1. You and I honestly have as much chance of becoming president. So if he says something completely inane and offensive, do we really care? Sure, it’s idiotic, but we can also dismiss it as noise from the fringe.

But Obama is a different story. He’s a U.S. senator making a serious play for the presidency. He’s routinely touted for his big brain and political sensibilities. Surely one of those consultants or advisors on his staff could have massaged the terrorism/Pakistan/actionable intelligence line long enough to work the crazy out of it.

But there it was...we’ll take unilateral military action, essentially invade a sovereign nation that, believe it or not, has actually been an ally of ours in the effort against terrorism.

The dogpile began immediately… from both sides of the aisle. Biden, Dodd, Clinton, Republican candidates in droves… everyone rushed to the microphone to proclaim their amazement at how unprofessional, amateur, undiplomatic and just all around nutsy Obama’s pronouncement was. Finally, we found something that all the candidates could agree on.

It’s all very action-jackson and “me tough on terrorism” to bang on about taking the fight to Pakistan and Afghanistan. That’s actually become a campaign mantra for many of the candidates… we want out of Iraq so we can redeploy the troops to where it really matters.

Excellent. Deploying loads of troops to Afghanistan worked swell for the Soviets back in their day. I’m sure putting additional troops in Afghanistan wouldn’t lead to growing violence and something resembling the current insurgency in Iraq. History hardly ever repeats itself. Well, it does… but if you’ve got a short enough attention span it seems like it doesn’t.

And I’m fairly positive that carrying out unilateral military operations in Pakistan wouldn’t tick anyone off, crashing the Musharraf administration and ushering in a new government possibly controlled by fundamentalists. Oh, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. I’m sure that would all work out fine.

As always, a big thanks to the most excellent PWB readers who take the time to send in their thoughts. Let’s dip our collective big toe in the reader mailbag to see what people had to say about last week’s column focusing on An Inconvenient Truth and our inability to manage reasonable discourse…

Lee, possibly from Canada, said “… Nice. American arrogance at its finest. Desole, je suis Americain, please cook my steak again.”

Apparently, Lee took exception to a sentence in the column where I apparently didn’t know what was north of New York. They added “… It’s arrogant, spoiled, pampered and cocky Americans like you that do us all a disservice by spewing your irrelevant, frat-boy opinions in a supposedly credible news forum to the masses.”

Zut alors! I wrote that people seem to get unusually hostile and aggressive in responding to opinions different from their own. I guess Lee didn’t see the irony in his response.

Darren in Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain, wrote “… I just read your article and agree with you 100 per cent. Meaningful debate has been a lost art in this country.”

Jeff from parts unknown thought I missed the point about An Inconvenient Truth, stating “… You kept falling asleep because you don’t really care. The subject itself is riveting. That alone should have kept your interest.”

Nah, Jeff, I fell asleep because there weren’t enough car chases and explosions. Honestly, I want to know more and have actually watched other programs and read articles to try and understand both sides. Al’s documentary was about as watchable as the tape of my first wedding.

Another Jeff, this one from Colorado Springs wrote “… These are the same subjects I continue to rant about in my own home until I’m out of breath and my wife wants me to shut up and mow the grass. At least I now know I’m not alone out there, disgusted with the political posturing and an almost complete lack of reasonable discourse on incredibly important topics. I’m behind you all the way brother.”

Excellent. Now get your lazy ass outside and mow the lawn, preferably with a push mower to reduce your carbon footprint.

Michael, who says he has a secret decoder ring, complained that “… your problem is that you want to be entertained instead of informed. You are merely displaying a symptom many people display of foregoing factual information not because of the content, but because of how it is presented.”

Oh. Call me picky, but I kinda like my information to come with a dollop of entertainment. If I go into a business meeting now and someone unleashes a powerpoint presentation, that puppy better come with free drinks and fireworks if I’m going to be captivated. Damn right I want my information presented in a creative, energetic and possibly even riveting manner. I applaud your intellectual, self righteous self for enjoying information for information’s sake. Good for you.

And finally, Gayle from the great state of Virginia summed up her thoughts eloquently “… Well spoken. Well said. Brilliant, in fact. Thank God for people like you… lucid, sensible and knowledgeable.”

Gayle in fact is not a relative of mine. Nor do I hold any incriminating information on her. She wrote that of her own free will, which clearly indicates she may be a poor judge of character.

Till next week, stay safe.

Respond to the Writer

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.