Windows on the World of Raymond Plank

Founder, Apache Corp

Vol. 2009 No. 1



On Departing Apache

On departing Apache in January 2009, self appraisal suggested that at 87 years mind continues functional, and body seems reasonably able to act in concert.  So I decided I’d undertake writing an occasional essay to those who might possibly find value beyond the incessant sound bites of “late breaking news” coupled with largely self-serving political pandering of those bent on self-aggrandizement and public favor which seems to me to have reached an ugly crescent of bias versus substance derived from values of morality.


The recent trigger was part of a line attributable to a small investment boutique which offered a million plus dollars to pick the octogenarian brain of Warren Buffett, one of the world’s greatest marketers to tap into his decades of experience, lessons learned, and applied financially acumen.


Having studied annual reports of Warren and his loyal partner Charlie Munger, I have been fascinated with both the depth and scope for many years as the “Omaha Oracle” with flair, transparency, and humor, gained respect.  At one point Warren and I toiled together in the vineyard in behalf of election campaign reform along with former President Jimmy Carter and a number of recognizables from both sides of the political aisle.  It was in the context of election and soft money reform that we became on a first name basis.  Not having spoken since; which is not the case with Jimmy Carter, with whom I trout fished on Colorado’s Taylor River, and who came to Apache’s Houston offices one week during the year that he gave to Habitat for Humanity, as did 60 Apache volunteers who sponsored and built a home in Houston, complete to landscaping and follow up visits to its overcrowded occupants.


President Carter, though using his post presidency outreach perhaps more effectively than his presidency, was correct in his assessment that neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate had the will or the commitment to reform themselves, and judging by political funds, including millions from lobbyists, he has proved correct.  Carter believed that the then best chance to obtain campaign reform might be with a group of former presidents collaborating to influence a sitting president to embrace the removal of “soft dollars” from the process.  While attending a Washington victory celebration for an important step in the right direction, our efforts were quickly relegated to the garbage heap during the term of sitting President Bill Clinton, who had other fish to fry.  Reform was promptly shredded; too much self-interest and too little transparency within both parties where self-seeking continues to hold the U.S. hostage, hog-tied and conflicted.


While on the subject of election campaign reform, let’s consider several steps which the times of major economic malaise might, just might, better position groups of citizens to require change.  Unfortunately, campaign and election reform are not priority agenda items – even though the poison in body politic cries otherwise, how we choose to be governed needs to move up in our priorities. 


Term limits offer the potential advantage of a higher turnover of elected officials, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives which goes before the voters every two years.  If elected every four years, term limits might be 12 years, or three terms.


The Senate terms could remain at six years, or perhaps two terms.  Chairmen of the Committees might better be selected on the basis of relevance versus seniority while also limited within the term of their public service.  Term limits would facilitate turnover, capricious influence and doddering death bed resistivity.


Other nations limit the period of campaigns, to which might be added the amount of funds legal to allocate to campaigning, the source of funds, and the frequency with which campaign contributions are reported. 


Were the reader to note there are more important issues with which to deal currently, I might agree with the concern as the U.S. steams into uncharted waters of massive debt on top of unlikely debt repayment absent crippling inflation with which history is replete.


It’s now too late for quick or easy fixes.  Consumerism beyond individual and public means is a malady to be reversed and contained within the boundaries of prudence.  We, as Americans, are a hopeful nation, which wants to believe that “happy days are here again,” or are just around the corner.  I would point out that our leaders spent decades preaching the joys of consumerism, “consume, consume, consume,” and “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”  We found our leaders promoting the notion we were not “technically in a recession,” finally when the realities of history and arithmetic caught up, the “recession” was “moderate,” and would soon be history.  Eventually the public began to liken economic conditions with the Great Depression beginning with “market collapse of 1929” when some “blue chip” stocks fell from $200 per share to $2.00.  More recently in conferences, packed audiences were privy to the latest description, “The Greater Depression.”  I know not whether “greater depression” be accurate, but it is global, not limited to the U.S., Britain, and the European continent which in the case of Nazi Germany’s rise of inflation sped Adolph Hitler to power, together with Joseph Stalin’s bloody amalgamation of the Soviet Union, cost 100 million lives. 


There is enough to be done within the private sector to push or pull on the wagons concurrently to preserve and advance humanity. 


Currently before me is a chart which portrays the increase of the Federal hourly minimum wage to $7.25 per hour as of July 24th, 2009 from $5.15 in the late 1990’s. 


To some of us, $7.25 per hour may seem low or reasonable enough – average worker pay presently being $16 to $18.00 per hour.  Reasonableness is not the point.  The spread of $2.10 per hour is more than the average global citizen makes per day, not per hour, as over 3 billion people globally live at a level of poverty unknown in the U.S.  Hearts and minds go out particularly to the children of the world pictured dying of malnutrition, disease, and revolution.  Who do we think we are?  The kings’ horses, or pretenders’ horses asses? 


America has been, and currently remains, in a very favorable position relative to other countries with respect to the earth and rocks of our nation being a reservoir of minerals, including oil, coal, natural gas, iron, soil, and drinkable water.  Author and geologist Walter Youngquist’s book “GeoDestinies: The Inevitable Control of Earth Resources Over Nations and Individuals,” points out the contribution of these resources to America’s high living standards while noting other nations with but a fraction of our endowment, have neither fared as well, nor lasted as long as has the United States.  Unfortunately, Walter Youngquist’s book published in 1997 is difficult to come by.  I found it informative to the point where youth in our schools could well benefit from its required study in the gaining of knowledge.


A wise and deceased close friend once observed with tongue in cheek, “Designing change for others is fun – no responsibility for the outcome.” 


How true it was during an era in which oil was deriving its name “black gold.”  The leaders of the imperialistic, “advanced” nations drew the maps of Persia, now Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.  This “carving up” absent consideration of racial, social, and religious difference, set the stage for consequences, deferred bloodshed to generations presently “at bat” which makes the stakes larger in relation to unforeseen outcomes. 


Each mineral is finite and thereby with limited availability. Throughout history, another understudied topic, wars have been fought over access to earth’s resources.  The case has been made that nation’s military and vessels have been utilized to war on and confiscate precious metals, inclusive of gold and silver, while seizing and hauling off precious metals amid the destruction of civilizations.


David Boren, a fellow Yale graduate, whom I came to admire as a Democrat Senator from Oklahoma, and now effective President of the University of Oklahoma, strongly emphasizes the importance of the study of history in education.  Fortunately for me, my K-12 teachers were able and engaging, while history and international relations studies well serve careers.


In our era of rapid change through technology where there has been emphasis on math and technology, and perhaps less to the liberal arts than when President Harry Truman noted, “The only thing new in the world is the history we haven’t read.”


I prefer “everything is related to everything else” which embraces history as powerful contributor, while suggesting the importance of active, on-going life time learning to broaden and deepen the basis for understanding, interpretation, and perspective to anticipate and cope with the timing of a number of important coming events.


My Dad, with his seventh grade education ending with the Civil War’s impact on Western Pennsylvania, became a great teacher, most noteworthy to me being personal values.  Eight years old, on an Autumn evening walk before sunset and dinner, he once put his arm around my right shoulder and said, “Son, throughout my life, I’ve found it useful to try to leave this life having made a small, a very small, difference to benefit the lives of others.”  I didn’t ask him what he meant, and I’m certain had I done so, his answer would likely have been, “Think about it,” and those simple words have been in mind ever since, over nearly eight decades.  In World War II, when as a combat bomber pilot against Japan, the deaths and occasional breakdowns of other warriors, age peer friends and contemporaries, augmented his comment. 


 “What we do for ourselves dies with us; what we do for others lives on.”


Andrea White, the wife of Houston Mayor Bill White (presently seeking a Texas Senate seat), recently wrote a booklet entitled “P.S.” (Public Service) in which she expressed my father’s similar thought, “When you care about something larger than yourself, you end up growing.”  Sure, the little book’s timing makes it an intended campaign piece.  So what!  Having known Bill for 15 years, it’s a pleasure to find her striking the same chord as did Dad, almost 80 years ago.


In the next essay, I’ll lead off with my mother’s comparable early influence, address values as a component in the culture of an organization, and begin to build on where, how, and why America evolved as we have. 


Raymond Plank