The news alert from CNNMoney.com logged in with an almost celebratory swiftness: The headline, "Mortgage deal could bring billions in relief," heralded word of a $26-billion foreclosure settlement - which could climb as high as $34 billion when all is said and done - to provide struggling homeowners relief in their indebtedness to some of the nation's largest lenders.
What followed next, on the computer screen, was a very different kind of headline: "Nuts! Diamond Foods boots CEO, stock plunges." Bad accounting practices, it seems, have plagued this giant purveyor of tree nuts, and Diamond's most recent woes derive from its entangled payments to the nation's nut farmers.
Bad deals. Higher (or lower) expectations than reasonable. Ill will bordering on corruption, perhaps. Lack of transparency and honesty. These are the plagues eating away at any number of American businesses and passed along to sour the nation's economy.
What to do? Let's really get down to business, America: Let's put the squirrels in charge.
Consider their track record: How many forests are presently in foreclosure? For that matter, how many saplings are being offered on a short sale? How many maples and oaks have been taken over by branches of JPMorgan Chase or Bank of America?
No, trees are squirrels' homes, fair and square, and when they go out on a limb, it isn't to put their investments at risk. Quite the contrary, squirrels go out on a limb to warn other squirrels of the predatory practices of some of the major locals: owls, hawks, feral cats and raccoons. (Mind you, none of these predators happen to be lenders, either. When they play, they play for keeps.)
Put the squirrels in charge and if you're a homeowner drawing too close to a bad deal, you'll hear the alarm call high up in the trees and your solvency will be preserved.
As for Diamond nuts, their salvation would be in replacing that tossed CEO with a squirrel. Conflict of interest? Hardly. Who values these precious commodities more than squirrels? The tough nut of business dealings is nothing compared to the hard shell protecting walnut meat. Anyone who can crack that can easily take apart a bad strategy and save a company's reputation.
With squirrels in charge, companies such as Diamond, or even the Big Three auto makers, need never worry either about dire straits precipitating a government bailout. Oh, squirrels are familiar enough with handouts - visit Central Park in Manhattan or the Mall in Washington, D.C. and you'll see real pros shaking down the public. But this is the art of the deal, of shrewd negotiation, not begging from a position of weakness.
Put the squirrels in charge and you'll see companies with renewed optimism and leaner operating costs. The board of directors would become just one more board to gnaw on. Successful, whittled-down companies, would be able to bury their competition in record time. "Being in the Black" would become a meaningless, outdated description for a ledger, supplanted by the more meaningful "Being in the Grey."
After all this national recovery, the possibilities for growth would then be limitless.
And in this Presidential Election Year, it only stands to reason that squirrels, swift and skilled jumpers that they are, may want to take one more logical, well-placed final leap. Flicking their tails as they whiz past the celebrated White House squirrels on the lawn on Pennsylvania Avenue, they'd be ready to sink their teeth into the next business, running the Oval Office.