In a continuing flow of insider revelations coming out on the Bush Presidency, Scott McClellan’s “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception” suggests a man who, after many years of buttressing Bush from Texas to Washington, had an epiphany. What is to be learned from his sudden change of heart that falls far short of a mea culpa?
McClellan claims that none of the deception was “intentional or deliberate,” though suggests that Washington plays that way too often. McClellan’s most telling indulgence is his suggestion that being present within the White House bubble “obscures the larger truths of things.” This rationalization is as weak as the consciousness hiding behind it. It is also material evidence of weakness in the individuals that surround an insecure leader.
McClellan’s detractors accuse him of being a disgruntled ex-employee, now denigrating his former boss in an endeavor to sell books. Reponses such as Karl Rove’s suggestion that McClellan should have spoken up at the time, are disingenuous. Talking to, or at someone, who is not listening, achieves little shifting in consciousness. Other attempts at deflecting the accusations, such as Condoleezza Rice perpetuating the refrain about Saddam’s WMD’s, are as pathetic as McClellan’s excuses for not having said anything.
For the rest of us, the learning isn’t that the world was misled, or that misguided thinking, or worse, set the administration’s objectives. That has always been manifestly apparent. The insight here might be more to the course of action that one should take when confronted by pivotal decisions in life where right and wrong are self-evident. Such moments present themselves endlessly, politically, corporately, socially and personally.
Critical events are fulcra on which careers can swivel, and too often our human frailty errs to the side of self-preservation. Only later in life does such juncture come back with a newly invigorated energy and magnitude of its own. We are reminded of the turn that diverted our moral compass down too long a trench of act and thought we couldn’t spill from. In the recall is a fresh unfamiliar wisdom.
McClellan’s epiphany comes a few years too many after truth literally slapped him in the face. His legs should have long ago carried him out the nearest exit.
Friday, May 30, 2008
In a continuing flow of insider revelations coming out on the Bush Presidency, Scott McClellan’s “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception” suggests a man who, after many years of buttressing Bush from Texas to Washington, had an epiphany. What is to be learned from his sudden change of heart that falls far short of a mea culpa?
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
With America’s image amid a phase of seeking much-needed refurbishment on the international front, Hollywood comes to the rescue, using the Cannes Film Festival for the staging of a burnishing session with glitter and vaporous glaze. It appears that while her mind was busy laying claim to friendship with the Dalai Lama, Sharon Stone’s synapses were preoccupied fashioning karmic connections between recent events in Tibet, and the earthquake that just killed almost 70,000 people. For those who have not heard it, "And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?"
Response from China didn’t take long to rattle Internet circuits with angered sentiment apropos the profundity, plus some mild retaliation in the form of film banishment. Reaction from most other corners of the globe was jaw-dropping consternation at yet another very inappropriate statement from a myopic and self-serving corner of the human universe. This, however, isn’t just someone mouthing off a bit of nonsense, which most of us are often prone to do. This is a Hollywood Red Carpet Moment. The world is watching and the more you have to say, the more chances you will have of getting one sound bite recursively ventilated on evening news from New York to Dubai. For some reason when Hollywood speaks, the world listens, and votes, or uses, or eats, or wears, or drives, or thinks, or not. The sound bites from the Red Carpet are not accidental. Good PR is always well orchestrated, and Hollywood delivers some of the best marketing ever devised. Scripts, on the other hand, are not always perfect, and egos are too often built that cannot be controlled as they bask in the adoration of Klieg lights.
Far from Cannes, a country mourns and adjusts to a heartbreaking cataclysm. The earth shuddered, and tens of thousands of parents shed tears for lost children. Children stand, almost bare, staring in anguish at rubble that only days ago was their home, hoping for signs of a Mom or a Dad. A world looks on from a distance in bewildered compassion, and is reminded of nature’s absolute sovereignty. This catastrophe occurred in China, yet we all suffer at the loss of life. This tragic human event, although not a consequence of cosmic retribution, is ours to learn from. Each one will find something to grasp, and we will retain it.
Monday, May 26, 2008
It is becoming impossible to drive past any one of those nasty electronic gas station price boards without our attention being arrested and our having to vocalize displeasure at the daily rising cost of driving. With Americans now concentrating on the extraction of up to $4.50 per gallon from their pockets, there is a coming collision of values that may not get much of their consideration in the waning days of the sitting administration.
The value of hard earned cash held by America’s middle class is about to be tested against its own values relating to wildlife and the values of environmentalists. Being environmentally conscious has a price. When America enjoyed the perception of an endless economic boom, protecting forests, oceans, wildlife, lakes and rivers, seemed like the right thing to do. From Alaska to Wyoming, constraints were established and enforced on oil and gas leases operating on Federal land, whether guided by environmental, social or other concerns.
There are tens of billions of barrels of oil and hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of gas in undeveloped proven reserves on Federal lands, plus untold amounts of undiscovered but recoverable oil and gas on the almost 99 million acres under Federal management, whether the land is owned privately, or by the Federal government. There will be an acceleration of drilling permits, and government agencies will be directed to be compliant and expedient. The prime resource real estate will soon become a radically different landscape. Oil rigs, tractors and hauling trucks will stamp large footprints over deserts and forests, covering the mountain bike tracks and hiker trails.
The coming months will bring a discernable and new intrusion on vast tracts of protected land considered pristine wilderness and wildlife habitat, as the race to extract energy resources heats up. Coastal areas such as the Grand Banks, the Alaskan coast, or the Florida Everglades will come under increasing pressure from oil companies to become stages for oil platforms. Environmentalist will be hard pressed to defend values of wilderness against values of a middle class whose dollar is under attack. Derricks in the wilderness will seem an expedient and necessary price to pay, with ample rationalizations.
Meanwhile, there is little serious energy sweeping into the revival of a nuclear energy program, which currently presents the only serious alternative to the cumbrous, expensive and noxious dependence on oil.
Friday, May 23, 2008
There is an aphorism on flying too close to the flame that John McCain might have observed. In a society whose founders did their best to separate church matters from those of the state, political candidates currently chasing the ultimate license plate, endeavor to draw support from religious movements. They seem to have resurrected the George W. Bush, “Winning Against All Odds” manual, turned to the section on How To Nail Religious Endorsements, and distributed copies of the page titled, Winning With Religious Righteousness. The manual didn’t come with warnings.
John McCain is consuming energy repudiating, rejecting, and generally pulling an Obama on preachers from Texas and Ohio. McCain originally made much of the endorsements, having expended serious effort and money to attain them. It takes some co-ordination to show up in the endorser’s town, and grovel a little, and get to the podium, and give the preacher a hug, and call him a close friend, and wave to the crowd, and smile for the CNN cameras, and show appreciation for support from someone who represents that he’s a man of God, and … The effort works like magic with an instant lock-up of votes from the whole congregation of a megachurch that numbers into the tens of thousands.
Alright, so McCain is trying hard to make sure he gets some of that far right Republican support that seems to have been skeptical of his political leanings. Now he has to call the Texas preacher’s comments “crazy and unacceptable.” Didn’t he know these people have enormous egos that can sometimes believe their own press, and run themselves off the rails? Is there something not self evident about the meaning of evangelical religious right? Perhaps McCain has forgotten that Obama took a pounding after not immediately and emphatically denouncing Jeremiah Wright following the surfacing of incendiary remarks made by the pastor.
In a strange twist that speaks volumes on the state of religious influence on political elections, the Texas preacher announced he was not only withdrawing his endorsement of McCain, but he was also removing himself from active role in the campaign. You can almost hear Thomas Jefferson’s wistful sigh. Unlike Obama, McCain can claim that neither preacher from whom he has had to separate, was his pastor and religious guide for twenty years. McCain nevertheless faces the possibility of seeing his efforts to solicit the religious vote, turn to negative energy that may weigh on him over the coming months. The wealthy, powerful and influential religious right provides too bright a flame for some political candidates to ignore, even with all its burdensome exigencies. McCain flew too close to that flame. He has also lost any potential leverage he might have otherwise had, revisiting Obama’s questionable judgment on his Jeremiah Wright relationship.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The pressure continues, but has reached a fever pitch with the news from the Oregon Democratic delegates having favored Obama in majority. The calls for Hillary Clinton’s surrender suggest that her persistence is splitting the Democratic Party and weakening its chances of winning the Presidential election. Obama, is busy immersing himself in the warmth of acclaim having acquired a majority of elected convention delegates, with thank you’s, emanating a scent vaguely reminiscent of Presidential victory thanksgivings.
From some corners, Clinton is even being accused of damaging Obama’s chances, and worse, accentuating the racial divisions between voters. These denunciations and recriminations are more emotional outbursts than corollaries precipitated by rational assessments. On the other side of the great divide, John McCain cannot accomplish much, and to pretend that Clinton staying in the race is affording him a free ride is disingenuous. Of all elections in which to pretend such absurd notions have validity, this would be one where a Democrat leaning voter is least likely to be swayed toward a Republican vote.
It remains that neither candidate has reached the threshold set by the Democratic Party for going onto the Presidential race. Her wide 65% Kentucky win gives Clinton additional reason to prevail. Wishes of the approximately half of the Democratic delegates should be extended respect. Clinton has achieved that number with a fraction of the disbursements expended by her opponent. Whatever her reasons, Hillary Clinton is making the right decision to stay the course, and she looks more comfortable today battling against odds than she did a year ago. 2,026 delegate votes are required for a winner to be declared. That threshold should be honored, and so should the democratic process.
Monday, May 19, 2008
The past year has seen much made by American media, including the film Sicko, of the supposedly superior Canadian medical system. Before the new White House resident rushes off to implement a national health care system based on the Canadian model, examine its realities. The Canadian health care system is breaking just when it is about to be tested with unprecedented pressure from a wave of aging boomers.
One of the benefits of being a Canadian resident is that you get a Medicare card. This magic access card opens doctors’ offices as well hospital emergency room care, at no cost to you. The No Cost factor is appealing and it is misleading. God help you if you require an operation that necessitates an operating room. Wait six months to a year, or two, unless you’re actually dying, … well actually, that’s not quite right either, some people die waiting. The waiting is a very real impediment to long term health since patients are impacted by irreversible damage from progressing deterioration. If that isn’t enough, add the onset of depression while painkillers become a daily staple of patient diets, and you have a health care system in the midst of cardiac infarction.
What could have gone so wrong? Why is there a new term called “health-care rationing” if the system is so enviable? Isn’t rationing a concept that suggests capitulation?
There is an abundance of strategic thinking for fixes that range from preventative care as in don’t smoke or you’ll get sick and take up a hospital bed, or doctor retention, meaning, pay these guys more or they’ll move to the U.S. The system is breaking because its promise is under funded and many using its services don’t contribute a dime to its costs.
Canadian taxpayers should ask themselves why so many of the new condos and skyscrapers that have clogged up their major cities in the past decade are over 50% empty. Look over a major city skyline between eleven o’clock and midnight, and count lit apartments in recently build structures. In some cases vacancy is 75%. The taxpayers should ask the question, then listen for answers. There are multitudes of well-documented methods of abusing the system that all Canadian politicians ignore, nevertheless as it relates to Canada’s medical care failure, a vacant condo provides some insight. That vacancy is both an address and a ticket to free medical care through abuse of the Canadian immigration service by foreign residents. If you’re a foreign student at a local university, you are even invited to apply for a Medical Care Card after on 3 months of residency. How easy is that? You can also use one of a long list of scams being promoted under the “new-would-be-entrepreneurs” programs where a small investment, quickly returned once you’re in, gets you in the Canadian system which has no effective method of tracking what you do or don’t do. Some retail businesses seem to have new owners every few months. You can almost set your calendar to the cycling.
Too many “visitors” of the past decade have been shown to be opportunists. Canada has little control of who enters or when. The acquisition of Canadian landed immigrant status or residency, and all of the rights vested therein is an abused process and the abuse is rampant.
Without reviewing all the possibilities, and the vast impact on the rest of the Canadian social or economic fabric, it remains that too many who pay no Canadian income taxes, show up when it is time to get medical attention. The new breed of “pretend Canadians” who pay no taxes, are not the only ones to abuse the system for health and other reasons. Canada doesn’t tax those who have slid assets to offshore tax havens to end their tax paying days. These expatriates temporarily move, but come back when the doctor needs a visit. The answer to the problem is simple, but it would take the enactment of a few bills by Parliament, and Canada finds such a step a virtual impossibility when it is saddled with a minority government that has no will. The nation with the world’s most open immigration system not only has the most liberal policies, but those lax policies are being exploited, and the taxpayers are the ones hurting.
So here’s a suggestion for when there is a majority government in Canada:
Place a surtax on all foreign owned real estate, commercial and residential, using a double digit multiple of the current tax levies based on the assessed mill rate, and transfer that revenue to the medical care system of each Province. A drop in real estate values will result? Not likely, but Canadians can wish.
While America builds its new medical care system, it should ignore the vaunting politicians North of the border, and talk to the taxpayers. They’ll be easy to find. Look in the long tail of any line-up.
Friday, May 16, 2008
The media pandemonium over President Bush’s Knesset remarks on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary are centered on whether or not he was taking a veiled stab at Obama's approach to foreign policy. No need to debate here the Bush administration’s track record in most affairs, particularly those foreign, however, the Knesset speech highlights a fundamental lack of awareness that has been a root cause of the administration’s failures on this broad political frontier.
Obama wasted little time in taking this opportunity to arrest the attention of front page editors by firmly denouncing the speech and responding emphatically, even if the comments were not likely directed at him, but rather aimed at President Carter. Obama, better than other candidates, and assuredly better than Bush, comprehends the meaning of PR. The capacity to understand and apply the finer elements of effective PR simply seems to have long ago vacated the current administration’s methodology.
Whatever group one wishes to include under the terms “terrorist and radicals”, resurrecting Neville Chamberlain’s ghost and his appeasement of Hitler, is recollection of a situation with no resemblance or correlation to the current situation the U.S. faces with either Iran, Russia, Cuba, or any other country, or even Hamas. Negotiating is not appeasing. Negotiating accomplishes a multitude of objectives including the delineation of potentialities in the event of certain occurrences, good, bad, or extreme. That doesn’t mean the opposing party will be compliant, but at least there will be no ambiguity. Negotiations can also bring to the surface new and different perceptions, since as is often the case, when egos rear the uglier side of human nature, the public declarations can become somewhat subdued behind closed doors.
A challenge in foreign policy is to not insult a whole country and its people while publicly delivering verbal outrage at its leadership. Let’s take for example, the infamous Axis of Evil speech which placed Iran on the short list of three. Not it’s leadership, but all of Iran was slammed into the bag in one brief five second sound bite. How about speaking directly to the people of Iran, and giving them credit for being educated and aware? The majority of them don’t support or like their leadership either, but when you lump them into a bag and call the whole of the population evil, you win few friends where you need them. Diplomacy 101 would suggest another tack, which doesn’t include insulting the whole country because it’s leadership is uneducated and demented. In fact, much of the Iranian population is well educated with an 80% literacy rate, and by many casual and reported accounts, it likes America. In many instances Iranians envy its freedoms, and are probably just as puzzled at the ridiculous and absurd statements made by their President as we are. An example of such bewilderment, was that after Ahmedinejad’s rabid rhetoric against Israel, a couple of years back, that offended Jews and others around the world, his government donated funds for Tehran’s Jewish Hospital. The Iranian Jewish population, the largest Jewish population in the middle east outside Israel, was also no doubt puzzled, though probably not surprised.
The Internet is opening windows between cultures and societies wider than ever, including ours. Today’s technologies, particularly television and computers, provide our leadership direct access to populations that would, in past decades, have remained unreachable. If a head of state is going to address a foreign country, then it is not simply its leadership that needs addressing but all of its population.
Long term relationships such as those between countries, demand long term vision, and patient, effective interaction, both public and private. Such negotiating on all possible fields of engagement is not, and should not, be confused with appeasing. Ignoring, is appeasing. Saber rattling is thrusting and stabbing into the pride of leadership, and only gives rise to zealous nationalism or worse. Let’s go back to Diplomacy 101, and implement some effectual negotiating skills and measures. Isn’t America a leader in PR, marketing, and gamesmanship?
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Answers to some of life's more pertinent questions continue to elude most of us. Thankfully, twelve step plans have come charging over the hill in abundance, rushing to rescue us from our confusion, waning confidence and misplaced common sense. Baby boomers have led on the way to adopting expedient solutions, and becoming suppliant to trend influences. Busily keeping up with our mortgage payments, taxes and gas increases, relief comes and we're gratified when someone comes up with a "twelve step plan" to deal with life's challenges, … and oh, so grateful.
Twelve step plans abound to guide us through any and all defiant mazes on our paths. From dieting and exercise, to beating the odds in Vegas, we'll venture onto any terrain so long as there's a twelve step path to follow. Twelve easily palatable morsels of brilliance, conveyed as secret wisdom from an oracle.
A current and popular twelve step plan viewed in various forms all over our continent addresses itself to those of us anxiously seeking help in the management of our untold wealth. Now that we've saved or inherited a few dollars, we take notice of an abundance of twelve-step plans for properly, safely and deferentially choosing a financial advisor.
Such plans are of course furnished in diverse forms by all our media, which in itself should be re-assurance enough. If the newspaper published it, or it’s in a book, it must be legitimate. We can therefore feel some level of comfort in it's decrees and instructions. Knowing deep in our hearts that all manners financial are better left to higher powers, it is imperative that we follow such a plan with diligence. We cannot feign to comprehend the vast complexities encompassing money. Someone else has all the answers, and is willing to share.
In a quest to identify the financial advisor most suitable to our preciously unique needs, we respectfully submit to a plan which will typically lead us to uncover the perfect person.
In such light, I walk into the first unsuspecting target armed with the actual twelve steps to finding a financial advisor, convinced that this ammunition will smoke out any weaknesses, and enable me to find the most capable administrator of my safety net for retirement. I am led to the aspirant’s office, and since first impressions are so important, I take notice that he has a firm grip, is confident, and speaks calmly and almost softly. What a relief that is. I sit down in the plush leather chair and rapidly get down to business.
1. What are your qualifications?
This query will definitely get me the goods on this person. Even if he lies a little, we all tend to exaggerate things at some point or other in our lives, don't we? So I'll discount the answer a few points, but surely someone in such nicely appointed surroundings is doing something right. That picture of the kids on the desk speaks volumes about this financial advisor's family values. That's important. Understanding the need to be financially prudent for the greater good of the family is a rare bit of empathy. No need to discuss it. I know this person is inherently in tune with me. A picture speaks a thousand words. Even that other family picture in front of the Café de Paris in Monaco is, … well, it’s very nice. Business must be good. This one must be really successful.
2. What experience do you have?
This question required a deep thinking mind and I'm so pleased someone else paid its creator to publish it. It required experience secured knee-deep in wisdom to find it placed so high on the list. I'm also grateful for this question because now I'm really peering deeply into the background of someone to whom I will give free rein to run amuck with my money. I know this advisor thinks I'm going to check up on these assertions, so there's a high probability that I'm going to get a reasonably truthful answer. Let’s see, … formerly an analyst at a three partner financial firm with three names, each with three initials of some kind. Good, good. Even better if one of the names is Scottish. Names ringing of stature, and seeped in certitude and conviction, are what we like to hear. These are names we like to hire.
3. How do you get paid?
This is really going to get me some very hard truth. Inquisitive, incisive and tough. This question lets them know that I'm not a push-over. You're not dealing with just any "beat-around-the-bush" hick here. I get right to the meat of the matter, … and quickly. Hmm, I wonder if this one will tell me if they take personal positions in a stock before buying it for my account?
4. What services do you offer?
Now I can get excited. Here, I'm going to find-out all the ways magicians can put their hands in my pocket so that I won’t feel a thing. He shows me a really well designed and colorful one page handout with all the possibilities. I notice, scanning the page, that he will even manage my personal bank account, pay my bills, etc. What great services.
5. What is your approach to financial planning?
The secrets will be unfolded. Getting nuggets of brilliance will enable me to sound more knowledgeable with my friends.
6. What if I have a question you do not know about; how will I get an answer?
As if I had any idea what the questions should be. That must be another twelve step brochure I have to get.
7. Can you give me references?
References. The stuff truth is made of. Wow, his brochure quotes somebody who says he doubled their money. Even if this is half right, I’m set. This guy knows what he’s doing.
8. Can I see a typical financial plan?
I must be dumber than rocks. I just don't know how to budget or how to plan out expected income, expenses, etc. Having someone provide this for me will give me peace of mind.
9. How often will I hear from you? Do you meet with your clients regularly? Do you use e-mail?
A little rapid-fire-like-a-machine-gun questioning. That keeps him on guard and I’ll see if he can think quickly. Obviously he'll call me regularly once he has my money to let me known how well I'm doing. Can't wait for that phone to ring. I can picture it now. "Hi! Just touching base to keep you posted. Your hundred dollars has already grown tenfold. We should consider diversification."
10. Will you explain the benefits and the risks of your recommendations?
Really? Excellent. Oh, no, I didn’t mean right now. I’ll need a pen and paper to take notes, so I’ll call you from the house. Whew. I can’t let him see my eyes glazing over, plus I’ll have my dictionary with me.
11. Who will ensure implementation? Will you be implementing the plan yourself or do you deal with other advisors? Will you refer me to someone or must I find the other advisors myself?
I don’t fully understand what this means, but it must be a good question. Surely it must refer to other experts he depends on who are specialists, and who will guarantee that all possibilities are explored to deliver the most secure and beneficial maintenance of my money.
12. Any conflicts of interest I should know about?
What a great, straightforward approach this is. I look him right in the eyes and ask the question. I’m looking for any signs of physical or vocal evasion in the answer. What a relief, he stares right back and tells me emphatically that he wouldn’t have stayed in business and been so successful if he had overstepped the boundaries of fiscal probity in dealing with client affairs. He also says he would fire anyone on the spot who works for him who was found to have usurped such responsibility. I’m so pleased to hear that, since I’m not sure what conflict of interest really entails. No matter. This is great.
I don’t need to go anywhere else. I’ve found my financial advisor, thanks to the twelve step plan. My family will be proud.
Monday, May 12, 2008
The 44th. President of The United States will inherit a financial house in state of disarray. Upon assuming the Office, the new President will have to be furnished an unobstructed perspective on a slowing economy clouded with surging inflation baring its indignant and unprejudiced fangs. Add, to the context of this vista, the enormous interest on the national debt, along with the long term consequences of sustained budget deficits of the size America has been consistently incurring, and you have potential for serious adverse impact on the social fabric of the country. First and foremost, this troubled and uncertain economic scene has to be effectively addressed.
The recent rate of commodity price advances, particularly oil, and the resulting hikes in the costs of goods is unsettling all forecasting based on economic indicators and cycles. Price escalation on certain products will simply reduce their consumption, however strong price increases in all staple goods are placing hard upward pressure on inflation, and demand continues unabated. These price pressures are coming in significant measure from a large number of developing countries that have created a demand that was not present in the pressures responsible for the wild inflation swings of the mid 70’s to early 80’s.
There is debate as to how inflation should be calculated, however, Inflation rates are currently fundamental measurements dependent on the contents of the basket of prices used for the calculations. Such calculations can be manipulated. Accurately defining current inflation toward the higher levels might not be advantageous if it were shown to be at a rate of 8%, for example, instead of the 3.9%, while ten year treasuries are at 4%. A central bank may enjoy the current understatement of inflation, and such understatement might also serve to minimize government liabilities which are indexed to the floating rate, like Social Security. Furthermore, a high level of inflation would suggest stagnant, if not contracting GDP. Then if this isn't enough to unscramble, we will likely see a reduction in total lending which will incite the winds of deflation. Amidst the confusion of reporting, the new President will have to provide some guidance and leadership to the Federal Reserve, rather than humbly await its decisions, and doing so will require accurate, untainted information. Altering the course on the Fed’s current strategy to continue dropping interest rates would affect inflation and the current slowdown inversely, making any decision difficult.
From the perspective of any conventional analysis and whatever the published inflation rate might be, the reality is that purchasing power of the dollar, meaning the purchasing power of the taxpayer, is dropping. That is the critical element that all taxpayers can feel without being fed convoluted or distracting statistics. Their real income is shrinking.
The medicine, which may well include higher government revenues coupled with reductions in spending, while initially having a bitter taste, would satisfy one critical leg of managing any government, that of paying current bills without laying off staggering debt onto future generations of taxpayers.
The current economic climate and feelings of uncertainty affecting North America differ from those of previous downturns in relative breadth and depth, and require unique solutions. Even a decision to overtly confront the challenge would be reason for applause since it would present a sign of impending responsible governance.
The 44th. President with have to rapidly re-establish a long lost sense of confidence, that perennial footing upon which national and international leadership, as well as economic progress, are built. The new White House will have to assertively confront the fiscal challenge, sell it to the taxpayers, and energize Congress to support the required major budget overhaul toward sound fiscal policy.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Here we are again at the whining post of shareholders lamenting the sale that might have been. There is a rueful cry heard from Yahoo shareholders that $34 would have been a great price at which to have sold their shares. The original $42 billion plus in cash and shares bid from Microsoft was at the time, and in retrospect, an astronomical sum. By any objective measure, this was an overpayment inflated with ebullience. Yahoo’s share price currently languishes at around $25 and Microsoft’s has slid from over $37 last year to today’s $29. The well over $40 billion dollar hoard would have even choked Microsoft, … and Yahoo’s response?
The Yahoo Board responded with a nonplussed, and perhaps baffled, “the proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo!” Where have these Board Members been for the past five years? More importantly, where have they been since Microsoft stepped forward? Was anyone surprised at the time of the offer that there was no parade of sign-brandishing shareholders marching up and down First Avenue in Sunnyvale, California? Why were they not clamoring for the Board to get the deal done? Greed, and absurd expectations had long set-in.
It was also evident that for the few Yahoo shareholders remaining with any signs of common sense, the corporate structure provided little real possibility for input or influence on direction. When large shareholders have to file lawsuits to be heard, such as the Detroit public employees pension fund and the Detroit firefighters and police pension fund, the cracks in the corporate system are evident. This is another glaring example of broken corporate governance and the need for reorganization, particularly in the Boards of Directors. This is also evidence of some abject and shameful incompetence.
On behalf of the shareholders, if for no one else, the Yahoo board should have dispatched an emissary to set up a tent inside Balmer’s office, keeping the dialogue alive face to face. At least the shareholder interests would have been more diligently attended to, while the rest of the misguided Board Members, as well as their ineffective consultants and advisors, were going about embarrassingly scrambling for dead-end negotiations with AOL or Google. Microsoft might have actually been convinced to remain at the table with something close to the original and enormous offer. Something might have been negotiated, providing some level of autonomy to the Sunnyvale organization within the fold of the giant’s garment. Details of a relationship with respect to merging of some services, methodologies and technologies might have been set out, and provided evidence of “good faith.” This would have been the minimum expectation of conscientious and assiduous management. This should have also been an expectation of the shareholders. They were failed by pride first, and bad advice second.
On the Microsoft side, the shareholders also need to find the next leader that will lead this giant into this century. Microsoft is so large and flush with cash, it still doesn’t know the year 2000 came and went. It hasn’t needed to. For continued growth, Microsoft should be injected with some vision on what the Internet can become over the long term, or purchase a company that does. Even if tempted in the future, it should leave Yahoo alone. This didn’t start out well and probably wouldn’t end well on the domains of synergy. For the rest of us non-Yahoo-shareholders seeking innovation and competition, the breakdown of the deal is to our advantage in the long term. Thanks, Yahoo Board Members.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Over roads and waterways of the world’s geopolitical landscape travels the force of economic development moving goods, services and capital that provide sustenance, standards of living, and wealth. Through rapid advances in transportation and communications, a majority of the world’s population has reached an unprecedented level of interdependence. Today’s level of trade and its impact on populations is such that the unease, or discomfort, with such reliance on other countries, will continue to be a hard-to-swallow pill, that will go down nonetheless.
There are imbalances between large economies and those at the periphery, as distribution of participation in the world economic system accelerates. On the whole, all states benefit. Over-concentration with any individual partnership, or over-dependence of one country on another, can give rise to overwhelming sense of vulnerability, destabilization and conflict. Over the longer term, there are challenges to global trade engagements when nationalist passions are stimulated by inevitable impact on particular trade sectors. Whole industrial segments can recede or disappear altogether. While ingenuity and initiative can provide balance through the development of alternatives, the desire should be for broad distribution of international trade relationships injected with a diversification of products, goods, services and materials. The greater the range and multiplicity of trading channels between countries, the greater the interdependence.
Today globalization and its complex relationships, coupled with effective and tempered bilateral diplomacy can provide countries and their leaders with expectations of improved conditions. The diversity of relationships we are witnessing is giving rise to new political alliances across the globe. Although each state will continue to concern itself with security, and access to resources and goods for its long term health, the new complexities in the globalization of trade and political relationships should bring about long term peace and stability between the major powers. Such would be a welcome divergence from historical precedence for response on dependence.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Celebrity achieved in any arena of entertainment provides personalities with a rare measure of potential. Endorsements of products, from the only golf ball that can possibly allow draining of thirty foot puts, to a perfume that will make you feel appealing, have moved billions of us to part with cash. Notoriety sells. When the celebrity’s endorsement is applied to the political realm, vast numbers don’t simply part with cash, they relinquish the power that they have been privileged with as participants in a democratic society.
Researchers claim that polls taken suggest celebrities have little impact on voter decisions. Their questions actually ask inconceivable ego-challenging questions such as, “Did this endorsement affect your decision?” Anyone who paid for this kind of research should sue for refunds. The abundance of denial that celebrity endorsements are effective is a rejection of reality. For some reason society attributes and instills a value to the sentiments of those with prominence, then accepts their decisions for themselves.
When an actor steps out in public and professes warm endearments for a political candidate, is there an assumption that he or she has done due diligence? Is there an assumption that the celebrity knows the candidate intimately? Is there a sense of intimacy that remains long after the cramps from the gallon of popcorn have abated, simply because we’ve watched an individual play a role on the big screen? Why do we have so much confidence that the views of someone we’ve never met are better than our own? We don’t fully know the value systems of friends, much less those of individuals who entertain us.
Bruce Springsteen sells Obama with suggestions that the candidate speaks to the America he’s envisioned in his music, and crowds of fans, including the youngest and baby boomers, respond with their feet at the voting booth. It was not so long ago that the media had declared the Presidential race a competition between Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. Oprah Winfrey announced her endorsement of Obama, and the political landscape changed overnight. On one side, John McCain became the lone Republican star. On the Democratic side, however, a candidate was not only lifted out of obscurity, he was handed millions of supporters and votes, as well as more funds than any other candidate in history, enough to make him the leading contender for the White House.
This Presidential election, as so many since Al Jolson’s endorsement of Warren Harding, has been dramatically affected by Hollywood’s public preoccupation with politics. Strangely, celebrities don’t even need to inculcate. A single declaration is enough. With Tom Hanks very publicly using the internet to announce his desire to see Obama in the White House, rather than making his desires felt quietly and anonymously in the voting booth, this election continues to be influenced by celebrities. Celebrities have every right to support anyone they choose, and have the right to tell the world, however, too many voters continue to be influenced and in doing so, they continue to surrender their power. The Presidency is not another golf ball or exotic perfume. The decision on who fills the office should be made with studious consideration and insight. It should not be surrendered in any form.
Friday, May 2, 2008
America has long had a love affair with the automobile. The fins of the sixties and muscle cars of the seventies remain warm memories of beautiful designs sometimes decorating today's auto shows, private garages, and museums. With the oil cartel enjoying over $111 per barrel revenues, consumers, the very same ones who are now tightening the belt on all spending, are walking past the trucks and SUVs that have for so long been profit staples of automakers. Sales of small cars in April saw increases of 20 to 46 percent depending on the car. This is not an anomaly, but is a major shift in both perception and behavior. It is also the first metamorphosis of this century. More are on the way.
The vast distances between major North American cities, gave rise to the considerable network of highways currently crisscrossing the continent from San Diego to Halifax. Over the span of eighty years, this most extensive and complex road system served the building of a booming society. Whether swelling in 120 degree heat or shrinking in 40 below freezing cold, expressways provided reliable access and transport. Gasoline was abundant and driving was less a chore than a pleasant experience, and smog was only a rear view mirror experience. Going for a drive was even on occasion an enjoyable family outing. Long commutes became accepted and expected.
With the blistering entrance of the 21st century, driving has not only become an expensive experience, it has become a vexing one. We are feeling guilt even before leaving the driveway. We have become convinced of the impact our pollution has had on our environment. Our environment, not someone else’s. For a majority of taxpayers, the dramatically rapid rise in the price of gas at the pump has been measurable week to week, month to month. The dollars are vacating our premises for foreign lands, piling up into palaces and record setting skyscrapers twice the size of the empire state building. Anxieties are further fuelled by line-ups of neighbors losing their homes. Millions of them. This is a new reality. When you blend in the bombardment of news about a bankrupting war in Iraq not going well, our collective consciousness is dragged across a great divide.
The automobile, our second most expensive expenditure that was long the object of our desire, with a fusion of style and function, has lost any residue of romantic luster that might have lingered. We are now seeking functionality. Compact, efficient, economic and utilitarian transportation. This is more than a trend. It is a well entrenched modification of our mindsets and behaviors that will impact auto manufacturers and the oil industry for the long term, and positively stimulate new burgeoning industries in the process. North America is squinting through a paradigm shift, sidestepping around potholes. It’s own industries and manufacturers should rapidly adjust and respond with innovation and creativity.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Apologies are coming from all camps involved in the production of a Vanity Fair cover photographed by Annie Leibovitz. OK, so they’re not really apologies, they’re, well, what do you call it when the public is told it has misinterpreted the inappropriate “classic” pictures of a young actress? Rationalization for selling magazines perhaps? Leibovitz should know better. Vanity Fair should know better, and Billy Cyrus should know better. Denying knowledge after the fact, just isn’t on. And Miley? She probably knows better, but being taken advantage of when you’re underage provides legitimate excuses. So, what’s better?
Some of us have to sell magazines and take advantage of the social acceptance that sex sells and is therefore a valid marketing agency. This exploitation rationalizes the bizarre ads we see running during early evening TV news while preparing dinner, including those selling us the makes-you-dance-in-the-street-like-an-idiot joys of sexual marathons available to anyone without heart problems who can swallow a pill. A majority of magazines colorfully embellishing newsstands carry pictures of young women variously undressed, if dressed at all, on their covers. These aren’t men’s magazines we’re ogling. We’re being teased with magazines supposedly targeting the 16 to 25 year olds. Even girls as young as five years old are big fans of Hanna Montana’s well cultivated character presented by Disney as a grounded, pleasant, studious teen, enjoying life. Are teenagers and five year olds making these sex-sells-magazines-and-ad-space decisions? Hardly.
There is nothing innocent about an adult magazine portraying a 15 year old pretending to be naked, hair tousled, wrapped in a bed sheet. Ms. Leibovitz comprehends eroticism, and there are no adult customers misinterpreting her intent. Her body of work is ample evidence. This is a transgression on Miley and an abuse of the trust that the millions of young kids, ages 5 to 15, who are her ardent fans, don’t deserve. Miley isn’t responsible, but the decision makers such as Vanity Fair’s editor and Ms. Leibovitz absolutely knew what they were doing. Their conscious business decision paid off in spades. Their web site supposedly crashed from the overload of millions trying to get a look. Vanity Fair has captured headlines the world over. Too many companies, their executives and boards are side-stepping doing what is right, common sense.
Don’t our daughters and granddaughters grow up just a little too fast as it is? Do we need to objectify and sexualize them, slamming them into adulthood while still underage? They copy what they see on television and in magazines, from hairdo’s to modes of dress. Ten year olds with bare mid-drifts don’t understand what showing off their bodies really means, other than getting some attention. The adult attention they attract isn’t on the healthy side of any equation. Their problem, and Miley’s, is that they don’t understand it. It may not be an overstatement to say that young women do not grasp the difference between looking sexy and looking sexual, or worse.
Of course, Miley and her parents are free to do and say as they wish, however this speaks more to publications, and other modes of entertainment doing what is right rather than implementing the expedient and evidently profitable knowing it is wrong. It is about not objectifying young, innocent and willing participants, using the skilled artful method of convincing. There are enough adult actresses ready willing and able to be persuaded by the artistic method. Society has witnessed increased evidence of disturbing inappropriate sexual behavior in children. Leave the kids alone, allow them to be kids, and stop their sexualization. They can do without the harmful effects and anxiety such willful conduct by esteemed adults proffers on them.