Archive for June, 2009

Michael Jackson passed on Jun 25, 2009 at the age of 50.
I’ll go out on a limb:  Michael Jackson was the most beloved entertainer of all time.
Elvis.  The Beatles.  Mohammad Ali.  Michael Jordon.  Tiger Woods.  Of course these are all worldwide megastars.
But none were/have been a worldwide megastar every single decade of their lives.
As an entertainer, Michael Jackson benefited from decades of media exploding into our lives:  portable cassette tapes… MTV… the CD… entertainment magazines… big budget TV commercials… the Internet… the iPod.  He was the fuel that drove these.
Because we are nearly the same age, I’ve had the unique vantage of watching him step-by-step.
Michael Jackson was talented — odd — tragic — destructive — though we’ll never really know the true nature of his crimes.
What we do know is he was unlike any other entertainer the world has ever seen.
I don’t think he was misunderstood… but I think what he had to live through was absolutely incomprehensible by normal people.
Thank you for the music, Michael.  Rest in peace.
Wow, back-to-back you’ve got to be kidding days.
Who is AIG trying to fool?  Don’t we already own 80% of AIG (we do)… and therefore, don’t we already own 80% of whatever it is they are spinning out?
Why the hell are we paying $25 billion for something we already have?
I hope I have this wrong… but AIG is starting to look more like a real bailout than an investment of last resorts.  That would be bad.
Who says Joe Average can’t run a public company?
Here’s today’s headline:  "Citigroup to boost salaries, cut bonuses."
Even Joe Average can tell that someone is getting scammed on that one.
And that someone?  We tax payers/investors, of course.  Like the AIG bonuses, this is just offensive.
Believe me, I understand the temptation to want to designate certain employees as invaluable.
But when you’ve lost $2 billion a month for the last 18 months, my guess is you don’t know what the hell is valuable or not.
In truth, very few employees designated as "invaluable" are, in fact, actually invaluable.  I’m saying that with a few decades of scars on my back.
I wonder why the CEO of Citigroup doesn’t know this?
I also wonder why the CEO of Citigroup doesn’t know that the financial industry has been decimated and there are tons of quality professionals dying for employment?
I also wonder why the CEO of Citigroup doesn’t understand how incredibly offensive pay raises for the very people who lost $36 billion over the last six quarters will sound to shareholders… uhm… will sound to we taxpayers/investors.
So I guess I wonder:  Why is this person still CEO?
Seriously, I just solved the gas crisis.

If we’re going to spend $1 trillion on a war that has nothing to do with freedom — unless you define freedom as our right to waste as much cheap oil as we damn well please (which, coincidentally, a lot of people do) — then why not spend $1 trillion giving 100-200 million people a free smart car?

I’m not talking about the current type of Smart Car… I’m talking about a new, even smarter version… one that only goes no more than 50 miles per hour… and one that’s electric so the source of power is also efficient.

And, one that gets the equivalent of 150-200 miles per gallon… that’s more than a magnitude jump in efficiency right there.

What’s the incentive for building such a car?  A trillion dollars!  That’s how much we’re spending on Iraq… with nothing of substance to show for it except continued high gas prices and ridicule in the world community. 

Believe you me, GM, Chrysler, and Ford would love to lead the world in the popularizing the next generation of smarter vehicle, especially if the U.S. government is paying.  Heck, they’d probably consider it a "do over."

Culturally, this would create instant acceptance for a small, run-around-town vehicle.  I mean, who wouldn’t take — for free — a nifty little energy efficient vehicle that you can re-charge in your own garage?  (And speaking of garages, who couldn’t use more space in their garage? <smile>)

Not only would it create an efficiency in the most inefficient driving situation (short haul, stop-and-go, around town driving)… but if would double urban parking capacity… a horrific problem in most downtown areas.

And, dare I say, the new smart car would save lives, too.  Unfortunately, speed kills… and who needs speed boppin’ around town running errands?

And, dare I say, the new smart car would save the environment, too.  Unfortunately, fossil fuels kill, too… or, for those of you that still don’t believe that, you’ll at least agree with me that — at best — they make a stinky mess of everything.

And, dare I say, the new smart car would do what this particular war can’t do:  Lessen our dependency on middle east oil. 

If this happens, we would no longer would have the hypocritical conflict-of-interest we have:  How do we promote democracy and plunder the middle east of their oil?

I suspect that without oil concerns, our war on terror would be quite different… more efficient… and much more collaborative… a real global effort, with a sincere mission… like WWII.

There.  The gas crisis… and a lot more… solved.

Six decades of analog TV goes away today.
I’ve been alive for 50 of those years.
While I love progress, I will say this:
I miss the volume dial.
I miss the simplicity of less than 500 channels.
I miss great, innocent old shows like Gilligan’s Island, Speed Racer, Mr. Ed (The Talking Horse), The Munsters, Hogan’s Heroes… and of course, I Dream Of Jeannie.
And — until technology can fix this — I already miss being able to jump from channel-to-channel quickly.
No doubt, the future is going to feel a lot  s-l-o-w-e-r.
Go figure that.

Oil Is The Trigger

Posted: June 10, 2009 in Technology and Business
The world was crusin’ along in 2008.
Then oil went up to $147 a barrel last summer.
Then the U.S. consumer stopped buying gas… and lots of other things.  Unemployment was rising.  Foreclosures were mounting.
Then the entire world went to hell in a handbasket.
But then oil started coming down.
The U.S. consumer started feeling better.. and started spending again… on gas and other things.  Even in the face of rising unemployment and foreclosures.
Not coincidentally, the stock market started feeling better, too.
Now oil is going back up again.
What did we learn from the crash?
Unemployment is bad.  Foreclosures are bad. 
But oil is the trigger.
My dad always bought Cadillac.  After all, it was the "Cadillac" of cars.
But I’ve never owned one.  I was a bit of a renegade, opting for foreign cars waaay before it was popular to do so.
Guess you can say I was the one that brought GM down.
Which was a shame because GM got so close… had Cadillac put the Corvette power plant in their gorgeous Allante roadster 20 years ago, I would have been hooked.
Instead, they made it slower than a 3-cylinder Fiat.
What would cause me to change my car-buying ways?
The same thing that caused me to buy foreign cars for decades:  Personality.
Something like the Tesla Model S.
Maybe even something like the Chevy Camaro… what a beautiful, muscle-inspiring machine… how’s that for re-doing my youth?!  If I get one and keep it for Elle, by the time she can drive, it will be a classic… again. <smile>
I was listening to the business radio as I was driving this morning.  I heard an exchange between Ben Bernanke and some hopefully soon-to-be-fired elected official.
The exchange went something like:
     "… the TARP funds are starting to get repaid… with interest, of course… and the warrants associated with these TARP loans should provide a nice upside for the U.S. taxpayer."
     "So, Chairman Bernanke, many people say that the total cost to the bank of those loans, including the warrants, will be excessively onerous."
     "Uhm… hmm… well… er… "
Bernanke was –as was I — stunned when he realized what this hopefully soon-to-be-fired elected official was actually suggesting:  That the U.S. taxpayer should somehow not make a return on our investment commensurate with the risk we had taken with the loans in the first place.
In other words, make the TARP loans actual kick-backs to banks.
Bernanke recovered in short order, saying something like: 
     "Please remember that these banks were in danger of going out of business.  We taxpayers provided loans to avert that, and it’s only reasonable that if the banks then went on to improve, that the U.S. taxpayer should share in any appreciation from that point forward with the banks.  Blah, blah, blah."
I was too stunned to even hear the rest.  This elected official is the last person in the entire world that I want to have watching out for me.  My only regret is that I didn’t catch his name… and I can’t find the text or tape of the entire proceeding, only Bernanke’s initial statement.  Ugh!
This is a great time to be the investor of last resort… i.e., we taxpayers.
We’re loaning money to some great businesses and actually getting (1) our money back, and (2) ownership in the form of inexpensive warrants.
Which is why our investment in GM stands in such stark contrast:  Just because the U.S. taxpayer is the investor of last resort… doesn’t mean we have to be the investor of last resort. 
It was clear as daylight that we should have passed on "loaning" (a.k.a. wasting) the auto companies that $17 billion last December… that the auto makers didn’t need a bail-out… they needed tough love
… by the way, the same kind of tough love that all businesses around the world had to go through over the last nine months.
I didn’t speak to a single person — and I speak to people from all walks of life — that thought bailing out the auto companies was a good idea.
It was so un-Obama-like for Mr. Consensus himself to have missed this one.
Which kills me to see him make the same mistake twice.
The GM investment we the taxpayers made today won’t work.  Chopping a business down to size is excruciatingly difficult work.  Truth be told, the only way a person makes really hard, really necessary cuts is when they have no choice.
Think: "We have to cut off the entire leg… or else the patient will die… tomorrow."
No, there are no "cut off the leg" decisions when you can go back to a sugar daddy investor like the U.S. government — driven by politicians who will fight tooth & nail to keep the aging, inefficient plant in their district open.
Don’t believe me?  This is the second time GM has been back to the well in less than five months!
Nothing would please me more than to be wrong about this one.  But, can anyone say good money after bad?