Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out With the Old

It’s hard to believe that the last time the night sky lit up with personal fireworks that make the neighborhood sound like it is having a fire-fight was way back in July on the 4th. We like fireworks. I do wonder why there are no road-side fireworks vendors, this time of year. Maybe next year the Christmas tree vendors will increase their revenues with exploding devises. I am digressing. It is time to usher in 2009.

The 2008 election seemed to have taken up the entire year. I am hopeful that 2009 goes by more quickly than 2008. I am hoping it will pass with less carping and complaint a lot more compassion and care. Out with the old and in with the new has never made more sense to me.

I like the inescapable symbolism the New Year brings when Martin Luther King Day is immediately followed by Inauguration Day. It is the ultimate posthumous birthday gift a nation could give to one of its patriots. It will be the culmination of Dr. King’s dream come true. I hope that the buzz lasts a long time, at least another 40 years.

I am pleased to report that I have joined Blogcritics Magazine, “a sinister cabal of superior writers” as it calls itself. It is related to Technorati, that little green button on the side bar of this blog. Now, in addition to my bride, I have additional editors to help make my prose deft. Let me invite you to press the red button on the side bar and take a look.

I hope that the backers of Proposition 8 rejoice in the fact that gay bars are on the top ten list of businesses that will not be around in 10 years, according to
MSNBC as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. Neither are record stores, crop dusting, pay phones, and coin-operated arcades albeit for vastly different reasons. The reason given in the report is that “gay men and women have been gaining greater acceptance in society.”

I also hope that the California Supreme Court rules that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, but that is another story you will be able to read in Blogcritics Magazine.

I hope that we were able to find some real Christmas spirit this year as a benefit of what would otherwise be considered tough economic times. Mostly I hope we all will start spending again and kick the crap out of those times. Let us resolve to make prosperity happen and retain our sanity when we succeed.

Finally, let me quote Edward R. Murrow this New Year and wish us all a “good night and good luck.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Where Is Our Money?

According to the Associated Press (AP), the banks will not say what they are doing with the taxpayer bailout money they have received. Basically, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is a bank loan on steroids. Banks who received loans in the billions of dollars are saying things like “We've lent some of it. We've not lent some of it,” according to a spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion. “We have not disclosed that to the public. We're declining to."

Need I ask what is wrong with that picture? A business management consultant by trade, I am used to preparing banking presentations and helping my clients ask for business loans. I can guarantee you that one of the most important questions that banks ask is, “What are you going to do with the money?” I can also guarantee you that answering, “We're choosing not to disclose that," would get me and my client shown the door, but that is what Bank of New York Mellon said and they received about $3 billion.

If you ever wondered why the Federal government is not in the banking business, here is a little insight. Just ask the Treasury department what it is doing to monitor the spending of those TARP billions. It is a fair question, right? Now ask yourself what you would think if you got an answer like this one: "What we've been doing here is moving, I think, with lightning speed to put necessary programs in place, to develop them, implement them, and then we need to monitor them while we're doing this. So we're building this organization as we're going."

You might think that your question had been answered by Sarah Palin.

However, it is much worse than that. For the record, those are the words of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. After all, he was the banker who put the rush job on Congress, which at last look was part of the same Federal Government and is not in the banking business.

For argument’s sake, let’s overlook the “lightening speed” bit and focus on Paulson’s central point. If he had said “We are making it up as we go,” he would be telling the truth. It would also explain why Geo. Bush picked him. We can only hope that before the next $350 billion is released in the next administration, Tim Geithner will have a plan he can show to congress, which must confirm him to replace Paulson.

Tax payers deserve more in the way of policy than “making it up as we go.” Banking’s top executives deserve to be shown the door. As to being paid bonuses on their way out, to quote one of their spokespersons, “We’re declining to.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

While the Tide Is Out

I do not know about you, but I am fed up with excuses and the fear those excuses are reinforcing. There are two biggies right now in the excuse department: the Recession and the Holidays. They are getting in the way of everything we think and contributing to a bigger lie – which is that no one is buying anything. Codswallop, I say. What if I replaced the word Recession with Low Tide and the word Holidays with New Moon? What big lie could that engender? After all, they are just words.

Granted the moon and the tides are related in that the periodic rise and fall of the sea level has to do with the gravitational pull of the moon. That relationship is not equal to the cause and effect of a holiday and an economic cycle. But making such a relationship is not my purpose. My purpose is to support two three-word ideas: Stop Saying It and Get Over It. Besides, there are a lot of things we can do while the tide is out and we do not need a lot of reflected light to do them. But let’s consider first things first.

Stop Saying It. Quit indulging in the blame game that the economy is somehow gypping everyone. It is not. There is just less money in circulation. It is nothing more than that. The gyp is the pernicious notion that economies are static, like water in a concrete pool. Granted such changes require some getting used to. At this time the paucity of cash in circulation has undermined some of our previously held, perhaps unfounded, political and market ideas. That is not my point. If you believe that something is bad, it probably will be. If you allow yourself to believe that something is good, it definitely can be. When prices drop, we call that a deal. Where is the gyp in opportunity?

Get Over It. All right, already, Merry Christmas, damn it! Besides, you know I mean well. It might be nice to have more cash or perhaps more credit, but other than consumption, what do cash and credit have to do with customs that were conceived and enjoyed in utter poverty? Now is the time to re-evaluate how we celebrate our hallowed days. While we are at it, we might as well start planning for next year in our homes and our businesses.

So what can we do while the tide is out without a lot of reflected light? We could scrape barnacles off the bottom of our boats. We could fix the dock. We could do some crabbing. The operating word here is We. In business, for example, we can readjust our business plans. We can rethink our pricing. We can reconsider our advertising and sales efforts. If people are not buying, it is because we are not making it easy for them to do so. When we do, they will. That is worth celebrating.
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This posting also appears at the Organized Business Blog, which focuses on business management and consulting issues.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Screen Literacy Indeed

I am still waiting for the proverbial “shoe to drop” after reading the article Reader, Beware, by Chris Suellentrop in the Opinionator column of the NY Times. In that piece, the writer takes up an assertion by Christine Rosen in which she argues that reading is different when performed from a print medium than from a digital medium, the difference between a book and a monitor. One of the points missed is the difference between reflected light and emitted light. That difference also changes the way we write and the manner by which we calculate. I'll take up calculation some other time and refrain from using the word "codswallop."

To be a writer one must be a reader. Forty years ago my wife and I wrote notes to one another in high school, preferring the fountain pen and our signature green ink. Today we will send one another an email in the same room, but that is because we can and we think it is funny. We are writers. Nothing replaces penmanship. I digress. My point is that I have to print a page and read it aloud in order to edit it best because I cannot see mistakes from a monitor.

Another argumentative point is the difference between analogue and digital media, a point that either dropped through the cracks or is another shoe awaiting its plummet. It is the same difference as exists between the wooden match and the butane lighter. Had the match been invented later, its unique selling points would have included that the match is a green, single use, disposal, biodegradable flame. So the book, magazine or newspaper requires no power of its own and is portable. If they have a downside it is that they are more easily burned than computer monitors.

Suellentrop seems to buy into writer Christine Rosen’s lament that so-called print literacy is being replaced by “screen literacy.” Her point is that making “reading easier, more convenient, more entertaining . . . is also supposed to encourage us to challenge ourselves and to search for deeper meaning.” Somehow I missed the point about literacy because I do not buy into the screen literacy concept.

I insist that to make reading easier, more convenient and more entertaining, well wrought entertaining prose does the job every time regardless of the media. Whether paperback or laptop, it is the message, not the medium, that is important.

By the way, had the fountain pen been invented after word-processing hardware and software, it would be a hit. Its unique selling points by definition are that a fountain pen is a hand-held, fluid medium, friction driven, analogue scribing devise. Nothing replaces penmanship.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Waiting For It to Hit

I could have listened to my grandfather. He turned down the governorship of West Virginia in the 40s, retiring to Florida and to a second career in banking. He wanted me to go to Florida law school, marry one of his State Senate cronies’ granddaughters and become Governor of the Sunshine State. I went into broadcasting instead. Under the circumstances, I am beginning to think I really missed out on a lot – hookers, clothes and jail. Governors Eliot Spitzer, Sarah Palin and Rod Blagojevich, take a bow.

New York’s crime busting Spitzer at least had more class, if not gravitas, than to get busted in Trenton by undercover police busting “Johns” for soliciting sex from street walkers. It would have made better story. Right-wing radio ate it up anyway. A Democrat and a prostitute make a great daily double. Alaska’s “Bridge-to-Nowhere” Palin should be incarcerated for the attempted murder of a language. That she could not get her stories straight and helped John McCain lose the presidential election did not matter to right-wing radio. Being a Republican and a conservative babe made for another daily double.

However, Illinois’ crusading reformer Blagojevich (Bluh-GOY-uh-vich) succeeded Republican Governor George Ryan, who was sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison for racketeering and fraud. Few people outside of the Prairie State (also known as the Sucker State) care. The Democrat governor having been arrested on federal corruption charges for attempting to sell the president-elect’s senate seat for which he can go to jail gives the right-wing a trifecta. Rush must be in heaven. What could be better than graft, corruption and Obama-by-implication?

The Washington Post’s George Will cannot quit chewing on the Fairness Doctrine rag that right-wing radio named the “Hush Rush Bill.” Now that Blagojevich has hit the news, Will and the rest of conservative center-right broadcast and print punditry have a new rag to chew. Wait until the inauguration is over.

It is doubtful that main stream media will go easy on this story, especially since its subject seems oblivious to the size of the dung heap he has built for himself. What is significant to the Premise Loft is how the conservatives respond to the case. Kristol, Will, Krauthammer, Gerson and even Brooks are doubtless word processing as I post. Doubtless they are looking up “Sucker State.” We will get to see how they prepare for the moments when the ubiquitous It hits the Obama administration. And It will.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Weep No More

I’ve loved cars since my grandmother traded in her 1949 Buick Roadmaster for the ‘54 model. I wept. The magazines Hot Rod, Car and Driver, Car Craft, and Motor Trend consumed much of my teenager spending money and reading time. They reported that California emission controls of the late 60’s threatened the “heavy Chevy’s.” I wept. In 1978 GM quit using the venerable Fischer C-body for its big cars -- Cadillac, Buick, Olds and Pontiac. I wept. I confess my envy of people who own more than one Corvette.

I came to forgive the Big Three for the junk they built in the 80s – duds like the Chevy Citation, Ford’s tin can of a Mustang and Chrysler’s Dodge Aspin. The down sized luxury cars made anyone of sense weep. I ignored the fact that automobile companies disappear. AMC, which had given us the AMX and Javelin, cranked out the Pacer and the Gremlin. No tear came to eye as AMC was swallowed by the python Chrysler. It deserved to be consumed.

Men like Harley Earl, George Romney and Lee Iacocca are legends who will be studied for ever, from business to design schools, for their contributions to the American automobile industry. Earl gave us the ‘Vette. Romney rescued American Motors and made it thrive. Iacocca gave us the Mustang and went on to persuade congress to bail out Chrysler almost single-handedly.

The United States was not founded upon a marketing plan of “let’s get bigger.” Neither was Chrysler, Ford, or General Motors. Unions came along later. However, the oxymoron “poor CEOs” applies to those (formerly) corporate aircraft fitted heads-of-state, which would be Michigan, who appeared before congress this week and increased their bail-out bid from $25 billion to $34 billion dollars. Well, at least they had a plan.

Codswallop. A plan is not an objective. Their plan is to remain afloat. Their plan must say what they think is politically correct. In Oz one does not look behind the curtain. So, their plan is to pretend that US citizens are ready to turn against fifty years of advertising and a post WWII love of horsepower. If they had a plan it would be to show us a 300 HP electric Corvette.

The proverbial Ace they have up their sleeve is that the Big 3 are too Big for the country and for the congress to allow to go broke. Therein lays the Trump. They are too big to allow failure. Congress knows how to committee, not how to captain. No “green” Vette? -- I weep.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Conjecture No More

Today, the name of cabinet designates swirling around in the media ceased to be conjecture. They are no more. They are as leaked. Curious, isn’t it, how names get strategically leaked by “a person close to” the Obama transition team who “spoke on the condition of anonymity” presumably because they were “not authorized” to do any speaking? If it was my team, I would want to know who that person is and stuff a sock in them. Perhaps the real question is who authorizes the unauthorized leak agent? But I digress.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is hardly a “holdover,” as the Washington Post editorialized today. Nor is the significance of the Obama decision to retain him, as the NY Times reported last week, as much “a show of bipartisan continuity in a time of war that will be the first time a Pentagon chief has been carried over from a president of a different party” as it is good international politics. Besides, being the Secretary of Defense is not a show.

Donald Rumsfeld was a show. He liked having his picture taken. He liked being on television. He liked being the 400 pound gorilla in the Pentagon. He did not mind being a criminal. Unfortunately, he enjoyed his ego rather much and was more or less put out to pasture by his crony the vice president, the 500 pound gorilla at the White House.

Mr. Gates, on the other hand, does not like having his picture taken. He is a career bureaucrat who serves at the will of the president, regardless of political party. In a way he reminds me of the late Caspar Weinberger, Reagan’s SecDef. Prior to Defense he chaired the Federal Trade Commission in the Nixon Administration and later ran the Office of Management and Budget. However, it is doubtful that Gates will need a presidential pardon, as Rumsfeld and Cheney may.

The president-elect’s choice of Senator Hillary Clinton to become Secretary of State is a bit more problematic. Her job will be to represent the president to the world as opposed to representing herself, which lost her the Democratic presidential nomination. It is that serving at will of the president that is important. It will remain to be seen whether Mrs. Clinton gets that part. It will also be interesting to see whether New York's Governor Patterson offers to appoint the former-president Clinton to replace her in the senate.

If there is any conjecture other than that, it will be about the senate’s questioning of Timothy Geithner in his confirmation hearing to become Secretary of the Treasury. His tenure at the New York Fed may be an asset, if he learned anything as the Wall Street came tumbling down. He too will serve at the will of the president. I suspect he gets that, even if it is conjecture on my part.