Monday, September 29, 2008

455 Commercial Paper Shredder

455 Commercial Paper Shredder

Let's all salute Max Hall, late of Manufacturers Trust, a bank formed in Brooklyn about seven zillion years ago. Max was one of the first guys to think up a new and unregulated financial product. That was in the 1920s, a few years before things got window-jumping bad in the Great Depression. Max's real first name was Percy. Verybanky for the time. But his friends -- and there were many --- called him Max, so we will, too.

Max's invention is now called "commercial paper." Commercial paper is like a loan given to a mid size or big business. It's very short term. Sometimes only days. But never more than 270 days. Because these little (and sometimes big) loans command relatively low interest and because they're short term, they're securities that don't have to be registered as securities.

So, you have a business. You have bills due. You have money owed you, but not yet due or collected. So you borrow. Commercial paper. Low rates, quick turnaround. Your receivables come in, you pay back the lender -- often a money market fund, something in which lots of us have deposits.

Money market funds. Safe as safe can be. No one's ever lost a nickel. Well, not until now. One of the big ones, Reserve Primary Fund, "broke the buck" the other day. That means they actually lost money. Maybe not so safe anymore. That sent a lot of business boys and girls over to their banks, where they have backup lines of credit they don't like using because the rates are higher -- it costs more.

Except the banks, many of them, are, um, reluctant to lend. The bad loans already sinking them, don'tcha know.

Max didn't do a header out the window, as far as we can tell. But he might have looked out that window at beautiful downtown Brooklyn, and thought about it. Others are thinking the same today.

Max's invention has become the circulatory system of the financial world, and it's tough right now to get the blood flowing. This is not being widely reported.

You'll find scraps of articles in the Wall St. Journal, the Financial Times and the Bloomberg wire. But the mainstream newsies aren't much touching this.

This bailout thing might be a stent in the artery. It might even wipe the plaque out of the system.

But right now, to mix a metaphor, commercial paper is sitting in a box, dangerously close to the intake slot of the shredder.



Shrapnel:

--This is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. The year is 5769. For those of us who hoped the 5760s would be as good as the 1960s, we have one year to make it work, and it doesn't look likely.

--No Dick Clark (or even Ryan Seacrest.) No descending ball in Times Square. Such a celebration!

--No Guy Lombardo, no drunken revelry. And you need tickets, to get into the synagogue, tickets! Such a celebration.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.(R)

(C)WJR 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

454 The FDA's New Deal

#454 The FDA's New Deal

Greenstein the Pharmacist is sitting in what looks like a movie set of an old time drug store. Greeny has this mock up in his basement. "It reminds me of when we druggists used to work for some guy with a soda fountain, knew the neighbors, knew the customers. I just come down here after work some days to remember."

"Work," for Greeny is behind the drug counter at a Duane Reade on 59th Street, on the east side. "It's not the same," he says.

What's on his mind today is the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration.

"You know," he says, "they don't do such a hot job. I mean look at all this poison crap that comes over from China. And look at stuff like Vioxx.

"Still, they are at least a set of eyes and some testing before a bad drug gets on the market -- or pulled off."

Greenstein is king of the movie set. His throne is an ancient swivel chair, no arms. Duct tape patching on the cushion. His sceptre is a pestle, which he wields with great gravitas and authority. He slaps it from one hand to another, then picks up a piece of paper from a little table next to the throne.

"You see this? This is my stock in Fannie Mae. Great investment. Charmin' in fact. Or maybe Quilted Northern."

Greeny is thinking about this toilet paper stock and his drug store mock up and slapping that pestle and thinking out loud:

"There's an FDA for toxic drugs, toxic paint, toxic cat food, how about an FDA for toxic financial products?"

"What-cha think? Test the stuff before they put it on the shelf?"

Aren't they supposed to do that now?

"Well, yeah. But not just in that way. You know, they gotta set up double blind surveys and placebo products, stuff like that. Give it a good run before you sell it to the public."

Greenstein is on to something. It's good enough for Viagra. And even Broadway shows have out of town tryouts. Testing a financial instrument before selling it?

Greeny says "Maybe get some crash test dummies in on this. You know. Like they do with airbags in cars? Something, anyway."

And do what, publish the results in the Journal of the American Medical Association? The Wall Street Journal? The Bloomberg terminal?

Hey, Greeny, you going to volunteer as a test subject?

Shrapnel:

--Funny how Congress can sometimes get things done fast when there's a break coming soon. They fly home. WE get railroaded.

--Neckties have narrowed agaln. But not enough so that the old slim Jims from the 1960s will look like anything but, well, those old slim Jims from the 1960s. But I'm holding on to the Wide Guys. Maybe they'll be back, if I live long enough.

--Have you seen the new O.J. Simpson cologne? It's cheap. But that scent is a real killer.






I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)2008 WJR

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

#453 Slow Boat From China

#453 Slow Boat from China

With apologies to Frank Loesser, who wrote the song "Slow Boat to China," back when China was a romantic, exotic, mysterious land. 1947. No Mao, yet. no Cultural Revolution. A right wing dictatorship, and a great place for (a) the British, (b) missionaries and (c) the upper crust, including some close relatives of a very close relative.

Fast forward to now. China is America's Factory. Except something strange is going on there. Workers who had been gravitating to the extreme south are breaking the sweatshop model of Chinese industry. They're demanding -- and getting -- the equivalent of a living wage. Looks like maybe what was going on in New England a few short decades ago. So what are the factory owners doing? They're doing what any red blooded American would do, they're cheating.

They're putting phony chemicals in baby formula, they're fudging time cards and cutting overtime. They're farming out work to cheaper areas of China (kind of like when the textile business moved from America to the Confederate States of America, only now it's Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and other far eastern slave states.)

But according to the public radio show "Marketplace," while 80% of America's imports came from China only a year or two ago, the current rate is 55%. That's a pretty steep decline. Check your undies. Where were they made? Was it China? Or was it some Asian or African country you never heard of?

When an offspring wanted a guitar back in the day, he found a Fender Squire Stratocaster made in Japan. It's a fine guitar and far as I know, he still has it and uses it. But not too many years later, Japan became too expensive and production moved to Korea. When things became too expensive in Seoul, they moved to Doung Quong, China. Now, things are too expensive in Doung Quong, and production has moved to Cambodia.

Check your Levis. Check your Bratz Doll.

So, is the China boom over? Not on your life.

We're in deep hock to the banks there.

And the government "bailout" is going to help them as much as it's going to help the miscreants on Wall Street and in Washington.

But there is a kernel of good news in all of this.

The workers in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, etc. are no dumber than the workers in Detroit and Pensacola and Charlotte. They're going to start demanding and receiving decent salaries and benefits.

We will pay more for their stuff and to ship it.

But we also will start to make some of that stuff here again.

Bring on the smokestacks.

Welcome back, Barbie.

And welcome back, Frank Loesser.



Shrapnel:

--Note to the bailer-outers of the banking system. It ain't a bailout. In order for it to be a bailout, the ship has still to be floating.

--Note to Henry Paulson. Hank, Babes, you want sole control of how much money to play with and no oversight or possible judicial intervention? What country is this, again?

--Note to Dick Cheney. This "bailout" has your fingerprints all over it. Fool us twice, shame on us.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)WJR 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

#452 Trust Busters

#452 Trust Busters

Trust buster? Isn't that something that Teddy Roosevelt did? Breaking up the cartels?

Well, yes, it was. But that's not how we're using it here.

Trust busting now means busting YOUR trust of the financial system. And the trust busters now are the descendants -- sometimes by blood, but always by ideology -- who were busted in TR's day. Trust Busted, now busting back.

The whole economic shell game is based on trust. Without it, an awful lot of stuff is left floating -- or sinking. The shell game gets won and lost. Stuff gets traded. Stuff gets bought and sold. Most of it has no intrinsic value. It's worth what we decide individually and collectively what it's worth.

The banking and other arms of the financial business is based on trust. On confidence. You trust your bank to not lose your money. Your bank trusts the people to whom it lends with the deposit. The borrower trusts the guy he's paying with your money to build the house. And he trusts the guy building the house not only with your money but with not charging you more for 2x4s than they're worth.

This may be oversimplification. But the principles that run the world of finance are the same.

So when trust is lost, so are big bucks.

Hence, the government is holding its nose and pumping something in the neighborhood of one trillion dollars to make up for the mis-trust earned by a handful of scoundrels, incompetents and other mal and mis-feasers.

As usual, a handful of schlemiels and schlamozzels have doped up a system that works fine as long as it isn't too badly fiddled. The problem is no one knew -- or maybe no one cared where the don't-fiddle line was located.

A lot of people are asking why should the rest of us have to pay for all this? Well, we shouldn't. But we're going to because it's the only way to turn the busted trust around.

It's a first step. The second step is making sure things like this don't happen again. (Regulation once established is an executive branch function Maybe responsibility should be spread around a bit.)

The third step is carting the 'busters off to jail. That probably won't happen. But it's a delicious thought, trust me.



Shrapnel:

--It's tough to find anew Palm Pilot thingy that's not part of a telephone. Once they were the dominant form of calendar keeping and note taking. No more.

--Here could be one reason: After finally finding one to buy, and taking it home and setting it up, it ate the data already stored on the computer desktop. Fifteen years of phone numbers, notes, work logs and birthdays vanished in an eyeblink.

--There are only two things you can do after an incident like that -- I mean after you finish crying. Either suck it up or try to re-create it. I chose the former rather than the latter; the hell with it.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C) 2008 WJR

Friday, September 19, 2008

#451 Fundamentalism

#451 Fundamentalism

(Note: this was written a few days before it was posted. Since then, Mr. & Mrs. DeRegulation, the candidates McCain and Palin, have (a) decided they need to create at least one new agency to clean up the eco-mess and (b) have been criticized -- albeit indirectly -- by the White House, which has started either (c) acting like a White House for the first time in eight years by trying to "rescue" some of the faltering banks or (d) started trying to bail out its fat cat buddies.)

Let's get the lingo straight. Candidate McCain declared the other day that the economic fundamentals are okay. Candidate Obama and others took him to task for saying that, because they aren't. Or at least some of them aren't. Candidate McCain thus showed again what he's said all along, he doesn't know much about the economy. He then tried to twist the meaning of the word "fundamentals" by singing the praises of the American worker, which are well worth singing, but aren't in the commonly accepted definition of the term.

So, Senator, if you want to change the generally understood meaning of a word, how about telling us you're doing that and telling us what you mean.

For the record "fundamental" is generally accepted by people on Wall Street, people in media, people who run labor unions, people who invest, people who talk about investing and the general public as meaning stuff like profits, losses, assets, liabilities, income, outgo, management decisions, growth, shrinkage, market share, long and short term prospects, long term prospects, credit worthiness, cash on hand and debt.

If you mean something else, by all means we'll listen. But don't confuse us by misusing or mal-using a term that's in such common use.

Twist the language all you want. Just let us in on your secret. Or -- even better -- learn the language before you use it.

You were in the Navy, right? If you told your fellow officers that you were going to fly a transport and they saw you climb into an F-14, they'd laugh. You could then say that the F-14 was transporting YOU, and therefore is a transport. But it's not generally thought of like that. It's a fighter and a tactical re-con plane.

Your father was a Navy bigshot, so you probably know when to use the word "boat" as opposed to "ship," and probably have childhood stories of mixing the two and being upbraided for it.

The American worker -- regardless of collar color -- is the linchpin of every thing that happens here. But he or she is not an economic or business "fundamental."

The less generous among us would think you were trying to pull the wool over our eyes. But, to be charitable, let's just say you got mixed up a little. A natural function of age.

Now, Senator, about that greed and corruption you see, if belatedly, on Wall Street: Um... I guess your membership in te Keating Five expired in 1989. And here, too, you may be having a senior moment. If memory serves, you skinned by that one with a rap on the knuckles. "Bad judgment," they called your end on that little arrangement you and four other Senators had with Kingpin Keating -- the guy who ran the bank that robbed US. But this ain't a stone you should be tossing.

Corruption? Sure. Culture of corruption? Maybe. Culture of stupidity and fear is more like it.

And, Senator, how are YOUR fundamentals?

(Again, no room for shrapnel. But shrapnel's fundamentals are strong and it'll be back next time. Probably. A briefer version of this Wessay was broadcast on my radio program several days before it appeared here.)

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C) WJR 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

#450 Booty Call

#450 Booty Call

"Never let the booty call move in with you." -- Tom "Blow Me Up" Leykis"

The syndicated schlock jock was talking about men and women. But the warning is equally valid when talking about the financial pirate booty now falling into the briny deep. We all let the booty move in and we're now paying the price, and a stiff price it is.

I have spent my professional lifetime trying to understand the economy and to make it clear and interesting to people who don't care and don't know why they should care and who fall asleep whenever they hear the stories of bubbles and busts we've been telling for the last umpteen years.

And I've tried to do it without sounding like a preacher or an advocate of a viewpoint or a dry academic.

I'm not sure this goal is reachable.

But maybe now, it's at least in sight.

The mortgage meltdown, the skyrocketing cost of energy, the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which own half the real estate in America -- maybe including your house... and now the failure of both Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch... and the upcoming misery with American Insurance Group --AIG and Washington Mutual, WaMu has made all this even more important.

Solutions based on bad or failed ideas are not going to work. Those include deregulation, federal bailouts, or any combination thereof.

The president is both right and wrong when he says the economic resources and tools to fix Wall Street's (and our) mess exist. He's right, in that we do have the strength and the money to put ourselves back on track.

But he's wrong when he ignores the roles that neocon and libertarian thinking have played in creating the process, he's wrong when he trusts political appointees and lobbyists with the task of cleaning up the ocean floor. He's wrong when he says time alone will solve the problems. Time won't solve anything lasting.

The President says the "fundamentals" are strong. If by fundamentals he means commerce in general, he's correct. If he means the current thinking and the current personnel, he's wrong.

I have neither the space nor the knowledge to recommend a full fix. But here's a start:

The first place to look is "GAAP," or the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. A lot of GAAP makes sense. But some of it does not. Like when they book income or expenses or depreciation when they feel like it instead of when it actually happens. You can't count a sale as income until the check clears. There's an awful lot ofGAAP into which the booty can fall, never to be seen again -- or, conversely, raised in hologram form, when it doesn't really exist.

The next place is "off the books" entities. Here, too, too much can be hidden. Until it's too late.

Then there's one of the prime culprits in the current mess, "mortgage backed securities." Mortgage backed securities can be a fine instrument for bundling loans and raising cash. Except there are too many bad apples in the barrel, to mix a metaphor.

Then there's timing. While it's true that you can't "time the market," and that anyone who tells you you can should be carted off to the nearest rubber room. But timing matters. If you look around at the failed firms, you're bound to find people who knew what was going on and where it would lead well before the embattledCEOs announced a problem. Their timing is based on the notion that if you wait long enough and bail fast enough, you can outrun the ocean that's swamping your boat. It never works. You can't time sounding the alarm either. But neither can you ignore the obvious signals.

We've probably figured out that we need to stop lending large sums of money at low rates to people who obviously can't afford to pay them back. You probably have figured out that the "interest only" orlowball introductory mortgages come back to bite you in the rump if you lose your job or if there's a sudden spike in interest rates.

That's a start. But it's only a start.

(Portions of this Wessay were offered as part of my radio program on WBLF, State College PA. And, sorry, there's no room for Shrapnel this time. Friday, McCain's "Fundamentalism.")

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)2008 WJR





Monday, September 15, 2008

#449 McCainery

#449 McCainery

Others are saying things about McCain and his presidential quest far better than I.

Some of them are some pretty heavily credentialed critics.

Alan Greenspan told Bloomberg's Al Hunt that McCain's tax cut proposals ought not be financed by public debt. Trillions. Greenspan doesn't like a tax cut?

Greenspan's predecessor at the Fed, Paul Volcker has endorsed Obama.

John W. Gibson of State College, PA, seized upon my passing reference that McCain isn't qualified to be president by suggesting that (a) I should support my statement and (b) supplied some good reasons, repeated thus:

"... I see four reasons ...: (1) he's too old; (2) he's a reactionary; (3) he's too phony; (4) he disqualified himself by choosing an unqualified person to be first in line of succession; and maybe (5) he was born outside the United States, which the Supreme Court may decide makes him ineligible (though it's a bit hard to see them overriding the will of the public that way if the winner is a conservative)."

Let's look at some of those reasons. Numbers 2 and 3 never have stopped us before. Reagan comes to mind. Number one: the actuaries have it down pretty well. A 72 year old guy with three bouts of skin cancer? Not a big chance he'll live until 78. That means (4)Palin gets to be President. Betty Boop, cheerleader. We've had a cheerleader for eight years. We don't need another.

Palin is so far removed from the reality of the way things work that she might as well be from another planet.

Over the weekend, some columnists took this ticket to task.

Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald mentions that Conservatives used to have principles but have become, in effect, a band of political muggers (my term, not his.)

And Garrison Keillor, writing for the Tribune Syndicate, says the bums all scooted out the back door of the house, came around to the front door and started yelling "throw the bums out."

Then, there's the Panama thing. McCain was born in the Canal Zone. To the best of any one's knowledge (except the five guys who elected Bush in the first place,) Panama -- Canal Zone or otherwise -- is not in the United States.
Given a choice between the Austrian-born Arnold and the Panama-born Jack, I'd take Schwarzenegger. But there's an actual born-in-the-USA candidate. You can choose him. And if you have any sense, you will.



Shrapnel:

--What's wrong with this picture? Teenbopper Spears gets pregnant and says she'll have the baby and marry the father and every one's in a twist because her parents didn't raise her right and she's nothing but a slut. Teenbopper Palin gets pregnant and says she'll have the baby and marry the father and everyone salutes her parents for bringing her up right?

--What's wrong with this picture? Schwarzenegger was born in Austria, not the United States and is constitutionally barred from becoming President. McCain was born in Panama, not the United States and is not so-barred.

--What's wrong with this picture? The Bush administration wants government off your back and out of your wallet. And then it spends trillions on a war and billions bailing out its friends on Wall Street.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

#448 The Polidiots

#448 The Polidiots

The polidiots of the far right now have done exactly one correct thing in this Presidential election season. They've decided to keep their hands off the Presidential Candidates (and there really is only one,) in this election for exactly one consecutive day. Even they know that trying to turn 9/11 into a political slime event is something for which the American people won't stand.

So Panama's Exxon John and his plastic playmate of the month or running mate, the lovely Ms. Boop, figured they could get away with being statesman-like for an entire 24 hours and pretty well succeeded, although that didn't stop Mister Panama from visiting ground zero (or the Candidate, Mr. Obama.)

Cheap. Exploitive. None of your business.

Listen up guys: if you weren't within 50 miles of the Trade Center or the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11/01, you have nothing to say to those of us who were. You or anyone else.

You have no clue. So stow it. Keep it to yourself or your friends or your family. But leave those of us who went through it to continue trying to make life normal.

You want to emote in public? Find something else. This ain't yours, its ours.

Meantime, please consider this: if you can keep from bashing each other for a whole, entire, complete, full 24 hour day, how about two days? Or two weeks? Or two months? Whaddaya think?

How tough is it to focus on isssues instead of Palin's inexperience and generally centerfoldesque persona? Or Obama's church or McCain's graftingthief buddies from the S&L scandal?

You got a beef with Obama's proposals? Get your facts straight.

You think McCain's qualified to be president (he isn't) get your facts straight. Get your sense of reason working again, because you have fallen off the wagon of what makes humans human: the ability to think in concepts and to reason.

This election should be about issues. Issues like the companies that are gouging you at the gas pump and the grocery store, the appliance shop, the clothing store and (if you still have one) the hardware store. To be fair, it's mostly the middlemen. The right wing whackos want the "government off your back." All well and good. But what about the corporate greedheads and middlemen who share your back space (a wide back, you have there!)

The war. It's not just us aging Beatniks and Hippies who oppose it. But you have to speak up. All that money going to Haliburton and Blackwater could be going to your health care.

So far, the election is about sentiment. The country was not designed by Ronald Reagan, Hallmark and the Saturday Evening Post cover artist squad. Get real.

Shrapnel:

--Jury selection continues in the O.J. Simpson trial. Meantime, O.J. not sitting idly by, but is keeping busy. He's searching for the real breaker-inner.

--He'll probably get another book deal out of this trial. "If I Did It, the Sequel." Or maybe "Son of If I Did It."

--The Anti-Defamation League is all in a twist about Evangelicals in Europe trying to convert Jews. They shouldn't worry. The guys who say "yes" are just infiltrating -- or they like ham and cheese sandwiches.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)WJR 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

#447 Was Pogo Right?

#447 Was Pogo Right?

There's a flurry of 9/11 stuff this week, which you can expect, since the anniversary is upon us.

It didn't take long for the exploiters of events to capitalize on all this, but to our credit as a country, there aren't a lot of "I Visited Ground Zero" baseball hats and T-shirts. Yet. Maybe by the tenth anniversary.

We've learned a little since then. We've learned to take our shoes off at the airports. We've learned to have our phones tapped. We've learned we may be on a "watch list" or two.

We have learned how to turn a national tragedy into a needless war. We have learned how to wreck an economy, using the destruction of two major office buildings, part of the Defense Department's headquarters and the intentional crashing of a White House-bound airliner as excuses.

Political careers have been made (Giuliani couldn't have gotten elected dogcatcher on 9/10/01, now he's "America's Mayor!")

What's worrisome is that we're getting too much like our enemy, which often foreshadows renewed or further fighting.

When the Bin Ladin gang flew those hijacked planes into the Trade Center Towers, the object was more than killing a lot of Americans. The object was to destroy the country by destroying the symbols. That kind of thing plays better in places like Saudi Arabia and Syria than it does in New York. The logic is thus: break the symbols, thereby breaking the spirit, thereby breaking the country.

What the gangsters didn't understand is that America doesn't regard its symbols in that way. Or at least most of us don't.

Or didn't.

The symbols were destroyed. The lives were destroyed. The country didn't disintegrate, it united, at least for a short time.

We are dangerously close to accepting the Bin Ladin gang take on symbols.

You don't wear a flag pin? You are the enemy.

You don't rise from your seat or cover your heart for the Pledge of Allegiance? You are the enemy.

To question your lack of symbol is becoming a symbol itself -- one that asks "how can you be a real American without these decorations?"

And then, how are we different from the aforementioned gang? How are we different from the people who want to destroy us?

"We have met the enemy and he is us(?)" The cartoon character Pogo said that decades ago.

Be careful if you see a walking, talking possum wearing a ground zero T-shirt.


Shrapnel:

--Even the right wing dominated Supreme Court understood the difference between flag and country. It ruled that you can burn the flag as a protest. Stinks, but legal.

--If I steal your Lexus and leave you a Yugo will that change your view of yourself? Probably not. So why get all fussed about someone who doesn't stand up when the Pledge is recited?

--As for 9/11 itself, the closer you were to one of the destructions, the more deeply and permanently you were affected. That's why many people who were there don't say much about it. Kind of like 'Nam and the Holocaust.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)2008 WJR

Monday, September 08, 2008

#446 Hammered

#446 Hammered

Can you identify the author of this quotation?

“I’m saddened and offended by the idea that companies exist to enrich their owners.

That is the very least of their roles..."


What do you think? Karl Marx? Barak Obama? Some nutty professor indoctrinating his students into the nether world of left wing wacko-ness? A leading cleric?


Here's a hint: it was published in the last paragraph of an obituary in the New York Times on Friday September 5, 2008.


Before you know who said it, let's consider what it says.


Current Wall Street wisdom is this: Corporations exist to satisfy the stockholders and to increase their value. It's considered an axiom, if not a law of nature.


Here's another hint, the rest of the quote, the part after the "..."


"they are far more worthy, more honorable, and more important than that. Without the vital creative force of business, our world would be impoverished beyond reckoning.”


Ready? Okay. It's from Management Guru Michael Hammer, co-author of "Reengineering The Corporation, which was first published in 1993, and caused such a wave of positive lip service that it stayed on the top of the best seller list for nearly a year, got the author named one of Time Magazine's most influential Americans and caused companies large and small to do... nothing.


Hammer wanted companies to explore the pieces of their work and maybe reassemble them in a way that would help the country's economy, the individual net worth of the workers (and executives) and to apply rational self interest rather than outright greed to their policies. Lots of big name outfits leaped to his bandwagon. Well, no. They didn't. But they SAID they did. Nothing changed.


If a management guy like Hammer can't get anywhere with these guys, what is to become of American business such as there is left of it?


What's it going to take, a complete collapse? Increasing inflation, enormous debt, speculative commodities trading, internationalization of assets, energy, diversion of education into mindless fields galore, a weak dollar, greed. These factors are converging. The corporate types for whom everything is not enough will end up with nothing. And so will we.


Is all hopeless? No, of course not. There's always the probability (fantastic as it may now seem) that the world will come to its senses. Or that the dogs that survive the burning of the "Shining City on the Hill" will sit around the campfire one night and come up with better ideas than the rest of us have so far.


Shrapnel:


--How does the anti-government administration in Washington justify the hands-on takeover of Fannie and Freddy? Easy. It's election time.


--I was wrong about Hillary winning the Democratic presidential nomination. But this election is about sentiment, not ideas or even the war or the economy. So let's hope I'm AS wrong in predicting a McCain win in the general election.


--Appointments are getting more precisely timed. You get times now like 11:50 or 9:15. But people don't keep the precisely timed ones any better than the loosely timed ones they used to make - and break.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. (R)

(C) 2008 WJR





Friday, September 05, 2008

#445 More Conventioneering

#445 More Conventioneering

The Republican National Convention is looking kinda like the White Citizens' Council. Or maybe it's the Liberal Media TV Directors' Council showing only the white faces in the grandstand. Actually, those Citizens' Council meetings tended to be more animated than this crowd, many of whom appear to be the work of taxidermists.

Sara Palin was hard to like before she opened her mouth. Now, it's impossible. It's not what she said in her acceptance speech, it's what she sounds like. She needs a little more Fred Thompson and a lot less Betty Boop in her speechifying to be convincing to anyone who doesn't fully accept her hard right ideology. About Palin, we have to ask of John McCain, "is this the best you can find?" It's the same question we asked of Walter Mondale about his vice presidential running mate and about George H.W. Bush of his choice of Clarence Thomas for Supreme Court Justice.

Makes you long for Elizabeth Dole.

If McCain wanted a woman on the ticket, he should have asked Sandra Day O'Connor.

Like the violin, the clarinet is a marvelous instrument in the hands of a master and a horror in the hands of an amateur.

Palin sounds like a first week student clarinetist. What we need is Benny Goodman.

She's also telling lies about her accomplishments. That gas pipeline that she "built" hasn't been built. At least according to the Anchorage Daily News newspaper. The paper also reports she tried to fire a librarian who refused to pull "objectionable" books off the shelves.

A clarinet out of tune, the reed broken.

Mommy
The absolute highlight of the McCain speech evening was Mommy. Ninety six years old and obviously spry and able. She diverted attention from the empty seats in the stands. She diverted attention from the candidate's age. She diverted attention from the idea that he is too old to be President.

The Speech
As for the speech itself: There was absolutely nothing in it and absolutely nothing to it. And the candidate spent as much time talking about his wife (but not her $300,000 outfit, and I'm not making this up, just ask Vanity Fair Magazine which knows about this stuff!) as he did about the substance of the election.


Shrapnel:

--On today's shopping list: a small box of Purina Cat Chow, even though I no longer have cats. I've just arrived in the Medicare "donut hole" for pharmaceuticals which means I pay retail until the end of the year. So this is a nutrition test.

--Here's a book to miss. Louis Freeh's autobiography. It's called "My FBI," which is all you need to know about it.

--Update: The Purina Cat Chow is delicious. I may have it for breakfast even BEFORE I am forced to use it.



I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. (R)
(C)WJR 2008

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

#444 Celebrating Mediocrity

#444 Celebrating Mediocrity

To paraphrase that raging liberal, Ayn Rand: you want to kill greatness? Then enshrine the mediocre. It'll crowd out real greatness the same way cancer cells crowd out healthy ones. Turn people like Sarah Palin into a saint -- which is what the U.S. Baath Party is doing, and no real saint will remain visible.

The Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States? We don't have to enumerate her shortcomings here. These are well known and word of them is otherwise wide-spread. So let's focus on the people who've nominated her for sainthood.

They are the nuts and bolts "thinkers" of a party that has gradually evolved from a political party to a denomination. They are the nuts and bolts operatives of what was once a reasonably respectable vehicle for political action into a cult. And like any cult, they need a leader. This cult goes one better: it's leader, Ronald Reagan is dead. Right now, the disciples are busy trying to convince you of his holiness and freeze the unoriginal ideas that lofted him to power into a form of fundamentalism that makes guys like Jimmy Swaggert or Pat Robertson look like the cheap rack at Marshall's.

You pick a Sarah Palin as a candidate and you add to that cheap rack anyone who's ever worked his or her way up through any system -- political, corporate, academic, military, philosophical or scientific. You label Palin's "accomplishments" as foreshadows of greatness and you take every great work of politics, business, scholarship, diplomacy, art or science and demean it.

You take a Sarah Palin seriously and you demean and cheapen everyone and anyone who's spent a lifetime building anything.

Forget that she's barely legal, that she advocates the teaching of creationism, that she regards abstinence as the only kind of permissible sex education, that with all this holier-than-thou-ness that she's the mother of an underage girl who's pregnant (some teacher!) Forget all that and what do you have? A right wing ideologue without a track record. You have a Harriet Miers, an Alberto Gonzales, a Clarence Thomas, a Dan Quayle, a Bernard Kerik. No one. And a potentially dangerous no one.

On this, you can bet the ranch: when the saints go marchin' in, Sarah Palin won't be among them. But her handlers and boosters may be.

Shrapnel:

--The notebook computer has seen better days. But every time I go to one of those electronics or office supply places to look at what's available I get confused by the sheer volume. So, I buy nothing.

--Finding a new car is much the same. So many brands, so many choices, so many options. Who can make a decision, even after checking out Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com, the better business bureau, the SEC and a bunch of neighbors who are already driving some of the candidates?

--Opening an account a new bank, the manager wants to make sure I'm not a terrorist. It's his bent, and it's the law. But how can he tell from looking at a driver's license and taking the customer's word on the Social Security number?

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)WJR 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

#443 McConvention

#443 McConvention

My old buddy John McCain called the other afternoon. Really was a really good conversation. I hadn't heard from John since... since... well, I guess I'd never heard from him before. But it was still thoughtful of him to call, what with all that campaigning and the Republican Convention just about to get underway.

He told me he was making this call to his fellow veterans and would be honored to have my support and would I please watch the convention on television if I weren't going to be there in person.

Well, no John, I won't be able to make it to St. Paul in person. And, yes, I'll watch as much of it as time permits. And thanks for asking. And for the absentee ballot, even though I fully expect to be at my polling place (it's in a church, which it shouldn't be, but that's another story for another day) so I won't be needing that absentee ballot. But a thoughtful gesture, nonetheless.

Um, Senator? I'm not a "fellow veteran." But I AM a fellow geezer. And geezer-to-geezer, would you mind if I gave you some advice? I know you didn't have time during our phone date. But, really...

First off, the terrible hurricane in the gulf gave your convention reasons to do some "tweaking" as we call it in the TV business.

The best tweak of all is having to play host to Bush and Cheney, who apparently will be spending the week in the bunker or making high-altitude inspection of the damage -- after there IS damage. Leaving these guys out of the lineup is probably the best thing that's happened to a political convention since the form was invented.

So, now about that advice, or really a question -- about what's her name Palin. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

A gun moll who opposes freedom of choice, wants to creationism taught in the public schools and has no experience in anything but popping out babies? a bear hunter who married her high school sweetheart who, in turn, married the oil business?

John, wake up. This woman does not know Thing One about anything a potential President has to.

Are you trying to woo the Conservatives? Ain't gonna work. Are you trying to hook the disaffected Hillary voters? Most of them voted for Hillary -- not for some generic woman.

The war? The economy? Who've you got on board besides Phil Gram and his ilk? You think these guys can fix what's broken? The only thing they can fix is a basketball game.

This is cheap politics. Cheap and cynical.

Any way, guy, thanks for the phone call. I'll be watching for that absentee ballot you promised. Might vote ahead of time, relax on election day. Call any time.

Shrapnel:

--There are no greeters in China's Wal-Marts. Maybe that's because "greeters" are really anti theft devices. And we all know no one in China steals.

--China's Wal-Mart employees have health insurance. Which shows great progress. Maybe some day, the US division will catch up with those Asian primitives.

--Some guys never learn. That said, note that friend of many decades and frequent colleague Mitch Lebe has just observed his 50th anniversary in radio. No bigger talent and no finer fella has ever graced an air-wave or a newsroom.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)WJR 2008