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National and Global, United States

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final Thought for 2009

Well, when I was a kid we would gather fallen leaves from the oak trees around the house. We'd play in them in mid-October, and then towards the end of the month, we'd actually burn them. Everyone did it. It wasn't a crime. It was then, an event!
The leaves burning, smelled good, as I recall. And it was total fun. The smell, the laughter, the community, the people I knew...all together to accomplish a simple task...burning leaves without interruption.

At Christmas-time, we'd take the old Christmas trees and put them in a field above the house. There were a few dozen trees. We light the fire, and burn them too. Everyone in the neighborhood would be there. It was wonderful. It wasn't a crime either. No police. No 911-calls. Just a few kids from the neighborhood. And everyone in the neighborhood knew what we were doing. Having a good time. It was legal.

Today, we have, where I live, 'no burn days'. Christmas Eve and New Years Eve among them. You can't burn in your fireplace. There's a fine from $50 to $250 if you do, and 'they' find out. Problem is, someone has to report it, and an official inspector has to witness it. How many fines? ZERO. Not one person complained.

My point: The federal government has got to stop 'the small stuff'. Yes, people who burn wood in their fireplace on Christmas Eve is not a crime. There are way bigger fish to fry in this world we live in. There are too many federal and state regulators. Too many organizations. Too many people. All attempting to inform me how I should conduct my daily activities "for the good of the people". I'm now attempting to figure out what that 'good' is and for 'what people'.

It certainly can get better. Just let me burn some old leaves from that old oak tree, and put a fire on, in my home fireplace, without someone, somewhere deciding to issue me a citation for not paying attention to the 'common good'. Whatever that is defined as. Please.

And with that,I'm going out to the desert to have an illegal Cuban cigar with an illegal fire, with a few illegal people, to usher in a New Year. You all have a great New Year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Telcos and Satellites Upcoming

In early 2009, AT&T finally put all of its satellite TV resale efforts behind one company, DirecTV. That made DirecTV the satellite resale partner for the three largest telcos, while Dish Network played the partner role for several smaller and independent telcos.

The AT&T deal initially provided a nice boost for DirecTV, and a slip in Dish's subscriber numbers, but by the latter part of the year, even DirecTV acknowledged that the biggest gains from their telco partnerships likely were in the past. Meanwhile, Dish sister company EchoStar won many deals with small telcos who needed programming and distribution help after SES Americom's IP-Prime wholesale effort ended.

For most telcos, satellite TV continued to be an important part of their offerings, regardless of how successful their own telco TV efforts were. Telus and Cavalier Telephone were among the telcos with existing TV services that also decided to resell satellite TV this year. Increasingly successful service bundles also leaned on satellite TV offerings, and though as DirecTV hinted, the honeymoon period of satellite TV-telco partnerships may be over, the marriage could be just beginning. Throughout the year, many observers speculated that AT&T or Verizon Communications could end up acquiring DirecTV (Verizon refuted the speculation). Such a buyout would be an interesting turn for this successful form of cross-market partnership.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On Federal Government Bailouts...

Did you know that The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies received massive loans from the U.S. government to build the First Transcontinental Railroad— However, Collis P. Huntington persuaded a friendly member of Congress to introduce a bill excusing the companies from repaying the money, amounting to $130 million (nearly $3 billion+ in 2009 money). Circa: 1866

Collis Potter Huntington (April 16, 1821 – August 13, 1900) was one of the Big Four of western railroading (along with Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker) who built the Central Pacific Railroad as part of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad. Notice also that Stanford, Hopkins, and Crocker were all Silicon Valley boys, before it was Silicon! The University, The hotel, and the bank...?

Huntington then helped lead and develop other major interstate lines such as the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, which he was recruited to help complete. The C&O, completed in 1873, fulfilled a long-held dream of Virginians of a rail link from the James River at Richmond to the Ohio River Valley. The new railroad facilities adjacent to the river there resulted in expansion of the former small town of Guyandotte, West Virginia into part of a new city which was named Huntington in his honor.

And so...the bailouts started long before Obama came into power. Something to think about. Perhaps.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Happy Talk" Study...By State of the Union

6 of the Top 10 States in a Happiness Study Are in the South

OK. So happiness is not really defined in the study. Hey, it is a 'study' not a Phd paper.

WebMD says that there may be something to be said for southern hospitality and sunshine. A new study shows that Southern states are the happiest while coastal rivals New York and California are at the bottom of the list, actually with New Jersey in there somewhere.

Researchers ranked the happiest states (plus the District of Columbia) on self-reported measures of happiness as well as objective measures like sunshine, congestion, and housing affordability and found six out of the top 10 happiest states were in the South.

Louisiana topped the list, followed by Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, and Arizona rounding out the top five.

New York ranked dead last at number 51 and California fared only slightly better at number 46.

"We have been asked a lot whether we expected that states like New York and California would do so badly in the happiness ranking," says researcher Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, in a news release. "Many people think these states would be marvellous places to live in. The problem is that if too many individuals think that way, they move into those states, and the resulting congestion and house prices make it a non-fulfilling prophecy."

In the study, published in Science, researchers took a different approach in ranking the happiest states. Rather than relying solely on surveys that ask people how happy they are or economists' measures of quality-of-life data, researchers decided to combine the two and compare how the states measured up.

They used information from a 2005-2008 nationwide life satisfaction survey of 1.3 million Americans and a 2003 study with objective happiness indicators for each state, such as how much rain and sunshine each state received, number of hazardous waste sites, commuting time, violent crime, air quality, spending on education and highways, and cost of living.

When they compared the tables side by side, they found a very close correlation between how happy people said they were and objective quality-of-life measures.

"We wanted to study whether people's feelings of satisfaction with their own lives are reliable, that is, whether they match up to reality -- of sunshine hours, congestion, air quality, etc -- in their own state. And they do match," says Oswald. "When human beings give you an answer on a numerical scale about how satisfied they are with their lives, it is best to pay attention. Their answers are reliable. This suggests that life-satisfaction survey data might be very useful for governments to use in the design of economic and social policies."

Oswald says he's confident the results are a true reflection of how happy the people in each state are, although some caution is needed in regard to the Louisiana findings in the wake of the turmoil caused by Hurricane Katrina, or foreclosures and unemployment in Arizona...or Hawaiians.

State Rankings for Happiness
Here's how states are ranked by happiness levels:

1-Louisiana -- great seafood and humidity make for #1
2-Hawaii -- Anything that looks like the South Pacific should be happy
3-Florida -- mostly older and happy (foreclosure heaven)
4-Tennessee -- Don't get it. If Tennessee makes it, why not Kentucky?
5-Arizona -- Hot.Hot.Hotter and too old to notice and foreclosed
Last and Next To Last: New York/New Jersey -- I think it's the roadway tolls

Other then that, it would seem that we are all 'happy campers' in the state of "Happy Talk".

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mendocino, California

When I think of California I always think "Beach Boys". Help me Rhonda, Surfer Girl, Catch a Wave.You know. Songs that all brought us to California, physically or mentally.

Well, I'm in Mendocino, about 150 miles North of San Francisco, and the Beach Boys have never been here. A potential client requested my presence at a meeting, and I accepted. I didn't bring my bathing trunks. I've been to Mendocino in December before.

It's on the beach, but you can't see the beach. In fact, you can't see a thing. Fog all over the place. And if the sun does come out, it peeks out at you. It says 'wouldn't you rather be in Colorado...or Newport Beach...or Arizona? Why are you here, boy? Come back in August.

I guess it goes to experience: go where you gotta go, to get the job done. Now mind you, I've been in many worse places. But gee, if I go to a meeting 'on the beach' somewhere, I would certainly like to be able to see the beach. I suppose that's why the client had the meeting there. He promoted the fact of a 'beach meeting'.

All well and good. Except from what I could see, I could have been in Iowa. If I actually was brave enough to venture 'to the beach', I would have needed a rope hooked to my car, to find my way back. One of those experiences, where you 'hear it' but 'don't see it'? Yea, the Pacific Ocean was somewhere 'over there', just beyond that road sign that said 'beach access'. Who would have known.

The only Beach Boys music I was singing while there was Brian Wilson's "In My Room".
And so goes the life of a management consultant.

Good note: The fish is excellent at some very good 'fishy' restaurants, that I couldn't see until I drove up to the front entrance.

It is one of those rare places where you smell things first...and hopefully then see them. Something like being a consultant, don't you think?

Have a good one.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Christmas Tree Indicator

One of the popular parlor games on Wall Street these days is trying to predict how the holiday shopping season will fare. If sales rise from last year, that may bode well for the economy heading into 2010. If sales drop, well, that's not such a good sign.

Like many things related to Wall Street investing, you could do exhaustive, detailed analysis to come up with a prediction, or, you could pick one indicator that has some historical significance and run with that. As it relates to predicting holiday sales, it turns out that, "Christmas tree sales can be a good gauge of the strength of the holiday-shopping season," according to The Wall Street Journal.

So far, this simple indicator looks positive. Christmas tree sales were up 6% the weekend after Thanksgiving and 3% the following weekend when compared to the year earlier period, according to ISI Group survey data as reported by the Journal.

Helping to corroborate the Christmas tree indicator, the Commerce Department reported last Friday that retail sales rose 1.3% in November, which was double the rate expected by economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Consumers also seemed to be feeling a bit cheerier as the Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment for December rose to 73.4 from 67.4 the month before, according to Bloomberg.

The good news doesn't stop there. Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase & Co. both raised their fourth-quarter GDP forecast to a gain of 4.5% from the 3.5% pace projected at the start of the week.

The recommentation: Go out and buy two Christmas trees. But wait until Christmas Eve.
You can go to Home Depot and buy that $60. tree for $5.00...and there's no limit.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More Yada from the White House to Wall Street...

President Obama told CBS' "60 Minutes" that "the people on Wall Street still don't get it. ... They're still puzzled why it is that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year ... in decades and you guys caused the problem," Obama said in an excerpt released in advance of Sunday night's broadcast of his interview.

In his address, Obama contended that the worst economic downturn since the Depression wouldn't have happened if the rules governing Wall Street been clearer and enforcement tougher.

"Americans don't choose to be victimized by mysterious fees, changing terms and pages and pages of fine print. And while innovation should be encouraged, risky schemes that threaten our entire economy should not," he said. "We can't afford to let the same phony arguments and bad habits of Washington kill financial reform and leave American consumers and our economy vulnerable to another meltdown."

Obama has scheduled a meeting Monday (14 Dec) at the White House with financial services industry leaders to seek support for his effort to tighten federal oversight of the industry and to limit pay for top executives at institutions that accepted billions in bailout money from the government. Now, just read that paragraph again. He is meeting with financial industry leaders to get support to tighten federal oversight of...their industry! Now, what do you think the outcome of that meeting will be?
Break out the Jack Daniels on this one. Fact is, I don't get it. Do you?

And The Beltway Bandits Continue to Rake in the Dough!

These statistics should make you stand up and take notice. If you're like me, I'd sit down and have a Jack Daniels.

There may be 7.3 million Americans out of a job in this economy (in real terms, it's more like 20 million), but it’s happy days for federal employees. The number of civil servants making $100,000 or more has jumped over 46 percent since the start of the recession.

The most dramatic increase came in the Transportation Department, where the number of employees earning salaries of over $170,000 jumped from one to a whopping 1,690 in just a year and a half. The growth was triggered by rules that prevent top employees in a given department from making more than their bosses. In this case, when Congress raised the Federal Aviation Administrator's salary, it triggered raises for nearly 2,000 of his subordinates.

The Defense Department also saw a salary explosion when new merit-pay rules took effect—and there turned out to be a whole lot more merit around the Pentagon than Congress expected. The result was a five-fold increase in the number of defense officials earning $150,000 or more.

Across the board, the salary bonanza has pushed the average federal worker's pay to $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector.

Overall, the recession has been a boon for the Beltway crowd. The Washington metropolitan area received nearly 10 times as much stimulus money per capita as the national average, keeping the unemployment rate in the area at 6.2 percent, far below rates of other large cities—9.3 percent in New York; over 10 percent in Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles—and the national average of 10.2 percent.

Recovery Act funding alone has fed the creation of 407,000 government contract jobs—or two thirds of all jobs "created" under the Act—according to one independent analysis. And during a time when most businesses are downsizing, the federal government itself actually grew by 13,000 employees in the last year—the first increase since the 1970s.

And the trend continues. Last week's jobs report wasn't nearly so positive as it looked (because the stats were juked), but what little real job creation there was occurred almost entirely in the government and education sectors.

Another case were selfishness is not a VIRTUE. Make that two Jack Daniels...and hold the water.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

From "Mentee" to Mentor...

During most of my career, I have attempted to reach out in a professional manner to people I considered 'mentors'. They were the people that, when I was young, just stood out. You probably know them too, from your experience. They had grace and humor. Oh, and they were smart. Not 'in your face' smart, but intelligent, pro-active, sensitive to their environment. A sense of humility without being a 'saint'.

They simply looked good, had presence, and seemed to know what they knew in an extraordinary fashion. They looked you 'in the eye'. They took only personal credit when it was appropriately due, and most often gave credit where it was not. They wore ties and drank beer (the local stuff). They spent time with you, even if you were not on their radar screen. And when they helped you get that first job, that promotion, that recognition, you responded with a 'thanks'. And you kept it up over the years.

Then, all of a sudden, you became the 'mentor'. People asking you for that same assistance, that contact, that introduction, that morning coffee.
And you accomodated them. You 'reached out' and attempted to help just like your mentors had done with you. Most times successfully. And they rose in the 'ranks'. They became VPs and CEOs and Partners. And then, you never heard from them again.

Simple Professional Communication

Can you figure out how professional business people think? I can't? I guess that's part of the challenge.

We recently (well, about a month ago) made a presentation to a major sports facility to assist them in generating 'off season' events/sponsorships for their venue.
Understand also that we are fully capable of accomplishing this task, and producing significant results.

On a personal level, I spent eight years as VP/Director Six Flags theme parks, two years as VP Marketing/Broadcasting for the Houston Astrodome and Houston Astros; two years as VP for a Hollywood production studio. All before I accomplished 10 years in Interim CXO of 10 emerging technology companies, including a Sports Publishing company in Los Angeles, where I was the President. And finally, another 10 years working in over 30 engagements in the development of new business opportunities.

After all of that experience, and spending the time and effort to develop the presentation, make the presentation, and answer the questions, we heard nothing. No 'thank you', no response.

Now, this goes against my grain. I respond to everyone either via phone or e-mail within 24 hours of the request. I, I demand the same attention that I offer.

In a minor way, it's simply another inconvenience, that goes with the territory. However, from a personal perspective, it goes to the heart of why American business is on the decline. It's nonsense at work, as a friend of mine would say...and does.

Here, we have a fully capable group of professionals with years of experience in the space,willing to put a major effort into the project, and you get no response and no follow from the potential client. Nada. On the other hand, I have potential clients in Asia, Singapore, who respond to my queries "overnight". Yes, overnight. Not always what I want to hear...but communicating nonetheless. Something tangible. Something 'real'. And Something is wrong. You should know what that is. American business in disarray. Disjointed. Selfish. Me too'ism. Selfish...and not in a virtuous sense.

And for the moment, that is disheartening, until it happens all over time, next week, next year.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

You Can't Take a Duck to "EAGLE SCHOOL"

Something I think is appropriate:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Finally, My Job is in VOGUE!

Well, finally after 20 years or so, my professional career is finally coming into vogue. Yes, the Interim executive. I recognized the fact a long tme ago, that we are all 'interim' but nobody knows it. Whether the feds like or not, this new news is good news. Finally, control your own destiny. Forget the 'pecking order' and the workplace politics. The titles go also. We will all be better off in the long run.

According to Jody Greenstone Miller, in the Wall Street Journal, the White House is turning its nose up at last month's spurt in temporary work—the one bright spot in an otherwise grim jobs report. It claims that such work is proof that the economy is still malfunctioning. The truth is that this surge in temporary workers is not only good news for the economy, it's the future of the 21st century labor market. If Washington wants to jump start job growth for the 3.5 million white-collar workers who have lost jobs in this recession, it should start by scrapping the outdated legal and regulatory hurdles to temporary work.

Today, demand for high-end temporary business talent is not focused on cost-cutting projects, as some might suspect. Instead, firms use temporary executives to drive innovation. In uncertain times, firms are simply more comfortable with deploying talent on a flexible basis.

Temporary work also boosts economic efficiency because not all executive roles require permanent staff. The availability of temporary staff who can get the job done quickly means that firms can rethink how work is organized.

Which brings us to another case for temporary work: Top business talent increasingly wants to work this way. In one situation, a VP-level executive we placed was developing his own new business. He valued the way a part-time senior role allowed him to support his family while he worked on his own project. For others, working in a series of temporary assignments may be their preferred full-time occupation.

Given the contribution that temporary work makes to the economy, it's time Washington embraced it.

As we reboot the great American jobs machine, it's time to shelve outdated assumptions and accept that a portfolio of multiple assignments is what growing legions of companies and executives want. This new relationship between talent and firms isn't a failure to be stigmatized, but the latest sign of our economy's endless capacity for renewal and innovation.

Some Thinkers