Wednesday, September 27, 2006

7-Eleven to Chavez: "Pump This!"

If a picture is worth a thousand words…what is the cost of a few inflammatory words delivered from the podium of the UN General Assembly?

When you’re Citgo Petroleum, owned by the Government of Venezuela, and your epithet-spewing dictator insults the President of the United States, those words could cost plenty.

7-Eleven decided to cut its relationship with Citgo sooner than later, thanks to last week’s Venezuelan vitriol from thug-for life Hugo Chavez. 7-Eleven was already planning to drop Citgo for cheaper sources of fuel. Chavez’ verbal volley just lit the fuse a little earlier.

If Citgo is the loser, who are the winners?

Refiners picking up the slack include Fontier Oil, Sinclair Oil, and Tower Energy Group. 7-Eleven pumps gasoline at 2,100 convenience stores.
None of it will be of Venzuelan origin from now on.

Okay, so 7-Eleven was already planning to switch providers, but you can’t blame them for capitalizing on the political winds stirred by Chavez’ remarks. Reminds me of the good old days, early in the Iraq War, when French President Jacques Chirac’s untenable position in support of Saddam Hussein resulted in the dropping of “French fries” from American menus, and the bloom of frogophobia around the world.

Hey, maybe the French can buy all that extra gasoline from Venezuela, now that 7-Eleven’s ditched the South American blend.

Speaking of 7-Eleven…you notice no one ever mis-speaks the name of that business; no one ever slips and calls it “seven-one-one?” So why are there still ignoramuses insisting on referring to September 11, 2001 as “nine-one-one” instead of the correct, “nine-eleven” mention?

I just don’t get that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mudslide Alert:

The congressional campaign races are heating up, and Republicans and Democrats are running at least 30 new campaign advertisements in contested House and Senate districts across the country.

Of those, three were positive.

Maybe we should change the name of the nation’s capitol from The District of Columbia to Mudville.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Global Smarming

Don’t know if you noticed or not but they say the earth is the warmest it’s ever been in a million years.

How do they know that?
Were they around a million years ago?
Who are they who say this?
Why don’t they have anything better to do?

Don’t they know their assumption is ludicrous, because
a.) no one was around a million years ago to check the thermostat…
b.) the first crude thermometers weren’t even invented until Galileo’s liquid thermometer in 1592, and Fahrenheit’s mercury thermometer didn’t pop up until 1714…

So this "hottest we’ve been in a million years" garbage is really a bunch of hot air. I believe instead we're witnessing the result of more accurate measurements than have ever been registered before.

It's still not as hot as that Summer of 1966, when our family packed up for a vacation in a '61 VW van and blew the engine at Waelder, Texas.
Whoo-ee, that was HOT!

Hurricane Rita + 1

Do you remember where you were, one year ago today?

Many of you were in stop and go (mostly stopped) traffic, trying to get out of town ahead of Hurricane Rita. Others of you were anticipating the arrival of refugees driving into your area, away from the storm. And with the ravages of Katrina fresh on our minds, the alarm was real, the panic palpable; unlike New Orleans, the evacuation of the Texas Gulf Coast was much more efficient—although not without flaws.

One year after the two major storms scoured the United States’ gulf coastline, the rebuilding continues, thousands are still displaced, and with many homes still sporting blue tarps, and many more uninhabitable, the New Orleans SuperDome opens tonight for Monday Night football.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Prescription for Competition

Wal Mart says drug prices are too high, and they’re doing something about it. Target doesn’t want to miss the party, and is going to jump on the low-price bandwagon. This will be a fun rivalry to observe, and profit from.

I think competition is healthy for everyone in the fight and those in the stands. Honest, honorable, positive competition makes all participants better for having survived the ordeal, and we’re beginning to see that principle at work in the healthcare field.

Healthcare in America is out of control, and the lack of healthy competition is why. Once the insurance companies figured out that “managed care” meant "managing to squeeze dollars" from both ends of the economic pipeline, health care took a back seat to profits and bottom line results.

The government was complicit in this phenomenon.
Before we were “blessed” with Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, healthcare spending never exceeded 6% of gross domestic product.
Today it is 16%.
A recent MIT study found that half the growth in health care expenditures was due to Medicare.

As the government began to get the public addicted to the economic crack of entitlements and subsidies, we paid less and less for our healthcare—and lost touch with reality. That reality is that most of us pay for only a fraction of our healthcare.

According to a report by the National Center for Policy Analysis:

  • For every $1 worth of hospital care consumed, you pay about three cents out of pocket on average; 97 cents is paid by a third party
  • For every $1 worth of physician services consumed, you're paying less than 10 cents out of pocket on average
  • For the health care system as a whole, for every $1 in services costs only 14-cents out of pocket

And as we pay less and less, we lose more and more control of the process.

As the profits to doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies shrank, you and I got left out in the cold…and didn’t even realize we had no coat. After all, we were paying only a fraction of the real cost of our healthcare. The insurance companies may have been footing the bill, but we were really getting left with the tab.

The docs and the hospitals and the drugmakers saw the insurance companies as bottomless wells of cash, and as profits diminished, they began to charge more for office visits, adjust pricing schedules for different classes of drugs, and forcing patients to accept procedures that were rushed to enable hospitals to turn rooms more frequently. It was an endless spiral…and because you and I as medical consumers were out of the loop (because we weren’t really paying the true cost of our healthcare) we didn’t know it was happening.

I said to you months ago that only when you and I as medical consumers got directly involved in this pipeline would we be able to effect positive change in pricing and services. And you’re already seeing this phenomenon evolving: ever try to visit a doctor without a healthcare card? It’s not as tough as it might first seem…when you’re paying cash. Cash is still King, and many doctors would rather receive their payment for services rendered—without having to file a messy insurance claim form for you—and even cut you a discount for the priviledge.

Dr. Devon Herrick, Sr. Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, observed in his recent report on the cost of healthcare that "the average increase in prices for medical services from 1992 through 2005 was 77%, while the increase in the price of all goods, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), was 39%.

It is interesting to note that Cosmetic surgery prices, however, only went up about 22%.

Do the math: while the price of medical services generally rose almost twice as fast as the CPI, the price of cosmetic surgery went up slightly more than half as much. In effect, while the real price of health care paid for by third parties rose, the real price of self-pay medicine fell.

There is another trend developing in this war, and you and I will be the winners, regardless. Wal-Mart is starting to offer prescription drugs for $4 for generics. Target Stores has resonated by announcing a similar pricing plan.

Initial reactions are mixed to ho-hum.

Wall Street analysts and reps for the manufacturers say this is not going to make much difference in the way their businesses operate…but the market’s reaction yesterday belied another sentiment. Shares in both retail and drug manufacturers fell with Wal-Mart's news.

One day does not a trend make, but initial changes for Teva was -3.4% , Watson's stock was - 1.4%, Par Pharmaceuticals -3.2%, and Mylan Laboratories -2%.

Par says its deal with Wal-Mart represents less than 5% of its total net sales, and does not believe the new pricing will have much of an impact on the revenue or profits it derives from such agreements. Does that mean that the drug makers have plenty of headroom in their margins? You do the math. Maybe Wal-Mart's deal won't make that much difference, but with Target joining the low-cost parade, and CVS and Walgreens seeing negative reactions by investors, you don't need a crystal ball to tell there are big changes still to come.

What politicians have promised and promised and still failed to deliver--affordable healthcare--is now begining to become reality thanks to the very company the pols have villified as being an evil empire.

This is the tip of the iceberg, the start of the race, and the cusp of a new age in which Cash will be King, the consumer will rule, and the 800-pound gorilla making it all happen is the low-price leader from Bentonville, Arkansas...not Washington D. C.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Color of Racism

Has Kinky Friedman caught the Claytie Williams bug?

Williams, you may recall, had the governor’s race against the late (and former Governnor) Ann Richards in the bag, until he made an unfortunate comparison of Texas weather to rape, with the observation one might as well enjoy it, as there was nothing to be done to avoid it.
In so many words.

Kinky Friedman’s comments in the current gubernatorial campaign have been at the very least entertaining, sometimes thought-provoking, but have begun to devolve into the scary realm of truthful-but-offensive. Someone dug up a newspaper interview he’d done a year ago in which he prescribed punishment for sexual predators as including being “thrown in prison and being forced to listen to a Negro talking to himself.” He recently described transplanted Texans from storm-ravaged New Orleans as “crack heads and thugs.”

It’s hard to tell sometimes if Friedman is really running for governor, or just polishing new material for next year’s comedy cabaret tour. The thing about humor that resonates with everyone is that it is based upon some truth at the core.

Racism is that unmentionable quality none of us wants to admit still exists in some dark corner of our psyche. But it’s there…and for a stark illustration of how subtly insidious racism is, go rent a copy of “Crash” this weekend and count the myriad examples, both overt and covert.

So when Kinky Friedman caught heat for his take on racist politicking...
"I don't eat tamales in the barrio, I don't eat fried chicken in the ghetto, I don't eat bagels with the Jews for breakfast…that to me is true racism..."
...he may have struck a nerve in all of us.
Or mashed a toe or two.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Us & Them and Odds & Ends

The odds of world leaders at odds with one another running into one another at the UN are pretty good.

While President George W. Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are on the outs, and have been avoiding each other like a couple of junior high school girls in a huff over who’s dating whom, President Bush and Former President Bill Clinton did have a chance encounter this week at the UN.

Political differences aside, it’s healthy for current and foreign heads of state to mix and mingle…you need look no further than the rewarding post-official relationship between Clinton and Bush-41 and their Tsunami Relief efforts as proof of this theorem.

Maybe if Bush and Ahmadinejab were to run into each other in the mens’ room, some progress might be made in the ongoing spitting match between the US and Iran…assuming, of course that the Iranian can be taken at his word. The troubling thing about this world leader is that two different messages are coming out of his mouth.

Ahmadinejad told the UN in Tuesday's speech that Iran is a peaceful nation that just wants to be left alone to “stand on its own feet.”
And do what—fund terrorists?

Ahmadinejad told NBC Nightly News that “the U.S. government thinks that it’s still the period after World War II,” in which Bush believes that he “can rule over the rest of the world.”
But in a changing world, other nations want their rights — "equal rights, and fair ones,” according to Ahmadinejad.

Question for the Iranian potentate: Are those rights to be applied evenly to all nations? Remember, Iran is one nation calling for the destruction of another UN member nation—Israel.

More double-speak included this Mahmoudian nugget: “Why is the U.S. government so against our people. They speak of war so easily, as if it’s on their daily agenda. We never speak of war.” Yeah, except for that little notion of wiping Israel off the map…

Ahmadinejad maintains Iran’s nuclear power program is a peaceful one, saying Iran is "against the atomic bomb,” he said. “We believe bombs are used only to kill people. Ahmadinejad said, “We think that people who produce the atomic bomb cannot, in fact, speak of supporting world peace.”

Ahmadinejad accuses the US of hypocrisy in calling for other nations to dismantle their weapons while maintaining the largest military arsenal in the world. Hey, Ahmad—that’s called deterrence—it’s what keeps lesser-prepared, less-restrained power mongers from starting wars in the first place.

Knowing the US has the capability to turn Iran into a vast glass factory in the desert is likely why this maniac hasn’t done anything more foolish than spout double-speak and platitudes.

"Who has the nuclear bomb and has used it before?” asked Ahmadinejad. Read your WW-2 history, Mahmoud, and you’ll note that the regrettable use of nukes brought about the end of that global conflict, not the beginning. Might also want to refresh your memory about that Holocaust thing you continue to deny ever occured.

President Harry Truman’s use of US nuclear might was to short-circuit the bloodshed in the Pacific, and in a case of us or them, he chose to protect the United States. A lesson which should not be lost on the President of Iran.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Warming Up to Taxes

Former Vice President Al Gore wants to tax carbon dioxide emissions instead of your paycheck as a way to stem global warming.
Say what?

Mr. Gore delivered a speech at New York University’s School of Law, in which he said, “Penalizing pollution instead of penalizing employment will work to reduce that pollution."
Will it work??

The pollution tax would replace all payroll taxes, including Social Security and unemployment, but the overall level of taxation, would remain the same. Does that not presume that the tax would fail--I mean, if it were to actually work, we'd be in trouble, because if it were effective, we'd be breathing clean, cool air and paying NO taxes...

There’s something appealing about the notion of a toll on toxic waste to cool the warming…but I wonder if we’re really just looking at taxes and taxes and taxes until Hell freezes over.

"Instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees,” said Mr. Gore, “it would discourage business from producing more pollution."
Hmmm…a little social engineering for business?
No more outlandish an idea than selling “pollution credits” to industrial users, and then trading those credits on a pollution “exchange:”

“Hello, Chevron? BP here. Listen, we need to blow off some toxins tonight, and were wondering if you have any spare pollution credits we could buy from you? And we’ll throw in an aging refinery in Texas City just for fun; whaddaya say?”

Of course, about the time Al Gore starts to wander off into foreign territory of rationality, he jerks himself back onto the wack-track by proposing the United States sign on to any successor to the Kyoto Protocol for curbing global warming beyond 2012.

Some scientists believe global warming is caused by the trapping of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, in Earth's atmosphere. The alleged consequences of this climate change supposedly include rising seas, stronger storms and intense heat waves. Personally, I think we've just gotten more accurate at measuring atmospheric phenomena that have always been with us.

According to Junk, since February, 2005 the Kyoto Protocol has cost the US $238-billion, while potentially saving .002-degrees-C in warming by the year 2050.

President George W. Bush wisely withdrew from the Kyoto pact in 2001, predicting its caps on greenhouse gases would cost jobs.

"The absence of the United States from the treaty means that 25% of the world economy is now missing,” according to Gore.

No, it’s not missing.
It’s just being spent more effectively elsewhere.

Cool it, Al.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Aim for the Stars

Anousheh Ansari is in orbit this hour after blasting off from a Russian launch pad, headed for the international space station. Ansari is an American of Iranian descent, and is the first female space tourist…

Meanwhile, Iran is still in the crosshairs as a potential target of military action to staunch its nuclear program. Time Magazine’s cover story this week details how the US might initiate action against Tehran… Great job, fellas. All they have to do is read the article.

Ansari might have been a more fitting cover story subject. She came to this country after the Islamic revolution, at the age of 16…taught herself English, and met her husband while working for MCI. They pooled their credit cards to start a telecom company, which they sold to Sonus for about a half-billion dollars.

Today she’s in orbit. Not bad for an immigrant.

During the first break in this morning’s show we received a call from a listener who wanted to know why we didn’t mention the dark side to the Ansari story, as there have been allegations made of insider trading before the sale to Sonus.

I chose to not connect the two.

The point I wanted to make is that if we work hard, if we work smartly, if we prepare properly, when an opportunity presents itself, we can accomplish our dreams.

We all have the right to fail, to make mistakes.
We also have the right to rise above and overcome any setback that might deter us.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Mergers and Acquisitions

Witnessed some old-fashioned M&A activity on Friday in Dallas, as Vince Rowe got good and married.

When the bride, the former Dr. Susan Kohl, had trouble placing her ring on his finger, the preacher cracked, “Don’t worry, Vince, it won’t cut off your circulation. It just takes you out of circulation.”

Point of clarification, Dr. Rowe is still a doctor.

Between Vince and Susan, there are 7-kids in the newly-blended Rowe household. Ray Whitworth, one of our Dallas affiliate’s show producers quipped, “with seven you get Vince Rowe.” There were other “quips,” too, but this is a family blog.

Security was tight for the Rowe ceremony, held high above Dallas in the Reunion Tower. They wanted to make sure Vince stayed up there until the bridal party arrived.

You may recall from last week's shows, Vince was struggling to memorize his vows. Said they reminded him of War and Peace.

I'm not sure if that was a criticism of the length of the vows or the content.

We have from the notebook of another BizRadio Network Producer in attendance, Mike Shannon, the entire text of the fabled and controversial vows over which Vince was laboring last week:

"I, Vince Rowe, of the Online Trading Academy at, take you, Ms. Kohl, to be my next lawfully-bedded wife, to stop-gap and to hold, from this market closing date forward, for better or for worse, for rich or richer (using MY money,) in sickness and in wealth, regardless of our debt-to-equity ratio, to not engage in active (spouse) trading, to share in dividends and losses, to outperform or under-perform, to love and cherish each others' portfolios 'til debt do us part, or until some red light - green light black box solution comes between us. With this bling, I thee wed.*”

*And then the preacher stepped forward and added,

“Although such statements are based on Vince's current estimates and expectations, and currently available competitive, financial and economic data, these forward-looking statements are inherently uncertain. He, therefore, cautions the potential wife that there are a variety of factors that could cause business conditions and marriage results to differ materially from what is contained in his forward-looking statements.”

Mike and Ray are also the BizRadio Network travel and logistics planners, and worked out a fairly romantic honeymoon itinerary for the newlyweds. Looks like it’s going to be a fun-filled week:

Visit Fort Knox, Lunch at Jack Benny's vault, Dinner with Alan Greenspan

Play Monopoly with the Kids; Allow Susan Boardwalk and Park Place using High Interest mortgage rate

Visit The New York Stock Exchange, Lunch with the SEC Chairman, Autograph Dan's Book, dinner at Nasdaq, pay homage at the grave site of Thurston Howell III.

Address World Trade Organization meeting, Keep appointment with Dr. Rowe for Physical examination, Buy Chuck E Cheese for the kids using my..."OUR" money.

Breakfast with Mike and Carol Brady at family conference. Lunch with Bill Gates, Meet Dick van Patten and the cast of "8 is Enough;" Set up rotating schedule for bathroom privileges between boys and girls.

Cappuccino at "Standard and Pours;" Book Presdiential suite at the Federal Reserve, and invite buddies from old Army Ranger Unit for a "HOO-Rah" Bar-b-que;

Attend services at Chase Manhattan Chapel, Baptize kids in coin fountain; treat kids to an armored- car ride with Brinks Security officials, Give Mrs. Rowe a subscription to Wall Street Journal; stay at the Econo-Lodge with free cable and watch "Take the Money and Run" with Woody Allen, and "Wallstreet" with Michael Douglas.

Pictured below are the contingent from The BizRadio Network, which couldn't decide whether to sit on the Groom's or the Bride's side of the aisle. So we hung out in the back, next to the pasta buffet. From left to right, Ray Whitworth, Mike Shannon, Vince Rowe, Your Favorite Blogger, and Matt Cox.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Courage to Rule

Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.
--Clare Booth Luce

Capitol Hill is in an uproar over rules for questioning terror suspects...President George W. Bush wants to make it rougher on those who would take away our peace and way of life in American. Why do we need such rules? We’re the only one’s that will ever follow them, and the version Congress wants to pass would effectively tie one arm behind our backs.

Al Quaida certainly has not observed the Geneva Convention. They don’t wear uniforms; they operate behind the skirts of women and from within houses of worship, schools and hospitals. Why do we need to set up exceptions for these thugs?

When will the eggheads in Washington figure out that these people are hell-bent on destroying each and every one of us? They're like the Japanese in WW-2, as American forces approached the homeland of Japan. There was no sanctity for life, and the bloodshed was so overwhelming on Okinawa, President Truman deemed the use of nuclear force a better, more humane alternative. That decision speaks volumes.

I am not suggesting that we resort to that extreme. For one thing, terrorism today is the product of no one country, knows no borders; it is a movement, not a municipality. There’s nothing to bomb back to the stone age, except the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.

A toughening of the “rules” by which the United States elicits information from its captives is perfectly okay by me—so long as the toughening is directed towards the interrogatees, not the interrogators.

Face it, brute force is the only thing thugs understand and respond to. If they do not value their own lives, why should we?

In a choice between us or them, I choose us, frankly. That does not make us any less of a nation; such a position does not lower our standards of humanity. But it will ensure that we survive, and at the end of the day, that’s The President’s job—to protect the citizens of the United States of America.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Metamorphosis of The Media

I am a student of The Media…I am a product of The Media of the late 20th Century, as are most Americans. Garbage-in, garbage out; media-in, media-out; We are what we read, watch, and listen to, and for the past 30-years it has been my desire to make the quality of a portion of that media content a little more worthwhile.

It is interesting to watch traditional media sources metamorphose in an ever-changing social, technology, and demographic environment. Media consumers are different because their needs have changed, and alternative sources of information have sprung up to meet those needs. The result has been a vastly-altered “mediascape” in which companies like Disney, CBS, ClearChannel and The Tribune Company operate.

The old-line media companies—Radio, TV, and Newspaper—have been struggling to rise above the clutter of their old ways, while grasping the concepts of the new ways of doing things. In addition to AM, FM, newsprint, and video sources, there are now satellite radios, cable and satellite tv, web streaming, podcasting, blogging, and even audio streamed to your cellphone—all providing alternatives for media consumers, and further fragmenting the audience pie.

Media companies have not been able to maintain the same level of earnings performance in this environment, and their reactions have been intriguing. ClearChannel embarked upon a campaign to reduce the commercial time it airs. Their smoke-and-mirror tactic was not to reduce the number of commercial units, but to shorten their lengths to :30-, :15-, and :10-second units.

The result: If you were running a failing ad campaign of 60-second radio spots, you now have less time in which to pitch your message on a ClearChannel station. And since the number of units was no less, just shorter, ClearChannel really only shrunk the clutter. Like the difference between plain and peanut M&M’s, there’s still a whole bag full. Some are just smaller than others.

The other result of this is that stations buying-in to this dubious strategy have seen their effectiveness diminish. The proof is in the declining ad sales revenues, and the corresponding declining value in media company stocks. Why else would Disney, ClearChannel and CBS all be trying to unload their Radio stations now?

To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit’s famous line, “I’m not really bad, I’m just drawn that way,” Radio stations aren’t evil wasters of ad dollars, they're just run that way.

CBS Radio executive management, under the leadership of Mel Karmizan, for years eschewed streaming audio of its Radio properties. Couldn’t figure out how to make any money at it. Meanwhile, the rest of the world took the plunge, and it’s taken CBS a few years to catch up. Mel was wrong about that one. Karmizan is now running Sirius satellite; hide and watch as he figures out how to alter commercial free subscription radio to include advertising. Will subscriptions fall off as a result? Would YOU pay to hear your favorite programming interrupted?

The media companies that are getting it are those who have figured out that it’s not just Radio, it’s not just TV, its not just the daily paper that is going to drive revenues solely on their own merits. No one is giving out merit badges any more. Investors as well as media consumers demand better, and the survivors are going to be those who grasp the concept that content is king, and are able to commoditize their content over a vast array of media modes, analog and digital.

It is interesting to observe The Tribune Company’s edict to cut staff at the Los Angeles Times, which is being defied by that paper’s editor, Dean Baquet. The Tribune wants to show a prettier bottom line to investors. Baquet wants to produce a better product, and knows that cutting editorial and newsroom reporting staff is not the way to achieve that.

Look at your own daily paper in your town. Count the number of stories that are written locally vs the ones that are provided by a news syndicator. I read my local daily to find out what’s going on in my town. A writer in New York hardly gets what people are thinking and saying Texas; they’re not here.

I applaud Baquet’s stance for preserving the editorial integrity of his publication. I hope he can hang on to his job. Media operating companies must recognize that there is a fair amount of art that is required to operate their business. Content providers and producers are no less craftsmen than financial technicians who create deals that make money. Both skills are vital for business success, and the content creators—writers, editors, performers, hosts—are the core of their business, and should be the last resort for layoffs and cutbacks.

The reality is that the free sources of information we’ve always taken for granted—Radio and TV—are really not free. Their services and content come with a price, paid for by the advertisers who believe in their content enough to invest in ad campaigns in their medium. You enjoy the content? Support the businesses who advertise on the airwaves and between the pages.

My forecast: as the Big Boys (CBS, Disney, ClearChannel) begin to divest themselves of properties they’ve mismanaged into poor performance, you’re going to see smaller operators acquire them and begin to provide a different level of content quality. Some changes will be improvements (how many C&W Music stations does one market really need, much less can sustain?) and some will be dismal failures (Gospel Punk does not appeal to me.)

You will decide whether they succeed or fail, because the consumer is the final judge and jury of what works and what flops.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sean Penn: Stiffle

Open Memo to Sean Penn (who is starring in a new movie loosely inspired by the life and political exploits of the late, former governor of Louisiana, Huey Long; Penn has been on the publicity trail for the movie, and has taken advantage of the opportunity in the lime light to spew his personal thoughts on politics and the world scene): Shut up.

You’re an actor.
Your stock and trade is in portraying fantasies on the large screen, and until you get in the trenches with the common folk, get your hands dirty, and have your nose bloodied a little, just shut up. Your reality is not the reality that most Americans are living and experiencing right now.

You have no clue.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five Years and A Day

Are you 9-Elevened-out?
I don’t mean that disrespectfully.
Yesterday was an emotionally draining day, from the multiple observances (imagine how the President and First Lady must’ve felt after visiting all three crash sites in one day) to the mocku- docu- shock-u-mentaries on the network.

I’ll tell you what was exhausting, was trying to read between the lines of some of the stories to determine if there was a political agenda being promoted in some of the depictions.

The President’s address last night was…just right.
It was his bully pulpit to command, but he was not overbearing. If you still do not believe that a "difficult road" still lies ahead in the global war on terror, you are deluding yourself.

We’re dealing with a different enemy which swears no allegiance to any country, wears no uniform of any alliance, and cares not for even self-preservation in the face of conflict. This war will not, as the President stated, “be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious."

Like a marathoner after a well-run race, or even a soul-cleansing worship service that purges the impurities from the spiritual system, the mental fatigue you may be feeling this morning is a healthy ache within our collective psyches that tells us the remembrances were good for us as individuals, and good for us as a nation.

God Bless America…now, let’s live our lives in honor and respect for those who gave theirs five years ago yesterday.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

What 9/11 Means to Me

America lost its naïveté on September 11, 2001.
It would not be factually correct to say our country lost its innocence that day. That would have presumed a lack of guilt, and the American society has been guilty of many transgressions in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Who are they to be judge and jury on America?

Regardless of your feelings on that point, the reality is that the rest of the world does indeed watch, analyze, and pass judgment on the United States of America, right or wrong. We are a self-centered, self-assured, somewhat self-righteous society; Dr. Clotaire Rapaille has described American’s as the adolescents of the world. Yes, sometimes we remind me of kids.

While America is a free country, there are always Newtonian-like consequences for any actions we take, good, bad, or indifferently; there will always be global reaction. There are some even within this country who believe America received its just desserts on 9/11.
I disagree.
The crimes against America on that date remain the high-water mark for heinous hatred, the most extreme spike of cruelty plunged into the national heart, and a continuing reminder that to be American is not without risk.

9/11 will forever be a date of national sorrow.
I have visited many times since 2002 the hole in the ground where once stood World Trade Center towers. Even today, the grief there is palpable as you scan the faces of tourists gazing into the open pit for the first time. Such a senseless loss of life, and contrary to all the popular theories of the day, likely not preventable, once the evil plot was set into motion.

On my most recent visit to the site in August, I was saddened and angered to see common street vendors hawking their knock-off purses and tacky jewelry right next to the retaining fence that borders the hole. We may have lost a lot on 9/11, but apparently not the gauche aspects of capitalism that drive the insensitive to sell anything at any price...and the less-sensitive to buy. Capitalism at its tackiest.

I think I have a pretty good handle on how Jesus felt when he drove the money changers from the Temple in Jerusalem. The hole in Lower Manhattan should be treated as hallowed ground. There’s plenty of room to sell velvet Elvis’s and cheap watercolors of the Towers’ effigies elsewhere in New York City.

9/11 will forever be a date of national pride.
Even in our unimaginable grief, Americans did what we do best in a crisis: we pulled together, forgot about race, color, or creed, and pitched in and helped where ever we could. Yes there were missteps; yes there were mistakes, and yes, there were heartless takers of the opportunity to cheat, lie, and steal in the name of 9/11—they will get their just desserts. As a whole, the nation behaved nobly and admirably.

From the ashes of the twin towers emerged heroes we always had among us. Police, Fire and emergency personnel gained a new-born respect for the work that they do. Shamefully, politicians attempted to position themselves favorably against the backdrop of carnage as saviors of the people, and providers of solutions. Haply, the one’s who demonstrated the most leadership were those who spoke the least.

It was President Bush’s finest hour as he rallied rescue workers on “The Pile.” 9/11 was not a contrived or arranged disaster, as has been ridiculously suggested by conspiracy theorists and armchair quarterbacks with little of value to offer, and plenty of time in which to spew their stupidity.

America’s immediate reaction to 9/11 was not faultless, but it was not futile. We did what we always do in such horrible circumstances—we dug in and did what had to be done.

9/11 will forever be a reminder of national vigilance.
We will never again board a mode of mass transportation without some level of scrutiny. The nation that always looked beyond the next horizon is now finding itself looking over its shoulder with one eye. It’s not cowardice, but conviction to never let it happen again.
Even as the horrors of the day were unfolding, passengers aboard United Flight 93 refused to cave to the hijackers on their plane, driving the jet into the ground instead allowing it to fly into Washington DC.

Public places are no longer carefree, and a generation that was born without a care is now very much encumbered with the cares of international terrorism and the effects that it will forever have on our collective psyche.

What does 9/11 mean, five-years after the event?
It means the land of the free and home of the brave is still free with certain restraints.
It means the brave are more vigilant than before, and some have seen fit to carry that duty with them to the lands from which the 19 hijackers came. It means that we’re still targets, although tougher to hit. And it means that now, more than ever before, we must maintain control over our own destiny, and not cave to global interests that would like to see America’s influence in the world diluted.

This 9/11 Day I am thankful that our nation has survived.
This 9/11 Day I am thoughtful of those who gave their lives, both willingly and un-knowingly.
This 9/11 Day I am thoroughly convinced that we remain on the correct path in our conquest of global terrorism, and our mission to destroy those who plotted the attacks, and those who gave them aid.

We really have no other choice…unless we want to live in a country where 9/11 casts a shadow that forever darkens our hearts.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Foolish Wisdom

Save a little money each month and at the end of the year you'll be surprised at how little you have.
--Ernest Haskins

The Motley Fool is a great place for an introductory exposure to the world of financial fluency and investing. I don’t always agree with everything they say, but at the very least, the Fools do provide a great starting place, and sufficient brain food for thought.

I ran across a Foolish piece this week that described a stark look at personal finance for We the People. Much like the story of The King Who Had No Clothes, we sometimes have to drop the pretense, take off the rose-colored glasses, and look honestly and objectively at our financial physique.

When you peel away the Armani, drop the Prada, and observe the less than flattering curves we all try conceal, you get a glimpse—not of your neighbor in his or her underwear—but what the average American's undressed finances look like:

  • Three-fourths of workers age 55 to 64 have less than $56,000 saved for retirement.
    20% of credit cards are maxed out.
  • 42% of workers cash out their 401(k)s rather than transfer (or "roll over") the assets to an IRA or a new employer's retirement plan.
  • One-third of "millennials" (those born after 1979) do not contribute a single dollar to their work-sponsored retirement savings plan.
  • Last year, the average household paid $1,000 in interest on the money it borrowed.
  • One out of every 73 U.S. households files for bankruptcy.

The Foolish advice is rich in wisdom: Save early, save smartly, and spend less.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Path to Patronization

Does the request by congressional Democrats for ABC/Disney to pull Monday’s planned telecast of “The Path to 9-Eleven,” amount to censorship?

The crux of the mini series, which is based upon the 9/11 Commission report, seems to indicate the Clinton White House was too preoccupied with the escapades of the Commander-in-Chief with one of his interns to effectively recognize and deal with Islamic militants. It’s been called a work of fiction by some…but to be fair, both Democrats and Republicans have howled when kicked by the 9/11 Commission report.

Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, who chaired the 9/11 commission, and served as a consultant for the miniseries, says the production is politically balanced.

ABC says “The Path to 9/11” is not a documentary but a dramatization drawn from the official 9/11 Commission report, personal interviews and other materials. By the same litmus test, Roger Moore’s creations have been deemed award-winning. Perhaps what we're witnessing is the creation of a path to political patronization. Wouldn't be the first time--remember the mini-series about the Reagan's?

"Path to 9/11" is a Disney dramatization of the history leading up to the most upsetting and life-changing moment in modern history, and it’s also part of the Fall TV marketing extravaganza by the networks; consider the source.

I think it’s pretty telling to notice which dogs are yelping loudest.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

'Vegas Stupid and McDonald's

As I mentioned earlier, my Bride and I took some R&R time and flew out to Las Vegas for a pre- Labor Day weekend. While I knew what to expect, she had never been there before. Thank goodness for some of the natural attractions in the area, like Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and Red Rock Canyon, because for all the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, honestly, after about 48-hours, we’d pretty much “been there, done that.”

Las Vegas has to be the world capitol of Stupid.
It was like that scene in “The Sixth Sense,” only instead of Haley Osmont, we were chanting, “I see stupid people everywhere.”

Against a dynamic backdrop of neon, jumbo-trons, and searchlights that rival Times Square in New York City, the ugly side of Las Vegas includes the pitiful people who hypnotically plug their cash into slot machines, slap it down on craps tables, and bet the odds on other games of chance.

Take a look around at the impressive resort hotels and casinos and do the math: The winners in Vegas aren’t sitting on stools dropping quarters.
I find that really depressing.

Sure, there’s the argument that gambling is “recreational fun,” and it’s just how some people like to spend their money, versus going to Disney, or the beach, or the mountains.

I didn’t see any fine print advertising for Help Lines for compulsive amusement park goers at Disney. Such verbiage is splattered all over Vegas, however, for help for people with gambling problems. To me that’s the same mentality that rationalizes fun with puffing on a box of cigarettes, emblazoned with the Surgeon General’s warning that smoking will kill you: Stupid.

Gambling may not kill you (although a rental of Nicholas Cage’s “Leaving Las Vegas” DVD could change your mind), but it doesn’t do much for the psyche of the slotzopaths we saw riveted to their bar stools in countless casinos up and down The Strip.
That’s not the role model I look up to.

Speaking of stupid, today I received an e-mail that first made me laugh, then made me a little testy. Maybe it’s just the change of season. But a group called The Alliance to Save Energy is on a tear against McDonald’s, of all companies.

By way of background, the ASE promotes energy efficiency worldwide to achieve a healthier economy, a cleaner environment, and greater energy security. I’ve got no argument with that.

They preach energy efficiency as the quickest, cheapest, cleanest way to extend our world's energy supplies.
Ditto here.

The ASE is taking exception to McDonald’s “Summer of Happy Meal Fun” campaign, in which toy Hummers are being offered in its Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal boxes. They are cleverly calling it the “Hummer of a Summer” promotion. Bill Clinton oughta love this.

The editorializing begins when the ASE depicts GM’s Hummer as the poster child for American automotive indulgence.

"The three ton, 11-miles-per-gallon beast costs nearly $100 to fill at current gas prices and emits significantly more global warming pollution than most passenger cars on the road today," intones the boilerplate. Does that count that blue-smoke belching ‘71 Chevrolet Caprice that nearly hit me as it fogged an intersection last week?

The ASE contends McDonald’s Summer Hummer promotion reflects "an unwillingness to acknowledge energy waste and its impact on national security, but the harmful effects large, inefficient vehicles like the Hummer have on our environment and the health of children, who are significantly more at risk for ailments such as asthma due to increased levels of air pollution."

All that from a scale model, die-cast car in a Happy Meal?

What, pray tell, would The Alliance to Save Energy have McDonald’s include in its Happy Meals, instead?
Would you believe Hybrids instead of Hummers?

The ASE wants Hybrid Hot Wheels in Happy Meals.
As if kids could tell the difference.

If the ASE wants to make a real impact that's germain to its mission, and target McDonald’s, why not a campaign to replace those expensive, energy-drinking, heat-producing, giant neon arches with signage comprised entirely of cooler-burning, energy-efficient LED’s?

The ASE even provided a form-letter of protest for me to e-mail to McDonald’s President, Ralph Alvarez.

I sent one alright…straight back to the ASE, telling them to lighten up. Get a grip.
Have a burger, and relax.

Ray Kroc must be spinning in his grave.

Psst--hey, ASE. Have you calculated the megawatt usage in 'Vegas, lately?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Winds of Change

If you’re heading back into work this morning from a long, Labor Day weekend with a general feeling of malaise and discontent, you’re not alone, if the most recent spin on American sentiment by CNN is to be believed.

Most of your neighbors are "angry about something" when it comes to how the country is run, and it's more likely than in previous years voters will effect changes in November. The Opinion Research Corporation came to such conclusions from a half-sample of 1,004 adult Americans polled between Wednesday through Saturday. They asked how folks believe things are going in this country.

  • 29 % said "pretty badly"
  • 25% said "very badly" -- up from 15 percent a month ago
  • 37% said things are going as "fairly well"
  • 9% said "very well"
  • 76% said there was "something" to be angry about in the country today

By comparison, 59% felt that way when polled in February.
Only 21% said they were "generally content" in the latest poll.
9% considered the economy to be "very good," but the number who considered conditions "somewhat good" dropped from 42% to 35% over the same period.

55% are more likely to back a challenger in races on this year's ballot. This level of anti-incumbent sentiment is higher than the 48% recorded as "pro-challenger" in a similar survey in 1994, when the GOP took control of both houses of Congress.

Interestingly, 48% said that there would be no difference in the way the country is being run if most of the present members of Congress were replaced with new members. 42% said a changing of the crew in Congress would be a change for the better, and 7% said it would change Congress for the worse.

Not surprisingly, the Economy topped the list of concerns, 28% calling it the most important issue when deciding how to cast their ballots. Iraq was in second place (25%) with terrorism (18%), moral issues (15%) and immigration (14%) rounding out the list of concerns.

CNN gleefully noted that Democrats lead Republicans by a 10-point margin among likely voters asked which party's congressional candidate they would support in November, and Democrats held a 56-40 lead on the same question among registered voters.

How do you identify with those results?

In which group would you place yourself?

Knowing what others are thinking and feeling, how do you adjust your strategy for making money through the end of the year?

My friend, Tobin Smith, shared an e-mail over the weekend from a disgruntled listener in the midwest, who was whining that the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer, and the middle class is getting smaller, and not getting any richer, blaming the present administration for the dilemma, blah blah blah, yada yada yada.

Toby’s response, I thought, was right on: You cannot blame George Bush Jr., or for that matter, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, or even Jimmy Carter for what’s happening in the world today. President Bush is hardly responsible for the rest of the world, i.e., India, China and South America, deciding to join the global economy.

Manufacturing jobs in this country have been shrinking for the past four decades. The reality is that manufacturing customers today are faced with a wider choice of suppliers from around the world, and they’re going to go with the cheapest source in order to stay competitive, much less survive.

The patriotic mantra of “Buy American” is not the best business decision, and for the sake of the US economy, no longer a prudent philosophy. The right source of labor and products is not necessarily the politically-correct source.

Here’s the handwriting on the wall: if you are providing a product or a service that is available at a cheaper price, or with better quality, you’re in the wrong business. American labor is currently running 50-to-70-percent higher with no appreciative increase in value for the higher cost. If you’re in a business that can be replaced at half the cost, you’re in trouble…or in denial.

The automobile manufacturers are a prime example of what’s gone wrong—with American mentality--as well as car manufacturing. I believe many of the popular notions of the day are misplaced, and here’s why:

It’s not George Bush’s fault that We the People use 25% of the world's oil while only possessing 3% of the world's supply of oil. George Bush is not to blame for the fact that the US builds the lowest-quality domestic cars in the world (i.e., GM or Ford), nor can he be held responsible for the fact that US consumers choose to buy the highest-quality cars from Toyota and Honda. In fact, Toyota and Honda make significantly more fuel-efficient cars and trucks that also look better and are consistently rated by American consumers as more reliable.

(Personal disclosure: In my driveway sit four automobiles, all less than two years old; three are of Japanese origin, and one has as many parts of German design as American. All but one were assembled in the United States by US workers.)

Here’s the ultimate irony: since most Toyotas and Hondas and 3-series Beemers are "Made in America," there is little to sustain the argument that so many more automotive manufacturing jobs are being exported overseas. Auto makers are falling behind foreign competitors in technology, design, and marketing—not because of outsourced assembly line workers.

The new facts of life in the 21st Century are that GM and Ford must build products that Americans prefer to buy, or continue to lose market share and manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, as well as the South, East, and West.

Don’t you find it interesting that GM is doing great in China -- making money building cars and trucks and taking market share? Is there perhaps a correlation in the fact that those vehicles are being made in China because that is the best source of competitive labor?

Meanwhile in our country, because it's been politically suicidal for the Federal Government to act, 22 states have taken on the task of increasing the cost of labor by raising minimum wages. Texas is considering jumping on the bandwagon, and it’s a pitiful tune to be played.

The facts are that minimum wages should not be confused with living wages. Raising minimum wages increases costs and in turn eliminates entry-level jobs. When you add the union element to wage negotiations, you reach a point where labor prices itself right out of a job.

Union labor is going to be the final nail in the coffin of Ford and GM if their product issues cannot be resolved. Tobin Smith points to the breaking of Caterpillar’s ties to its union in the '90s so that it could compete with Kubota in Japan as a perfect case in point. Amazingly, Caterpillar has added 50,000 manufacturing jobs since they broke the strikes against the union in the '90s. Tobin says almost every manufacturing company he’s spoken with that is not union-based has added American jobs in the last five years. Only the union-labor-bound manufacturers have had to cut jobs.

The times have changed, and we’re now competing in an age where skilled manufacturing is available and cheap on multiple continents—which was not the case 25-years ago.Watch for the survivors—corporately and individually—to be those who grasp this concept and adapt aggressively.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Okay, I admit it.
I took a vacation.

After working non-stop for a year and half to gestate and birth the BizRadio Network, I took a few days off.

No work, no cell phone, no laptop. Complete isolation between personal and business worlds for a few days.

New York and Washington and Salt Lake City trips over the past year do not count, even when I was able to take my Bride along. She played, I worked. We revelled in each other's discoveries.
This was different.

For my Bride's birthday, I snuck her off to Las Vegas, and we got married all over again.

Forget the cheesy notions about Las Vegas wedding chapels--although they do exist in multiples. We took notes from our original vows, 28-years ago this year, and incorporated them into a script for our rent-a-reverend to enunciate.

I will be sharing anecdotes with you in the coming days, giving you my observations and drawning conclusions from places we went, things we saw, and people we met in 'Vegas.

My special thanks to Vince Rowe for starting his day several hours earlier, standing in the gap, and filling in for me while I was away.

It was good to be away.
It is better to be back home.

I'll see you in the morning on the Radio.