Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Phibro: Just Say No

Citigroup is caught between a rock and a hard place, which should not be too difficult to diffuse. The U.S. Treasuty has imposed some pretty clear regulations for the recipients of bailout dollars...which are grating against a bunch of disgruntled Citi employees who have grown accustomed to big bonuses as incentives.

Workers in Citi's a very profitable Phibro energy trading department are threatening to leave if they aren’t given their extra cash.
Let them go.
Just say no.

Phibro is described by the Wall Street Journal as “a legendary energy trading unit” that has earned the bank millions of dollars. Citi wants special permission from the Treasury Dept. to allow bonuses for Phibro, while also seeking an easing of restrictions on bonuses for other employees.

Because nearly a third of Citi will soon be owned by the government (you and me), the bank is now concerned that its employees will jump ship to other banks that face less severe pay restrictions.

Somebody call a waaaambulance.
How about just saying no?

What does it take to alter the consciousness—the core culture—of places like Citi, which apparently is still populated with people who do not have a clue about how the rest of the country is operating? After all of the financial gloom, despair, and agony—even a very public Presidential tongue-lashing…how is it that a group of greedy energy traders still think they are above it all, are entitled to be better than the rest, and still think they’re deserving of a bonus?

This gets down to the fundamentals of work and compensation and being paid a fair wage for a day’s work. This taps the core values of American white collar worker mentality—which must change if this nation is to survive. How is it there is still some confusion over the concept of being paid an agreed upon salary, which may contain incentives to perform---and the unrealistic notion that one can hold hostage an employer with the threat of walking out?

Do the Phibro traders feel they’re more-equal than everyone else? Are the Phibronauts betting that since they’re one of the few profitable units at Citi they can behave like Somali Pirates, and hijack the unit until their outrageous pay demands are met?

Memo to the VP in Charge of Phibro: Just say nyet.
And tell them to not let the door smack them on their greedy backsides on their way out of the building.

Unemployment is at 8.5%--there are thousands of people in New York with as much snap to do the work, and a lot more incentive to perform for a pay check than these ingrates.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Fickle Finger of Favor

The last time a Finger wrote anything that captured headlines was that episode in ancient Babylon, when King Belshazzar learned the days of his reign were numbered.

"Eeny, Meine, Miny, Moe--yours is the Kingdom next to go" is a loose translation, and ever since, people in power have been intrigued to learn the meaning of the writing on the wall.

Deep inside the folds of today's paper was a bold-faced headline telling of another Finger's writing, this time a marketing letter, penned in-part for the Mayor of our fair City. It seems real estate developer Marvy Finger helped compose an epistle that rode over the Mayor Bill White's signature, pushing an upscale downtown highrise being built next to Hizzoner's version of the Babylonian Gardens, Discovery Green Park.

Back in 2007, Mayor White offered to Mr. Finger his official support for projects that would help in the revitalization of downtown Houston. Marvy took that to mean possible tax abatements for the high rise, and asked the mayor for as much.

Mayor White instead wisely offered to provide support in other ways, and so the pair penned the letter that in January went to potential occupants of the new digs, all across the land.
Or at least across the city.

Today's newspaper article could be deemed to be just this side of critical of the cozy nature of the letterwriting campaign, noting that the story unfolded as the result of "documents obtained through an open records request by Texas Watchdog, a group that promotes open government and investigative journalism."

The headline almost tattles the tale, "Finger helped mayor write marketing letter"...nyah-nyahh, nya-nyah-nyaahh.

Here now is my interprettation of the matter.
Mayor White could have tinged his reputation to match that of his other-hued predecessor by acceeding to a developer's request for favorable tax treatment for the project. Wouldn't be the first time that's ever happened around here.

But Bill White opted for a more statesmanlike course of action, offering the implied endorsement of the office of the Mayor for a season, while preserving the revenue-generating potential of the new development for future generations.

Ironic, don't you think, that the Mayor of Houston could see the handwriting on the wall, while his Democratic brethren back east are still dreaming dreams, and seeking the meaning thereof?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: Dave Ramsey's Town Hall for Hope

If you missed last night’s live multi-cast by Dave Ramsey from Oklahoma City, you missed a stirring evening of encouragement and information that was calculated to blunt the nattering naybobs of negativity that seem to have overtaken this country.

Yes, we have problems, but what you’re not hearing enough of is how you and I—We the People—can take matters into our own hands. The Government doesn’t want you to think that way—the Government doesn’t want to empower you, because when you are empowered, the Government loses its relevance—not that it ever had any.

Much of the trouble we’re in is our own fault.
It’s been exacerbated by stupid, so-called “solutions” from the Government. The stupidity and the negativity and the fear can stop with You.

Here are the three steps Ramsey says will turn things around, without Government intervention:

1.) Get off your backside and take action: Don’t just say you’ll pray about it.
You can pray on the job.
Go to work.
Get busy.

In the immortal words of Nike, the winged god of getting things done, “Just Do It.”
In the also immortal words of Yoda the Jedi Master, “there is no try, there is only do or do not."
So do.

Take back control of your money, take back control of your community, and hold those who are making these stupid decisions in Washington accountable for their actions.

2.) Ignore the losers.
Turn off the TV; change the Radio dial, throw away the tabloids, stay away from negative talk.

It’s been proven that your income will fall within a 10% range of those with whom you associate. Look around—if you’re not making as much as you think you should be, maybe you’re hanging with the wrong set of people.

John Burroughs said, “It is always easier to believe than to deny. Our minds are naturally affirmative.”
Just as you are what you eat, you think as you are programmed—so stay away from the nattering naybobs of negativity.

3.) Instead of being a taker, be a giver. This is as important an element to our nation's future as the previous two points. We are made to be givers…and greedy people can’t spread hope in the world.

If you really want to make a difference, think about these three giving suggestions that Dave mentioned last night in the multicast:

a. Take Care of Your Family First, Then Share With Others
There is a wonderful ceremony in the Jewish tradition called the Havdalah. Did you see that example on the show last night?

You place a cup into a saucer, and you fill the cup until it overflows and fills the saucer. The point is that we must fill the cup to adequately provide for our families, but it doesn’t stop there: We keep filling that cup and the saucer beneath—the saucer is the extra measure from which we can help others.

Think about that for a moment—if each and every family in America practiced that single principle—providing for ourselves and then some—there would be limited need for The Government to tax us to provide for the indigent.

And wouldn’t it be a great day in America when we are able to depend on the government only to protect us from foreign invaders, because the entitlements have disappeared due to lack of need?

b. Give Your Time
“Giving” doesn’t necessarily mean “money.”
The most meaningful gift you can give is the gift of time and attention, and that shouldn’t be just at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Look around your sphere of influence—I’ll bet you can find three ways today in which you can personally spread a little hope and provide a little cheer with your own two hands.

What do you believe would be the result if you did this year-round? How do you imagine your community would be if all of your neighbors followed your example? Can you envision how much better of this country would be if we all adopted this simple idea?

Here's a disturbing story from The Associated Press this morning:
Volunteering has helped define a generation of young Americans who are known for their do-gooder ways. Many high schools require community service before graduation. And these days, donating time to a charitable organization is all but expected on a young person's college or job application.
Even so, an analysis of federal data has found that the percentage of teens who volunteer dipped in recent years, ending an upward trend that began after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"They're still volunteering at higher rates than their parents did," says Peter Levine, director of Tufts University's Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, also known as CIRCLE.
But, he adds, there's been "a loss of momentum," which he hopes recent passage of the federal Serve America Act will help address. Again, the Government stepping in because of a perception that We the People can’t do it ourselves, and that costs you and me.

You can reduce the level of Government by reducing the need for Government to do things you and I can do ourselves.

c. Out-Give the Government
It is possible to change the nation without casting a single vote. Talk about change you can believe in: When everyday American citizens make giving a priority, no one will have to look to Washington for a bail out. Here's how to achieve that:

Support your local businesses.
Give your time and money to your church and local nonprofits. Open your hands and your pocketbook to those in need. Don’t buy in to the notion that the government will supply your every need. Make it your goal to out-give the government.

Some of you may be laughing up your sleeve, and thinking, what’s Clanton doing quoting Dave Ramsey, who is on another Radio station in town.
Stop it.
What’s your problem?

There is entirely too much worry about who gets credit—and who should get the blame—and that has to stop, too. We need to be open and honest enough with ourselves to be able to recognize things that will help turn this country around, regardless of who comes up with the plan.

There are some things about the Obamalites that I have come to appreciate—and I realize that may throw some of you into a tizzy, but be honest with yourself: if nothing else, the President has re-energized Washington. (They need a little more guidance up there from you and me, but there is action being taken.)

So whether a good idea comes from Dave Ramsey or a back-room staffer in the Obamian White House, learn to think and analyze for yourself—look for workable solutions…and remember, they all will begin with you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Wussification of America

All the world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.
--Sean O'Casey

I think the world has turned upside down.
Want proof?
Consider these anecdotes:

Stephen Bassett, the founder of Paradigm Research Group, yesterday intoned that unless the Obama administration discloses all known government information on UFOs by the end of May, he will release all of the PRG's documentary evidence on extraterrestrials to the media.

Bassett did temper his ultimatum by adding: "...this is not a threat or anything; you don't threaten the United States government, they're heavily armed."
And...they torture people.

Among the bombshells in yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogations: former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice verbally blessedthe CIA's request to subject alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding in July 2002.

What is significant about that point is that last fall, Rice told the Senate only that she had attended meetings on CIA interrogations. Apparently she “personally conveyed the administration's approval for waterboarding of Zubaydah, a so-called high-value detainee, to then-CIA Director George Tenet in July 2002," according to The Associated Press.

Are you shocked?
Think hard: Why??

Here's another goodie: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, starting next month, misdemeanors such as assaults, thefts and burglaries, will no longer be prosecuted in Contra Costa County--because of budget cuts.

"District Attorney Robert Kochly also said that beginning May 4, his office will no longer prosecute felony drug cases involving smaller amounts of narcotics. That means anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine, less than 0.5 grams of heroin and fewer than five pills of ecstasy, OxyContin or Vicodin won't be charged."

Does this mean that in that particularly nutty part of the country, it's now open season for executing of misdemeanor drug crimes, breaking minor traffic laws, shoplifting, trespassing or committing vandalism?
Not exactly.

Mr. Kochly says prosecutors will still consider charging suspects with certain misdemeanors, including domestic violence, driving under the influence, firearms offenses, vehicular manslaughter, sex crimes and assault with a deadly weapon.
When did sex crimes and assault with a deadly weapon become misdemeanors?

When did we become such a nation of wussies?

You’ve got a county in California deciding to not enforce the law because it’s too expensive…publicity-seeking congressmen are wringing their hands over how enemy combatants are treated in a war that threatens the safety of our homeland…and the Texas Legislature is actually considering a bill that would protect convicted DWI offenders from having to disclose their convictions.

I don’t know about you, but I think the world is upside down.

No wonder you’ve got more people buying hand guns and ammo and becoming licensed to carry weapons. No one else is going to protect us—so we’ve got to look out for ourselves.

There are some simple, common-sense solutions to many of the fiscal challenges our local and regional governments are facing. Most of our Departments of Corrections would be guilty of violating truth-in-labeling laws. They are not corrective, but instead are giant petrie dishes for cultivating and regenerating criminal and deviant social behavior.

There is something wrong when criminals are coddled and the public cowers behind bead-locked doors and burglar bars. Career criminals choose their path for a reason—in jail, there’s no death or taxes, and you get three squares a day, and a warm place to sleep at night.

Take away the cable TV, and make these thugs work for their keep. Bring back the chain gangs, if that’s what it takes, and turn them into productive human beings—and if the productivity is nothing more than picking up the trash along the highways, so be it.

City, state, and county budgets are all at risk because of declining revenues. The most expensive part of any business plan is the labor force; the state should utilize all able-bodied men and women incarcerated and under state care, and tap them for taking care of public works.

“But you’re going to put state and county workers out of a job,” you may whine.

No, it won’t. The price of this convict labor is the time they’re in service; the tasks they will perform will free-up paid state and municipal employees to expand their productivity and increase the efficiency of regional government.

It'll probably never happen.
Not in a world where we're having to think first about what is the officially-sacntioned method for dealing with somone who wants to destroy our way of life.
The irony is, we may very well be the one's who destroy it ourselves.

Are the enemies of the United States probing their leadership to determine whether planting IED's or detonating cars in crowds might somehow not be "acceptible?"

Harsh times call for harsh measures, and the world is dealing with a global enemy that is not restricted by any code or treaty for dictating the terms of war. The use of "extreme measures" to interrogate our enemies is justified against a foe that hides behind the skirts of women and uses schools from which to launch rocket attacks.

In a contest between us and them, you fight fire with fire, and take the battle to them on their turf. In an economy that's forcing some to "do less with less," maybe it's time to take the perps to task, and put them on-task.

In either scenario, there's no room for wussiness.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Open Letter to Amegy Bank

My bank "recently launched" External Transfers, which allow customers to transfer funds from accounts held at the bank to accounts held at other banks. In truth, the ability to send funds from AmegyBank to say, American Express, has been in place for a while. While a $2.50 per transaction fee might seem like peanuts when thousands of dollars are involved, it still chaps my hide to be charged for something that's been free until now.

Amegy's not the only bank that's discovering the power of transaction fees as a source of revenue for bolstering its bottom line. The insulting aspect is that many of the banks charging these new fees, including my bank, are also recipients of federal dollars from the U.S. Treasury Treasury Dept to shore up their balance sheets.

I wrote a note to AmegyBank this morning:

"Your recent decision to charge $2.50 per external transaction is a rip off. Why did this service magically become more expensive for you to offer?

"What was once a convenience to me is now an additional, onerous tax, leaving me to decide between paying you guys $2.50 or putting a 44-cent stamp on an envelope. Now you're going to get to process a paper check--likely at a higher transaction cost than for an electronic payment.

"I hope you people re-think this boneheaded fee: Your parent company (Zions Bank) is the recipient of $38-billion in tax-funded Federal dollars. You're benefiting from my taxes AND charging me new fees?
That's unconscionable. "

The way things are going, I'll probably be charged a fee for them to read my message.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Getting the Point in Indy

Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.
--Robert Louis Stevenson

Unless, of course, it leads to sword play:
An Indianapolis man died yesterday, after being involved in a swordfight with the grandson of a woman who was killed when she tried to intervene in the fight.
You just can't make up stuff like this.

A 39 year old got into an argument with a 69-year old that escalated when one of the men grabbed a sword, prompting the other man to also brandish a sword.
Swashbucklers in the living room, avast ye!

And you know what’s going to happen next: Bans across the land on swords. I can see the bumperstickers now: "Swords don’t kill people…people kill people." And, "you can have my sword when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers..." or just ease it out of my scabbard when I'm sleeping.

Remember, swords, cutlasses, and daggers are protected under the 2nd Amendment. Just don’t try to get on a plane with a pair of nailclippers or tweezers, though.
Ix-nay on the ox-cutter-bay’s, too.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Clouded Thinking on Geo-Engineering

Have you heard that the president's new Science Adviser is talking about shooting pollution into the upper atmosphere as a sort of “geo-engineering” to counter global warming?
What kind of alchemy is this?

John Holdren says one of the ideas being considered, shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun's rays, would be a last resort as scientists look at several "tipping points" involving global warming he and his colleagues believe could be fast approaching.
These guys believe that once such milestones are reached, such as complete loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic, for example, the chances of "really intolerable consequences" are increased.
Here we go--the fear-mongering is revving-up so that Your Government can swoop-in to Save You.

I don’t think these people can have it both ways: First we’re being told we’re going to start having to pay for the carbon we spew into the atmosphere because that’s causing global warming…and now these eggheads are talking about spewing pollutants up there to reflect the sun’s rays?

Apparently, Mr. Holdren is not the only one who might be a half-bubble off-kilter: The National Academy of Science is making climate tinkering the subject of its first workshop in its new multidiscipline climate challenges program.

Climate Tinkering: Is that one of those new jobs our kids are preparing for that doesn’t yet exist, but will, in the future? Can't you just imagine the small talk at dinner parties of the future:

"My kid’s a doctor." Knowing nods.
"My kid’s a lawyer." Knowing smirks.
"My kid’s a Climate Tinkerer." Oooohhh.

The British Parliament has also discussed the idea of tweaking the environment, and the American Meteorological Society is crafting a policy statement that says "it is prudent to consider geoengineering's potential, to understand its limits and to avoid rash deployment."

Here’a policy statement for you knuckleheads to consider: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

One Nobel laureate has suggested "creating an artificial volcano to inject particulates into the air, which could have grave side effects, and would not completely solve all the problems from soaring greenhouse gas emissions." (Isn’t that the scenario geologists use to explain how dinosaurs came to be extinct—some ancient Krakatoa blew its stack, enveloped the earth in a cloud of ash, and T-Rex froze to death.)

Another geoengineering option that has been mentioned: Using artificial trees to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it.
If these Mensa’s are really serious about addressing global warming, they need to go to the source: Mount up an expedition to explore the sun…just be sure you go at night.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Country Music and Starched Jeans

The American Country Music Awards last night re-enforced the theorem that those real, reality TV shows--like American Idol, for example--are genuinely identifying and producing new talent.

Want proof?
Last night’s performance by Carrie Underwood: Inspired.
She’s an A-I alum…and now, ACM Entertainer of the Year.

One thing I don’t understand about musicians—Why do guitarists stand like they’re on the foredeck of a ship in the middle of a typhoon? What is this wide-stance, braced-against-the-next-wave position saying?

Does playing guitar riffs cause extreme losses of equilibrium, or are these guys just too ripped to stand when they perform?
I don’t get this.

The guitarists backing Taylor Swift in last night’s ACM broadcast looked like they might have been extras in a surfer-movie at one time.
That, or the starch in their jeans was killing them.

That’s another thing I don’t understand—what’s with the starched jeans, and the crease down the back of the leg? That’s gotta hurt when you sit down.
Maybe that’s why those guys sing too high—too much starch in their jeans…

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Telephone Terrorists: White Guys on A Mission

I am convinced that the next terrorist threat on the United States will most likely come from white guys seeking the last names of the people in charge at their places of business.

Most likely those fanatical white guy jihadists will strike only after knowing the exact time at which someone might be reached by phone.

That’s the only rational explanation I can come up with for the rash of insane responses to simple questions like, “who is your manager,” and “when would be a good time to call him back?”

I honestly don’t understand how some operations stay in business, because they seem to intentionally make it difficult to be reached. I called a major fast-food operation today and was shunted around no less than five times in the same call before an intelligent, enterprising receptionist in a regional outpost office recognized the frustration in my voice, and offered to call me back with the information I needed.

All I wanted was a chance to speak to a human being for two minutes—ironically, about an idea to increase their awareness, generate some new sales, and make them a little money. You’d think I wanted the plans to a nuclear missile, they way I was treated.

If you are in charge of the marketing of your company—you’re the decision-maker that savvy, sharp, idea-smiths need to be talking to—don’t you think it might be a good plan for everyone in your communication chain to know who you are and where you can be reached…like your direct extension, perhaps?

This same, major corporation did not know the whereabouts of one of its key marketing managers. Literally, they didn’t know the phone number or the office in which the person worked.

I asked for the name of a manager at a small business here in town…and they wouldn’t give out his last name. After spending ten minutes in intelligent conversation, during which time I revealed MY last name and phone number, I suddenly was treated like an enemy combatant when I asked for the last name of the store manager.

One saucy order taker at a fast-food joint refused to let me know when her manager would be back in, because she wasn’t allowed to give out schedule information. I just wanted to know when would be a convenient time to call back. She told me I could try back tomorrow, if I wanted.
I decided I didn’t.
And I won’t.

You may not want to hear what I’m selling, but that street runs both directions, brother--and after taking sass and lip from minimum-wage jerks with more attitude than brains, I may decide I don’t want you to have what I’m selling.