Posts tagged ‘AIG’

Let Me Be Clear…As Mud

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“Let me be clear, the government has no interest in running GM or the car industry. The government has no intention of running GM.”

Translation:  Well, other than firing the CEO, telling them what to cars to make, mandating a merger with an overseas company, having government backed warranties and withholding any more funds if you don’t do everything we tell you to do, the way we tell you to do it…we won’t be running the car industry.  Of course none of that would fall into the category of full oversight of the company, does it?

As a country, we have been edging down a slippery slope for weeks now.  The pace is picking up and we are now starting a full blown slide down said slope and straight to hell in a handbasket.  The question many of us are starting to have is, where will it all end?  Will it end at all or is this just beginning of a fundamental change in our country and of the constitution set up to define it.  We are approaching or already in very dangerous territory and not even pretending to tread lightly anymore.

The firing (okay, technically if we use the administration’s current wordplay game of semantics, the “strong suggestion that he should step aside”) of GM CEO Rick Wagoner today signals a shot across the bow to American companies, both private and public.  If you accept or are forced into taking government funds, your job security is now dependant on the whim of those in Washington.  We are putting CEO’s and boards of companies, private and public alike, on notice.  If the powers that be don’t agree with the way you run your business, with the products you produce or in your plans to restructure the company, all bets are off.  You can now be taken over by the federal government.

There is a lot of blame/credit to go around on every side.  This is not a partisan issue.   In the car industry and large financial firms especially, the rousing battle cry of a company being “too big to fail” is what caused a lot of the chaos we have gone through and have yet to experience.  That premise has proven to be a fallacy in thinking.  In the case of GM and AIG in particular, after sinking billions upon billions of dollars into the death stars of these corporations, the only option for GM still may be to declare bankruptcy and restructure as they should have months ago.  AIGwas the poster child for public outcry last week as Congress on both sides of the aisle, whipped up outrage and mob mentality as a means of diversion over bonuses that were paid.  The only problem was, many of those so outraged in the Administration, Congress and the Treasury Department, knew of the bonuses to come ahead of time and tacitly signed off on them weeks before they were given out.   When the constituency was paying attention and started an outcry, then the backpedaling and un-constitutional passage of a tax bill by the House occurred.  Bus tours were arranged by an offshoot of ACORN to intimidate executives scared for their families to give back money that everyone in power knew they were going to receive.

Over the past 2 to 3 decades, we have all experienced and enjoyed the times of excess run amok in our society.  Many of us learned to live above our means rather than to stay within our attainable financial boundaries.  We became spoiled and used to having all we needed or being able to attain it through credit lines that freely flowed.  We had a false sense of security and thought our lives would never change.

Corporations in America and around the world were no different.  As long as the profits were flowing in, everyone prospered and took full advantage of the times.  The fat cats lived high on the hog and every angle was worked to it’s full advantage even by the most casual investor.  We were told that the Stock Market was golden and the only way to go in saving for retirement was through our 401 K’s.

Then things ground to a halt.  The market started the plummet to half it’s former glory.  Credit dried up.  Everyone panicked.  The world markets also started to show the cracks that had been hidden for years.  Jobs were slashed at an alarming rate even in industries that had been considered untouchable in the past.  Spending, by necessity, also had to be curtailed as we all learned our lives as we had been living them, had changed.

As in any situation, as we are finding out, if you put a harsh light on a problem, it’s many imperfections and flaws start to show.  Many of the companies that for years appeared to be bastions of stability, have been revealed to have been concealing many fissures and fatal flaws that were allowed to get worse over many years.  Any  house of cards, when it gets high enough, will tumble to the ground if the underlying structure is not sound.  Tumble we did and we are still in free fall.

So with today’s actions, not only was free enterprise and capitalism put on notice in America, we as citizens were too.  If we are smart, we will sit up and take notice and continue to pay attention to each little bit of control being given over to the government.  The bits and pieces of what are seemingly small things right now, will start to add up.  Left unchecked, we will surely look back in a few years and wonder where our country and freedoms went.

 

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  Lord Acton, 1887

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Nailing Jello To A Tree

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Anyone listening to Timothy Geithner testify this morning to the Senate Financial Services Committee has to have the image of nailing jello to a tree come to mind.  Okay, maybe you have to be Southern or a bit strange to have that particular thought, but you get the idea.  It’s a perfect description of what is occurring in the dog and pony show of the day playing out on Capitol Hill today.

To their credit, some legislators are starting to get it or appear to be getting at least an inkling of what “it” is.  Maybe it’s just their self-preservation gene kicking into high gear, but perhaps a few of them are also starting to see the light of day.  Hope springs eternal, but surely SOME of them will realize we are all up the creek without so much as a paddle, much less a rudder to steer us and we’re heading for the falls.

It’s more and more clear however, that the administration has no direction nor concept of what the American people are thinking.  The news today that Mr. Geithner was going to seek broad new powers to regulate non-bank financial companies should be chilling to us all. 

Geithner joined Bernanke in calling for greater governmental authority over complicated and troubled financial companies…power they likened to the authority wielded over banks by the FDIC. That includes the power to seize control of institutions, take over their bad loans and other illiquid assets and sell good ones to competitors as they see fit.  All designed of course, to save us from ourselves.

Here’s an idea.  Just STOP!  Freeze!  Don’t pass go or collect another gazillion dollars.

Give ANY of the few dozen ideas and trillions of imaginary dollars yet to be printed but already thrown into the economy time to percolate and see if they have any effect at all.  To constantly dodge and weave by shifting direction and message without letting anything work through the system, is a process doomed to fail.  To THEN make the next move before anything already done can produce results, is simply ludicrous.

It makes no sense at all to keep confusing, avoiding or adding to the initial problem.  We’re trying to fix the credit crunch, the housing industry meltdown, national health care, energy consumption, unemployment, and anything else in the kitchen sink all at the same time.  Next we’ll be worried about price gouging on the price of tea in China or in fixing the relationships of psychotic Hollywood starlets.

Work on the most immediate problem first.  Pay it more than lip service.  Don’t just throw money we don’t have at the wall to see what sticks.  Think a plan through all the way for once, from start to finish..with actual details and step by step contingency plans. 

I was a computer science major and geek before it was cool to be a computer geek, years before the age of personal computers.  We had to learn how to make a flowchart before we began to program.  We were taught to think in a linear manner from point A to point B to point C and allow for variables along the way.  The end result however, was a fixed point and destination.  There was order..it made sense.

Let’s get back to basics.  The old ways are sometimes best.  I tell my students all the time that I have no problem if they use a calculator or a computer for work or research.  The one catch I give them is this…you can only use the tools that make it faster and easier to get the work done, IF you already know HOW to do it without using them.  You have to know and learn the process before you start to take shortcuts. 

We’ve made things too easy or too quick for too long.  We’ve lost our basic skills and let the machine overtake us rather than paying attention and keeping watch.  It’s time to backtrack.  It’s time to re-learn to do things the right way.

It’s time to stop trying to push through agendas.

This is a matter of survival, not time for Romper Room game time.

Quit trying to nail jello to a tree and take a stand without being slimy or trying to wiggle out of a definitive answer.

Take a stand.  Then even if you’re wrong, you don’t end up looking like a weenie.

The Best and Worst of Times

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. 

It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…

It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness. 

It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,

We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.

We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .” – Charles Dickens

 

“All going direct the other way.”  Somehow with the news of AIG’s latest and greatest claim to fame this morning of it’s plan to give out 165 Million dollars, the “other way” that Dickens speaks of seems to indicate the other way we are all going directly to is in fact, hell in a hand basket. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 (of course, unless you’re entitled to a bailout), do NOT go directly to jail, even if you are well deserving of doing so, it seems.

I don’ t know about you, but I’m one of the so called “little people” or middle class or what is quickly becoming the group falling through the cracks.  I’m not entitled enough to skate through on my “last” couple of million bucks or downtrodden enough to qualify for free handouts from the government (yet).  I’m simply a member of  the group who is trying to be responsible and pay our bills the best way we can amongst growing unemployment or shrinking salaries.  The ones making do with what we have, rather than trying to find ways to work the system or have someone swoop in and rescue us or pay our way. 

Granted, day to day living is not always a bunch of laughs.  I seem to have missed the memo where I was promised that life would always be fun or easy.  Silly me, I was raised to find ways to take care of things that were my responsibility.  While I’d love to live high on the hog all the time with penthouses, expensive vacations and lots of “toys”, I was taught that I was old enough for my wants not to hurt me.  I learned that if I can’t afford something, then I have to wait until I can and make do with dreams until I find a way to make it happen.  In doing so, I learned to appreciate the good things even more when they arrived or were earned.  I learned pride and perseverance.  Qualities all that need we are going to have to find again and learn to teach those survival skills to our children..many of whom have never heard the word no or had to do without.

So news this morning of yet more stupidity on MY hard earned dime is purely starting to piss me off.  It turns out the division that is receiving the “gift” of our tax payer money in the form of bonuses, is the division whose risky contracts caused massive losses to the insurer in the first place.  Has the world lost all sense of reason?  Am I the ONLY one that sees the irony and idiocy in all of this?  The taxpayer funded bailout (I refuse to call it the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, what a load of manure…playing with semantics won’t make it more palatable) is in effect being used to REWARD those that cause it to be needed in the first place.  The vivid image of a cat chasing it’s tail comes to mind.

I personally don’t give a flying flip that AIG is “contractually” obligated to pay these bonuses…the game and world has changed and along with it the rules.  The excuse that they would be sued if they didn’t fork over the money doesn’t hold water with me.  Let the people that helped cause this mess sue to get their blood money, I double dog dare them.  If they have the kahonas to file a public lawsuit and face the public outrage, I say, let them go for it…but do NOT just meekly hand them the money.  Make them actually do some work for it.  Lord knows, they didn’t do work or practice due diligence to earn it in the first place.  When are we going to start putting our collective feet down and say we’re mad as hell and NOT going to take it anymore??

The government and our illustrious administration is all over the place on every single issue put in front of it.  They manage to come down on both sides of every issue, sometimes within the confines of a single speech.  First we’re in a catastrophic crisis that is going to get hellaciously worse.  Then as of last week, all of the sudden, maybe it’s NOT as bad as we thought?  HUH?? Excuse me???  It just all leaves you scratching your head and saying what in heavens are they all thinking?  ARE they thinking at ALL or is everyone just throwing a dart at a big board of possible outcomes and using it as the message of the day?  No wonder the stock market and consumers are totally devoid of direction or confidence.  I have said many times in the past 4 to 5 months, that my head is going to literally explode one of these days as I listen to yet one more speech or lecture from our leaders.  Maybe that’s the grand master plan…To have as many of us stroke out from frustration over the mixed messages, ineptitude and confusion being spread by those we elected to higher power.

I’m here to say, just as many others more learned than I am are warning us..that life is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.  You can bet your bottom dollar on it or take it to the bank (just make sure it’s a solvent one).  We have all enjoyed the decades of excesses and must now fall back to earth and our roots.  Many of us in our 40’s or 50’s remember our parents teaching us right from wrong.  Somehow that message got lost or ignored along the way in the name of profit or greed or keeping up with the neighbor next door.  We allowed ourselves to make excuses or allowances for why we deserved to have more than we had actually earned.  It’s now costing us all.

It’s going to be painful, but not fatal.  We are capable of fixing this mess and finding a sensible middle ground on which to now live.  Will our world ever be the same again?  No, I personally don’t think so.  This is not just a localized problem in our nation, it’s a worldwide meltdown.  The world and all our ways of living are now changed.  Given the scope of the mess we’re fighting our way through, we never should have been living life the way we were in the first place.  Moderation and common sense are going to have to prevail. 

It’s not as bad as it sounds to find new ways of doing things.  There will be positives amongst the icky stuff to come.  We’ll find who we can depend on and rediscover or find in the first place ways to enjoy ourselves and families without the distraction of so much “stuff” getting in the way.  We will learn if we’re smart enough to pay attention, that there are more things important than getting a new car every year or going on several fancy vacations a year so we can compare pictures with our friends and have a contest to determine who had the best time or spent the most money.  Who knows?  Simple pleasures just may be rediscovered along with the joy they can bring.  To learn appreciation for living life without so much pressure to always have more and the finding that even the more is never enough. 

We have to stop the stupidity of letting the inmates rule the asylum.  To continue to let executives or those so used to “playing the game” keep sliding things past us on the rails of excuses or reasons why things CAN’T be changed, has to stop.  The government has to develop a backbone, stop trying to please everyone and start handing out consequences for bad behavior.  Let the big boys fail…nothing is TOO big or TOO important to fail.  Someone or a better organization will rise to take their place.

It’s the American way.  Now we all just need to remember what that way is and work to build a better more stable foundation that has some common sense…and learn to savor the good things before always needing more.

The lyrics of a Styx song, “The Best of Times” come to mind…

 

Tonight’s the night well make history honey, you and I..
And I’ll take any risk to tie back the hands of time
And stay with you here tonight.

I know you feel these are the worst of times..
I do believe its true
When people lock their doors and hide inside.

Rumor has it its the end of paradise
But I know, if the world just passed us by
Baby I know, you wouldn’t have to cry.

The best of times are when I’m alone with you
Some rain, some shine, we’ll make this a world for two..
Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime.

We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday well find these are the best of times
These are the best of times

The headlines read these are the worst of times,
I do believe its true.
I feel so helpless like a boat against the tide.

I wish the summer winds could bring back paradise
But I know, if the world turned upside down
Baby, I know you’d always be around.

The best of times are when I’m alone with you
Some rain, some shine, we’ll make this a world for two..
Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime.

We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we’ll find these are the best of times..
These are the best of times.

And
So my friends we’ll say goodnight..for time has claimed its prize.
But tonight will always last
As long as we keep alive memories of paradise…