Monday, March 16, 2009

Dr. Ross

It was a treat seeing George Clooney (Le Beau George…), Julianne Margulies, and Eriq LaSalle back in ER the other night (no in the ER since the characters played by Clooney and Margulies are now in Takoma, WA and the surgeon played by LaSalle is at Northwestern…). Seeing Le Beau George made me think that I don’t know that many examples of TV series lead actors who became worldwide movie stars. That Clooney guy is sure to go anywhere in this world – he will be recognized. A true old-school movie star…

I read about ER ratings’ slide in the last several years (now the 49th most seen show nationally or something like that). I have remained among the ER faithful (though missing the earlier era) – but I am sure a lot of folks, including those who got tired of the series, enjoyed that episode last Thursday and maybe also felt a bit sad that ER lost some of its momentum over time.

AIG and a Call for Service

Alright so, there was this outcry over the weekend about the bonuses paid to AIG folks amounting to millions of dollars that will come from the $160bn the company got in bailout money. The Obama Administration was on the defensive of course, displaying a combination of tactics, saying “this is outrageous” and “but this is the best we could do”. They probably understood (Summers and Bernanke are the two I saw) that they had to show empathy and reflect what 99% of folks out there were thinking (it is outrageous) and then they could explain what the administration did, i.e. they had to comply with existing contracts that included clauses about bonus payments (not sure how those were calculated – even when the company loses billions of dollars, those guys get bonuses – pretty good deal…).

That is the story. We have to pay those people to retain them. I don’t know who those folks are, nor what they do exactly, so I won’t make a definite judgment about how valuable they are. But it does seem to me as though the Administration, now holding a 80% stake of AIG, could be more creative and offer something that would be in line with Obama’s Call for Service (in his victory and inaugural speeches and in his state of the union address).

Since working for AIG is basically a government job tantamount to a “rescue mission”, why not call on the thousands of folks unemployed / ill-employed / seeking a challenge / willing to help who would be happy to get involved in salvaging AIG for a set period of time (6 months for instance, renewable once) for a decent amount of money but something lower than they would get in a Finance job (e.g. $100k)? That short experience would look good on their résumés – it would be a quasi-Obama Administration job (something likely to be carried as a badge of honor in the future) focusing on a complex and difficult mission (preventing the AIG-Titanic boat from sinking and thus avoiding a snowball effect in the rest of the global financial system). The opportunity cost for those folks would be acceptable – being away from high-paying jobs (assuming they could get one of the few that are left…) for only 6 months to a year would not be that bad…

I love the Obama Administration – don’t get me wrong… But they have been showing two facets that I don’t like that much: they have not been hugely creative in coming up with solutions to this mess and they have adopted a very middle-of-the-road approach that probably makes sense in a lot of cases (this mess is more complex that most of us understand, so let’s not be tempted by rash solutions) but sometimes they should draw the line in actions vs. in words (saying “this is outrageous” is not enough).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New Labor?

I read an interesting article in the New York Times the other day (“Job Losses Hint at Vast Remaking of Economy”) whose punch line was basically that a significant portion of the jobs that vanished as a result of the current downturn are not going to come back. McKinsey partner and Harvard Business School (HBS) professor Bhaskar Chakravorti had a more optimistic message in an interview for HBS’s Working Knowledge (“Creative Entrepreneurship in a Downturn”) in late February that new needs will emerge in this time of crisis and resources will be available at a relatively lower cost. That will constitute a kind of “private stimulus” that will contribute to getting us out of the current mess.

It seems as though we are seeing and hearing different things regarding the job situation, how bad unemployment could get, and what we should do to improve the situation. A significant portion of the stimulus plan is going to pay for those infrastructure jobs that the Administration says are needed because our infrastructure is crumbling. Well, they have a point there. However, it is a “shot in the arm”-type solution that will get a number of folks out of unemployment in the short run only – until those bridges or roads are fixed. And then what?

We should focus our resources, we being the government, the corporate community, and society, on thinking about what will be reservoirs for those jobs that in the long run will sustain the economy. Green technologies are big and we all sense that anything related to reducing our dependence on oil and our environmental footprint will be increasingly needed and popular in the years to come. There is also a sense however that a bubble might be forming in the green tech / cleantech world and there will be winners and losers. I guess Venture Capitalists live by that risk, one home run out of 10 tries, but the likelihood or imminence of that bubble bursting might discourage some investors.

Then, related to the jobs that are not coming back (re. the NYT article), what about the folks who got trained on those jobs and are not skilled at anything else really? If the plan is for all those people to go back to unskilled jobs, that is not going to help them (low salaries) or the broader economy as a whole.

As to the question that the Administration does not want to ask bluntly, what about the jobs that should disappear? I don’t want to be too hard on General Motors and Detroit and I know that pension plans have weighed significantly on their accounts and thus have given us a biased view of those folks’ profitability but it is not as though we have not seen the Big Three’s competitive positions eroding in the past 20 years – and mind you, they have certainly been trying to do something about it, but it has not worked so far.

I found ironic actually that GM recently announced that they would discontinue Saturn as a brand whereas when it was introduced Saturn was supposed to lead the way and show the world how differently GM was going to make cars from then on.

So, the temptation is to have GM and the other car makers throw the towel and let markets do their magic (or damage…). Of course, the human price would be huge because of the millions of folks depending on the Big Three directly and indirectly for their livelihoods – but supporting those companies over time just because they provide jobs does not make any sense either. And how about diversification in the Detroit area? Easier said than done for sure – but depending so much on the Big Three is not healthy for the Greater Detroit area – that is certain.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

TV Recycling

I was flipping through the channels last night and stumbled upon a show on CW in which I recognized the actress who played the mother of the clan in cultish Arrested Development. It is so funny to see all those actors being “recycled” from one series to the next – it almost feels like always the same players get to play…

I must say I loved that the Freaks and Geeks folks popped up in more and more TV shows and movies - and how about the two main characters in Arrested Development who have become movie stars now (Jason Bateman and Michael Cera) – didn’t they play together in Juno? Maybe this recycling thing should inspire our new administration, at least it is very in line with the green “zeitgeist” (or whatever). Hum, I should think about this “recycling of people” thing – with folks losing jobs, I feel there is something there…

Lahore and Munich

I was sad to hear on the BBC yesterday morning about the shooting in Lahore that targeted Sri Lanka’s national cricket team and killed several policemen and injured a few players and others.

But I was also very surprised that I had to look for a while on,, or for the account of that attack… According to the BBC, that attack was the worst incident affecting athletes since 1972 and the Munich tragedy… The BBC journalist shared that they had received scores of emails from folks being shocked and angered by what had happened.

I guess this has to do with cricket being like a religion in many Asian countries and a very minor sport elsewhere, including in the US. But also, is it just that we have given up on Pakistan and are getting used to attacks here? Or as long as there are not dozens of casualties like in Bombay, why should we even bother? It is also maybe time to tell the US media that we are not on an island here and we should care about human lives everywhere – life has the same worth anywhere, America!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Police and Andre

I saw a concert by Police the other night on PBS at part of their fundraising drive. Police on PBS – wow!! That was unexpected.

Does that mean that the “Police generation” who must be in its 40s today is becoming PBS’s target audience? I thought our baby-boomer friends were PBS’s primary audience. Well, maybe PBS featuring Police surprised me because I thought, “I am getting old if PBS is now showing concerts of groups I love”. I should be happy though because as time goes by, I’ll have more and more opportunities to catch music from the 70’s and early 80’s on PBS.

And kudos to those PBS for being “adaptive” in its marketing – you guys rock (huh, really?). Anyways, this is always better than André Rieu, the Dutch Huguenot (yes, I like those French-sounding Dutch names) Conductor Extraordinaire, or rather “you might as well shoot me” Conductor Extraordinaire – I must say I can’t stand that guy…