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Monday, October 31, 2011

Me and Bobbie McGee


Have you ever had to face an opponent that had nothing to lose? 

Somewhere in our lives we’ve all run across someone that we had a fairly serious disagreement with.

Now you may be quite upset but you notice during the confrontation that this individual seems more than willing to go to extremes in order to win the battle. You do a quick calculation and decide that you have more to lose by engaging with this individual, it isn’t worth it, and so you moved on and chalked it up to a valuable lesson learned.

Well, consider for a moment what it took for that person to reach that state of mind? I have considered it, and I’m beginning to wonder if current conditions within these United States could be pushing the limits of otherwise rational thinking Americans.

Consider for a moment the case of Mohamed Bouazizi.

Mohamed Bouazizi, was the Tunisian fruit vendor whose death altered the entire Arab world.

The Egyptian uprising began when Bouazizi set himself on fire.

On December 17th 2010 Bouazizi, doused himself with paint thinner and lit a match.  This act of desperation set off a series of street clashes that ultimately brought down the country’s autocratic ruler and inspired similar actions in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania.

When I think of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and the millions of others who sympathize with it, I begin to think of what happened in the Arab world. We tend to believe it could not happen here, but could it?

If you can’t get politicians to enforce regulations and policies that are in the best interests of the country, I feel there could be another force to intervene.  A force that none of us want to see.  Some spark could ignite that tinder and we could have an explosion.

The Occupy movements across this country are an example of citizens petitioning the government for redress. If none is forthcoming…then what?

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When you have nothing left to lose nothing matters, not the law, not the government, not religion. Nothing.

Once you reach that point all bets are off.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

BUILDING THE DROPOUT ECONOMY

Go to school, get good grades, get a good college education, find a nice job with benefits and get the gold watch. We’ve all heard that mantra but let’s be real: College is not the launching pad it once was and simply put, school isn’t for everyone.

Back in the day there was a significant stigma attached to being a high school or college dropout.  A bit of that stigma still exists but by now we’ve seen a number of well-known and highly successful individuals begin their careers by taking a calculated risk and dropping out of school.

William H. (Bill) Gates III, co-founded the world’s largest software business, Microsoft, and has gone on to became one the richest men in the world. He also dropped out of Harvard University in 1975 at age 20.

John Mackey is the Chairman and CEO of Whole Foods Market started his own natural foods store, where he sold food dropped off by local farmers.  Mackey dropped out of three different Texas colleges in the mid-1970s.  

Ron Popeil, known as the father of the infomercial and inventor of such products as the Veg-O-Matic and the Pocket fisherman. Popeil dropped out of a Florida high school in 1951 at age 16. 

Russell Simmons, started Rush Communications, a huge conglomerate that includes two record labels (Def Jam Records and Russell Simmons Music Group), a management company, a clothing company (Phat Farm), a movie production house, television shows, a magazine, and an advertising agency.  Simmons dropped out of City College of New York in 1977 at age 20.

Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s leading software companies.  He is also one the wealthiest men in the world.  Ellison left the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the end of his second year. Ellison also attended the University of Chicago for one term before moving to Northern California permanently.

Steve Jobs, co-founded Apple Computers with Steve Wozniak.  Apple Computers has pioneered some of the most game changing technologies ever seen: iTunes, iPad, iPod, iPhone among others. Jobs enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Oregon but dropped out after six months.

The founders of such ground breaking companies as: You Tube, WordPress, Dell Computer, and Facebook have college dropouts among their members.

I believe that we need more schools (or other institutions) where students can learn and nurture the entrepreneurial skills that will allow them to succeed in today’s environment.

Companies exist for one reason only: to make a profit. At the end of the day it’s usually not what you learn in the classroom that makes a profit. It’s the real world street smarts that you can pick up on the playground, hanging out at a friend’s house or even while babysitting younger siblings.

A relative of mine had a fourth grade education and yet he became a multi-millionaire with several successful businesses, fabulous homes and two Rolls-Royces. What did he learn that doesn’t get taught in school?

PayPal  co-founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel has gone as far as to pay students to drop out.  Well, it’s not exactly that direct.  He is encouraging gifted students to drop out and launch start-ups.

While he caught some heat for this, he clearly understands something that much of the “brain washed” public does not.  Nothing happens until you sell something. Students don’t learn much about sales, networking, negotiation, creativity and embracing failure in the school environment.  These are a few of the critical ingredients to business success.

Which will be the greater engine for job creation in this country: college grads or college dropouts?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Tariffs For Jobs?


A Television program tried an experiment a year or two ago. The experiment was to remove all foreign products from a couples’ home to see how many items were made domestically vs. those made in foreign countries.  I’m sure that you can predict the outcome. I think the only thing left in the home was the sink.

I might not remember the story with 100% accuracy but you get the gist of it, I’m sure.

Shortly after such a discovery comes a discussion regarding the eroding manufacturing base within the U.S. and what can be done to fix it.  One of the remedies usually suggested is to enact a trade tariff on goods from countries like China.

A tariff is basically a tax. It adds to the cost of imported goods. By raising the cost goods from China, their most appealing attribute is negated. Talk about an inflation igniter!

Tariffs can be used to protect industries in their infancy or economies as they develop. In the case of advanced economies the story is a bit different. Here in the U.S. such an action could be used to protect American jobs. The problem is that the jobs and industry have already been surrendered. I don’t know if anyone has the guts to fight in order to bring it back. Even if they did, is that a viable option?

What do you think? Is a trade skirmish with China in the best interest of the United States?  Ultimately, who would be hurt the worst?


Friday, October 21, 2011

Do What You Love or What Pays The Bills?

 We’ve all heard it throughout our lives, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Not so fast, Kemo Sabe. That advice sounds nice but following it could easily land you in the poor house.

“You’ve got to find what you love.  The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  The only to do  great work is to love what you do.  So keep looking. Don’t settle.”
                           – Steve Jobs

Isn’t it interesting that when someone is either rich and / or famous, they often get quoted? I’d be willing to bet that between your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, someone has dropped a few clever nuggets of wisdom on you but no one was around to write them down.

Why?

Because they weren’t rich or famous.

"You want to have a passion for what you are doing. You don't want to wait until 80 to have sex."                                                                    – Warren Buffet

Makes sense but if you’ve got money like Buffet you won’t need to wait until 80 to have sex. Unless of course, you wanted to. I would argue that it’s much easier to talk like this when the thing(s) you love to do are the things that bring you great wealth and fame.

“If today were the last day of my life would I want to do what I am about to do today?”
   - Steve Jobs

Probably not. But the rent is due and the kids need to eat so you’ll likely go ahead and do it all the while praying that today isn’t the last day of your life!

Sometimes you gotta do whatcha gotta do.  It’s nice to sit around and talk about your dream job but oftentimes it just isn’t feasible. We get fed these “rags to riches” type stories all the time.  Did you ever notice that we only hear about “do what you love” success stories. 

I admit they are uplifting but when was the last time you heard about some homeless dude who’s been chasing his dream while eating from dumpsters. That story just doesn’t sell. Which do you think happens more often?

“You only live once, and they way I live, once is enough.” – Frank Sinatra

Think about it. Even the great Ansel Adams had a job to support his family while he captured those fabulous images he became famous for.

What do you think? Which is more advisable: To do what you love or do what pays the bills? How about some combination of the two?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

OCCUPY WALL STREET, MAIN STREET and the BACK ALLEY


The most consistent criticism that I have heard regarding the recent “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations has been, “What do these protesters want?” or “What is their message?”

I think this guy has an idea.

That might be a tad over the top.  However, I would consider the following as a decent top 5 to get the conversation started:

Issue #1
The de-coupling of the U.S. economy. The gap between the haves and have-nots has gotten so wide it’s embarrassing. If you and I were working within the same company, don’t you think my salary should at least be within the same zip code as yours?

Is that unreasonable?

Issue #2
The U.S. taxpayers have bailed out the banks, now; homeowners are given the heave ho. Another example of big-time corporate disconnect. On top of that, some firms had the nerve to pay out bonuses afterwards.

Issue #3
CEO pay scales and the concept of “pay for performance”. The same rules that apply to the ordinary working person don’t seem to apply to the executive office.

The latest example being that of Hewlett-Packard's ousted CEO, Léo Apotheker. He is walking out the door with nearly $10 million cash in severance and bonuses.  All of this for a post he held for 11 months, during which time the company lost billions in value.

Issue #4
Getting money out of politics. Sometimes it seems as if corporations can practically buy elections outright. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but money definitely buys access. Everyone decries the state of affairs but nonetheless, it continues.

Issue #5
Failed leadership. Sometimes it’s enough to make you question your sanity for even voting at all. Fighting wars that we can’t afford, that have no clear objective.

Of course, I’m not naïve enough to believe that the billions being dumped into Iraq and Afghanistan would have ever gone into healthcare or the education system but that certainly seems like it would have been the better investment.  And don’t even mention the state of the country’s infrastructure.

The final indignity to me is that several of these Occupy Wall Street protesters have been arrested but so far none of the Wall Street players responsible for the mortgage meltdown have.

I don’t know if this movement will have a long life but as tone deaf as most politicians and business executives seem to be I’m sure that the anger that fuels this movement will continue to burn bright for quite some time.



Thursday, October 13, 2011

FOOTLOOSE? REALLY?


 The bean counters have officially taken over Hollywood. Truth be told, they took it over some time ago.

The era of the remakes is in full effect and it’s killing an industry. 

It’s no coincidence that at the same time America’s manufacturing dominance has been ceded to other countries, and the television industry is dominated by reality shows, that Hollywood has lost its’ creativity as well.

I know that Hollywood, is a very much a copycat industry but someone needs to spare us from this madness.

This just smacks of laziness. Or a lack of creativity in an industry that demands it.
Has American business simply just run out of ideas?

They’re so desperate; they’re remaking movies that weren’t any good the first time.  They don’t even allow a decent amount of time to elapse before they start trying to crank out the next installment.

This practice has become utterly predictable. And weak.

I believe that is why people were so fervent in their support of Apple Computer. Apple went out of their way to make the customer experience special. Steve Jobs is someone who had quite a few great ideas but alas, he’s no longer with us.

Imagine what he could have done with movie making. Oh yeah, Pixar

Thank god for HBO.  Talk about a continuing stream of quality, original, creative programming.

This reminds me of fast food.  If I can just convince you that burgers, fries and a coke are the epitome of fine dining, you’ll never miss an evening at a five-star restaurant.

In my mind this is but another of example of the “Race to the Bottom”.  What is the absolute minimum effort that I can put out and still make a profit? It won’t stop until we refuse to spend our hard earned dollars on this stuff.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

Conan the Barbarian – Arnold in all his glory along with the great James Earl Jones, and Max von Sydow. At least some effort went into making this happen.

Rush Hour – The first one was pretty entertaining. I didn’t see how they had enough material to go any further with the franchise.

Rocky – The first two were really good then folks got greedy.

Rambo (pick a number) I really don’t even need to comment on this one, do I?

The Flintstones – Loved the old 60’s cartoon. Wouldn’t even think of seeing the movie.

Arthur – A classic. Let it be unless you can top the original.

Bourne Trilogy - (Identity, Supremacy, Ultimatum) I enjoyed the first one. Didn’t see any need for the next two unless it becomes similar to the James Bond franchise.

Hawaii Five-O –The original was an absolute classic. Leave it alone. ‘Nuff said.

Planet of The Apes – I never saw the original but I did see the 2011 release. I wasn’t impressed.  Maybe I need to re-visit the original.

Twister 2 – This just makes me laugh. The first one didn’t merit a remake.

Mad Max 4 – A Prime example of milking the money machine.

Mission Impossible 4 - Ditto

The Manchurian Candidate - I’m a big Denzel fan but this one definitely should have been left alone.

The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 – I thought the first one was pretty original. Why a remake?

True Grit - The Coen Brothers get a pass from me on this one. The reason? They always (usually) do killer work.

If they try to do a Godfather remake someone is seriously going to have to get taken out to the woodshed.

Am I alone in feeling this way? Would you like to see more creative, original entertainment or are you willing to keep spending money on whatever Hollywood puts out?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mommy, Where Do Jobs Come From?


Let’s say that you and I are both farmers. I grow apples and you grow oranges.  I decide that I’d like some oranges and you’ve just about had your fill of oranges and would like a few apples.

So we get together and barter.  People have bartered for centuries. Gold. Salt. Spices. Food. All of these things and more were bartered for years ago.

Eventually things evolved to the point where if I wanted something I actually went to work for someone else, received a wage and then exchanged a portion of my wages for your goods.

When a demand is created for a certain product or service, the provider of said product or service usually takes it upon himself or herself to meet the demand. Since a single individual usually cannot meet excess demand, it often becomes necessary to bring in additional people to help meet the demand. Thus “jobs” are created.

The Third Economic Revolution

Last week I listened to a radio interview of economist Jeremy Rifkin.  According to Rifkin, we are on the cusp of the third economic revolution. One that will create millions of jobs and thousands of new businesses. Of course, we all pray that he is correct.

Jeremy Rifkin – is the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, an economist advisor to European Union, author of 18 books including his latest, “The Third Industrial Revolution”.

According to Rifkin, great economic changes occur whenever new energy regimes emerge and they are accompanied by corresponding new communication regimes to help manage them.

In the 19th century: print technology became cheap because of steam power.  At this same time the Then public school system was being introduced throughout America/Europe so that a “print literate” workforce could organize the coal and rail industries.

In the 20th century: Centralized electricity provided the energy for using the telephone, TV and radio as communication tools to both market and manage the auto and oil industries during the build up of suburban America.

Our technology in America is old, and our energy sources are sun setting. In a nutshell, our infrastructure is now on life-support. 

We are now at the dawn of the 21st century and Mr. Rifkin sees the Internet communication technology merging with renewable energy to provide the third industrial revolution.

During the interview, Rifkin mentioned the term Distributed energy:  Distributed Energy is energy that is found everywhere: sun, wind, geothermal, garbage, ocean tides. Contrast that with Elite energy i.e. energy that can only be found in certain locations. Elite energy (coal, oil, gas, uranium) requires massive geo-political capital.

The European Union is currently using Rifkin’s ideas. Germany in particular is leading the charge in this new industrial revolution. The 5 pillars of the EU energy strategy are: 1) Focusing on renewable energy, 2) Determining how to collect this energy, 3) the effective storage of this energy 4) Determining where internet technology connects with this energy, and 5) Fuel cell transport and electric vehicle-to-grid plug-in.

It’s interesting that this man is working for the EU and not America. Why? Is this just another example of America’s decline? Can we get out of our own way in order to save ourselves economically?

Oil & Gas industries have tons of lobbyists to protect their interests but at what cost to the rest of us?  A few individuals make billions off of old, dying industries while the masses are being left in the dust.

If what Rifkin says is accurate, I wonder will America get on board? If America does get on board can we overcome our recent propensity to engage in political in fighting and corporate shenanigans?

Can we become a major player in the third economic revolution? We can advantage the entire society by working together cooperatively.

That is where jobs come from.