Friday, July 16, 2010

A Vote of No Confidence?

Its said that, if you look around the room and you can’t find the sucker, then perhaps its you. We may have finally learned who the sucker is.

Early last week, the news that consumer confidence indexes had taken a sharp drop, sent stocks plummeting, surprised pundits, and sent everyone searching for an explanation - unless, of course you were thinking clearly.

The Consumer Confidence Survey® is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households. Previously, the survey showed that consumer confidence had posted three consecutive monthly gains, and suggested that the economy was finally gaining some traction. Well, there was a big drop in June with a commensurate drop in stocks. Why? Well, I’m not sure about these surveys. I can tell you that on a basic level, some things have changed, perhaps permanently.

  • Corporations are not spending and expanding as before. They are holding onto their cash, they’re not hiring. They understand that to be profitable, they must streamline. They’re more profitable for just that reason. They see dark clouds ahead, they want to be prepared, to be one of the survivors. For that, they’ll need cash. They’ve learned.The general public has learned as well. We now realize that fully 70% of the GDP in the U.S. is comprised of consumer spending. In the aftermath of 9/11 we were encouraged to go shopping. It was a shock, and so we’ve learned. Now, Americans are closing their wallets, and there goes that growth. It is possible to see this as the first step in creating a healthy and viable economy. More on that later.

  • Until this recent economic shakeup, The U.S. consumer had, ashamedly, a negative savings rate. Our spending far exceeded our savings. Now, we’re balancing our budgets, living within our means, not living paycheck to paycheck. We’re paying down our debt. The new car, the bigger house, may not be necessary. It’s a change in mindset, its been a very long time in coming, and it is a very positive development.

What do we do now? We do the next right thing.The list is very long, but here's just one example of what must be our priority.

In light of the difficulties we are having, with millions of American families losing their homes, with the irresponsible allocation of taxpayer resources to the banking industry, it is unacceptable that lawmakers go home without voting to extend unemployment benefits to over 2 million Americans.

What can we expect?

Magic bullets? We need to stop believing in magic. An unemployment rate of 9.7%, means that Americans are experiencing a great deal of pain. Economists are looking for a 7% rate, which is an historically acceptable level, but is merely subjective. There is no reason to expect that employment may rise at a faster rate than we are seeing right now.

This is a long road back We’re seeing that perpetual growth is not possible. If we look at the economies of Europe, we see their unemployment rates at pretty much right where we are now. Good economic policy involves slow growth. Artificial growth, generated by irresponsible lending and borrowing, are the seeds of future problems. Permanent change takes time. Stable growth is slow, not drastic and dramatic. We’d gotten used to double digit returns on our investments, on bull markets in real estate that were propelled by irresponsible lending and borrowing.

Now, its time for the reality check.

For next time: The Steps to Financial Recovery

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Global Warming Block

Global Warming Block

We're experiencing some pretty confusing climate changes., yards of snow for instance. We're now hearing reports of inaccurate or exaggerated climate change data. And everywhere we hear global warming humor - from meteorologists, news anchors, talk-show hosts.... its all so very funny. Well, not so funny... Global Warming Block is a dangerous condition.

Yes, we are experiencing one of the wettest winters on record. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. have far exceeded their record annual snowfall. We’ve had snow as far South as Naples, Florida, and in the past 48 hours, over 20 inches of snow has fallen in Central Park. Northern suburbs got well over three feet.

So with all this SNOW, global warming would certainly seem to be a bad joke, right? The Green movement is dead in the water, right? A new volume of the Al Gore jokebook about to be written right? Wrong.

Sure, its easy to poke fun at dear old Al, but.. wait just a minute.... If you were paying attention, you may remember one line from “ An Inconvenient Truth”, (I paraphrase)

“We’ll see historic flooding in some places, historic drought in others.“ We're beginning to see it now. Some examples?

  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • most of Texas
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
All are experiencing extreme water shortages. In November of 2007, with 27 days of water left, prayer vigils were held on the lawn of the state house in Atlanta. To make matters worse, Georgia by agreement shares water with Alabama and Florida. A war between the states?
  • Lake Chad, has all but disappeared, with catastrophic consequences for populations in Africa.
  • The water level of Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, has been dropping precipitously since 2000. This year alone, the lake is expected to drop 2.6 feet. This is bad for more people than you can imagine.

The problem is, most people are confused….. by "Global Warming". They have Global Warming block . The words conjure visions of sunblock and Pina Coladas in January. Bermuda shorts in February. When tropical fish in Florida are freezing their little fins off.... we’re understandably confused.

So, heretofore the expression "Global Warming" is to be replaced by the term "Climate Change". Climate change evolves over decades and centuries and the changes are incremental, and in many cases barely noticeable.Until now.

Now we're beginning to notice. We're noticing that warming oceans are creating more numerous and powerful storms. We're noticing California wildfires. The snowpack in the mountains is all but gone, and when the Santa Ana winds kick up, this tinderbox has Californians running for their lives. Firewatch is a regular morning traffic segment. And when you add a little rain, voila’- mudslides.

The tragedy of all of this, is that this confusion could cause us to lose the momentum that's been building. We might postpone stricter emissions control standards; we might allow construction of more coal plants; we could even dispute that CO2 is the problem - because we're confused and in denial.

And certainly, we didn’t need overzealous scientists playing numbers games with their data. It added fuel to the fire. It matters not to me If they’ve fudged numbers to make their conclusions more compelling. They should be discredited , and they should lose their positions if found guilty.

Anyway, does it really matter if we see catastrophic consequences in 2035 or 2050, or at the end of the century? It'll be here before we know it...

There is no doubt that the oceans of the world are warming, becoming more acidic.. in time they will be all but dead. There is no doubt that our glaciers are breaking up, that polar ice will be gone. We quibble about when.

Yes, no one wants to talk about polar bears anymore. We’ve worn it out. The problem remains. When the glaciers of the Himalayas are gone, glaciers that feed seven of the largest rivers in the world; glaciers that provide water to 70% of the world’s population; when those glaciers are gone.. those people will move – in the hundreds of millions.

And they’ll be coming here. Its just a matter of time.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

America Compromised

Marc Sussman / April 2008


America has been compromised

And you will not be able to just “live here”, log on, tune out, zone out on the 5:45 express, because America has been compromised


Never again will you see the Bushes, blowing bugles, leading the charge for black gold

There will be no film at 11 of George in his flight suit that he had been saving for just the proper occasion


Our children will not shop amid the rubble of the towers


American history will not be portrayed by Angelina Jolie, walking the red carpet in her latest Vera Wang 

Not when America has been compromised

We’ll  realize that things don’t go better with Coke

We will not “JUST DO IT.”

We’ve come a long way baby, but we won’t walk a mile for a Camel, and this is not Marlboro Country

GE will not “bring good things to light”

for a New America in 4 parts without commercial interruptions

There was no Tiger in our tank, just a hand in our pocket We won’t need 57 varieties, or 31 flavors  and it won’t be finger lickin’ good to the last drop snap crackle and pop - only puffed cereal will be shot from guns


The American Idle won’t care if Dick finally gets down with Jane on Search for Tomorrow Not when there are floating bodies, raging fires, fallen heroes

Not when Mother Earth has been compromised. There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock news, with pictures of squirrelly little pencil pushers, shuffling and scribbling our economic eulogy America will rise again, this time arm in arm with the rest of humanity

And in the end, we will ask the poets to rewrite our National Anthem, without the rockets red glare

Or we might just sing America the Beautiful, as loud and as long as we must, until we are America the Beautiful   


We will be all that we can be


Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's as easy as E.S.G.

It has always been termed socially responsible investment – and I’ve always had a non-specific aversion to this description. The issue, so specific and so compelling reduced to that word. Responsible. Yuck. It sounded like the castor oil of the investment world.

Not only did it not identify the problems, it took all the excitement and energy out of the possibilities. It wasn’t about being responsible – it was about being human, and more importantly, about being courageous.

Now, we enter the age of ESG – Environmental, Social, Governance, and all the issues are contained in the clarity of these three words, these three letters. As the financial tragedy were living through unfolds, they will become part of our common understanding.

The Obama administration will bring with it a groundswell of environmental activism. The financial disaster we’ve created has set the stage for different priorities, slowed us down. Extravagance is taboo. Authentic is what we will admire.

There will be difficult challenges. Barack Obama’s support of clean coal technology was easy, a political maneuver necessary for him to carry certain states. It’s easy to support a technology that doesn’t exist, because it is so easy to abandon it. The coal industry is perceptive in mounting one of the great public relations campaigns supporting the future of what they call “clean coal”.  Coal is an industry on the verge of extinction. Carbon sequestration and capture, the theoretical process of injecting CO2 into the ground, is no more a reality than Santa Claus (sorry kids). We are decades away from anything resembling such a technology, and we just don’t have the time. 

As we come to grips with the truth - that our time really is running out - only a few generations left on a habitable Earth, the decisions will be made.  The truth, absolutely, is that coal is the greatest threat to our future. We must stop burning coal. Not in ten, twenty or thirty years, but now. When Al Gore endorses civil disobedience to prevent new coal plant construction, it is with this understanding. The recent protests, arrests, high profile cases - activists chaining themselves to bulldozers – it is just the beginning. They are right on target. There will be thousands more. 

China will bury its citizens faster than they can build coal-fired power. They are adding a massive 1000 megawatt coal plant PER WEEK to what is already a problem of epidemic proportions. It must stop, and they know it. They’ve said so.

The social issues are many– human rights, animal rights, alcohol, tobacco, weapons, gambling - each with negative impact on human existence that cannot be denied or defended. The governance issues are in focus now - excessive executive compensation, financial protection for the working man and woman, the lack of regulation and supervision everywhere, the rights of shareholders under attack, so much that cannot be covered in the space of this article. It’s all contained in those three words, those three letters. ESG.

Investment will be simpler, clearer. I’ve said “Understand the problems, invest in the solutions.” Simple. It will take time. In the New Year, retailers will fold like lawn chairs, crushed by the weight of their holiday season inventories. Unemployment will escalate to double digits. We will be unable to print enough money to keep industries on life support.

We are in store for an historic and necessary restructuring of our system. Change will be driven by the public resentment over the blatant corruption, greed and deception throughout government, industry, and finance; will finally begin to boil over. We tolerated it when we were comfortable. That was our part in this nightmare. If you don’t believe this, it’s probably because you don’t know how bad this will get.

Last year I had the privilege of joining the eminent economist Paul Krugman in a discussion of Healthcare and The Economy (this was when healthcare was an important issue). We were speaking before hundreds of Air America devotees on the AAR cruise. Mr. Krugman, now the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics, and me - a legend in my own mind.

A woman stood up to ask as question. She said that she lived in the same community as Bill Gates - asked if she’d have to put barbed wire up to protect her property. Well, Mr. Krugman and I had different answers. He had a cogent response steeped in fundamental economic principles that we have always relied upon

I just said, “yes, you will. Buckle your seatbelts as 2009 approaches. Our unflappable new President will need to impart us with every ounce of his available calm.

The Bush Legacy

Cause and effect.

It amazes how disconnected we can be from the cause of our problems - we are so focused on the effect. It is the reason that little is learned from history. One thing is certain, however. Barack Obama is not the cause of our problems.

In the coming year, we’ll see a continuation of our economic decline. The housing market collapse will continue along with an epidemic of corporate consolidations and bankruptcies. The future of the auto industry is in doubt. Credit markets will continue to remain tight. 2009 sizes up to be a historically bad year.

We’re already hearing the economic chaos racing through our system described as  “Obama’s recession”, and he’s not even sworn in yet.  Conservative factions smell blood in the water. The bloom will fade in record time if we’re not mindful. When in pain, (and will there ever be pain), there will be those that will blame whatever leadership is in power.

Let’s keep these facts in mind.

The collapse in the banking system, the brokerage system, and subsequently the equities markets, was caused by deregulation and a lack of transparency. It was also caused by our attitude towards debt, by our addiction to economic growth, both personally and as a nation.

It is certainly more than just the money, although that has become our focus. The damage that has been done to the U.S. in the court of world opinion will take decades to restore.

So, as the Obama tenure becomes an opportunity for conservative factions to vent   economic and societal frustrations, to place blame, lets review some recent history.

Here is an incomplete summary of the Bush legacyI encourage you to add to this list.  We can then post it to our refrigerators, a reminder what the sacrifice ahead is all about. 

  • Under the Bush Administration, we spent the U.S. surplus, effectively bankrupting the U.S. Treasury, while shattering the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S. history.
  • In the administration’s first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their jobs -
and that trend continues. During Bush’s tenure, we:                                               
    • Set the all-time record for the most private bankruptcies filed in any
12-month period
    • The all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month
    • The all-time record for the biggest drop in the history of the U.S. stock market. 

Not all of us have been hurt, however.

  • The current members of the cabinet are the richest of any administration in U.S. history
  • Exxon Mobil set records for the single largest quarterly profit in history.

George Bush set the record for most the campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S. President. The Bush campaigns set the all-time U.S. and world record for corporate campaign donations.

  • Bush’s largest lifetime campaign contributor, (and a close personal friend), was Kenneth Lay. Lay presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in U.S. history, Enron.
  • More time and money was spent investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair than has been spent in the ensuing Enron investigation.

During the Bush years, we experienced our country’s broadest energy crisis, accompanied by rampant speculation in the oil commodities market and the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history.

Bush is the first President in US. History to order an unprovoked, preemptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation, and did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S. Citizens and the world community.

  • We invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of over
10 billion dollars per month. We then created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the history of the United States Government.
  • The Bush Administration has cut health care benefits for war veterans, and supports reductions in benefits for active troops and their families.

Under George Bush’s watch we have broken more international treaties than any during any administration in U.S. history.

  • Bush is the first President in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.
  • Bush withdrew the U.S. from the World Court of Law. 
  • Bush refused to allow inspectors access to U.S. prisoner of war detainees, and thereby have refused to abide by the rules of the Geneva Convention. 
  • Bush is the first President in history to refuse United Nations election inspectors (during the 2002 US election).

We’ve had very little interaction with our “chief executive”. He set the record for fewest numbers of press conferences of any President since the advent of television.

  • Bush also set the record for most days on vacation in any one-year
period. After taking off the entire month of August 2001, he presided over the worst security failure in U.S. history.
  • Less than a year after the World Trade Center attacks, the U.S. was the most hated country in the world. It was the largest failure of diplomacy in world history.
  • Bush is the first President in history to have a majority of Europeans
(71%) view his presidency as the single biggest threat to world peace and security.
  • Bush has so far failed to fulfill my pledge to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. 
  • All records of Bush’s tenure as governor of Texas are now in the George H.W. Bush library, sealed and unavailable for public view.
  • All records of SEC investigations into allegations of Bush’s insider trading and the records of his bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
  • All records or minutes from meetings regarding public energy policy, that Bush or Vice-President Cheney attended, are sealed in secrecy.

So please feel free to add to this legacy list. We’re looking for additions, not embellishment or venting. We can then look at what our part in this fiasco was.

As hard as it gets through 2009 and 2010, we must remember how much better off we already are. As the bottom approaches, we can remember that our sacrifices will be worth it. 

A review of Lillian Pollak's new book "The Sweetest Dream; Love, Lives, and Assassination"

I’ve often wondered what our overwhelming obsession with nostalgia was really about. We’ve longingly watched our childhood TV shows, and cheered our Broadway revivals.  We have our modern conveniences, of course, but they were nothing like the good old days. And as the headlines reveal scandal after scandal, as we continue to plumb the depths of corruption and deception, yesterday offers us a lot. We can forget for a moment how thoroughly ashamed we are of today. It’s a temporary reprieve.

 The Sweetest Dream is a romantic coming of age tale, the marginally fictionalized story of the life and times of a young activist in The Communist Party of the 1930’s, largely based on the life of Lillian Pollak, the author.

 The essence of the book is encapsulated in the cover photo - Leon Trotsky, his wife Natalya, Van Heijenoort (Trotsky’s secretary) and two young women, Lillian and her friend. The picture, completely authentic, has been transposed onto a fictional brownstone.  

The characters in the book are fictional, however the historical events are completely accurate.  The book is a portrayal of a time in our history that we may find particularly relevant and important. The glossary and pictures attached are a valuable source of information, an historical record.  I’m sure that some will find reason to be critical of the typos, after all, we seem to live to discredit. Yes, the book is rough around the edges, but it does not detract from the inside view it provides of this time of courage and unity. 

The primary characters are two young girls, Miriam and Ketzel, their families and friends. The book is filled with their letters back and forth. We follow them as they sort their way through life. We learn about their personal lives and political activities in this way.

 Through Ketzel’s experience as a student of modern dance, we learn about the great innovators like Martha Graham, Tamiris, and also Anna Sokolow. It has been said that from that perspective alone, the book has great merit.

Through Miriam, we learn about the greater writers of the time- Langston Hughes, John Dos Passos, Delmore Schwartz, and many others. She loves the movies of that time, the Marx Brothers comedies, the romance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.    

The structure of the book works well. As I read, I felt as if I were reading two books combined. At the end of each chapter, the reader finds the second “book”, in the form of a condensed narrative or letter, in italics, set apart - not an uncommon technique, but somehow I found it unusually effective here. 

The first of these narratives opens after the death of Lenin, in the years after the Russian Revolution. As these parallel stories develop, we are immersed in the day-to-day events around the exile of Trotsky, his life with his wife Natalya and their young son and extended family; the rise of Stalin, the oppression and violence, the executions. Trotsky’s campaign against the corruption of the Stalinist regime builds to his ultimate assassination in Mexico. All along, I found myself resisting the temptation to skip ahead to the next chapter in the Trotsky saga. I was glad I resisted. It is these two stories juxtaposed that works so well in this book.

What develops is a mirror effect, the lives of these characters, how they felt about their personal struggles, and their connection to something bigger. It is the ideological struggle, life in real terms against the backdrop of history. The colorful descriptions are eloquently done – the smells, the sounds, the chatter. The call to action, the meetings, the hours spent passing out flyers, knocking on doors, attending rallies, and always the arguments, rifts and factions. These forces intertwine throughout.

I must admit that my attraction to the book was heightened by our current circumstances,  my feeling that this is an important book at this moment in time.  As we see the rapid deterioration of our system, as we brace ourselves for a complete systemic collapse, we tentatively return to issues of social and economic justice. We hear “The Great Depression” mentioned with every daily news report. I’m not sure that we can ever really know what it felt like to live through those times. “The Sweetest Dream” is a glimpse.

As the book winds down, the energy of change slows its pace, and we see a transformation. The assassination of Trotsky has seemingly sapped enthusiasm and commitment. As WWII develops, the focus turns to waging the battle against the Nazis. The book closes in a wrap-up of events, amid acts of generosity and kindness.     

On a personal note, I find it important to describe Lillian because she represents what is possible. She is a cherub, with more life energy than many half her age. I find out now that she is an active member of the “Raging Grannies,” a group I met and interviewed recently at the annual “Bobfest” in Madison, Wisconsin. I can only describe them as an army of Minnie Pearls, on the leading edge of antiwar activism. It is an infectious and powerful group.

Life is a remarkable journey if you pay attention and stay engaged.  It isn’t always possible. I’ve known Lillian Pollak for more than ten years, and had no idea who she was. I’m glad that I found out. I owe special thanks to this remarkable woman, who has just released her first novel. And, for those of you who think that at 65 we’re on the back-nine of life, in April she turns 94.

Marc Sussman

Things have changed.....

I’m sitting in a courtroom as we speak, waiting to appear before a judge regarding a speeding ticket. I received this ticket on the entrance ramp to the Lincoln Tunnel. It appeared to me that there were two lines, one waiting to receive violations, the other  waiting to enter the tunnel.

 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed a congestion pricing plan for traffic entering Manhattan. This plan was soundly defeated, as I believe it should be. Citizens should not suffer financial penalties while construction cranes seemingly block every street in Manhattan. My office is located in midtown Manhattan – I’m there every day. I can tell you that in the aftermath of this defeat, an army of ticket agents (I’m not sure if they’re police officers) descended on the city. It was obvious to everyone what was happening. 

 Other developments follow this same trend. We’ve had a law called  “don’t block the box” on the books for as long as I can remember. If you enter an intersection that is not clear, and subsequently block cross-traffic you receive a substantial summons. I had never seen this enforced - before now.

I heard of this as a radio news item – that not only would this law now be enforced, but sources were estimating the expected revenue that this new policy would bring in. It was a revenue issue.

The other day, I came up with a great follow-up idea. I’m in front of the Empire State Building, a popular tourist spot. I was standing in a crowd, waiting for a crossing light to change - no traffic to be seen, just the crowd, waiting for the light to change. Waiting. And waiting. These people were not New Yorkers, they had to be from out of town.

Now there’s been a law on the books, since the beginning of time, against jaywalking. So it occurred to me that we could marshal thousands of rent-a-cops, and begin to issue tickets. We could employ the same technique they use for rides at Disney, people queued, waiting for their jaywalking ticket. I’m guessing we could close the budget deficit within a week.

So, here I am in court. I’m going to agree to an additional fine, and there will be no points on my license. Its only because I can afford the fine that I won’t pay an insurance surcharge. Those who can’t afford it, will be stuck.

And they call this America.             

The Climate Project

In October, I was invited to Nashville to train with The Climate Project, the organization that has grown out of Al Gore's landmark documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." There are now 2500 presenters worldwide, who travel and present the latest evidence of climate change, try to raise awareness and sound a call to action. Without too much detail, let me say this; the realities of climate change are no longer "an inconvenient truth;"they have become a global imperative.

Since 2005, the disappearance of polar ice has accelerated in a way that has shocked scientists. The Greenland ice shelf appears so fragile that its complete breakup can be projected in mere decades. That event causes oceans to rise 15 to 20 feet, with the domino effect felt throughout the world. Not just in China, and India, but in South Florida, California, the U.S. Gulf Coast, New York, the Netherlands, London. Hundreds of millions the world over will be displaced, and the wars over remaining resources will truly have begun. There is so much more to the story. We must not equivocate. Action cannot be phased in over 10 - 20 years...we must act now, putting any debate to rest. I have made the commitment to make my presentation on behalf of The Climate Project, wherever I'm houses of worship, town hall meetings...anywhere that concerned citizens want to try and understand the problem, and search for possible solutions.
If you have an interested group, please call the office at (800) 682-0286.


"Treat the Earth well. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." Ancient Indian Proverb

America in Recovery/ The Beginning

I loved the celebration, don’t get me wrong.  I was just apprehensive. From that moment  when California and Pennsylvania had been decided, and those words flashed on the screen – “Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States.” Exhale. 

 Then, the interminable three month wait. Three months is an eternity, especially when wolves are guarding the henhouse. $750 billion later we had set the stage for the most difficult road a President has traveled since FDR.

 I understand that we haven’t had anything to celebrate for 8 years and it was a great relief to be rid of the Bush Administration. In the recent words of Liz Holtzman, “we had come dangerously close to a military dictatorship, and we have to admit that”. There were times that I imagined this election not coming off.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that the celebration was so incredible.

 Then, it was finally here, and he spoke. He was serious, focused, direct, confident, no nonsense. From the first,  it was clear that we were not going to hear a reprise of  “I have a dream”. There is no time for dreaming. This was the wakeup call.  No cheerleading, no pom-poms, and for good reason. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, get going.

 The immediate reactions to the speech ranged from disappointment at the serious tone, the lack of a memorable phrase, a “hook” as was described by Rush Limbaugh. The flap over the benediction, over the flub during the “oaf of office.” It was clear that the words  “ it is time for us to set aside childish things “ had been misunderstood.

 In his first days, we saw a clarity which has been sorely missed. Wage freeze for his senior staffers, restrictions that will safeguard against the influence of lobbyists. China put on notice regarding currency manipulation. Close Gitmo, end the War in 16 months. As Emeril might say, BANG!

 But in the ensuing days it is clear that there is misunderstanding throughout finance, as the insanity continues. They’re still talking about sectors, asset allocation, market timing. How long will this “cycle” last. Buying low, and selling high. Amazingly, perceived value still exists. If you’re looking for direction from the financial talking heads that populate the airwaves, you deserve what you get. Stop waiting for a green arrow up, or some other “signal” that a market correction might be over. As a matter of fact, stop thinking in terms of  “markets” at all. If you listen to that noise, shame on you.

 The time to learn is now, to make money real. Understand the problems, invest in the solutions. It has been my mantra for years now. The problems? To begin with, there’s Energy, Water, Food and Nutrition, and Healthcare. There is much more. There was much in the speech that we could absorb.

 We must transform our energy use, moving toward reclaiming our “threatened planet. “ We think we choose growth, when in effect we choose our demise. We much change our relationship with Earth. Now.

 “We cannot prefer leisure over work.” I translate that to mean that nothing worth having, is earned without sacrifice.

 “We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to “raise health care's quality and lower its cost. “ “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. “

 And we will “transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.”

 How do we begin? We take our part. We understand what has happened, and we vow never to let this happen again. 

 We have “ failed to make hard choices “ take responsible action.

In recovery terms, we wanted an easier softer way. When the banks were having their party, we were borrowing money like drunken sailors. As long as our home prices were soaring we questioned not. That was our part. We kissed Alan Greenspan’s ring, thanked him for sending our kids to college. The housing bull market ran on and on, beyond all reason. Now, three million homes have been lost and the collapse in housing prices accelerates. We were co-conspirators. True, Greenspan now has the nerve to place the blame on investment banks, says he assumed that they knew what they were doing. Alan, you were the gatekeeper. Now they’re writing checks, out of our checkbook. Astonishing.

There are some who are guilty of “greed and irresponsibility”.

AIG, the largest insurance company in the world has been absorbed by the U.S. Treasury. If this doesn’t worry you, consider that the value of the Credit Default Swaps held by AIG is estimated to be 45-50 trillion dollars (yes, that’s a “T”.) In rough terms, that’s equal to the Gross National Product of the entire world for a year. These supposed insurance vehicles had nothing to do with insurance. Insurance dictates that there are reserves against losses. No reserves here. All they did was allow ratings agencies to assign ratings as high as AAA to portfolios that were  essentially worthless. Worse than that, they are so complex and convoluted, that they cannot be valued. Did I hear someone say “due diligence? There are responsible parties, and we need accountability, we want restitution.

 Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch for $50 billion dollars in September, with just a mere shred of due diligence, but with government guarantees.  The deal was closed in one hour.  A mere 4 months later it is estimated that 20 billion dollars in equity is lost, an albatross to hang on future generations of taxpayers. John Thain, who crafted the plan, and has been in charge of the Merrill rehab, resigned today.  

It is learned that Mr. Thain spent $1.2 million on a renovation of his office, while Merrill crumbles. Rug, commode, just a few knick knacks here and there. Chump change for a man who earned over $83 million in 2007. It’s outrageous.  More outrageous is his decision to bonus executives at Merrill just three days before the deal closes.

Bank of America posted a fourth-quarter loss of $1.79 billion, down from net income of $268 million in the period a year earlier. Much of that was caused by growing consumer loan losses. Merrill Lynch, which posted results separate from Bank of America, lost $15.3 billion in the quarter, on a fresh round of write-downs.

We have  contributed $45 billion in bailout money to this deal so far, with undoubtedly more to come. Terms of the Merrill Lynch deal set up the Treasury and FDIC to absorb more than 90% of all future losses. Insane.

The questions remain. How did this deal get done? Who signed off on it? Treasury Secretary Paulsen? Who approved the ML bonuses in the 11th hour?  Why the pittance of equity when we are providing the cash, and the guarantees?  The problems? Corporate governance issues to be sure , a lack of supervision, transparency, accountability. Abuse of power. Greed. This cannot stand.

In the coming weeks I will publish excerpts from my new book “America in Recovery.”  The principles have been proven for decades. We are approaching the day when we will have to admit that we cannot manage, nor control what we have created. We must begin anew. Surely, there is no quick fix.

 Those days are over.






Friday, May 02, 2008

Tulips, part II

So, we’ve established that, with a little creativity, almost anything can be considered an investment. Tulip bulbs mesmerized the Dutch.

A recent example in the extreme was a young man who listed his “soul” on eBay.
The buyer was a priest who was touched by the young man’s plight. The young man thought he had a buyer (the Devil), but was considering other offers.

There is a serious point that I want to make about all this. It’s the most important point that we can make about money.

The entire issue is contained in the difference between value and purpose. Value is subjective ex. the price of real estate, gold, diamonds, currencies, clothing. Analysis of companies - price-earnings ratios, product pipeline, competitive advantages, market share – those are value issues.

When you consider purpose, you evaluate companies based on their broad footprint. Those companies that consider their environmental impact, promote human rights, animal welfare, corporate transparency, fair workplace practices; that fight discrimination, and are in partnership with their employees, shareholders and stakeholders, are purpose-driven. Purpose is never subjective. It is the essence of social investment - profit and principle.

The one-dimensional view of money, the “how much”, considers only profits. It is what allows companies to do end-runs around product safety, tolerates deceptive lending practices, allows lead-based paint in toys. The three-dimensional view brings in the interests of the consumer, the borrower, protects the children. If this seems simplistic to you, please explain to me why these issues are not dealt with - why campaigns are run on these platforms, and have been for years, and yet the problems persist.

The measure of how little progress we have made, is easily illustrated. Over 90% of every investment dollar is in an unscreened portfolio. Over 82% of the entire S&P 500 violates one or more principles of social conscience.

Warren Buffett, a legendary investor in the long history of Wall Street, knows value. So much so, that he is presently the richest man in the America, with a net worth of $62 billion. He sure can create value for his investors.

But Berkshire Hathaway is the largest stockholder in PetroChina, the engine behind the genocide in the Sudan. When asked about this, Mr. Buffett says that it is not his business to tell the government of China what to do. Mr. Buffett is not purpose-driven.

In my role as an advisor, I’ve seen the disconnect between value and purpose. Value dictates that in times of War, we invest in weapons manufacturers, oil companies. Value taught me that “War is good for the Economy”, and old Wall Street adage. Purpose precludes this. The lack of transparency in mutual funds, allows protesters to march on Washington, while owning Halliburton.

There are many angles from which to view the same disconnect. Every morning, I maneuver around 100 foot cranes, as New York City is bulldozed to make way for hotels and high rises. But affordable housing disappears, our leaders veto funds to shore up our crumbling bridges and tunnels, we have a third world education system, and we stand by as the Administration spends $12 billion a month on the War effort, mortgaging America’s future. The disconnect.

I’m not sure that the Dutch obsession with Tulips allowed the deterioration of their infrastructure, or put that little Dutch boy in the position of plugging that dyke –

-but it makes sense to me.

Tulips (Just In Time for Spring)

It is April 3rd , the 66th trading day of the year, and we’ve already had 30 days where the markets have been up or down at least 1%. That’s volatility with a Capital “V” my friends. However, it might be comforting to know that we’ve gone through this sort of thing before.

Our current crisis of confidence is all about the perception of value. This manifests itself in a number of ways.

We agree (assume) that the rarer something is, the more valuable it is. Diamonds, postage stamps printed upside down, limited edition cars. It’s not that these things function any better, or at all, for that matter – it’s that there are so damn few of them. Perception. Scarcity = value. For some reason endangered species don’t work this way.

In business, however, this works well…believe me. In my former life (sales), I learned that there was nothing better than a closeout offer. People would line up for used cat litter if it were a limited time offer. The same perceptions move people to sleep overnight, in freezing temperatures, for the latest version of the Xbox. It’s the exclusivity factor. And it’s all perception.

Which brings me to the subject of tulips and Holland. There are similarities to our current value enigma that are worth examining.

At the beginning of the 17th Century, a rare new exotic flower was introduced and soon became popular with the elite of Holland. Why tulips became a fad, I’ll leave that for the tipping point experts. But soon the prices seen for even ordinary tulip bulbs were skyrocketing. It was not unusual for bulbs to range in price from $2,000- $3,000 (today’s dollars). The perception of value had begun working its magic – and before you knew it, you’ve got tulip inflation.

Eventually, the extreme was reached. Bulbs were considered too valuable to plant, but were just displayed – unflowered, certainly unattractive…but still perceived very valuable.

Not surprisingly, bulb trading became the rage. Bulb traders were making (Are you seated?) over 60K per month in today’s dollars.

But these were simpler times. There were no bulb mutual funds. Tulip derivative strategies never came into play. There were no tulip options, or tulip futures ( I could be wrong about this ). No tulip default swaps, and no one developed a tulip volatility index. Things were simpler.

Finally, the bulb bubble burst. All it took was one buyer who didn’t show, and who reneged on the deal. Panic spread, and prices plunged. (There were no bailouts in those days.)

So let’s look at this more closely. Was it really the one buyer? Probably not. We know that the perception of tulip value did change very quickly, though.

Perhaps it was that the Dutch woke up one day and realized a sobering bit of information (a tulip is a flower) and because of that critical change in perceived value, the Dutch financial system very quickly disintegrated, which brought on economic chaos that lasted 100 years. No kidding.

Fortunately, there has never been another instance of flower mania in the 400 plus years since the great Dutch debacle. I’m almost certain that hedge funds have no origin in gardening.

So, there are many kinds of flowers…also diamonds, real estate, and investment banks. Each has a perceived value. We lose sight of the perceived value lesson until Bear Stearns reminds us. If there is no market for its assets, even a leading investment bank can be almost worthless overnight.

As we speak, the White Knights ride to the rescue, in the persons of Chairman Bernanke, and his merry band of Federal Reserve Board Governors. Don’t get me wrong – the Fed response to Bear Stearns’ imminent bankruptcy was completely necessary. The domino effect brought on by a disappearance of investor confidence would have been devastating.

But what is happening now warrants scrutiny. We are seeing a proposal that includes a complete overhaul to the system of checks and balances, a total revision of supervision. The Fed discount window, a source of ready capital to commercial banks, becomes a fallback position to the investment bankers. It is a profound change.

Chairman Bernanke’s testimony on Capital Hill was more like a pitch, missing only a PowerPoint presentation and a laser pointer. The questions from the committee were contentious, from Senator Kennedy, from others. True the Fed Chairman clearly identified his function as independent of any accountability to the American people. Still, I have a hard time envisioning former Chairman Greenspan being cross-examined in this way. Things have clearly changed.

With a sales team that includes Treasury Secretary Paulson, the Fed’s presentation is likely to be well received. The markets may recover, buoyed by additional resources.

This may very well turn out to be our White Knights, digging our economy out of the hole we’re in, or it may ultimately be The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, preparing a hole suitable for our eventual demise.

Tulips might be nice.

Tulips, Part II to follow

The Ingenuity of Man

I have great news for you.

I know for certain that government can work, that government can be efficient, responsive and effective. I’ll say that again for those of you who may think you didn’t quite hear that quite right. Government can work. I’ve seen it happen.

Sure, we have memories of FEMA’s lightning-quick response to the disaster in the Gulf Coast, but that was the Bush administration. I’m talking about government.

Now, I live in the great State of New Jersey, the Garden State. We have much to be proud of and much work yet to be done, of course. We can point to a history marred by political corruption. We have the well traveled jokes about the scenic drive down the New Jersey Turnpike. Recently, we had a Governor who came out of the closet. But throughout, we knew that this great state could withstand any scandal, could take on any challenge.

…but then of course, there was the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles.

Everyone who lives in New Jersey knows that you could find your way out of a black hole faster than dealing with the New Jersey DMV. It was a life changing experience. To get a jump on this marathon, people would sleep in their cars outside the agency, like it’s the pending release of the latest version of Xbox, or the final episode of Star Wars.

First, you’d enter - that is if the line was not out the door and down the block (it usually was). You didn’t know it yet, but you were on something called the information line. Here, you’d find out what endless line you really needed to be on.

There was some initial indication as to how long this process would take. The coffee truck outside was a clue. There were some folks who’d had breakfast and were back for lunch. And if you’re aware of the level of cuisine usually available here, you’ll understand what I mean when I tell you that this was the highlight, the best thing about this experience.

Renewing your license or registration, took anywhere from 3-4 hours. Picture licenses, even longer, and felt like a booking. Sometimes I envisioned myself channeling Tom Hanks in Castaway. This could bring you to your knees in prayer.

So you can understand my awestruck reaction, and how I know that anything is possible. Anything. Any horribly inefficient business, any misguided, mismanaged mangled bureaucracy can be made streamlined, customer friendly. I’m sure of this, because they fixed the New Jersey DMV.

Though in shock, here is my best recollection of how it went.

First of all, there was no line outside the same familiar building. I asked someone if this location had been closed. They said no. I walked inside, then outside to check the address. Yes, it was the Lodi, New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles. I looked for the information line. There was none. There was, however an information desk. It took fully five minutes for me to make sure I was in the right place.

I never sat down, never experienced how uncomfortable plastic can be. I went straight to the counter, where the apathetic service agents had somehow been replaced by helpful, almost kind people. Understand this - previously you could risk your life asking for a pen in this place.

The whole process, including my initial disorientation, and effusive expression of gratitude, took 20 minutes. For someone who’d felt like a prisoner of War, it was a surreal experience.

So, If I move away, I’m still coming back to visit. When I can no longer drive, I’ll still come back. It’ll be like a pilgrimage.

Its given me a renewed sense of optimism, of confidence. Sure, we have a third-world education system, crumbling bridges and tunnels. Healthcare is a shambles, financial institutions are imploding. Yes, these are big problems. But we now know that we can do anything.

Forget cold fusion, forget perpetual motion. Forget the miracle of Hannukah.

We fixed the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles.


Quote: “We can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created

Albert Einstein

Maybe it’s time to shake the cobwebs out, order another espresso (make it a double), and get to work. Historic changes are occurring right before our eyes.

Last week, the Federal Reserve Bank in an unprecedented move, offered JP Morgan a $30 billion credit line, to allow the investment banking firm to take over Bear Stearns, which had become insolvent almost overnight. The precedent established is something few of us can fully appreciate.

But in connection with this situation is a development with even more serious implications. The Fed “discount window” which previously provided liquidity only under extraordinary circumstances, and only to commercial banks, would now be made available to investment banks.

The Fed action in the JP Morgan/Bear Stearns deal, and others that will undoubtedly follow was probably necessary to head off a meltdown in the financial community. But a permanent policy change allowing the Federal Reserve to provide liquidity to these largely unregulated firms, well, that’s another story. It appears that this action is being considered an opportunity. These and other changes require our immediate attention.

Yes, immediate. As we speak, a battle for control and direction is developing. The Senate, as well as the Treasury Department, scrambles to propose legislation to reform a system no longer capable of dealing with financial services firms that cannot be restrained. This is what makes the recent Fed actions/bailouts alarming. It tells us what the next dropped shoe is likely to look like.

Recent related developments point in a similar direction:

  • The infusion of capital by anonymous Sovereign Wealth Funds to Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and others. Potentially, the United Arab Emirates port security issue pales by comparison. It is fortunate that the general public doesn’t understand the implications of this.
  • The AAA rating enjoyed by AMBAC and MBIA, insurers of municipal credit, are in jeopardy, compromised by liquidity issues. In essence, buyers of AAA rated tax-free bonds pay for coverage that is not really there.
  • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey struggle to find liquidity, unable to sell financial instruments they assumed would always have a market. Bridge and tunnel fares increase almost immediately.
  • Treasury Secretary Paulson questions whether investors can rely on rating agencies. Lip service is given to corporate responsibility.
  • On Thursday, Standard & Poors, a leading ratings agency, signals the “end in sight” to bad loan write-downs by firms.

Friday morning, the Fed steps in with a $30 billion line of credit to JP Morgan Chase, and the news of a virtually bankrupt Bear Stearns, a $2 a share buyout, rocks the markets.


…..the decision will be made to create a completely new governance system, or put increased power in the hands of The Fed. The latter could prove to be disastrous.


Using Al’s definition (Einstein, not Greenspan) we cannot ensure the responsible governance of our financial institutions, with what is already in place. That would be The Federal Reserve.

A lot can be learned by browsing the Fed website

“Seven-member board that supervises the banking system by issuing regulations controlling bank holding companies and federal laws over the banking industry. It also controls and oversees the US monetary system and credit supply.”

...Its members are appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation, and serve 14-year terms…

“The federal agency with rule-writing authority for the Truth in Lending Act, of which the Consumer Lending Act is part…

On the Federal Reserve site I also found the transcript of a recent speech made by Federal Reserve Governor Randall S. Kroszner at the American Bankers Association Spring Summit Meeting, Washington, D.C. March 11, 2008.

I’ve taken excerpts that I felt were important. There’s a lot more. Let me make this disclosure. I recognize that an address to the banking community might reflect a different, less confrontational tone. Nonetheless there are some telling comments.

“….in other words, it is good to have a few people within the institution (bank) who--to paraphrase a former Federal Reserve Chairman--know when to take away the punch bowl. Being the party pooper, however, can be very difficult in any organization…

“….Naturally, in very large organizations it is difficult for senior management to monitor each individual, so incentives need to be consistent, permeate even the lowest levels of the organization, and remind each individual that his or her risk-taking affects the whole enterprise.”

In other words:

Banks only need a few employees who are responsible fiduciaries. Whistleblowers, I imagine. All others, of course,“drink from the punchbowl”, getting drunk on profits, until something happens, or until they’re disciplined.


This was not the fault of management, but of a system too large, too difficult to manage.

We would expect the support of business, the protection of corporate interests at all costs, in many places. We always assumed that the Federal Reserve would not appear on this list.

But this is not your Grandpa’s Federal Reserve…

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

It becomes apparent as the green revolution evolves, that we have to be careful who we listen to.

The Motley Fool, the stockpicker / online blogger, is running a green investing series in advance of Earth Day on April 22. The MF perspective re: green investing focuses on long-term shareholder value, but so be it. Pretty one-dimensional, but we get a habitable planet in the process.

The companies that Motley Fool highlights boggle the noodle, though. Some of these companies, held up as progressive, have a checkered eco-past, some have troubling human rights records.

The Motley Fool articles applaud Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) and its recycling campaigns, General Electric's (NYSE: GE) Ecomagination cornerstones, and Disney's (NYSE: DIS) environmental policies.

But Coke has a history of international anti-union activities including murders of union officials in Colombia; see or this Businessweek article

Applauding GE for its Ecomagination campaign shows how little MF knows about GE’s eco-history. From 1947 to 1977 General Electric dumped 1.3 million pounds PCB’s from our river into the Hudson. These PCB’s are found in the river, in fish and in us. Riverkeeper article

If you’ve seen the commercials GE runs about their portable ultrasound equipment and the difference that this is making in developing nations you’d applaud. But if you realized that one of the ways these units are used is to abort female fetuses, you’d be horrified. Washington Post article

Disney’s checkered labor history includes violations of Chinese labor laws. Workers making Disney toys work 15 hours a day. 28 days a month. To read more about Disney’s labor history, here and abroad: Disney’s labor history and Disney in China

For whatever reason, our eco-awareness is on red alert- but all the issues we deal with in reforming, transforming and supporting corporate conscience demand our attention……

Onward and upward!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Fifth Element

October 25th 2007

Al Gore is a winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

This is a statement, but not about Al Gore, although his decades - long commitment to the issues of global warming are finally being properly recognized. It is a statement about what this issue is really about. Perhaps you did not notice that this is a Peace prize. Not a scientific prize, but a peace prize. If you understand why -why a Peace Prize- you gain an important perspective.

The explanation by the Nobel Committee regarding this award was simple, and perhaps flew under the radar of many. Paraphrasing, they suggested that global warming will lead to shortages of resources, and those shortages will lead to migration of peoples, and also to conflicts over resources. Like War, for example.

Watching George Bush at his recent press conference, you had the understanding that this is a Man who sees War as an option, and that, more than anything else, is why this Administration must be replaced, and quickly.

Resources. This is what the Iraq War is really about. Control of Energy, and the power and wealth that comes with it. The mandate is the need for energy that is not a finite commodity, that cannot be owned, manipulated, and marketed. We have other obvious options. We have always had these. Wind, water, sun, and geothermal.

The problems are beginning to surface. This is what the critical problems of water shortages are really all about. It was less important to us when this catastrophe was the issue of Africa, and China. Those, of course, are really not our people. We talk about a global economy, but we implement a global marketing opportunity.

Now we have 90 days of water left in Georgia, we can predict the same in Phoenix, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada. The expression that says this is best is “ there is no such thing as “there”.

And as we grow energy, as the World experiences a population explosion, food becomes an issue. Investments in agriculture have risen remarkably this year. The Earth becomes our salvation.

And, as we are issued the ultimate challenge, I turn it into the ultimate tagline. Understand the problem. Invest in the solution.

This week, in discussing the merits of nuclear energy, the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were raised in protest of that effort. It was suggested by one, that the destruction of those Japanese cities brought peace. I do not see it that way. This horrific act brought silence, not peace. In the same way that our decision to wage War in the aftermathof to the September 11th attacks was to wage War, the dangers of nuclear energy bring us no closer to who we can become, to the end of War, to true World peace.

So congratulations to the Nobel Committee for seeing this, and to President Gore. It is sometimes difficult to see change, because it happens so slowly. This is something that we can all see.

The message in the movie…

I have known for some time that there are powerful messages in movies, that they touch people more than any other medium. Perhaps it is that the freedom, the creativity releases messages, from a deeper place, a place of truth. Corporate executives and politicians don’t often live in that place.

The movie message for today, is that of The Fifth Element. You must look past some of the content, to the essence, the moral, for want of a better description. The search for the stones that represent the four elements, wind water, earth and fire. The higher power, the Fifth Element comes, and saves the earth from destruction. It is the metaphor that you may have missed.

We have been given everything we need to save this planet from what appears to be inevitable destruction. The wind, and the power it can generate, the heat of the sun, a source of food, and solar energy. Water, our primary component part, (the label says that we are 97% water) brings with it hydroelectric power. And finally the Earth, and the geothermal energy it holds.

And so, to me two things become clear. We have all this. It has been waiting for us. Waiting for our emergence. Waiting for a united world where greed and power have no place. We have been looking for the answer in all the wrong places.

You see, we are the Fifth Element.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Moved by the Movie

Longing for Bedford Falls....

I think I’ve got the answer.

Do you remember the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life”? The story of George Bailey, and his “wonderful old Building and Loan”? It’s a story about community, about values, about what is really important in our lives.

Why has this movie become a classic? Why do we watch it over and over again, every holiday season? Not surprisingly, it was panned by the critics when it first came out- they didn’t get it.

It is the story of a man, and his connection to the people of a small town. It is also the story of a building and loan, run on trust, built on trust. No collateral, no credit history, no FICO scores. You see, the community was the Building and Loan, and the Building and Loan was the community.

And when the time came, when George Bailey was in trouble, they came to his rescue…. passed the hat, and saved the Building and Loan. They told stories of what George had meant to them, what he had done for them. They were his family.

How different everything is now. We have small towns, but no “small town” values. We will stand by as millions of people lose their homes in the coming years, while banks and financial institutions get bailouts.

So, I had an idea.

We get our legislators together. They, supposedly are responsible for protecting our citizens - not credit card companies, not banks, not hedge funds, but the people of America.

And as they watch this story, over and over again, as many times as necessary, they will begin to get it. They will get that what is missing in their lives is that connection, to the people who they represent. It is the lesson that Bedford Falls has for them.

Now, before you write this off as the ranting of a lunatic, consider this - "An Inconvenient Truth", is a movie. If you doubt its impact on our society, open up any newspaper, any magazine, any TV channel, any day. The Green movement is everywhere. Did it start with this movie? Of course not. But it became part of our experience because we are now connected - we have seen it. It cannot then, be forgotten.

In the event that you think that this is an isolated example, consider that the fast food industry has not been the same since "Supersize Me", Morgan Spurlock’s expose’. McDonald’s has completely changed their menus, added healthy options, no transfats….and they are more profitable than ever.

Michael Moore’s “Sicko” hopefully does the same for the healthcare industry. Those images are going to stay with us, the knowledge that Cuba’s quality of healthcare is so superior to ours. We know that money is not invested in the service, it is paid to the providers… to all the partners, the drug companies, HMO’s the medical community, the managed care agencies, and nursing home facilities.

Perhaps “Sicko” does more to move us toward socialized medicine than Hillary Clinton could, because we felt it, we saw it. It wasn’t the words of a politician.

So, turnabout is fairplay. We, at the mercy of the marketing machine, will we use technology, and take back our power. Pick your passion. Don’t march in protest- pick up a camera, start a blog. Technology is power.

We’ve got so much to do.

Lights… Camera….Roll ‘em