Saturday, November 29, 2008

Prayers for Bombay

This photo was taken a little over a year ago from the second floor of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, where I was attending a conference. Only a few steps away from the Gates of India, the waterfront is a popular place for morning prayers.....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Beg Three?

It sure was a sorry sight to watch the heads of the Big Three--not to mention the bone-headed academic, Peter Morici, who contradicted himself at least half dozen times during his counterpoint, before Congress this week. But subpar performance seemed to be the order of the day in Congress as well---any measure to save the domestic auto industry from collapse is pennies on the dollar versus the yet unseen impact of the financial services bailout. On balance, it was all so bad from so many points of view that after a while, seeing it almost as Sarah Palin redux, I had to stop watching.

A lot has been made of the fact that these guys hopped corporate jets to arrive in Washington. Personally, I think they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time--there's no way that the heads of Lehman Brothers or AIG took Amtrak the other week when they, too, were on the firing line--they just didn't get called on it. Used judicially and structured properly, a corporate jet may save both time and money--as the head of a company typically has security and staff that travel with him/her, and commercial flights are notably unreliable. Having said this I agree with the uproar, because it's clearly a perq that has become a symbol of corporate greed and privilege as well (e.g. why does a guy who makes $21 million a year need to have the company pay for his family to travel--other than ego)? The criticism could be leveled, however, at countless other companies, including some of the other ones asking for government money. So to me, this issue, while valid, is also something of a red herring.

No, the bigger problem was that these guys were, to a person (including Gettelfinger), poorly prepared and out of touch with public perception, and they came across like corporate suits, not heads of organizations that may be bigger than some countries. Don't get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for what Alan Mulally has done at Ford, and it's a credit to him that the company is in the best shape of the three. But, for none of these men to be able to answer how they would use the money--or give any assurance that they "got it" re: executive compensation (how it's possible that this question wasn't anticipated and well prepared for is beyond me) was stunning.

Their poor performance aside, the hostility of the questioning was also a testimony to the sentiment that still exists towards the domestic car industry in general, including some perceptions that are clearly outdated. I do find it ironic that members of Congress could not get past this emotion, when they agreed with very little debate to bail out the even more egregious financial services industry---if you want to see really lavish living on abysmal performance, go to the Hamptons and not metro Detroit. But, I really don't see how any of the Big Three heads earned even half their salaries this past week. In the parlance of Jack Welch, they all acted like "C" players.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Amazing Time

As we now wait for the inauguration of a new president, this is a time that many Americans, including me, will long remember. The day after the election, I put aside the front section of The New York Times--much as my dad did for the end of World War II and the first man on the moon. I found those editions, and several other headlines of momentous events, wrapped in plastic in the basement when I cleaned out the family homestead a few years ago. Now I have another to add to the collection, equally momentous. Like many Americans, I feel an enormous sense of relief that the long election campaign is over--but equally, pride at the outcome. The news media seems to be reeling as well--there just isn't as much to cover on the transition, and they have been struggling to fill the gap---with all the Sarah Palin interviews, I have to hope....isn't it moose season yet?

There are some events that you always remember where you were--for me, those include the assassination of President Kennedy, the first man on the moon, the blow up of the Challenger, and 9/11. Now I will always be able to see the news flashing across the screen, when shortly after the California polls closed, the election was called for Obama. Despite the terrible times we are in, this is a kind of sea change--a shift that had already started to happen before the election, and is being coalesced by it. I'm glad I was here in America for this. Although there is so much work ahead of this country and it doesn't appear we have hit bottom yet, there is also a feeling of hope and movement. The news channels have moved over to "the transition" and trying to second guess Presidential appointments and policies. In due course, we will know all of this for sure, just like the outcome of the election, but it's fun re-watching Saturday Night Live just being able to laugh, this time with no sense of stress at the outcome.

Within a couple of days of the election, fall went into its blustery stage. We had Indian summer days for the election and the days leading up to it, but for the past two weeks it has been windy, cold, and the trees are mostly bare. This is the first sign of winter. I am in Keene at the moment, which is at the eastern end of the time zone, and it is getting dark very early--around 4:30 p.m. That's another harbinger of winter. Seems impossible that it's already a year that I was getting ready to come back to the U.S.