Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Just When You Think The Sh** Has Hit The Fan...

It's incredible being at work at WMAL this week (Right now, it's incredible to be at work anywhere, but I digress... ) and see all of the different stories coming out with different economic angles... all of them BAD. Here's just a short list from today that are particularly fascinating...

Just when you think the sh** has really hit the fan, we hear that...

Metro is considering allowing ads selling alcohol in its stations, and on buses and trains, breaking a four decade prohibition (so to speak). This would bring in an extra half-million dollars a year. I say bring on the ads... And if they want to make the buses look like giant bottles of Absolut, I say go for it!

On a possibly related note, substance abuse is on the rise. The emergency room at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital is reporting a 30 percent increase in drug overdose cases in the past year, and treatment centers are filled to the brim. With unemployment on the rise, people have more time on their hands - time they are spending getting hammered, apparently!

The Washington Post saw its fourth quarter earnings drop 77 percent. A large part of that drop is due to costs incurred by the newspaper buying out as much of its veteran news staff as possible as a long-term cost savings measure... But really. How much "long-term" do you think the Washington Post has left if it's let most of its talent go? And when was the last time most of you read a dead-tree newspaper?

If fewer people are shopping these days, why keep the malls open so long? Westfield, which operates Montgomery Mall, Annapolis Mall and Wheaton Plaza, is now opening a half hour later during the week and closing a half-hour earlier every night except Sunday. While I have no particular problem with this personally, my wife will likely wear black over this.

Surely, it can't get any worse than this can it? Well...

There's always tomorrow!

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Miss The Probe Up My Tailpipe!

It's that time of year again (actually every two years again) - I took the drive down Redland Road to the vicinity of the Shady Grove Metro Station to have my car's state mandated emissions test. I, like many of you, have been taking my cars to be tested for the past 20 years or so, and like you, I have seen these tests evolve.

Back in the day, the technician used to stick a long probe up the car's tailpipe, and I would be instructed to press the gas pedal. I always found it was a bit easier if I turned my head and coughed first.

Later on, the probe exam was replaced, briefly, by the treadmill test. My car would be put through a workout and have its wheels rolled by a couple of large cylinders embedded in the floor. This test didn't last for very long, because people felt squeamish watching their cars on that contraption... like it was going to fly off the cylinders and into the wall or something.

In recent years, the probe and the treadmill have both been replaced by a cable that is plugged into a spot underneath my dashboard. The cable hooks up to a computer, which magically reads the emissions. 30 seconds later, a piece of paper is printed out, telling me my car has passed inspection, and I'm done for the next two years.

20 minutes of waiting. 3 minutes of testing. "Fourteen dollars, please. See you in two years."

Something is fishy here. Back in the good ol' days, the score sheet at the end of the inspection would give me a read out of numbers. I had no ideas what those numbers meant, but I found some comfort in having them... some value for my fourteen dollars.

Now, there ARE no numbers. It's pretty much just "PASS" and "see ya". Makes you wonder if your car is really being tested for anything at all, doesn't it?

This IS the State of Maryland, after all. The state of Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel. How do we know the cars are really being tested for anything?

I'm not sayin'... I'm just SAYIN'!

Way To Go, Kate!

It is a well-known secret among my friends and family (and yes, my loving wife) that I have a long-standing crush on Kate Winslet. Yes, I think she's hot. But I also think she's an actor without peer. So seeing her win the Best Actress Oscar for "The Reader" is kinda like being able to honestly claim that I read Playboy both for the pictures AND the articles! (I don't by the way, but the analogy stands!)

Way to go, Kate!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

So Does This Make Rahm Emanuel "Little John"?

Could Barack Obama possibly do a better job of portraying Robin Hood if he tried? The President has spent his first month in office giving away as much money as he can, and now, he's promising to get it back by taxing the wealthest Americans... literally taking from the rich and giving to the poor!

This is all going to play well with the masses - but I think it's also developing a dangerous "where's my piece of the pie" mentality. Yes, I did bitch last week about the fact that I'm paying to refinance my mortgage, while millions of Americans who were not so careful about their credit are getting bailed out for free. But I also realize that if every American expects and receives a handout from the government, then we're never going to get out of this economic mess.

I think some people really DO expect a chicken in every pot - some bit of entitlement. They hear about stimulus money and their mouths start to water. First of all - President Bush gave us free stimulus money last year - to no apparent positive effect. I dumped most of mine in Las Vegas!

The state of Virginia has about four billion dollars in stimulus money coming, and Governor Tim Kaine posted a website last week asking Virginians how they thought the money should be spent. So far, there have been more than 3,000 responses - and many of them are from people who want the money to be given to themselves - to pay for college or to pay off loans. Their requests so far exceed 85 billion dollars - 20 times MORE than the state will be receiving.

We're never going to recover if people don't start realizing that the government can't simply give us everything we need. Someone will have to pay the bill for all of this - and so far, it looks like that task will fall to the wealthy. But sooner or later, that stream is going to run dry as well.

President Obama is in a tough spot. He has to get money from some place. I just wish he would be more discerning about where it's all going.

The November election showed us in no uncertain terms there was a pent-up frustration with the way the country was being run over the past eight years. There was clearly a message of change being sent to Washington.

But it was NOT a message of pocket change.

Which is all we're going to be left with if this spending and taking doesn't stop.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen!

When I was growing up, the TV news leader in Washington was unquestionably Channel 9, then WTOP-TV. The anchor team of Gordon Peterson and Max Robinson was backed by an impressive team of top-flight journalists, the best weather guy in town and Warner Wolf, a favorite DC son and sportscasting legend. But a recent glimpse of the Channel 9 morning product shows now just how far TV news has fallen.

Let me start with the good news. Andrea Roane is the morning anchor at WUSA, and that's a big plus. I have always liked Roane. She's always perky, and she seems unflappable, which is important given what she's left to work with.

Channel 9 has dropped all pretense, really, of being an actual news-gathering operation. They do have a morning street reporter, but the several times I've seen him, he's been doing standups in front of a public building, telling us about meetings that will happen many hours in the future. He would be just as useful reporting from the newsroom.. Speaking of which...

Channel 9 no longer has a newsroom - It's an "information center". And they no longer have reporters - they are "digital correspondents" instead. "Digital correspondents" are what used to be entry-level reporters, except these people not only report on scene - they also shoot their own video and edit their own packages in the field. One-man bands in a top-10 market... and unfortunately, this appears to be the norm going forward.

The lead digital correspondent during channel 9's morning news appears to be a woman named Kristin Fisher. Her job appears to be two-fold. In one segment, she surfs the Internet to show you what you'll be surfing about when you get to the office. That's right... she shows you what's on the Drudge Report. Why spend time actually reporting the news, when you can show other people what other people are reporting?

Fisher's other segment involves taking requests from listeners. She has them e-mail her with stories they would like to see reported. One of the stories was from a woman who's been trying to collect child support from her deadbeat ex for a year and a half now! Fisher says she will go out and cover some of these "news stories" herself... Maybe she'll hunt down the deadbeat ex!

Fisher's stories, as well as the ubiquitous traffic and weather together, movie reviews, pitches for USA Today (owned by Channel 9's parent, Gannett) and other trivial non-stories dominate Channel 9's morning product. And oh, yes - There are a few news headlines as well. Just headlines. No reporter packages... and no sports guy, either. Poor Andrea has to handle that chore herself.

News on the cheap. But not really news at all.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dubya Has Some Work To Do...

C-SPAN has released a new survey of 65 historians and presidential observers and ranked our Chief Executives from one to 42. (Yes, Obama is President # 44, but he isn't in this survey, and Grover Cleveland was numbers 22 AND 24, so he's only counted once)

Here are your top and bottom 10 Presidents:

You will note that our most recent president, George W. Bush, is ranked 36th.... About where you'd expect him to be, given his popularity ratings in his final years in office. But there's hope yet for Dubya. It remains to be seen whether time heals all wounds, but it does tend to take the edge off of hard feelings.

In a similar survey taken in 2000, Bill Clinton finished 21st... Nine years later, Slick Willie is up to 15th! Of course, for every uptick, there must be a downtick... Jimmy Carter, for example, has dropped from 22nd to 25th in the same time span.

Most of the top 10 you see above is unchanged from the 2000 survey, although Ronald Reagan did swap places with LBJ. Nothing like dying to improve your image.

And speaking of the dead, I still think no one (except maybe Elvis) has benefitted more from dying than John F. Kennedy. Yes, the guy was dynamic and good-looking and all, and yes, he did get us into the space program, which was the coolest thing ever. But he was also President for less than three years. You can't convince me he would have stayed in that spot if he had served two full terms!

You can see the complete list here, and see the comprehensive C-SPAN survey here!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Feeling Selfish.

When the world is going to hell in a handbasket (does anyone even know what that means?), we all tend to close in ranks a little and watch out for number one. And I find myself doing that more and more these days.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the President today will announce a 50 billion dollar package to assist homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure by lowering their monthly mortgage payments. The recipients will either have the principal on their loans lowered, or have their mortgage rate lowered. All I can think about is - where's MY federal aid??? Looking at this objectively, I guess I should be thankful that I don't need a bailout, but at the same time, my taxes are paying for this at a time when I could use help myself!

Along these same lines, I received an e-mail from a younger radio business colleague the other day who is apparently being laid off. This person had heard that I was getting freelance work at ABC, and wanted to know if I could give him (or her) a contact name so that he (or she) could try and line up some work as well. I wrote back and advised this person that he (or she) was just starting out in life, and that he (or she) should really make a fresh start and find something else to do because radio news is a dead end.

Well, this person didn't take the hint. He (or she) wrote back and said that yeah, eventually, he (or she) would find a new career, but for now he (or she) was just looking for work. He (or she) just wanted a contact. I finally had to be blunt. I wrote this person back and told him (or her) that if there's any extra freelance work to be gotten at ABC, I wanted it... and I sure as heck wasn't going to help him (or her) compete with me for it!

Selfish? Yeah, I guess I was. And a small part of me does feel a little bit bad about it. But a much larger part of me feels angry that someone would put me in the position of being a bad guy.

And finally, here's selfishness on a much sillier, more social level. And yes, it has to do with Facebook. I enjoy Facebook when I can go on there and gleefully carpetbomb the site with sarcastic responses to my friends' status updates, or start singalongs, or write one of those fun random lists. But Facebook goes from party to pain in the ass when I receive friend requests from people I just don't want to be friends with.

This is kind of tricky to write about, because some of these "friends" may end up seeing this. But I am finding it easier to turn down potential Facebook friends rather than to bear the thought of "unfriending" them instead down the road. And it's also a double-edged sword. I have accepted friend requests from people who I never would thought to ask to be my friends online... and they have turned out to be some of my best Facebook buddies.

But still - there are probably 30 people on my Facebook friends list who I have not communicated with since the day I added them... mostly people who are friends of friends, or people who I added because I didn't want to feel the shame of NOT adding them. Sooner or later, they are going to the "unfriend" zone, because frankly, I don't want them to have that much access to my personal life.
Facebook - at least for me - is supposed to be more fun than thoughtful.

Or maybe I'm just being selfish.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happy President's Day!

Sorry I'm a day late, but I still wanted to post this video... I've always loved the Animaniacs - They do a great job of teaching us all about things - Like the names of all of our Presidents! Hope your three-day weekend was a patriotic one!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Should I Have Intentionally Gone Broke?

I just received the good news! Our application to refinance our home mortgage has been approved, and the closing papers are in the mail! This is happening despite the fact that I am grossly underemployed and loans have been scarce to come by. Robin and I managed to get the loan (30-year conventional, 4.75% plus one point) because we have excellent credit, and because we have a good bit of equity in our home - at least 40 percent of its value.

We have been responsible over the years with our money. We pay our bills on time. We've been careful to pay off our credit card bill every month, and we've never had more than one car loan at any one time. We've taken plenty of expensive vacations, but they've never been paid for by credit card - we've always saved up for them in advance. To put it simply, we haven't spent over our heads, and we've been rewarded by earning the ability to acquire loans at excellent rates. All of which makes me wary of what's going to happen on Wednesday.

That's when President Obama will be announcing his plan to help Americans who are at risk of foreclosure to keep their homes. It's not yet clear exactly what the President will be announcing, but according to the Associated Press, this is how it is expected to go:

A Democratic Senate aide said the plan is likely to include hefty payments designed to encourage the lending industry to lower mortgage rates or reduce the total principal amount owed by borrowers. The idea has become attractive to Obama officials, the aide said Friday, because it is expected to be far less expensive than having the government buy up loans out of mortgage-linked securities.

Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry consultant who served in the Clinton administration, said if 2 million borrowers' payments were lowered by $500 a month, it would cost the government and lenders $6 billion each per year — assuming lenders match half the cost.

Unlike previous loan modification plans, borrowers would not have to be in default to qualify, according to people briefed on the plan.

I don't want to put the cart before the horse, but if this story is correct, it sounds like the government will refinance the homes of people who were at risk of foreclosure, and lower their home payments by hundreds of dollars a month. People who bit off more than they could chew, and purchased homes they could not afford will be getting the same break that I just got - The break that I earned with my good credit and that I paid for with several thousand dollars in closing costs!

I hope the report is wrong and that I am wrong. But if the report is right and so am I, then SOMEONE is going to have to explain to me why I just spent my entire adult life trying to do the right thing with my credit. Is the government going to compensate me, too? I don't want the government's money, but if it IS going to help these at-risk homeowners, then that help needs to come at an equitable price. Any government aid should become an investment in the home. If the home is sold down the road, Uncle Sam should get its piece of the equity back, with interest.

And if the government wants to knock a hundred grand off the cost of my new loan, that would be OK, too! (Not really, but you get my point!)

Thank You, Loyal Readers!

Eleven months ago - freshly unemployed, creatively unfulfilled and in need of something to get me out of bed in the morning, I launched this blog! It hardly seems possible now, but nearly 400 blog postings later, the ol' hit counter flipped to the fifth digit on this President's Day... Which means if I had a dollar for every time someone stopped by here to read my daily rants, I'd have a picture of President Eisenhower - and 10,000 extra dollars in the bank!

I'd like to thank my good friend, Jen Richer for leading me to this place last March. She was the first person to convince me that my non-sensical ravings, snarky remarks and sarcastic rants belonged in cyberspace for all the world (or a couple of dozen tolerant friends) to see!

And thank you all for stopping here to supplement your office solitaire and facebook-surfing with a couple of minutes of my minutia a day! Here's to the next 10-thousand hits!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day - Or Whatever.

A quick check of the calendar reveals that today is February 14th - Valentine's Day. I think Valentine's Day is great for people who are just starting out in budding romances, or perhaps for newlyweds who don't have kids. I really do. Back when Robin and I were "courting" (how's that for an old-fashioned word?), I used to groove on the day... Hell, I'd start February First or so and make the celebration last for a couple of weeks!

But once you've been around the track a time or two, and kids and life intervene, Valentine's Day becomes a pain in the ass... something you have to remember, like getting an emissions test done on the car. You have to remember the card and you have to remember the flowers. I ask you... where is the romance in that?

Once I got over the whole "romance" part of Valentine's Day, I began to resent the greeting card companies and the florists... the grocery stores that started pumping out heart-shaped cookies... the candy makers pushing the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates (as though we still don't have a cabinet full of candy from Christmas).

None of this is to say I love my wife any less. I love her a ton. I just don't need a calendar to tell me when I need to express it. I came home from the grocery store last week with three bunches of baby carnations in shades of purple and pink... Robin's favorite colors. The smile she had on her face when she saw them after coming home from a long day of work meant far more to me than if I had bought her a dozen roses and gave them to her today, as expected. And you know what else? I hope I don't sound cheap, but those carnations will last three times as long as any bunch of roses!

I don't hate Valentine's Day... I just refuse to be beholden to it. I do have a gift for the missus today - but only because I found something in a store last week that I wanted her to have, so I have wrapped it up for her. I also went out and got bagels this morning, - but I somehow managed to avoid buying the heart-shaped ones!

But we shall still enjoy this day despite its label, not because of it. I seriously doubt a restaurant will be in our plans, because the rest of you will be in restaurants tonight. I think the most romantic thing I can do for Robin is to go shopping with her. It's her favorite activity, and the mall will be empty - because it's Valentine's Day!

Enjoy the day - and if you feel you must do the flowers and the candy and the cards - that's OK. Just don't forget them sometime when your spouse is NOT expecting them! Happy VD!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Goodbye To Unemployment Insurance - And Thanks!

The above-the-fold story (don't you love those quaint and soon-to-be obsolete newspaper terms) in today's Washington Post discusses the growing problems that newly-unemployed people are having in trying to get unemployment benefits.

I can see both sides of this. It's certainly shameful of any employer to try and intentionally block any person who has earned the right to unemployment benefits. But I have also seen this issue as a manager myself, and seen one of my former employees making claims that she had no right to be making. All that does is slow down the line for people who are trying to get money they need to get by!

I have been one of the lucky ones. I was laid off ahead of the rush, AND I have received my unemployment benefits through the DC government. Say what you want about the District, but when it comes to doling out the unemployment bennies, they have their act together! I have reliably received a check every week that I was eligible. I've never had to pick up the phone or even venture down to the unemployment office. Everything has been done online, and it's been quite convenient.

My current set of benefits is about to run out, and I believe I'm going to be eligible for a federal extension, but I doubt I will be able to draw on them very much. I have been fortunate in recent months to be working just enough so that I am not eligible on a week-to-week basis to receive any money. This is as it should be.

Unemployment insurance has been a wonderful safety net. It does not provide enough money to get by, but it does provide a level of comfort at a time when the world is so uncertain for people whose lives have been turned upside down. I never had an opinion one way or another about this form of government aid, but I'm a believer now... And I suspect millions of other Americans will also become believers - IF the states and the employers can get their acts together!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sheriff Buford T. Justice Is On The Case!

I am both amused and a little disgusted to find out that eight people have now been arrested in connection with Michael Phelps' bong-gate! Here's the latest from WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina:
The party took place in November at a house on Blossom Street near Five Points.
It was at that house where someone snapped the photo of Phelps taking a hit on a marijuana pipe called a bong.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says the picture indicated a law was being broken in his jurisdiction. He said he couldn't ignore the violation just because Phelps is rich and famous.

We've now learned that since investigators began trying to build a case, they've made eight arrests: seven for drug possession and one for distribution. These are arrests that resulted as the sheriff's department served search warrants.

We've also learned that the department has located and confiscated that bong.
Sources say the owner of the bong was trying to sell it on eBay for as much as $100,000.

The owner, who wasn't even at the party, is one of the eight now charged.
Governor Mark Sanford is also weighing in on the sheriff's actions.

On the FOX News Channel Sunday night, Geraldo Rivera asked Sanford whether Phelps should be prosecuted.

"I don't see what it gets at this point," said Sanford.

This is just want was needed in this case... bringing in the cracker sheriff to get a little publicity. It sounds like a stunt that would have been pulled by Sheriff Buford T. Justice of Texas!

Justice is not being served in South Carolina, but at least this gives me the opportunity to present some great movie quotes from "Smokey and the Bandit"...

Buford T. Justice: Give me a diablo sandwich, a Dr. Pepper, and make it quick, I'm in a god-damn hurry.

Buford T. Justice: [to his son] There's no way, *no* way that you came from *my* loins. Soon as I get home, first thing I'm gonna do is punch your mamma in the mouth!

Alabama State Trooper: Did you see that? They went right through our roadblock!
Buford T. Justice: You som'bitches couldn't close an umbrella!

Buford T. Justice: What we're dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.

Sheriff Branford: The fact that you are a sheriff is not germane to the situation.
Buford T. Justice: The god damn Germans got nothin' to do with it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thank God For Marion Barry!

Well, it looks like DC Councilmember and Mayor-For-Life Marion Barry may finally be going to go to jail for tax evasion. Two years after getting probation for failing to file his returns, Barry has failed to file them AGAIN, and prosecutors are out for blood... Barry is refusing to comment, saying it's his personal business - and besides - he's too busy helping his constituents find affordable housing and otherwise doing the work of the people!

I know I should be outraged and calling for Barry's head, and I'll shed no tears if he goes to jail. But part of me enjoys seeing Barry constantly emerge out of the car wreck that his life has become without a scratch. Every good story needs a good villain. Superman has Lex Luthor. Peter Pan has Captain Hook. Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty... And DC has Marion Barry!

I think Heath Ledger said it best in the Dark Knight:

Good luck, Mayor!

Monday, February 9, 2009

New Survival Strategy - Become Smaller And Less Relevant!

I wish I could tell you when these kinds of stories will end. Another media giant has come up with another survival strategy that we can only hope will prove to be a success.

Newsweek has come to the realization that it can no longer compete with all of the other forms of media out there AND continue to publish a newsweekly that will be read in wide circulation. It is planning to stop trying to weigh in on every major story of note during any given week, and instead focus on offering more indepth and analytical coverage of broader topics. In other words, it will try to compete against the Atlantics and New Yorkers of the world instead of against Time and daily newspapers.

As a result of the move, Newsweek expects to shed about half of its readership, but hopes it is left with its most loyal and most affluent customers still in the fold.

You can read the New York Times' take on the changes here.

tick... tick... tick... sigh.

I Stand Corrected. But I Was Also Right.

After I wrote my previous entry concerning the employee junkets being handed out by Wells Fargo, I received two responses from complete strangers. One was from someone who used a newly-created, presumably fake name. But the other was from some who identifies himself as Chad S. Trease. Mr. Trease identifies himself as a mortgage planner in Kansas City who is affiliated with Wells Fargo. Here are his comments in full:

If you're unemployed, then you no doubt have ample time to do some research. Wells Fargo tried to refuse the TARP funds, but they were forced to take them. They are the only recipient to make a dividend payment (371 million). Try doing some due diligence next time before you continue to crucify a company made made a profit of 3 billion dollars last year. What they spend their own money on is none of your business.

As a news professional, I hate making mistakes, but I did make one. Almost everything Mr. Trease says is essentially correct. Wells Fargo did not ask for a bailout. It was apparently foisted upon the bank by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Thank you, Mr. Trease for pointing that out, and please accept my regrets for not checking into this further before I blogged.

Having said all of that - I stand by everything I said concerning how Wells Fargo has handled its PR nightmare concerning its employee junkets to Las Vegas. Whether Mr. Trease (or Wells Fargo) likes it or not, the bank DOES have 25 billion dollars of government money, and as a taxpayer, that DOES make it my business.

So here is my take. Wells Fargo has just handled this whole affair terribly from a public relations standpoint. Whether it used profit money or TARP money to pay for those trips is irrelevant. After seeing how the public reacted to the lavish parties hosted by other TARP recipients, Wells Fargo should have reconsidered holding its own trips this year. At the very least, it should have been on the PR offensive early on - explaining the trips before anyone had the opportunity to blindly criticize them.

Worst of all, after feeling the heat from the media, rather than going away quietly, the CEO of the company issues a full-page ad calling "media stories" criticisizing the trips "nonsense". The problem is - even if Wells Fargo is in the right... even if "the media" is wrong... the bank has already lost the PR battle.

Most of the people slamming Wells Fargo this morning are not members of the media. They are bloggers. They are people who have already made up their minds, and are now publishing their opinions. The "truth" - or Wells Fargo's version of it - has not reached the public, and the bank would have been better served trying to sell that instead of buying an inflammatory ad that only throws gasoline on the fire.

Being a TARP recipient and sending employees on junkets to Vegas during what is shaping up to be a severe recession is in poor taste. It's tacky. And yes, it's bad public relations.

What should Wells Fargo do now? Shut its trap, for one. Continue to pay back dividends to the government. Exercise restraint.

And get through these austere times like the rest of us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It's Time To Empty The Wells Fargo Wagon!

I mentioned last week that Wells Fargo bank, one of the original recipients of federal bailout money last fall, had been planning several lavish trips to Las Vegas for its employees. The company eventually cancelled the trips under the scrutiny of the media and federal lawmakers who had started to howl.

You would think that Wells Fargo would lay low in the wake of this embarrassment. But CEO John Stumpf is being defiant instead. He must have really loved those Vegas trips, because he's taken out full page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post (2/8/09, page A15) and other major newspapers, to complain about having to cancel them.

Stumpf writes, "The funds to pay for recognition events such as these do not come from the government, They come from our profits. We believe our profits actually increase by rewarding and recognizing our best performers in sales and in service. Competition to be recognized inspires everyone to work harder and smarter. We're as frugal as any company in spending our shareholders' money thoughtfully and responsibly. " He finishes his letter by saying, "Since we aren't thanking our award winners in person this year, we'll have to do it this way. Thank you, all our 281,000 team members."

Mr. Stumpf - perhaps before you start figuring out how to spend your profits, you should figure out how to pay back the 25 billion dollars you took from the American taxpayers. These taxpayers are also your customers. People who are depositing their hard-earned money and paying their hardgotten loans back to your bank.

You have many customers - and shareholders as well, no doubt - who are currently unemployed, and would love to have an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas. But those won't be paid out of Wells Fargo's profits, will they?

Times are tough for the rest of us, Mr. Stumpf. Perhaps you don't quite have your finger on the pulse of American society from your ivory tower, but you might find it helpful to know that some people in this economy might find the kind of largess you'd like to extend to your employees to be - frankly - a little tacky.

This is not to say you can't recognize your best employees - A nice (although fully taxable) bonus check could do the trick without all of the PR hassles of planning lavish trips.

A little humility can go a long way. You made a good start by thanking all of your employees in a newspaper ad.

It's just too bad you had to spend the rest of your full page ad having a temper tantrum .

Perhaps this latest PR faux pas will end with your forced resignation.

In A Blog Fog

I know many people who blog. Some do it as part of their job. Some do it to vent their own political viewpoints. Some do it as a form of artistic expression.

I have friends who don't think anyone reads their blog. They blog simply to amuse themselves. I don't think that way. I've been a broadcaster since I was 13 years old. I publish in hopes that people will read it! And people won't read my blog if I don't give them something to read!

We've all been there... You start to read a blog with some semblance of regularity, then the blogger starts to post less frequently, and soon, you just forget to go back, and pretty soon, the blog's url falls right off of your radar screen, and you can't remember what it was called any more!

So, I live in semi-fear that if I let more than a day or two go between blog entries, I'm going to start to lose my audience. That's a problem when my idea tank starts to run a little low, and I can't find any filler material that's clever enough to bridge the gap between "real" blog entries.

I don't want to post any more Obama entries because I never wanted a political blog to begin with, and if I post any more entries about "Facebook", you all are going to want to send some cult intervention experts to my house. I've already blogged about all of my favorite TV shows, and I've been too busy working to write about about being unemployed (although I still am).

You know all about my brilliant son, Brad and my nagging wife, Robin. I could tell you more about younger son Spencer, who turned 11 yesterday (Happy Birthday, Spence!), but Spencer's main interests are Lego Bionicle and Webkins. Not much there for an adult reading audeince. But at least now I've told you about Spencer!

I would imagine this is akin to being a newspaper columnist. You have so many column inches to write, but you have no idea what you're going to say, and you have a deadline fast approaching.

So you dig down deep, pull something out of your ass and get the job done!

Like I just did.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

As Count Floyd Would Say... "Scareeey, Kids"!

It IS scary out here in the world of wanna-be-a-journalist-again! Retired (bought out) Washington Post editor Leonard Downie told an interviewer in this blog that things in the newspaper biz are just as bad as they are in radio...

He called the newsprint business "a cartel more efficient than the oil cartel," said there are newspaper companies that will disappear, leaving several cities without papers "this year" and that the newspaper business is "on its knees", unclear "whether or not it's going to continue" (but the Post will, maybe because they have a non-journalism business, Kaplan, that's making money.)

This establishment press Brahmin also believes "anyone can be a journalist" and compares bloggers with the printers in the American colonies, "providing journalism that's sometimes reliable, sometimes not. They're the original bloggers." But he doesn't like the phrase "citizen journalism." He thinks it's just one of those "faddish phrases" from the web world.

We are a "hide-bound, tradition-oriented profession," says the guy whose newspaper is a big part of that tradition. "We have to open ourselves up to all the possibilities, or we're going to die."

Len is spending the next year on a mission from Columbia University "to see if there are any models that look promising" in terms of paying and supporting a future for journalism. "Right now I just don't know."

My good friend and millennial, Jen Richer, is a cockeyed optimist. She sees a world where journalism does have a future... that the cream of the current crop of bloggers and hanging-on traditional journalists will rise from the ashes and form the next wave of journalism. Jen may very well be right about this, because frankly, her brain is wired for this coming generation, and frankly because she's spent much more time thinking about it than I have!

To me, I worry that opening the world to let everyone be "citizen" journalists through blogging means that no one is really a journalist. I'll admit that I don't know what the "next" business model will look like, but I'm still convinced that with so many bloggers in the work force competing for the same opportunities, salaries for journalists are going to plummet - and so is the quality of journalism.

Here's hoping Len Downie does find a workable, profitable model for journalism out there - one that pays a livable wage!

Bend It Like Beckham? GO GET BENT!

I don't know why this pisses me off. It just does.

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) - David Beckham wants to leave the Los Angeles Galaxy and stay with AC Milan after his loan to the Italian club is scheduled to end next month.
The 33-year-old English midfielder announced his intentions Wednesday after playing in Milan's 2-2 exhibition tie at Glasgow Rangers. His three-month loan is due to end March 8.
"At the moment my lawyers are not talking to the Galaxy," Beckham said. "But I have expressed my desire to stay at AC Milan now, and it's just down to Milan and Galaxy to come to an agreement."
"I have enjoyed my time here," he added. "I knew I would enjoy it but I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I have and do as well as I have."
Beckham is about two years into a $32.5 million, five-year contract with Major League Soccer. The Galaxy had no immediate comment.
"To be given the chance again to play at this level at my age is pretty incredible and I've enjoyed it so much I would like to continue it," he said. "I think people have seen the way I've been since playing at this level again."
"It's nothing against the MLS and the football over there because it's a game that will grow, but it will take quite a few years," he added. "I'm still confident that will happen eventually, but I want to have a chance of being involved (in the World Cup) in 2010 and I believe my best chance of doing so is to remain here."

David Beckham was brought into the Major Soccer League in order to raise the profile of soccer in the U.S., and he was given a TON of money to do so. He is the biggest star in his sport in the world, and he was given center stage in Los Angeles to do his thing.

The only problem is that while Beckham was eager to raise his profile and cash his checks, he was never particularly motivated to actually play soccer. I personally don't give a damn about the game, myself. But for Beckham to sign on for an uphill battle and then quit when he realizes his star power is probably not up the task - or that it is at least harder than he thought it would be - it just sucks.

It also speaks volumes about the man. America may or may not need soccer. But it definitely doesn't need David Beckham.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hump Day Stuff!

I have a few odds and ends to discuss today... My schedule is a little whack because I'm working the full week, which really screws with my routine of writing for free! Therefore, just a few quick thoughts...

  • It's a good thing President Obama banked a whole lot of positive love during the inauguration, because he's looking positively human this week! Obama is taking his punishment for picking top job nominees with shady tax problems like a man, but when he says "I screwed up", he's not merely falling on a sword. This mess IS his mess.

  • Loudoun County is spending 250, 000 dollars over two years for the right to call itself the official home of the Washington Redskins. I love the Redskins, but if I lived in Loudoun, I'd be calling my lawmakers and demanding an eviction! Nothing against the team... but do you really think any local jurisdiction has that kind of $$$ to throw around these days?

  • I gotta figure out a way to get a Metro to give ME money! Read this:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department has settled a lawsuit accusing Washington's transit agency of religious discrimination.

The complaint filed in federal court accused Metro of discriminating against a woman of the Apostolic Pentecostal faith because she was unable to comply with Metro's uniform policy.

Gloria Jones said she wasn't hired as a bus driver because her religious beliefs prohibit her from wearing pants, which are part of the uniform.The Justice Department announced Tuesday that Metro has agreed to pay more than $47,000 to Jones and $2,500 each to two others who say Metro didn't accommodate their beliefs.

  • And finally, Wells Fargo Bank has reluctantly cancelled a 12-night junket for its top employees in Las Vegas after lawmakers on Capitol Hill howled to the moon about it. Wells Fargo lost 2.3 billion dollars in the last quarter, but the funniest thing to me is that the bank tried initially to KEEP the trip. "Recognition events are still part of our culture," spokeswoman Melissa Murray said Tuesday afternoon. "It's really important that our team members are still valued and recognized."In previous years, top Wells Fargo loan officers were treated to performances by Cher, Jay Leno and Huey Lewis. One year, the company provided fortune tellers and offered camel rides, said Debra Rickard, a former Wells Fargo mortgage employee from Colorado who attended the events regularly until she left the company in 2004. Every night when employees returned to their rooms, there was a new gift on their pillows, she said. "I was amazed with just how lavish it was," Rickard said. "We stayed in top hotels, the entertainment was just unbelievable, and there were awards - you got plaques or trophies." Kevin Waetke, another spokesman for Wells Fargo, said the Las Vegas trip provided a "unique opportunity" for employees of Wells Fargo and newly acquired bank Wachovia Corp. "to focus on continuing to do all we can for U.S. homeowners."

I have an idea. I think I'm going to sue my Dad for failing to push me into the banking business when I was a child. How the heck did I miss out on this? Dad - expect to hear from my lawyer!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Paul Harvey Has A Bong, Too!

With everything in the news and on my blog recently about Olympics star Michael Phelps smoking a bong, it reminded me of a cleverly edited comedy bit that someone else put together - an ad in which legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey advertises a bong. If you are familiar with Mr. Harvey's work, I hope you will find this amusing. Mr Harvey's distinct delivery has made him a friendly target among people who like to edit audio for fun for decades...

And now... Paul Harvey News!

Obama Waxing Nostalgic!

For those of you who stopped watching SNL after the election... Here's a reminder of why the show still merits a spot on your TiVo!

The Woulda Coulda Shoulda Bowl

Before I offer my take on the Super Bowl, just one quick note about my previous entry concerning master stroker toker Michael Phelps... OK - He has fessed up to smoking the bong. Good. Confession is good for the soul. Having said that, I still don't think this is going to harm him beyond a little silly embarrassment. Phelps is still going to be one of the biggest stories of the 2012 Olympics. Do you really think his sponsors now are going to want to miss out on that payday? Dump Phelps at your peril! This will still be a non-story.

Now - Onto the Super Bowl - or as I like to think of it, the less-than-Super Bowl! I know that goes against the conventional wisdom, but this puppy was fraught with mistakes! I WILL grant you it was very exciting - it was, however, also very sloppy...

Perhaps I'm a little grumpy because I shoulda won my pool not once, but twice... but weird football took over and screwed me! I was playing in the Bernstein pool - one of those standard 100-square pools where everyone gets numbers to follow at random. I bought six squares, and five of them were dogs. But the sixth box was Cardinals 4, Steelers 0. At the end of the first half, the Cards were driving for a touchdown, and a score at the end of the half would have made it Arizona 14, Pittsburgh 10. I'd have won a hundred bucks! But no! The Steelers' James Harrison picks off the ball and returns it for a touchdown on the last play of the half!

Fast forward to the 4th quarter. Ben Roethlisberger fires a 20-yard bullet from his own end zone to complete a pass with less than 4 minutes left, giving the Steelers first down with a 20 - 14 lead. If that play stands and the Steelers run out the clock, I win a hundred bucks. But no! The Steelers are called for holding in the end zone, and it's a safety for the Cards instead!

Aside from my bad luck grumpness, here's what I saw:

  • This wasn't the Super Bowl - it was the Penalty Bowl! There were so many yellow flags on the field, I thought some of the fans' Terrible towels had blown away! It's tough to see a game - even one as exciting as this - to be decided by the zebras...

  • Was there anything else the NFL could have thrown out there? The only thing missing were the Obamas... Faith Hill... Jennifer Hudson... Bruce Springsteen... and the crew of the US Airways jet... It was a who's who of who's been in the news lately!

  • The best ad I saw was the Doritos ad with the crystal ball... And ad that ends with a guy getting it in the cojones will make me laugh!

  • The biggest letdown ad was the one for Monsters vs. Aliens... There were at least 20 of us sitting there watching with our stupid 3-D glasses on, and one of the kids calls out "When are they going to do the 3-D effects"? The effects were there, but they didn't amount to much.

  • I really enjoyed Springsteen, but it's clear the Boss isn't used to doing 12-minute sets without an applause break. After he crashed into the camera at the end of "10th Avenue Freezeout", Bruce was so out of breath, he didn't catch himself until the middle of the last song!

Otherwise, the food was good... The company was good... and the Cardinals didn't win - just as God intended it to be!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Phelps Wins (Acapulco) Gold!

This is allegedly a picture of Michael Phelps - the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time - sucking on a bong in South Carolina last fall... An outfit called "News Of The World" has posted this with a long article detailing Phelps' drug use on its website. Well, "detailing" is probably too strong of a word, considering it's filled with the typical "sources say" and "friends tell us". In any case, you can read the article here. I find this whole article to be pretty hilarious on several fronts...

First of all - How do we know this really IS Michael Phelps? We're getting a picture of a guy who is in profile - Slightly less than profile , in fact. You could photograph half of the dark-haired college students in America and come up with a shot that looks just like this.

Second - So what if it is Michael Phelps and so what if he is smoking pot? I highly doubt you're ever going to get an admission of it from him or his agents. The guy is worth a hundred million dollars in endorsements, and he's never going to get caught with a positive dope test. He's been handled way too well for that to ever happen. The whole world knew Phelps was going to take a break from training after Beijing, and in fact, he just went back to the pool a couple of weeks ago to start his preparations for 2012. If he got high a few times during his break - and again - it's not going to be proved that he did - you don't think the world will forgive him?

Third - The article claims that Phelps' reps offered to make Phelps a columnist for "News Of The World" for three years if they would keep the story from going to print... Yeah - I can see it now... Phelps' brands ... Visa... McDonald's... Kelloggs... News Of The World.

If you are tempted to get on your moral high horse about Michael Phelps, be my guest. But we live in a world now where people tend to believe what they see on the internet. Who needs verification of anything? I receive urban legends in my email constantly - sent to me by well-meaning friends and relatives who don't even take two minutes to investigate and determine that the story they are sending me is total b.s.

I would bet in this star-crazy world that if it was proved Michael Phelps is a stroker AND a toker, it would only stoke marijuana sales. Do we really want to push that? Until he Nicole Simpsons someone, Phelps is pretty much a Teflon guy, don't you think?

I highly doubt if Phelps "only" wins 4 or 5 golds in London that people are going to look back on this day and say it was the Pot that made Phelps go to pot.