March 2008


I’ve been seeing headlines today about this speech that Barack Obama made today about race. Didn’t read the articles, have no idea what he said, probably heard it all anyway, and I had other things to think about at the moment. So, when I get back to my desk, about to hunker down to some seriously tedious coding work, I do a quick google for a video of the speech to see what the buzz is all about.

I just finished listening to it – beginning to end.

Two words: Holy Crap! I think I have either completely changed my mind about Barack Obama, or someone slipped me the Kool-Aid at lunch. The most beautiful – and on target – speech I have heard out of the mouth of a politician since that speech in The American President (where Michael Douglas was our President and he had a gaggle of Hollywood writers on his staff). I’m sure Aaron Sorkin is lurking around behind the curtain somewhere…

If you haven’t seen it (Obama’s speech, that is — although “The American President” is good, too), you must. Unfiltered. Start to finish. No talking heads telling you what to think about it. Do it. Now.

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In my continuing effort to more properly understand the financial markets, I have come across two articles about printing and minting money – which, admittedly, have no financial-advice value but are awfully fun to read.

The first is an exposé of the cotton paper industry lobby successfully pushing their pro-paper agenda on the unsuspecting public, against all sanity and reason, when everyone knows that it is more cost effective to mint coins that will be in circulation longer than a dollar bill and we won’t have to worry about bill rejection from vending machines and car washes.

The second is a rather upsetting story about how the US penny ain’t worth the metal it’s minted on. Upsetting because the Canadian dollar is a coin and it is still worth more than a US dollar… damned Canadians…

Oh, it’s ON!

Brent found this feel-good article today and I had to post it. Fish are friends, not food.

I have held my tongue for a long time on this – longer than I thought I could, actually – but something today really set me off again. Today is Primary Day in Texas and Ohio, and once again we have another opportunity to see if Americans can fathom a woman in the White House over a man.

Jon Stewart Started It

Things are all time delayed here in good ol’ New Mexico, so we often see The Daily Show the night after it airs (or else we stay up till past midnight). Last night’s guest was Brian Williams, anchor of NBC News and frequent Stewart-sparring partner. Williams has a great sense of humor and usually their conversations with each other are fun to watch. Last night’s was no exception.

Stewart came right out of the gate and asked the question that all of America has been asking:

Which candidate are you biased against — Are you biased for Obama because you’re sexist or for Hillary because you’re a racist?

Well said. Because this really is the year the question is going to be answered, right? Since the 1960’s, women and people of color have been having this ongoing tension. Who’s more oppressed, women or blacks?

By the Numbers

Historically, black men have had the upper hand in U.S. politics.

“First” Black Men Women
Right to Vote 1870 – 15th Amendment 1920 – 19th Amendment
U.S. Representative 1870 – Joseph Rainey 1916 – Jeanette Rankin
U.S. Senator 1870 – Hiram Revels 1922 – Rebecca Felton
(Appointed – served 2 days)

1932 – Hattie Wyatt Caraway
(Elected)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice 1967 – Thurgood Marshall 1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor
Secretary of State 2001 – Colin Powell 2005 – Condoleeza Rice
(interestingly enough, a black woman

A cursory search for “woman ceo” and “african american ceo” finds Black Entrepreneur Profile and a Fortune Magazine article on the 50 Most Powerful Women 2007. Just from these, though, it is difficult to determine which group has more representation in the boardrooms of publicly traded companies. Even more difficult to parse are the numbers of entrepreneurs in each category, some of which, like Oprah, are the creators of their own image, brand, and position.

Still, one has to look at the totality of the situation, and I came to the conclusion a long time ago (long before Hillary became a senator) that this country will elect a black man well before it would elect a woman of any color. Now, admittedly at the time, I assumed the black man in question would be a Republican (a la Colin Powell) – someone with a strong military record and conservative values that middle-America could embrace.

However, as I’ve watched this current political race unfold, it is clearer to me than ever before that my prediction still holds true. Men are seen as more commanding, controlled, protective. More presidential. Women are seen as moody, waffling, indecisive. Pundits talk about Obama’s spark and refreshing message. They question Hillary’s cleavage, hair, whether she shed a tear on camera, or whether she is personable enough. Michelle Obama makes a stump speech for her husband and it barely gets air play. Bill Clinton makes a stump speech for his wife and every word is dissected for inferences of who will really be running the show if she is elected.

Do Twice as Well to be Seen as Half as Good

I don’t want to jump on Hillary’s bandwagon and say that there is a conscious media bias against her (or rather, in favor of Obama), but I do believe that the media coverage reflects a certain dismissive tone that resounds in the country about women. “She’s only a Senator because her husband was President.” “She’ll say anything to be President.” Or my personal favorite “She’s too ambitious.” God forbid a woman is ambitious…

As a candidate, Hillary has racked up a fairly impressive resume – Yale grad, first female partner at her law firm, strong health care advocate, Senator of New York. Really nothing to scoff at. My more conservative friends, however, hate Hillary more than Bill (with the opinion that she should have stayed in the White House and been a good social hostess rather than a political activist), and my more liberal friends are so whipped up in a tizzy about Obama that they dismiss Hillary as an also-ran.

He has the Equipment to do the Job

Obama, on the other hand, is the Golden Child. Fresh, new, exciting, inspirational. He opposed the war and ‘would have’ voted against it if given the chance, he says. Yet once he’s in office, he and Clinton vote almost exactly the same way – including on appropriations to continue funding the war in Iraq.

Oblivious to the obvious irony, Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama as “A President Like My Father”, stating “I want a president … who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards . . . .” Well, hate to break it to you, Caroline, but your father was a womanizing jerk. He may have inspired people to Believe, blah, blah, blah, but behind the scenes, he was a philanderer and a cad. JFK’s saving grace was that he had a cooperative media that covered up his indiscretions (heck, they would have baggged a hottie like Marilyn if they could have, too), and that he wasn’t in office long enough for the country to fall out of love with him (which happens to virtually all elected leaders over time).

No, I do not daydream about a world with Barack Obama as President. I’m not buying the hype. I believe that anyone who runs for president is flawed, by definition, so I’m suspicious of his words. He’s a politician. Period.

Instead, I relive the recent Democratic debates and interviews with the candidates with the genders flipped. I imagine her words coming out of his mouth and vice versa. And I try to imagine whether or not they sound as “Presidential” in her voice as they did his. Or does he sound more desperate with her script?

I also imagine the interviews about the candidates in the same manner. How it would sound for a Talking Head to talk about Obama’s chest skin showing. Would it be as damaging to or distracting from his message? If Obama Girl doesn’t distract from the message, then I’d think an unbuttoned Barack would be nothing. And how about another candidate being faced with the question from an audience member “How do we beat the (insert N-word here)?” Would that have caused more of an uproar? Would people be outraged? Would that politician have told that audience member to sit down and shut up?

I have determined that, once again, this country is not ready to elect a woman as President – any woman. No matter what his background or skin color, Americans (and most especially American women) look to men to lead. Men are protectors, women are nurturers. True or false, this mantra is ingrained in our culture, and any woman who attempts to step out of that role and achieve something different from this is simply too radical or untrustworthy for public consumption. Unfortunately, I don’t see this attitude changing by election day.

I’m finally catching up on my long backlog of Netflix, and watched Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room last night. Essential viewing.

Trust Us

To the layperson, the collapse of Enron was a confusing mix of back-door deals and swirling spreadsheet numbers. The average person couldn’t possibly understand all the intricacies. While that may be true, what I didn’t realize before I saw this documentary is that many of the execs that were cooking the books didn’t really understand it all either. That’s what was so train-wreck fascinating about the story. Here was a bunch of guys (and, for the most part, they were “guys” orchestrating it all at the highest levels. Sorry, Guys.) who were trying to find ways to increase the company’s stock price – as the stock price, of course, was their “true” indicator of success. So, they found clever and highly unethical ways of hiding their losses by having these dummy companies buy off their debt, thereby infusing the company with booked cash flow and shifting the debt onto some other poor company that will soon go under (by design).

But when they were faced with the simple question of “How does Enron make money?”, none of the executives – or anyone else, for that matter – could explain it. So they would dismiss the questioner by saying the corporate equivalent of “it’s so complicated, and we’re so smart, that you wouldn’t understand. Just trust us. We know what we’re doing.” Then they would lavish gifts, bonuses, and more lucrative business contracts onto those who supported Enron, and ruin the reputations of those who asked too many questions. In reality, they couldn’t really explain (and didn’t really know) how the company made its money.

Accomplice Liability – With a Little Help from Their Friends

This is where the chain of complicity starts. The accountants, lawyers, analysts, financial reporters, investment banks – everyone in the business looked at the books or the contracts or the economic indicators, scratched their heads, shrugged their shoulders, then rubber stamped their approvals in order to keep Enron’s business and continue getting the perks they were accustomed to, whatever form those perks took. No one asked questions, delved further, investigated more deeply to see how solvent the company really was.

Even the financial analysts, whose third-party, supposedly-impartial research of the company’s business dealings, couldn’t explain how Enron worked and they didn’t seem to care. It was just one big, rich Love Fest. Not good.

Question Authority

The first rule of investing is “Never put your money into something that you don’t understand.” The lesson of this story for investors is this – just because someone has a Phd, MBA, CEO, CFO after their name does not mean that they are smarter than you and that they know what they are doing. If they cannot explain to you in very simple terms how they make money and what their business model is, run away.

That was essentially the problem with those who lost everything in Enron, especially the employees. From the very start, they were encouraged to pour all of their 401K money into Enron stock – and with stock prices going up, up, up to a high of $90+ a share, who wouldn’t? But if you don’t know how your own company makes its money, then it’s a good sign that you won’t know when to cut your losses before it’s too late.

Oh, there are so many juicy layers to that Enron story, I can’t possibly hit them all here. The corporate culture, the greed, the lies, the downward spiral, the tapes, the weird corporate skits. I’ll leave the California energy crisis rant for another day. Just put this movie on your list. You just can’t make this crap up.