Thursday, July 28, 2011

playing politics…….

David Copperfield would have trouble following the sleight of hand going on in the budget debates going on in Washington, D.C. 

With an Armegeddon date of August 2, markets are failing, the dollar is falling, the economy is listing, and people are wondering about their futures, while our “leaders” play political chicken.

So, while our “leaders” are spending all of their time sending messages back home, that they’re very serious about spending cuts, deficit reduction, and taxes, they’re all winking and nodding, knowing the end result will be a debt ceiling extension. 

People are dying in other countries defending our freedom.  People are losing their homes.  People are losing their jobs.  We are losing our respect throughout the world. 

But, the very most important part of this is that our politicians get re-elected, that they can say the fought the good fight, that it’s not their fault, that it’s the other guy who’s the bad guy, that they are worthy of my vote.

Thomas Jefferson must be very proud.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

there’s something wrong with this….

A friend of mine called me the other night. 

I asked him how he was doing.  “Great!”, he said, “I just turned 65.”

He proceeded to tell me he’d just had some cancerous spots removed from his ankle (he plays golf a lot and apparently doesn’t wear socks).  And apparently, he’d been to the doctor for other things for which they gave him pills.

So, why was he doing great with all of this medical stuff going on? 

“It was free!”, he said.  “I didn’t pay a nickel.  I asked how much I owed and they said nothing!  Nothing!”

And there’s the rub.  My friend could pay.  He could pay at least some.  But, our all-or-nothing system doesn’t allow for that.  We have to take it, no matter how much we have.  It’s sort of like the Academy Awards with those little gift bags everywhere. 

It seems when you turn 65 in this country, pills fly like confetti at a parade; all those frowns at the admissions desk turn into smiles.  I wonder if they bake you a cake.

There is something wrong with this system.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

and sometimes I just sits…..

“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits” –Satchel Paige

It seems Satchel Paige may have had it right.  To sit.  To think.  To relax.  Those are traits we seem to have forgotten.

A good friend of mine told me she loves to go to the bookstore, to feel and smell the books, to sit, to relax, to breath.

The loss of retailers up and down Main Street has left us with less of that, the ability to peruse, to browse, to linger.  Yes, it’s easier to touch the keypad and get it delivered to the door, but the social process of shopping is leaving us.

“What do you think?”, those words heard so often when trying something on, or flipping through greeting cards, are gone.   Who do you ask for approval on that just right purchase?

We’re heading into eternity at warp speed.  Why are we in such a hurry?  Why does it need to be now?  Why can’t we just sit and relax?  Why can we just sits?

I think I’ll do that now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

the death of a retailer….

So, I went to the going out of business sale of Borders Books yesterday somewhere near Washington, D.C.  I was with my daughter, Cortney and her new fiance Jimmy.  It was hot outside and we were looking for something to do before they dropped me off at the airport.Borders

This is a scene that is happening far too often these days.  As a sort of evolution in retail, the big bad Borders, the book retailer shark that ate the small retail bookstore, was eaten themselves by even bigger sharks like Amazon and all of the dotcoms out there.  It seems we might want to see a new version of “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks’ bookstore being the sympathetic victim.

Any kind of retail is difficult.  But now, with warp speed developments in technology changing how people get information and shop, it is damned near impossible.  Profit, that thing that no consumer wants to pay, but the necessary element of successful retail, is more and more difficult to achieve with ever more transparency.

It used to be that you paid the price of the local merchant, who probably bought his wares from a distributor, who in turn, purchased his stuff directly from the manufacturer.  It was a system that worked well for a long time.

Then, retailers determined they could buy better by forming cooperative groups to buy directly from manufacturers, using the buying power of the group, but still having inflated costs through inefficient logistics.

And then, we started to see the mega retailers (Wal-Mart, Target), who not only purchased from these manufacturers, but delivered enough scale to dictate the terms of the sale.  They decided how much they would pay and it was up to the manufacturer to meet those demands, or they would simply buy from someone else.

You would think it would end there.  But, it won’t.  Information is too prevalent, too available.  Some manufacturers are selling directly to their consumer, controlling the message, the price and the sale from beginning to end.  Ever heard of Apple, the company sitting on a ridiculously crazy $76 billion in cash?

So, as we think of how sad it is to see Borders going down the tubes, it is just a part of retail evolution.  And, one day we will mourn the demise of Apple.   That’s just how things work.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

who’s in charge?……..

A few days ago, I went by a sign that said something about cigarettes being on sale for $6.57 a pack.   Because I’m a non-smoker, I’ve never really thought about cigarettes, what a pack of them costs, and why people continue to smoke.  $6.57! 

Now, I know the vast majority of the cost of those things goes to pay off the settlements with the states that measure in the billions of dollars for each state.  No wonder they need to get $6.57 a pack. 

And, I also know the states really don’t get that money anymore, because all of them were standing at their windows yelling “It’s my money and I want it now!”  So, they all took their structured settlements and went to J.G. Wentworth and settled at pennies on the billions of dollars. 

The city of Chicago sold all of their parking spaces and Illinois sold its toll roads.  They even sold the Skyway.  They must be very smart, selling off all of the revenue producing assets and keeping the ones that produce zippo.  Even Indiana sold its toll road.

What was supposed to be punishment for something that kills people, turned into a revenue drug.  What was supposed to be something that paid off road construction on a user basis, has now been leveraged to the hills.  And those machines that take your money in quarters for the right to squat your car in downtown Chicago now belong to the suits.  Free parking on Wednesday?  Not on your fat wallet.

So, as our state and federal legislators figure out how to pay for the ever burgeoning gap between revenue and expenditures, I’m wondering the same thing.  How are we going to fix this mess?

It seems the people we elect to protect our interests are pretty bad business people. 

And, that got me to thinking.  What if the guys who are able to sell a product that kills you for ten times what it cost a few decades ago, or at least makes you sick, is illegal in most public places, can’t be advertised, and makes you smell bad…What if they were in charge?