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Archive for February, 2011

Bring Back the Geezers

February 28, 2011 1 comment


Having watched the Academy Awards last night and read a sweet account of the life of the last surviving World War One veteran this morning, I have come to the conclusion that older is better, that “youth is wasted on the young” and that aged wines really do have more character.

The Oscars

It was an attempt to attract a younger demographic, we’re told; the only way to explain why 32-year old James Franco and 28-year old Anne Hathaway hosted the Oscars Sunday night. Oh, they weren’t horrible…just shoulder-shruggingly “eh.” Note to Oscar broadcast strategists- the younger demographic doesn’t really watch TV anymore.

I’ve given my fair share of speeches in my life and sometimes you have a line you think is hilarious but when you deliver it, people just sit there stony-faced, looking at you like a three-horned alien. This is what it came off like with Hathaway and Franco. Their writers were absolutely lame. Don’t get me wrong, they were a lovely couple; earnest as the day is long, hard-working and- not terribly interesting.

So most of the attention fell where it probably should anyway…on the movie industry and not the hosts. Short of bringing Bob Hope back from the dead, I vote for Steve Martin as the permanent host of Oscar night forever more.

Last World War I Veteran Dies

The Washington Post’s Paul Duggan has a lovely piece today on the passing of 110-year old, Frank W. Buckles, the last surviving veteran of World War I. What a class act, this guy. He spent about the last 60 of his years living in Charlestown, West Virginia on a 300-acre farm.

He faked his way into the Army enlisting at the age of 16. He accepted his role as the last living WWI soldier with grace and dignity. At the age of 108, he testified before Congress on refurbishing a memorial to World War I veterans.

“Frank was a history book in and of himself, the kind you can’t get at the library,” said his friend Muriel Sue Kerr. Having lived from the dawn of the 20th century, he seemed to never tire of sharing his and the country’s old memories – of the First World War, of roaring prosperity and epic depression, and of a second, far more cataclysmic global conflict, which he barely survived…

After the armistice, he traveled the globe as a purser on commercial ships and was caught in Manila when Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941. He endured 38 months of cruel deprivation as a civilian prisoner during World War II before being freed in a daring military raid…

He was an honored guest on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon and in the Oval Office. School children, history buffs, journalists, younger veterans, and even Britain’s defense secretary visited him at the farm, admiring him like a museum piece.

Frank W. Buckles drove ambulances during his stint in Europe so he escaped injury, but saw the devastation first-hand as he ferried the wounded to treatment. Just one hitch in the Army and no wounds and no medals usually mean your remains go in a vault at Arlington National Cemetery. The Bush administration ordered an exception for Mr. Buckles so he will get the white marble headstone he wanted.

I always love hearing longevity advice from folks like Frank W. Buckles and his was simple and to the point…”When you think you’re dying…don’t.”

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

February 23, 2011 1 comment


That’s psycho-speak for the rage you may feel when someone cuts you off on the highway. Apparently, it’s the same thing that’s at work when someone cuts you off on a sidewalk. That’s right- it’s the latest cause for worry: sidewalk rage.

It happens a lot in New York City as 1010 WINS reports here.

I’ve had the feeling myself; walking at a fast clip on a crowded street and running into a slow moving couple, a tourist with a camera—anybody not moving equally as fast as moi. Except I got my comeuppance and have, ever since, injected a little more sense of Zen to my gate.

I remember it was August, 2008. I was in a hurry, ran into an ambling, slow-walking elderly couple at La Guardia airport, muttered several obscenities quietly but fervently, shook my head and walked around them. I recall thinking to myself, “damn, I’ve become a New Yorker- officially now.”

I swear, within a week it was outdoor Salsa night at the Lincoln Center and there I was on a date, pretending to dance. This is not something I do well, especially without at least five drinks. Oh, I move. Move quite rapidly- they’re just not moves traditionally catalogued in the official catalogue of Salsa moves. And then it happened. Pop. The movement stopped suddenly. The knee had gone out.

At first, I tried to dismiss it. Man up, I told myself. Just a little knee sprain. I even met a friend for a drink at nearby Columbus circle a few hours later. Nope. That particular body part had just bitten the dust like some leaky radiator or snapped timing belt in a ’66 Chevy.

Soon there would be arthroscopic surgery, about 20% of my right meniscus shaved off, a month of walking with a cane and-voila- I had immediately been converted into a slow walker. I could hear the fast walkers cursing me as they sped up from behind. I watched as they did the impatient pass. I could hear the low grumble of the private curse.

And every time I thought of that old couple at La Guardia I had passed in a huff.

They say God works in mysterious ways. Well, I’m here to tell you that sometimes- it’s not mysterious at all.

Management & Labor- The Yin and Yang of the American Workplace

February 22, 2011 3 comments


I’m a management guy.  Yes, I once belonged to a union but I’ve spent most of the last 20 years of my life sitting on the opposite side of the table from labor unions.  Sometimes I have disagreed vehemently with them.  But I’ve never wanted to do away with their collective bargaining rights.

This business in Wisconsin and 14 other states where attempts are being made to end collective bargaining for public employees is puzzling to me.   While I’ve had my share of disagreements with unions, I have to tell you, when difficult financial times have hit a news organization I’ve worked with, they’ve almost always been cooperative; been willing to give something up- for the greater good.  It’s just not in their interests to bite the hand that feeds them.

I understand Governors having to get tough with government employee unions during this time when state budgets are mostly in the red.  But when unions are willing to make the concessions you need to help balance your state budget, why is it necessary to keep insisting they give up their hard-won rights to collective bargaining- the right to simply sit at a table, representing the interests of workers? 

I’ve just never seen unions as a threat.  Can they be a pain in the ass?  You bet.  Do they get a little greedy from time to time?  Yeah- but you don’t get if you don’t ask.  I’ve certainly never been afraid to say “no- go away.”   I understand that in modern America, most unions are not fighting against things like a 60-hour week or deplorable, fatal working conditions, child labor or sweat shops.  So instead, they fight for salary increases, pension contributions- stuff that 100 years ago would have seemed like fringe benefits.

But a world of management and unions is not a horrible thing.  Sometimes, they actually work together as partners.  It’s the yin and yang of doing business.  Unions have played a significant role in our history in helping to raise the standard of living for regular working men and women. 

Yeah, union rules can get a little picky and can be a hindrance to flexibility and innovation.  But union members- they’re my people.  These are the good folks who work for me.  They’re the folks who are in the trenches and make things happen, whether it’s making newscasts or building widgets.  In negotiations I’ll fight ‘em all day long and into the night if I have to.  But once we’ve crossed our differences and signed the bottom line, we raise our hands in unison because now it’s time to get the job done.  

But ending the right to collective bargaining?  That’s like showing up to play a ball game and making sure the other team can’t make it to the park.  What fun is that, for crying out loud?

Deficits R Us- A Guide to the History of U.S. Deficit Spending

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

 

You would think with all the angst about government red ink, that this is, somehow, a new thing in the history of this country.  There’s nothing new about it.  For more than a century now, we have been in deficit 70% of the time.

I’ve referenced DaveManuel.com,  a reputable newsletter on financial and Wall Street issues and trends.  Here are their deficit stats .

Here’s the big chart that tells you our deficit history at a glance for the last 72 years, from 1940 through now:

 

That’s 60 years in the red and only 12 in the black.  We had a better record of balanced budgets from 1900 to 1940; 18 years with a deficit, 20 without and 2 in which we broke even.   Total record over 112 years:

78 years with a deficit

32 years in surplus

2 years in which we broke even

Now, I’m no economist and I’m sure my analysis is both amateurish and superficial.  But there are several striking things that pop out at you when you overlay historical events over these deficit charts. 

When did we have our longest periods of budget surpluses? 

Well, we did quite nicely from 1920 to 1930.  And we did well again from 1998 to 2001.  What do these periods have in common?  Boom times.  When the economy was cranking along and people were getting rich left and right and government coffers were getting filled to the brim.

What about our worst periods of budget deficits? 

The period of 1931 to 1946 was a bad 15-year stretch.   Following the roaring 20’s of course, we hit the Great Depression and government spending increased dramatically to combat raging unemployment. On top of that, we funded World War II.

We had a brief period of balanced budgets in the late 1950’s and then went back into debt in a big way in the 1960s.  History shows us Lyndon Johnson was leading the Great Society initiatives and funding the Vietnam War all at the same time.

In fact, from 1961 until 1997…there’s only been one year we had a balanced budget.

So we went through 4 years of surpluses in the late 90s/early 2000’s and then what happened? 

Two things, we were attacked on 9/11 and the Republican version of LBJ.   Instead of Great Society programs, it was across-the-board tax cuts and we funded two wars; Iraq and Afghanistan- all at the same time.  And the next big spike?  The financial collapse of 2007-2008. 

When does deficit spending happen? 

I see three basic circumstances at play that determine our national balance sheet.

1) When we’re in boom times we’re remarkably good at balancing budgets. 

2) When wars and economic adversity hit, we spend like there’s no tomorrow but these are largely external events that we are reacting to.

3) When we fight wars and press for highly ideological agendas- like Democrats with the Great Society programs and Republicans with massive tax cuts.  These are deficits (and some would argue wars- Vietnam and Iraq) of our choosing.

Are deficits dangerous?

They can be if they get past a critical percentage of the size of your total economy.  The deficits we ran in the World War II era represented the largest percentage of deficits against GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in  history; between 21% and 30%.  Our current deficits, as big as they are, represent about 10% of our GDP.

Are we handing a history of deficits and doom to the next generation?

Yes and no.  Lest you feel sorry for all the red ink we’re handing our children, history shows us they’ll be ok because they will spend what they have to on their unforeseen wars, economic calamities and favorite government programs and then hand off the ensuing debt to their offspring.

When a Good Friend Passes

February 11, 2011 1 comment

That’s Jon Petrovich pictured above. My good, dear friend, my mentor- the man who took a chance on me 15 years ago and gave me a radio network to run. I owe this man everything. He died last night and I seriously need a drink right now.

Jon was so many things in his long and varied career but all too-short life. But, boy, did he live those 63 years. He was a Senior Executive and one of the early pioneers at CNN, an executive at Sony and the Associated Press; an academician, a visionary, a questionable golfer, the most loyal friend a man could have and a guy whose passionate love for his wife Karen and his kids and his grand kid knew no bounds.

When I first met Jon, he was a fellow member of the board of directors of the Radio Television News Directors Association. We became fast friends. In fact, it is with Jon that I had the single, most expensive dinner of my life. Windsor Court Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1993. Jon, then with CNN; Bernie Gershon, then with ABC; and me, then with CBS, invited three colleagues and we had the Chef’s dinner. This is where they set up a table for you in the kitchen, while the chef cooks and describes all ten courses and the alcoholic beverages that accompany each and every one of those ten courses.

The food was terrific, the company was divine, the drinks went down smooth and I want to personally thank CBS, CNN and ABC, who picked up the enourmous tab.  What can I say? It was a different time.

Jon hit the longest drive I’ve ever seen on a golf course. Unusual for him, because his tee-shots usually averaged about 150 yards. But on this day, that damn golf ball hit the cart path in the air and bounced again and again and again until it finally stopped, some 350 yards down the fairway. I’m pretty sure he missed the putt.

So he hired me to run the CNN Radio network in 1996. You know, there are about four people at any given time in this country who actually run radio networks. They don’t write manuals on how to do this stuff. But Jon trusted me. Maybe saw things in me that I didn’t even know I had. And God bless’ em- we kicked ass. We turned that thing from a 300-station lame-o-network and ended up with 1,700 affiliates and went from breaking even to making millions and turned it into the 2nd largest radio news network in America.

And when I was down on my luck, just laid off, sitting in a Manhattan bar on a grey winter day a couple of years ago and wondering how the hell I was going to get my life together again, there was Jon, having a drink with me, giving me tips and urging me on and being a friend. Not feeling the least bit sorry for me, mind you. Son of a bitch didn’t even pick up the tab. But he was there. Fifteen years after he’d hired me and had put his own damn reputation on the line because he believed in me- there he was again, reaching out and making me laugh.

Jon was a big man. Great dresser. Classy. Funny as hell. Brilliant businessman. Wise friend. I loved this man. My God– I am going to miss him.

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A more official accounting of Jon’s professional life from  247newsroom.com:

Jon was one of the executives who helped propel CNN into a world class news gathering operations. He was a guy who was part of a special group of characters who could dazzle you with their courage to experiment and make change – who could make you laugh for hours – and most of all, ‘Petro’ was one of the toughest businessman and news guys that I’ve had the honor to know and call my friend. Petrovich spent 15 years at CNN, including his time developing CNN interactive as well as responsibilities as the leader of Headline News and it’s airport network. He also served a stint as executive VP, international networks, for Sony Pictures Television, and president of the Turner Broadcasting System in Latin America. His list of career credits in broadcast news just go on and on. While many know Jon from his CNN days, he also spent a lot of time at local stations from Louisville, Detroit and Baltimore, where he was a News Director and to St. Louis as a GM.

Egypt: What a Day

February 11, 2011 1 comment

It’s been described as the most complicated chess match ever played. The behind-the-scenes maneuverings must have been something. What seemed like the end of the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak in the morning, turned instead into a confusing, meandering speech that left uncertainty- and the regime still reigning.

Even President Obama seemed to think something was up at a noon when he told a crowd in Michigan that “we are witnessing history unfolding.” CIA chief, Leon Panetta, told a congressional hearing it appeared Mubarak was on his way out. But it turned out he was relying on news reports not actual intelligence.

Not that those news reports were without foundation. From the Washington Post:

Crowds had thundered their approval when Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo region, strode into the square and declared: “All your demands will be met today.”

Anticipation soared even higher when Egypt’s supreme military council announced that it had convened an emergency session – in their commander-in-chief’s absence. In a statement, the military chiefs pledged “support for the legitimate demands of the people” and also “to oversee their interests and security.”

And five hours later, Mubarak gave his speech.

The Egyptian Ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shouhkry, says definitively that Mubarak has transferred all authority to his Vice President. Apparently that leaves Mubarak as some kind of paternal figurehead. And the protestors are livid.

Friday may tell the tale. It appears the Egyptian Generals, for now, have sided with the regime. And what of the soldiers, who after all, are taken from the ranks of the citizenry; will they fire on angry protestors if they decide to charge the Presidential compound? Will the soldiers obey the orders of their officers? Has the regime deliberately provoked the protestors in an effort to clamp down and declare it is acting in the interests of public order?

Lives and liberty will be on the line Friday in the streets of Cairo.

My Favorite Super Bowl XLV Moments

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment


Did I get the Roman numerals correct?  Those crazy Romans.  There must be a better way.  Oh, yeah…numbers.  Anyway, here are some of the highlights of the evening as I remember them and I wasn’t even tipsy.

The WTF Moment

Christina Aguilera gave us a moving rendition of the National Anthem.  She was, like, totally into it.  Wait, what…what was that…did she just…OMG…what happened to the ramparts…what happened to the broad stripes and bright stars that gleam so gallantly?  Did I really just hear that? 

And in that moment, $19.95 a month for DVR playback capabilities finally paid for itself.   It was not me…it was HER.

A-Rod Gets Fed Popcorn

Much has been written about this unforgettable moment in Super Bowl history; when the Fox cameras did a sweep of celebrities in their luxury boxes, texting, looking bored and feeding each other popcorn.  Wait.  Was that?  Was that Cameron Diaz feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn?  Isn’t it usually peeled grapes? 

This was, apparently, a masculinity faux paus of the worst order.  I understand women think this was cute and men thought it was—yucky.  Man hungry.  Man eats food himself.  Man feeds woman.  Woman does not feed man.  Hello?  Caveman 101.

I Will Never Eat Doritos Again

Someone on Madison Avenue thought it was cute or funny or something to have people licking the leftover, orangy-yellowish, salty remnants of Doritos off other people’s fingers?  This was the most disgusting Super Bowl commercial ever.  Not only will I not buy Doritos again but if one, somehow, ends up in my mouth, perhaps fed to me by a beautiful movie star, I will not even lick my own fingers ever again. 

I Will, However, Be Drinking Pepsi Constantly

The first date ads were…honest.  I like the girl thinking, “Does he want to have kids?”  And the guy “Will she sleep with me?”   I understand there’s a sequel to this spot in which the girl leaps from the table, opens her date’s mouth, and forces an entire can of Pepsi down his throat.

The Black-Eyed Peas

It must be generational.  My older friends say they didn’t get it, didn’t like the half-time show at all and left their living rooms to do something else.  My younger-minded friends loved it and thought the show kicked ass.  I loved the choreography, the fact there was no fake mosh pit full of screaming idiotic fans and that Fergie wore a dress that went approximately 24 inches above her knees.

The Game

Though it kept interrupting the commercials and the celebrity camera shots, the Super Bowl itself, proved entertaining in its own right.  Bravo, gladiators!  Well done.