Adding Some White Space Back into Your LIfe!

See this post on zenhabits about adding a bit of white space in your life. Slow food comes to mind. Just chilling on a weekend with a great book in a big overstuff chair. A quiet walk along the ocean. Just driving with the radio – and cell phone – off. That kind of thing.

Way back when I was a busy executive with a seemingly endless stream of meetings being dropped on my calendar by others, I finally made a change that worked well for me in adding back in a bit of white space during a busy work day.

I asked my assistant to only schedule meetings on my calendar that lasted at least 90 minutes. Of course the default meeting is an hour – but often it’s not quite long enough. If you are booked back to back, you’ll be in a catchup frenzy all day.

By switching to the 90 minute meeting minimum, I often had some white space remaining at the end of my meetings – to just do some thinking or, heaven forbid, return phone calls!

Which reminds me, this blog’s design could sure use some white space! It’s on my list – one of these days a redesign will pop!

The Hard Part

So, now the hard part comes re: AIG.

Not the bonuses to the AIG FP folks – but, rather, AIG’s passthrough of billions of dollars of emergency federal funding to “the coffers of several dozen big banks, shielding them from losses.”

And AIG didn’t just pass the billions through to American banks – but “Société Générale of France and Deutsche Bank of Germany, each of which received nearly $12 billion, Barclays of Britain, which received $8.5 billion, and UBS of Switzerland, which received $5 billion.”

The magic phrase: 100 percent on the dollar. Why? Who’s in charge of this debacle, anyway?

Is This the Best You Can Do?

Years ago, I remember reading a memoir of Henry Kissinger. Frankly, my memories are probably more apocryphal than factual at this point – but the story’s still a good one – so read on! I’ve told this story at least a thousand fifty times to friends and colleagues. The theme of this particular story is about how you get to the best possible result. Steve Jobs also seems to know a lot about this – but he hasn’t written his memoirs!

In the book, Kissinger tells a story about how he dealt with new senior staffers at the State Department. At some point, they’d have to bring forward to the Secretary of State a briefing document on their particular area of focus. Kissinger’s brilliance was how he handled those initial document reviews – setting a special tone for that new relationship.

Instead of just reading the briefing document, Kissinger wouldn’t bother to read it at all – instead, he’d simply write on the first page: “Is this the best you can do???” and send it back to the staffer.

You can imagine the new staffer’s reaction when the briefing document came back with that comment on the cover. So, that staffer would get immediately to work to make it even better, refining their arguments, double checking the facts, etc. And, then, send it back up to Kissinger.

Kissinger would, of course, notice that the follow-up briefing document had arrived. This time, again not bothering to read it, he’d simply write on the cover “Is this REALLY the best you can do???”

Wow, you can imagine the staffer’s deflated ego when that briefing document arrived back on their desk. That staffer would again, in earnest, go back to work to make this briefing as perfect as they could make it. And, this time, the staffer would actually schedule an appointment on Kissinger’s calendar to hand deliver the briefing to Kissinger in his office.

In his office, Kissinger would ask the staffer verbally one more time – “Is this the best you can do???” “Absolutely,” the staffer would respond. Kissinger would reply: “Good, then now I’ll read it.” Wow!

I’ve been upset about the whole AIG bonus situation – and have posted here earlier about it. But I do think that Gerald Seib has a good point in his column in tomorrow’s Wall St. Journal when he says:

When the House passes, as it did Thursday, a tax bill designed specifically to extract money from 73 individuals who took large bonuses from AIG’s financial-services unit, it’s pretty clear that things have gotten out of hand.

Obama seems to be ready to sign this legislation – assuming it survives in some form in the Senate. There’s a huge wave of citizen anger that’s descended on our representative in Washington about the AIG bonus situation. No surprise that.

But, instead of just signing this legislation, I think Obama should send it back to the Hill – a veto – with a scrawled note on the cover: “Is this REALLY the best you can do???” Because it’s not their best. Clearly and simply, it’s not. And the representatives of the people in this representative democracy need to do better – much better indeed.

How to Reduce the US National Debt

Rep. Barney Frank’s House Committee on Financial Services is holding a hearing this Wednesday, March 18: “American International Group’s Impact on the Global Economy: Before, During, and After Federal Intervention” featuring AIG CEO Ed Liddy.

The committee should move the venue to the Kennedy Center and sell tickets to the highest bidder. The event will obviously be a complete sell out!

The committee could then take the circus event on the road, booking the biggest venues in cities and towns across the country. Since the Feds own and control AIG, they can simply change Mr. Liddy’s schedule to ensure his full and complete participation.

AIG: Inmates Running the Asylum

Bob O’Brien has a great Stocks to Watch column on Barrons.com this morning titled “Inmates Run The Asylum: The AIG Story“. I particularly enjoyed this part:

Congress said it is upset. Repeat: Congress is upset. Representative Carolyn Maloney said she has been ”asking for this information for months.” And then characterized the disclosure as, effectively, a good start? This is the equal of a guy falling off a 30-story building commenting, as he passed the 20th floor, ‘’so far, so good.”

Well said!

The AIG FIrestorm Leaps the Firebreaks

Earlier today, I suggested the sun needed to shine on AIG and its counterparty dealings. Late today, AIG disclosed an initial list of its counterparties – see this NY Times report.

Now that the sun shine has begun peeking through the AIG fog, what do we learn? Essentially, that a significant chunk of the US government’s bailout funding of AIG was passed through in the form of billions of dollars to AIG’s counterparties.

At the top of the list – Goldman Sachs which received $12.9 billion. Next, Société Générale of France and Deutsche Bank of Germany, which each received nearly $12 billion. Barclays (UK) received $8.5 billion, Merrill Lynch ($6.8 billion), Bank of America ($5.2 billion), UBS of Switzerland ($5 billion), Citigroup ($2.3 billion) and Wachovia ($1.5 billion).

The article goes on to note that “A.I.G. also named the 20 largest states, starting with California, that stood to lose billions last fall because A.I.G. was holding money they had raised with bond sales.”

On tonight’s 60 Minutes broadcast, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke commented about the AIG situation and how it provoked in him the most outrage of any of the issues in this financial crisis. From the transcript:

“Let me just first say that of all the events and all of the things we’ve done in the last 18 months, the single one that makes me the angriest, that gives me the most angst, is the intervention with AIG. Here was a company that made all kinds of unconscionable bets. Then, when those bets went wrong, we had a situation where the failure of that company would have brought down the financial system,” Bernanke said.

Our government – indeed, us – has had to provide over $160 billion in funds to AIG – so that AIG could pay off its counterparties – at full price. It’s absolutely unconscionable how this a) could have ever happened and b) was allowed to continue to operate in this fashion.

Unfortunately, today has been a very sad day for America – among too many others heretofore in this crisis. We finally know a bit about where our bailout money has gone – and it really doesn’t feel very good.

I’m not really sure who’s running the show these days with respect to providing AIG management oversight. The AIG website still lists this board of directors as being responsible for corporate governance. Perhaps they’d like to provide us all a deeper perspective on the current AIG situation? And, why do they feel that Ed Liddy continues to be the right leadership for this firm at this time? How about giving us all an AIG State of the Union message – to the public shareholders who now own 80% of this company?

Frankly, I’m firmly in the camp with our Fed chairman – very angry at how AIG was allowed, by its board and management, to get us all into this ridiculous situation. Lots of difficult questions remain to be answered and many adjustments need made to prevent anything like this happening again in the future.

The AIG Firestorm Spreads

Wow, there’s a real firestorm spreading among the public following last night’s news about AIG paying hundreds of millions in bonuses to members of its Financial Products team (the group that got them into difficulty).

Watching Twitter this morning was pretty amazing – a steady, real-time stream of complaints and anger at the sheer tone deafness of this action.

Listening to KGO this morning, host Brian Copeland was re-telling the story of how his grandmother got taken to the cleaners by American General, an insurance subsidiary of AIG. Reactions from his listeners were predictably angry.

Meanwhile, the New York Times picked up the theme from a week or two ago – asking again why we still don’t know who the counterparties have been that received billions of the bail-out money the government has provided to AIG. The editorial was blunt:

The secrecy is unacceptable. Taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

Gretchen Morgenson writes in her article titled “At A.I.G., Good Luck Following the Money” in the Times today that “the counterparties have received 30 percent of the $170 billion allocated to A.I.G.”

It’s time to let the sun shine in on this mess.

Deeply Disappointing!

Earlier today, I was struck (and briefly posted to Twitter about) the juxtaposition between Peggy Noonan’s article about the Marines doing things right regarding their investigation and subsequent actions taken following last December’s F-18 crash in San Diego and yesterday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing at which Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn declined to identify the AIG counter-parties who benefited from the Federal government’s bailout of AIG.

In a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington on Thursday, Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn declined to identify AIG’s trading partners. He said doing so would make people wary of doing business with AIG.

Frankly, who cares – at this point – about whether anyone is “wary of doing business with AIG”?

After getting so agitated about it, I used the Fed’s website to send an email message to the Board – I suspect my email is just one of thousands they’re receiving and, unfortunately, likely mostly not reading.

Anyway, tonight’s Wall St. Journal headline from tomorrow’s edition “Top U.S., European Banks Got $50 Billion in AIG Aid” just confirms my worst fears.

This is nonsense. Sheer nonsense. Come on, Mr. Kohn, let the sun shine in!

Why Doesn’t Costco.com Use Fulfillment by Amazon?

So, my question is why doesn’t Costco.com use Fulfillment by Amazon? Here’s the reason I’m asking this question: When I recently purchased a new Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR from Amazon.com, I also wanted to buy an accompanying 16 GB CompactFlash memory card to use with it.

[Update: a correspondent recommends the Transcend TS32GCF133 133x 32GB Compact Flash Card instead for the Canon 5D Mark II.]

As it turns out, trying to buy this simple memory card sent me back down one of my least favorite Amazon.com “rabbit holes” – that of not being able to find the item I’m looking for as being sold directly by Amazon. Instead, Amazon presented me with listings from a bunch of third-party sellers who are selling this memory card through the Amazon platform. Grrr.

Continue reading “Why Doesn’t Costco.com Use Fulfillment by Amazon?”