You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Business’ category.

BondSellersDuring the 2013 New York City mayoral race, LE asked candidates Joe Lhota and Bill De Blasio if NYC could go the way of Detroit? Both said, unequivocally,”no.”

Last night we asked an institutional investor the same question. He said that he recently “unloaded” all of his New York City paper.

ValrhonaWhiteValrhona, the premier French chocolate producer, is out with a new white chocolate — “Opalys,” and the first blond chocolate — “Dulcey.” Both are terrific in cocktails and pastries.

ValrhonaChef1

Q'sNutsQ’s Nuts is an artisan nut company based in Somerville Mass., owned by husband and wife team Beth and Brian Quinn.

They put a lot of smiles on the faces of New Yorkers at the New York Wine Expo — with their amazing selection of flavored nuts.

Tokens&Icons (2)“Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimited idea of freedom…and precision flying is a step toward expressing our real nature…everything that limits us we have to put aside.” Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, 1970

The philosophy of Richard Bach has many adherents in the United State — including some who think ‘absolute freedom’ is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. American innovation and mythology, expressed in aviation — both commercial and military, also connect with that thinking.

Tokens & Icons, based in Berkeley, California, is tapping into aviation nostalgia with original parts from a Pan Am Airways Boing 707 and Grumman F-4 — that have been chopped into a collection of artifacts, ranging from cuff-links to desk-art.

SanctuarySpringThe New York International Gift Fair opened today at the Javits Center, and will run through Jan. 30.

Sanctuary Spring got our attention with cards made by former sex-trade workers in the Philippines.

WilburRossLE ran into American investor Wilbur Ross at the Winter Antiques Show, and asked him where he saw the U.S. economy going? “Sideways!” was his reply.

Commentary: One reason the U.S. economy is going ‘sideways’ is because small businesses can’t keep up with rent inflation — added to by private equity firms and REITs (real estate investment trusts).

LED/LCD TVs, for under $300, were flying out of this Best Buy in Queens, NY today.

At this year’s Chocolate Show, $8 for a 1.75 oz. bar of chocolate is a bargain. Pacari, from Ecuador, has 1.75 oz. bars for $20. Given the medicinal properties of serious chocolate some would say that is still a bargain.

There were a number of U.S. chocolate businesses represented at the show — that are innovating and making excellent products, which is good because as inflation continues to grow cocoa beans may become a new form of currency, as they were with the Aztecs.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

 

MailegMaileg, the ‘Danish lifestyle design company’, is a strong presence at this year’s New York International Gift Fair.

In business since 1999, Maileg has a contemporary collection for Christmas and Easter, as well as a contemporary collection for children. Their creative director Dorthe Mailil (lower photo) was on hand today.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

Seth “Yossi” Siegel, Co-Founder & Partner, Sixpoint Partners gave the keynote presentation at the 2012 New York Nonprofit Conference.

Presenting to a room full of fundraisers, Mr. Siegel talked about the philosopher Martin Buber’s view that there were two kinds of relationships — “I-Thou and I-It.” In the I-Thou relationship “we are one — with a shared destiny.” Whereas, in the I-It relationship everything is “transactional”, with at least one party being objectified. He said that every encounter has the opportunity to be an I-Thou or an I-It. “And the challenge is to constantly remind ourselves of the humanity of the person with whom we are engaged.” He suggested that putting into practice I-Thou leads to “living a healthy and satisfying life.”

David M. Rubenstein, Co-Founder & Managing Director, The Carlyle Group (third from right), was the keynote at Japan Society’s 2012 Annual Dinner.

Gillian Tett, US Managing Editor, Financial Times (center), was the Master of Ceremonies. LE asked Ms. Tett if QE3 was on the way? She said: “I think it may be.” Back on April 3, 2012 Financial Times contributor Gavyn Davis wrote a column, “Why the Fed has Taken QE3 off the Agenda.”

Commentary: Printing money is too easy (like predator drone strikes and preemptive cyber-warfare), and continues to replace ‘broad-based policy’ in addressing US problems — with little or no concern for long term consequences.

David Rubenstein told a ballroom filled with Japanese businessmen, “the US is not in a recession” and “the government will take the steps necessary to keep the US out of a recession.” He added that “private equity is an important part of the US economy” — increasing efficiency for companies and profits for fund managers. He said the government can’t be counted on to solve the nation’s problems, but the private sector can — contradicting his earlier claim that the government can keep the country out of a recession. He then said: “God’s work must be our work, the private sector can do God’s work” — and then added that Private Equity activity in Japan is 10% what it is in the U.S. “Japan can’t be insular,” he said. It should take advantage of the higher priced yen and invest in the US and Europe.

Private equity firms are toxic for America and the world. Japan would do well to avoid them. Mr. Rubenstein said that he tells Japan’s officials the same thing he tells Ben Bernanke, Chaiman of the Federal Reserve Board, “If you are are worried about deflation bring me in, and I will get it up.”

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Artwork: Makoto Aida

Blackstone Group, a New York-based private equity firm and owner of Hilton Worldwide, has raised over $10 billion this year for a new property fund that will invest in distressed property assets.

Given the amount of debt on the books for Hilton ($16 billion+), one has to believe that it too qualifies as a distressed asset.

It is pension funds, endowments, foundations and taxpayers that take the hit, when Blackstone and other private equity firms restructure and default on their debt obligations.
In 2010 Blackstone defaulted on Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town & Peter Cooper Village (110 buildings and 14,000 apartments) — an asset they acquired largely with pension fund money in 2006. CalPERS (California Public Employee Retirement System) lost at least $500 million. Some have put the figure at $3 billion+.

In 2008 Blackstone CEO, Stephen A. Schwarzman, donated $100 million to the New York Public Library.

In 2010 LE asked Senator Charles Schumer about the Stuyvesant deal, and how it was approved? He disavowed any connection with it, saying it was all Bloomberg’s doing.

America has historically been a place for builders. Today ‘creative destruction’ is holding sway, with Private Equity and ‘bought’ bureaucrats making the people pay.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

International investor Jim Rogers spoke at the Global Ag Investing conference Apr. 24. With his usual candour Rogers said the U.S. is the “largest debtor nation in the history of the world” — and added that 30-year U.S. Treasuries are a “ludicrous” investment.

Mr. Rogers is bullish on Ag investing — predicting that the coming years would see “stock brokers driving taxis and farmers driving Lamborghinis.” But the question is who are the farmers? With Wall Street and institutional investors getting into the Ag space, the family farm is giving way to management teams — intent on maximizing efficiency and returns in ways that are often counterproductive for society.

Rogers said the average age of farmers is 66 worldwide (because young people are opting for MBAs over farming). He added that some are committing suicide because of the drudgery of the work. The implication being that a void exists for new operators to get in and run the farms.

Commentary: In places like the Punjab province of India many farmers have committed suicide in recent years (17,638 in 2009), not because of the drudgery of their work but because they were crushed by overwhelming debt — having been compelled by corrupt government officials to purchase fertilizer, pesticides and seeds not of their choosing.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

Baccarat is out with a new line of crystal glasses. According to their press release “the revolutionary crystal glases from the new Chateau Baccarat Collection reveal the complexity, richness and sublety of wine better than any other glass yet created.”

Anthony Dias Blue was on hand at the recent launch event for the Collection. The stemware was created in conjunction with Bruno Quenioux.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Wells Fargo Bank teamed up with South Asian Young Women Entrepreneurs (Say We) to help launch “Amrita Singh Penthouse”, the designer’s new home collection of hand crafted mosaic decor, at the start of New York’s Fashion Week.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

John Frank VP, Deputy General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation addressed last week’s LegalTech Conference in NYC with a talk called: Ethical Business in a Global Economy: Preventing Corruption and Bribery.

According to Mr. Frank, U.S. prosecutors and corporations are increasingly aggressive in enforcing the 1977 US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, related to US corporations paying foreign government officials to facilitate doing business in their countries. Last year the Department of Justice issued fines of $4 billion related to such activity, up from $2 million in 2002.

Mr. Frank’s remarks sought to promote the building of compliance programs within organizations, to prevent and detect corrupt payments in global businesses, presumably with the help of Microsoft software.

Mr. Frank did not mention the same types of payments being made to US government officials, for whom compliance means pay-to-play.

MadPax, a Phoenix, Arizona based company, has evolved the backpack with what they describe as “3D inspired backpacks and power pack-cessories that are the perfect fusion of fashion and funk-tionality. These unique packs allow kids of all ages to express themselves and their inner creature with the pouches, pockets and zippered capacity that makes no concession to utility.”

Tina Huber, company Co-Founder, models a pack at the New York International Gift Fair.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

November 16, the Ad Council honored Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, PepsiCo, with its 58th Annual Public Service Award at its Annual Dinner.

Ms. Nooyi was introduced by Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO, Comcast Corporation, and lifelong Coke drinker — who said during his introduction that he had “made the switch…”

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Wall Street analyst Meredith Whitney addressed the FICO 2011 World Conference today in NYC.

In the fairy tale Puss in Boots, Puss, a cat, turns an ogre into a mouse and then devours it. Perhaps there are parallels to the way Ms. Whitney has taken on Wall Street in recent years.

Dr. Mark Green (photo), FICO CEO, spoke before Ms. Whitney, and then joined her for a discussion on the economy — specifically housing. In his presentation, Dr. Green said home prices won’t get back to pre-recession levels until 2020. Saying that consumer spending represents 70% of GDP, he added that “consumers got us in (to the recession) they will get us out.” Green said the recession was caused by “sub-prime lending to a high risk population.”

Ms. Whitney countered by saying “so many things led to the credit crisis — ‘structural stupid’ — so deeply rooted.” She said “any quick fix to housing confounds me.” But she believes that “raising interest rates immediately,” to stop distorting reality, is necessary. According to her stats, 22.5% of U.S. mortgages were underwater in 2Q11.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

At a recent Business Writers conference, Larry Leibowitz, COO, NYSE EuroNext described the iconic NYSE on Wall Street as “our facade.” And indeed it has become just a facade. Gone are the days of brokers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange doing orders manually.

What exists now, behind the reassuring facade, are ‘dark pools’ — with high frequency trading, credit default swaps and participants around the world forming a financial smart grid — of ‘bettors.’ Rather than reducing risk and making society better, the bettors have taken the world hostage.

The fact that governments and sovereign wealth funds are complicit in the unregulated world of dark pools and credit default swaps is a clear and present danger to the world’s economy. The Wall Street collapse of 2007-8 did nothing to change the world’s relationship with credit default swaps.

Filmmaker Holly Mosher with Muhammad Yunus, this evening, at a screening of her film: Bonsai People — The Vision of Muhammad Yunus.

Mr. Yunus calls poor people ‘bonsai people’ because “there is nothing wrong with their seed — society never gave them space to grow.”

In 1976, Mr. Yunus began loaning small amounts of money to poor women in his native Bangladesh — pioneering what would become known as ‘micro-loans.’ By 1983 the Grameen bank was formed and has since loaned billions of dollars to millions of poor women around the world. In 2006 Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize. In March of this year the prime minister and High Court of Bangladesh removed Yunus from the Grameen bank because of his age but also criminal allegations. The future of Grameen bank is uncertain. However, Mr. Yunus is involved with 40 other organizations and ‘social businesses’ around the world, including GP GrameenPhone. And the Grameen microfinance model is being replicated by others.

Analysis and Commentary: Grameen Bank under Yunus expanded beyond lending money, into ‘social engineering’ — that promised to “unleash human potential” through entrepreneurism. In doing so he actually disempowered many of the people he claimed to be empowering. This can be seen in the 16 “Decisions” that Grameen borrowers needed to opt-in to. Among the 16 was deciding to have a ‘latrine’ — which at $200 for a basic unit can be overwhelming for someone making $2.80/day, especially when you tack on the interest that Grameen charges. At one point in the movie a bank worker can be heard saying to one such woman: “Give me the money.” Debt and consumption didn’t work in the U.S.– why should it be expected to work in India?

Photograph: Stephen Wise

“The best hope to counter the threat of war is the will of the old Adam to control himself and to meet his fellow man with good will in the “parliament of man,” organized for living instead of killing.” Gordon M. Freeman IBEW President, in The Electrical Worker’s Journal, September 1958

Last Thursday, 9/1, several hundred union members/supporters showed up at a non-union job site in Manhattan. They slashed the tires of worker’s vehicles roughed up a foreman and even jumped on a police car. No arrests were made. Photos from the protest can be seen: HyattSite

The photo (left) was taken at the site the next day, 9/2. The work being done is on a future Hyatt Hotel.

President Obama has shown a tendency to favor labor unions as much as he favors Wall Street banks — to the detriment of the rest of the country. As a result, union bosses seem emboldened to get their way — regardless of the cost to society.

In recent months, three American solar energy companies have declared bankruptcy (Solyndra, Evergreen Solar & Spectra Watt), not long after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from the U.S. government — as part of President Obama’s plan to create ‘green’ jobs in Clean Tech. The fact that each of these companies had union workers is seen as a factor in their demise, in an industry that is undergoing a structural “cost down.”

The union movement is a good and necessary thing. But paying people wages (with borrowed money from taxpayers) above industry average (Solyndra) doesn’t make sense, and is especially troubling if it’s quid pro quo for campaign contributions.

With tens of millions of Americans out of work, how important can a $10 bar of soap be?

The New York International Gift Fair attracted a number of producers of handmade botanical soaps. Many are family owned businesses. Each is passionate about what they do, balancing tradition and innovation while creating excellent products at reasonable prices.

The U.S. is beginning to go through a societal correction, which needs to include education in “goodness.” Perhaps making and enjoying a good bar of soap can help with that.

Here are some of the soap makers we like: Sapothecary, Napa Soap Company, K. Hall Designs, Gianna Rose Atelier, L’epi de Provence, Ebb & Flow, Baronessa Cali, Pre de Provence and Hillhouse Naturals.

When society becomes cleaner and more just, the price of triple milled olive oil soap w/shea butter should come down as a percentage of GDP.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

As a student of the U.S. Great Depression (1929-’39), Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke was determined to avoid a repeat in 2009. However, in doing so he may have set the stage for an even greater calamity.

“The signal feature of the mass escape from reality that occurred in 1929 and before — and which has characterized every previous speculative outburst from the South Sea Bubble to the Florida land boom — was that it carried Authority with it. Governments were either bemused as were the speculators or they deemed it unwise to be sane at a time when sanity exposed one to ridicule, condemnation for spoiling the game, or the threat of severe political retribution.” John Kenneth Galbraith The Great Crash 1929

On March 9, 2009, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled his “openess” to “guidance on reasonable ways to value assets,” which meant a relaxation of the mark-to-market accounting rules. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) soon followed with new standards that gave “leeway” to companies and banks on how they value their assets, and defer reporting loses. As a result, from March ’09 to July ’11 the major U.S. equities markets (Dow, S&P and Nasdaq) doubled in value, but not organically.

In his book Getting Back To Even (2009), Jim Cramer writes that he advocated for people to sell (20% of their stock portfolios) on September 19, 2008, but then suggested getting back into stocks on March 9, 2009 — when in his words, “I said the worst of the downturn was over and it was time to come back in.”

In addition to relaxing the accounting rules on valuation, the Fed has helped to create a new ‘bubble’ by printing money and purchasing U.S. Treasury Bonds; along with freezing the federal funds rate and loaning over $1 trillion to 300 banks and companies from 2007-10.  They have also undermined the creation of financial regulations for ‘credit default swaps.’ To stave off a depression in early 2009, Chaiman Bernanke opted for producing another Fed bubble — which is sure to end badly, especially for those with retirement accounts and small investors who are in the equities markets with a ‘buy and hold’ stategy.

It’s incorrect to say that the U.S. is in, or was in, a ‘recovery.’ Instead, the U.S. is in a Fed Bubble. When S&P began to shine light on the disorder last week, by downgrading U.S. sovereign debt, they were vilified for ‘spoiling the game.’

Years from now historians may say that it would have been better for the U.S. to have dealt holistically and honestly with its financial crisis in 2008-9 — even if that meant going through a depression — rather than creating a new bubble that ultimately sank the country (and beyond).

Zimmer, a company that specializes in joint replacement technology, had a truck parked in front of the New York Stock Exchange today.

Given the news of the day (630 point drop in the Dow), the truck provided an interesting juxtaposition.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

BlackRock is the largest ‘asset manager’ in the world, with $3.7 trillion in assets under management. They also provide financial services for clients with portfolios totaling over $9.5 trillion.

Yesterday 8/4, after the big drops in market indices, we asked employees leaving their headquarters how they would characterize the day and the market situation? The comments ranged from, “across the board panic selling” to “herd mentality” and “it’s all good.” One person said, “I don’t know, I’m a tech guy.”

On President Obama’s 50th birthday, the Nasdaq was down 5.08%. Many Nasdaq tech companies contributed to the $800 million that Mr. Obama raised to get elected in ’08. Perhaps that’s one reason why Mr. Obama’s plans for education and health care rely heavily on technology.

Perhaps now is a good time to step back and ask if all that technology is really making society better? Or is it just about being easy, fast and clean — which can be unnatural, even harmful.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Forty years ago this summer, The Godfather was filmed in New York City. It is considered by some to be the best movie ever made. One of the film’s iconic lines (uttered by Tom Hagan to Sonny) was: “This is business not personal.”

Last week, Tom Coughlin, coach of the New York Giants Football Team, was asked about his difficult relationship with former Giants player Plaxico Burress, and whether Burress might return to the team? Coughlin commented, “It’s not personal for me, it’s business. I can seperate the two.”

The seperation of ‘business’ from the ‘personal’ has become dogma in American society. What is thought to be an enlightened position is actually an impoverishment of spirit. The next day Plaxico Burress signed with the Jets.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Non-profits in the U.S. employ over 10 million people and raise hundreds of billions of dollars a year for activities around the world, many designed to help people get out of poverty.

A major area of interest for non-profits is micro-lending — which feminist activists believe is a way to empower women, especially in third world countries. “Innovating to end poverty” — is how they put it. And yet just a casual glance at some of the players reveals prominent American non-profits, with “A” list boards, that are diabolical in their practices of sucking whatever they can get out of the people they are supposedly trying to help.

A typical small business micro loan in the third world is a “5/6” loan ($500 loaned and $600 paid back in 3 months), according to a Chase bank manager we spoke with recently. She said on an annual basis it’s not unusual to see the equivalent of 240% interest charged, when all the hidden fees and calculations are factored in.

What’s sick about this is how non-profits are getting billions of dollars donated, and then turning around and loaning it out to the ‘poorest of the poor’ at unjust rates. The blood of the people, who pay back their loans 98% of the time, is being sucked by former Wall Street bastards who are working, as one told us, “for the greater good.”

Yen Lee, CEO and Co-Founder, of PYCO Inc. claims to have created an algorithm that delivers what marketers consider to be their holy grail — the ability to predict and drive behavior based on an understanding of personality profiles.

With shrinking budgets, marketers are working with companies like Pyco and Experian, to help with data mining, tracking, targeting and consumer engagement — for the purpose of achieving cross-channel optimization.

With advances in technology, “man” runs the risk of becoming a slave to his inventions and dehumanizing his fellow humans in the process.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s “Mad Money,” is seen here signing the program of a fellow “Social Media” panelist at the Financial Services Technology Leaders Forum, 6/15.

In a talk and panel discussion, Mr. Cramer advocated for the use of social media to help the banking industry with its image problems — saying that the “lowest form of social media is better than the highest form of print.” But for an industry that views transparency as a liability, social media will most likely be just a PR stunt to sway regulators.

As the Financial Crisis continues for most Americans, especially those out of work and homeowners dealing with collapsing home values, the question is are there any responsible people protecting American society from the wolves who prey on it? Freedom doesn’t assure goodness. With all that has happened in recent years, many folks in the U.S. government and banking industry are still acting in ways that undermine society.

Cramer spoke disdainfully about Elizabeth Warren, of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and any new regulations that might cut into Wall Street profits. His attitude toward her was like that of Lebron James toward Dirk Nowitzski. Hopefully Ms. Warren can be like Dirk.

Global demand for aluminum is expected to increase significantly over the next 5-10 years.

From aluminum-can based consumer products in China and Brazil, to airplanes and cars, the growth in aluminum is being driven by its sustainable properties — recyclability, flexibility, functionality, and relative low cost. The beverage industry considers the “shaped can” to be the holy grail of packaging. Even craft brewers are embracing the perceived hipness of putting their “brand in a can.”

The recent Aluminum Summit in New York brought together industry leaders: Alcoa, Novelis, Rio Tinto, and others, for two days of sessions on all aspects of the aluminum business.

Phil Martens, President and CEO, Novelis participated in a keynote interview, in which he offered an overview of the global opportunities and challenges facing the aluminum industry and his company, Novelis.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Novelis is a $10 billion world leader in aluminum rolled products and beverage can recycling.

During the Q&A, a questioner from Coke-Cola asked Mr. Martens about Bisphenol A (BPA) risks from aluminum cans? Martens replied “if you eat it and touch it over 20 years you are going to get cancer — we have to manage through it.” He then added that “the views are not consistent enough to stop using it, but we have to find something that goes away from BPA.” 

While acknowledging concern, the American FDA has yet to rule against the use of BPA in the liner of aluminum cans. This is an example of government and industry failing to do the right thing to protect society.

Canada declared BPA to be a toxic substance in September 2010, and along with the EU has restricted its use in baby products.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

For revolutionaries who want to stand out or blend in, Devora Transou has got you covered, with “skins” for any device or laptop.

Based in Kernersville, North Carolina, Devora is a force of nature who asks: “What does your Technology say about you?” Her company “Got Skins” wants to help people say — “distinctive, modern, unique, hip, confident, funky, fly, fashionable, stylish, hot, chic & cool.”

Got Skins was awarded the Best New “Lifestyle” Product at this year’s National Stationery Show.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) held a May 16 conference in NYC, called: Defining and Demystifying the Marketplace.

The purpose of the event was to address and try to eliminate some of the confusion that exists around ad networks and exchanges, in the hope of driving more advertising dollars online, from broadcast television. Participants included marketers, agencies and publishers.

One of the sessions was called What I Buy And Why: A Brand’s Perspective on Networks And Exchanges, featuring Marieta Ross, (left in photo) Director, American Express, interviewed by Joanna O’Connell of Forrester Research.

Ms. Ross (in charge of Amex gift cards and pre-paid products) talked about using technology to “drive growth and profitabitily,” but at the same time wanting to achieve her goals “holistically” — on-line and off-line. With respect to data, Ross said “I’m definately using data, leveraging data is my biggest play.”

As with other marketers, Ms. Ross and Amex spend significant sums of money in advertising on broadcast television because of “eyeballs and engagement.” The sense is that TV delivers more bang for the buck when it comes to engagement, creating awareness and building brand equity. While on-line is where you go to collect data and target consumers with direct response. Ross said that “digital engagement is questionable.” And said that she would spend more money on-line when she’s “convinced it’s worth it.” The same sentiments were echoed by Erin Petty of AT&T, speaking at the conference, who said “AT&T spends a heck of a lot on TV; we could start to shift dollars to other platforms but we’re not there yet.”

For on-line publishers, the term “brand safe” is mentioned frequently at conferences such as this, in the hope of creating/promoting an environment that attracts marketer’s advertising dollars. But given the weak, even toxic, programming on network television today, it’s fair to ask how safe is that platform for blue-chip brands such as Amex and AT&T?

Photographs: Stephen Wise

Coming this summer, the 2012 Nissan Versa (photo) offers advanced technology — low emissions, decent MPG (37) and at a relatively low price ($10,990).

It would be good if American car companies were committed to making affordable cars (under $10,000) for the “people.” The Ford Fiesta starting at $13,500 seems to be as close as it gets. Tata Motors in India has models for under $5000. It can be done.

With financial organizations looking to create/capture “alpha,” to be more competitive and “win” — tradition and legacy are out. Automation, consolidation, standardization, and packaged-applications are in.

In the ‘new tech era,’ as firms seek to be agile and nimble (with no latency, friction or costs), humans are less involved in the transactions, or not involved at all — sleeping instead with the fishes.

At a recent “Financial Data Infrastructure Conference” at Bloomberg L.P. in New York, a rep from a data center vendor, commenting on his company’s core competency, said — “We offer four walls, air conditioning and a security guard.”

The dominant forces in American society today are eliminating some people and turning others into beasts — all in the name of progress.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

The union movement in America (and Europe) was born out of Catholic social teaching, specifically the documents written by Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI in 1891 and 1931 respectively — addressing the needs of workers “broken in spirit and worn out in body.”

Over the years the union movement has become corrupted and along with it the common good of society. Enormous sums of money are routinely given to the campaigns of key politicians, at every level of government, to assure favorable treatment (rules and contracts) — benefiting some at the expense of others, and at the expense of the nation.

Pope Pius XI addressed worker’s pay in Quadragesimo Anno (1931), commenting on what can happen if worker’s pay is unjustly low or high:

“Lastly, the amount of the pay must be adjusted to the public economic good. We have shown above how much it helps the common good for workers and other employees, by setting aside some part of their income which remains after necessary expenditures, to attain gradually to the possession of a moderate amount of wealth. But another point, scarcely less important, and especially vital in our times, must not be overlooked: namely, that the opportunity to work be provided to those who are able and willing to work. This opportunity depends largely on the wage and salary rate, which can help as long as it is kept within proper limits, but which can be an obstacle if it exceeds these limits.

For everyone knows that an excessive lowering of wages, or their increase beyond due measure, causes unemployment. This evil, indeed, especially as we see it prolonged and injuring so many during the years of our pontificate, has plunged workers into misery and temptations, ruined the prosperity of nations, and put in jeopardy the public order, peace, and tranquillity of the whole world.”

Last week’s New York International Gift Fair included two American family-run businesses, led by women, who have been doing things well for years.

Tracy Sullivan’s father started Hillhouse Naturals in 1986. The Kentucky based company makes fine soaps, candles, and home frangrance products — and employs 30 women from the area.

Cathy Brand-Beere is president of DeBrand Chocolatier, maker of fine chocolate products, out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. They have been around since 1987 with a wide variety of excellent chocolates, including “sweet potato pie.”

Ms. Brand-Beere (lower photo) holds one of her hand made “chocolate-art boxes.”

Photographs: Stephen Wise

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will be traveling to India in the coming week with a large delegation of defense contractors — including Lockeed Martin and Boeing, in the hope of selling military aircraft and weapons to India.

The group plans on attending the Tuesday airshow in Bangalore.

Mr. Locke will also be working to get Wal-Mart into India. Hopefully, the Indian government has the wisdom and courage to filter the American model for “the good life” — which has left the United States a broken country, and threatens the world.

It’s important for humanity to look with clear eyes on the ‘American experience’ and distinguish the good from the bad — not to be disheartened by the failures or deluded by the dream, but to learn from them and continue to work for true progress and development, within and among peoples.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Archives