What Went Wrong? – The Financial Meltdown and Why We Are Rethinking Everything

The investment bank Lehman Brothers is just one of many firms which have failed in the current recession.

The investment bank Lehman Brothers is just one of many firms which have failed in the current recession.

What Went Wrong? – The Financial Meltdown and Why We Are Rethinking Everything By Gregory Hilton–
There are a number of villains associated with the current global economic crisis. Plenty of blame can be assigned to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Congress, home buyers, lenders, investment banks and many others. However, it is also true that the vast majority of people involved in the meltdown had good intentions, and they never realized the consequences of their actions. The financial collapse which began in early September totally surprised them, and the arrival of a day of reckoning did not occur to them.
One of the biggest surprises came with the crash of the insurance giant AIG (American International Group) which so far has resulted in a taxpayer outlay of $152 billion, and it has exposed the firm to over $500 billion in liabilities. There has never been an American company to receive so much bailout money from the government.
The problems associated with the five major investment banks, AIG, and the burst housing bubble, have already resulted in massive changes to the American economy. The stock market has been cut in half, Congress has approved a $700 billion bailout plan, the new Obama administration will have its own $775 billion stimulus package, and over $1 trillion in new credit has been pumped into the economy from the Federal Reserve. All of this is designed to avoid a broad credit collapse but few analysts can speak with confidence about the future. Practically everyone has a sad story, and the personal wealth of Americans has declined by $9 trillion in the past year.
The article below is the third installment of a three part “Washington Post” investigation of AIG. The people at AIG and the Wall Street investment banks were truly our best and brightest professionals. They are hard working and dedicated with advanced degrees from Ivy League schools and golden resumes. One reason for not understanding the enormous risks they were creating was because all of their computer simulations indicated it was not possible. They produced what appeared to be brilliant quantitative analysis for managing complex derivatives, but all of it was fatally flawed.
AIG was considered one of the world’s safest companies and it was one of very few firms to have an AAA credit rating. Year after year AIG made a 15% profit, and they started the boom in credit default swaps. According to the “Post”, AIG clearly thought this expansion posed no risk.
In a similar manner, investment bankers confidently sold mortgage backed securities which also had triple A ratings from respected agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The wizards of Wall Street did not think it was possible to over borrow, and with their staggering annual bonuses they were often referred to as “masters of the universe.”
As the “Washington Post” noted: “At the end, though, the AIG story is not about math and financial formulas. It is a parable about people who thought they could outwit competitors and market forces alike, and who behaved as though they were uniquely positioned to sidestep the disasters that had destroyed so many financial dreams before them.”
Since September the behavior of the average American has been changing. Already we are not buying new cars, and sales will fall from 17 million vehicles annually to 12.2 million. In 1982, the personal
U.S. savings rate was 11 percent, but by 2007 it had declined to zero. We have not been saving because of increased home values, and a positive side effect of this behavior was an extra $1 trillion/year in consumer spending. That  spending pattern has now largely vanished.
The bottom line is that this recession will make us rethink everything. Bill Clinton was correct in noting, “Wall Street as we knew it no longer exists,” and the conventional wisdom of the past went with it. Many of our top financial experts are still having a difficult time explaining how a subprime problem in
America developed into a global financial crisis.


The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War Against America

Cuba's Fidel Castro with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez

Cuba's Fidel Castro with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez

Book Review by Gregory Hilton:  The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War Against America by Douglas Schoen and Michael Rowan

This just hit the bookstores and it has a powerful message which is unfortunately being ignored. Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, has publicly said he wants to bring America to its knees. Already partnered with Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador, Chavez is now financing movements to subvert many other Latin American nations.
Fortunately the dramatic drop in oil prices has significantly curtailed Chavez’ ability to export revolution. The Venezuelan public is questioning why the nation is bankrolling other countries when there is so much suffering at home.
Under Chavez, Venezuela, once Latin America’s healthiest economy, now has the highest inflation rate and the lowest economic growth in the western hemisphere.  There are long lines at the government run grocery stores and meat is now considered a luxury.
Ironically, Chavez has turned Venezuela from an oil exporter to an importer.   He long ago squandered the country’s huge cash surplus, and most of money went to foreign revolutionary causes.  Venezuela’s armed forces have grown dramatically during the Chavez era.   The situation is now so dire that he has borrowed more than $12 billion from the International Monetary Fund.
The co-author is Dr. Douglas E. Schoen, Chairman of Penn Schoen Associates, one of the most respected Democratic Party consulting firms. According to Schoen, “Chavez has more modern weapons than anyone in Latin America. He has strategic alliances with Iran, North Korea, and other enemies of America, yet he has duped many Americans — from influential political and cultural leaders to ordinary citizens who benefit from his oil largess through his state-owned oil company — into believing that he is a friend.”
The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), clearly understands the threat and the importance of this book.  He recommended the book by saying, “It’s time to pay attention to the alarm bells; we should engage with our southern neighbors to address pressing security threats across the hemisphere, including those from Caracas.” I hope this book has a significant impact on Capitol Hill, with the new Administration and in the news media.

Holiday Message For The American Soldier

My friend Lisa is working with a group that organizes appreciation activities for members of the armed forces, particularly those serving in
Iraq and Afghanistan. Her 4 minute Youtube video contains a wide variety of photos to remind us why we owe them so much. The year 2008 is almost over and it will reflect an 86% reduction in terrorist activities in Iraq. The murder rate is now below the pre‑war level. 
January 1, 2009, the International Zone in Baghdad will switch from U.S. to Iraqi control, and the American military will vacate Saddam Hussein’s Presidential Palace on the Tigris River. The U.S. military withdrawal will continue in the months ahead because the Iraq Army is stand up, and they are meeting their obligations as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Washington Is Killing Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship was taken for granted. Now we’re seeing a lot less of it.

The Silicon Valley is Experiencing a Dire Recession

The Silicon Valley is Experiencing a Dire Recession

My company is based in San Francisco and I definitely identify with the viewpoint of the above article. A significant amount of our work is in the Silicon Valley which is experiencing a dire recession. According to the author, “In all of 2008 there were just six companies which went public. Compare that with 269 IPOs in 1999, 272 in 1996, and 365 in 1986. Faced with crushing reporting costs if they go public, new companies are instead selling themselves to big, existing corporations. For the last four years it has seemed that every new business plan in Silicon Valley has ended with the statement ‘And then we sell to Google.’ The venture capital industry is now underwater. . . . For all of this, we can first thank Sarbanes-Oxley. It has essentially killed the creation of new public companies in America, hamstrung the NYSE and Nasdaq (while making the London Stock Exchange rich), and cost U.S. industry more than $200 billion by some estimates.”

The Demise of Dating

Many of today's college students have never had a traditional date.

Many of today’s college students have never had a traditional date.

COMMENTARY  —  We found the below article shocking. A New York Times report on this phenomenon was entitled “On Campus a Good Man is Hard to Find.” “Salon” wrote about “The Campus Crusade for Guys,” Newsweek’s cover story was “The Boy Crisis,” and another Times article was “Where The Boys Aren’t: The Gender Gap on College Campuses.”The share of boys in the college applicant pool is now under 40 percent, and many schools are admitting less-qualified boys in order to keep the gender ratio balanced. John Tierney of the Times said “educational success will come back to haunt women as a dearth of educated, eligible husbands turns them into miserable spinsters.”  Nation columnist Katha Pollitt responded by asking why, years ago when she was in school and men made up the majority, “no one was worrying about whether they’d find wives.”

12/13/08  The Demise of Dating by Charles M. Blow, New York Times — The paradigm has shifted. Dating is dated. Hooking up is here to stay.   (For those over 30 years old: hooking up is a casual sexual encounter with no expectation of future emotional commitment. Think of it as a one-night stand with someone you know.)  According to a report released this spring by Child Trends, a Washington research group, there are now more high school seniors saying that they never date than seniors who say that they date frequently. Apparently, it’s all about the hookup. When I first heard about hooking up years ago, I figured that it was a fad that would soon fizzle. I was wrong. It seems to be becoming the norm.

I should point out that just because more young people seem to be hooking up instead of dating doesn’t mean that they’re having more sex (they’ve been having less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or having sex with strangers (they’re more likely to hook up with a friend, according to a 2006 paper in the Journal of Adolescent Research).

To help me understand this phenomenon, I called Kathleen Bogle, a professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia who has studied hooking up among college students and is the author of the 2008 book, “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus.”  It turns out that everything is the opposite of what I remember. Under the old model, you dated a few times and, if you really liked the person, you might consider having sex. Under the new model, you hook up a few times and, if you really like the person, you might consider going on a date.

I asked her to explain the pros and cons of this strange culture. According to her, the pros are that hooking up emphasizes group friendships over the one-pair model of dating, and, therefore, removes the negative stigma from those who can’t get a date. As she put it, “It used to be that if you couldn’t get a date, you were a loser.” Now, she said, you just hang out with your friends and hope that something happens.

The cons center on the issues of gender inequity. Girls get tired of hooking up because they want it to lead to a relationship (the guys don’t), and, as they get older, they start to realize that it’s not a good way to find a spouse. Also, there’s an increased likelihood of sexual assaults because hooking up is often fueled by alcohol.

That’s not good. So why is there an increase in hooking up? According to Professor Bogle, it’s: the collapse of advanced planning, lopsided gender ratios on campus, delaying marriage, relaxing values and sheer momentum.   It used to be that “you were trained your whole life to date,” said Ms. Bogle. “Now we’ve lost that ability — the ability to just ask someone out and get to know them.” Now that’s sad.


Robert Chandler, 80, a Creator of the ’60 Minutes’ Format, Dies

His Greatest Legacy Was His Family

His Greatest Legacy Was His Family

Robert Chandler, a former CBS executive who played a crucial role in creating the highly rated and critically acclaimed weekly newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” died Thursday at his home in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 80. The cause was heart failure, his son Doug said.

Mr. Chandler was a producer and director of documentaries and election coverage in 1966 when his colleague Don Hewitt proposed a new format: a newsmagazine with several segments rather than the standard hourlong documentary.

“In the formative years, he was our biggest fan at CBS,” Mr. Hewitt, who was executive producer of “60 Minutes” for 36 years, said in an interview on Friday. “Chandler pushed ‘60 Minutes’ to replace ‘CBS Reports’ when Fred Friendly and Dick Salant were not enthusiastic about the idea of a weekly newsmagazine.”

Mr. Friendly was president of CBS News from 1964 to 1966 and Mr. Salant led the division from 1966 to 1979. The first “60 Minutes” was broadcast on Sept. 24, 1968.   “Bob played a very important part in setting up the format,” Mr. Hewitt said, “and now almost everybody in the world, certainly in Europe and Asia, has a weekly newsmagazine.”

By 1973, Mr. Chandler was vice president for public affairs broadcasting and Mr. Hewitt’s boss, with budget oversight and a voice in story selection.   As director of the network’s election unit in the late 1960s, Mr. Chandler created and operated the CBS News Poll. In that capacity, he negotiated the 1976 partnership that established The New York Times/CBS News Poll. He also supervised the network’s coverage of elections and conventions from 1968 through 1974.

Among the documentaries that Mr. Chandler produced, co-produced or wrote in his 22 years at CBS were “Under Surveillance” (1971), a report on the government’s surveillance of dissenters, and “The People of South Vietnam: How They Feel About the War” (1967).

In 1975, Mr. Chandler was promoted to vice president for administration and assistant to the president of CBS News. He retired from the network in 1985, but later worked at NBC and, in 1990, was executive producer of a two-hour PBS documentary, “Learning in America: Schools That Work.”

Robert Zuckerkandle was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 25, 1928, one of two sons of Louis and Minnie Gurin Zuckerkandle. (He chose Chandler as a pen name before legally changing his last name.)   Mr. Chandler earned a degree in economics in 1949 at City College of New York, where he was also editor of the college newspaper. In his sophomore year he met Eleanor Reiff; they were married in 1951.

After college, Mr. Chandler was hired by Variety as a music reporter. He served in the United States Army in Germany from 1951 to 1953, then returned to Variety to cover radio and television. In 1961, MGM hired him as publicity director for its television division.

Two years later, he joined CBS as public relations director for the news division. In addition to his wife and his son Doug, Mr. Chandler is survived by another son, Larry; his brother, Martin; and one grandchild.

COMMENTARY By Gregory Hilton
I read the above obituary for Robert Chandler with real sadness. He produced many outstanding documentaries over a long career. I only met him briefly, but I felt I knew him because of my close friendship with his son. Doug Chandler followed his father into journalism.
For many years Doug lived in Israel and was able to reconnect with his family’s religious roots. His parents were always one of his favorite topics. They were married for 57 years, and his mother has also had a remarkable life. The above article mentions just some of Robert Chandler’s accomplishments, but the most significant is his outstanding family. My Dad passed away in May, and Doug and I were both fortunate to have had such wonderful fathers. The Torah tells us that a basic tenet of the Jewish faith is the belief that those who have died will be restored to eternal life. Death is but a temporary hiatus, and we will see them again.