Category Archives: Personal Opinion and Analysis

My opinions and analysis of news, life and the absurdities of both.

Musings on Re-opening Our World

So while you’ve been sitting at home munching chips and watching Netflix (its first quarter earnings report showed the streaming entertainment service added twice as many new subscriptions as Wall Streeters had expected), a lot of people have been strategizing how to restart the world. Or at least their small part of it. Among them a guy named Shelly Palmer who’s a well known digital marketing and technology consultant. Palmer sends daily newsletters which often contain provocative theses. And he often asks readers for their ideas and reactions.

So last night – when Shelly Palmer asked how each of his readers would re-open the United States – I opened my big mouth.  And offered my very subjective suggestions. As this is titled – just musings. About the things which matter most to me. In the order which matters most to me. 

Here goes.

Right at the top of the list  – on the first day – I want the larger, spacious gyms re-opened for those of us who desperately need them. And weekend bike and running races reinstated. I want ONLY small restaurants reopened. Where the owner can really be held accountable for sanitizing and distancing.  Oh – and Starbucks.  I said this would be subjective. I want all parks which are meant for vigorous activity reopened if they’ve been closed. And I and most everyone else want to be able to go back to work. Maybe half and half home and work if it’s that kind of job. I want hair salons and barbershops open because  we certainly can’t go back to work looking like we do now. Nail salons can wait. So can large venue concerts and sports stadiums. Sports themselves should be up to the athletes. I want some aspects of schools and colleges open. The situations educators think would be most valuable. Online teaching doesn’t work very well for student engagement. And parents can’t go back to work if their kids are still expected to learn at home.

Having said all this, I’m not crazy. Or stupid. I want it only with reasonable distancing between people at work. Plenty of wipes and chlorine spray to clean work surfaces and bathrooms constantly. Maybe employers can find them. I certainly can’t.  Extra general cleaning and sanitizing at work. The right of any worker who feels uncomfortable to stay home working or – if they must be physically present (warehouses, supermarkets, construction etc) – plenty of protection. Outdoor jobs kind of take care of themselves. It’s being trapped INDOORS with a possible asymptomatic person or with air conditioning which could possibly move that one person’s virus all over the building. I don’t really have an answer for that. I don’t think a temperature check at the door will winnow out enough people. Many people with asymptomatic COVID-19 don’t have a fever.  We each have to be responsible and aware of our own situations. Much as social distancing has become a buzz phrase, let’s make situational awareness one also.

I don’t think it’s realistic to think office workers are going to wear home made, uncomfortable masks all day at work. I don’t think they do much anyhow for the general public. On crowded mass transit – masks may have some protective value but at the least they make people feel safer. Which might convince the fearful to start moving around and going back to work.

We need tests. Especially accurate antibody tests. Even though at this point we don’t know if those people who have antibodies also have immunity. Or for how long. I guess we’ll find out. And – caveat- we may not have enough of these tests till September. But we should have enough to test representative subsections of people – what the pollsters do. And draw some conclusions based on THAT data.  The Czech Republic is doing it that way. So are other countries.

Many countries around the world are reopening. Many with 2 weeks between stages. We have to also and monitor it carefully. We need to dip our toes into flying again. Lower our border “gates”.  If other countries will open their borders again to us and others. Some countries in Europe are throwing around ideas like keeping borders mostly closed for a year or more. Satisfying the most xenophobic. Or perhaps the most nervous. But the airlines will have to step up as well – figuring out how to distance all of us from each other. And find better ways to queue up for boarding, baggage drops and the like. That means repurposing employees to police all those lines. All of this best done with global consultation and cooperation. If that is still possible in the fractured world Donald Trump, Brexit and Hungary’s Victor Orban have helped create.

These ideas reflect  only what I care about, what I see as most important. Others will have other priorities.  Wherever we start – It just has to be done carefully. A lot of people are very frightened. Especially those who have lost a loved one or know people who have died or gotten very ill from the virus. My husband and I will joyously go back to our favorite restaurants as soon as I can get my hair done.  IF we’re sure they’re sanitized and we are properly distanced.

I’m not sure what to do about the bar stools.

 

Thoughts from house arrest

Random Thoughts from COVID19 House Arrest

The days are indistinguishable. Monday could be Friday. Or even Sunday. No “Miller Time” on Friday night (OK I’m dating myself). You can’t go drinking to celebrate the weekend. Or to celebrate anything. Endless dinners at home. Beer in a bottle sure. Not the same as fresh out of the barrel – on tap at a good Irish pub. Why bother? Just calories. And goodness knows with the ‘fridge always in easy reach – none of us needs more calories!

Thoughts from house arrest

Where I live, this is nearly the end of the 4th week of house arrest. And each week the restrictions have tightened. Now – new cases are leveling off at the apparent top of the curve. And still, our Governor wants more. Or should I say less. No gyms, of course. And now hilly, green parks with trails to run, bike and walk and rocky ridges to surmount are off limits. Healthy people can only stay that way by getting out and moving. A lot. The last thing left of the small things which make life tolerable. Gone.

When this is over – and I have to believe it WILL be over or I will go truly crazy – I hope the epidemiologists and learned public health doctors and oh-so-sure-of-themselves politicians will demand a true study of why so many people died from COVID19. Yes it’s more vicious than the seasonal flu. But the flu – with or without a vaccine (only 50% of us even get it) – shouldn’t be killing so many people either.

I think those studies will find something Americans should already know. In the richest and best educated nation on earth (or so we think) we have some of the unhealthiest people in the world. Who is dying here from COVID19 complications? Overwhelmingly it’s African-Americans and Latinos. In some jurisdictions they are twice as likely to die as whites. They already have the markers for getting very sick or dying when they contract the virus. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma. Often they have no health care. No family doctor. And very often they are the ones out in front. Working the essential jobs which require using mass transit to get there.

Actually the number of unhealthy people in the US – and truthfully all advanced nations – is huge. No matter who we are, where we live and what we do for a living. We are fat. We are lazy. We are couch potatoes watching sports and gobbling up chips. Even in cities with good mass transit – if we have cars, we use them. According to the Centers for Disease Control more than 20 percent of 12-19 year olds are obese. And close to that even for 6 to 11 year olds!!! Overall – says the CDC – over 40 percent of Americans are now obese. With all the serious diseases obesity and even moderate weight gain spawn. Just a few years ago, the percentage was about a third. I didn’t see any of these people – of ANY age or color – hiking, biking or even walking their dogs in the hilly parks our deep-thinking Governor just closed.


None of this is likely to change soon. This week Bernie Sanders made a very gracious concession speech as he left the Democratic Presidential nomination to Joe Biden. I think Bernie knew that with the trillions of dollars of deficit spending we’re unleashing to save the nation from diving into a corona virus-caused depression, there isn’t a chance in hell for his cherished Medicare for All. Or free college. Or permanent college loan forgiveness. Or any of the deficit-financed reforms he hoped to enact. We’re printing money like it was Bitcoin. And it’s just as ephemeral. No one has the slightest idea how all that money will be paid back. IF it will be paid back. Can the federal government with Congressional approval and the Federal Reserve with no one’s approval just keep piling up debt instead of dollars in the US Treasury? I’ve watched CNBC carefully all these weeks. Lots and lots of talk about this but – and perhaps I’m just a dunce – I still don’t understand how any nation can just rub the bottle and ask the Genie to create money that doesn’t exist. Some day – through Treasury bonds and bills – it has to be paid back. With at least a tiny bit of interest. Will there be any way our children and grandchildren can do that? Can someone please put Finance 101 into very, VERY plain, simple English?

Ok. I said these were random thoughts. I don’t feel very organized when I spend my day in running clothes. Yes Virginia, I DO shower before I go to bed. Happy now? I’m obviously not.

The COVID19 Panic

As I watch the stock market tank once again today (at this writing it’s down between 33 and 37% from its February highs) I get angrier and angrier. At our elected legislators in Washington who still can’t seem to compromise on a promised 2 trillion dollar stimulus plan. At the public health doctors who have panicked mayors and governors and ordinary people while they close down everything in sight and destroy what was still a pretty strong economy. And of course at President Trump who wouldn’t listen to the intelligence and CDC people as they warned, starting in January, there was a coronavirus tsunami coming. So here we are. Half of America under orders to stay home. See no one. Do nothing. Home school the restless kids. Work from home while you do it. Don‘t even go for a long run. Or bike ride. Or walk with your friends. Short, short. Even though exercise is the one thing that might boost your immune system to stave off the virus. Oh – and don’t go near Grandma who needs to be isolated from the only thing many older people care about. Family.

Meanwhile companies big and small are closing down. Stopping production. Closing small restaurants and shops vital to our sense of normalcy.  And gyms vital to our total health. Many of these probably closing down forever. Only businesses and operations seen by governors as essential can continue to operate. There are predictions of a 30% unemployment rate as laid off workers – so many of them in our new gig economy not covered by guaranteed, salaried employee benefits like unemployment – start piling up.

Yes we have a health crisis. It’s not only the President who wasn’t prepared. The CDC wasn’t prepared with the simple test the rest of the world has been using so successfully. The FDA wasn’t prepared – wrapping it’s overly red tape even tighter instead of cutting it early on. The state governors weren’t prepared. The hospitals big and small weren’t prepared. And certainly the publicly traded insurance companies and  PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers) which essentially run what passes for the US health care system weren’t prepared.  After encouraging hospitals for decades to pare back their general hospital rooms and ICUs and ability to handle any kind of health crisis from any source. And embrace financially rewarding elective surgery instead. While hospitals in less populated areas simply closed. Do telemedicine they suggested. Forgetting many rural areas don’t even have wifi or 5G mobile capability.

So of course there is panic everywhere. Not enough tests (only now ramping up). Not enough protective clothing and masks for medical workers. Not enough hospital beds or ICUs or ventilators. So the rest of us have to stay home and give up human contact lest we turn into Italy.

As CNBC’s Jim Cramer said early on, “no country wants to be Italy”.

So after a week or two of incredible stock market plunges and home arrest in the most populous US states – influential people are beginning to look at the destruction of everything – and worry that we may save lives but have no economy, no savings, no COUNTRY to creep back to. Suggestions are popping up for some kind of middle ground. For only 2 or 3 week shutdowns – 14 days for the incubation period of COVID19 and a week for evaluation. For quarantining only older people. As a group. Despite the fact that many are strong, healthy, athletic and very fit. Medication and underlying conditions free. With the immune systems of people much younger. Older people with health problems, like younger ones, know who they are and are likely to stay 6 feet away from anyone voluntarily.

Bottom line. We are social people. Even the millennials and Gen Z-ers who live digitally on their phones move around in real groups of real friends. The main reason everything is now shut down. Sure. We can all sacrifice the small pleasures which make life livable for a short time. But not indefinitely. People simply CANNOT live with “indefinitely”. A word far too many public health doctors and government officials are using.

Isn’t it time for end dates? So we have something to look forward to? So the economy has a reasonable chance at regeneration? Maybe targeted, rolling shutdowns only in hot spots like big cities. And then only for those 2 or 3 weeks. To slow the virus’ spread. Remembering that the more people who get the virus and either don’t show symptoms or recover quickly – the faster we may get that herd immunity which has helped with other viruses. Although of course we still don’t know if this NOVEL coronavirus reacts the same way.

We all have seen that graphic with the two curves. We have heard “flatten the curve” over and over. We understand. But you simply can’t lock us up forever.

A (Final?) Visit to Macy’s

Last Saturday I went to my (now) nearest Macy’s. It’s in a huge mall which even includes an Apple store. And tons of chain restaurants. At midday the extensive parking lots were full. But Macy’s was not.

Now if you’ve been keeping up with the retail business news you know retail in general is in trouble. It’s being “Amazoned” to death. And I admit I’m one of the guilty. If I CAN use my Amazon Prime account I do. I can buy with one click and see my package on my doorstep in 2 days or even less. With tracking texts and emails to keep me updated. And no hassle returns at a convenient dropbox.

So back to Macy’s. A Macy’s having a really big sale. On a Saturday. There should have been crowds. A few years ago there would have been. But this Saturday no one seemed to care. Even though Macy’s pioneered the omnichannel concept of buying merchandise anywhere – online, from the smartphone app or in the store and picking it up or returning it or exchanging it the same way.

This Macy’s is an “anchor” store.  At one end of the mall.  The other end is anchored by a Sear’s.  Which was recently closed.  Tells you something right there.

There was a bit of a buzz on the ground floor. Around the cosmetics counters. But this Macy’s has three floors. Almost all the women’s and kids clothing is up the escalator on the second floor. Which is probably the most unattractive, dismal, can-death-be-far-away space I have ever seen in a store. And it’s a big space.  With paint chipped off the walls and ugly old florescent lighting.  And racks and racks of bunched together clothes from various designers – including my favorite Macy’s in-house brand.  And absolutely NO employees on the floor to ask about where to find anything.  Never mind my small/petite jeans’ size.   Just one cashier in a corner of the floor.  For the few over 50 women unenthusiastically eyeing the sales merchandise.  Maybe there was another checkout with it’s one employee at the other end of the floor half a block away.  I wasn’t going to go and find out.

There wasn’t a sign of an experience-seeking millennial or Gen Z on that floor. Or even a young mom, kids in tow. This was definitely not the experience they were seeking. And Macy’s is not alone. These department stores are literally eating themselves. Firing helpful employees left and right. Piling up merchandise like the store was a tire warehouse. Letting the physical plant visibly deteriorate. The restroom on that Macy’s second floor looked almost as bad as the highway rest stops in central and eastern Europe right after Communism collapsed.  The ones where you were afraid to touch anything.

Macy’s is making it so unpleasant to shop in their brick and mortar stores that soon – no one will.  Maybe that’s a strategy.  Then they can sell their real estate and make the shareholders happy.  They’re already drooling over the development money that could be made on Macy’s iconic (and huge) Herald Square site.

So where does that leave me?

I can’t buy clothes that fit from Amazon. Their own line or anyone else’s. And except for perfectly built California girls – there aren’t too many women I know who can. And when summer suddenly returns with a vengeance as it has this fall in the Eastern US — there also aren’t too many women who are willing to wait even 2 days to get something that may not fit at all — from Amazon. But I guess they’re not going to Macy’s.  And probably neither will I  — again.

Letter to a European Friend

Dear good friend,

I’m sorry for the delay in writing back; We just returned. The Post Office had our mail with your letter all summer.

It’s good to know you’re OK.  Unfortunately we didn’t go anywhere near your home in Croatia as we had hoped – staying close to our work in Prague.

From what you write — I guess if we HAD come to visit — we would have had some serious political debates with you.

President Trump - White House Photo
President Trump; – White House Photo

You say you like our President Donald Trump. But many Americans fear Trump, his associates and his ugly neo-Nazi supporters  (Charlottesville) will cause more violence and hate with a real possibility of another Civil War. Not to mention the other real possibility of a war — with a nuclear North Korea. Of course the current war of words and tweets between Trump and Kim Jong-un wasn’t yet an issue this summer. Oh – and this past weekend our “busy” President took on the National Football League and its majority black players on “taking a knee” during the ritual National Anthem singing which opens nearly every professional sporting event in the US. I’m sure you saw something about THAT one on your own TV news. Everyone else did.

Back to what’s behind President Trump’s tweets and continued rallying cries to his political base. It’s complicated. It’s partly about race and immigration. And the fear of permanently losing what you once had. And it’s partly about less educated, small town white men specifically being left behind by technology. Because some tech education and training is needed now to do even basic industrial jobs like welder or machinist. Literally all jobs now involve technology at some level.

There are also the deep cultural differences among us.  Attitudes are liberalizing much more quickly in the cities than in the countryside. Some of this is happening in many European countries as well. But we are a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country as you know. Some of Trump’s anti immigrant supporters had (white) immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents themselves. Some of those grandparents and great-grandparents may not have been very warmly received because the US has a long history of fearing “the ignorant immigrant hordes”.  Although we were ALL immigrants in the beginning here except the native Americans.

It’s even harder, we know, for European countries to accept and integrate immigrants and refugees because you are each mostly made up of one national group with a long history. The Czechs for example are desperate to avoid even the handful – 3000 – of migrants the EU wants them to take. But in a global world where the internet and trade connect all of us – nationalism in individual European countries or here in the US just doesn’t make sense. And without resettling migrants or somehow making Syria and Lebanon and the other conflict-torn countries safe and possible to work in again – the migrant camps will just turn out terrorists eventually. It’s what happened with the Palestinians after the Israelis isolated them in camps which over generations grew into teeming, angry cities.

In the US there are retraining programs available for out-of-work  factory workers. But many of the older ones don’t want to learn anything new. Or move to where the new jobs are.  And even some younger people lack ambition and just want to work in the kind of well-paying, union jobs (like auto or steel worker) their fathers and perhaps grandfathers had. Jobs which simply will never exist again. No matter how inward looking the US becomes. Even coal mines (which should be gradually closed down and the miners retrained) are now using robots instead of people.

All of this might be manageable in time because most younger people were born into the technical generation and have used internet, tablets and smart phones from childhood at home and at school. But with President Trump literally supporting violent reactions among his supporters – anyone who knows US and Western history in general is really worried. There have even been discussions about his mental stability. Beyond his not being ready or capable of being President, with all of its responsibilities and need for highly intelligent analysis of information and events.

As for the right wing leaders of Europe you write about –like Marine Le Pen – they all want to turn their countries back to the 1950s – at best. Le Pen wants to take France out of the European Union. Her ideas are worrisome. And I think most French voters thought so as well, thankfully. Technology and the changes which are racing through industry and almost all professions make going backward and protecting old ways of doing things (French farmers, inflexible work rules, high import tariffs) impossible .

I wonder what you have made of the German elections and the far right populist party which for the first time since the end of WW2 has taken a sizeable (13%) number of seats in Parliament. This harks back to your history in Europe and I’d like to hear your explanation and what I imagine would be your defense.  But of course – had we seen you this summer — it wouldn’t yet have happened.

So let’s talk a bit more about the email, smart phones and other tech innovations you still disdain. In Europe as well as the US – waiters at restaurants are using iPads to take orders and register credit cards (with add-on chip readers or magnetic strip readers). When we have someone from a small, family construction company come to our US house to bid on a repair or other job – he or she uses a smart phone to take photos and write up information on tablets. Or on phones. Everything is emailed or texted (SMS’d in your world), banking is done on phones or websites, my salary from my freelance work is direct-deposited into my bank account. It’s done that way in Prague also since Czechs under Communism completely skipped the checkbook era and now actually charge you if you go to the bank to deposit or withdraw your own money instead of using a bankomat (ATM). I imagine it’s the same in most of Croatia. So you’re probably already involved in the tech world — just to get paid.

You, like some of President Trump’s US  supporters, may not trust apps or the internet or email but like them you’re isolating yourself. The entire world of information (real facts not “fake” news) is right in your smart phone or tablet or laptop or even on a library computer if you don’t have your own. You can Google anything. Wikipedia has huge amounts of (mostly) accurate information.

Unfortunately there’s also a dark side. It’s the same internet and social media which have allowed the neo-Nazis and far right groups to organize so well. And to circulate the fake news most Trump supporters insist is real. Then there’s ISIS which has used technology masterfully to get recruits and plot terrorism. But technology itself isn’t good or bad. It just IS. People can use it however they wish. PEOPLE are good or bad, not the technology they use.

I’m testing your English which I think is quite good. And challenging your statements in your letter. Which is what I do as a reporter and journalism lecturer. And now as a blogger – which allows me more intellectual space for analysis and opinion.

I have typed this on a Word document on my iPad – easier to use than a laptop. Now I’ll print it and mail it to you. It will take at least 5 business days.  Email would be immediate. I have the same problem with my first New York City roommate – after I graduated from university and left Boston. She also has refused over the years to get email.  Along with my 89 year old cousin now living in a home for seniors.

Take care my friend! Think about what I’m saying. Don’t just admire a strong man. Or someone who just TALKS like a strong man.  Admire a smart man or woman! Someone who wants to move his or her country forward.

We’re friends so we should be able to have these discussions. Over here –discussions are getting difficult. If not impossible. Look back at my Civil War reference.

(Note: adapted from an actual answer to an actual letter (on paper) from Croatia)

 

 

Finally Friday

Friday After 4pm
Friday After 4pm

I love Fridays! After so many years of working every day, any day, weekends just another day – I love what happens in business news. When the market closes at 4pm Friday – and sometimes even before – it’s like we all go to Brigadoon for the weekend. With only an unplanned event of huge import  – like Lehman Brothers weekend in 2008 – able to recall us to earthly view until Monday morning. Not exactly one day for every 100 years but you get the picture. It’s a feeling of cocooning. That I’m safe from midnight phone calls from overnight desk editors or radio producers. Radio silence. Blessed radio silence. I can anticipate the weekend ahead with all its forbidden weekday pleasures. And just as with a vacation – the anticipation is often the best part. On Friday at 4pm I’m free. To be me. And whomever else I want to be until Sunday night. When another, not so wonderful anticipation takes hold. Monday morning. But this is still Friday. The good times are just beginning. Who cares about Monday now?

The Presidential Election and John Chambers

John Chambers former Cisco CEO
John Chambers, World Economic Forum

Why can’t it be John Chambers running for President? On CNBC’s Squawk Box this morning, the Executive Chairman and former CEO of Cisco Systems said he’s a moderate Republican.  And yet he spoke admiringly about Bill Clinton’s 8 years as President.  When, Chambers said, 22.5 million jobs were created. And there was 17% growth in real per capita income. The Information Age. The last time, Chambers added, America got a pay raise.

Fast forward to the current election cycle. We’re in the Digital Age. Which Chambers thinks could have the same effect on America and its people.  Only 3 to 5 times larger. Except – he says – the US is missing the bandwagon. Unable to move fast enough to create the start-ups needed if middle America is to benefit.   Because business and government have to work together to make a digital plan. Something we don’t have — but every other country in the world does according to Chambers. And is implementing them. Quickly. Even countries with recalcitrant unions and socialist leanings. Like France. They have a meeting or 2 or 10. With the relevant players. How do we create a million new business jobs? What tax reform is needed? How do we “re-skill” (Chamber’s interesting substitute for “retrain”) the unemployed and underemployed? The middle class? What about childhood education? Then you walk away Chambers said — and come back 6 months later. And it’s done.

As I said — why couldn’t John Chambers be on the ballot in November?

When I look around me at this country — I see political stalemate instead of cooperation. And no urgency to change. A Congress controlled by one party determined to thwart anything suggested by the President from the other party. And vice versa. A legislative system completely broken  At best a government treading water. And business? The thinkers like Chambers are in Washington this week. Trying to pound some sense into everyone. The rest are mostly making apologies to Wall Street for a bunch of less than stellar quarterly reports. Any US digital plan is far, far from the top of the agenda. Again – my thoughts – not Chambers’.

We haven’t even gotten to the general election itself yet. It’s still primary season. And yet we are already battle weary.  Our ears plugged against the insults hurled party to party and candidate to candidate. Instead of the serious discussions we so desperately need. And it can only get worse.

John Chambers says 92% of the jobs created over the next decade will require some kind of technology skills. In both the service industry and in manufacturing. Requiring the courage to make fundamental changes in order to fill most of those jobs with American middle class workers earning real American middle class wages. Chambers and his co-business thinkers have some ideas. Some possible plans. But it seems to me no one who can do anything about implementing those plans is listening. Or more to the point — acting.

Starbucks Redux

Starbucks Logo

Back in late February when it was first announced I wrote about Starbucks’ revamped rewards program. And how it seemed to me just another way to appease Wall Street’s insatiable profit and revenue demands by cajoling more people to spend more money at their local coffee hangout.

Since that post the Twitterverse has erupted with snarky comments  and “goodbyes” from rewards program members. Based partly on the unfavorable reaction – and the timing as rival Dunkin’ Donuts rolled out its own loyalty program – a major Wall Street analyst gave Starbucks a well publicized downgrade. The stock fell – but partially recovered.

You may recall the rewards program was changing from one star per visit  – a transaction-based system – to a dollar-based plan. 2 stars for each dollar spent. You used to achieve gold status (which you need for your rewards) with 30 stars. So buying one small coffee each day would give you gold status in about a month. After that you needed just 12 stars (or 12 visits) to get your free extra large caramelized honey latte – or whatever. Now gold status takes 300 stars. And then 125 stars for each reward. Big difference.

So Starbucks barged ahead. April 12th was the big changeover. Since then stores have been plastered with gold-lettered signs urging coffee lovers to join the rewards program, buy something and get one year of gold status virtually immediately. Current gold members would automatically get another year of gold. Of course I jumped at that. Even though I knew I was being bribed. Maybe a lot of other disgruntled rewards members did the same. Or a lot more new members signed up. This week in its second quarter results Starbucks said membership jumped 16 percent year on year and 8 percent from the previous quarter.

But wait. There’s more. In those same second quarter results the coffee giant reported revenues somewhat below analysts’ expectations. And after just matching profit forecasts – warned of weaker earnings for the current quarter. Of course the stock fell again.

Flopuchino! As CNBC so elegantly captioned  it on TV.

Hmm. Maybe all those potential freebies to keep people like me happy will actually hurt Starbucks’ bottom line? But isn’t that just what the new rewards program was designed to change?

You mean after enraging its loyal customers to keep Wall Street satisfied Starbucks had to backpedal to keep those same customers from walking away? And then find a way to make the now more expensive rewards program attractive to newbies?  And keep both groups away from Dunkin’ Donuts? At least for the short term. Which is all anyone cares about these days anyhow. And which is why Wall Street bid down the stock again.

And which is why for Starbucks right now – it’s a kind of a zero sum game. At least as far as the rewards program goes.

Radio Is Dying. Again

Old Standup Radio
Old Standup Radio

I love radio. There’s an immediacy and singularity about it that TV or internet video streaming can never match. And certainly not Pandora or its multiple offspring – with their endless, depersonalized music. Listening to radio creates a personal connection – a one-on-one relationship with the talk host, the news anchor, the DJ or the music.  And it also works the other way. When I’m doing radio news — or just talking into a live mic – I feel like I’m in someone’s home or car. Having a conversation. That connection never quite carried over to TV. Although I’ve always tried to imagine someone I actually know behind the camera lens – watching the screen.

I started my on-air career in radio as a Boston teenager and after decades of on-camera TV reporting and anchoring, I’m back on radio doing business news. And back to that personal connection.

So why am I writing all this?  Isn’t radio so last century?  Certainly CBS thinks so – putting up it’s iconic radio stations for sale.

Well – I got an email today from a very good friend. Who has had a similar career. And whose memories of growing up in radioland reminded me of mine.

Like my friend, I had a cheap plastic table radio in my room. Which somehow pulled in New York’s legendary WNEW in all its Make Believe Ballroom glory whenever the clouds provided a decent enough bounce for the AM signal. My parents were musicians with ties to the big band era and Broadway musicals. WNEW played The Great American Songbook.  William B. Williams and his fellow hosts made even commercials interesting. I listened well into the overnight – (Remember Al “Jazzbo” Collins?) pulling my little radio under the covers so my mother wouldn’t hear. Once it was dark out and the daytime stations were gone from the airwaves, the signal was often as clear as if it were coming from next door.

Beyond my own little radio, we had a big old standup radio (like the one above) in the foyer of our apartment. In the back was a shelf for a long ago junked “victrola”. But in the front was a magic dial.  2 of them actually. One selected the radio band. Short wave, medium wave, local. The other slid the selector across the dial. When the radio was set in short wave, all kinds of foreign languages flooded in. Medium wave usually brought in stations from the West coast – unimaginably far away to a little girl who had never been further from Boston than New Hampshire. And if I was allowed to stay up late enough I could sit crosslegged on the floor in front of that radio and hear broadcasts of the remaining big bands from the few 40’s style ballrooms still standing. Pure magic.

When I was 14 I talked a small Boston radio station into broadcasting a weekly show hosted by me and my locally well-known pianist father. It was a clash of generations.  I played my teenage music; he played his swing era, Boston Pops favorites.  I think it lasted for at least a year. The first of several weekly radio shows I talked that station into broadcasting – all built around music.  Then I discovered jazz and in college did shows for the 2 college owned FM radio stations in Boston. And as many of you know, I eventually spent 10 years as a CBS Radio Network news correspondent until I migrated to TV news.

Now in my car, I too listen to satellite radio. Mostly the audio of the TV news channels. I feel like a traitor. But when something big happens, when there are major snow storms or high winds or floods I fall back on AM radio.  When I need a traffic report I switch between the 3 news stations which have them (Sirius’s is always very out of date).  WAZE is useful but somewhat distracting when you’re driving. Traffic and weather together on the 8’s. Or the 11’s. Or the 5’s are still a commuter’s best friend. Along with the top local stories.

There has been talk of radio’s death for decades. It’s always survived. But the Millenials and Gen Y think radio is preceded by Apple. And they’ll be running things soon. Most local radio stations are now just automated clones, owned by a couple of giant companies loaded with debt and interested only in extracting whatever revenue they can to make their quarterly reports look better for Wall Street.  The CBS radio stations and the network which distinguished them may soon be among that group.

I love the new tech. I live on my iPhone and iPad. I try tons of new apps. But when I need to know what is breaking right now I turn on the radio.  Or, if I’m anywhere but in the car or at home I stream from a radio app. Real radio app.

Some day – when real radio has been destroyed and a huge hurricane knocks out the power for weeks as Sandy did almost four years ago – we’ll need local radio to hold communities together and tell a frightened public where to go for food and shelter and help. But radio will be gone. And there won’t be anything to replace it. Because without power, the internet and broadband won’t work. And even the battery-backed-up cell towers fail after days with no electricity.

Good luck world.

Dispatch from a Boeing 777-200ER

I’m flying home. From Prague to New Jersey. Connecting though Paris. Pretty normal. Done it many times. Ok – it’s never exactly fun. Security checks, passport controls, crowded waiting areas and fully booked planes. With just enough legroom between seats for a mouse to sit comfortably. You know – the usual nightmare.

But no. Not today. Today we have a specially-created French nightmare. An air traffic controllers’ strike. A suddenly called one day strike in solidarity with and for the same reasons as the same one day strike by French transport unions on the Metro and railways. Because French President Hollande wants to change the country’s cushy work rules which bloat the government’s budget and make hiring, firing and doing business in France more difficult than in the rest of Europe. Ergo: France is strike central. Even more than it’s always been. The air controllers have been on strike a total of 43 days since 2009 including their last 2-day walkout just over a week ago. Both during the extra busy Easter holiday/spring break travel period.

Where is Ronald Reagan when you need him.

Eventually my husband and I get to Paris. Two hours late. Of course missing our connecting flight from Paris to Newark International Airport. But all is not lost. I still have plenty of data left on my Czech iPhone package. And before that delayed flight from Prague even starts loading @Delta Assist on Twitter has us rebooked on a 5pm Air France flight to JFK. Somewhat out of the way but at least we’ll get home tonight instead of sleeping in the airport.

So we get on the JFK flight. Almost on time. And what do we see after walking through the spacious business class section? The 3-4-3 seating configuration I had just read about on new or retooled Boeing 777-200 planes. Translation – there is always a middle seat instead of the normal 2-4-2  or 2-5-2 seating used for decades on international flights. Giving airlines an extra 20 or so revenue producing seats per plane. 7 hours in a middle seat. Oh no!

Boeing 777-200 3-4-3 seating in coach

Oh yes. But this time it actually works in our favor. In the back of the plane – where it narrows – even Boeing can’t squeeze in that 3rd seat. So there are 3 rows with just 2 seats on either side of the 4 middle seats. With a little elbow room between the window and the seat and a few inches more leg room. Ok they’re next to the bathrooms. But here’s the thing. These are PREMIUM seats in tourist class. Because all the other seats are now even worse. We got them because they weren’t sold and the plane was otherwise full. Lucky us!

Until the average size guy in front fully reclines his seat into my lap. He speaks good English so I politely ask him to recline only halfway. I mean – we haven’t even had dinner yet! He looks at me like I came from another planet and says with annoyance, “but I have the right to put my seat back”. Yes I say in so many words – but – there isn’t much legroom and it would be polite if you didn’t. He looks at me, basically says F you without the F, and then fully reclines his seat back. His female partner gives my husband a break and pulls up a bit.

Maybe this guy actually paid extra for that seat in the 2 seat row ahead of ours. Maybe not. But his mother must have never taught him about consideration for others in a tightly packed world. Or maybe he was just born with the “entitled” gene like so many others of his generation.

Of course one can argue – and I do – that it’s really the airlines’ fault. They decided to extract every penny of revenue from their hapless passengers some years back. And of course it’s paid off royally with some of the best earnings in years in 2015 as they unapologetically kept every penny of the windfall from lower jet fuel prices instead of cutting ticket prices the way they raised them when oil went through the roof. And as they kept shrinking seat sizes and leg room over and over to squeeze another row or two of seats into the configuration. So shouldn’t the airlines also be cutting the recline angle drastically on that smaller seat back? When someone like the jerk in front of me fully reclines – he’s literally in my lap. Try eating when the food is hitting your waist! (He left his seat back ¾ reclined even during dinner!) I can’t even get up from the seat to go to the (very) nearby bathroom. And this is even with a few inches more legroom in these “premium” seats!

So OK you say. You didn’t pay extra for the seats, you’ll get home by midnight and life could be a lot worse. You are so right. But. Your rights (and those of the surly passenger in front of me) end where mine begin. Call it Apple against the FBI (before they dropped the case). When rights clash each person (or entity) has to give a little. That’s how most of us in democratic nations manage to live together without killing our neighbors.