Posts Tagged ‘economy’

Sad Irony

January 29, 2011

A common economic complaint in the United States these days is that our manufacturing base has eroded, meaning that we don’t actually make stuff here anymore.

It turns out that the tear gas canisters fired by Egyptian police at protesters yesterday were made in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.

Tear gas: a weapon of terror used in Egypt, made in Pennsylvania.

As a Pennsylvanian, I feel compelled to apologize and point out that we’re not all pusillanimous sacks of crap who are content to earn a living by making and selling instruments of terror to brutal dictators, although that’s meaningless cold comfort to anyone who’s actually had to inhale our home cooking in the last few days.

I’d hope we can all look forward together to a world where nobody has to face tear gas anymore, but as long as somebody’s willing to make it, somebody’s willing to buy it, and somebody’s willing to use it, I doubt that’ll happen anytime soon.

The Sol Is Dead, Long Live The Independence

February 5, 2010

First, the bad news: the Los Angeles Sol, the team with far and away the best regular season record and the playoff runner-up of Women’s Professional Soccer’s 2009 inaugural season, has folded.

Next, the so-so news: this bad news for L.A. might not be as bad as it looks at first glance for WPS as a whole. Basically, the Sol’s demise came as result of the club’s uniquely bizarre ownership situation, and everyone knew from get-go that this end was always a possibility for the L.A. franchise.

Philadelphia Independence logo

LA's loss, Philly's gain

AEG, the ownership group of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, got the Los Angeles Sol up and running last year. However, AEG made it very clear from the start that getting the club up and running was all it would do. AEG’s involvement was to last for just one year, and after that it would sell the team to a local ownership group and be done. When the sale fell through last week so close to the start of the 2010 preseason March 1, the team had to be folded.

If an established club that predated WPS like the Boston Breakers or Washington Freedom folded, or if one of the other teams saw its owners unexpectedly bail, it would have been a disaster for the league. That isn’t what happened, though. Instead, L.A.’s owners bailed exactly when they said they would bail right from the start. This is definitely a hit to the league, but certainly not an unexpected nor catastrophic one. Even with the Sol’s demise, the 2010 edition of WPS will actually have one more team that it did in the inaugural 2009 season. A dispersal draft of the Sol’s players was held yesterday.

Which brings me to the good news: we got their goalie — 2009 WPS All-Star and Canadian National Team member Karina LeBlanc, as well as the 25th overall pick from the 2010 WPS College Draft (also a defender). Suddenly, an already strong-looking Philadelphia defense looks even stronger than it already did. Going to southeastern Pennsylvania actually works out to be a pretty convenient job move for LeBlanc, who is also an assistant coach at Rutgers University. It should also make things interesting when the Independence plays its first-ever preseason exhibition match against Rutgers March 7.

One the whole, 2010 is looking to be an incredible year for soccer fans around here, as long as Women’s Professional Soccer survives and Major League Soccer’s owners and players get their collective heads out of their butts and get a new collective bargaining agreement in place. Both the Independence of WPS and the Philadelphia Union of MLS look like they’ll be a lot better than typical expansion teams, provided they get a chance to actually take the field. Until those issues are resolved, that’s what worries me.

By the way, if you’re wondering why the heck you should care about the the future of professional women’s soccer, read this, and this one, too.

Update (2/9/10): It looks as though WPS is continuing to work on getting a permanent ownership group for a Los Angeles franchise, and that it has every intention of getting a team back in L.A. in 2011.

How Citigroup Will Pay Back Its TARP Money

December 4, 2009

Poor Citigroup. The company still hasn’t been able to come up with a plan to pay back its bailout money to the U.S. government. Luckily, I believe the answer to the firm’s woes may lie in the fine print of my latest Citi Mastercard statement that arrived in the mail the other day.

Beginning the second page, which hawks Citi’s Online Bill Pay and Retail Purchase Protection Plan among other things, is the following strangely incongruous paragraph:

Receive $10 OFF Your First 20Lb Gift Box of Florida Citrus!  Navels, Grapefruit or Mixed. Reg: $36.95. Intro Price: $26.95 Plus S&H.  Ends 01/15.  To order, call 1-866-743-6277 and ask for dept 07x.  Or log on to WWW.ENJOYCITRUS.COM and enter dept. 07x.  An offer from Al’s Family Farms  (not a Citi  (R)  company).

I can only imagine how this ended up in my credit card statement.

(The telephone rings at the desk of a corner penthouse office on Wall Street. The man sitting behind the desk, the CEO of a bank deemed “too big to fail,” lifts the receiver.)

“Vikram Pandit here.”

“Umm . . . yeah. This here’s Al. [pause.] Al from Al’s Family Farms down here in Flor-ee-da. I got a problem maybe you folks up yonder could help me out with.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t think —”

“I can pay ya.”

“I’m all ears, sir. What’s your proposition?”

“Well, the growing season’s been better than we expected and, uh, we got us too many damn grapefruits now.”

“I see.”

“We gotta figure out howta get rid of ‘em before the gators get ‘em. Vitamin C’s like Red Bull with vodka to them scaly varmints. Then, next thing ya know, the flamingos get into ‘em too, and all hell breaks loose. Last thing you ever want is a bunch a gators and a bunch a flamingos all hopped up on C havin’ a dance off to see who got served. Ya see what I’m sayin’?”

“Um, sure.”

“We put signs out on the road runnin’ by our place sayin’ we got grapefruits cheap, but ain’t nobody never drives though Okaloacoochee Slough. Damn shame, really.”

“Okay.”

“So, we need to get the word out to more folks. That’s where you come in.”

“What exactly do you want us to do?”

“Well, way I see it is you send out a whole bunch a them bill thingies to millions o’ folks with your credit cards every month.”

“Yes, we do.”

“How about puttin’ somethin’ in ‘em sayin’ we got all this here fruit you can get real cheap. Say it’s like a special offer for your valued customers or some sorta crap like that.”

“And what do we get out of this?”

“Thirty percent of the profits.”

“Sir, you have a deal!”

“Hey — Ain’t’cha supposed to have a secretary or something?”

“No, we had to lay all of them off so a few of us could keep getting bonuses. I double as a janitor over the night shift now, too.”

———————————————————————————————————————

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Citibank got into the bulk fruit basket racket to repay its TARP money.

Why Does Anybody Take This Guy Seriously?

May 29, 2009

While thinking about the tragically underused phrase “perfidious wretch” for my previous post, I remembered that Dick Cheney is back in the news again, this time for reasons not pertaining to war crimes. He was worrying about the federal deficit on TV yesterday:

I think the budgets [the Obama Administration] submitted are way out of whack. I think what it does not only to the short-term deficit but long-term debt situation is very objectionable.  . . .

I don’t hear anybody in the administration expressing concern over that massive growth in the national debt and what’s that going to mean long-term in terms of our currency, in terms of inflation.

I’m honestly inclined to agree with those statements, but you have to remember that they are coming from the same person who said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” while defending the Bush Administration’s aggressive tax-cutting (and therefore deficit-engorging) policies to an extremely skeptical Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. Incidentally, I recall Reagan’s deficits mattering quite a bit during the 1992 presidential election campaign.

It is, dare I say, a torturous intellectual path from his argument with O’Neill to yesterday’s interview.

WPS vs. the Recession

March 22, 2009

There’s nothing quite like being thrown into the fire at birth. Sports fans, we’re one week from the kickoff of the first Women’s Professional Soccer game in the midst of economic conditions that can only be described as brutal. One thing is certain: if WPS survives its first season, and then its second, and then it’s third, it’s a pretty safe bet it should be able to survive just about anything short of human extinction.

The Womens Professional Soccer logo.

The Women's Professional Soccer logo.

I really hope the league is able to survive, and not just because I happen to have a daughter now. WPS and its clubs have tried incredibly hard to do everything right, both fiscally and on the field, in the aftermath of the WUSA going down in flames in 2003 after three seasons of galloping front office brain death. Now it has the dumb luck to be launching at a time that most economists are now saying will likely end up being the worst recession since the Great Depression. Even if you have no interest in sports at all, you can’t help but want it to succeed, if only from a David-vs.-Goliath standpoint.

The WUSA’s demise was a swift kick in the gut to just about everyone involved in all levels of women’s and girls’ sports, and I really don’t want to see it repeated, having experienced it from working in the collegiate level last time around.

On a semi-related note, Philadelphia’s WPS club, due to be the league’s first expansion team in 2010, has a newly revamped and infinitely more informative web site than the previous one.

So Much for Tax Cuts Leading to Job Growth

March 12, 2009

Sometimes there are few images more shocking than a simple graph. I initially found the following graph of the U.S. Civilian Employment-Population Ratio over the last sixteen years, with the twin-recession boundaries of the Bush years conveniently emphasized by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, on this site. Here’s the graph, in all its decrepit glory:

By the way, here’s the link to the full graph from the St. Louis Fed that stretches back to the late 1940s.

You can see there that although the ratio has often been lower than it is now (perhaps because there were fewer women in the work force then? Just a guess on my part . . .), there has never been a drop as steeply precipitous as the one we’re going through now. You can also see clearly on the larger Fed graph that there was never a post-recession recovery that was as poor at producing jobs above the rate of population growth as the one that occurred in the middle of this decade.

Economic Aftershocks Reaching Sports

December 15, 2008

I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to American football, let alone to arena football, but I couldn’t help but take notice when the Arena Football League announced today that it was canceling its 2009 season.

As far as non-major professional sports go, I was always under the impression that the AFL was doing fairly well. It had been around for 22 years, a whole bunch of its games were broadcast nationwide regularly on major networks, and its attendance and TV ratings always seemed to be solid. In fact, the attendance figures and ratings continued increasing even through last season.

According to the AP story:

 In recent months . . . corporate sponsorships have dwindled.

The AFL’s woes come as the sports world, once thought to be largely recession-proof, has felt the economic chill, including layoffs at the NFL, NBA and NASCAR.

“I’m still a little bit shocked at the conclusions that were drawn only because this league has survived for such a long time,” Blaze coach Ron James said. “I always figured the league would find a way to sustain, even through tough economic times.”

Hopefully this is just an isolated incident and not the tip of the iceberg. If it’s the latter, I shudder to think about what it could mean for some of the things I do follow more closely, like MLS, WPS, the USL, and the WNBA. Thanks to my former life spent working in collegiate athletics, I’ve known some people whose livelihoods currently depend upon those leagues’ viability, especially in some of the USL tiers.

It’s a scary thing to consider, especially when taking into account that pro sports have traditionally been viewed as, if not recession-proof, at least strongly recession-resistant. How bad are things going to get if that assumption has to be thrown out the window now?

Nobel Laureate: Bush’s Economic Time Bomb. Cover story 2007

September 29, 2008

This Vanity Fair article from last December keeps looking more and more prescient, unfortunately.

read more | digg story

Marketing, Meet Reality. Reality, Marketing.

September 15, 2008

I have a confession to make: I love watching the financial news networks. The reason for this is simple. They are the most consistently fecund sources of unintentional comedy on television.

Northern Rock version 2.0. Apparently putting one's corporate logo on the kit of a football club with "United" in its name makes one's company go kerflooey.

Northern Rock version 2.0. Apparently putting your company's logo on the kit of a football club with "United" in its name makes said company go kerflooey.

Take, for instance, this morning when I turned on CNBC for a five-minute snippet. Commercials were airing when I switched on the tube. A commercial came on for AIG, trumpeting the company’s slogan, “The strength to be there.” This was immediately followed by the channel’s continuing coverage of the AIG death-watch.

(In a related troubled financial company commercial, Merrill Lynch has run ads for years with its slogan, “Total Merrill,” superimposed atop the image of a bull, which I always took to mean, “Total Bull.”)

But what I love most are the people on such channels who continually stress that unfettered free-market capitalism is the best path to prosperity. They then go on, day after day, year after year, to report news that proves that their belief is in fact true, if by “best path to prosperity” they mean “best path to grossly misallocating horrifying amounts of capital on a terrifyingly regular basis through the consistent application of greed-induced mismanagement.”

Also entertaining are the powerful and wealthy guest contributors who insist that government should get out of the way of all economic activitiy and leave everything (especially everything labor, retirement, health care, energy, or environment-related), to the markets to sort out, unless they happen to be expecting the government to bail out their company’s stupid choices. There’s a lot of that about these days.


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