Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Enron Dilemma

It’s been nearly a month since Bear Stearns & Co, once one of the most prominent banks on Wall Street, collapsed, leaving its investors and employees wondering where to place blame.

On Wednesday, March 12, Bear Stearns’ Chief Executive Alan D. Schwartz went on CNBC to confront doomsday rumors and reassure anxious investors that the firm had ample liquidity. He said he was “comfortable” that the brokerage would turn a profit in its fiscal first quarter.

He was wrong.

At 5 a.m. Friday, Bear executives woke the federal reserves chairman Ben Bernake and his associates to discuss the matter. Their solution? Securing an emergency agreement with JP Morgan and the federal reserve bank of New York in the largest- ever bailout of a U.S. securities firm. The following Friday, the company told regulators it was ready for bankruptcy.

According to Reuters, Bear Stearns’ market value fell after the bank agreed on Sunday to be bought by JP Morgan Chase at a price of $2 a share. On Friday, Bear Stearns’ stock had closed at $30.85. The shares Tuesday closed up 22.9 percent at $5.91, suggesting some were closing out short positions or believe the firm could fetch a higher price.

According to Forbes.com, in wake of its collapse, Bear Stearns is now readying for litigation, and maintains its avowal that the liquidity problems hit after it said nothing was wrong.

The SEC is investigating the statements made by Schwartz last Wednesday that Bear was “comfortable” and far from having a liquidity crisis, mere days before the collapse. AP reports that regulators “haven’t ruled out legal action over potentially misleading comments.” Also, Bear amended their bylaws to cover legal expenses, which looks questionable at the very least.

New York City Comptroller William Thompson was also concerned about Schwartz’s comments, and has announced city plans to investigate whether the failure of Bear Stearns & Co. was due to foul play. He told Reuters, “I think a lot of people are going to be taking a look. Was there some deception in there or was this just a miscalculation?”

Although perhaps not as dramatic as the collapse of Enron, an former corporate giant that, due to insider trading and deceitful fiscal statements to employees and investors, went bankrupt almost overnight, leaving thousands with bank accounts in the negative thousands.

Organizations such as Bear Stearns and Enron find themselves in a classic Catch-22 situation. To expose financial struggles to the general public and investors could mean a fall in stock prices, but to cover financial woes, as Enron and perhaps Bear Stearns did, could result in a devastating collapse for the company as well as all of its stakeholders. Most financial gurus can certainly look at disappointing fiscal results and understand that their company is headed for trouble, but seldom probably know how to deal with their company’s problems in the media.

Enter public relations. I hope that Bear Stearns has hired the sharpest, most acute public relations team in New York City, or even in the world for that matter. Since its demise, the bank has received more bad press than Britney on a bad day. Not only will its PR team have to explain the collapse to the media, but it also will have to comfort the bank’s 14,000 employees whose financial stability has been slammed, and even the college students who planned on interning at Bear Stearns with hopes of jump starting their careers. A strong PR campaign will certainly not remedy this monumental fallout, but could be a last resort at saving any sense of decency Bear Stearns wishes to preserve. For Bear Stearns right now, PR is not just a commodity, it’s a must.

Although the bank itself has virtually collapsed, I’m sure its former executives want to defend the Bear Stearns name as much as possible against the scathing world of reporters and media who want to tear it down.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

No matter what or who sparks our interest, we know that we can Google it (or them) whenever we want with no consequences. On the Internet, our privacy is protected. Or is it?

According to Savetheinternet.com, “Network Neutrality – or ‘Net Neutrality’ for short – is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet." According to the Website, giant corporations such as AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast, and Verizon, want to be Internet gatekeepers, inhibiting the speed at which we access certain sites and keeping some from loading at all. These corporations are shelling out massive amounts of money lobbying to Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to end Net Neutrality, which is, according to Savethenternet.com, putting the future of the Internet at risk.

How exactly would this affect us in the future? According to Savetheinternet.com:

If Congress turns the Internet over to the telephone and cable giants, everyone who uses the Internet will be affected. Connecting to your office could take longer if you don't purchase your carrier's preferred applications. Sending family photos and videos could slow to a crawl. Web pages you always use for online banking, access to health care information, planning a trip, or communicating with friends and family could fall victim to pay-for-speed schemes.

This distorted Internet of the future sounds like an unimaginable hassle. But before we panic and fret about whether or not accessing our precious Internet is about to turn into a nightmare, it is worth a further look.

The United States has three federal agencies, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that all hold responsibility in managing the Net Neutrality issue. A little more than one year ago, Deborah Platt Majoras, the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, announced that she had formed the Internet Access Task Force to examine issues being raised by converging technologies, such as the ones mentioned on the Save the Internet Website.

“I ask myself whether consumers will stand for an Internet that suddenly imposes restrictions on their ability to freely explore the Internet or does not provide for the choices they want. And I further ask why network providers would not continue to compete for consumers’ dollars by offering more choices, not fewer. We make a mistake when we think about market scenarios simply as dealings between and among companies; let us not forget who reigns supreme: the consumer,” she told members of the Progress and Freedom Foundation. (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2006/08/neutrality.shtm)

Majoras brings up an important point: the power of the consumer. When Internet encyclopedias and dictionaries began to charge consumers for use, Internet users responded by creating free versions in Wikipedia and Dictionary.com. Youtube allowed users to easily post and access free music videos, commercials, and even movies, all of which were once only accessible by subscribing to MTV or buying the video on pay-for-service Websites such as iTunes. As recently as three weeks ago, NBC Universal and News Corp released Hulu, a Website that offers full-length feature films, television shows and clips from more than 50 content providers including FOX, NBC, MGM, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, and more. With the launch of each of these Websites, media has become exponentially more available than ever before.

These Websites represent only three of the thousands of forces propelling the Internet into its more convenient, accessible future. Sure, giant corporations can spend a fortune lobbying for Web changes that might seem to only serve their own good. However, for millions of people, the Internet is the most important medium for contacting family and friends, researching, and for accessing the news and entertainment. It has become such a fundamental part of a large and powerful portion of the American population that any corporation’s attempts to change its fluidity would be – and already has been – met with vehement opposition.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Internet has revolutionized the way we get our news (shocking statement, I know). If you’re reading this, you’re obviously one of millions with Internet access. Your Internet browser probably has your favorite Websites stored at only a mouse click away. Odds are, you get some, if not the majority, of your news online.

Normally I choose the New York Times and CNN Websites every morning for my daily dose of headlines. When I'm really feeling newsy I'll venture over to the *slightly* conservative Fox News. I'll visit the Websites of BBC and Le Monde when I want a foreign perspective, and then when I'm tired of translating the Le Monde's French, I'll visit The Onion to give my brain a break and have a laugh while I'm at it. However, the news site I never seem to tire of and always find myself returning to—hourly at times—is NYMag.com

NYMag.com, the venerated New York Magazine’s online sibling, stands out amongst the electronic heap of news media with its fresh approach to news, hip writing style, and assortment of headlines that range from breaking news to celebrities breaking laws.

Whatever the recipe is for a winning infotainment Website may be, NYMag.com has figured it out and served it on a golden platter. NYMag.com triumphs because its articles are short and saucy, yet packed with information. It’s updated almost hourly on weekdays, so its information is always fresh and relevant. It juxtaposes heavy political commentary next to carefree fashion show reviews. NYMag.com’s articles almost resemble blog posts; they inform you while saving your eyes from the strain of reading long articles online. Besides providing news, NYMag.com offers anything and everything you could want to know about New York City, be it shopping, dining, or night life.

Although I’m not a New Yorker, sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live the glamorous city life: an executive position at Conde Nast, a townhouse in Greenwhich, a Hamptons summer, and a driver named Luigi. Until that glorious day when my fantasy becomes a reality, I can live my dream vicariously through the impeccably dressed New York socialites who adorn NYMag.com’s party pictures and party reviews.

But NYMag.com isn’t just vapid social gossip and an elite social scene. Its articles are smart and stylish. In the words of the Magazine itself, it is a “critical guide to life in the city for readers who want to stay on top of the players, trends, culture and politics of city life.”

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bravo, Marion!

Last night, my friends and I huddled around a gigantic bowl of popcorn and a bottle of wine to watch the 80th annual Academy Awards, or the “Superbowl for Girls,” as we have coined the important event.

We start watching at 6 p.m. sharp with the red carpet pre-show on E!. The dresses, the hair, the makeup—it’s a delicious feast for our eyes as we methodically critique or applaud every starlet’s attire. The actual award ceremony proves to be just as entertaining; watching celebrities introduce and receive awards never seems to bore us, and the delightfully crafted movie montages momentarily inspire us to become film connoisseurs.

The highlight of the night for me, however, was Marion Cotillard's win in the Best Actress category for her performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. If you haven’t yet seen this movie, you must. Cotillard is incredible as Piaf; she has the ability to transform her appearance and behavior from a pulsating young twenty-something to a frail and decrepit old woman on her deathbed.

Cotillard’s win makes her the first and only winner of an Academy Award for a performance in the French language. She is also the first Best Actress winner in a non-English language performance since Sophia Lauren’s win for her 1961 performance in Two Women, according to my trusted friend Wikipedia.

Oscar nominated films from France won an additional two Oscars last night, making it the most number of wins ever for the country. According to the Website of TV5, France’s premier television station, La Vie En Rose, or Le Môme as it is called in France, was the umbrella movie under which other French films nominated for the event could be popularized. What's more, France's record number of wins at the Academy Awards marks a pivotal moment in French cinema history.

To such a steadfast Francophile like myself, Cotillard’s Best Actress win made me tremendously happy. I’m glad to see that the Academy is willing to bear through reading subtitles and give movies (and the actors who give them life) a fair chance.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Black is the New White

In 2006, former Vice President Al Gore’s compelling documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was released, spurring an unprecedented interest in environmental awareness. The film documented evidence for Earth's global warming epidemic and exposed the grim consequences that humans will face should they choose to ignore the situation.

Ever since then, it seems we have all become a little obsessed with “going green”. We are bombarded with environmental messages in TV shows and commercials, in the speeches of political candidates, and even on social networking Websites such as Facebook and MySpace.

We get it. We’re supposed to save energy, recycle, and cut down on our greenhouse gases. But if you’re like me, you may still wonder: how can a lowly individual such as myself really make a difference?

Turns out, you can go green by going black.

In January 2007, a blog post titled A Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year on the green computing Website EcoIron proposed a theory that having black version of the popular Google search engine would save quite a bit of energy.

Enter Blackle.

Blackle, a search engine with a completely black background and powered by Google Custom Search, functions essentially identically to its white counterpart. However, Blackle saves energy because its background screen is black. According to the EcoIron blog, a black screen uses only 59 watts to display, while a white screen needs 74.

Google, the most popular search engine on the Web, gets a whopping 200 million queries a day. Assuming every Google user switched to Blackle, this would save 8.3 Megawatt-hours a day, 3000 Megawatt-hours a year, and about $75,000 in yearly saved energy. Blackle has recently been gaining momentum by making cameos in numerous environmental and technology blogs, including Treehugger.com and even The Wall Street Journal online.

So, the next time you search, I urge you to give Blackle a try. Blackle lets you do your part—albeit small—to save the world. In the long run, it could also help save you money (gasp!) by lowering your energy bill. Win-win situation.

Blackle is still relatively new undiscovered in the Internet world. However, Blackle has the possibility to become an Internet phenomenon. Imagine the energy that could be saved if all Websites changed their background to blackit's almost inconceivable.

Since its release in 2007, Blackle claims to have saved 473,025.553 Watts. For now, it trudges along, picking up new users daily and pushing its slogan: "Blackle.comsaving energy one search at a time."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Praising Pando

Hold on to your laptops ladies and gentlemen, the Internet has just gotten a bit faster.

E-mailing large files on the Internet is no easy task. Sure, with a high-speed cable or wireless connection, we can watch small video clips instantly on YouTube and download songs in a matter of minutes. But most of us at somepoint have been forced to stare at the computer for minutes, possibly even hours, while we’ve waited, bored and frustrated, to send a large file attachment to a friend or associate. Have you ever dreamed of having the ability to send an entire CD’s worth of music or even a movie to another within seconds? Pando makes this a reality.

First released in 2006, Pando is a free peer-to-peer media distribution software that allows users to easily (and quickly) share their media content with their e-mail: be they video, audio, or data files. Users must simply go to Pando’s website (http://www.pando.com/), and download and install a small software program. Pando’s secret is not compressing your file; rather, it adds a small, “.pando” attachment to your e-mail, which allows the recipient’s computer to locate the original file on your computer and download the file within seconds.

Don’t let the technology jargon confuse you. Simply stated, Pando allows you to e-mail up to a gigabyte at a time—enough for hours of video—in a matter of seconds. Pando also enables users to post large media files to a blog, MySpace, Facebook, RSS feeds, and more. The possibilities that Pando presents the media world with are endless; video news releases, public service announcements, and even news broadcasts can now be accessed and shared immediately, allowing corporations to send out messages as fast as they can create them.

What’s more, Pando has recently redefined Internet TV. For free, users can subscribe to and share Internet television shows, hosted by such cable big-wigs as CNN, ESPN, E!, and the Discovery Channel. Pando automatically downloads and notifies you when they’re ready to watch.

“If you’re tired of bounced e-mails, and of using Web sites to share your personal videos or photos, Pando is a straightforward solution that anyone can understand in a matter of minutes. It’s a great solution to a vexing problem,” says Wall Street Journal technology reviewer Walt Mossberg.

Pando, though still just an infant in the Internet world, might just transform the Information Superhighway into the Information Autobahn.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's a Complicated Relationship with Facebook

Today, the New York Times online posted this intriguing article about the permanence of a Facebook account. Turns out, even if you deactivate your Facebook account, or remove yourself from the Website, your account isn't really gone. Actually, it lies dormant, simply in a sort of "internet hibernation" until--or if --you ever decide to reactive it sometime in the future.

So what? Lots of people decide to deactive their account. Maybe they're in the process of applying for jobs, or law school, or maybe they've decided they're simply "too old" to be Facebooking. On the plus side, if your account is deactivated, your name won't turn up on any Facebook searches, and your profile is inaccessible. However, any footprints you might have left during the span of your Facebook life remain visible; other Facebook users can still view wall posts, messages, and groups you created.

Therein lies the controversial problem. While deactivated, your account is "on pause", not decisively deleted for all time. In theory, I could deactivate my account today, and return to Facebook at the age of 75 and my profile would be the exact same as it is today, a reflection of my current life as a college senior. But what if I never want to see my profile again? What if I wanted to remove all traces of my activities on Facebook? According to the article, completely and irrecovably removing oneself from the Website is an utterly cumbersome procedure that, until several months ago, was virtually impossible. Today, thanks to a number of protests by Facebook users and a petition at MoveOn.org, it is now a feasible--though still complicated--process.

Before permanently deleting a Facebook account, one should remember that it is an irreversible process. By taking the less dramatic route of deactivating your account, you get not only the benefit of increased privacy and knowing your profile can no longer be accessed by other Facebook users, but also the satisfaction of knowing you can resuscitate your latent account at any time.

If you choose to permanently delete your profile, you could in effect erase engraved memories of your life. You would never burn your high school or college yearbooks, so why would you erase all of the your photos, messages, and groups which have catalogued your youth?