2008: Not So Great

George Bush isn't the only one who's been a lame duck for the last couple of months of 2008. I have, too. I think all Americans have been lame ducks. We've been in limbo. We've been waiting to see how the financial crisis will be resolved, waiting to see what's going to happen with the automakers, and waiting to see how things will be under President Obama. Like a lame duck, we've been treading water. And time doesn't fly when you're treading water.

I can't be the only person who feels that the end of 2008 has dragged on and on. It seems like 2008 will never end. Doesn't it seem like it's been the longest year ever?

One of the reasons, of course, was because we had an interminable Presidential campaign. And the war continued without any hints of a dramatic ending. And we kept hoping that the bad financial times would be over. So it certainly was not a year's end that zipped by.

And to make it even longer, not only was 2008 a leap year, but scientists added a "leap second" to it. Apparently, they do this every once in a while when they notice that the earth's rotation is slowing down slightly. In case you're interested, the leap second will be added onto December 31st. Let's all make the most of that extra second.

Things that didn't really happen that long ago seem like they happened ages ago. For example, can you believe that John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate only four months ago? Doesn't it seem longer? Were we really able to live our entire lives, minus four months, without Sarah Palin?

Were the Olympics really just this past summer? And were the John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer scandals really this year? They seem like something from a distant, more innocent past. Of course, they have been trumped by year-end scandals, but neither Blagojevich nor Madoff made the time pass more quickly.

Think your memory of 2008 is perfect? Who won the 2008 Super Bowl? Not a sports fan? Who won the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize? (Hint: it wasn't any of the football players from the Super Bowl).

Remember when gas prices were ridiculously high? Remember when houses sold ridiculously fast? Remember when I lost my cell phone? (Okay, that's a hard one).

Remember when the polygamists' ranch was raided? That really happened just this year.

This was a year when some things were all turned around. I don't know about you, but I can remember when people went to banks for money instead of the other way around.

And didn't you think pirates were a thing of the past?

One of the most outrageous Congressional earmarks was $50,000 proposed by California Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon. He felt the money should go to the National Mule and Packers Museum. And they say government doesn't support the arts.

Speaking of four-legged animals, a Norwegian equestrian was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal because his horse had taken a "banned substance." That's right. The horse didn't pass the drug test. With all the publicity about how harmful these drugs are, plus with every newspaper talking about how stringent tests are at the Olympics, how could a horse be so stupid and risk everything by taking drugs? What was he thinking?

The news story that defines 2008 has to do with Burger King. In the beginning of this month, the fast food company came out with a cologne – actually a men's body spray -- that smells like "flame broiled meat." "Who would want to smell like cooked meat?" But isn't this a perfect move for a company to make in 2008? People are worried about not having enough money to buy groceries, and they think that men are going to spend their hard-earned dollars so they'll smell like a hamburger? Maybe they're going for the burger bailout.

If "Flame" – as Burger King's cologne is called -- actually turns out to be a hot product, watch for the banks to follow suit. They could sell "Bucks," a cologne that smells like money. That way, Americans can walk around in 2009 with nothing in their pockets, but at least they'll smell like money.

And if the banks' cologne is successful, I'll bet other fragrances will follow. I just hope those in charge of that mule museum don't get any ideas.

Happy New Year, and have a great 2009.

CEOs At The Wheel

The CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler have beentrying some public relations moves lately. They're saying that if Congress bails them out with billions, they will only take a dollar a year in salary. It's part of the "we all have to make sacrifices" approach. I guess they think it makes up for the fact that they made millions last year while their companies were going in the toilet and many of their employees lost their jobs. They probably also think this sacrifice says, "We care more about this industry and our country than we do about personal wealth." Yeah, right.

I know that what's happened to the auto business is not just the fault of these three guys. We can't blame them for the fact that fewer and fewer people have the money or can get the credit to buy cars these days. And there are all kinds of reasons why the American car business has a hard time competing with foreign manufacturers. But these are the guys at the helm. This is their watch. They are the ones getting the big bucks to take the credit or blame for their companies.

I rarely begrudge anyone a big salary. If an actor or an athlete makes $20 million a year, it doesn't bother me. For one thing, it's not coming out of my pocket. I also figure that whoever is paying them is making hundreds of millions. But there's something wrong with how the auto CEOs acted. Picture these execs, sitting down at the dinner table at home after work: CEO's WIFE: "How was work today?" CEO: "Pretty rough. I had to lay off 3,000 workers. Pass the caviar."

In another P.R. attempt, the CEOs decided to drive to Washington this time to ask Congress for money instead of taking their private jets. Was that stupidity or arrogance that guided them to get in those planes last time? Anyway, I don't think driving to Washington was enough of a gesture. For one thing, it was three guys going from the same place to the same place. Don't you think they could have carpooled? Of course, they never would have been able to agree on whose car to take.

Now, I've never been the CEO of a company. I didn't even appoint myself CEO when I had my own corporation. But maybe the business needs some fresh ideas today. So, if I were one of the CEOs, I would have challenged the other two guys to race to Washington in the cars their companies make. Winner gets the most money from Congress.

There would have been some rules. Each of them would have to have driven a five-year-old mid-level model. A lot of people would be interested in knowing how those cars drive when they aren't brand new. Another thing: it would make these executives look more human if their wives and kids were in the car for the road trip, too.

If they were really interested in good P.R, they'd have videotaped the whole drive. Besides, if the taxpayers are going to give or lend these companies billions of dollars, don't you think we deserve to see how their cars hold up on a 525-mile road trip? Wouldn't you like to see these guys dealing with things like driving in the snow, maybe having to jump a battery, and finding a roadside restaurant that all members of the family agree on? These men are paid for making big decisions. I would've loved to have seen how they handle a really big decision – like when their kid says he has to go to the bathroom two minutes after they've pulled away from a rest stop.

But I think the best public relations move for these guys would be for them to resign. And it's not too late. Resignation would really say that they care more about the country and their industry than they do about personal wealth. Then they could take their millions and their stock options and go on a vacation. I'll bet that by the time they get home, some other big company will offer them a CEO job.

Why not? This is America where everybody deserves a second chance. And I have a feeling they will have learned from their earlier mistake. Oh, sure, they might run their new companies into the ground, too. But I'll bet when they go to Washington to ask Congress for another bailout for those new companies, they'll be smart enough to leave those private jets at home.