Sunday, November 15, 2009

Washington DC - Ithaca, NY. Return.

I just got back from the Net Impact conference in Ithaca, NY, at 8am today instead of 1am. So why is that?

The Georgetown Net Impact chapter chartered a bus from Ithaca to come pick us up at Georgetown and bring us there. A fairly smart idea, because it avoided the cost of having the driver sleep over.

But the problems started about 1 mile away from the school, when the driver, following his GPS, started taking really small roads, to end in a dead end. I felt really bad that the Swiss guy had to guide an American driver in his country, his GPS and his bus, but it seemed like the better solution at the time. We didn't experience any other mishap, except of course for the fact that we stopped at a McDonald's and not an Outback, but it could have been worse.

The way back was more adventurous; we left Ithaca around 7pm to drive back. After around 3 hours of optimist hope we would end the night in our own beds, a really strong plastic-like smell invaded the bus. We notified the driver, who didn't seem to annoyed and kept driving. Not for long, as the engine started heating up, since this smell was the cooling fluid, who emptied through a defect hose onto the engine and the other belts. The engine was not cooled anymore... We waited (alongside a highway) for half an hour in a foggy drizzle, while the engine was cooling down. We boarded the bus again and tried to get out of the highway, but the whole bus, including all lights, shut down after 500m. We started waiting in the dark, figuring out what to do, while the amazingly efficient police had secured the area with flares. We waited for about an hour for a mechanics to come and confirm that a repair was not possible. In the meantime, another bus had left Ithaca to rescue us.

We chartered some taxis to come pick us up and bring us to the closest hotel, which was kind enough to let us colonize their lobby. A strange sight: 40 business students in a hotel lobby, between 1 and 3am... Some sleeping, some working on assignments, but most not really knowing what they were doing...

The other bus arrived and we left, full of hope, for Washington DC, and the real "adventure" started. First, with a glacial wind coming from the ventilation system. I thought for a while that the driver wanted to freeze us to death so that we don't tell our story. After some "iterations" (=trial and mostly errors), he decided that the best was to completely shut down ventilation. This left some free space for the odors of the toilet to spread into the bus, which was a whole new experience in itself. But I only understood the full dimension of the horror we were living when I went into it (no other choice, believe me) and saw the "stuff" (I'll leave up to your imagination what "stuff" you can find at the bottom of a no-flush toilet) was actually being sprinkled up because of some draft.

I've traveled on hundreds of buses, for more than 25,000 km in the developing world and have never seen such disasters. As I have been saying, the US is a country of extremes.

If you want a memorable bus ride, go to Ithaca, New York... ;)

P.S: It is worth noting here the calm and positive attitude of all MSB and GW MBA students, but especially the dedication, professionalism and efficiency that Katrina and Leslie, who were in charge of the bus, as well as Neel and Robin showed in handling this delicate situation.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

I just came back from "Capitalism: A Love Story", by Michael Moore. A must see!

Following the same "interview" style as an in SIKO, he made me aware of the following pieces of information:

Pilot's salaries
Apparently, airline pilots in the USA make around $20,000 a year. In Switzerland, they (used to) make the same amount, but per month.

Life insurance on employees
Many employers (see the list) bought life insurance on their employees' heads. So, when an employee dies, the company would collect money (in the millions). It seems a little problematic that someone can choose to get money when someone dies, without even telling the person. This could be defined as a "conflict of interest"... or even an incentive, for a company, to have some of their employees die!

The most surprising is that health insurers haven't thought about it yet.

For profit kids detention unit
Refers to the case where 2 Luzerne County, Pennsylvania judges received money for giving outrageously long sentences to 6500 children, who were sent to a for-profit detention center. The owners of the prison made tens of millions as well.

We can discuss about the utility of the death sentence. But since it exists in America, USE IT for these guys!!

Mortgage abuse
Apparently, banks and the like aggressively approached home owners, encouraging them to "refinance" their homes: get cash against the warranty of their homes. Many did, and either spent the money, or lost on the stock market. When the real estate crashed, the banks increased the interest rate and asked for more money (to cover for the potential value loss), and those who couldn't pay had to leave their home.

Financial Coup d'Etat
This is probably the masterpiece of the movie, where Michael Moore actually suggests that the banks and the politicians organized a gigantic Financial Coup d'Etat:
  1. Deregulate mortgage laws
  2. Let people borrow more than they can
  3. Cash in good loan interests and huge bonuses
  4. Let everything collapse (2 months before the elections)
  5. Banks can "buy", or recover, a huge number of properties for dirty cheap
  6. Use public money ($700 billion) to refinance the banks, who are on the verge of bankruptcy (but the bankers - the people - still have their bonuses!)
  7. Pay out large bonuses again
This is not the whole movie. Some are my opinions and not (only) Michael's. Go see the movie!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

DVD A la rencontre du 3ème type

J'ai acheté dernièrement le DVD "A LA RENCONTRE DU 3EME TYPE" sur

Franchement, un peu décevant. Payer 20.- plus 10.-de frais d'envoi = 30.- pour un DVD de 20 minutes, plein de dialogues et peu de vraie glisse, ça commence à devenir de l'arnaque.

Monday, March 2, 2009

L'affaire UBS telle qu'elle AURAIT dû être gérée

On commence ces jours, plus de deux semaines après la décision commune du Conseil Fédéral, la Finma (dirigée par un ex-UBS) et de l'UBS, à entendre des suggestions qui pourraient laisser entendre que des plaintes soient portées, en Suisse, contre ceux de l'UBS qui ont généré ce scandale.

C'est quand même assez incroyable de se dire que le Conseil Fédéral (CF) peut prendre une décision aussi grave (la levée du secret bancaire), qui viole une des spécificité fondamentale du droit suisse (si l'on trahit le secret bancaire, c'est la prison!) sans autre explication que "c'est pour sauver l'UBS et des jobs".

Si vraiment cette levée était nécessaire, le CF aurait dû dire "nous sommes dans un cas d'extrême urgence. Nous devons déroger aux règles tout à fait exceptionnellement, les coupables seront punis". Il me semble que la dernière partie du message manque singulièrement: nous devons préserver l'image de la Suisse dans le monde. Nous sommes peut-être un "paradis fiscal", mais notre pays n'encourage pas activement les super-riches d'autres nations à frauder leur fisc pour économiser de l'argent aux dépends de leurs co-contribuables.

Si l'on assortit pas cette décision d'une chasse aux coupables, qui peut raisonnablement penser que ce sera la dernière fois? Et comment savoir qui, au sein de l'UBS, était un "méchant" et pas? Il y a toutes les chances que votre gestionnaire à la succursale de Carouge n'a rien à voir avec ces fraudes.

L'UBS avait une équipe de plus de 200 personnes, armées de processus ultra-rodés pour convaincre les clients américains de frauder leur fisc. Outre l'extrême bêtise de ce procédé (qui peut raisonnablement penser que l'on s'attaque aux USA comme ça…), ces pratiques ont affaiblit la place financière suisse d'une manière jamais atteinte. Et pour quelle raison? A cause de vautours arrogants qui ont cru qu'ils étaient plus forts que les autres.

Il est temps de remettre l'église au milieu du village et de proclamer haut et fort que nous faisons ce que nous voulons chez nous (le secret bancaire), mais que nous n'allons pas démunir les autres nations, en tout cas pas activement. Tant qu'il y aura Monaco, le Liechtenstein, l'île de Man, le Panama, etc, je ne vois aucune raison à abandonner le secret bancaire.

Il me semble aussi que le Conseil Fédéral devrait tout mettre en place pour punir ceux qui l'ont contraint à baisser sa culotte et ridiculiser la Suisse dans le monde. C'est une question de survie, d'image de la Suisse à l'étranger et d'affirmation des valeurs que nous chérissons telles que l'honnêteté et la justice.