Political Rally Groupthink

I went to my first rally of this political season last night, put on the Asian Americans and Pacific Islandars for Obama group in San Francisco. Kelly Hu (actress from X2, etc) headlined the event delivering an uninspiring speech on why she supports Obama. Actually, a bunch of the speakers before her (mostly from the SF School Board) gave much more impassioned deliveries on the virtues and merits of voting for Obama.

While I’m an ardent Obama supporter, rallys always seem to pray on groupthink. Since the first time I think in 2000 (or was it 1996?) when I started attending political events, it’s always struck me as interesting how people who have never met a candidate can stand up in front of an audience and profess the candidates undying love and devotion to causes we care about.

Last night as speaker after speaker got up to talk, it continued as it always did, to seem a bit phony and groupthink-esque. I can only believe so much that having never met a candidate, that somebody can legitimately stand up in front of an audience and say “This candidate is going to make America better, going to change your life and blah blah”. I’d feel they would be a lot more honest if they said or started with “I believe that…” instead of abusing the podium.

United Online Checkin

I disapprove of United’s online checkin. I’ve had two very different experiences trying it. The first time (my outbound flight), the sales pitch to upgrade (for $29.99) to Economy Plus is so in your face. When you are checking in, you step through the wizard, and the right most button (the one you’ve been hitting “Next” thus far) is now a big shiny “Upgrade now!” graphic. The option to not upgrade is a text link on the left side of the page that you have to read and parse to figure out where it is. Such a sneaky and devious upsell technique. I hate it when online retailers do that.

On the return flight, I was unable to check in online for whatever reason. Instead of telling me that on the first screen it tried to book me on another flight. When I selected I was uninterested in changing, only then did it tell me online check in was not available. I also couldn’t seem to figure out how to check in online without using my Milage Plus information. Unlike every other airline in the world where you can use your name and confirmation number, it asked for my frequent flier login. They need to up their experience to just hit the bare minimum for usablity and get rid of their used-cars-salesmen techniques.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

There’s a lot in the news the last couple of weeks about the investments Sovereign Wealth Funds have been making in to American companies. They’re a incredibly fascinating component to the new global flow of money, especially now as they are taking large stakes in America’s capital starved banks. Let’s break down who has done what in the last few months (from NYT):

  • Merrill Lynch: $4.4 billion from Temasek Holdings (Singapore, owner of Singapore Airlines, SingTel, half of Virgin Airlines, etc)
  • Merrill Lynch: $6.6 billion from Korean Investment Corp and Kuwait Investment Authority (the second cash infusion in two months, done as convertible stock)
  • Morgan Stanley: $5.5 billion from China Investment Corporation (formed to manage a fraction of China’s $1+ trillion American dollars)
  • Citigroup: $7.5 billion for 4.9% from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (wasn’t really in the news until this last year, but has over $1 trillion in management)
  • Citigroup: $12.5 billion from a group including Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (the other major SWF in Singapore, larger in capital than Temasek)

Foreign governments and banks have been the ones basically running the American economy for the last four or five years by buying American debt; it’s only natural they’d want a bigger piece of the pie. Most of the investments have come as non-voting shares, in what would seem largly to avoid the fate of Cnooc attempted buyout of Unocal or Dubai Ports World attempted purchace of P&O. It’ll make an interesting twist if they don’t see returns on their investments and if exercise their influence in American banking.

San Francisco Real Estate Stats

With all the news on subprime mortgages and the faltering real estate market, here are some interesting stats on San Francisco in the last few months. While they’re a quite a bit softer than one might have expect in 2006, they still look fairly strong. What’s most interesting to me is the sale price versus the final list price. In the go-go days, 115% wouldn’t be uncommon. Seeing 100.3% for condos makes the market that much more approachable. I was talking to the sales agent at the new Ritz building on Market Street, and they had some eight or nine properties still for sale. She mentioned that they were expecting to have offers some 90% of their listed asking price. You would have never seen that two years ago.

Median Home Sale Price:
November 2006: $750,000
November 2007: $820,000
Increase: up 9.3%

Average Sales Price as a Percentage of Final List Price, November 2007:
Sold Houses: 101.8%
Sold Condos: 100.3%