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Archive for the ‘Technology and Microsoft’ Category

One century ago Republican Theodore Roosevelt was elected president and instituted sweeping changes in government, including the establishment of an estate tax and the national park system.  What followed was an economic boom that lasted for years. Roosevelt knew the importance of circulating wealth in order to revitalize the economy by investing in key infrastructure, including the public education system.

Today fierce battle lines are drawn over whether or not the estate tax should be repealed.  On one side are Bill Gates Jr., Grover Norquist and the Wall Mart heirs and on the other side are Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins.  This is certainly not a case of “like father like son.”

While Bill Gates Sr. has co-penned a book with Chuck Collins calling for increased exemptions but not abolishment of the estate tax, Bill Gates Jr. has been the prime funder of Grover Norquist as Norquist tours the country relentlessly advocating a complete repeal of the tax.  Like Bill Gates Sr., I believe the exemption should be raised to $5 million yet do not support a repeal.

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Today Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation as Governor and perhaps the two most ironic twists are his ill fated pilgrimage to the “Mayflower Hotel” and the name he used to check in, George Fox. George Fox, a hedge fund manager, is his close friend. Clearly Fox and the moral ethical desert embodied by hedge funds was a key driver in Spitzer’s demise. With friends like that, who needs adverseries.

Perhaps even greater than the shame Spitzer should feel is that of the traders at the NYSE that cheered his demise. As if these traders had no regard for Spitzer’s accomplishments and recognition of how many pensions were lost due to their blatantly illegal and criminal activities. They seem instead anxious to return to robbing investors with impunity.

What you won’t read in the press is the fact that Spitzer’s three greatest adversaries were Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, for reasons detailed below:

buffett gates and murdoch

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On October 31, 2007 the NY Times wrote a story on former SEC Chair Levitt’s public pension concerns yet decided to not include the single most important fact, that being that Levitt is on the board of directors of RiskMetrics, a firm which creates derivative products for hedge funds and is now attempting an IPO. RiskMetrics is the firm that purchased Institutional Shareholder Services, the nations largest proxy firm, earlier in the year and is in violation of one of the SEC’s most important rules with respect to proxy firms, that is, it has not fully disclosed its ownership structure. A search on ISS at this blog will show related blog posts and it relationship to hedge funds, what some call private equity, and the creation of controversial derivative products that have destabilized the financial industry.

Parish & Company has been the leader in identifying key corporate governance issues with respect to public pensions and simple needed reforms, including a review of the accounting related to tax benefits by hedge funds and private equity firms, whose largest source of funds is now public pensions.

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Today the Oregon Investment Council (OIC) had its October 2007 monthly meeting and made additional committments to private equity, including $325 million to Oak Hill Partners on top of its original $100 million investment made to a partnership in which Robert Bass and Phil Knight are general partners. State Treasurer Randall Edwards, whose wife Julia Brim Edwards is a public communications director at Nike, was not at the meeting and therefore did not vote.

Pictured below is J Randall of Oakhill Partners making his proposal to Ron Schmidt, PERS Chief Investment Officer on left seated next to legal counsel.

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Tektronix $2.8 billion sale to D.C. based Danaher Corporation is a dramatic example of top executives marketing a company’s sale to benefit themselves and thereby breaching its duty to shareholders and other stakeholders. According to the WSJ, Merrill Lynch’s CEO has tried the same trick yet the board is now considering firing him over making the overture for a sale.

With the declining dollar and solid industry position, Tektronix is poised to do well over the next decade and this should be managements focus, not leveraging growth in their options to buy more luxurious vacation homes and other perks on the backs of shareholders, pension participants and employees.

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When Microsoft announed its “HealthVault” concept I frankly just burst out laughing. It was back in 1999 when I proposed this concept to Intel Capital, the idea being to establish a place at Intel.com where users could store sensitive information, in particular health care records. The idea was to drive the project, not from a software perspective, but rather from that a bank would use with respect to safety deposit boxes.

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It is ironic that in the 1990’s by aggressivly destroying competitors and also prohibiting the sale of content on the internet by giving content away for free, Microsoft essentially paved the road for Google’s business model, the sale of privacy to advertisers. Google is a great company yet it’s business is simple, it sells privacy, that is information about everything we do.

Rarely considered however is the extent to which individuals and companies are paying Google to not be seen or to be seen yet at the bottom of a search, perhaps several thousand references down, essentially being invisible.

For example, what if Warren Buffet paid Google to surpress anything negative on its searches surrounding, for example, his insurance companies that dominate key segments of medical malpractice insurance? Would Google do that? For example, would they make the following article I wrote for Oregon Business magazine difficult to find: Buffett’s takeover of PacificCorp.

Already, PR Newswire, open of two leading pr wire services, has a policy that prohibits discussion of publicly traded companies, even regarding significant newsworthy events, unless they get approval from the company being discussed. For example, if I want to write a press release opposing Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of Dow Jones, Murdoch has to approve the release. (search for dow jones to see related blog entry). PR Newswire does this by not including ticker symbols in the releases, meaning the releases get minimal visibility.

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