I watched Transformers on DVD that my friend lent me this past weekend. In light of the recent bankruptcy filing by GM, watching the good-guy Autobots transform into GM cars made me strangely sad. When Autobot Jazz was killed, I thought his death was eerily prescient, since the character transformed into a Pontiac Solstice. (On April 27, 2009, amid ongoing financial problems and restructuring efforts, GM announced that it would phase out the Pontiac brand by the end of 2010.)
This feeling of sadness was exacerbated after watching an episode of Band of Brothers where the character, David Webster, yells at a passing column of German prisoners:
Hey, you! That's right, you stupid… bastards! That's right! Say hello to Ford, and General f***in' Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses!
During World War II, GM was a beacon of pride and a symbol of American technological and industrial might. Now, it’s a dinosaur, awaiting extinction.
I guess I'm also feeling guilty since a couple of years ago, my father's Pontiac G-6 lease came due. We went back to the Pontiac dealership to see about leasing a new car. The salespeople were idle but were slow to help us. When we took the car for a test drive, the car suddenly shifted into reverse and the brakes failed. I pulled the emergency brakes which successfully stopped the car. I convinced my father to purchase a Toyota Corolla instead.
Even after a successful emergence from bankruptcy, I'm not confident that GM can successfully overcome the stigma and image of poor management and lousy manufacturing. But I am certainly hoping for the best.
The second movie that oddly depressed me was Casino Royale. I had never seen the movie in the theater or on DVD, but took advantage of USA channel’s recent airing. In an early scene, a Ugandan warlord tells a money launderer that he wants his money kept safe in a “no-risk portfolio”. The crooked banker assures him that he will do so, but in reality purchased “put” options on company stocks whose prices he intended to manipulate via terrorist activity.
This kind of reminded me of how some brokers like Citigroup sold auction rate securities (ARS) to investors as safe, liquid and “cash-like investments”, when in fact, they are long-term investments and are significantly more risky than cash. I guess this a reminder that when you want a liquid, no-risk account, you really shouldn’t be expecting high-returns and vice versa.
The final scene that depressed me was when CIA agent, Felix Leiter, offers to put up James Bond’s $5 million re-buy into a high-stakes poker tournament that Bond had already busted after an unsuccessful "all-in" bet. As a condition for staking the re-buy, Leiter demands the US would take custody of the crooked banker. Bond asks Leiter, “What about the money?” Leiter responds, “Does it look like we need the money?”
The movie was filmed before 2006, when most Americans were feeling “rich”. What a difference a couple of years make. What seemed like a cocky response then, seems almost pathetic now.