5. Google Hits the Books
Google ( GOOG) should have Googled "netbook" before it took the big plunge into Chromebook.
4. Big Oil's Tax Time Theater
The battle between Big Oil's big five and the Senate on Thursday featured a little bit of everything, most of it, the typical embarrassing displays of grandstanding and corporate doublespeak that is the lifeblood of political theater. There was ConocoPhillips ( CVX) CEO James Mulva being called to task for his company's statement that the proposal to eliminate the Big Oil tax breaks was "un-American," leading to a new version of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, not seen since the days of Joe McCarthy, with Senators daring the ConocoPhillips CEO to say that all 28 co-sponsors of the bill were 'un-American." There was Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) getting the proceedings off to an apt start by having a video exhibit of a dog-and-pony show posted next to the Senate dais, and saying that ""Democrats are trying to score cheap political points at the expense of Big Oil." We disagree. It seemed most of the time Democrats were trying to make the high school debate team. And they did a good job of it. Ron Wyden (D-OR) bested Hatch's dog-and-pony show in placing on the video screen Big Oil CEO commentary from 2005, when oil was at the unbelievable price of $55 a barrel and each and every Big Oil CEO, and President Bush, said they had no need of incentives. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was certainly ready for high school debate, asking the Big Oil executives to answer this question, "Should we protect your tax breaks or student financial aid?" Right, Chuck, it's really all comes down to Big Oil destroying the educational opportunity for American students. So, what did we learn? Well, while $4 gas and a massive federal deficit remain reality, comprehensive energy policy from the Senate seems about as likely as waking up tomorrow to discover a unicorn outside your window. And an honest answer from Big Oil about the impact of the tax issue is about as likely as getting an honest apology from ConocoPhillips CEO Mulva about calling factions in the Senate not in the pocket of Big Oil "un-American."
3. Skechers' Skinny Shoes for Girls
For the shoe industry, marketing "magic shoes" is a part of its sole. Sorry, soul. This pair makes you run faster. These help you jump higher. And so on. But the industry stumbled upon the ultimate gimmick with the introduction of so-called toning shoes, and kudos go out to Skechers ( SKX) for pushing the concept to the apex of ridiculousness. Skechers has decided to bring the widely discredited toning shoes to those who surely need it most - little girls. Skechers Shape-Ups for girls come in sizes 2-6, perfect for those pre-diabetic fatties in preschool to grade school. Never mind that the shoes don't so much, you know, work or that by that fact Skechers is perhaps trivializing the seriousness of a growing childhood obesity epidemic in order to make a few bucks. Skechers didn't want to go and call little girls fat. Instead, they were more subtle with the product's introductory cartoon. It features a lively all-girl band, all rail thin of course, who bounce to and fro. More importantly, they are "looking good and having fun" while three winded boys dressed as a cupcake, an ice cream cone and a hot dog attempt to keep up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17% of kids between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. That's about 12.5 million kids. That's a real problem that needs real solutions. Skechers suggesting that they're offering even a sliver of a solution to the problem is laughable. Allowing them to run a cartoon commercial aimed at young girls that tacitly suggests their magic shoes will keep them fit without a healthy diet and regular exercise, that should be criminal.
2. Boston Scientific: Waiting on a Turnaround
For a company in the business of keeping hearts beating, Boston Scientific ( BSX) spends a lot of time stopping investor hearts with unexpected shocks. The biggest shock came this week, when the "turnaround specialist" hired in 2009 to turn the fortunes of the flailing medical technology company, Boston Scientific CEO Ray Elliott, announced that he's not sticking around for the turnaround he's commandeering. The heads of Boston Scientific investors turned around on their necks and Wall Street analysts forever calling a turnaround in Boston Scientific shares must have turned to the skies this week and asked what's next from Boston Scientific? In fact, earlier this year, when Boston Scientific announced a major defibrillator recall, BMO Capital Markets analyst Joanne Wuensch asked in a research note, "What's next, locusts?" Investors voted with their feet this week after Elliott announced his departure, sending shares plunging 10%. Naturally, the company and Elliott tried to position his departure as a natural step in the company's strategic plan, more or less saying that the turnaround was in place and it made sense for Elliott to leave. Investors weren't buying it, and several analysts didn't even bother writing a research note this week on the news, knowing that no one needed this one explained to them. On a purely monetary basis, investors had reason to think Elliott simply took the money and ran. Elliott was the the second-highest paid CEO in America, behind only Oracle's Larry Ellison in 2009, raking in $33 million in compensation thanks to a hefty one-time stock award of $29 million for taking the CEO spot. Last year, his salary went back to a measly $4.9 million. On a recent conference call with investors, Elliott said, "Somewhere along the way, you have to bite the bullet and do the right stuff." Apparently, the right stuff was running off with the money and patting himself on the back for a job well done when the job was far from finished. Between the acquisitions that Elliott oversaw and the rest of the restructuring, including a 10% workforce layoff and asset divestitures, his tenure may ultimately be judged as a successful one, but that's years away, and there is one simple metric on which Elliott failed investors: Boston Scientific shares remain well below where they traded when he took over what was already an out-of-favor company. Elliott and Boston Scientific said that it's time to transition to a long-term CEO. They can say "Mission Accomplished" all they want, but investors know better: this mission was aborted, once again sending Boston Scientific shares to an EKG-like plunge.
1. Comcast: Turning Enemies Into Friends
The mind reels. Coincidentally, it reels in perfect synchronicity with the revolving door in Washington D.C., where an FCC commissioner has accepted a job with Comcast ( CMCSA) -- less than four months after voting to approve its merger with NBC Universal. Meredith Attwell Baker, a Republican from Texas, will be leaving the Federal Communications Commission next month, when her term ends, taking a spin through that door and sitting down almost immediately in what is surely the plushest of leather seats behind the desk belonging to NBC Universal's "senior vice president for governmental affairs." That's perfect: Although she signed an ethics pledge upon her appointment by President Barack Obama two years ago that complicates or slows her lobbying co-workers at the FCC or other agencies, she's free to go after members of Congress. The job swapping between politics and lobbying happens with such regularity that it takes something extraordinary to draw the kind of attention Attwell Baker is sure to get, if only because it also focuses attention on Obama, who's probably smacking his forehead or grinding his teeth in remembrance of Obama the candidate swearing to "close the revolving door." Instead he's inadvertently given the world a new standard for sleaze. While Attwell Baker was in office for a couple of years and her legacy included fighting against Net neutrality -- Comcast is the nation's largest provider of residential broadband Internet -- and for the Comcast merger. (It was a 4-1 vote, with only Democrat Michael Copps resisting.) Michael Powell, former chairman of the FCC, was quick to offer praise, though, in a statement released Wednesday with alarming promptness. "Meredith has been a great friend for many years and an outstanding public servant, as she has served with honor and integrity," said Powell, who after his time with the FCC became president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, an industry lobbyist.
In light of all this dumbness, we now ask you: Which is this week's dumbest of the dumb stories? Take the poll below to see what TheStreet has to say.