Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Laissez- Faire Conservatism vs. The Progressive Tradition

David Leonhardt writes a fascinating piece in today's Times, detailing the many year philosophical battle waged between American conservatives and American progressives. In this particular example he uses the health care debate as his centerpiece.

I appreciate how important laissez-faire has been in America's development, but I'm amazed at that camps utter opposition to any "big picture change". Social Security, overtime, integration, civil rights-- all bad according to my right-wing friends. Ronald Reagan led the charge against Medicare. It's kind of funny now looking back at his arguements againt the program--- oh my "socialized medicine." We are going to have trouble paying for many of these "progressive" ideas as we move on, but that is a totally different conversation.

The federal income tax, a senator from New York said a century ago, might mean the end of “our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom.” Social Security was actually a plan “to Sovietize America,” a previous head of the Chamber of Commerce said in 1935. The minimum wage and mandated overtime pay were steps “in the direction of Communism, Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism,” the National Association of Manufacturers charged in 1938.

After Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954, 101 members of Congress signed a statement calling the ruling an instance of “naked judicial power” that would sow “chaos and confusion” and diminish American greatness. A decade later, The Wall Street Journal editorial board described civil rights marchers as “asking for trouble” and civil rights laws as being on “the outer edge of constitutionality, if not more.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

US Budget #'s for November--Can't Make It Up

This is an eye-opener. The Treasury released the budget deficit numbers for the month of November. On the income side of the ledger we had an inflow of $148 billion. Here is the amazing part: we spent $ 299 billion. I keep on saying that this madness can't continue forever. We shall see.

Read more at ZEROHEDGE

Friday, November 26, 2010

American Citizen or American Consumer: Who Are We?

The news reports today on "Black Friday" are proclaiming a return of the American consumer. This article featured prominently in the NYTimes paints the picture:

Malls across the country reported overflowing parking lots, and stores reported lines out their doors, as Americans seemed — finally — to be spending again. ...

There seemed to be a resurgence in spending on discretionary items, a bright spot for an economy where nonessential spending has been weak.

I hear a line repeated often since the horrors of 9/11. "They hate us for our way of life". What does that mean?More and more it seems to me that "our way of life" is an endless quest for "things". We define economic progress by measuring nonessential spending.

When I was a kid and a member of the Boy Scouts, there were two merit badges that stood out above all others: Citizenship in the Community and Citizenship of the Nation. What we learned as we studied to fulfill the requirements for these badges were the responsibilities that come with being a member of the local community as well as the responsibilities of being an American. It was a proud day for me when I earned those two badges. Maybe this is a slight exaggeration but it sure seems like the only responsibility for citizens/consumers today is to spend, spend, spend.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

If we could only grow our way out of this economic mess

One of the most frustrating sideshows of the economic meltdown is the simplistic, pedestrian coverage and analysis offered by our media leaders. Take for example this article in today's NYTimes. The focus of the piece as stated in the title is that economic growth and an economic environment that cultivates growth can be a big help in our effort to cut our deficits:

If the economy grew one half of a percentage point faster than forecast each year over the next two decades — no easy feat, to be fair — the country would have to do roughly 40 to 50 percent less deficit-cutting than it now appears, based on my reading of budget data from the economists Alan Auerbach and William Gale.

The article goes on to talk about how economic growth was instrumental in the surprising turn in the '90's from deficit to surplus. The article lacks any in-depth analysis of how or why this economic growth in the 90's came about. The boom of the '90's was brought about in large part because of the Internet build out and cheap abundant credit.The Internet boom started out legitimately but degenerated in many ways into a glorified ponzi scheme.

I believe what we saw in those years was a continuation of Alan Greenspan's easy money policies that began after the '87 stock market crash and continued throughout the '90's.It was one crisis after the next: Latin America, Russia, the LTMC fiasco, the Asian tigers. One excuse after the next to simulate. Remember "irrational exhuberance'?

Post 9-11 we went through the same scenario, this time it was housing that was the bubble of choice. All through this cycle we as a society have delayed making responsible financial decisions. Instead we have spent $ we don't have, run up the credit card to a point where we are at our limit and instead of bracing for tough, difficult choices our media elite offer a bromide: we can grow our way out of trouble. Good luck. It's not going to happen.

Karl Denninger does a great job of laying out the math of our current situation in many of his posts. It's time for us as a nation to understand reality, rather than continually wishing upon a star. As Yogi Berra once said, "It's getting late early here".

Monday, November 1, 2010

Election Day 2010--What Does It mean?

Tomorrow, November 2 is Election Day in the USA. Take your pick of bad news: unemployment, mortgage mess, ongoing war , tax increases, it looks like we will see the public embrace the "throw the bums out" approach in the voting booth. That probably isn't all together bad because there sure are a lot bums up on Capitol Hill and we really do need fresh blood and fresh ideas. What bothers me is that I just don't see any fresh ideas on the horizon.

The chart at the top of this post deserves a close look. The pundits have frequently offered the opinion that Obama is anti-business and that his business antipathy is a major factor behind our "jobless recovery". The truth is though private sector job growth has been plunging over the past 10 years to become non-existent. As far as jobs are concerned, the only real growth since 2000 has come through government jobs. Sure, that is no recipe for real sustainable growth, but the point is this economic environment wasn't hatched overnight. In some ways it is amazing that it has taken this long for Joe Q Public to get "mad as hell". I guess that is the magic of stimulus scams, pull-forward demand programs and various bubbles stoked by Greenspan/Bernanke and cronies . Yes, the public is pissed now and there will be a new roster come Wednesday morning.
What does this new crew think they are going to do? Let's see how serious Americans are about adopting an austerity program. My gut tells me, not very.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Cool Tool Inside Google Analytics

Through numerous conversations over the past couple years I have come to the realization that there are different levels of sophistication in the sales and marketing community when it comes to Google Analytics. This recent blog post by James Constable explains what he calls a "hidden gem" within Google Analytics. Instead of relying on number tables to try to analyze the effectiveness of your campaigns, you can create easy to analyze charts to tell the story. It's true, a picture is worth a thousand words. Constable uses print screens to walk you through the process. His post is a great read for anyone using Google and Google Analytics.

As long as we are on the subject of web analytics, 7 Ways Web Analytics Can Improve Your Marketing is worth a quick read as well.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Analyzing YouTube Video Stats

CJ Bruce offers a comprehensive overview of the YouTube analytical tool, YouTube Insight.One of the neat things he points out is that you can gather a tremendous amount of intelligence about your own video performance BUT you also have the capability of looking at the stats of any other YouTube video-- including those of your competition.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Online Video 53 Times More Likely Than Text For First Page Google Ranking

That is what Forrester Research recently found and that is one of the reasons I bring up video in every conversation I have with clients and prospects. Many in the Online space believe that over the next 3 to 5 years video will be more pervasive than text. One of the other major reasons marketers are embracing Online video is that there is not another weapon in the marketing arsenal that cuts across all aspects of the customer life cycle. Video can be used at each and every stage. It helps generate awareness and interest in the early stages. It can be used in promotions and as an influencer in the purchasing stage and finally it can be used to maintain customer loyalty. In addition to all of the above video is the single best medium to engage and delight our target audience--the scientific/analytical world. It is fully measurable and a great way to generate sales leads.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Immediate E-Mail Follow Up--It's Imperative !

Marketing-guru and author Sally Hogshead likes to say that humans have the attention span of a goldfish---9 seconds. With that lack of attention span in mind,what is the optimum time for e-mail follow up in the lead cultivation process. How about immediately! One way to measure prospect engagement is to look at the click-through rate of a specific e-mail.Given how hard it is to generate " good-leads" it is amazing how just a little delay in our response to these leads can effect what happens next.

This recent blog post by Mike Volpe of Hubspot documents the decline in click through rates for an e-mail lead-nurturing campaign over multiple days after a website lead conversion. In other words, each and every day delayed in follow-up could result in 3 times less of a CTR compared to immediate follow up. These numbers really bring out the importance of staying on top of the lead nurturing process. Tardy follow up can be deadly.

I think there is one other lesson to be gleamed from the stats. If roughly 7%, at best, of our leads are engaging with our nurturing messaging is it really possible to have too many good qualified sales leads? One of the messages I get is that we all need more leads.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Crooks,Clowns, Cronies and Con Men--A Portrait of our Federal, State, and Local Political Leadership

I had some time this past weekend to catch up on my current events reading. It might appear from the title of this post that I am being unfair to those in the political class. I am sure we all know some hard working, decent people who have given their professional lives to politics and government, but on balance I think we are stuck with a bunch of sad sacks, political party be damned. I would even go a step further and add business leaders to the 4-C moniker. Over the past several years I have witnessed some pathetic examples of business leadership. It sure is sad, but we truly are reaping what has been sown.The articles highlighted below are just things that popped over the past couple days. A potpourri of craziness.

Exhibit 1-- Denver School System raped by bankers: Superintendent gains promotion to the US Senate.

There are multiple issues in this story. How did the Denver School System get in a situation whereby they were staring at a $400 million unfunded liability. The School Board's solution was to enter into a derivative "swaps" agreement with JP Morgan. The end results of their financial efforts: they still face a $400 million shortfall and still owe another $400 million because of the Morgan deal blew up in their face. The best part though is the guy that orchestrated the deal, the Superintendent of Schools at the time, Michael Bennet was eventually appointed to fill a vacant US Senate seat. He has the full support of the Obama Administration as he faces his constituents in a Democratic primary today. His explanation for the fiasco, "Nobody could have seen the financial crisis coming". Right

Exhibit 2--Matt Tiabbi skewers the players and pawns of both parties in the fiasco that is FinReg. I think it might have been Karl Denniger who pointed out that the Glass-Steagall Act was 40 pages and we would have been better off just reenacting it rather than wasting time with the new 2000 or so page piece of garbage that we are now stuck with.As Taibbi so skillfully points out, you would have to be worse than naive to believe that the cast of characters in DC are working for "we the people". The plutocracy is getting taken care of across the board. I knew Mitch McConnell was in the tank, but shame on Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, Blanche Lincoln and a host of others.

Exhibit 3 -- This story boggles the mind. How about an August surprise where the Obama Administration orders Freddie and Fannie to forgive the mortgage debt on "underwater mortgages"--loans where more is owed than the home is worth. I don't even have a comment to offer on this one.

I'll leave the issue of massive unfunded pension liabilities out of this rant. That's for another day. Something to ponder, given all the problems we face at the municipal, state,and federal level plus $3 trillion ( yes TRILLION) of unfunded liabilities staring us in the face, why would anyone put their neck on the line and seek an elected position in government. I hate to be cynical, but even those who flat out suck seem to do well financially once they do their government "service". It's the new fast track to wealth in our economic system.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Sad State of Our Political Affairs

There is not much to say. I fired up my computer and was confronted with this story about Charlie Rangel's Ethics Committee problems. ( my home page is the NyTimes) There isn't any commentary necessary. It's another sad example of a "Public Servant" who really isn't a public servant--- shame on me, I always respected Charlie.

I thought I'd take a quick peak at Mish's site to see what I missed in the economic world. It was Opening Day at Saratoga after all. Right after reading about Rangel I come across this about the political operatives in Bell, Ca. and all I can offer is that it is almost impossible to have any faith in our current structure. I am open to any suggestions. Maybe it's possible to label these two stories as "bad apple outliers" but I fear that that is wishful thinking.I quoted the Psalms last post, why not Ecclesiastes this time:

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief."

I might not put Hemingway in the same category as Scripture, but this line sums it up just as well:

"Was there ever a people whose leaders were as truly their enemies as this one?" - Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the BELL Tolls, Ch. 13

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul Krugman's Latest-- A Misplaced Faith in the System?

Paul Krugman has a Nobel Prize for Economics and I don't. The argument could be made that he knows a hell of a lot more about economic issues than I do but after his Op-ED piece today lambasting the FED and Ben Bernanke I am wondering whether Professor Krugman and his economist brethren have an overblown faith in the economic system and in the powers of Central Bankers and policy makers to effect the economic system.

Krugman's article criticized Bernanke and the FED for not going the extra mile in combating the problems in the economy. Krugman believes and he points out that Bernanke also clings to this belief that the FED does have extra tools at its' disposal to fight the deflationary spiral the economy is facing. For example.

" It can buy longer-term government debt. It can buy private-sector
debt. It can try to move expectations by announcing that it will keep short-term rates low for a long time. It can raise its long-run inflation target, to help convince the private sector that borrowing is a good idea and hoarding cash a mistake.
Nobody knows how well any one of these actions would work. The
point, however, is that there are things the Fed could and should be doing, but isn’t. Why not? "

I stopped "officially" studying Econ after my sophomore year at Colgate. A semester of Macro and trying to get my head around the Edgeword Box Diagram drove me over the edge. Economics is called the "dismal science" but labeling it a science is inaccurate and an attempt by those who practice it to elevate the intellectual importance of their craft.

It really isn't rocket science. Our economy went through a multi-year process whereby all we did was stimulate it. We went from .com boom to post 9-11 zero % financing to house flipping, to house as ATM consumption. We stimulated ourselves to "pull-forward" demand for probably the next decade. I don't know what these prize winning economists don't get about that. We are in a spot where there is nothing left to stimulate. A substantial % of US homeowners owe more on their home than it is worth. We have a debt hang-over on a personal level, a local government level, a state government level and the Federal government level yet somehow good Professor Krugman is looking to convince us that borrowing more is the answer to our problems.

Krugman and his crew worship at the altar of a false god. For whatever reason they have "faith" in the wisdom of policy and policy-makers. As he stated in today's column:

Like other economists, myself included, Mr. Bernanke was deeply disturbed by
Japan’s stubborn, seemingly incurable deflation, which in turn was “associated
with years of painfully slow growth, rising joblessness, and apparently
intractable financial problems.” This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to
happen to an advanced nation with sophisticated policy makers

King David had something to say about this many years ago. Krugman's misplaced faith reminded me of it--Psalm 146:3-4. We might all be better off keeping the giant slayers' words in mind as we continue to listen to prescriptions offered by our monetary princes.

Put not your trust in

nor in the son
of man,
in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth

he returneth to his
in that very day his thoughts perish.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tom Friedman is Freakin Annoying

Tom Friedman gets paid big bucks to pontificate to us on the pages of the NYTimes. I'll never forget how James Howard Kunstler described a Friedman piece on alternative energy--something to the effect of "he's blowing green smoke out his ass", well as far as I'm concerned he's doing it again. In his Sunday column, Freidman takes the opportunity to opine on the BP oil spill and how this is our opportunity to change as really we are all responsible for the predicament we find ourselves in. ( Just a digression on the BP spill but what's up with the live cam shots on the CNN, CNBC etc. of oil seeping out in real-time? What's the point?)

At face value maybe Friedman has a point but his recipe is laughable. I'll let him spell it out:

"We have to use this window of opportunity to insulate ourselves as much as possible against all the bad things we cannot control and get serious about fixing the problems that we can control. We need to make our whole country more sustainable. So let’s pass an energy-climate bill that really reduces our dependence on Middle East oil. Let’s pass a financial regulatory reform bill that really reduces the odds of another banking crisis. Let’s get our fiscal house in order, as the economy recovers. And let’s pass an immigration bill that will enable us to attract the world’s top talent and remain the world’s leader in innovation. "

Friedman is a creature of the establishment. In his world some kind of legislation is going to get us moving to solve our problems. He doesn't get it, we are so far beyond that at this point that his cries ring hollow. Day after day hard working Americans have less and less reason to believe that the professional politicians who sit in various legislatures have any answers for the multitude of problems we as a society face. Think of kidding, take a look at what my own state legislature is proposing. They are going to borrow from the state pension fund to lend to that same pension fund. Yeah Tom, legislation is the answer to our problems.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Top 5 Social Media Tips for C-Suite Execs

As I read this educational post on Mashable this morning I couldn't help but think back to a dinner conversation I had with my client and friend Walter a couple weeks ago when we were both in NYC for a Trade Show. Walter is in the pump business, double diaphragm pumps to be specific. He brought along a colleague from his office, Eric, who handles the social media responsibilities for the organization. It was fascinating listening to these two 30 somethings talk about where they saw things going on the social media front and how important it was going to be for their business. Now keep in mind .Walter is not in the most glamorous of businesses --in fact his business is rather old school when it comes to embracing digital marketing, let alone Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc. One of the things Walter said really stuck with me as he talked about how ubiquitous social media will be in our sales and marketing lives over the next couple years. He said, "Remember 15 years ago, almost nobody used e-mail. When e-mail first came out, all I heard was why do we need it."

No question the younger crowd is totally engrossed in the digital world. As the Mashable post points out, for upper level management in today's business world social media is an unpracticed art. That is going to change, I think pretty quickly. The business environment is changing in dramatic fashion and these changes are coming at us warp speed. Those in the executive suite who don't adapt to this changing world will find themselves ex-management in the not too distant future.

Top 5 Social Media Tips by Jennifer Van Grove

  • Go where the people are
  • Invest in people
  • Be a subject matter expert
  • Make it personal
  • Don't neglect internal social media

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Where Are We In The Housing Correction?

If you believe what T2 Partners has to say in this recent report the sane approach might be to continue to rent for the time being ---if you have that option. I realize it is human nature to always look for the silver lining and that we have suffered through almost two years of housing price devastation, but a study of the chart at the top of this post surely indicates more pain coming as ALT-A Option ARMS are re-set later this year and into next.

A couple amazing stats for the above mentioned T2-- Whitney Tilson research piece:

  • 14%+ of all mortgages on 1-4 family homes were delinquent or in foreclosure in Q4 2009

  • Of homeowners who haven't made a payment in a FULL YEAR- 23% haven't been foreclosed upon

  • If home prices were to drop another 10%, the percentage of underwater homeowners would increase by 50%+

  • HELOC delinquencies are soaring

I still believe a double-dip recession is in the works. Be careful out there.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tough Times At My Old Kentucky Home

This Saturday is Derby Day. No question the Kentucky Derby is a cornerstone in the pantheon of American sports events. Even though I am a big horse racing fan, I haven’t been paying attention to the economics of the sport and as a result this Joe Drape article in the Times surprised me. It shouldn't have. When the financial history of this era is written it will rival any of the classic mania’s of yesteryear. Take your pick of asset, art, dot-com, vacation house ---the Drape story talks about 6 figure breeding rights that are now worth something in the order of 10k. What were we thinking I guess we weren’t and that was the problem. When it’s all said and done we are not any different than the Dutch in the 1600’s willing to bid up tulip bulbs to astronomical price levels.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Debt Hangover

Spring is here in the Northeast and along with green shoots in the ground there is continued talk in the financial media about green shoots in the economy. There will be conflicting bits of data reported, but no matter what anyone tells you to the contrary, there is no way we can experience any meaningful recovery as long as we continue to have the debt overhang in our system. The chart at the top of the post is a staple in articles written by Denninger, Mauldin, Mish and Jesse among others. It really deserves a second and a third look.

It's real simple, most of the reported growth we experienced going back to the early '80's was the result of adding leverage to the system. The thing is, we have to service that debt with interest payments and ultimately pay back the principal. How are we going to have future growth with that mountain in front of us? Many people I read believe that default is inevitable, whether that be through inflating the currency or outright default. The math just doesn't work.

The pathetic state of many of our individual states is finally being brought to light by the mainstream press. If California, New York and others end up getting a bail out the debt line will only get bigger. Is it possible? I guess we'll find out.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saint Patrick's Day

I'm trying to figure out how a holiday commemorating the patron saint of Ireland has become a day filled with alcoholic intake. Maybe this is another example of the ongoing Hallmarking of all aspects of American life. One of the ironies is that Ireland has now begun to copy the bacchanalic aspects of the feast. Twenty-thirty years ago Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland looked like this:

In fact, all the pubs closed on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. Families attended church and later went for a walk or worked in the garden.
The holiday was exactly that, says Carmel McCaffrey: a holy day.
"When I was a child in Ireland, the pubs didn’t even open. It was a holy day. We went to church," the Irish scholar and former Johns Hopkins professor said in a phone interview from Maryland. "We'd usually just meet up with friends and have a meal. There were no drinks."

That's not what you'll hear in Dublin today, as the holiday to remember the British missionary to the Druids switches focus from religion to revelry.

A couple interesting tid-bits, the story behind the story. March 17 is believed to be the date of Patrick's death. He lived in the fourth and fifth century and was born of Roman parents who lived in Roman- Britain. It's interesting how little is really known about him. Much of the writings about his life, and the legends that developed came from the 7th century and later.

It's hard to believe what his "day" has become. I'm not passing judgement one way or another. Just amazed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

And We Laugh at the Greeks

I realize it is easy to snicker at the sham that is the Greek economy. This NYTIMES article illustrates the folly of their system--- 580 government identified job categories that merit early retirement + government pension at age 50 for women and 55 for men. It's hard to believe. Before we laugh too much at the Greeks maybe we should take a closer look at what is going on in our own country because it seems to me that we are moving down a parallel path.

The US February budget numbers came out the other day and there is no polite way to describe the mess we face. It's almost surreal that we are only able to fund a third of our expenditures ( we are borrowing the rest). What blows my mind is the fact that we as a national economy are coming off of a 30 year cycle of relative prosperity, yet we face huge unfunded entitlement obligations in the not too distant future with no money in the piggy bank and an unfathomable credit card bill. And I repeat, this is after several decades of prosperity. I couldn't do a better job of describing the February budget debacle than Karl Denninger of The Market Ticker does ( highlights below). If and when we lose the abiltiy to borrow cheaply it will not be pretty.

50% of the federal budget right now goes to entitlements.
This last month we posted a record $220.9 billion budget deficit. We took in $107 billion but spent $328 billion.
Isn't that special. We only funded 32% of expenditures?
Remember - entitlements were half of that $328 billion.
So let's see if we can do the math here.
Entitlements were about $164 billion last month in spending. The rest was, of course, the rest.
But we only took in $107 billion.
So even if we eliminated all entitlement spending we still did not have enough money to cover the rest.
If you want to know why the market is floating higher it's for the same reason you feel all giddy and special when you strike out on the town with your shiny plastic. You have magic cards!
It doesn't matter if you have a job, it doesn't matter if you have any money in the bank, so long as you have magic cards.
For how long does the United States continue to have magic cards?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Michael Lewis Book -- The Big Short

I love reading Michael Lewis. Lewis has the uncanny ability to capture uniqueness in the characters he writes about and in the process keeps the reader totally engrossed in the quest of his real-life protagonists. It doesn't matter if we are talking about a major league baseball general manager ( Money Ball), an inner-city black high school football player trying to fit in with his adopted white southern suburban family ( The Blind Side) or an Internet mogul looking for his next billion dollar score ( The New New Thing) Lewis's subjects are fascinating to follow.

I read an excerpt last night from the new Lewis book The Big Short I think he has another winner on his hands. Lewis has focused on one Michael Bury in his latest. Bury is a guy we've never heard of until now but boy is his story interesting. Picture a total loner, a guy that by the age of 29 really could say that he had no close friends.A guy that walked away from his medical profession to start a hedge fund ( at the time he had a negative net worth of roughly $100K) What Bury did have though was the desire and interest to fastidiously study hundreds of mortgage securities in the early years of the new century. He became convinced that the housing market was ready for a major tumble and his quest became finding a way for his hedge fund to profit from what he perceived to be an upcoming financial debacle.Others such as John Paulson have been chronicled as having been big winners in the mortgage meltdown, yet Bury was really the first one to identify the opportunity and until now has largely operated off the radar screen.The hoops he had to jump through to be successful were monumental. Many of the episodes chronicled go in the, " you just can't make this up" category. I am really looking forward to the book release as I found the excerpt to be " can't put it down" stuff.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why It Might Be A Good Idea To Turn Off Cable News

Ever since the Clinton impeachment saga of the late '90's, cable TV airways have offered a full menu of issue oriented news shows. What might have originally seemed like an effective vehicle for the audience to learn about complex issues of the day has instead turned into a cacophonous orgy of propaganda . Sebastian Jones exposed the insidiousness of the entire enterprise in this expose in the March 1 issue of The Nation.

Jones explains how many of the so called expert analysts brought on to address issues are really nothing more than paid mouthpieces for various corporate interests. The networks just don't bother to tell us the audience who exactly is buttering the proverbial bread for the guest experts.He goes on to point out that both sides of the ideological aisle are equal opportunity propagandists. In the end we the public lose. All too often that's been the outcome on numerous issues of the day. Jones nails it in the last paragraph of his piece:

Jay Rosen, a media critic and journalism professor at New York University, has a different take. "More disclosure is good--I'm certainly in favor of that--but why are these people on at all?" asks Rosen. "They have views and can manufacture opinions around any event at any time."
Rosen echoes something Brown mentioned to me. Watching cable news cover the 2008 election with more analysts crammed at one table than ever before--as if to ask, "How many people can we put on the set at one time?"--Brown said he was "amazed how little they had to offer." He went on, "We live in a time where there are no shortages of opinions and an incredible deficit of facts."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A CEO Who Gets It

The New York Times Sunday Business section usually runs a column entitled, Corner Office. It is basically a discussion with a top business executive and the subject matter deals with the challenges of leading and managing. I especially liked this past weeks edition. The interview was with Mark Pincus, the founder and chief executive of Zynga,a provider of online social games.

The entire column can be read here. Three things stood out for me in the interview:

1) What Pincus looks for in a hire:

I keep my eye out for someone who has achieved a lot, so they’ve been
a great athlete or on a great team, but then something didn’t go quite right, and they’re still very hungry and want to be C.E.O. of something. I like to bet on people, especially those who have taken risks and failed in some way, because they have more real-world experience. And they’re humble. I also like to hire people into one position below where they ought to be, because only a certain kind of person will do that — somebody who is pretty humble and somebody who’s very confident.

2) What he looks for in leaders

This is another thing I really, really value: being a true meritocracy. The only way people will have the trust to give their all to their job is if they
feel like their contribution is recognized and valued. And if they see somebody else higher above them just because of a good résumé, or they see somebody else promoted who they don’t think deserves it, you’re done.
My approach is that you have to earn the respect of people you work with. And so, if you come in and you start bossing people around and they don’t want to work with you, they won’t. In our company, if you want to switch teams, you can. In hiring, it’s also a sign of a great manager when you tell me that there’s all these people
who want to come with you, or when you join us and we find other people are all sending us their résumés because you’re here.

3) How he manages

John Doerr [the venture capitalist] sold me on this idea of O.K.R.’s, which stands for objectives and key results. It was developed at Intel and used at Google, and the idea is that the whole company and every group has one objective and three measurable key results, and if you achieve two of the three, you achieve your overall objective, and if you achieve all three, you’ve really killed it.

We put the whole company on that, so everyone knows their O.K.R.’s. And that is a good, simple organizing principle that keeps people focused on the three things that matter — not the 10.

Then I ask everybody to write down on Sunday night or Monday morning what are your three priorities for the week, and then on Friday see how you did against them. It’s the only way people can stay focused and not burn out. And if I look at your road map and you have 10 priorities for you and your team, you probably don’t know which of the three matter, and probably none of the 10 are right.

I can look at everyone’s piece of paper, and their road map shows every item you were going to do and your predicted results and actual results, and then the results are in red if you missed them, yellow if they’re close and green if you passed them. I think road maps are a great principle just for managing your life. It keeps everybody focused, and it lets me know what trains are on or off the tracks.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

If Ben Bernanke Were an NFL Head Coach

At the end of every NFL season the pink slips come quickly. I think it was Jerry Glanville who once said that NFL stands for "not for long". That is especially true if you are a head coach with modest results. In the NFL modest results could mean winning as often as losing. A simple .500 record. This past week the US Senate offered a verdict on Ben Bernake's tenure as Chairman of the Federal Reserve and in my opinion their decision was the equivalent of bringing back a coach with multiple 5-11 and 4-12 seasons in his resume.

Am I being too harsh on Helicopter Ben the bubble blower? The video above, courtesy of my friends at The Daily Bail demonstrates Bernanke's fecklessness. It might be unfair not to assign equal blame to Ben's mentor and partner in money printing, Alan Greenspan, but Greenspan is off on the big money speech circuit now. Why anyone would be interested in what Greenspan has to say is another matter.

Prior to his stint at the Fed, Ben's claim to fame was that as a Princeton professor he was viewed by many academics as one of THE experts on the Great Depression. Think about it. The world's largest economy is in the hands of a guy who has no practical business experience.He has read a lot of books though. It's like making self-proclaimed NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. head coach of your favorite franchise.

Two issues surrounding the Bernanke confirmation still perplex me. Why is Obama and fellow Dems defending and pushing forward the appointment ? The Republicans have largely abandoned support for Bernanke, yet he and his predecessor Greenspan are and were Republican administration appointees. Why take the heat for the other guys poor pick?

Why do we have this fairy tale belief that the Fed can somehow manage a multi-trillion dollar economy. Wasn't one of the great fallacies of the Soviet system this idea that you could somehow centrally plan a national economy. It's so easy for us to see the error of the Soviet's on this, yet we insist on believing that we can somehow do similar central coordinating via the Fed.Is it any wonder we have witnessed multiple bubbles and an almost total destruction of dollar purchasing power over the almost 100 years of the Fed's existence.

If these Fed Chiefs are going to "get credit" for saving the system, they need to be held accountable for setting the stage for the system to need saving in the first place. Being accountable does not mean a contract extension. I am very disappointed with the US Senate and the current Administration on this one. If Bernanke were my head coach he'd be looking for a new job.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Martha Coakley.... Good Riddance

I see the President is making a trip tomorrow to campaign for the Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, Martha Coakley. This Senate race epitomizes everything wrong with our current system. Watch what goes on the next couple days. It will be political March Madness. The wackos on the left ( the DailyKos crew) and the wackos on the right ( the Hannityites) will be out in full force making this political race a major event for all of us.

This election is being portrayed as a referendum on Obama's first year in office --- and maybe it is, but really, if Obama is unable to push his agenda through the Congress, sans a Democrat in MA. and with a mere 59 votes in the Senate something is wrong. (I'm saying this as a supporter of universal health care-- I am not opposed to the agenda in principle).

Maybe I'm naive as I do expect the people who ask for the honor of representing "the people" to be true leaders in every sense of the word. With that being said, a big thanks to the Daily Bail for posting the recent Dorothy Rabinowitz article in the Wall Street Journal revisiting the Amirault case and Martha Coakley's role in that case.

This case was one of several sensational cases in the mid 80's of wild child molestation charges that bordered on the absurd:

The accusations against the Amiraults might well rank as the most astounding ever to be credited in an American courtroom, but for the fact that roughly the same charges were brought by eager prosecutors chasing a similar headline—making cases all across the country in the 1980s. Those which the Amiraults' prosecutors brought had nevertheless, unforgettable features: so much testimony, so madly preposterous, and so solemnly put forth by the state. The testimony had been extracted from children, cajoled and led by tireless interrogators.
Gerald, it was alleged, had plunged a wide-blade butcher knife into the rectum of a 4-year-old boy, which he then had trouble removing. When a teacher in the school saw him in action with the knife, she asked him what he was doing, and then told him not to do it again, a child said. On this testimony, Gerald was convicted of a rape which had, miraculously, left no mark or other injury. Violet had tied a boy to a tree in front of the school one bright afternoon, in full view of everyone, and had assaulted him anally with a stick, and then with "a magic wand." She would be convicted of these charges.
Other than such testimony, the prosecutors had no shred of physical or other proof that could remotely pass as evidence of abuse. But they did have the power of their challenge to jurors: Convict the Amiraults to make sure the battle against child abuse went forward. Convict, so as not to reject the children who had bravely come forward with charges.

Martha Coakley had a chance to show true leadership when she became Middlesex County DA in '99. Obama agenda or not, I just don't see why she should be rewarded with a promotion given role in this pathetic mess. That is not to say that her opponent, Scott Brown is offering anything of substance either. It's part of the reason we are in the sad state we are in. Rabinowitz says it well as she concludes her piece:

What does this say about her candidacy? (Ms. Coakley declined to be interviewed.) If the current attorney general of Massachusetts actually believes, as no serious citizen does, the preposterous charges that caused the Amiraults to be thrown into prison—the butcher knife rape with no blood, the public tree-tying episode, the mutilated squirrel and the rest—that is powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat. It is little short of wonderful to hear now of Ms. Coakley's concern for the rights of terror suspects at Guantanamo—her urgent call for the protection of the right to the presumption of innocence.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Betting Against China

Very interesting article in the NYTimes today detailing crack short-seller Jim Chanos and his growing unease with the Chinese economy. At this point I don't have a particular take on this issue but I think it makes sense to be aware of the Chanos concern. He has gone against the crowd before in a big way (Enron) and profited big-time. At the same time Jimmy Rogers' comment is also worth noting:

I find it interesting that people who couldn't spell China 10 years ago are now experts on China,” said Jim Rogers, who co-founded the Quantum Fund with George Soros and now lives in Singapore. “China is not in a bubble.”
Colleagues acknowledge that Mr. Chanos began studying China’s economy in earnest only last summer and sent out e-mail messages seeking expert opinion.

The bottom line is that we are still in very difficult economic waters. It wouldn't take much to tip us back into the financial danger zone. If the Chinese run into economic problems in the near term all bets are off for the rest of us. The situation deserves monitoring.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fish Where The Fish Are

The maxim, " Fish where the fish are," is as relevant to markets and investing as it is for selling or fishing. Thanks to Jesse at his Amercain Cafe for the chart above. It's been popular in some forums to label the yellow metal's move over the past several years " a bubble". I don't know about that but what I do know is that gold is in a Bull Market.From my experience bull markets tend to have quite a lifespan. Think about the lastgreat equity bull market we experienced. It began in 1982 and had a run to 2000 ---- almost 18 years.

That's not to say that there aren't some hair-raising corrections in the interim but as Jesse Livermore was reported to say, " I made my money by sitting not by thinking ". ( In other words he sat with his positions and let his profits run rather than trading in and out --provided we are in a bull market of course).

The point here is that we are in the fourth or fifth inning of a nine inning gold bull and the major fireworks are still to come . Stay long, stay strong the numbers to come will be breath-taking.