Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Main Stream Media Begs Government Bureaucrats "To Do Something"

Last evening was a "travel night" for me. I was on my way to Nashville and had some downtime in Baltimore waiting for a connecting flight. CNN programing was playing on the various flat screens positioned in the waiting areas.Much of the coverage was devoted to the equity "market carnage" from earlier in the day.

It sure was an ugly day in the markets. What amazed me as I sat watching and listening to the talking heads was the constant call for the government, whether that be the White House, Congress or the Fed to "do something". Where did this faith in these authority figures come from. The fact of the matter is that these guys have no answers. We have been extremely fortunate in the US to be able to live well beyond our means over the past 20 years or so. That ability has come to an end and we are going to have to learn live with less. I know that is not a message that politicians want to deliver but it's the truth.

At the same time while we are looking at real unemployment of close to 20% (U6) it's amazing how a 10-15% pullback in equity prices brings out the cry of do something. If we can spend $ to support stock prices why can't we take the same approach to dealing with jobs?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The more things change....

I’ve been engrossed with Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ. I’m almost finished with volume 1 and am finding it tough to put down. I was reminded of the old adage, “the more things change the more they stay the same” as I was reading last night with CNN News on in the background. The news shows are full of budget and deficit talk. Last night the big story was the new proposal by the Gang of 6. It’s political theater.

Getting back to Caro’s LBJ. I’m currently reading about Johnson’s lack of a legislative record during the course of his time serving in the House. Caro points out that while LBJ ran for his Congressional seat shouting , “Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Roosevelt any chance he had, and promised to be a backer of the New Deal, he was silent when it came to debate on almost every issue of the day. It wasn’t like there weren’t major issues being debated.

I was struck by what I came across on page 550. I have to admit I don't know much about this recession in '38 and need to do more research. According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics the US unemployment rate hit 19%, up from 14% in ’37. To quote Caro,

Most significant of all, 1938, the year in which the New Deal had to face its own recession, was the year of the great debate in Washington over whether to fight that recession with mammoth new spending programs , or whether a balanced budget—the balanced budget which the President himself so devoutly wished for--- was more important: an issue whose resolution was to affect the fundamentals of American life for years, if not decades to come.

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Game Change

I finally got around to reading Game Change, the book heralded as the inside story on the 2008 Presidential Campaign. The book benefited from a lot of buzz when it was released but I'm glad I waited a year plus to pick it up. We are right in the middle of the early stages of the next presidential campaign so the reading was timely as a look back. The book did illustrate how vacuous these campaigns are. There is no off-season in American politics now. The campaign and the associated media coverage is another form of entertainment. Another way to waste time between NFL games.

At the same, reading the book now and having two and a half years to look at Obama's body of work as President...something I wouldn't have been able to do had I read the book when it first came out solidified my view that our politicians really don't have much of a plan to deal with the numerous problems we face now.

It ends up, I'm even more cynical now after having read the book then I was before and that is saying something. I shouldn't be so naive but Game Change makes it obvious that the only thing serious about the presidential candidates is their "personal brand" and the public perception of that brand. The candidates, whether Obama, Hillary, McCain or John Edwards are bereft of any real solutions. It's all about the brand and all about them.

John Heilemann and Mark Halperin write a book in the Bob Woodward model. There are no footnotes, but the reader is privy to many closed door meetings and numerous anecdotes as to what a candidate was "thinking" at particular moments during the campaign. I have a problem with the integrity and accuracy of the information presented. For example there is a story recounted on page 17 of a 2004 Hillary Clinton conversation with a Reuters reporter at the NY State Fair... in Albany. The problem is that the NY State Fair is in Syracuse, there is no State Fair in Albany. It might seem like nit-picking, but how much can I trust the accuracy of closed-door dialogue and unaccredited sources when something I can check is just flat out wrong? It makes me wonder how much of the story is just a fictionalized account.

Reading Game Change didn't help this particular 2008 Obama voter be any more enthusiastic about supporting him this time around. Hope and Change are turning out to be nothing more than a neat advertising pitch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Batty Bachmann and more pressing issues

My friend Jane Hill sent me a note the other night sharing the latest Matt Taibbi Rolling Stone piece. This one was a thorough hatchet job on the new GOP contender Michelle Bachmann. While I agreed with Jane that it is disturbing that someone as vacuous as Bachmann has emerged as a contender to lead the nation, my belief is that this political posturing is just more of the same.It's a game that keeps us entertained while we wait for the NFL season. Meanwhile our attention is diverted from issues and stories that are more pressing.

Three examples for this week that haven't had quite the same media play:

1) Minnesota on the verge of shutdown--- ( I guess it's official they have had a state shutdown). $5 billion budget problem.

2) The city of Annapolis, the Maryland capital needing to borrow $10 million to pay its bills. I know they will be flush in the fall with tax receipts. We've heard that before. As a result they will be paying $150-200K for these borrowed funds.

3 The state of New Jersey borrowing $2 billion+ from JP Morgan for a bridge loan at 9% interest so they can pay their bills. That's the same JP Morgan the taxpayers have bailed out through the Fed and Treasury with o% money..... brilliant.

Michelle Bachmann could be the least of our problems right now.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Video Product Brochure

I spend a large % of my waking hours in the B2B digital world. While it's nice to see more and more companies embrace web video as a way to engage their customers I am amazed at how many still are slow to take that step. My production team, CNPG Media is top notch. The example shown here is what we call a Product Brochure video. Think of it as a printed brochure brought to life. I like it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's the debt Stupid!!!

Came across this on Zero Hedge and it explains in a sentence or two why none of our government stimulus activity is showing any results at this point. You don't need a PHD in economics to understand. Hat tip to David Rosenberg and Zero Hedge

U.S. consumers have 30% more credit card and other revolving debt on their balance sheet than they did just a decade ago. While outstandings are down 6% from the peak, there is still considerable contractions to go before household debt levels revert to the mean relative to both income and assets.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Releasing Strategic Petroleum Reserves.... Why?

I often lament the lack of leadership in both our government and corporate world. The story out today about us releasing oil out of the SPR for the summer driving season takes the cake. Another example of short term expediency instead of thoughtful planning and leadership. The SPR by name is supposed to be strategic. A little cheaper priced gas at the pump just doesn't fit the bill.It's just a cheap political stunt. Something I would expect from Chuck Schumer, not the President. So sad to see utter incompetence.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Latest GOP Poll #'s and Ron Paul

It's interesting how little respect Dr. Ron Paul gets from the decision shaping main stream media.. and that includes FAUX News. The latest Gallup results are posted up top and the obvious standout is how weak a front runner Mitt Romney is. At the same time, pretenders like Pawlenty, Huntsman, Santorum get much more mention and ink than their #'s would warrant.

The reason I even bring it up is that Ron Paul has been a consistent voice for years against our ongoing wars and against ongoing government spending.The wisdom of those positions is becoming clearer by the day, but is still not a message our media leaders want conveyed.How else to explain it?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Does Santorum Mean "IDIOT"

Rick Santorum has said a number of stupid things over the course of his public life, but this one just might top it all. It's amazing that this is what passes for "political leadership". This guy is running for President?

Former Sen. Rick Santorum said Tuesday that Sen. John McCain, who spent 5 1/2 years enduring brutal treatment at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors, doesn't know how effective waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques can be


Monday, May 9, 2011

Bank America to Charge 29.99% On Credit Cards

Let's look at the Big Picture. The US is a "consumer driven" economy. The consumer relies on credit to satisfy his/her fix. The economy continues to show lackluster growth that causes our friend at the Fed Ben Bernanke to keep "interest rates" low---almost 0 %. That near 0% is what our friends "the Banksters" pay to borrow money. You dear consumer if you need to carry a balance with an institution such as Bank America will be paying just about 30% annually on that balance.

Thank goodness the Fed is keeping rates low!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yearly Interest Expense On The National Debt Is????

As we head into a potential government shutdown this week and watch our political "leaders" flap their gums, it is worth putting some $'s behind the rhetoric. The current political argument has to do with the amount of "spending cuts" for this fiscal year. The Dems are pushing for $10 billion while the Repubs say they want about $50 billion.

So maybe we'll see a compromise after all the nonsense at around $30 billion. This battle will provide plenty of opportunity for media mavens to get plenty of air time. "Liberals" and " Conservatives" will be at each other's throats. The nonsense spewed by Matthews and Maddow on MSNBC will rival whatever the knuckleheads on FOX have to offer. It's great entertainment. We need something to replace March Madness.

Here's the thing , interest rates are outrageously low right now and in all probably will be heading northward sometime in the reasonable future. With almost zero interest rates, our interest expense this year is $400 billion. These idiot politicians are jerking our chains with "political arguments" about $20-$30 billion. An uptick in interest rates could add another $100 billion in interest expense easily... and that could be conservative estimate. So before we all get into the heated political back and forth just remember it's all theater. It's tantamount to the proverbial adjustment of the deck chairs on the Titanic. http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/ir/ir_expense.htm

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Strange Case Of Charlie Engle:Imprisoned For Taking A Liar Loan

A big tip of the hat to Joe Nocera from the NYTimes for bringing attention to the Charlie Engle story, In Prison For Taking a Liar Loan. It is scary to read about what government bureaucrats will do once they put a person in their cross-hairs. The Nocera article is a great read. Given Engle's past association in film with Matt Damon, I wouldn't be surprised to see this in motion picture form.

Long story short, Engle used "stated-income" loans to speculate on real-estate during the bubble period of 2006-2008. He ended up paying the price of foreclosure, yet on top of all that he ended up being prosecution by the Feds for mortgage fraud. He is now serving a 21 month sentence in a Federal Pen. If anything good can come out of this, perhaps Engle's fortitude and benevolence can serve as an inspiration to not only his fellow inmates, but also to us on the outside. His blog is worth a regular read and a bookmark.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interactive ads beat print in study of readers

For many in the sales and marketing community the pressure to produce more with less has been relentless. The need to demonstrate a return on marketing spend has become a necessity. Given these forces, this recently released study by Alex Wang, PhD commissioned by Adobe makes for a fascinating read .

You can read the Executive Summary here.

I have often presented the argument that interactive digital advertising offers a more captivating and engaging messaging vehicle than the traditional print approach but until I read this study I was operating more on intuition than anything else. Granted, the subjects in the study were at the oldest 32 years old, but if the intent of your marketing is to engage and involve your customers and prospects in your messaging the study offers food for thought .

In essence this study set out to answer a couple questions:
1) Can Interactive ads (ads that enable motion, sound, animation) in a digital magazine format generate stronger engagement, involvement and brand awareness than static ads in a print magazine.
2) Can higher interactivity generated by an Interactive ad generate stronger brand recall, engagement, message involvement, attitude, and purchase intention than a static print ad
3) What are the relations among interactivity, engagement, message involvement, attitude, and purchase intention

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Prodigal Son

Last Sunday, which in the Orthodox Church calendar is two Sunday's preceding the beginning of Great Lent, the designated gospel reading came from Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the Prodigal Son. Sometimes these parables take on a vague familiarity in that we know the details of the story but somehow miss the essence of the message. This particular parable is a familiar one and tells of how the younger of two sons asks for his inheritance, leaves his father and wastes his inheritance on "prodigal living". As he hits rock bottom he decides to return to his father as a servant , for even his father's servants live better than he, in his current state. The story takes on a twist as the returning son is greeted by his father with celebration and a great feast. When the older son, who over the years had worked side by side with his father and stayed true, hears of this celebration he becomes angry, in that for all his loyalty he never was given a party or celebrated. The story ends with the father explaining to his older son the joy that he feels from the return of his "dead son".

What's the message we are to take from this? This parable, while a simple story, is multi-layered and offers several foci.It's interesting to note that the parable is read just as we are preparing to enter a period devoted to concentrated repentance and prayer, Great Lent. While we may not think that we are that Prodigal Son, evidence suggests that in so many ways we behave in exactly the same way as he does. We take our inheritance, God's adoption of us as his children and his call for us to inherit His Kingdom, and we "waste" it in pursuit of our own interests and the vanities of our worldly existence. Great Lent is an opportunity to come to our senses, just as the Prodigal Son did when he was in a foreign land, wasting away amongst the swine.

It is natural and easy upon a concentrated reading of this parable to go down many roads of contemplation. Sometimes it helps to keep things simple. In the verses just before this parable (Luke 15:1-10) Jesus shares two examples, the first a shepherd rejoicing over finding one lost sheep from his herd and the second of a woman rejoicing as she found a lost coin, to illustrate the joy in heaven over the repentance of a sinner.

As we enter Great Lent, let's pray that we might emulate that younger, prodigal son, who "came to himself",repented and returned to his father, that similarly there might be that "joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents".

The Lord said this parable: "There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.' And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

Sunday, January 30, 2011

U.S. Dance With Ruthless Dictators Coming To An Ugly End

President Obama has to walk a thin line as protest in Egypt continues to grow. There are disturbing reports now that "agent provocateurs" are involved in looting activities, thus somehow justifying a "government"crackdown. When you get into bed with scum it can blow up in your face real easy and I think we are about to find out how ugly it can get. The Egyptian rioting has the potential to spread throughout the Arab World . We've supported anti-democratic Arab leaders for a long long time . As the voice of protest and freedom mobilizes on the streets of Cairo it doesn't help that the weapons used by government forces to crack down bear a "made in USA" imprint.

Obama promised "change we can believe in". Here's his chance. How about starting out by ceasing financial aid and support for anti-democratic, dictators... Hosni Mubarek for example. This might be wishful thinking on my part, but why can't we, the US, win the support of the "Arab Street" here and show ourselves to be a friend of freedom and self-determination?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jeff Immelt The Job Creator

President Obama has come to Upstate NY on this icy,snowy Friday to tout his focus on job growth. As part of this effort he appointed Jeff Immelt, GE CEO to be his chief outside economic advisor. This is somehow supposed to illustrate the Administration's job creation focus.

There's only one problem: Jeff Immelt hasn't created jobs, he has actuaaly been a job destroyer.

GE finished 2009 with 18,000 fewer US workers than it had at the end of 2008, and US headcount is down 31,000 since Immelt’s first full year in 2002. During his tenure, GE workers based in the US as a percentage of total employees has fallen to 44% from 52%.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK Remembered

When Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered one of the first things that usually comes to mind is his "I Have A Dream Speech". I prefer to call attention to his April 1967 oration at the Riverside Church entitled: Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence.

This was a controversial yet powerful MLK presentation. What King was doing here was moving beyond the role of "civil rights leader" to a vocal role of opposing the US Government and its' prosecution of the war in Vietnam. This position certainly did not win King many friends in powerful places. Is it a coincidence that he was gunned down a year to the day of delivering this homily.

King wasn't perfect, but then again none of us are. In this Riverside Church speech he emerged as a moral leader and spokesman and demonstrated a courage is rare in any era.

Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ike's Farewell Speech --50 Years On

January 17, 1961 President Dwight Eisenhower delivered a valedictory most famous for his warning of encroaching power by the military industrial complex. Jeremy Grantham, in this re-examination of Ike's speech focuses on another aspect that we all really should contemplate.

"As we peer into society's future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

We as a society are entering a demographic nightmare that will surely strain the safety nets of our social fabric. I am talking about the aging and retirement of the baby boom generation. At a time when we need to harness our financial savings we as a society are eating our seed corn. As we ask the next generation to take care of us in our twilight years ,we , my generation needs a sobering self examination. What are we doing to help this next generation in this task. For example as Grantham states,"leaving them with no national debt and an impeccably up to date infrastructure".

The sad answer is : not much.