Saturday, November 13, 2010

Banana Pudding.

In you happen to be in New York and you happen upon the Magnolia Bakery, treat yourself to their banana pudding. It is out of this world delicious, okay? Trust me. Just do it.

Sovereign Debt Crisis.

Business Insider posted this presentation yesterday. Not much has changed.

Average Pay

It turns out that the average annual compensation package for federal workers is $120,000. That's going to have to adjust downward.

Friday, November 12, 2010

GOP Prexy Primary Primer.

At the starting line, we have three leading candidates: former governors Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Ms. Palin is formidable because she has an ardent, national base of support. Mr. Romney is formidable because he ran fairly well in 2008 (his first time around), he's a terrific fund-raiser and he has proven leadership skills (Bain Consulting, Bain Capital, Salt Lake City Olympics, Governor of Massachusetts). Mr. Huckabee is formidable because he too ran fairly well in 2008, winning Iowa and a number of southern states before bowing to the inevitable and endorsing Sen. John McCain.

These three are the "top tier" candidates in what will no doubt be a very crowded field of contenders for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination. (One veteran GOP operative was saying the other night that he thought 2012 would be 1980 all over again, with a weak Democratic incumbent attracting at least a dozen potential challengers vying for the GOP nod).

That being the (likely) case, the question is: what do all non-top tier candidates need to do over the course of the next twelve months, aside from the obvious (run serious campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire). Answer: (1) get rid of Romney, and (2) help Huckabee whenever and wherever possible.


Well, there are really two GOP presidential primaries taking place at the same time. They're semi-final brackets, if you will. One GOP presidential primary is about emerging as the champion of the "social conservative" wing of the party. The other is about emerging as the champion of the "suburban Republican" wing of the party.

The "social conservative" primary battle, for the moment and probably for the duration, pits former Gov. Palin against former Gov. Huckabee. Ms. Palin is the favorite in this match-up. If she dispatches with Huckabee quickly (by winning, say, Iowa decisively) then the race will immediately boil down to Palin versus Not Palin. On the other hand, the longer she tussles with Huckabee to emerge as the "social conservative" champion, the less "inevitable" she becomes. And if she loses to Huckabee early, she's done. So helping Huckabee compete with Palin is in everyone else's interest.

In the "suburban Republican" bracket, the clear front-runner (for the moment) is Mitt Romney. There are any number of candidates --from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to Texas Governor Rick Perry -- who can't move up until Romney is out of the way. Over the course of the next six-to-nine months, getting rid of Romney will be the over-riding narrative for those seeking to emerge as Palin's (or Huckabee's) eventual challenger.

It didn't take long to get the narrative rolling. Texas Governor Rick "I'm not running for President" Perry launched the first missile this week, saying: “The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington."

There's no disputing that statement. President Obama's health care plan does indeed closely resemble the plan put forward and enacted into law by Massachusetts then-Governor Romney. Tying Romney to Obamacare (and Massachusetts) isn't unfair and it's very good GOP primary politics. It remains to be seen whether Romney can survive this line of attack. If he can, then he will hold his place as the leader of the "suburban Republican" wing of the party. If he can't, then the race on that side of the draw gets thrown wide open.

If all this seems like a lot of inside baseball, remember that after New Hampshire, virtually every past presidential primary race has boiled down to a head-to-head contest. News media economics simply do not allow for coverage of 6 or 7 candidates over many states in many time zones. It's too expensive. So only two campaigns get sustained coverage.

That being the case, who wins Iowa and New Hampshire is determinative. If Palin wins Iowa and Romney wins New Hampshire, that's it: it's Palin vs. Romney the rest of the way. If Romney loses New Hampshire, as he did in 2008, then he's basically done. Early winners survive. Early losers do not.

There's no room on the "social conservative" side for another candidate to emerge; Palin and Huckabee consume all that oxygen. So the race within the race that will drive coverage for the next year or so will be the one to dethrone Romney as the "suburban Republican" champion.

Rick Perry kicked off that campaign this week. The others will be joining him shortly.

Lean Forward, Lean Back, Face Down.

Joseph Esposito is a smart and knowledgable observer of the publishing world. He's been in it and of it most of his life. In a recent post at Scholarly Kitchen, Mr. Esposito talks about two media paradigms ("lean forward" and "lean back") and wonders if smart phones have introduced a third ("face down").

Lean Forward is what you do at your desktop or laptop computer. You lean forward as you "process" and "interact" with the machine. Lean Back is what you do watching TV or listening to music or reading a book. You absorb what comes at you.

Increasingly, however, we engage media of all kinds "face down," staring at our I-Phones and Droids and Blackberrys. And the question that Mr. Esposito raises is: what does this mean for publishers?

I don't know what it means for publishers, but it seems to me that the Face Down paradigm has huge implications for people who are in the business of advertising and marketing services. And that in a Face Down world, delivering the right message at the right time in a short burst is essential to all the people who are staring down at their (relatively) tiny screens.

The major advertising and marketing services companies have responded to this challenge by buying up and beefing up companies that specialize in complicated predictive matrices (once known as "collaborative filtering"). Google Mail does this by the taking key words from the email I just wrote and matching it with products that relate to those words. So, I might write to my friend Bob: Dear Bob -- Can you play golf tomorrow at noon? Google Mail ad comes up: Golf Ball Sale at The Golf Warehouse. That's pretty good actually. As anyone who has received recommendations from Amazon and Netflix knows, it goes quickly downhill from there.

The thing I have never understood is why the major advertising and marketing services companies (and newspaper publishers, for that matter) haven't developed an application that enables people to get the advertising that they want, when they want it. The most important fact, after all, about a face down world is that no one has any time. A service that gathered your advertising requests for the day and bundled them up into an email that you could read quickly while dodging foot traffic on your way to the train would seem (to me at least) to be a hugely attractive value proposition. I tell it which ads I want to see. It sends me those ads, saving me time.

That seems a whole lot more efficient than everyone looking at my URL visits and determining that I might be interested in subscribing to The Economist. I already subscribe to the Economist.

In the meantime, face-downers like me default to Google. Or we go to Zagat to look up a restaurant. Or we sign up for emails from Zappos or Sierra Trading. But the company that puts together is going to make a lot of money. Because we are all face-downers now. And for most of the day, we only have a moment to get done what we need to get done.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Foreclosure Cartography.

Useful map from Business Insider showing that over half of America's foreclosures are taking place in just five states. Those states are California, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan and Florida.

Shared Sacrifice.

The draft report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has been released to the news media. You can read it here. The Republican leadership would be wise to issue a general endorsement of the Commission's recommendations, since something like what the Commission proposes will eventually have to be done. And if it's done sooner rather than later, the impact of the collateral damage can be at least partially contained.

Not doing something about America's debts will eventually and inevitably lead to disaster. There is no magic solution. There are no happy outcomes without broadly shared sacrifice. Everyone knows this.

The question on the table is whether our political leadership can perform. If the answer to that question is no, then the reckoning and restructuring will become the unraveling.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It Wasn't a Liquidity Issue.

It was a solvency issue.

Because of decisions made by the Irish government in 2008, the fate of Ireland's government is tied to Ireland's banks. Ireland's banks are insolvent.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

One in Five

That's the percentage of homeowners who face or may soon face foreclosure, according to Laurie Goodman at Amherst Securities. You can access her remarks here. (via Blodgett, via Roubini)

And Then You Hire David Gergen.

When I first read this piece (from Politico), I thought it was from The Onion. I thought the bit about lobbyists being "policy experts" was a particularly good gag.

Alas, it's not a parody. It's the Beltway choir, singing its two greatest hits: "What About Me" and "Our Way."

Perhaps realizing that President Obama has another two years (at least) to live with these people, Americans have rallied a bit to his side. The President's approval rating is up 4 percentage points since the mid-term elections.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Murdoch's Pay-Wall Gamble.

Early returns yet and so all the usual caveats apply, but it does appear that Rupert Murdoch's decision to put some of his newspaper properties behind a pay-wall is working. David Crotty, a canny observer of the publishing world, has a good analysis of the results so far.


Erich Mangini's Cleveland Browns defeated Bill Belichick's New England Patriots yesterday in Cleveland. There's a backstory.