Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Sustainable Economics

We have put our good mother through a lot over the past few million years. Ever since we walked out of the great rift the biospheres dominant species has really left a mark. I know that mark is but a tiny spec on the archaeological record of the earth which spans a few billion years but our impact is unmistakable.
 
I guess it started with the invention of hand tools, fire, wheels, shelter construction, water cultivation and agriculture. You can’t forget hunting in packs, weaponry, domestication of animals, speech, art and writing. A consciousness of a portfolio of skills, specialization, division of labor and the ability to discern exchange value within the community birthed a notion of governance. Our social nature was crowned with our ability to transmit craft and knowledge to successive generations, assuring continuity and cohesion with a common history and a well articulated cosmology. Put it all together and I think you got your basic modern Homo sapien.
Oh yeah, we also developed a psychology, an ego, that incorporates the primacy of ourselves and our selfish needs. It rationalizes and guides our interactions with nature, transforming the intention of our labor into a transaction that alters the conditions of the environment. It also serves as indisputable empirical evidence of the master species, elevated above all others as time marks the progress and dominion of the human race.
 
Our dominion has been codified into our sacred literature. Our creation stories and cosmic mission statements expressly state to exercise our dominion over nature, to propagate the species and to be fruitful and multiply. The screaming unencumbered id, left to its own devises, unchecked in the grand supermarket. We human’s have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations and the species continues to be fruitful and multiplying. 
 
We sojourn on, notching the ladder of history with marks of our progression through the ages. Along the way we Cro-Magnons expropriated the Neanderthals and moved into their Mediterranean digs complete with fire pits, burial chambers and the best take on modern art until Picasso came along.
 
I guess that’s the point. Our survival comes at the expense of other creatures and things. I’m no Malthusian, but Tom Friedman’s flat world is getting crowded.    And as we celebrate the 44th Earth Day a midst the greatest die off of species since mankind coronated himself as master and commander of all things earth; it may be time to consider how our dominion is hampering the well being of the lesser flora and fauna kingdoms and what we can do to begin the practice of a more sustainable economics.
 
When I look at Las Vegas, I behold a garish mecca of capitalism on steroids.  I’m overwhelmed by the banality of the the things we so highly esteem. A community venerated and propped up on the foundation of vice, hedonism and the radical pursuit of money. Unbridled development of a crystal neon city constructed in the middle of a desert, recklessly consumes water and energy resources and misdirects human capital to maintain the facade of an unsustainable economy. 
 
Phoenix poses the same paradox. Darling child of the credit boom, Phoenix is a city consuming itself. The rising threat of climate change, blistering heat, dwindling water supplies and raging haboobs would give any urban planner reason to pause. A bustling city of many millions of striving citizens consuming energy, water and human capital built on the unsustainable foundation of excessive consumption and an unrealistic valuation of the capital required to maintain it. 
 
The explosion of fracking natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation is another example of sacrificing long term sustainability for the immediacy of shareholder returns. The Marcellus Deposit has proven reserves that only last a decade. As evidenced by the hyper development occurring in North Dakota,  economies tied to resource extraction are prone to experience classic boom bust cycles. During boom times all is well. But the good times don’t last all that long and communities are left in the wake of the bust cycle to deal with the aftermath. 
 
The Keystone XL Pipeline and the rapid expansion of the LNG extraction industries are being touted as the foundation of American energy independence. But this energy resource extracts a high cost on the land and its natural bounty. It poses significant risk to water aquifers, air quality, wildlife and the storage of waste-water byproducts will present long term remediation challenges to communities for many decades after the last well is capped.
 
Our new found fortune of LNG comes with a significant opportunity cost to develop alternative energy sources as it continues to tether our economic dependence on a dwindling supply of fossil fuels. Perpetuating this dependence also requires us to expend huge sums of money on the military. The political arrhythmia in the Ukraine and the keen interest of the United States has much to do with the changing political economy of fossil fuels and the protection and accession of markets.
 
Sustainability requires a new approach to the emerging realities of the global political economy. Recognition that competing interests bring important capital to the table, and that all must be recognized and fully valued in the new algorithms of sustainability is the keystone and pipeline of sustainability. The practice of unfettered development is unsustainable. Regulation, arbitration and revitalization cannot be sacrificed at the altar of laissez-faire politics that only serves to widen the wealth gap at tremendous social cost. The politicization of economic policy cannot continue to be beholden to rampant monetization. Sustainability is the creation of long term value for a diverse community of stakeholders. It needs to become our guiding mantra as the global population approaches 8 billion souls. Happy Earth Day.

 

Music Selection:

Risk: fracking, political, water, air, war, opportunity cost, renewal clean energy, climate change

April 22, 2014 Posted by | cities, commodities, community, compliance, corporate social responsibility, ecological, history, politics, psychology, regulatory, sustainability | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Forth Estate Crosses Over

There is this program that runs on the WE Cable Network.  It’s called Crossing Over with Jonathan Edwards.   Jonathan Edwards is a psychic medium.  He stands in front of a live gathering of 75 people and tunes into psychic vibes emanating through the audience.  The vibes are messages from deceased loved ones who have crossed over the Acheron.  The dead are keen to communicate warnings, good wishes and assurances to assist living  loved ones on how to navigate the tricky vicissitudes of life.   During the show, Jonathan walks about the room picking up on celestial chatter and begins to relay and interpret a soliloquy of the dead like a macabre game of supernatural telephone. Jonathan Edwards asks his audience to suspend all disbelief as he bestrides the nexus of the metaphysical spirit world and the pedestrian reality that most earthlings inhabit.

The most common messages the dead channel through Jonathan seek to absolve the anxiety and guilt of the tormented living.  Crossing Over is popular because it offers its audience an  absolution, confirms personal cosmology and rationalizes the pursuit of desires by affirming the consequences of decisions as a self fulfilling prophecy.  It safely places its audience in a self validating cosmic echo chamber.  Its an ongoing morality tale with only happy endings and unfortunately only a tenuous connection to authenticity and objective truth.

The state of the news media industry is very much like Crossing Over.  The Forth Estate once thought of as an objective arbiter, information dispersant and truth seeking medium it is now chosen and consumed as a branded version of reality.

The devastating earthquake that buried Haitians in heaps of rubble unleashed global battalions of news teams to cover the event.  Many of the news crews from large established networks beat first responders to the scene.  In some cases the arrival of news teams actually held up the arrival of rescue teams and supplies because the airfield and crowed airspace could not accommodate all the traffic.  The news teams were forced to hole up at the airport because blocked roads prohibited them from going anywhere.  I recall Robin Roberts and the GMA News team dodging fork lifts and supply trucks left with nothing more to do then to urgently interview themselves.  Correspondents were reduced to ghoulishly opining about the tragedy while eagerly mugging for the cameras with contorted faces to portray the human tragedy unfolding beyond the range of their cameras.

GMA’s presence added nothing and in fact inhibited rescue efforts.  I thought of all the drinkable water these crews consumed could have been used to quench the thirst of Haitians dying from dehydration. Thankfully the GMA News team soon left after spending a self indulgent weekend at the airport. Their moral outrage registered and attempt at ratings grab accomplished.  Their contribution to shedding light on the scope of this tragedy and placing it in a larger context of its meaning to the global community of nations was lost in deference to the tragedy’s emotional impact on GMA reporters.  For GMA the subjective condition of the emotional distress of their media stars had become the story.   Their viewers must have figured that if GMA’s News celebrities were hurting this story must be big.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta was an example of how a newsman became part of the story in a positive way.  I recall with great admiration watching a camera crew following Dr. Gupta as he walked amidst the rubble of Port-Au-Prince.  He learned of the location of a hospital and went to investigate how it was delivering services to the injured.  Upon his arrival Dr. Gupta discovered the make shift hospital was little more then injured people being placed in the hallway of a building.  The dead were being stacked outside by a wall surrounding the compound.  The hospital had no doctors, nurses, beds or supplies.  The facility lacked water to clean wounds or salve thirst.  What the hospital did have was a constant stream of wounded arriving in greater numbers desperate for any type of care.  The scale of the quake, the massive amounts of injured victims and the overwhelmed capacity of  the hospitals ability to respond was reported in stark clarity.

Dr. Gupta was overwhelmed by parents cradling their broken children.  Dr. Gupta a licensed medical doctor took off his correspondent hat and put on his stethoscope.  He honored his Hippocratic Oath and started treating babies and the wounded with whatever he could cobble together.  Dr. Gupta was no longer a journalist but was now a doctor.  He asked that the cameras stop rolling so he could perform his duties as a doctor.  I’ll never forget the look on Dr. Gupta’s face.  It spoke volumes about the desperate conditions he was confronting and the firm resolve that he would perform his duties as a trained physician under trying almost impossible circumstances.

We could understand Dr. Gupta’s crossover from journalist to doctor.  It was proper and correct response as a human being but as a journalist all objectivity had been lost and in many respects Dr. Gupta had become the story in a constellation of a million stories emanating from the epicenter of one of the great human tragedies of the past century.  This is a departure from the norm of real time documentary reportage.  I can’t tell you how many documentaries I came away from cursing the producers and cameramen for doing nothing to prevent the baby wildebeest from being  consumed by the lion pack or for failing to offer a family of refugees in Darfur a bottle of water or a ride on their jeep to escape the marauding  Janjaweed.

News Corps, network media division Fox News belies the myth of the monolithic liberal mainstream media and its claim of balance in its marketing handle.   Fox News may offer a fair presentment of the news to its conservative viewership but its claim of balance that suggests the inclusion of a liberal perspective in their news product is specious.

Fox News really came of age following 9/11 and the growing conservative drift of the nation. Its useless to posit weather Fox News created the conservative drift or developed programming to market to this political demographic; but the political inclinations of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch have always been decidedly conservative.  At its founding in 1996, Fox News started differentiating itself from the liberal mainstream media by supporting the Republican impeachment drive of President Clinton, effectively  setting the stage for its partisan approach to reporting the news.  In many respects its unabashed partisanship was a game changer in how news and information was being packaged, positioned and delivered in the emerging narrow casting market paradigm.   Its sentiment not very different from the golden days of yellow journalism practiced by William Randolph Hearst.

Liberals and progressives have criticized News Corp for its lack of objectivity and  balance.  Many believe it to be the official party organ of the Republican Party and its compromised coverage is more akin to propaganda then news.  I believe this to be true as well.  Fox News has countered that it provides both news and opinion.  Fox News employs many of the leading conservative voices.  Karl Rove, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee are senior GOP members on the payroll of Fox News.  They regularly appear on shows hosted by Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity who are conservative celebrities in their own right.  The trick is discerning what is news and what constitutes opinion and editorial content.  The line that demarcates them is increasingly a fine one.  Even the innocuous news blurbs scrolling along the bottom of the TV screen seep in partisanship.  Some may report objective facts like the closing level of the Dow or the latest sports score. These little factoids appear alongside pieces that consistently reinforce the conservative credo of the network.  Its also a practice for commentators like Karl Rove to opine on stories covered on news segments.  The pundits impassioned analysis of the story leaves the listener little room to doubt the interpretation as a validation of the viewers conservative  political sentiments and ideological disposition.  The ability to distinguish fact from opinion becomes increasingly lost in these clouds of obfuscation.

As the model of creating, packaging and marketing partisan news the advent of Glenn Beck as a political entertainer is symptomatic of the maturation of the industry.  Glenn Beck’s show is more of a political reeducation camp that tries to provide low information voters and political neophytes with a more robust framework to understand the history and philosophy of conservatism.  Beck extends the Fox News portfolio of infotainment products.

Beck’s role in encouraging the formation of the Tea Party expands the footprint of News Corp.  Some may consider this crosses the line into political activism but I believe it to be a highly developed form of call and response direct marketing.  Beck’s incessant rants about the imminent collapse of  American democracy, the downfall of free market capitalism and the advocacy of the purchase of gold to hedge against these terrible prospects has attracted  the sponsorship of gold marketers and other fear merchants living large and minting major coin in the time of terror.

Fox is not alone in this sin.  CNBC profited from the pre-crash market run-up and had a vested interest in fueling market speculation and excess.  The business channel owned and operated by NBC  took some heat on this issue in the wake of the market meltdown.  During the market run-ups and the creation of the numerous market bubbles CNBC was taken to task for its roll as a biased shill in creating a risk averse mania that fed into the speculative orgy.  The encouragement of reckless behavior would cost investors and Main Street citizens a good portion of their retirement savings.  Jon Stewart took on CNBC celebrity Jim Cramer for his role in stoking unhealthy speculation. The claim of caveat emptor is not a sufficient disclaimer to absolve CNBC of this perceived wrong doing.  Information and data is the fuel that powers the capital market engine and viewers perceived CNBC to be a critical channel for this type of decision support data and analysis.  As animated red bulls flashed across the TV screen screaming “buy buy buy” the speculative urge feeding the demon greed of Cramer’s viewers jumped at the prospect to secure easy profits and pushed the execute button to route a flood of orders to E-Trade.

Media outlets were not alone in profiting from the conflict of interest in their business model.  The rating agencies Moody’s, Standard and Poors and other issuers of financial health assessments were roundly criticized for a business model that accepted fees from companies  to determine their investment ratings investors use to judge safety and soundness of the companies securities.  Investment banking institutions like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley ran into trouble for trading securities that they advised their clients to hold in investment portfolios.  Large commercial banks have also been called on the carpet for the inherent conflict of interest in their mortgage lending business that integrated mortgage underwriters, originators, servicers, securitizers and investors under a single roof.

Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission has given corporations a megaphone to direct enormous amounts of capital and influence on Americas political culture.  The exponential growth of the political industrial complex places media companies on the cusp of an emerging market.  News Corp occupies a well defined franchise in the vortex of this growth industry.  News Corp will be the predominant media channel attracting politically sponsored advertising from 527 corporations to advocate issues central to the conservative agenda.  The market for political theater is strong and growing and News Corp has one of the hottest theatrical properties in celebrities like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

If Fox News bends and packages information with selected editing in support of political narrative; Andrew “NAACP” Breitbart and James “ACORN” O’Keefe edits news to create a false narrative to affirm ideology.  The omnipresent  multi-channel digital world and the need for consistent real time affirmation justifies entrapment and libel as fair game in the political narrative. The specious political ethics of radical entitlement, means justify ends, medium is the message and relativistic ethics is the next step of  an ideologically mature ,technologically enabled infotainment industry.  The self affirming echo chamber that verifies fact and swears to any truth is blessed with selective amnesia and a self correcting mechanism of  a highly refined subjective fact checker informed by extreme prejudice.

Jon Stewart  use of satire and exaggeration to make a lager point of clarified and reified truth is old school stuff.  In the Age of the Avatar,  the real, the imagined, the intended and the manifested get confused in the digital clouds of form, delivery and content. The medium is the message, the network is the computer and Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity was a marketing event to stake a claim on the market of moderation.  No doubt a highly educated discerning market segment with lots of disposable income.  Its only downside its getting a little long in the tooth.

The Forth Estate is rapidly evolving due the dramatic changes in technology, market structure, business model and consumer consciousness.  The role of the free press and the constitutional protections it enjoys in a democratic society is under siege and on the verge of bankruptcy.  The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and LA Times are old media institutions struggling to stay financially solvent and culturally pertinent.  Time will tell of their ability to evolve and create a sustainable business model  that will be validated by a market economy.  We have learned that truth, disclosure and transparency are not priceless assets but virtues that must support a sufficient  p/e ratio to to survive in a capitalist economy.

The past few weeks we’ve had a few First Amendment martyrs.  Rick Sanchez, Juan Williams and Keith Olbermann learned that the sword was more powerful then the pen.  The more important lesson that managers could remove them on the whim of executive fiat if they failed to demonstrate restraint of pen and tongue.  In actuality the  removal of these gentlemen from the news desk was more of a business decision then a violation of  their right of Free Speech.

As we enter the second decade of our two wars on terrorism even the embedded journalists rolling through the distressed hamlets of Iraq and Afghanistan are getting a bit war weary.  Like a captive hostage the embeds could not help but to identify with their chauffeurs.  The brave soldiers driving the Humvees’ were always in control of what the embeds saw, was responsible for their safety and quickly became the reporters best friend born of dependency, admiration and the comradeship that develops during war.  Objective reportage was the first causality in this  type of arrangement.

We need to take a cue from Jonathan Edwards.  He is the real shaman of our time.  Blessed with unique skills to help his audience to realize that self affirming connection is only possible by crossing over and taking suggestions from the well placed authorities residing in an unseen mysterious supernatural world.

You Tube Music Video: Tom Waits, Lie to Me

Risk: First Amendment, free speech

November 12, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, banking, branding, business, Clinton, commercial, commodities, culture, democracy, democrats, economics, elections, government, history, investments, marketing, media, news, philosophy, politics, product, regulatory, sustainability, Tea Party, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toward A New Iconoclasm

Its good to be the King.  When King James ruled England at the dawn of the 17th Century he authored a doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings.  He likened his position as “little Gods on Earth”, who were chosen by Divine Providence to rule and to make the rules.

The current incarnation of King James, in the form of Lebron James also assumes the form of a Little God.  Since the announcement of his free agency status, His Highness has captured the imagination of sports fans, entertainment moguls, broadcast network executives, local businessmen, political leaders and product marketing pros keen to see how the hottest entertainment property in sports maximizes its value by casting his bread upon the waters of free market capitalism.

This marketing juggernaut held the hopes of major metropolitan areas hostage to the idea that King James may anoint their humble cities by moving his throne to one of  their majestic sports palaces.  The hope is that King James and supporting cast will bring an NBA crown to the impoverished masses starved to eat the championship crumbs that fall from His Highness’s banquet table.  It is believed that the Court of King James will establish a home court dynasty, erecting the preeminent Kingdom that will rule over all the lesser fiefdoms of the NBA.

Five cities planned coronation ceremonies for King James but only one city would be able to taste the bread of champions his rule would surely bring to his new kingdom.  That would leave four other cities wanting; condemning them to suffer the hunger of unfulfilled championship dreams they believe only King James can bring to their metropolis.  King James commanded an hour of air time on ESPN to make his royal decree that he would accept Miami’s urgent petition and join The Heat.   King James’ former kingdom, Cleveland suffered the worst of it.  The abdication of their beloved King has shocked this secondary market hamlet into a deep examination of self worth, prompting the fear of deepening economic malaise and a self loathing brought to the surface by the painful rejection by their home town deity.

In a broader sense we should all learn from Cleveland’s experience.  The connection between a human commodity and its consumer is always a tenuous and short lived relationship.  If the consumer can afford the price,  a human commodity will bestow its attention with fealty and reciprocated affection.  America is a highly developed market of  culture consumers.  We invest a great amount of economic and  psychological capital into relationships with media stars, entertainment products and sports heroes.  We confer a royal status upon them.  Our veneration is measured in dollars spent and emotional capital invested.  We believe them to be sacred icons.  Our gleeful consumption of these identity product brands contort and warp our souls.  We begin to believe that they are part of us and construct an existential fantasy that these product brands are actually connected to us.  The sex appeal of Lady GaGa’s consumer fetishism, the nobility of  Sarah Palin’s political opportunism and the dominating machismo of LeBron James supra athleticism are powerful branding conventions.   This radical branding, the brainchild of  handlers and marketing professionals is solely employed to maximize brand value and to move the goods of Me Inc. into the heads and hands of frenzied consumers desperate for an existential connection with something greater then themselves.  The fickleness of consumer capitalism is wholly agnostic.  It never really loves you back.  As a matter of fact it doesn’t love you at all.  Its a cold calculated manufactured creature designed to suggest that its sore purpose in life is to return the love that its user abundantly confers to it. Yet it lasts only until the money runs out.  Its pimp requires these deft street walkers to move on to a new corner where the tricks are more plentiful and bucks much greener.  Ironically free agency begets another type of slavery.  The free agent is shackled to the ball and chain of transactional capitalism.  The soul of the person becomes indistinguishable from that of a soulless corporate entity.  This coalesces perfectly with the Supreme Courts decision to confer the same rights and privileges to corporate entities to finance political candidates.  More and more creeping corporatism is rationalized throughout the body politic as the real bodies and persona’s of persons morph into corporate entities.

The disease is growing too.  In the 3D digital age we deepen these faux connections to our heroes with homey Tweets, real time TMZ coverage, and a befriended status on Facebook.  We get full access to the royal court.  A total submersion within the gone viral digital version of our hero’s carefully constructed virtual world.  We are knighted by the King’s courtesans and receive special discount coupons redeemable at our icon of choice company store.   This special befriended status is good as gold as long as the balance on our credit card doesn’t exceed it limit.

A few years ago Bishop Mark Beckwith delivered a homily on the meaning of icons.   Bishop Beckwith stated that icons were intended to be a prayer aid.  A type of tool constructed of transparent materials so light can filter through them.  This light would reveal an immutable truth  conveyed by the icons subject.  It would remind the prayerful person to emulate the qualities of the figure depicted in the icon.   But that purpose changed and icons came to be understood as objects of  veneration that are endowed with special powers.  Kings and Czars commissioned their finest artisans to create beautiful iconic objects depicting the monarch in communion with saints or apostles to reinforce the idea that divine providence has anointed them to rule the realm.  The common folk and the peasantry would prostrate themselves before the venerated object as the very real presence of a divine sovereign and dutifully pray to it.  A radical transformation occurred and we venerated the object and not the meaning the object was meant to convey.

Thirteen Hundred years ago in Byzantine Constantinople, iconoclasts rose up to smash the graven images of icons within their places of worship.  The icons became venerated objects of debilitating dogma used to control and manipulate people.  We  need to destroy the icons that manipulate and control us.  We must claim back our lives and begin to live more richly and freely by understanding ourselves not as a consumer of things but as a participating person fully engaged in a life that affirms self and service to others.

You Tube Music: Def Jam Icon : Redman vs. Ludacris

Risk; consumer capitalism, alienation, hero worship

 

 

July 11, 2010 Posted by | branding, commodities, culture, marketing, product, psychology, reputation, sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

St. Michael Save Us!

Michael_Jackson_an_angel_by_Ice_BeatMichael Jackson is now one with the ages. MJ’s passage from this earth marks the death of an American hero and the birth of an angel or possibly a saint. MJ now joins Elvis and Princess Di to complete a divine celestial trinity.

First there was Elvis, The King. The American dream and the innocence of an age dies way too young. No worries, Col. Parker transforms it into the tragic legend of an unsullied Americana that refuses to die even as its mummified corpse lying in state at Graceland continues to twitch from all the amphetamines old Elvis consumed during his historic run in Vegas.

Elvis, the everyman saint. Rising from the humble estate of a Mississippi delta dirt farmer. Elvis would conquer the hearts of his countrymen with sweet southern charm, an impish smile and an untamable shock of hair that flipped when his hips rocked. His love me tender silky voice had the power to weaken every woman’s knees. Countless men would also be curiously drawn to emulate his persona by adopting the vain King’s more frilly affectations. It was a curious example of socially acceptable homo eroticism in a don’t ask don’t tell and certainly don’t show society.

Princess Di, The Lady of the Lake, would follow Elvis. Her story genuinely tragic because her violent demise was not her doing. Her story truly the stuff out of a very Grimm fairy tale. A more gorgeous Cinderella could not be found. Yet her unprincely prince yearning to free himself from under the shadow of a perpetual queen would flummox his princess bride. It would doom this marriage and force the affection starved Princess into the arms of another. This fairy tale did not end well for the defrocked Princess. Her loyal subjects refused to let this very contemporary aristocrat descend to the pedestrian status of commoner. Her minions jealously guarded the memory of this royal icon. They sought to affirm personal fantasies that attaining royal status, though remote, is a possibility; and that beautiful benevolent monarchs are real people like them who deeply love and identify with their daily trials. Devoted Britoners make pilgrimages to her final resting place that is worthy of Queen Guenevere. Pricess Di is entombed on an island in an ornamental lake known as The Round Oval. The lake is located in Althorp Park’s gardens the ancestral home of Princess Di’s family. The Round Oval is surrounded by a path with thirty-six oak trees, marking each year of her life. Princess Di’s constant sentinels are four black swans that swim the lake amidst water lilies, which, in addition to white roses, were Diana’s favorite flowers.

MJ’s beatification will proceed abetted by fawning fans, a complicit family and entertainment media moguls eager to do large licensing deals to insure that royalties continue to accrue to the King of Pop estate and its agents. His veneration will address the American peoples deep seated need and unending capacity for hero worship. This need is only exceeded by our driving compulsion for instant gratification through gluttonous consumption. For many, this is the principal freedom promised to any and all Americans; an inalienable right to satiate any whim or whimsy money can buy. Nowhere in recent memory do these character deficiencies coalescence so neatly as they do with MJ.

The voracious consumption of culture knows no bounds. Like every other aspect of American life, culture as a commodity is the only culture we know. Radical capitalism has so thoroughly reified itself into the fabric of our everyday life that we find it increasingly difficult to imagine or experience human relations or interactions outside of a commercial transactional exchange. MJ significant buying power purportedly allowed him to bleach his skin, remove a negroid nose, purchase a triptych of white kids, fiance a voracious prescription drug addition and allegedly engage and cover up pedophilia activities.

MJ’s life was the triumph of consumer capitalism. Marketing changed and created MJ and the idea of MJ. From his very first appearance on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine as a member of the Jackson 5, to the ghastly image of his corpse filled body bag being offloaded from a helicopter on its way to the city morgue; MJ was a commercial vehicle, a marketing juggernaut that enriched a multitude of people, fattened his bank account and tormented and robbed his soul.

Yes MJ could have anything and everything money could buy yet he found no peace. This mythic figure created, manufactured and marketed by immutable corporate institutions seeking to seamlessly bind our mind and soul to an existential dream of material opulence in reality is much more the nightmare. It is more akin to imprisonment in a gulag of Walmarts; then the elusive personal liberation tantalizingly dangled by the broken promises of consumer capitalism. MJ’s death truly signals a hair on fire moment for our culture and no metaphor could be more powerful then his Pepsi commercial shoot gone bad.

Our myths instruct us to hold on to our Valium and amphetamine addicted lifestyles. Its the price we must pay to work and acquire the things that hold the illusory promise of freedom. We need heroes to emulate. It fuels our Viagra driven power surges in a queer transference. Its how we escape our daily pedestrian dread. It is how we live to converse with the God’s if only for a few fleeting infrequent moments allowed by the running meters of consumer rapture.

Here we are led to believe that after a heavy day of fighting the power, misogynistic rappers guzzling Christal and lighting Cuban spliffs with hundred dollar bills are the just rewards for speaking truth to power and taking on the man. Madison Avenue business is the creation of virtual mythology.

MJ’s career trajectory perfectly captured the arch of American culture since the Viet Nam war. The perfect antidote to The Black Panthers and Malcolm X, the cutesy Jackson 5 were acceptable Negroes welcomed in all white American living rooms as they stomped on Ed Sullivan’s TV Show. To the final funereal spectacle complete with a homily by Rev. Al Sharpton offering MJ apologetics and the Afro American Hollywood bourgeoisie rolling up to the Staple Center in a caravan of Black Danalis perfectly captured a peculiar resonance of Barack Obama’s America. MJ always at its epicenter. Placed their by the power of Madison Avenue media mavens and blockbuster Tinsel Town agents.

CNN was crowing how this event was about the common folk. Not the stars or glittering sequined gloves worn by MJ pallbearers. Elvis was a Horatio Alger type story. Princess Di let us fantasize about our royalty as we sat in our personal castles of over mortgaged homes cluttered with Rubbermaid artifacts. MJ was evidence of the triumph of marketing and the divinity of packaged consumer capitalism. Look again at the man in the mirror. Let it reveal how consumer fantasy makes every man King and each day a coronation through the availability of fast and easy credit.

Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero Has a Thousand Faces “Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.

As the world begins its frantic search of Travelocity for deals for a Hajj to the Neverland Ranch, some might recall St. Michael the Arch Angel who cast Lucifer out of heaven. MJ will be St. Michael the Second. It may be an ironic twist of fate that MJ will hold second billing for eternity to an Arch Angel portrayed by John Travolta in the film Micheal. I’m sure his publicists are busy planning a PR campaign to rearrange the celestial order of things.

You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: Madison Avenue

Risk: culture, capitalism, marketing,

July 30, 2009 Posted by | branding, commerce, commodities, culture, democracy, institutional, manufacturing, marketing, media, movie, pop, product, reputation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tallying the Cost of the Iowa Flood

Thomas Hart Benton

As the flood waters in Iowa drain southward to its destination in the Mississippi River, new sites and new cities are threatened by levee systems that cannot cope with the extraordinary scope and power of nature’s wrath.

Insurance companies will give estimates about the extent of the dollar damage the flood has claimed. The number I have seen for Cedar Rapids is $700 million. I don’t know how they derive that number. I believe it to be replacement value of insured property and assets of insurance in force. That’s a big number but it does not account for uninsured property, loss of potential income from jobs and small business revenue, loss of municipal tax revenue and the intangible but very real cost of lost opportunities due to the allocation of time and treasure to rebuild and repair damaged and lost assets.

CNN this morning was reporting that The University of Iowa assembled a rescue party to recover $400 million worth of art from its famous museum located in one of its flood ravaged buildings. For all intents and purposes the Hawkeyes campus is shut down and some believe that a number of buildings cannot be salvaged. How do you put a price on learning? How will this effect the decision of prospective students to choose the University of Iowa for their college education? What impacts will this have on the precarious economics of state funded college institutions?

Though we can easily see how Iowa is burdened with the extraordinary financial cost of this terrible event, all Americans will be impacted as a result of this flood. For example, railroads have scaled back schedules due to flooded lines. This will impact commerce of businesses waiting for deliveries and sellers looking to complete the book to bill cycle.

Something that will become more apparent as the summer progresses is the toll the flood will have on rising corn prices. Due to crop destruction it is estimated that the price of corn will rise by 9%. This is a cost that all American’s will unfortunately share equally and will only exacerbate the problem of rising inflation.

When the levee breaks you got no place to stay and escape the harm of this costly flood.

Risk: agricultural futures, municipal finance, transportation, infrastructure, University of Iowa, inflation, opportunity cost, fine art

June 16, 2008 Posted by | commodities, community, economics, environment, folk, infrastructure | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Buffalo Bob vs. Zbigniew Brzezinski

Today I woke late and loitered in bed a bit. I was flipping back and forth between Zbigniew Brzezinski on Morning Joe and Buffalo Bob on Good Morning America. Under normal circumstances I would not have flinched from my attention to ZB. He was-as usual- great this morning and spot on concerning the precarious world situation. But I caught wind that GMA was airing a tease for this evening’s 20/20 show. They were interviewing a Millennialist Buffalo Bob from the House of Yahweh Compound in Texas. This prophet was prophesying that nuclear war will break out in 6 days! Now that’s a tease. A must see. Sorry ZB.

After this great news and a quick review of this morning’s local paper, I wanted to rush to my computer to blog on a few news items. But pressing matters of commerce took precedence and I would have to pass on my daily pontification and as the day progressed the economic and political news seemed to deteriorate as the heat and humidity began to rise to uncomfortable levels.

The Record (the paper of record for Northern New Jersey) led with a headline about Continental Airlines rising financial difficulties and it’s need to cutback on flights, fleet and jobs. The slow economy and rising fuel costs are blamed. This is hardly a shock to anyone who follows business news. Ever since I can remember the airline industry has been in perpetual difficulty. It is really incomprehensible to me how a business straining its capacity to accommodate customers has never been able to create an industry that is consistently profitable. Not even close. What’s even more incredible is why investors put their capital at risk in a business that has proven its inability to make a profit. That includes legendary capitalists like Carl Icahn and Julian Robertson. The later the iconic founder of the Tiger Management hedge fund had to close the doors to this storied fund due to his oversize position in US AIR.

Does anyone remember, Braniff, Eastern Airlines, TWA and PAN AM? Great bands all now happily camped at the top of the corporate scrapheap.

Can anyone say sustainability? The airline industry as now constituted is a non-sustainable industry. As its contribution to the global carbon footprint needs to be accounted for as a cost of doing business and remediation funded through carbon credits or cap and trade futures it will become more so.

The next story from this morning’s paper to catch our attention was the reminder that the State of New Jersey’s unfunded pension liability is approximately $25,000,000,000. Though some might consider the sum a rounding error in the federal budget deficit or a small accounting oversight in a procurement over billing for Mr. Bush’s War, the deficit will need to be addressed through some hard measures and demonstrates the absolute fallacy of the wonderful effects of the pandering Republican mantra of tax cuts. Baloney! The bill comes due sooner or later and I suspect that I’ll be getting a dunning message very soon.

Maybe we can sell the NJ Turnpike, Rt. 80 and the Garden State Parkway to a group of Chinese Private Equity Funds. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in our public school system, township libraries and local police forces. I would feel very comfortable having the Red Army police the streets of my community and enforce the law for all ez pass violators.

Next story in today’s Record led the Local section. The Essex Street Bridge that spans Rt. 17 has been closed for some time. It has choked off access to local businesses and they may be forced to close. This is a story about eminent domain, crumbling infrastructure and the pressing need for business people to be mindful of facilities risk and to practice risk management to mitigate the negative effects of these events. Fortunately our firm offers small business managers the Profit | Optimizer which helps to anticipate and plan mitigation initiatives if these events occur.

The Labor Department employment report was released and indicated that unemployment was now 5.25%; the highest in many years. This slowdown is speeding up and I don’t perceive any sector leadership emerging that can begin to lead us out of this recession. This one could get ugly.

I had an appointment with a small manufacturer this afternoon. As I was returning from the call I learned that the DOW sunk 400 points as crude oil futures went limit up at $11 on the remarks of an Israeli transportation minister who hinted that an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities by the Israeli Defense Forces may be unavoidable. I shook my head.

Maybe Buffalo Bob knew something that Zbigniew did not. Or maybe the GMA marketing department is really a kick ass organization.

Maybe we are on the eve of destruction?

Do you think we’ll make it to the year 2525?

Risk: airlines, facilities, market, nuclear war, religion, serenity, pension funds, labor

June 6, 2008 Posted by | Bush, commodities, community, faith, nuclear, pop, Sum2, sustainability, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hannah Montana Won’t Leave it to Beaver

I believe she might have said that she didn’t mean to do it. Or she may have apologized for a misinterpreted Annie Leibovitz artistic shoot of Girls Gone Wild. But clearly her deft handlers, publicists and other spinmeisters have shifted to overdrive to protect and maximize the equity value of Miley Cyrus Incorporated.

This is a classic study of taking a calculated risk and managing its effects. There is no damage control here. Ms. Cyrus and her management team made a calculated assessment and decided it was time to reposition the Miley Cyrus brand.At 15 years of age, Ms. Cyrus had a limited shelf life as the much beloved Hannah Montana. As she grew and matured into young adulthood her ability and believability of portraying a challenged 8th grader was straining credulity and the character was living on borrowed time. So her managers made the decision to begin transitioning the product to parallel the maturation of her target demographic market. Yes her fans will soon be putting away their Hannah Montana lunch boxes and dress up dolls. As they grow and require trainer bras, tampons and Clearasil she might as well continue as chief pitchman for these products as well.

In TV news coverage of this shocking incident, photos of Ms. Cyrus sitting on the lap of her strong protective father Billy Ray preceded the Annie Leibovitz shots. I felt the pain of his achy breaky heart as he symbolically gave his daughter away to an adoring public. Clearly Ms. Cyrus has fully entered the public domain of commoditization and she is now wedded to the fickle fancy of consumer markets. I believe Puff Daddy, Tommy Hilfiger and The Rockstar Formally Known as Prince also sold their names as a consumer market brand and have ever since continue a quest to discover who they truly are.

Unlike Jerry Mathers who was unable to transition his career from childhood star, the management team at Miley Cyrus Incorporated has no intention of mismanaging this valuable corporate brand. They see an opportunity. Ms. Cyrus has established a large brand following within a market demographic of young girls who will be consumers of products for the next 70 years. Miley Cyrus Incorporated (MCI) is moving with her market and her product life cycle is staggering.  When MCI goes public, her market cap will be impressive. As Ms. Cyrus’s target market enters retirement she’ll be well positioned to sell them an extensive line of rocking chairs to lull her fan’s to a well deserved sleep.

Risk: Reputational, Market, Demographics, Brand Marketing, Family Values, Art, Product Life Cycle

April 29, 2008 Posted by | branding, commodities, marketing, media, psychology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Demobilization of America

As the price of gas hits $3.50 a gallon and sure to climb near $4.00 as the summer driving season gets into full swing, Henry Ford’s and Robert Moses’ worst nightmare is coming to life, American’s can’t drive their cars because they can’t afford to pay for gas.

That’s ok, some will say, American’s can cash their economic stimulus check at the local MSB, hop a plane and head to Europe. But the weak dollar even makes a Tijuana taxi ride just out of the reach of most Gringos so travel to exotic far out places just won’t happen.

The rising price of gas and diesel will tend to keep people closer to their home barbecues. People staying home will hurt the nation’s tourism industry and popular destinations may experience sparse attendance. The tourism and entertainment industry is a major component of our economy (we offshored our manufacturing) so if tourism does take a hit this will stoke recessionary pressures in the economy.

With less American’s traveling abroad America’s cultural and psychological isolation will grow. This isolation compounded by a building resentment toward the foreign oil Cartels and the belief that they continue to hold America hostage by manipulating oil markets is a dangerous combination that may spur mobilization sentiments as the summer of 2008 chugs along.

You Tube Video: The Cadillacs, Speedo

Risk: oil, energy, military, tourism; xenophobia

April 25, 2008 Posted by | commodities, inflation, pop, recession | , , , , , | Leave a comment

General Tso and the Price of Rice in America

General Tso

I love Chinese food. And apparently so do many of my fellow Americans. You can’t walk down a main street in this country or roll into a strip mall without spotting a little Chinese takeout joint.

My favorite is Tommy Cheng’s. I probably stop there about once a week to pick up a takeout order to bring home to my family. I’ll spend about 50 bucks for my order and my family and I look forward to being together enjoying our weekly repast.

Being creatures of habit I usually get the same dishes. And I am growing concerned about rising rice prices and how it will boost the cost of my quart of roast pork fried rice? If the price of rice doubles I’ll have to pay almost $12.00 for my fried rice! OUCH!

Come to think of it, I’m wondering if Tommy Cheng will continue to throw in a quart of white rice with my order of General Tso’s Chicken.

We’ll have to consult the tea leaves on this one.

Risk: Inflation, retail, commodities, entertainment, fast food, small business

You Tube Video: Louis Jordan, Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens

April 9, 2008 Posted by | commodities, inflation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment