Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The 2012 US Presidential election: The more things change, the less they change...

November 7th, 2012

The morning after voting for the 2012 US Presidential election, the Democrat incumbent, Barack Obama has been returned by the US electorate for a second term of office through until the 2016 elections.

Watching the coverage last night on the major television networks brought into sharp relief some of the key talking points of this campaign. Firstly, polling data has exploded in this election making it more complicated to get a real feel for the election.

Second, it would appear that the Democrat campaign strategy was predicated on micro-targeting of key counties within each state and working from the micro up to a macro electoral victory. As last night progressed analysts were going over the arithmetic of electoral college votes for the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, noting that "Plan A (Ohio), Plan B (Virginia), Plan C and Plan D" were steadily falling out of reach offering no where to go.

Polls led to states being called with an overall result being worked out and speeches given with only some 65% of votes cast actually being counted and categorized.

Interestingly, the Democrat campaign strategy likely was guided by a determination to avoid having to rely on the state of Florida which proved so cauterizing in the 2000 election for Democrat challenger and former-Vice President Al Gore.

Voter demographics which played towards President Obama included young, single women (for whom the Republican position on Abortion remains contentious) and Hispanic voters (since Bill Clinton the Republican push for tougher immigration continues to jar). White males voted for republican candidate Mitt Romney by a wide margin though could be suggested as representing yesterday's demographic.

Watching the networks one of the more interesting outcomes was that of the Fox News channel. Republican campaign expert Karl Rove became frustrated with the network calling the result on particular states with a quarter of the votes yet to be counted. Fox also called the overall result for the Democrat President before CNN in what seemed to be an ideological race to the bottom which Fox was determined to win.

Looking ahead, three key lessons for the Republican Party could be suggested as including;

1. To create more ideological room around women's rights and neutralize the Democrat advantage on abortion.
2. To adopt a more pro-immigration stance which does less to alienate Hispanic voters.
3. To remain focused on the economy, adopting easier to digest messaging as to how the Republican part is aligned with the needs of the average citizen's wallet.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

High Stakes in Hofstra: Commentary on the 2nd 2012 US Presidential Debate between Obama and Romney

October 17th, 2012

Last night saw the second 2012 Election debate between US President Barack Obama (Democrat) and his Challenger Mitt Romney (Republican). Following on from the first debate, which was widely seen as a Romney victory in Denver Colorado, the second debate was held at Hofstra University on Long Island near the metropolis and global media center of New York.

The format for the event was a 'town hall' composed of members of the public, often undecided voters who asked questions facilitated by Candice Crowley of CNN. Each candidate had 2 minutes for initial comments, then there was a variable period of dialogue between them.

The debate concluded shortly before 11:00pm Eastern Standard Time (04:00 GMT) and so the print newspapers and columnists will likely conclude their analysis in the next 24 hour news cycle. The TV and internet was far faster though harder to make sense of the reality.

This election shows a growing trend likely to be replicated in many other parts of the world where polling data becomes increasingly difficult to make sense of. The Television Channels in the United States seem increasingly polarized with viewers watching the channel they are comfortable with and therefore receiving the interpretation of the debate that fits with their mental schema. Consequence: this is a highly polarized election.

From my own vantage point the key moments in the debate were as follows;

First, the President was straight out of the starting gate on the first question posed on the offense. Surprisingly, given his reputation as an orator, He did not come across as gracious thanking the audience, moderator etc. which the challenger did. Clearly he and his team wanted from the start to signal the combatative side of the President after accusations of passivity in the first debate.

In comparing coverage the news channel CNN had a panel which gave live feedback on their views of the candidates, shown as an 'ECG' style of monitor along the bottom of the TV screen. When candidates went negative in a sustained manner the panel's view did also for both Obama and Romney.

on the issues the weaknesses for the challenger, Republican Mitt Romney were many-fold. On the question of female equality in the workplace the answer was quite flat, whereas the President was keen to emphasize what had been done, his own upbringing as a single mother and that he intended to keep fighting. Mitt Romney referenced only his experience as Governor, where he asked for female candidates for his cabinet in Massacheusetts - as one commentator said, "what about the first 50 years ?". Amongst the immediate feedback via the internet one humorist commented, "[former President] BIll Clinton must be upset that Governor's are being given portfolio's of women".

Mitt Romney made repeatedly the claim that he knew how to create jobs and jobs are what the economy needs. He stayed on message for this issue though personally it might have came across better if used more sparingly - not to mention the lack of reference to quality of jobs - which the President picked up on.

Regarding the debate on taxes one missed opportunity for President Obama was on the subject of elimination of dividend taxes which Mitt Romney espouses. Given how the Democrats are seeking to paint the Republicans as caring for the wealthy minority the President missed the chance to score points by explaining in simple terms how actually the wealthy with huge investment portfolios would benefit from this tax disappearing - allowing the challenger to keep his comments regarding lowering everyone's tax bracket intact.

One questioner asked Mitt Romney about his differences with the Bush Presidency. Whilst the answer will not be remembered by the public at large it is telling that this is the first time the word "bush" has appeared in a substantive way. Mitt Romney sought to emphasize his differences and the President leapt on his comments to emphasize things that President Bush did well, that Romney is committed against. Again, the public might not care though the effect within the senior echelon of the Republican Party would be interesting to observe.

The footage from the debate which will be largely talked about after the election is over and in political science classes was the discussion of the recent attack on the US embassy in Libya in which four Americans including the Ambassador were tragically killed. The challenger questioned whether there was some form of cover-up in terms of understanding what happened to which the President struck back, displaying the - for want of a better word - power which being Commander-in-Chief bestows on the office holder. Romney was left looking like he made a cheap-shot and exposed his lack of grasp of foreign policy issues - in contrast to his mastery of the numbers on the economic side.

Given, the third and final Presidential debate will be on foreign policy issues clearly Mitt Romney will be undergoing intensive therapy - or else will adopt the BIll Clinton "It's about the economy" line and try to turn the foreign policy debate on its head into a discussion of economics.

For the Obama team they need to avoid falling in the trap as seeing foreign policy as theirs, especially given their strong record in this domain. Over-confidence could be a killer.

If you believe that the media likes a story - here in advance is the story line for the 2012 election. First debate - challenger puts President on back foot, second debate - level pegging, third debate - President displays his credentials for a second term.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Jobsworth award contender 2011: Malcolm Dubois of Carleton Parking Management, Ottawa

After a nine hour journey from New York City to visit my 81 year old mother-in-law and arriving late at night I parked in a clearly marked and signed 'visitors bay' close to her home.

This was clearly not enough for the patrol of Carleton Parking Management who decided at 04:12am the following morning to issue a parking violation no less before I woke up with day-break and put an additional notice in the vehicle indicating we were visiting a home there.

A call early the following week with the office manager provided me with a lady who was adamant, based on her computer notes, that there was adequate signage and they were determined to enforce my 'infringement' of the rules - with no potential leniency.

The owner of the business Malcolm Dubois clearly is seeking to run a shoot-first ask questions later policy - if I wished to dispute the issue they informed me I could pay $50 or else pay $75 at small claims court (and therefore either travel back to Ottawa in person or have my 81 year old mother in law attend).

A pathetic entry for the 2011 jobs worth award.

According to the website you can reach Malcolm at his home address;

2660 Southvale Cres #217,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Cellular War of the Worlds

The Cellular War of the Worlds

Forget the Cold War, conflict between competing ideologies in the Mobile communications world is the one in people's minds. Communism versus Democracy - blackberry versus Apple versus Android, it is the latter holding sway. The world before smartphones seems like the neolithic period awaiting invention of the wheel. Before camera phones, the Dark Ages.

On planet Apple people are anxiously awaiting the release of the latest incarnation of the iPhone on October 4th. Also the Apple iPad, a keyboard-less 'tablet' computer, has caused such fervor that already the third incarnation is on the hyperbole horizon.

Against this background you could almost be forgiven for forgetting the pioneer of mobile email - Blackberry. Blackberry world, it is fair to say, is currently optimistic though probably suffering with acute anxiety. After a long period of dominating corporate communications devices, Apple is making inroads. The latest blackberry devices - the Bold and Torch (in all-touch or touch screen plus slide-out keyboard) especially have touch screens and a revamped, faster Blackberry 7 Operating System. Blackberry's tablet, iPad challenger - the Playbook is currently being heavily discounted amid stagnating sales.

Meanwhile occupying the middle ground between the trendy Apple devotees and wealthy, small 'c' conservative Blackberry users is the Android sphere. Providing George "(c)" Lucas with yet more royalties (as if the record-breaking sales of the Blu-Ray Star Wars Saga were not enough achieving $84m in one week) for use of the word 'Droid'.

Everyone has an application or 'app' store so you can fill your phone with life-saving to life improving to mind-rotting apps. In case you thought 'apps' were uninteresting just look at the download statistics - by summer 2011 Apple's users have clicked to install some 15 billion applications, Android's "App Market" had some 4.5 billion downloads and although raising the largest revenue per app the Blackberry "App World" lagged in third place with 1.0 billion installations. That's not the end though, just think - some apps are paid for, others free, though all draw on monthly data packages supplied by the phone networks where a free wifi connection is unavailable - adding $$$ to their bottom line.

So what about the future ? If the resort to court action for infringement of patents has any correlation with maturity of a market then the smartphone market is definitely mature. Apple's legal battles with Samsung and the billions paid by Google to acquire patents from Motorola against a, wait-for-it, coalition of Microsoft and Apple speaks volumes.

That said, Do you remember a time when a cell phone was just for calls ? a time when a camera was carried in another pocket or purse ? Perhaps the next evolutions for smart phones will be in terms of ease-of-use. For example voice-activation which really works, even in a concert or sports arena. Though of course, what we are really waiting for is the invention of a means to handle the calls you do not want to without the recipient knowing they are getting the brush-off...

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Hacking scandal and News Corporation International: What are the real implications ?

The Hacking scandal and News Corporation International: What are the real implications ?

Yesterday in the United Kingdom the British Government held a public session to investigate the mobile phone hacking scandal which has engulfed British politics. Questioned were Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of News Corporation International and his son James along with former CEO of the British print process Rebekah Brooks.

Leaving aside the obvious theatre as Members of Parliament relished the chance to 'have a go' before heading off for the Summer recess had a touch of English public school (USA: Private schooling) about it, "let's have old boy Murdurs in for a damn good thrashing!" you could imagine one of the Committee members yelling. Shaving foam pies aside what significance do these events have for the Murdoch's, the Company and for UK and US politics ? A British committee hearing is not a court of law and whilst interesting and at times insightful those desperate for more blood will have to await the Courts, where no doubt the Murdoch's have a phalanx of lawyers in preparation.

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions and implications as to possible outcomes;

1. This scandal severely reduces the likelihood of Rupert Murdoch establishing a dynasty at News Corporation International. Assuming the Murdoch's survive the UK legal process unscathed the name will become tarnished and may become regarded as synonymous with heavy-handed, no holds barred journalism and a monopolistic hold on media. The only way to even begin to diffuse this timebomb is to appoint trusted internal and external senior management. Consequence: Investors and politicians will likely not stand for a Murdoch succession.

2. The current situation does also bring into sharp relief the future for News Corporation International when Rupert Murdoch moves on. It is clear that he has been the driving force behind the business, though unlike say a Steve Jobs at Apple, helming a 'must have' product business like an iPad or iPhone. The print newspaper business is going through tumultuous times akin to the record labels and this scandal does raise the question of whether News Corporation and other media conglomerates are wise to retain a print newspaper business in their business model ?

3. The UK legal investigations could be dangerous for senior management at News Corporation in terms of cash payments (i.e. non-taxed) made "from a safe in the senior editor's office" to sources, police and otherwise. There are obviously tax implications and, like in the USA, the Inland Revenue (IRS) is a formidable adversary.

4. UK Politics: The scandal has given the opposition Labour Party a platform to act cohesively about and support their new leader. For the ruling Conservative : Liberal Democrat coalition this situation is far from pleasant. On the one hand the Liberal Democrat body-politic will regard News Corp with anathema and blame their Conservative partners at the subliminal level, at the very least, for 'dragging' them into it.

For Prime Minister David Cameron, run though he might, it will be difficult to escape the perception of him as a 'Murdoch Man' - not helped by having hired a former News Corp employee from the paper at the center of the scandal. Time will tell, though a General Election to capitalise on any feel-good factor (such as the Olympics ?) must seem attractive this morning.

5. US politics: Perhaps even more interestingly is the impact of this scandal on US politics. Reaction in the US has been muted on the whole, however Fox News is regarded as being one of the strongest supporters of Republican views and prospective Presidential candidates, such as Sarah Palin. The question for the likes of Sarah Palin is should they distance themselves now from the Murdoch empire before getting serious about the 2012 Presidential election ? For the Obama Administration their hatred of the Fox Network is pretty well known - If they can use this situation well, that coupled with the rapidly accumulating cash mountain in the re-election bank account should secure Barack Obama a second term.

6. The X-Factor - What about Wendy ? About the only positive for the Murdoch's is how Rupert's wife, Wendy sought to protect her husband from the shaving foam pie has gone viral world-wide. Perhaps centering a PR campaign on her values and credentials may make her the ultimate winner as the public face of a new News Corporation International.

Is anyone ready for the first Chinese, Female Executive of a global multi-media news organisation ? You read the forecast here first...

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The King's Speech

Last night I was fortunate enough to attend a screening in New York of the new film from the Weinstein Company, "The King's Speech" with lead actor Colin Firth. The film brings to light a little known part of British history with flair and humanity, depicting the reluctant King George VI in an era before internet and television having to speak publicly as the Second World War approaches - except for one small issue - a chronic speech impediment. Geoffrey Rush plays the Australian speech therapist who works with the King as he grapples with his personal demons against a backdrop of political and royal turmoil - Neville Chamberlain's resignation and the abdication of Edward (for Mrs. Simpson).

I personally see Harvey Weinstein as the cinematic equivalent of an Irish race-horse trainer or boxing promoter, possessing a keen eye for what the Academy voters will choose early in 2011. One of his more recent films, the reader garnered Kate Winslet an Oscar - and I am sure the performance of Colin Firth will result in further trophies for the cabinet, unless the voters adopt an overwhelming feeling of xenophobia.

I personally see a deep irony in the timing of the film against the domestic backdrop of US mid-term elections. Barack Obama may have been the choice of the people in 2008 and a massively gifted orator, however he is facing the test of all politicians - that of learning to cope with no longer being adored.

King George VI was born into his position, could not string a sentence together - though succeeded with help from an unconventional source to articulate the strongest of arguments at a historic moment. Perhaps the recent departures from the White House roster of the 'great & the good' may lead to the discovery of help from a similar, unconventional source ahead of the 2012 General Election.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

"It's all about the economy" redux - US Mid-Term elections outcome 2010

The US Congress has been lost by the Democrats affecting dramatically the ability of the Obama Presidency to continue its agenda of change. Congress is now split 185 (D) to 239 (R) seats. The US Senate 51 (D) to 45 (R).

It seems strange to consider it barely two years ago that the Democrats under their new President seemed able to fundamentally shift American politics and the distribution of wealth by the state.

Fears concerning the state of the economy impacted on suburban young professionals who flocked to the Obama banner in 2008. The elderly concerned about potential harm to their health-care entitlement or their pensions drove them to the ballot box. The first time youth vote which Obama captured in 2008 gave the Democrats cause to lay claim to a 'multi-million email address list' which could be mobilised at grass-roots level to continue the change agenda. Last night, as one CNN political talking-head put it, "that mailing list is out of work and probably changed address".

The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not crucial to this election - the armed forces seem removed from the fray and national security is not playing as an issue this time around.

The tea-party influence on certain candidate selection for Senate seats cost the Republican Party dear - they could almost of reached parity with the Democrats were that not the case. 'celebrity' candidates in California were also swept away.

Personally, this is not a fatal wound to the re-election chances of President Obama. Replacements for departed members of his administration need to come out fighting - though with a modicum of common-sense - to get a compromise health care bill. This, coupled with further deterioration in Afghanistan/Pakistan could put him in the 2012 position of fighting an unsuccessful war abroad and failing to make change at home.

The Republican Party need to understand how to harness the Tea-Party and deliver on their promises without losing the center-ground for 2012.

Just the kind of criticisms leveled at the previous incumbent on completing two terms of office...