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I don’t necessarily believe in “closure,” but I do believe in the short-term cathartic power of vengeance.

But, more than anything, this to me seems horribly anticlimactic.  Shot in the head in a villa, nearly 10 years after he perpetrated one of the great crimes in US history.  Those saying this is “V-E Day” are deluding themselves; there are no Articles of Surrender, no terms, no occupation.  At best, we can hope that the gradual fracturing of Al Qaeda as an organized force that’s been underway since 2007 accelerates.  But I’ll be damned if I know what happens next.

Imagine if this had happened in Tora Bora in December, 2001, as the last embers of the WTC were flickering out.  That would have been justice.  That would have called for a sober but appropriate celebration.  That might have even offered some “closure.”

This?  The old Klingon proverb goes that “revenge is a dish best served cold.”  And I’m glad that US military justice has finally reached its target.  But this feels so cold, so removed from the crime, so laden with a decade’s worth of vicious internecine political fighting in the US, that it’s hard for me to simply say “well done.”  It’s more like Robert Redford at the end of The Candidate – “what do we do now?”

What is “The Rally To Restore Sanity” if not an homage to this scene in “PCU?”

Forget the post below.  Our new champion in the great game of pension abuse is Robert Rizzo!

His prize?  Perhaps as much as $30 million of California taxpayer dollars!

Although, if this is accurate, perhaps he shouldn’t go buy that villa in Lake Como just yet.  Sadly, all available evidence suggests that this was a particularly modern kind of theft – conducted in plain sight, yet among a citizenry who could not understand what was going on.

 According to CalPERS (California’s pension agency,) he’s the man with the richest public pension in the state, collecting a cool $42,000 a month – or nearly $510,000 a year.

So what important public job did Bruce Malkenhorst hold, to earn such a pension?  City Administrator of the Town of Vernon, population 92. 

The strange and disturbing story can be found here.  An excerpt:

“California’s tiniest city, if you want to call it a city, is one of the nation’s most lasting and efficient political machines, run almost entirely for the benefit of a handful of rarely opposed, extremely well-paid politicians. Vernon should have been subsumed long ago into the surrounding city of L.A, but its independence is a strange and stark example of how a democracy can become a dynasty.”

Or, in the words of George Washington Plunkitt, “honest graft” lives on…

Courtesy, Calculated Risk

The month following the expiration of the federal government’s $8,000 home-purchase subsidy sees the biggest drop in new home sales in nearly 50 years?  I’m SHOCKED.

The tax credit merely pulled sales forward.  Was that worth the cost to the federal treasury?  I suppose it depends on what side of the sales contract you sit.  Because here’s a not-so-dirty secret: the tax credit didn’t serve as a purchaser’s subsidy – it subsidized the seller’s price.  In other words, sellers (including resale and the homebuilders) were able to hold the line on prices to the tune of $8K, while marketing the tax credit to potential buyers.  But what those buyers will soon realize is that they paid more than what the undistorted fair market value would have allowed them to.

This ain’t brain surgery, people.  The housing market won’t stabilize until inventory declines, bringing supply and demand into rough equilibrium.  That means prices must continue to fall organically.  And for that to occur, government-induced distortions have to go away.

So, consider the new home tax credit as a subsidy for construction jobs, as builders were given a lifeline to build homes that the market didn’t really need.  You could possibly craft a justification for the tax credit along employment lines, but it’s done bupkes for the housing market as a whole.  And so we limp along…

Innovation can come from quarters where you least expect it.

According to the New York Times, world-class chef Grant Achatz will open a new restaurant in Chicago in the Fall.  Naturally, reservations will be very hard to come by.  But those reservations will, in effect, be all-inclusive “tickets,” whereby diners prepay for their prix fixe meal online (including pre-set wine pairing options) and don’t have to spend a dime in the restaurant.  No tension waiting for the bill, no tip (the service charge is included in the price) — just arrive at the appointed hour, enjoy your experience and leave.

What’s more, pricing will adjust according to demand; if you want a prime-time Saturday night seating you’ll pay more than you will if you dine at 6:00 pm on a Monday.  Naturally, all reservations will be taken online.

This is fascinating, and I’d hazard to guess it will prove to be wildly succesful.  We’re always happier to pay for something when we’re anticipating the experience, so if you’re  lucky enough to secure a reservation online you will happily offer your credit card information on the spot (which conveniently creates a terrific cash flow scenario for the restaurant.)  And afterwards, not needing to ask for the bill or calculate the tip ensures that a meal ends on the right note – with a final sip of espresso rather than a signature on a credit card slip.

However, this approach also poses some interesting questions and challenges.  For one, the staff has to be extraordinarily well-trained.  If a diner is paying the service charge upfront, and that service proves to be poor, he or she can quickly feel cheated.  I would also be interested in the underlying economics behind the demand-pricing scheme — will off-peak diners pay a price that’s subsidized by those who choose to eat at the peak hours?   As with airlines, will pricing fluctuate day-to-day, commensurate with demand?   

While I don’t know the first thing about restaurant economics, it seems to makes sense for a fine dining establishment to do this (especially those who only do prix fixe or tasting menus.)  However, I’m less certain of the applicability of this model to other restaurants across the price and value ladder. 

Lastly,  anyone else see some irony in the fact that as restaurants migrate to single-ticket pricing, airlines are moving rapidly towards a “menu” approach, where travelers have to pay for even the smallest conveniences?

Aflac has a challenge most companies can only dream of having.

Ten years after the launch of the Aflac duck — surely one of the most succesful brand marketing campaigns ever devised —  the supplemental insurance provider from Columbus, Georgia has achieved an astonishing 93% brand recognition.  One survey has the duck as America’s second-favorite advertising icon (the M&M talking candies were first,) ahead of such iconic images as the Pillsbury doughboy and Tony the Tiger — brands which consumers see on the shelves and in their cupboards every day.

So, mission accomplished, right?  Not exactly.

The Aflac team knows that brand recognition doesn’t equate to understanding what the company does.  While most people can now say (cue my best duck-voice here) “AF-LAAC,” not enough can also describe with any specificity the products the company provides, and why those products are so important.  

So the company has begun pivoting their marketing towards creating awareness around the company’s overall value proposition and individual product offerings.  The new campaign centers around the tag “You Don’t Know Quack,” and contains more than 40 integrated marketing and communications elements, including TV, print, social media, PR, sports sponsorships and much more. 

Smartly, the company isn’t doing away with the duck, but instead is using it as a means to teach people more about supplemental  insurance (see the centerpiece ad here.)  The campaign is also aggressively using facts to help establish the economic context and underlying need for Aflac’s policies.

Aflac has described this effort as driving consideration – so that when someone decides to purchase supplemental insurance, Aflac is at top of mind.  But this really is also a clear example of a company building a constituency.  The type of insurance Aflac offers fills an important gap in the firmament – enabling those who’ve been sick or hurt, and who are temporarily unable to work, to continue paying their day-to-day bills, such as groceries, rent, etc.  Aflac’s core market are employees of small businesses, whose major medical insurance may fall short in many areas, and for whom the kind of supplemental programs Aflac offers can mean all the difference in their family’s finanancial stability, should something tragic occur.  Aflac wants to be known for meeting a critical need in people’s lives.  

I spent two days with members of the Aflac marketing and communications team, and believe that they’ll take this well-known brand to the next level.  They have a remarkable depth of passion that’s  joined by a clear strategic focus (anyone who can use the phrase “spokesduck” without a trace of irony in their voice earns major kudos by my book.)  It will be interesting to measure their success as they add more substance to the Aflac brand and build on so much good work that has gone before them.

And I brought two stuffed toy Aflac ducks home to my girls — they may never have forgiven me if I hadn’t.

Look, I get the fact that if Mike Arrington simply shoved a camera in her face without warning his ethics should be questioned. But that doesn’t override the fact that if you’re the VP of Communications for a major online consumer site, as Ms. Dudeck is, you should have effective responses to these obvious questions memorized. What a cock-up.

Politically incorrect to the extreme, but loads of fun…