Monthly Archives: October 2014

Democrats only have themselves to blame for upcoming losses

By Steven Pearlstein

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Tuesday will not be a good day for Democrats. The reason isn’t Ebola or the Islamic State or that the country has suddenly become more conservative. It’s not because of Fox News or all the outside money that is being spent. What we have here is a failure of brand management — in this case, the Democratic brand.

Branding is the big buzzword in business. In its weak form, branding is merely the marketing veneer, the new name or logo or advertising tagline. But in its strong and more meaningful form, according to Allen Adamson, head of North American operations of Landor Associates, a brand is more than what you do or say but who you are and what values you stand for. It’s the “single, sticky idea” that you are constantly communicating internally and externally, informing and guiding every aspect of a company’s operations and strategy.

“Building a brand is telling a clear, credible and compelling story about what you’ve done and what you are going to do,” explains David Srere, chief strategy officer at Siegel + Gale, another leading brand consultancy. “It says that come hell or high water, this is what we are going to be about.” It’s the simple, enduring idea that cuts through the escalating noise in the marketplace, overcomes the rampant cynicism among consumers and allows companies to recover from the inevitable bad luck of missteps.

What’s true for companies also applies to political parties. And from that standpoint, the performance of the Obama White House and his party’s congressional candidates has largely been a case study in how to destroy brand equity: Democratic candidates begging the Democratic president not to campaign for them and, in one memorable …read more


Opera is dead, in one chart

By Christopher Ingraham

Lon Chaney in the 1925 film “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Opera is officially dead. Or maybe not completely dead, but at best ekeing out a zombie-like existence in a state of undeath. As proof, I submit this fascinating chart of Metropolitan Opera performances, which shows that for decades the Met has rarely performed any operas composed in the preceding 50 years.

Suby Raman

The chart shows that opera ceased to exist as a contemporary art form roughly around 1970. It’s from a blog post by composer and programmer Suby Raman, who scraped the Met’s public database of performances going back to the 19th century. As Raman notes, 50 years is an insanely low bar for measuring the “contemporary” – in pop music terms, it would be like considering The Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand as cutting-edge.

Back at the beginning of the 20th century, anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of Met performances were of operas composed in some time in the 50 years prior. But since 1980, the share of contemporary performances has surpassed 10 percent only once.

Opera, as a genre, is essentially frozen in amber – Raman found that the median year of composition of pieces performed at the Met has always been right around 1870. In other words, the Met is essentially performing the exact same pieces now that it was 100 years ago.

Suby Raman

Suby Raman

The entire classical music industry faces a similar relevance problem. Over at Slate, Mark Vanhoenacker marshalled an impressive collection of data tracing the industry’s decline earlier this year. Falling album sales and a rash of orchestra bankruptcies are only the most visible signs of an art form failing to resonate with …read more


The U.S. recovery is frustrating — but it’s the envy of the advanced world

By Chico Harlan

U.S.A.! (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

U.S.A.! (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

In the United States, the story of the economy is a good news, bad news affair. Jobs are coming back, but millions are reluctantly accepting part-time work. Investors are accumulating wealth, but income levels are hardly growing.

But globally, the trajectory of America’s economy is spurring a different reaction: envy. On the heels of a steady six-month jobs expansion, the United States has reemerged as the star of — and perhaps the locomotive for — an otherwise slumping global economy.

In the latest reminder of how America is outpacing much of the developed world, the government said Thursday that the nation’s gross domestic product — the size of its economy — grew at an annualized rate of 3.5 percent between July and September. That figure came amid growing fears that Europe is sliding into its third recession since 2008. And while the United Kingdom is faring well, too, economists predict that by 2015 the United States will be the rich world’s standout economy.

“GDP growth of 3.5 percent?” said Jay Bryson, a global economist at Wells Fargo. “If you said that to a European right now, they’d start to cry tears of joy.”


The notion of the United States as a global engine is a reminder of what may now seem like an ancient era. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, emerging economies like Brazil and China took the lead role, but growth in those countries slowed as well.

Economists caution that the U.S. economy, this time around, remains fragile. And it’s unclear if the United States can lift up other struggling economies — or will be pulled down by them. The United States accounts for about 16 percent of global economic output, compared with …read more