Friday, October 23, 2009
Soupy Sales, R.I.P.
Labels: Soup Sales
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Oprah & Sarah's Sarah Power
Oprah and Sarah sitting down for a chat? Really? One an uber-famous talk-show host, black liberal Democrat. The other an instant media lighting rod, white conservative Republican. They have hardly anything in common (well,except for both having had famous feuds with David Letterman -- Oprah's was a few years back; Palin's was earlier this year. Won't they have fun at Dave's current troubles?).
Actually, it makes perfect sense -- and shows how smart each woman is in thinking outside of the box.
Over the last presidential election cycle, America met these two public women for the "first" time -- even though one already had a world-famous "brand" name. Still, even as the country learned much more about these women than it did before, the overall experience hasn't necessarily perfect for either women.
This year -- next month, to be exact -- both women hope their shared experience in 2008 can become a mutually rewarding business experience in 2009.
The 2008 presidential campaign saw Oprah Winfrey plunge into the world of partisan politics for the first time. It was something of a risk for her to endorse Barack Obama. She had become the most successful daytime talk show host -- and arguably the wealthiest female entertainer -- by attracting a loyal following of women interested in building their self-esteem.
However, Oprah scrupulously stayed away from explicitly political issues over her two-decade career. While she was vaguely liberal, she kept her personal politics under wraps. In 2000, she had both Al Gore and George W. Bush as guests (separate shows). That all changed two years ago. Oprah publicly announce that she was supporting Obama in spring of 2007 (the two Chicago residents had been friends for years). Even so, she generally stayed out of the political spotlight until December of that year when she made an unprecedented appearance on the Iowa campaign trail with Obama.
The other woman making a debut on the national political scene in the 2008 presidential cycle was the previously little-known governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. In office barely two years at the time, she became a political and cultural phenomenon when tapped by John McCain as his vice presidential running mate in August 2008. While becoming an instant hit at the GOP Convention in September 2008, as the campaign went on, she was the controversial figure -- beloved by most conservatives while scorned by liberals and much of the media. Notably, Oprah appeared not to want Palin on her show during the campaign.
Both women may have paid a price for their historic 2008 presidential campaign involvement: One year, after her initial Obama endorsement, Oprah Winfrey saw her ratings down. That hangover seems to have continued. As a result, she's kick-started her 24th season with big-name guest stars and taking the show on the road to places like New York's Central Park and a Texas state fair.
Palin, meanwhile, apparently found the intense media spotlight too much for either her, her family, or both: She resigned as governor, immediately began cashing in on a lucrative speaking career -- and signed a big book deal.
And now, more than a year after Palin's debut, she'll finally appear on Oprah's show, the week her "Going Rogue" hits the stands. It's a masterstroke for both women. explicitlys a ready made huge audience of (primarily) women. She'll be able to talk about balancing work, family -- and politics. Oprah will, arguably, get an even larger audience than normal; it will come from conservative-leaning women who either never watched her show -- or got turned off her when she came out explictly for Obama.
But while politics might create the backdrop for their chat, the fact is that this is strictly business. They are now savvy business women who see that both their brands (and respective book sales, ratings, bank accounts, etc) getting huge spikes in a mutual broadcast appearance.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Getting Schooled By Numbers
Though not getting quite the attention as the economy and health care, education has also been something of a major domestic priority for President Obama. As an example of the importance he placed on the issue, he pulled his friend and well-respected education reformer Arne Duncan from running the Chicago school system and named him secretary of education.
So far, Duncan has received fairly good "grades" from across the education spectrum. Another way of saying that is that the Department of Education is perhaps the least-criticized by Obama opponents (with the notable exception of one Keith Jennings). And so, in this one area, the president is looking good.
That said, Obama might want to note two developments this week that could embarrass him on the education front.
Item 1: The White House and the DOE release a statement that, because of the financial stimulus, 250,000 education jobs were "created or saved.":
Federal economic recovery aid has created or saved 250,000 education jobs, the Obama administration announced Monday, although states and school systems continue to face enormous fiscal pressures.
The report issued by the White House and the Education Department does not address how many education jobs have been cut this year because of the recession, nor does it project how many are in jeopardy in the coming year.
Considering that the federal stimulus was $787 billion, the quarter-million "created or saved" education jobs (spread over 50 states) is pretty thin gruel. Furthermore, the report doesn't exactly quantify what those jobs were -- or where!
Of course, this isn't the first time the administration has used the "saved or created" formulation. Indeed, that's been the preferred phrase since the stimulus was introduced in the late winter. And the problem remains. It's fairly easy to assess a job "created." But how does one identify one that didn't disappear? For that matter, how does one critiquing such a formulation prove that a job wasn't created? Indeed, no officially recognized federal employment-analyzing agency uses the "saved" construction.
Even if the "saved" assertion existed, what does the president have to say about...
Item 2: In Hawaii, because of a union contract, kids will only be going to school four days a week. Yep, no school on Fridays -- because of budgetary concerns. This is doubly embarrassing to Obama. First, because this is his native state. But more importantly, because he recently has called for a longer school year for students. Instead, Hawaiian students will be spending less time in school than kids in the other 49 states:
The deal whacks 17 days from the school year for budget-cutting reasons and has education advocates incensed that Hawaii is drastically cutting the academic calendar at a time when it already ranks near the bottom in national educational achievement.
While many school districts have laid off or furloughed teachers, reduced pay and planning days and otherwise cut costs, Hawaii's 171,000 public schools students now find themselves with only 163 instructional days, compared with 180 in most districts in the U.S.
Looks like Hawaii didn't get a great enough share of "saved" jobs, eh?
Obviously, the federal government can't guarantee jobs in every state (nor should it). But it is nothing short of shameful that a state should make a union contract that would permit that many days cut out of the school year. Is it really the case that more resources can't be found elsewhere -- enough that would allow schoolkids to have a full 180 days in school?
Secretary Duncan should put in a call to Honolulu and ask what the state was thinking. Jobs may or may not be "saved" because of the Obama stimulus. One thing's for sure, however: The futures of a whole lot of kids in the president's native state aren't being saved by losing precious school days.