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Monday, June 02, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres







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"Recently, after a long, drawn-out fight over an overdraft fee, I decided to break up with my bank. I withdrew my balance, closed my accounts, and began looking around. I wanted to find a ­disruptive bank, in the Silicon Valley parlance—one better than the opaque, fee-filled behemoths I’d dealt with in the past. The problem, I quickly learned, is such a thing doesn’t yet exist. The big banks all offer basically the same bevy of services, and small banks and credit unions tend to skimp on the add-ons I need, like mobile-banking apps and spending trackers. All of them, big and small, run on the same outdated infrastructure—paper checks, debit cards that require punched-in pins, wire transfers that take days to clear. Despite Wall Street’s reputation for ruthless efficiency and staying ahead of the curve, the last truly important innovation in consumer banking might have been the ATM. To listen to Silicon Valley tell it, that will change soon. 'I am dying to fund a disruptive bank,' venture capitalist Marc Andreessen tweeted earlier this year. Financial start-ups—known collectively as 'fintech'—are spreading like kudzu, each with a different idea about how to usurp the giants of Wall Street by offering better services, lower fees, or both. Bitcoin and other digital currencies are the tech scene’s infatuation du jour. But a number of other companies are finding success by innovating within the monetary system we already have. 'When I go to Silicon Valley … they all want to eat our lunch,' lamented ­JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon this year.Part of the reason the tech world is interested in finance is the sheer amount of money involved—financial services is a $1.2 trillion industry, and U.S.-based fintech start-ups raised an estimated $1.3 billion last quarter alone. But banking is also a prime candidate for disruption because, like much of the old-line corporate world, it tends to run on bloated, creaky technology. Even something as simple as applying for a loan can take weeks or months, thanks to the sheer number of human hands such transactions pass through. And, since each intermediary wants a cut, fees are everywhere. Undercutting big banks and speeding up processes might not be as sexy as, say, creating the next Snapchat, but it’s low-hanging fruit for techies who want a way in to a lucrative market. After all, today’s megabanks are really just bundles of particular, loosely related services cobbled together by years of acquisitions and market ­consolidation. If those bundles can be broken apart, the start-up world’s revolution looks a lot more plausible." (NYMag)




















"The spring social season is winding down as both official and private Washington move toward a more laid back warm weather agenda. But it goes out with a bang. Just look at the White House, where on Friday, President Obama shed not one but two high level appointees: press secretary Jay Carney (it was time), and Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki (it was a scandal). Who could be next up for a Friday media dump as the Administration gears up for the mid-term elections? Obama may be a lame duck but no president wants his last referendum to include deep losses in the House and Senate ... If I have any criticism it would be aimed at some White House staff. The press operation is controlling to the point of being a negative. There’s an almost Nixonian cynicism toward the role of journalism and journalists. You won’t hear this from the White House press corps, because that relationship – press corps/press office – is usually too cozy. But if you come in to observe an event, well, you are herded. I don’t believe it comes from him, and that’s been confirmed by friends who are close to the seat of power. The prize for handling the needs of print and broadcast journalists in an affable and effective way still remains with the White House press team of President George Bush, #41. Shout out to Marlin Fitzwater and Laura Melillo Barnum. And, even with what they were up against (Whitewater, Monica, etc), President Bill Clinton’s front guard were surprisingly open and considerate. Shout out to Mike McCurry. It sets a tone. It matters." (NYSD)










ALBANY, NY - JANUARY 08:  New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014 in Albany, New York.  Among other issues touched on at the afternoon speech in the state's capital was the legalization of medical marijuana, and New York's continued economic recovery. Cuomo has been discussed as a possible Democratic candidate for the 2016 presidential race.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Photo: Spencer Platt/2014 Getty Images





"It's tough to choose a low point of Saturday night's Working Families Convention for Governor Andrew Cuomo. Was it when a WFP leader took the podium to blast him as a liar? Or perhaps it was Cuomo being forced to reshoot a video to be played at the convention. Or maybe it was going along with almost all of the WFP's issues—then having the final video greeted by boos and screams of 'bullshit!' by conventioneers. No matter. By Sunday afternoon Cuomo was treating Saturday night's nuttiness like a bad dream, something he'd slept off like too many Jagermeister shots. 'At these political conventions you either win or you lose,' he coolly told reporters after marching along Fifth Avenue in the Celebrate Israel parade. 'I won.' That he did. Cuomo's re-election campaign got the WFP's endorsement. But the governor, and almost everyone else involved, shed quite a bit of political blood in the process. Even the 'winners' in this melodrama are going to have a treacherous few months, at least, in front of them. Start with Cuomo. One of the most fascinating elements of this episode is how a governor with $33 million in the bank, robust public approval ratings, a solid first-term record, and an obscure Republican opponent allowed himself to look as if he'd become hostage to a party most New Yorkers still have never heard of. Part of the answer is the leftward drift of the state's electorate, in contrast to Cuomo's determinedly centrist policy choices, particularly on economic issues. Yet the governor, an astute political analyst, had recognized this a long time ago, and he understood that Bill de Blasio's victory last fall guaranteed him a problem with the WFP.That's why the answer is as much personal as tactical. Cuomo wants to beat his father's 1986 victory margin, when Mario Cuomo was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote. Picking up liberal votes on the WFP ballot line—or preventing someone else from siphoning votes—makes it easier. On the other hand, Cuomo has been dismayed that progressives still don't think he's done enough, even after legalizing gay marriage and tightening gun laws. So Cuomo needed and disdained the WFP at the same time, which led to this weekend's confrontation, and left him looking weaker.The WFP, meanwhile, maximized its leverage, getting the gov to pledge to a long list of its demands, most importantly that Cuomo will campaign to establish a Democratic majority in the state senate this fall." (NYMag)






Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein with Keith Richards (KEN REGAN/CAMERA 5).


"In today’s Diary, we’re featuring one of those fascinating obituaries – this one of Prince Rupert Loewenstein -- from the Telegraph of London. Prince Rupert, who died two weeks ago, was famous in the world (those who knew of him) as the financial adviser to the Rolling Stones. This obit will explain how he was much more involved than that from the early 1970s until the early 2000s. I never met him although I first heard of him when I was living in Los Angeles; he had rented (or bought) a house nearby. His was a European name that everyone in Hollywood perked up to, both the aristos and moguls in the music and the movie business. That’s magnetism in the world of the high rollers. The prince (everyone referred to him as Rupert) also had a good reputation, as someone likeable, as well as shrewd – not so ordinary in ole Tinseltown. His title – Prince – was legit and that , along with the Prince’s association with the Stones, gave him heft in the more rarefied circles both in Show Business and in the world outside of it. This obituary provides the explanation of a great career – although he probably never would have described it as such – in the international music and entertainment business. He was his own kind of showman, but an authentic.From the Telegraph of London: Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein was a Bavarian aristocrat and banker who disliked rock and roll but made The Rolling Stones very rich." (NYSD)





"These days the Ku Klux Klan is mostly an unfunny joke, a smattering of ignorant racists who play dress-up and hold poorly planned, sparsely attended rallies to protest the renaming of parks. But half a century ago the Klan's power stretched from coast to coast, and members of the hooded hate group carried out firebombing attacks and murdered civil rights workers in the South. In the 1970s, internal conflicts and infiltration by the FBI weakened the Klan, but it was still dangerous enough that in 1979 KKK members killed five protesters in North Carolina. It was during this era that Ron Stallworth, the first black cop in Colorado Springs, infiltrated the local Klan organization. He first made headlines in 2006 when he went public with his story and explained how he had stumbled upon the Klan and managed to become a leader in the local chapter by faking racist sentiments over the phone and sending a white colleague to meetings in his stead. He just released a book, Black Klansman, about his experience, so I figured now was as good a time as any to talk about how he pulled off a trick straight out of Blazing Saddles (and one that made for the first great skit on Dave Chappelle's short-lived TV show)." (VICE)





"In a previous Monday Note, I expressed concern for the cultural integration challenges involved in making the Beats acquisition work. What I learned from the on-stage interview is that Jimmy Iovine and Eddy Cue have known and worked with each other for more than ten years. Iovine says he’ll be coming to Cupertino ‘about once a month’, so my initial skepticism may have been overstated; Apple isn’t acquiring a company of strangers. But are they acquiring a company that creates quality products?  While many see Beats Music’s content curation as an important differentiator in the streaming business, one that would give a new life to its flagging music sales, others are not so sure. They find Beats Music’s musical choices uninspiring. I’m afraid I have to agree. I downloaded the Beats Music app, defined a profile, and listened for several hours while walking around Palo Alto or sitting at my computer. Perhaps it’s me, my age, or my degenerate tastes but none of the playlists that Beats crafted for me delivered neither the frisson of discovery nor the pleasure of listening to an old favorite long forgotten. And my iPhone became quite hot after using the app for only an hour or so.
Regarding the headphones: They’re popular and sell quite well in spite of what The Guardian calls 'lacklustre sound'. I tried Beats Electronic’s stylish Studio headphones for a while, but have since returned to the nondescript noise-canceling Bose QC 20i, a preference that was shared (exactly or approximately) by many at the conference. There was no doubt, at the conference, that Apple understands there are problems with Beats, but there’s also a feeling that the company sees these problems as opportunities. An overheard hallway discussion about the miserable state of the iTunes application (too strongly worded to repeat here verbatim) neatly summed up the opportunity: ‘Keeping Beats as a separate group affords Cook and Cue an opening for independently developing an alternative to iTunes instead of trying to fix the unfixable.’ It’s worth noting that the Beats Music app is available on mobile devices, only, and it appears there’s no plan to create a desktop version. This underlines the diminished role of desktops, and points out the possibility of a real mobile successor to the aging iTunes application." (Monday Note)

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