A view of the 2012 U.S. Presidential election results from halfway around the world …

Latinos with American FlagMy brother, Nelson Nones, has lived and worked outside the United States for years.  He wrote me the other day with his “take” on the 2012 Presidential Election results. 

I thought his observations are interesting and thought-provoking … and offer a somewhat different perspective from what we’ve been hearing in the local media.  Here’s some of what Nelson shared with me.

On the 2012 the economic messages of the political parties:

It looks like capturing as many “WASP” votes as possible is not enough to push a Republican Presidential candidate over the top anymore.  On matters of foreign trade (labeling China a “currency manipulator” on Day 1) and immigration policy (preach self-deportation and round ‘em up), the Republican Party seems to be falling into the perilous traps of protectionism and isolationism.

The Democratic Party fell into similar traps years ago because of their affinity with labor unions and anti-war activists, and they could win national elections only rarely for many years as a result. 

Now it’s the Republicans’ turn.  Hopefully, and unlike the Democrats years ago, the Republican Party will learn its lesson well enough – and early enough – to avoid the slippery slope towards irrelevance.

I think the ability to attract immigrants from many races and cultures is one of America’s competitive advantages over rising powers like China, which is a palpably racist, Han-supremacist society that does not tolerate the integration of foreigners (I know; I’ve lived there). The U.S. political party that demonstrates leadership winning the economic race against China is the party that will dominate in the coming years.

By rights, Hispanics and other immigrants ought to be Republicans, not Democrats. They tend to be more traditional, more religious and hold stronger “family values” than many whites these days.  The majority are naturally hard-working and self-supporting, so even if they’re poorer than most people, they aren’t “47 percenters.” Another Republican majority will never emerge without them.

Not only that, in time the Republicans will lose strongholds like Texas and Florida which have substantial Hispanic populations – and they will never have a prayer in states like California and New Mexico.

On immigration policy and its impact on voting behavior:

I think the idea that Republicans should oppose immigration reform because it will welcome “millions of new Democrat voters” is incredibly short-sighted thinking.  It is also fundamentally flawed because it presumes that all those new citizens will vote Democrat.

From what I’ve read, Governor Romney (who lost) got 25% of the Latino vote, while President George W. Bush (who won) got 35% in both 2000 and 2004. However, if Republican lawmakers continue to obstinately oppose immigration reform, or if the Republican brand continues to be linked to harsh enforcement of existing laws (whether or not such linkage is fair), it’s a very safe bet that Republicans will never capture more than 25% of the Latino vote for a long time to come.

Let’s not forget that distinct racial and ethnic groups always reward the hand that enfranchises them — often for generations.

The history of Southern blacks proves this point. At first the blacks were Republicans, because Lincoln (a Republican) freed the slaves. But they were also disenfranchised by Southern whites, who were Democrats because Lincoln and Republicans had won the Civil War.

When the northern Democrats put civil rights on their agenda, everyone switched sides:  The Republicans successfully courted Southern whites (and now can bank on winning most of the South), while blacks overwhelmingly shifted their allegiance to the Democrats (and Romney apparently got way less than 10% of the black vote).

Hispanics or Latinos constitute over 16% of America’s population now; this demographic group is about 30% larger than the black population, but in recent times is roughly five times more likely than blacks to vote Republican.

Bottom line: the number of potential Republican votes cast by Hispanics and Latinos is seven times larger than the number of potential Republican votes cast by blacks.

To retain a strong presence on the national political scene, the Republican Party must focus on doing what it takes to hold the Hispanic/Latino bloc of votes, and then enlarge it. Pushing an agenda that Hispanics and Latinos perceive as disenfranchisement cannot possibly work.

Actions … consequences:

This isn’t just about attracting votes. It’s about exploiting one of America’s biggest competitive advantages to stay ahead of China in the economic race. There is no reason why Republicans can’t, or shouldn’t, transform their brand and take leadership of the economic race.

The best example I can think of to prove this point is President Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with China. Nixon, the diehard Commie fighter and leader of a political party that utterly detested China, took leadership and received credit for what is arguably one of the biggest transformational events of the 20th century.

Not coincidentally, the Chinese admire Nixon and mention his legacy to me all the time. Why? Because ordinary Chinese believe he (and not his counterpart, Chou En Lai) enfranchised them by opening the door to reform in their country.

On language:

Are some Americans obsessing too much over the issue of English as the national language?  Here’s my take on this: 

I have personally delivered services on location in the following countries over the past five years: Australia, Brunei, China, Egypt, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

English, my native tongue of course, is the common national language in just six of these countries: Australia, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.  I am somewhat fluent in Thai and struggle to communicate in Bahasa, (Mandarin) Chinese and German.  Arabic, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Polish (utterly incomprehensible), Swedish and Tagalog?  No way.

Yet I’ve delivered my services and my clients are evidently happy, because they’ve paid their bills. How could I do this? Because they all use English, including the Chinese.  (The Japanese are worst at it, by the way, but routinely employ translators, headsets and microphones to overcome the language barrier).

You might counter that I deal with educated professionals and couldn’t pull this off with working-class people. Not so.  Most of my clients are manufacturers, so I deal with factory workers as well as managers and professionals.

Also, in the course of all my travels, I have to engage with plenty of local taxi drivers and McDonald’s clerks. Naturally not all of them know English, and when they do, their English skills are usually pretty dodgy, but nevertheless we are able to communicate well enough to get the job done.

So it seems that the world has also learned to speak English. This being the case, wouldn’t most of the new people arriving in the U.S. as a result of immigration reform continue to use English, as they now do when necessary in their native countries?

Having said this, even if the new arrivals abandon their current habits and insist on using their native languages, as a person with conservative political viewpoints, I would steadfastly oppose any attempt to make English mandatory.

Moreover, any attempt to do so would be clearly unconstitutional, because Article I of the U.S. Constitution declares, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” (the Constitution does not state “English speech”).

Simply put, all Americans, whether immigrants or not, have the absolute right to use any language they wish, whether or not their choice is rational. Conservatives ought to be passionate about protecting this right, not undermining it.

Of course it’s conceivable that English evolves to become America’s sole de facto language if the country does everything in its (legal) power to keep foreigners out. But protecting a single national language by targeting and blocking Latino immigration (thus preventing the spread of Spanish) isn’t conservativism in the classic liberal sense; it’s isolationism.  And you can’t convince me that America would be better off pursuing an isolationist course in today’s world.

Are there some countries that try to keep their languages and cultures “pure”?  Sure … but usually with laughable results.

France, currently mired in recession and hardly a bastion of American-style conservativism, comes to mind.

Back in 2003, according to the Associated Press, the French government mandated the use of courriel instead of e-mail as the term for electronic mail: 

“The Culture Ministry has announced a ban on the use of ‘e-mail’ in all government ministries, documents, publications or websites, the latest step to stem an incursion of English words into the French lexicon,” the AP reported.

All the French people I know acknowledge that this policy is utterly ridiculous. And they continue to use the term “e-mail.”

Like France, Thailand has linguistic and cultural sensitivities as well. Just last month, The Nation, an English-language Bangkok newspaper, reported:  

“The debate surrounding the Royal Institute’s plan to change the spelling of 176 words ‘borrowed’ from the English language should focus the public’s attention on the use of Thai language in today’s fast-changing world. The Royal Institute revealed its aim to change the written form of 176 words borrowed from English, such as ‘computer,’ ‘nightclub’ and ‘kilometre,’ by adding tone marks. The Institute reasoned that the additions would be a guide to correct pronunciation.”

Yet all the Thais I know think this plan is a total waste of public time and money – and if you don’t believe me, just ask my wife!

What to do?

It’s clear to me that the 2012 Presidential Election results weren’t a one-off event, but rather the result of inexorable demographic change.

Now, the Republican Party could circle the wagons and collectively moan about the erosion of cultural values, like using one language.  But this way forward carries great risk: ceding permanent political power to the Left, whose agenda is certain to deal our fragile economy even more devastating blows.

Alternatively, the Republican Party could take a pragmatic approach to enlarge its diverse coalition of citizens who hold common views of political freedom, limited government, the rule of law and economic freedom.  I think that taking leadership on immigration reform is one way to do this.

Happily, it would also strengthen our economy by leveraging one of America’s most potent competitive advantages against China, today’s rising economic superpower and the most significant threat to U.S. economic hegemony.

As if on cue, I found this Wall Street Journal article on Yahoo! News today: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/heartland-draws-hispanics-help-revive-040400742.html and it reinforces my points on why America should be leveraging its appeal to new arrivals through immigration reform.

The WSJ article also illustrates the challenges of fear and mistrust that need to be overcome. That’s where political leadership comes in – and if the Republican Party were to start exerting the right kind of leadership, I’d bet it could win many hearts (and future votes).

And now your take:

What are your thoughts?  Do you think my brother is on target with his observations … or would you offer a different point of view?  Please share your comments — let’s get some discussion going!

Election Campaign News Consumption: What a Difference a Dozen Years Makes

Trends in Campaign News Sources (Pew Surveys)One of the interesting aspects of the U.S. presidential elections that come along every four years is the opportunity to see how Americans are getting their political news. That’s because the Pew Research Center for People & the Press conducts a survey every presidential election year to find out those very behaviors.

The 2012 survey of ~1,500 voting-age Americans older was fielded earlier this year. It found that fewer people are following news about the campaign compared to four years ago.

That’s hardly surprising, given that the “heady and hopeful” campaign rhetoric of 2008 has given way to nothing more than a long, hard slog in 2012. 

What’s more interesting is to see how campaign news consumption behaviors have changed.

If we compare survey results this year against those of 2000 – a dozen years ago – it quantifies what many suspect has been happening: a big decline in traditional news sources like newspapers and network news in favor of the Internet.

In response to Pew’s question as to where consumers are regularly getting their campaign news, here are the comparisons between 2000 and 2012:

  • Cable TV news: Rose from 34% in 2000 to 36% in 2012
  • Internet: Jumped from 9% to 25%
  • Local TV news: Declined from 48% to 32%
  • Network news: Declined from 45% to 26%
  • Local newspaper: Dropped from 49% to just 20%

[Interestingly, the Internet as a source for campaign news has actually leveled off since 2008, when 24% reported it being a regular source for news. In the previous four-year cycle, that source had doubled in popularity.]

The most popular Internet sources for campaign news are the usual suspects:

  • CNN: ~24%
  • Yahoo: ~22%
  • Google: ~13%
  • Fox News: ~10%
  • MSN: ~9%
  • MSNBC (NBCNews): ~8%

But what about social media, the newest kid on the block when it comes to news sources? The Pew survey reveals that social media are being used by a pretty limited audience for presidential politics: ~20% report that they regularly or sometimes receive campaign information from Facebook, and only ~5% say the same about Twitter.

More details on the Pew survey – perhaps more than you ever wanted to know – can be found here.

America’s “Summer of Funk”

Consumers are in a funk in the Summer of 2012.

How much do American consumers spend in an average day? According to a July 2012 Gallup Poll, they spend about $70 per day in stores, gas stations, restaurants and online. (Housing, utility costs and vehicle purchases are extra.)

It turns out that this figure is a pretty big drop from the average daily spend of $104 Gallup found in 2008.

That meme we’re hearing on the campaign trail about people’s livelihoods having shrunk over the past three or four years? Evidently, it’s a fact.

And Gallup is also finding that upper-income Americans have undergone the same degree of spending reduction as everyone else. Their spending is now down to about $116 per day.

Evidently, confidence in the U.S. economy and the stock market’s uneven performance have taken their toll on the psyche of even the affluent classes in America. And Gallup isn’t the only organization charting this. Ipsos MediaCT is finding a similar story in its surveys.

Last week, Stephen Kraus, an Ipsos senior vice president and author of several books on the upper-income sector of society, wrote: “Widespread uncertainty plays a role in a fundamental fact of today’s “affluent” marketplace. For the most part, affluents today simply don’t feel affluent.”

Krauss continues, “This feeling isn’t new; for most, it is part of the lingering hangover of The Great Recession. But it is particularly pronounced in the summer of uncertainty.

Krauss concludes his remarks with this rather gloomy observation: “It’s a summer of uncertainty indeed – about the economy, about the future, and even about one’s own standing in today’s financial hierarchy.”

Reading these very latest reports on the level of uncertainty – even resignation – that people have about the economy, it underscores the collective funk the American people seem to be in as the 2012 presidential campaign grinds on inexorably to its conclusion.

Perhaps once Election Day has come and gone, Americans will “snap out of it” and begin to feel brighter about the future.

Perhaps. But don’t hold your breath. 

Coming Attractions: A Newly Sanitized YouTube

YouTube Cleaning up its ActThe YouTube phenomenon has been one of the biggest success stories of all in cyberspace.

Over the years, YouTube has gone from being a weird corner of the web made up of curious, strange and often forgettable video clips, to a site that attracts millions of viewers every day – some of whom have essentially ditched all other forms of video viewing in favor of mining the vast trove of material YouTube carries on its platform.

In the years since Google acquired YouTube, traffic and usage have exploded, even as the video fare has become more varied (and also more professional).

But there’s one holdover from the early years that continues to bedevil Google: YouTube is a repository of some of the most inflammatory, puerile and downright disgusting commentary that passes for “discourse,” posted by all manner of rabble.

But now, Google is signaling a strategy that has the potential to clean up the crude comments on YouTube – and in a big way.

YouTube is now strongly encouraging users to post their YouTube comments using the name identity associated with their Google+ account.

In fact, if you decline to do so after being prompted, you’ll be asked to state a reason why, underscoring the nudge away from “screen name anonymity” and towards “real-name identity.”

The notion is that people will be less likely to post flaming comments when their “true” web identity is known – that people will exude good behavior in “polite cyber-company,” as it were.

Of course, one needs to possess a Google+ account in order to link his or her identity on YouTube. But that’s for today only; some observers see YouTube’s move as just the first step toward hiding – and eventually eliminating – all comments coming from anonymous accounts.

So the new bargain will be something closer to this: “Open a Google+ account and link your YouTube account to your Google+ account … or else forfeit your ability to post any comments at all on YouTube.”

The likely result will be a much more “sanitized” YouTube – less edgy, but also less red-faced embarrassing. And that’s just what many brands, businesses and advertisers would like to see happen.

Of course, YouTube’s moves may well spur the launch of an alternative site that seeks to preserve the (nearly) anything-goes environment of the YouTube of yore.

Perhaps it could be called “YouCrude,”  But, as it happens, that handle’s already been nabbed — by a fellow WordPress blogger!

QR Codes Go Ghoulish

QR Code on HeadstoneIt’s no secret that QR (“quick response”) codes, the Japanese communications tech import, have had a difficult time taking off here in the United States. It’s a topic I’ve blogged about before. 

Indeed, it seems that marketing people are more attached to them than anyone else.

And why wouldn’t marketers be excited? It’s yet another way to engage audiences “in the moment” and enable them to head over to a landing page on impulse to take an immediate action … or at least to find out more information.

But a mix of things – lack of complete smartphone penetration, lack of QR-enabling software on mobile devices, ignorance of how QR codes operate, or just plain laziness – have conspired to keep QR engagement levels far below what marketers were hoping.

But hope springs eternal. And now we even see the QR spirit rising in the grave marker business.

That is correct: At least four monument companies in the United States are now offering QR code services as part of the grave markers they’re preparing for families of deceased loved ones.

And the QR codes look just like you’d expect: one of those square splotch-marks, affixed prominently to the headstone. So now gravesite visitors can point their smartphone at the headstone and immediately pull up a biography, pictures, or even videos of the dear, departed soul.

One of the companies offering QR service is Katzman Monument Company, a Minnesota-based company that conducts its business completely online.

“It’s a chance for future generations to make a connection with a loved one,” company head Norm Taple reported to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper. “There’s no emotional connection when all you can look at is a headstone – probably a dirty headstone at that.”

Part of the fun is the person who maintains the login code for the deceased’s online information. While anyone can access information on the deceased via a smartphone, only that one person can edit the information … and he or she can do so at any time.

Want to beef up Grandpa’s legacy by having him graduating from Harvard as opposed to Haverford? Done in a flash.

Looking to spice up Great Aunt Emma’s early dramatic career by having her being a burlesque showgirl in Chicago? Just a couple keystrokes and it’s now in her official biography.

Kidding aside, it’ll be interesting to see if this latest manifestation of QR code technology is more successful than the other attempts to force-feed them to the public.

My hunch tells me … it’s doubtful.

Wikipedia vs. the Church of Scientology

Wikipedia vs. ScientologyI’ve blogged before about Wikipedia phenomenon and how it’s completely taken over the realm of encyclopedic knowledge in the span of only a decade.

One of the central tenets of Wikipedia is that it’s an open and inclusive environment where anyone can post an article or edit article entries.  But it’s also a self-policing environment where “the wisdom of crowds” ensures that inaccurate or spurious information is quickly removed and replaced with corrected entries.

With such a free and open environment, it comes as no surprise that certain topics can engender passionate debate and create some highly interesting “fireworks.”

Once such example is the Wikipedia entry on Charles Bennison, the embattled Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania whose social and financial controversies have been wide-ranging. For months on end, dueling article entries made by Wikipedia posters and countered by the Bishop’s own partisans made for a morbidly fascinating tit-for-tat spectacle.

Or consider Wikipedia’s article entry on President Barack Obama, which at times has undergone literally minute-by-minute edits frantically posted by dueling editors during high-profile episodes such as the birth certificate controversy — a kind of editorial ping-pong match.

But never has Wikipedia stepped in as an organization and done what it did this past week: It has actually banned the Church of Scientology from editing any articles appearing on Wikipedia that are associated with the religion.

This unprecedented action was reportedly taken in response to “repeated and deceptive editing” of Wikipedia articles related to Scientology and its beliefs.

And according to the news reports, the vote wasn’t even close; Wikipedia’s arbitration council voted 10-1 to ban users coming from any and all IP addresses owned by the Church of Scientology and its associates, along banning with certain individuals by name.

The Scientology case has been under review by Wikipedia since last December. It centers on more than 400 articles about the religious organization and its members. These articles have been the source of fierce “edit wars” pitting organized Church of Scientology editors against the religion’s detractors.

As a measure of how heated this issue has been for Wikipedia, this was actually the fourth arbitration case concerning the Church of Scientology occurring within the past four years.

To the casual observer, the whole Church of Scientology issue is a tempest in a teapot that could be summed up by the title of William Shakespeare’s famous play, Much Ado about Nothing.

But the fervor in which Scientology’s promoters and its critics have battled each other tooth and nail over the content of the Wikipedia article entries proves the rule once again that politics and religion are among the most passionate subjects in the world.

But the Scientology fracas also makes another point: Wikipedia is now the most important information repository in the world. Otherwise, why would there be such a fuss?

So the stakes are high … and tempers are high.

Here’s a prediction: Despite the unprecedented ban by Wikipedia’s arbitration council, the Scientology “edit wars” are far from over.  These folks are relentless.

U.S. Green Energy: Sizzle? … or Fizzle?

Impending doom for Green Energy?  The economic model isn't working.Tempting as it may be to dismiss Solyndra, Solar Power, Beacon Energy, SpectraWatt and other recent horror stories regarding “energy subsidies gone bad” as just examples of governmental ineptitude resulting from overly exuberant ideological thinking coupled with political favoritism … it turns out that these events are also emblematic of a much more fundamental challenge to green energy prospects.

A report released last week warning of problems on the horizon for green energy bears this out. The report, titled “Beyond Boom and Bust,” is a collaborative effort between the Brookings Institution, the Breakthrough Institute and the World Resources Institute (WRI), and was authored by six researchers associated with these organizations.

According to the report, the federal government’s involvement in the renewable energy marketplace has led to an unsustainable system. Among the study’s key conclusions are these eye-opening points:

 Nearly all “clean” tech segments in the U.S. remain reliant on production and deployment subsidies or other policies designed to facilitate gaining an expanding foothold in today’s energy market.

 Many of the nearly 100 individual policies and subsidies that undergird clean energy – grants, tax credits, loan guarantees and the like – are getting ready to expire, with the potential for dire consequences. To illustrate: Total federal spending on the clean tech sector was more than $44 billion in 2009, but would shrink to only ~$11 billion in 2014.

 In the absence of legislation to extend or replace current green energy subsidies, America’s clean tech policy system will be largely dismantled as of the beginning of 2015 because of the scheduled expiration of ~70% of the policy provisions.

In the current political and legislative climate, it’s doubtful that many of the current policies can be expanded or replaced. And even if this could happen, the report sheds doubt on whether such policies can be successful:

“The maintenance of perpetual subsidies is not a sustainable solution to the new challenges facing the U.S. clean tech industry. Clean tech markets in America have lurched from boom to bust for decades, and the root cause remains the same: the higher costs and risks of emerging U.S. clean tech products relative to either incumbent fossil energy technologies or lower-cost international competitors, which makes U.S. clean tech sectors dependent on subsidy and policy support.”

The report makes a number of recommendations for ushering in a “new era” of clean energy policy. Among these are:

 Foster establishment of a competitive market – development policies should create market opportunities for advanced clean energy technologies while fostering competition between technology firms.

 Create market incentives that demand and reward continuing improvement in technology performance and cost.

 Avoid technology lockout and promote a diverse energy portfolio.

Also, the authors emphasize the need for a “new national conversation” to determine the best route forward to accelerate technology improvements and cost reductions in clean tech sectors.

It would be nice if that conversation could start right now. But in an election year … don’t bank on it.

Vacation time? What’s that?

Americans not taking their vacation daysIf you’ve been wondering if you’re the only chump in the business world who never takes advantage of all the vacation days you’re due … it turns out you’ve got lots of company.

We have three separate surveys conducted within the past six months that point to the same conclusion: American workers are the great ones for skipping their vacation time.

In a survey conducted by Kelton Research for the Radisson hotel chain, American workers reported that they are granted an average of 18 vacation days per year. But in 2011, nearly half of the ~1,000 survey respondents took 50% or fewer of their allotted vacation days.

A startling finding for sure. But Harris Interactive discovered a similar result in its American Travel Behavior Survey conducted for Hotwire.com. That survey of ~2,000 adult workers fielded in late 2011 found that the average American employee left more than six days of paid vacation “on the table” at the end of the year.

Lastly, a survey conducted for JetBlue Airlines in September 2011 found that nearly 60% of the ~1,100 workers polled didn’t use all of their allotted paid vacation days.

The average number of days not taken? In this survey, it was a whopping 11 days.

Why are so many people taking so few vacation days? Especially when it’s something nearly every social psychologist says is important for a healthy balance between work and social life?

The survey findings give us tantalizing clues: It’s a combination of “taking one for the team” and just plain “fear”:

 Excessive workload raises the “guilt level” for taking vacation time.

Concern about asking for vacation days even when the time is due, because of lean office staffing and how the time off will affect work colleagues.

 Reluctance to play “catch-up” in the workplace following a vacation. Overstuffed e-mail inboxes are just the beginning.

 Concern about job security in a time of high unemployment.

Looking ahead, will workers will start taking more of the vacation days they’re due? If these surveys are a correct barometer, the answer is a firm “No.”

U.S. Government Driving Pecan Growers and Pecan Buyers Nuts

Pecan harvestingThose who contend that the Federal government has no business managing the nation’s healthcare system because it can’t even manage its way out of a paper bag got fresh ammunition this past week.

The Wall Street Journal published an article chronicling how incorrect government data has wreaked havoc in the pecan industry. Evidently, the government vastly overstated the amount of pecan exports to Asian countries and other destinations in 2010 and 2011.

The relatively small size of the U.S. pecan industry (just shy of $700 million production) means that there isn’t a futures market for the crop. Instead, pecan buyers look at trade statistics to determine whether demand will be strong or weak – and lock in purchase contracts accordingly.

When U.S. trade stats purported to show heavy overseas shipments – and with the Chinese market ramping up purchases for the Lunar New Year celebrations – pecan buyers locked in their purchases early. And pecan growers in the Eastern U.S., where the crop is harvested first, did well with supplying the product at these lucrative prices.

But when the “phantom demand” from overseas failed to materialize, pecan prices tumbled. Growers in the Midwest and West found themselves facing pecan prices nearly half the levels of just a few weeks earlier.

The culprit? The Federal government, which published the completely bogus trade figures based on “a computer malfunction” at the Census Bureau’s foreign trade division.

“There were internal processing errors,” division chief Nick Orsini reported.

When and how did the government find this out? Not until one of the industry’s buying firms questioned the figures and reported its concerns to the agency.

The foreign trade division’s “internal processing errors” have since been fixed. But in its wake is a trail of debris that reaches into every corner of the pecan industry.

Some buyers are miffed because they were led to lock in purchases when the market was at its peak, wasting hundreds of thousand of dollars on high-priced buying.

Midwestern and Western growers who harvest later in the season found themselves having to sell their crop at a deep loss, the market having crashed. So they’re not happy campers, either.

One thing’s for certain: Everyone in the pecan industry now knows what it’s like to be burned. And because it’s the government … there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Oh sure, the National Pecan Shellers Association sent an official letter to Federal officials outlining its concens with the faulty data … but that promises to have as much impact as a pecan tree falling in the forest.

And from the Federal officials’ point of view, what’s the big whoop, anyway? What sort of political clout to these people have?

After all, it’s just a ~$680 million industry.

About on par with Solyndra.

Retailing Comes Full Circle … Courtesy of Amazon

Amazon’s been busy revolutionizing the world of retailing for well over a decade now. So what’s its latest trick? Bricks-and mortar stores.

Yes, you read that right. Amazon’s going into the physical retail game.

What’s behind this seemingly bizarre turn away from 21st century online retailing back to something that seems almost quaint? It’s pretty fundamental, actually. There are many products that consumers find easier to purchase after being able to interact with them physically and personally.

From apparel to electronics to sporting goods, sometimes there’s no substitute for the visceral, sensory experience. Online images, videos, product ratings and customer reviews all have their place, and Amazon doesn’t see those aspects becoming any less important over time.

Indeed, the Amazon store concept builds on all that, attempting to create a multi-channel retailing structure that truly serves the needs to consumers whenever and however they wish.

If what Amazon is developing is “just another” retail shop, it’ll be much ado about nothing. But it’s more likely that Amazon will try to create a retail experience in the manner of an Apple store – creating an environment that has its own special personality and attracts shoppers because of it.

Amazon may generate a good deal of buzz about its newest venture and the novelty of it all. Good for them. But the Amazon initiative also speaks to a more fundamental truth: reminding us that the marketplace is made up of human beings, not machines. People are social … and sometimes we hunger for more than just looking at an image on a computer screen.

If Amazon can successfully integrate its new physical stores concept with its phenomenally successful online retail business, it’ll be another step forward in the creation of truly integrated, multi-channel retailing.

It’s good to see that people are at the center of the model – literally and figuratively.