Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Telling it like it really is...

Babies are ugly, basketball leagues suck (but not as much as Saturday Night Live), and we're all hypocrites when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs...

Ok, that's a lot to swallow.  Let's take 'em one at a time, along with some others:

Saturday Night Live -- How disappointing was the recent Charles Barkley-hosted show?  In fact, how disappointing has every SNL been recently?  Look, you could put Charles in an empty room with a case of beer and hilarity would probably ensue.  How did SNL screw this up?  It should have been a lay-up!  I thought the Charles-hosted show would win me back after 2-3 years of utter disappointment.  Instead, it put the nail in the coffin; that show is officially dead to me.  I can always catch the one semi-funny skit on youtube the next day.  There is just no need to watch it live anymore... RIP SNL.  

Baseball/Steroids/McGwire -- First of all, do apologies even matter?  Really?  Has anything truly changed since Mark McGwire came out and told us something we all already knew anyway?  Why does the act of contrition (note I specifically call it an "act") suddenly wipe the slate clean?  Why the need for it, and why do we pander to its "magical power" to change all?  Further, am I supposed to believe that Mark McGwire is truly sorry?  Genuinely sorry for taking 'roids at a time when everyone else was, high-fiving his son at home plate, and all-around cashing in on his success?  Or, more likely, sorry that his name and reputation has been tarnished in the time since...sorry for the embarrassment he has suffered in the eyes of fans and family...sorry that he might not make the Hall?  See, I think he's sorry now, because he doesn't like the way things have turned out.  But sorry then would have meant apologizing then, or maybe not doing the drugs at all.  I often think back to a great line from the Princess Bride...when told he would be set free (a blantant lie), Westley looks squarely at the evil Prince and tells him, "we are men of action...lies do not become us."  I always liked that.  Anyway, for me, actions have always spoken louder than words.  And McGwire's actions - in my opinion - have never indicated true regret or remorse.  And as such, simply "saying the words" now means very little.  Second, why are we - as a nation - so hypocritical to begin with?  What's the real issue with performance-enhacing drugs, anyway?  Because they are dangerous to the users?  Please...we have looked the other way for years while America's football players have literally smashed their brains into mushy oatmeal...we could care less about the issue of drugs, depression, and death in pro wrestling...soooo, because it's baseball - "America's Game" - we are suddenly holier-than-thou?   Hey, in my mind there are two things just as "American" as baseball, if not more:  the business world and the mass consumption of sex and sex appeal.  In the business world, what is coffee but a performance-enhancing drug?  Should we ban that?  And in the world of sex appeal (which is used to sell everything...), what is make-up but perfomance-enhancement?  What is airbrushing?  What is botox?  Liposuction?  Implants?  All of those things are dangerous in their own right, too, but no one seems to care... So where does the line get drawn?  Who decides?  Legalize 'em all, I say.  And if an athlete makes that Faustian bargain and abuses the freely-available drugs (just as basically every single NFL player without a special non-concussion helmet already does) in the name of short-term-performance enhacement, then let him.  The rewards are his own, as are the risks... I wouldn't be surprised if usage flattened to dropped over time if everything was legalized... After all, aren't athletes already pushing the boundaries of what our bodies can handle?  We're due for a major pullback in performance terms, simply because science and drugs have advanced much more rapidly than our DNA-coding in terms of evolved ligaments, tendons, and bones aimed at supporting such improved performance.  Just as processed foods and starches have advanced much more rapidly than our "neanderthal man" stomachs are able to assimilate (and thus perhaps contributing to diabetes, and maybe even cancer, rates), the science of sport is taking us places far beyond what our bodies can actually do.  [side note:  athletes today truly are "superhuman."  your average NBA player, or Usain Bolt, would have been a freak of nature - a true "superhero" - if alive in the 1700's, for example.]  Doesn't it seem like there are more and more "Wes Welker"-type phantom injuries today?  Cuts are so sharp, and there is so much muscle mass whose momentum needs to be shifted, and our internal infrastructure can't handle it... Anyway, my point is this - legalize the 'roids - let guys abuse them and shred their knees and everything else... and then watch the pullback; the snapback to what is more "pure."  Just as "natural" bodybuilding developed, and "natural breasts" have so much more appeal, we'll see "natural sports" make a comeback... I'd rather see it just set in motion now rather than continue on the path of fits and starts and hypocrisy that we currently face...

Babies are ugly -- it's ok...you know it's kinda true.  Someone has to say it.  Maybe it takes a guy to set the record straight, because women would never be so sacrilegious.  But newborns are not good looking creatures.  Ok, maaaaaybe there's a cute one now and again, but for the most part, no... What's wrong with admitting this?  Granted, I understand the "political correctness" of resisting the temptation to say "ummm, actually no, your kid looks like the short-bus-riding version of Mr. Magoo."  (C'mon, we've all thought it.)  But after all, it's the end product that matters most, right?  We all agree that there are some nasty-looking caterpillars out there, but we all love butterflies, right?  So what's wrong with being self-aware enough to say, "yeah, my kid looks a little beat, but they all do at this age," rather than gushing and gushing over non-existent cuteness.  ("Methinks thou dost protest too much.")  Anyway, I am going on the record with two things:  First, I won't bombard anyone with newborn photos on Facebook or anywhere else when our kid is born.  Second, if the kid is funny looking, it's all Brielle's fault...  And speaking of kids...

Baby Names? -- turns out naming a baby is proving difficult... you want something unique, but maybe not too unique.  You want something that sounds cool, but won't get your kid made fun of.  There's a subtle line there, and navigating it certainly causes some stress.  But do you know what really keeps me up at night?  How about naming Grandmas?  How does one decide which moniker a grandmother goes by?  Is this the "silent stresser," or what?  Do you draw straws or flip a coin?  Who gets the coveted "Grammy" vs. the more staid "Grandma?"  (or do I have that backwards?)  Do the kids tell the moms, i.e. the grandmoms, what they will be called?  Or do the grandmas have a say?  When do you add a first name in there, like "Grandma Sue?"  And what about the wildcard "Nana?"  How does that work?  Somebody fill me in and give me the guidelines.  With two relatively young and opinionated moms about to become grandmothers, I'd like to stave off the arm-wrestling bout, argument, or steel-cage match about to ensue over who gets called what.  This is stressful stuff... And further, once the kid is born, do the parents have to use the grandmother name too?  That'd be pretty annoying... Speaking of those hippie grandmothers...

Legalization of Marijuana -- recent coverage of medical marijuana and its legalization is a treasure-trove of hilarious on-screen moments for reporters.  Recently, CNBC ran a piece about pot becoming a true cash cow for California, as it becomes marketed like local wines.  The story postulated that pot will be pitched for different flavors, judged on a scale of 100 by a stoner-version of Robert Parker, and broken down into varietals just like California's cabernets, merlots, pinot noirs, etc.  But the best part is always the on-screen banter between the anchor and the field reporter when these things air.  The anchor always has to say something pithy like "great story, Sue...I could really see that, couldn't you?"  And normally, the field reporter would answer with something equally cheesy like "absolutely, it was a pleasure to research this."  But with marijuana stories you get priceless paranoid responses like "ummm...sure...I guess it makes sense...but I wouldn't know...ummm...honestly I have ab-so-lutely no experience in that area...I am not entirely sure how it could be marketed since I have no idea how it might be similar to wine...or not similar to wine...back to you, Bob."  The squirming and shrugging is hilarious.  Make sure you pay close attention next time one of these stories is on the air - classic stuff.  Getting serious for a second, there is no doubt in most people's minds that marijuana should be legalized, and shout out to my old Amherst teammate and roommate JH for writing his senior economics thesis on that topic back in 1994.  The most prevalent argument against it is that many consider pot a gateway drug; something that opens the door to cocaine and "harder" drugs.  I have no idea what the science or stats behind that claim support, but from an objective perspective it seems to me that it might be a gateway "experience" in the sense that it might provide someone's first interaction with a criminal element or a "dealer."  And I could see how that might give someone the confidence to make a similar exchange with higher stakes and harder drugs.  But once the illegality of pot is removed, that "gateway experience" is thereby removed.  And in terms of the product itself, I have a hard time seeing how it's a gateway to anything more substantial than a bag of cheetos...

Basketball Leagues -- So I played ball Saturday, for the 2nd time in 11 months after my 2009 Achilles surgery.  And it was ok, and I felt I held my own considering the injury.  The games were weak, but just at a good enough level to test myself a bit.  Invariably, when you play well in random pick-up games, someone asks you to play on their league team, because they think they've found their "ringer."  (All ex-ballers will know exactly what I am talking about here.)  For about ten years now, my answer to the "hey man, please play in my league" question has always been "no, thanks."  Maybe it's time to explain why...  This may be an unpopular stance, but basketball leagues really do suck.  40 minutes of running clock...bad referees...teams that play 2-3 zone or don't show up at all (nothing is worse than getting to a gym, already questioning the point of it all, but at least thinking you will get a light sweat, and having the other team forfeit)...so what's the point?  Seriously, someone please explain.  In my opinion, leagues are for guys who never quite made that high school team...guys for whom layup lines before a league game re-create some of the mystique of the organized ball that (in their "scarred" minds) apparently shunned them and their "unrecognized and totally amazing" abilities...guys who loooove seeing their names atop the excel-spread-sheet list of "top scorers" posted on that ratty gym-office door...guys who like to get - say - 30 minutes of sweat and call it a workout...guys who love to quantify their performance and thrive on telling their female friends that they "dropped 20 in a league game last night."  Please.  Take the money you waste on your league, get 15-25 guys who can really play, pool the funds to rent a high school gym once a week, go at each other for 2 hours, play for pure pride, and grab beers afterwards.  That's what it's all about.  Make the right play for the sake of making the right play, not for the sake of league stats.  Challenge yourself because you should, not because somebody is watching.  Play for the purity of it all.  And don't tell me the "elite" leagues are any better... From my perspective, West 4th Street (for example) was about guys going one-on-one to impress a transient crowd of passers-by instead of trying to win...about standing in the corner while Mr. So-and-So-Borderline-NBA-Guy-Who-Thinks-He's-The-Man takes about 50 shots and freezes everyone else out because he feels the need to prove himself (while shooting 8-for-50) instead of playing as a team.  It's a waste.  So, thanks but no thanks...I'll pass on that "great" league of yours. 

Haiti -- The tragedy in Haiti is heartbreaking, and you particularly feel it in Miami, the home of more Haitian-Americans than anywhere else in the US.  Unfortunately, you are probably right if you have the instinctive sense that disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, and the Christmas Day Tsunami seem to be occurring more frequently.  Yet the rate of tsunamis or earthquakes or hurricanes is not statistically increasing (in any real historical sense when considering Earth's full timeline)...but it certainly feels that way.  What is certainly increasing however, is the number of casualties.  After all, more people are on planet Earth than at any other time.  Thus natural disasters that may have struck isolated areas 1000 years ago are now striking in more densely populated regions.  Here's an illustration:  remember a few years back when a summertime deck party in Chicago turned deadly as the elevated deck collapsed?  It's the same idea on a global scale.  As the party grew, it moved from inside, onto the host's deck.  Throughout the party, the deck got more and more crowded, eventually collapsing under all that weight in a tragic accident.  Seems to me that this is analogous to what is happening to our planet.  Populations have surged, and people are now dotted all over our planet.  Yes, 70% of the Earth's surface is covered by oceans, but that remaining 30% - that "elevated deck" - is filling up quickly.  So unfortunately, the statistical chances for deadly natural disasters to occur is now probably higher than it has ever been. 

Ads & Advertising -- Great Wall Street Journal story recently about the "true" action in a football game; the elapsed time from snap to tackle.  Any idea how long this is, on average?  Ten minutes and forty seconds!  Yet a football takes up about 3.5 hours of running time.  That means one hour per game is devoted to commercials!  Holy Crap!  No wonder I continually feel manipulated when I watch football.  No wonder I flip around in disgust, sickened by the countless Bud Light, Coors, Ford, and Chevy commercials.  Ugh.  I absolutely love watching football, and I wholeheartedly endorse the NFL Network's Red Zone, which shows the top plays from each game in real time and skips all the commercials...but I am rapidly nearing a point at which I will leave the sport behind because of relentless advertising.  Watching it just becomes so...painful.  In a mind-numbing way.  I hate being held hostage by companies ceaselessly pounding their catch-phrases into my head.  I am not saying that I am giving up on football, but I can sense it coming if this bombardment continues.  Either that, or as I lie on my deathbed, somebody give me all those minutes watching mindless commercials back.  It will probably equate to a year of my life... Moreover, when did we start naming everything having to do with sports?  For example, at halftime of the Vikings/Cowboys game this weekend, I actually heard, "...from Mall of America Field at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome, here are the Burger King halftime stats..."  I'm dead serious - that happened.  And the Metrodome actually has a proper name, and is not sponsored.  Here in Miami, it would have been something like "...from Miami Sound Machine Field at Landshark Beer Stadium here in Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, here are your AT&T's-network-is-just-as-good-as-Verizon's-and we're-suing-you-guys halftime stats!"  When do we start naming the goalposts?  Or each play is sponsored?  It's coming...ooooh, it's coming.

Workouts -- I honestly feel like I have been killing it in the gym lately (I discovered pre-workout coffee...performance-enhancing!)...but I don't feel like I am making any substantial progress aesthetically.  Yeah, I am leaner, and yeah, my pants are loose and all that, but after 2-3 hours in the gym some days, why don't my abs look like The Situation's?  This is frustrating.  Is there any hope, or are we all doomed to the fate of Sisyphus, who was condemned by Zeus to roll a huge boulder uphill only to have it roll back down just at the last moment, for all eternity?  Where is the performance-enhacing pill for those of us who just happen to love to eat?  It really sucks when you suddenly can't down 5-6 slices of pizza at any one sitting anymore.  Ever notice how you get "food hangovers" the older you get?  It's just depressing.  And if there really was a God, he'd have made bean sprouts taste like Big Macs and vice versa... [side note:  does the word "sissy" come from Sisyphus?  I hope not... rolling a boulder uphill for eternity is hardly "sissy"]

Electronic gadgets -- What is wrong with people?  Why do we value the abstract - the intangible - form of human contact to the tangible, visible, and present?  That's a fancy way of asking "why the hell do people sit together and text or email other people instead of actually speaking to the person right there with them?"  How is this normal, and why is it so prevalent?  Are we, as humans, somehow conditioned to avoid face-to-face contact?  I thought humans craved contact with other humans?  I simply don't get it.  Basically, you are always deferring...you sit with a friend, and text other friends...and later that day, or later that week, you text the friend you were just sitting with and catch up with them instead of actually catching up when you were both there in person!  Why?  Somebody needs to explain this to me...

That's all for now, stay in touch... Ben

Morning Note...

Futures -10bps this morning, shrugging off weaker than expected earnings from Citigroup (-3%) and perhaps buoyed by M&A, as Cadbury accepts Kraft’s $19.5B deal.  Tyco also announced plans to acquire CFL for $42.50/share.  Note that this week will be earnings-heavy, as roughly 20% of the S&P500 reports.  Europe is slightly lower to this point in the morning, and Asian markets were mixed, as China once again (2nd week in a row) raised the auction yield of its one-year notes in an effort to tighten monetary policy.  Note that Japan Air announced plans to file for bankruptcy.  In Europe, the UK inflation rate jumped in December by the most since 1997, “posing a challenge to policy makers as they consider when to start raising interest rates.”  In political news, the future of ObamaCare probably rides on the Massachusetts general election for Ted Kennedy’s vacant seat…  Democrat Martha Coakley is now slightly behind Republican Scott Brown (Maybe because she misspelled her own state in one of her TV ads?) in a surprisingly close election many consider an indictment of both the Democratic Congress and The Obama Administration.  In fact recent polls (ABC News/Washington Post) indicate his approval rating is down sharply to 53% from 68% one year ago.  Further, 62% of Americans now say the country is on the wrong track, the most in 11 months.  Win or lose in Massachusetts today, expect the President to come out with both barrels firing in the early-February State of the Union address. 

Looking ahead this week, financials will be in focus, as we’ll see earnings from BAC, WFC, GS, and MS.  Credit card companies AXP and COF will report Thursday, and a slew of regional banks will report throughout the week.  In tech, we’ll get IBM after the bell today, EBAY & XLNX on Wednesday, and AMD & GOOG on Thursday.  In the consumer sector, SBUX & EAT report Wednesday, and MCD reports Friday.  GE also reports pre-open on Friday.  Note that JPM and GSCO took up their 4Q09 GDP forecasts to 5.7% and 5.8%, respectively, perhaps emboldened by better than anticipated earnings to this juncture.  In terms of economics, PPI data will be released Wednesday, and the Philly Fed release is Thursday.  Overseas, China’s 4Q09 GDP, PPI, CPI, IP, and Retail Sales on Wednesday night/Thursday morning will garner the most attention this week. 

While markets have been very difficult to decipher thus far in 2010, Friday’s action may have marked an important inflection point.  Despite solid earnings from both JPM and INTC, markets felt “heavy” and sold off.  To oversimplify, Friday’s “good news” was read as “bad news,” or at least was read as “sell the news,” which is an interesting psychological response.  Despite market pundits chirping about 2010 as a great “stock pickers market,” I tend to disagree.  While 2009 marked tremendous opportunity, perhaps 2010 will be all about capital preservation.  (Thus the trend to “sell the good news.”)  In order to better understand institutional thinking (which oftentimes drives markets), maybe it’s worth reflecting on the personal:  In my case, personal investment was “maxed out” in the Spring of 2009, as I sought to “buy the fear” of others.  But looking at 2010, I plan on taking the more conservative “dollar-cost averaging” approach because of the slew of unknowns in the marketplace.  So is my thinking “consensus?”  Might major market players behave similarly?  On the one hand, how does one buy a market up 70% off the lows?  On the other, how does one short the Fed’s ZIRP?  Moreover, how do you read the political tea leaves in Washington, DC?  Or how does one handicap the risks inherent from the massive 2008-2009 shift in private to public debt?  So until a clear trend develops (which is precisely what this earnings season may do…although it also may not…), market volume and conviction may see a series of fits and starts, and may continue to stall out throughout 2010…

Barron’s positive on “Dogs of the Dow” laggards WMT, PG, KFT, MCD.  BofAMLCO ups HST.  BCAP ups VALE.  CSFB ups MCD.  DBAB ups X, AIV.  JPHQ ups EVVV.  BARD ups HT.  BofAMLCO cuts GNW, SHO.  CITI cuts BAX.  CSFB cuts BKC.  DBAB cuts AKS.  UBSS cuts TAC.  WMB announces restructuring.

USD +70bps.  Oil -120bps.  Gold -25bps. 

Brightpoint News:  

Brightpoint PreMarket (yest close/premkt/% change/volume):

S&P 500 PreMarket (last/% change prior close/volume): 
WILLIAMS COS INC        23.30    +9.03% 20705
CIENA CORP                  12.38    +6.45% 487136
PARKER HANNIFIN          61.11    +4.35% 34107
JDS UNIPHASE               8.49      +3.41% 22050
E*TRADE FINANCIA        1.78      -3.26%  815934
SPRINT NEXTEL CO        3.70      -3.14%  849419
CITIGROUP INC              3.315    -3.07%  95409014
HERSHEY CO/THE           37.33    +2.98% 6990
GENWORTH FINANCI      13.00    -2.91%  37546

Today’s Trivia:  Stolen from Jeopardy at some point over the weekend – what is the world’s third largest island?

Yesterday's Answer:   Africa is home to 53 independent countries (47 mainland + 6 island nations), which represents more than 25% of the countries of the world. 

Best Quotes:   Obama Slips in Polls as Crises Dominate First Year as President -- 2010-01-19 05:01:00.30 GMT  (BBERG NEWS)
By Julianna Goldman
     Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama decided it was time for a haircut.
     Three hours into another Sunday meeting at the White House last March -- faced with the ongoing threat of the collapse of the financial system -- he told Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, economic adviser Lawrence Summers and participants in the Roosevelt Room to stop debating and deliver a plan to restart bank lending.
     He said he was going to his barber and then to have dinner with his family. The president wanted a decision when he returned at 7:30 p.m.
     “I’m not sure that he needed to get a haircut at that moment, I think he could have waited a little while to go back for dinner,” recalled senior adviser David Axelrod, who was in the meeting. “But he sensed that there was a time in the discussion at which his leaving the room might actually facilitate a more candid exchange and a decision. And that’s exactly what happened.”
     The result was a plan to remove toxic assets from the books of the nation’s banks that Geithner unveiled March 23.
     That anecdote provides a window onto the leadership and management style of Obama, who hadn’t been an executive before taking the oath of office Jan. 20, 2009. It also underscored the pace and intensity of a first year in office for which he has been both criticized and praised.

                        Banks, Carmakers

     The bank plan illustrated the degree to which Obama, 48, used the levers of government in unprecedented ways to prop up the country’s largest corporations including Citigroup Inc. in New York, Bank of America Corp. headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Detroit-based General Motors Co. to prevent a Depression.
     It is an approach that also has cost him politically.
     His decision to leave details to Congress on the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, an overhaul of the U.S.
health-care system, angered some in his party and may have slowed down the enactment of any final measure.
     If Republican Scott Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley in today’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy, Obama risks losing his signature health-care bill altogether as Democrats would no longer have the 60-vote majority that helps overcome Republican attempts to defeat legislation.
     To be sure, Obama is closer to passing a major remake of health care than any president since Theodore Roosevelt first proposed it a century ago, and his policies to rescue the financial system, stimulate growth and bail out the automakers have helped prevent an economic collapse, according to economists such as former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alan Blinder, now an economist at Princeton University in New Jersey.

                        War in Afghanistan

     On his top military issue, he spent several months deliberating a new strategy for Afghanistan. Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who was his party’s presidential candidate in 2008, said the process revealed an indecisive president who tried to have it both ways by escalating the war with another 30,000 troops while committing to a timetable for withdrawal.
     In addition, Obama pursued an agenda that included establishing new fuel-efficiency standards, legislation to make it easier for women to win pay-discrimination suits and the seating of the first Latina on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor.

                           Nobel Prize

     He also has changed the perception of the U.S. in many parts of the world, an achievement reflected in his winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
     The economy, however, remains the most-pressing issue for voters.
     Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader in the Senate, has said the president should have focused more attention on the unemployment rate, which stood at 10 percent in December, and he should have worked to narrow the federal budget deficit, forecast by the White House budget office to surpass $1 trillion again this year after hitting $1.4 trillion in 2009.
     “We’ve got double-digit unemployment, we’ve got red ink as far as the eye can see, permanent bailouts, and no long-term plan to put any of this back in shape,” House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said last month.

                       Partisan Atmosphere

     On one major campaign promise -- to reduce the level of partisanship and rancor in Washington -- even the president concedes he has failed.
     By other measures, he has succeeded. Financial markets, a leading indicator of economic recovery, have rebounded with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index up 33 percent over the last year.
The employment picture shows signs of improvement: The U.S. lost 85,000 jobs in December, compared with 741,000 last January.
     His approval ratings have averaged 57 percent in his first year, the same as President Ronald Reagan at the same point in his first term, according to polls by Gallup. If he doesn’t win on health care, his opponents will be emboldened to oppose him on issues such as climate change and financial regulatory overhaul. And all of it comes in the context of midterm elections in November, where historical trends suggest his party will suffer losses.
     “There is only so much political capital that you have as a first-term president and he has chosen to use a lot of it” on health care, said Representative Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

                      ‘Unpopular Decision’

     Early on, Obama went against political advisers who warned him not to pursue a health-care overhaul. “He said at the end of the day this is going to be an unpopular decision until we get it done,” said Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. “And then we go out and tell the American people, ‘I don’t care what you’ve heard, this is what we’ve done for you.’
And he’s at that point now. It’s a low point.”
     And this may make him politically vulnerable, said Ken Duberstein, who was Reagan’s chief of staff.
    “They’ve used an awful lot of political capital on a health-care bill that still lingers while the American people are saying what are you doing about jobs,” Duberstein said.
    Now Obama is pivoting to emphasize proposals such as a tax on financial companies to recapture some of the support of independents that helped propel his White House victory.
Campaigning for Coakley on Jan. 17, Obama said a vote for Brown would be a vote for bankers. It’s a theme the president will sound throughout the year, press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

                           Crisis Mode

     Obama begins his second year in office in the mode he began his first: crisis. While the president has deemed job creation a priority, he also must deal with a renewed threat of terrorism as he winds down the war in Iraq and escalates the war in Afghanistan. At the same time he has committed U.S. military forces and $100 million in financial assistance to help victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
     The president, Axelrod has said, believes there was little choice but to tackle multiple problems at once. Last week, as Obama was negotiating on health care in the Roosevelt Room, he had to shuttle to meetings with his national-security team in the Situation Room to coordinate relief efforts in Haiti.
          According to Axelrod and Summers, Obama reads briefing papers the night before meetings and insists that his advisers don’t rehash information he’s already reviewed. They say he also is adamant that he’s exposed to all points of view.
     Obama is “hands on,” said Summers, who heads the National Economic Council. “These are all quite in-depth questions that he sort of wanted to have debated out in front of him.”
     At the same time, Obama knows when to delegate, Axelrod said.
     “He sets the direction and then counts on his managers to execute on that direction,” said Axelrod. “He checks in and if he feels like you’re veering off course, he will draw you back, but he doesn’t micromanage.”