Barack Obama, brand evangelist. Former Inc. Senior Writer Stephanie Clifford has a great story in today's New York Times about the marketing value behind president elect Barack Obama's very public love of his BlackBerry. If he were somehow allowed to sign an endorsement deal, Obama's gushings about his BlackBerry could be worth up to $50 million, writes Clifford. More: "This would be almost the biggest endorsement deal in the history of endorsements," said Doug Shabelman, the president of Burns Entertainment, which arranges deals between celebrities and companies."

More jobs shed. Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton was just entering office, Nirvana had the number one selling album of the year, and the world wide web had yet to be born. The year also marked the last time unemployment levels were this high. The New York Times has the skinny on today's dismal jobs report. The tally: 524,000 jobs lost in December. That brings the number of U.S. jobs lost in 2008 to 2.6 million. 2.6 million, by the way, is roughly equal to the combined populations of San Diego, Detroit, and Baltimore, or the entire state of Nevada (Ouch). And at MarketWatch, word from a Boston Fed President that the recession will deepen in the first half of 2009.

Have you checked on your bank lately? Slate's Bizbox questions whether small business owners can tell anything about their community banks' health by whether they took TARP funds. The New Entrepreneur is advising that people check ProPublica's list of banks that accepted a capital infusion from the Treasury. While you should know as much as possible about your bank's condition, Bizbox points out that TARP money puts small banks in a delicate situation: If they take the money, they look like they needed it. But someone will take that cash, and opting out could put them at a competitive disadvantage. "There is no one heuristic method for determining the health of your bank (or lack thereof)," writes Marc Tracy. "Ultimately, your gut—the same gut that likely helps you make other important business decisions every day—is going to have to be your guarantor of last resort."

The post-industrial American city. Take note, Detroit. After the collapse of the steel industry, Pittsburgh's very survival was in question. But as The New York Times reports, after a fitful and protracted deindustrialization, housing prices are up, unemployment is well below the national averages, and foreclosures are rare. Starting in the late 80s, a development plan was underway that used local universities to allocate state funds to tech research, which in turn attracted entrepreneurs to computer software and biotech. Now the city is dominant in two recession-resistant sectors: education and healthcare. "The history of Pittsburgh, where steel workers fell from as much as 10 percent of the work force in 1980 to less than 1 percent today, offers proof that revitalization is possible," says the Times.

Sick in Belgium. The Wall Street Journal has news this morning of how lazy—and depressed Belgian workers can be. "Belgians, like many Europeans, are entitled to extensive or even unlimited sick leave -- and they tend to stretch the definition of the word," writes John Miller. "Some government departments were averaging 35 days of paid sick leave per employee each year, more than twice the national rate and seven times the U.S. average." Because employers who try to fire sick workers typically lose in court, Miller says that companies must, like doting parents, encourage their sick (and not so sick) workers to return to work by paying them regular visits at home.

The developers with the midas touch. TechCrunch got its hands on a leaked memo to investors from Tapulous, a software development company that makes the wildly popular Tap Tap Revenge for iPhones. "Everything they touch seems to turn to gold," says TechCrunch's Michael Arrington. We thought Tapulous had a great head start back in November when we looked at the company as part of a snapshot of the booming aftermarket for developers creating games and tools for the iPhone App Store. The memo reports that the company's had 5 million unique installs, 100,000 paying customers, and broke even after four months in business. Not bad for a company that started by buying an app from the jailbroken world.

Google Gets Spiritual. Free lunch. Free laundry. And, now, free spirituality. Valleywag has news of Google's latest HR initiative: an in-house School of Spiritual Growth. The goal, according to the program's creator, a Google engineer, is "to help Googlers grow as human beings on all levels," which prompts this snark: "It was inevitable that northern California's most successful company would embrace the region's embarrassingly goofy human-potential movement. And timely, too, that Google management would try to get employees focused on their spiritual well-being, at a time when so many of the stock options lavished on engineers are worthless." Namaste.

Tom Does Davos. Don't accuse Rupert Murdoch of not making the most of his purchase of social networking website MySpace several years ago. In what Alley Insider calls a "particularly goofy partnership," there's a full page ad in today's Wall Street Journal promoting MySpace's sponsorship of the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos. One lucky MySpace user will get to blog for business paper of record while in Davos, hobnobbing with world leaders and Bono. The contest's unfortunate name is, "MySpace Journal."