Category Archives: Politics

The Today Show President

If Donald Trump becomes POTUS you can give The Today Show a lot of credit, or blame, for it. If you turned on the show on any given week over the last year, roughly the amount of time since Trump announced his candidacy, you almost certainly saw a segment with him being interviewed, discussed or profiled. Of course he’s gotten a lot of play from other networks as well, but The Today Show has ridden him like the ratings pony he is and as a result he’s gotten enough free media attention to negate any fundraising or operational advantage that the more traditional candidates enjoyed.

Interestingly, an article in today’s Wall Street Journal points out that a tactic Trump employed in the 90s to save his businesses has morphed into a winning campaign strategy. From the article:

His success at creating a luxury brand stemmed from building his own celebrity as much as Trump Tower’s fine marble. With Ivana, a former model, by his side, he flaunted his flashy lifestyle and surrounded himself with the rich and famous…

Mr. Trump acknowledged his business was “overleveraged” but blamed falling property values for his financial woes. By then, the U.S. economy was in a tailspin and Mr. Trump couldn’t make debt payments…

Mr. Trump didn’t repay his personal debts to the bank group until 1995. But he proclaimed his comeback as early as 1992 to the media. That year, he told New Jersey gaming regulators his net worth was $437 million to $1.6 billion.

His new business model: He could do deals without taking on more debt by selling his brand and marketing skills.

It was a more conservative strategy that foreshadowed a bare-bones primary campaign relying more on free publicity than fundraising and staff. “Having built a great name and a great reputation and a great brand I guess was good,” Mr. Trump said. “And I get very high ratings…That’s a tremendous advantage. No politician ever had that.”

So there you have it. Trump may seem to be a blustering buffoon, but if nothing else he’s proven the value of a brand and he’s literally taking it to the bank. And to TV, which is where The Today Show comes in.

This morning (July 21, 2016) the show ran a segment about how many times Trump has appeared on the show since the early 80s. It was meant as a lighthearted affair, with comments about how much Matt Lauer’s hair had changed while Trump’s hadn’t, but it inadvertently drove home the point that, to date, the show has had as much to do with Trump’s campaign success as anything else. It also can’t be a coincidence that it’s the flagship show of the network that aired Trump’s greatest branding coup, aka The Apprentice.

While it’s not The Today Show’s job to play gatekeeper of the presidency – after all, this is a show that will transition from a serious news story directly to a segment about celebrity hairstyles – it is one of the most watched shows in the country on a daily basis so it provides a seriously influential platform to anyone who appears. You take away Trump’s appearances on the show over the last year and I’m willing to bet his vote count would have been cut by 10% or more. That’s a BHAG (big hairy as guess) on my part, but I’m sure the number would be significant.

What does this mean for the country? In the short term, it means we have the weirdest race for POTUS in modern history. In the long term, not much. There just aren’t the many orange-haired narcissists who have a personal brand they can utilize at a unique point in history when an angry electorate has on the kind of beer goggles that make that kinda guy look attractive.

SMH

Now that we’re entering the height of the election-year silly season here in the old USofA I find myself shaking my head quite a bit, but not at the candidates. They are politicians, after all, so I expect them to amaze and disappoint me with their character flaws, slips of tongue, dissembling, hyperbolic ranting and all the rest of the unpleasant things that politicians do. No, my head shaking is prompted mostly by other citizens and their reasoning, or lack thereof, when it comes to evaluating the candidates.

The easiest case to point to is what’s going on with the presidential election. Almost everyone is unhappy that they have to pick between Trump and Clinton, and if you ask them many will explain why they’re picking their candidate by detailing why the other candidate is a bigger POS than the one they’re voting for. That’s their right, but I have to tell you that the one argument I have a hard time swallowing is the one I hear from many of my more conservative friends. It goes something like this:

“I really don’t like Trump or Clinton, but I’m gonna vote for Trump because at least he tells it like it is. Clinton’s a criminal – she should be in jail after all that crap with her classified emails – and she’s a liar. And Trump’s a successful deal maker and we need someone like that in the White House at a time like this.”

Believe me, I get not liking Clinton. She’s a truly unlikable candidate for any variety of reasons, not the least of which is her propensity to make everyone think that she thinks she’s better and smarter than everyone else. But what I can’t understand is how these folks think that Trump isn’t a liar or how his business dealings haven’t been as shady as Clinton’s past ventures. The answer is probably that the vast majority of people just haven’t done much research and are accepting talking points being tossed out there by the GOP spin masters or Trump himself.

That’s why I’m hoping this article about the guy who was the ghost writer for Trump’s Art of the Deal gets some serious attention. It’s truly frightening in many ways, and should cause anyone who thinks Trump is somehow a more moral/ethical choice than Clinton to question their own judgment. Here’s just a few samples:

When Schwartz began writing “The Art of the Deal,” he realized that he needed to put an acceptable face on Trump’s loose relationship with the truth. So he concocted an artful euphemism. Writing in Trump’s voice, he explained to the reader, “I play to people’s fantasies. . . . People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.” Schwartz now disavows the passage. “Deceit,” he told me, is never “innocent.” He added, “ ‘Truthful hyperbole’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s a way of saying, ‘It’s a lie, but who cares?’ ” Trump, he said, loved the phrase…

But Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” He added, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” During the eighteen months that he observed Trump, Schwartz said, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment…

In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump portrays himself as a warm family man with endless admirers. He praises Ivana’s taste and business skill—“I said you can’t bet against Ivana, and she proved me right.” But Schwartz noticed little warmth or communication between Trump and Ivana, and he later learned that while “The Art of the Deal” was being written Trump began an affair with Marla Maples, who became his second wife. (He divorced Ivana in 1992.) As far as Schwartz could tell, Trump spent very little time with his family and had no close friends. In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump describes Roy Cohn, his personal lawyer, in the warmest terms, calling him “the sort of guy who’d be there at your hospital bed . . . literally standing by you to the death.” Cohn, who in the fifties assisted Senator Joseph McCarthy in his vicious crusade against Communism, was closeted. He felt abandoned by Trump when he became fatally ill from aids, and said, “Donald pisses ice water.” Schwartz says of Trump, “He’d like people when they were helpful, and turn on them when they weren’t. It wasn’t personal. He’s a transactional man—it was all about what you could do for him.”

You should read the full article – it’s truly stunning.

And I’ll leave you with this thought: If we have to vote for an asshole, shouldn’t we at least vote for the most competent asshole? If that’s the case then I truly don’t understand how you can vote for Trump. And if you just can’t stomach Clinton then maybe it’s time to check out Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, or start a write-in campaign. Either of those propositions are better than going with His Hairness.

Proactivism

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last couple of months you’ve heard about a small issue we’ve had here in North Carolina. It’s a piece of state legislation called HB2, aka “The Bathroom Bill”, and it has actually grown into a national issue thanks to the combination of national media attention, acts of protest by well known companies and entertainers and the recognition by many politicians that it is a perfect “wedge issue” for this monumental election year. From amidst the increasingly nasty din that surrounds the issue has emerged a fleetingly rare voice of sanity, and it came to my attention from, of all places, an issue of a trade newsletter I receive called Associations Now, that has a piece about a group that is encouraging musicians to use their shows to protest HB2 instead of cancelling their shows outright in protest:

As an alternative, a pair of activists launched North Carolina Needs You, which encourages musicians to hold shows in the state and use them as platforms to speak out against the measure, known as HB2.

The initiative was born when Grayson Haver Currin, a prominent North Carolina music journalist and onetime codirector of the state’s Hopscotch Music Festival, came up with the strategy after Springsteen canceled. Currin and his wife, Tina, created the campaign out of concern that, in the long run, artist boycotts would do more harm than good.

Almost immediately, the band Duran Duran, which had struggled with whether to cancel its show, collaborated on Currin’s initiative and decided to perform, using the show to draw attention to the cause by bringing critics of the law onstage and by donating money to political nonprofits working to fight the law.

The website also found quick support from those nonprofits, including Equality NC, Progress NC Action, and the state chapters of the NAACP and the ACLU…

The artists choosing to stay have received positive notices from music-industry peers who are directly affected by the law.

The band Against Me!—whose lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, publicly came out as transgender in 2012—announced that it would keep its May 15 show in Durham on the schedule specifically to protest the law. The band is encouraging attendees to use gender-neutral bathrooms at the concert venue.

While it’s easy to understand where acts like Bruce Springsteen are coming from when they cancel shows, this approach seems much more productive. Hopefully more voices like the Currins’ will emerge here in North Carolina and we can get back to some level of sanity.

Malgovernance

*Disclaimer – this piece is my opinion alone and does not reflect the beliefs of any other person or organization with which I’m affiliated.*

North Carolina’s legislature has made the national news again, and once again it seems to have been motivated by the misguided belief that theocratic governing is a good idea. You can read all about what the legislature did simply by Googling “North Carolina LGBT law“, so instead of talking about what they did I’d like to talk about how they did it.

The Atlantic Monthly has a piece about why North Carolina’s legislature was able to pass the bill while other states’ legislatures were not and in that piece we find a good description of how they pulled it off:

 

…the decision was only made public on Monday, two days before the session. (As a result, some members of the assembly were unable to travel to Raleigh in time.) The legislative language of the bill wasn’t released until minutes before the session actually began Wednesday morning. There was minimal time for public comment built into the session. And by 9 p.m., less than 12 hours after the session began, McCrory signed the bill into law…

In North Carolina, by contrast, there was little warning for opposition forces to rally against the preemption law, no time for them to try to meet with the governor, and little time for the business community to speak out. Dow Chemical, the medical company Biogen, and Raleigh-based software company Red Hat all publicly announced they opposed the law. But major corporations like Charlotte-based Bank of America—which has in the past outspokenly criticizedanti-gay-marriage laws and touted its record on LGBT rights—did not make a public statement. (I asked B of A for comment about the law but haven’t heard back yet.) There’s a strong grassroots-activist base in North Carolina too, centered around the “Moral Mondays” movement, but there was little time for that bloc to organize either…

The law’s framers may also have made a strategically wise decision in bundling several issues together. Laws barring discrimination against gay people are politically contentious. But there’s still much more public stigma against transgender people. For example, campaigners against an LGBT non-discrimination referendum in Houston last year focused heavily on the transgender-bathroom question to the exclusion of broader non-discrimination, and won a resounding victory…

Of course, the general assembly could have passed a narrowly scoped bill that only overturned the transgender accommodation, but legislators instead chose a broader approach. (The minimum-wage provision, meanwhile, was resurrected from a failed preemption effort in September.)

This perfectly describes the m.o. for the Republican-led legislature over the past half-dozen years: for any piece of legislation that might have even a hint of opposition, or might be considered controversial in any way, work on the language behind closed doors, bum-rush it through committee with limited time for serious study by members, get it to the floor for rushed/limited debate and then send it to the governor. Even if he disagrees with it he ends up not acting because he knows his veto is essentially worthless and so it becomes law without his signature.

Bundling multiple items into a contentious bill is nothing new, but hitching the minimum wage piece to a bill that’s got everyone all heated up due to potty rights is a good example of how the Republicans in this legislature have perfected the art.

Before you think I’m picking on the Republicans let me state right here that they are continuing in the tradition of the Democrats who ran the legislature immediately before them. Some of those clowns went to jail, so it’s safe to say that we citizens of North Carolina have been victims of bipartisan malgovernance (that’s not a word, but it feels like a good description).

So what’s wrong with this form of legislating? It short-circuits the inherent strength of an elected body by not allowing a full vetting of the bill in committee and by not allowing time for in-depth study of the bills particulars. By not providing a venue for an extended and honest debate, or for substantive feedback from the public, the majority is pushing through flawed and poorly constructed legislation. If the true goal is good governance then the House and Senate leadership would push for more transparency and debate, not less, and by using these legislative tricks what they are telling us is that the aim is not good governance but to score points with their political base.

Does that shock you? Probably not. Should it piss you off? Most definitely.

By the way, I totally understand if you support the results of the bill – if it fits your belief system then so be it. But please remember how this went down because at some point in the future you’re NOT going to like the resulting law and you’re going to feel truly screwed over when you learn that the powers-that-be snuck one by you. That, my friend, is called karma and it’s a bitch.

Making the Media His Biotches

This article about how Donald Trump is controlling the media came to my attention via a friend on Facebook as you can see below:

TrumpMedia

I particularly like David Boyd’s comment that it  “Helps that they’re such willing bitches.” It’s understandable that the media want to cover Trump – after all he is the phenomenon of this political season – and I understand that they are competing for ‘share of mind’ of an increasingly diminished audience of news watchers, but when do they finally say, “You know what, this a-hole’s been able to run an incredibly inexpensive campaign because we give him so much free air time” and then cut HIM off. He truly needs them far more than they need him, so why keep feeding the troll?

Could it be that they’re desperate to prove they’re still needed, still the Fourth Estate, still an essential part of the democratic process? Maybe they’re finally realizing that what they thought was simply a nightmare they would wake up is reality – that most people don’t read, watch or listen to them anymore. They’ve got Facebook and so does Trump, so no one thinks they need the media anymore. Sadly, they’re probably right and wrong at the same time.

Civility and Intelligence

Here’s a quote from a post at the AVC blog on the importance of civil and intelligent debate that hit home when I read it this morning:

I was reminded of that when I read Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments on Antonin Scalia, in particular this part:

We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the “applesauce” and “argle bargle”—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion.

and this:

Maybe the most important part of the title to this post is the word civil. Without civility (and respect), it is hard to have intelligent debate. Respecting those with opposing views, working to understand them, and listening closely to them is the key. Even if they don’t change your mind, they can reshape how you discuss and present your views. And that can make all the difference in the world.

The scary thing about the current state of political discourse in America is the very real lack of civility. As much as we’d like to think this is a modern phenomenon, we actually have a long history of pretty nasty behavior during the political silly season. Check out this political cartoon about Lincoln:

civilityLincoln

Source: HarpWeek

That’s some pretty nasty stuff by any measure. What’s new to our elections these days is the ability of any one person to create or spread nastygrams like this via their social media channels, with nary a thought to whether or not it’s true. With the click of a button they can share personal attacks on candidates, falsehoods about a candidate’s past and beliefs, or launch character assassinations on political candidates or members of a political party faster than you can say “fact check.” It’s truly becoming an overwhelming cacophony of negative, schoolyard name-calling that is drowning out increasingly fruitless attempts at civil discourse.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, check out these images I found in just five minutes of scrolling through my Facebook feed:

So what commonalities do you find in these images? What I see are personal attacks and name calling with no attention paid to the stated policies of the candidates. How, pray tell, does this advance the cause of the Union in any way?

Now I do understand that much of what people share are things they consider funny. Many of the memes poke fun at the generalizations the sharer has about the folks on the other side of the fence, and normally I wouldn’t be such a stick in the mud about it since I enjoy a good joke as much as the next person. However, when you see people share literally dozens or hundreds of these memes that do nothing but insult people with a different set of beliefs then you have to come to the conclusion that they truly feel that their opposites are stupid, lazy, cruel, etc. When you begin to believe that then you inevitably come to the conclusion that there’s no room for honest debate, and quite frankly you begin to not care what they think because all you see are personal attacks completely divorced from the issues.

So maybe you think I’m overreacting and that I should just ignore what I’m seeing on my social media channels. I might agree except that I think our current crop of political leaders, both liberal and conservative, from the local level to the national level, are exploiting these sentiments and profiting from our separateness. Until we can find a place to have civil and intelligent debate they’re going to play us for the suckers we are.

In other words, folks, we have met the enemy and it is us.

Do We Really Want To Be the United Whimps of America?

In the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris we’re seeing some predictable reactions from a segment of our American crowd. They can be boiled down to the following:

  1. If France didn’t have such strong gun control, in other words was more like American, then there’s no way the terrorists could have killed so many people indiscriminately.
  2. If France and the rest of Europe had closed their borders to refugees then the terrorists couldn’t have gotten into the country to do the damage.
  3. We need to immediately stop taking any refugees lest we let in terrorists.

I’m going to tackle these one at a time:

  1. Terrorists who will wear suicide bomb vests, who aren’t afraid to die, won’t be dissuaded by locals with guns. And it’s not like they wear shirts that say “Terrorist!” on them, so the element of surprise is kind of a given. Basically your average gun-wielding citizenry is likely to die quickly or inadvertently kill innocent bystanders in their efforts to fight the terrorists.
  2. Closing the borders might make it more difficult for the terrorists to get in the country, but since these are extremists who spread their ideology like a virus you will never be able to prevent them from recruiting people who are already in the country. In other words these folks are like an airborne virus and closing the borders would be the equivalent of fighting it with band aids.
  3. This is the big one. As a nation we profess to be a safe harbor for the tired, huddled masses. It’s literally inscribed on one of our greatest symbols. Why then, when the time comes to deal with a huge number of desperate people fleeing their homeland as it goes up in flames thanks to a geopolitical catastrophe that we played a large role in creating, do we endeavor to turn them away?

    Using the logic in #1 above, we of all nations should be the most prepared to accept refugees who may be infiltrated by some terrorists. We are absolutely armed to the teeth here, so if anyone is (literally) armed to deal with this crisis it’s us. Why then does our armed citizenry, many of whom are avowed Christians who should be chomping at the bit to help these desperate souls, seem so eager to turn them away? There’s only one answer I can think of and it’s fear, and that’s what boggles my mind. Many of the very same people who insist that profligate gun ownership makes us safer are also screaming that we need to close our borders. If we leave it up to them we will come to be seen as the United States of Whimps and personally I prefer that not to be the case.

    Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think you just open the gates and let everyone in without doing everything you can to screen out potential terrorists or other threats. What I do believe is that as a nation that is supposed to be a world leader we should show true bravery by welcoming those desperate souls, providing them with a shelter in the storm while we lead the world in doing the hard work necessary to annihilate the cancer that is extremism, Islamic and otherwise.

    Leaders don’t shy away from risk, danger and hard work and America now has a choice to make – lead bravely from the front or bolt our doors, turn off the lights, hug our guns and pray that the bogey man outside tries to get in our neighbors’ houses instead of ours.

From Scarcity Thinking to Abundance Thinking

This Tedx New York talk will really get you thinking about things differently. The speaker presents two radical ideas: first, basic income guarantees for everyone to cover housing/food/health and the second is to allow bots to represent us. You might wonder what they have to do with each other, but the common thread is that we live in a time of technological abundance, not scarcity, and thanks to the coming wave of automation and the continuing impact this technology is having on our workforce we have to invert our thinking about public policy in response. Whether you agree or disagree I think the 17 minutes you spend with this will cause you think about how we think about things in our society:

Before you jump to any conclusions, one of which is most likely “Why in the hell should be pay people even if they aren’t working” you should stop and really think through what he’s saying and the opportunities that these ideas present. Once you allow yourself to move beyond the knee-jerk reaction of “I don’t want lazy lowlifes benefitting off my hard work” to really thinking this through I think that you’ll find that the premise leads to some interesting potential outcomes.

Vernon Robinson Digging for Ben Carson Gold

Folks who have been paying attention to politics in North Carolina, and Winston-Salem in particular, for any amount of time will instantly recognize the name Vernon Robinson. He’s a conservative gadfly who labeled himself the “black Jesse Helms” and ran some of the most vitriolic campaigns these parts have ever seen. While he’s never won a major office – he did at one point when a seat on Winston-Salem’s city council, but that’s A-League ball in the world of politics – he has been a heckuva fundraiser and he’s put those skills to work as he toils to draft Ben Carson to run for POTUS. Mother Jones has the story:

Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon, author, tea party hero, and Stuck On You star, is contemplating a presidential bid in 2016. He’s being cheered on by conservative activists—and by the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, a super PAC founded in 2013 to urge Carson to run. The PAC sends out emails touting Carson, gathers signatures for petitions aimed at coaxing him into the race, and it raises money from conservatives enthralled with the prospect of a Carson presidency. A lot of money. According to Federal Election Commission filings, the Draft Carson PAC has raised an impressive $12.2 million since its founding—slightly more than Ready for Hillary, the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. Draft Carson has, in fact, done very little besides fundraise…

The guy responsible for collecting and managing Draft Carson’s huge haul is Vernon Robinson, the PAC’s political director and a notorious, perennial candidate with a history of rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric. An African-American, ex-Air Force officer from North Carolina, Robinson has repeatedly run unsuccessful campaigns for Congress. He calls himself “the black Jesse Helms”—a comparison the director of the late senator’s foundation declared “sad.” His congressional campaign ads—one of which characterized undocumented immigrants as flag-burners and sex offenders—are so out-there that political science professors use them to illustrate mudslinging at its dirtiest. In 2006, a Republican running against Robinson in a House primary said that he “scares me.” But win or (almost always) lose, the common thread in his political career has been remarkable fundraising success, with a big chunk of the proceeds Robinson has raised flowing to a small camp of conservative fundraisers, and sometimes, himself…

Robinson, meanwhile, has quietly turned his quixotic Draft Ben Carson effort into a lucrative enterprise for himself. FEC filings show that the PAC paid out over $250,000 to a consulting firm called Tzu Mahan. Buzzfeed reported in November that Tzu Mahan—its name a mashup of ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and 19th century Navy admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan—is a one-man company, run by Robinson. Robinson’s reaction, when asked about his high salary, was candid: “People get paid to do politics,” he said.

Ten years ago on this blog I made a standing offer to any local elected leader to help them learn how to use this revolutionary new medium called blogging to communicate directly with their constituents. The only person who took me up on it was indeed Vernon Robinson. We met for coffee at the Starbucks on Hanes Mall Boulevard, and had an interesting meeting. I ended up helping him set up a blog on my blogging platform, but he really didn’t do anything with it. Ten years later what I remember most about the meeting were two things: First, that he tried to pay for his coffee with a gold coin that was alternative currency to the US dollar and the manager had to inform him he wouldn’t allow it to happen in the future, and second that he seemed far less vitriolic and more politically pragmatic in a one-on-one conversation than he was when talking to the press or campaigning.

So here’s my advice if you’re considering sending some dollars to the Draft Ben Carson campaign: caveat emptor. Heck, that’s my advice for sending money to any political campaign.

Trade Associations Spending More on PR and Less on Lobbying

According to this article in Associations Now, a trade magazine for those of us in the association management business, trade associations are moving dollars away from lobbying and into public relations:

Overall, the trade groups spent $1.26 billion on advertising, far more than any other service, and nearly twice the $682 million that was spent on lobbying, legal services, and government affairs. A huge portion of the $1.2 billion total came from just one relationship: The $327.4 million the American Petroleum Institute paid public relations firm Edelman over the four-year period. The amount was most of the $372 million the association spent over the period.

In its report, CPI portrayed advertising as an area where trade groups had more freedom to push their message, compared with more traditional means.

“The public relations industry is on a growth tear while the number of federally registered lobbyists is actually shrinking,” CPI reporters Erin Quinn and Chris Young wrote in their story. “Public relations work, unlike lobbying, is not subject to federal disclosure rules, and PR and advertising campaigns can potentially influence a broader group of people.”

I’d imagine that another factor is that with the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court, many companies that would have funneled “political” dollars through trade associations are now taking the DIY route.