advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Monday, February 26, 2007

SMU Faculty, Bush Library Reach Compromise

In a story released today, Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner announced a compromise between proponents of the Bush Presidential Library project, and faculty members who had objected to the location of the facility on the SMU campus.

In an effort to allay concerns that important scholarship would not be conducted at the Library, SMU’s President has arranged for the co-location within the Library of the Molly Ivins Institute for the Study of Political Numb-Nuttery.

Ms. Ivins, reached from the grave, indicated her emphatic support for the move.

“In all my years of reporting, from the Texas Lege to Dubya to “Goodhair” Perry, I’ve seen an amazing amount of numb-nuttery in Texas, and I feel the Institute is ideally positioned to take advantage of the plethora of study material available.”

Ms. Ivins was able to offer a commentary regarding her current situation, as well: “You know, folks”, she was heard to say, “Heaven ain’t bad, but I really miss Austin. Up here, I have a hell of a time finding decent Bar-B-Q. And don’t get me started on the bars…”

Representatives of the Library were also enthusiastic: “When the Presidential papers are here in the Library, there is no question we will have amassed the world’s largest collection of numb-nuttery, and having scholars here who can study this amazing record should help all Americans in the future.”

The Institute is expected to be a major economic powerhouse, as well, reports Board of Directors Chair Jim Hightower: “Because of the sheer volume of numb-nuttery represented in the Library’s collection, we anticipate employment of at least 600 workers in the document handling and warehouse operations alone.” A spillover effect is also anticipated, according to Hightower: ”We are prepared to host as many as 2000 scholars at any one time, what with the huge worldwide interest in preventing such an Administration from ever taking power in the US again; and we’re now seeing expressions of interest from hotels and other ancillary businesses that want to be located in the community surrounding the Institute”.

Taylor Russ, Mustang Student Body President, also acknowledged the opportunity: “Everyone knows that mistakes can be the best teacher, and as students we feel this addition to the university is the equivalent of adding an entire Political Science department with world-class instructors”.

The Institute’s Dedication is set for 4:30 this Friday at a cocktail lounge near the University. “We considered waiting until 5, but we knew if Molly was here she would be thirsty, and we thought, what the hell…”

--distributed by fake news service © 2007
please distribute liberally

Sunday, February 25, 2007

On Experience Marketing, Or, Dude, Where’s My Party?

In a previous conversation, I discussed the concept of “transelectional” candidates-those who are, over the years, always running, even if not for any particular election.

To put it another way, there are political actors who continuously maintain themselves in “candidate mode” because they might find themselves in a Senate, gubernatorial, or Presidential election, depending on circumstances. Candidates not preparing for one particular office, but any “election of opportunity”.

In that discussion, I addressed the concept of how these transelectional candidates have begun to develop “brands”, just as we see in the consumer marketplace; and used Al Gore’s association with global climate change issues as an example.

In today’s discussion, I’d like to further address the issue of political branding, discuss the role of the Democratic Party in this evolution, and examine strategies that could develop long-term bonding between younger voters and the Party.

When a candidate develops a “brand” it is typically a single concept brand-Global Warming, Reducing Poverty, War On Terrorism, Out Of Iraq are all being used today. So where does that leave the Democratic Party, in a world of individual candidates who can now develop their own communities without a Party apparatus?

To answer that question, consider Disney, Evangelical Christians, and the 13-17 year old pre-voter.

How many of you have a Disney upbringing? That is, you grew up on Mickey and Donald and Annette Funichello (or Britney Spears), you visited the theme parks, maybe went to “Disney On Ice”, and now you and the kids are watching “Finding Nemo”.

For a child born to Evangelical Christianity, there is a similar outcome: childhood upbringing often leads to adult affiliation.

There is a common thread between these two, and I submit that common thread is the fact that both are more than a “product”-they are an “experience”.

Experience marketing bonds consumers to a philosophy, not just a particular product of a company. For example, the same customers who grew up on Ford trucks are likely to see the Mustang in a positive light. And not as likely to buy Chevy. And that preference is probably going to last that consumer’s entire life. (Coke and Pepsi?)

Let’s take this a step further.
Let’s talk about teenagers aged 13-17.

The New Politics Institute tells us this group...

...bases much of their understanding of the world on our recent ”terrorist mode” history.
JFK, the civil rights movement, the Warren Court, Vietnam, Watergate, and the optimism of the Clinton years are not part of that history. surprisingly conservative regarding security issues-nearly half (46%) do not see the Iraq war as a mistake; and they tend not to object to monitoring all electronic communications of US citizens.

...favors incarceration over changing the social conditions that lead to crime-42% to 35%.

...of all groups, is least likely to see the Iraq war as a mistake.

The picture is not entirely pessimistic for Democrats. Consider this:

Surprisingly enough, this group supports Government action to lessen the differences in economic opportunity in America by a near plurality (45%). (Yes, I noted the contradiction as well...)

70% favor more Federal money for school construction, and 66% want to fund college for all qualified high school graduates.

46% consider the state of the environment an important issue.

Most interesting of all is the issue of self-identification.
Half of the respondents report no political affiliation, and the remaining half are about evenly split between D and R. As the New Politics Institute report notes, this group “seem[s] to be up for grabs”. (Page 6)

It stands to reason, then, that it would behoove somebody in the progressive political community to engage in a process of voter development through “branding and bonding”, directed at this 13-17 year old group.

And I submit that somebody should be the Democratic Party.

That just as the Party, as part of it’s ongoing business, provides access to donor lists and other candidate resources throughout the 50 states; they should also be providing access to a “Democratic Party experience” that bonds these “eventual voters” to Democratic candidates yet to be identified, and enhances the effect of the Democratic fundraising apparatus, however it may evolve.

This “experience” does not have to be a political event.
Consider the Republican equivalent: the experience of church.

Obviously faith and politics are not the same, and they don’t derive from the same source. But at the same time, common faith provides a bonding experience that is effectively harnessed by the Rs. Thus the “Republican base” and the “Religious Right” are essentially the same people

What “Common Faith” brand could Ds develop that could make younger voters more inclined to self-associate D? I have one suggestion:

“We Work For You”

Look at the issues of greatest concern for this community-Iraq, education, the environment, security, equality of opportunity.

Then look at the issues where we might differ with this age group-for example, we might be more likely to support individual freedom and personal privacy initiatives, since the older amongst us can actually recall such a thing being a goal of Government.

There are a ton of opportunities for the Ds to align themselves with the thinking of this age group, so the question now becomes: how do we create the bonding experience?

My guess is that no single answer will apply here, but I would suggest four areas of action:

1) Empower this age group to take action to “save the world”. Encourage, and even fund, projects submitted by and using volunteers from this group. Use sponsorship as a means of showing that when it comes to cleaning up parks, helping to recycle, or trying to fight global warming, that Ds are “Working for You”. Consider operating a “volunteer clearinghouse” independent of electoral cycles. Organizing and grant writing workshops could teach young community leaders, who might become future precinct captains.

2) Sponsorships, Sponsorships, Sponsorships. Sponsor students, sponsor schools, sponsor bands on tour. There have been efforts by the hip-hop community to reach out to the Ds. Take advantage-sponsor a Jay-Z tour, for example. Once again-“We Work For You”.

3) Teach the benefits of freedom. The more this group understands the rights of American citizens, the more they understand that Ds are “Working For You”.

4) Harness the power of handmade media. Create a community, not unlike YouTube, that could provide a public voice for young filmmakers who want to address their local concerns to a national audience. Provide resources (downloadable editing software?) that send what message to the community? “We Work For You”, of course.

This 13-17 age group is not a monolithic society, and what is cool today is uncool in 6 hours, but there are universal messages, as we see above, that can be communicated. If we respect the audience, and let them have substantial control of the process, bonding will occur.

Traditional wisdom suggests there is no return on this investment for many years, but that may be changing. The fastest growing age group in terms of voter participation from 2000 to 2004 was the 18-24 age group.

There’s another bonus in all of this-the “Kidfluence” the members of this age group have on their parents. Respect earned today could equal votes earned in the very next electoral cycle.

Is it appropriate to target such an audience?
I submit that if the corporate owners of Yu-Gi-Oh, and many others like them, can place themselves on television to promote a consumer product aimed at this age group, and younger, then the door is open, and it’s time for the Democrats to step through.

So let’s summarize.

We now see candidates creating individual “brands” and developing communities around those brands.

Branding, as an emotional experience, is an avenue to long-term bonding.

The Democratic Party should develop a single overarching “brand” such as the “We Work For You” suggestion, that could be reinforced through empowerment, sponsorships, and online community development.

Creating emotional bonding opportunities with the 13-17 age group could help counteract the Republican use of the church experience as a bonding mechanism.

And finally, the influence of this group on their parents, combined with the data on the growth of participation by younger voters , suggests this approach could be successful sooner than anticipated.

If there’s one thing 13-17 year olds are doing, it’s looking for a party.
Let’s invite ‘em to this one.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

On A New Cabinet, Or, Fantasy Politics

Fantasy football is pretty popular these days.

I don’t play it myself, but the idea of choosing a team based on my own idea of experience, potential, compatibility, and balance, and then finding out that the team I chose was the best combination of players possible-hey, that’s pretty cool.

So I thought, let’s play a game here.

Here are the rules:

A Democratic candidate, presumably one of the "big 3" currently handicapped to win, has been elected.

You are an advisor to the transition committee.

You have been assigned the responsibility of recommending cabinet appointments.You may assume a particular candidate has been elected, or you may choose a generic list. The more complete the list, the better; but if you have no idea who would make the best Postmaster General, I understand. If the only choice you are sure of is Postmaster General, that’s good, too. No one else is, so you’ll be the voice of expertise, for all we know.

You may wish to suggest a Vice President for the cndidates.
As Mr. Burns would say: "Excellent..."

You may add a preferred Supreme Court nominee or two if you wish.

To get things started, I have a few suggestions of my own.

White House Chief of Staff-An ideal candidate for the job has the temperament to be the gatekeeper for the President, and can to be trusted both inside and outside the Oval Office. Tom Vilsak seems like a guy that could fit the bill. This is the past previous leader of the Democratic Leadership Council, which means he pretty much knows everybody, and lots of folks owe him favors. Not to mention he was elected Governor in Iowa-twice. Theoretically this means he can get along with a Legislature, so Congressional relations could we well managed.

Director, National Security Council- Thomas P.M. Barnett. What is the biggest threat to groups that seek to create attacks against the US? Citizens in the “disconnected” world-Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, for example-who have a “buy-in” to our way of life; who know us, don’t find us threatening, and want to interact with us in non-violent ways. This cannot be accomplished by either military or diplomatic means alone. The mechanism of nation-building we need to be successful in a case such as Iraq dose not really exist, and the military is poorly suited for such a role. Barnett offers a practical and far more peaceful approach to resolving some of these questions. For a more complete idea of what he might want to do in office, use the “A video of the presentation is available” link here.

Secretary of State-I’m going out-of-the–box on this one, but hear me out: Ambassador Prudence Bushnell. Who in the world is that? She is currently Dean of the School of Leadership and Management at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. She was in the building immediately next door when the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya was bombed, and was wounded in the attack. She lived in Iran. She has a multicultural upbringing. Most significantly, she tried to get the US involved in Rwanda when no one would listen.

Secretary of Defense-I may get it for this one, but I’m proposing Tommy Franks. What closed it for me? Not just because of this quote from 2003...

"What is the worst thing that can happen in our country?" Franks asked rhetorically. "Two steps. The first step would be a nexus between weapons of mass destruction . . . and terrorism." The second step would be "the western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that we call democracy."

...and not just because it appeared in Cigar Aficionado, of all places; but because any commander who is responsible for the quotes on this page is my kind of Secretary, indeed. Plus he’s truly qualified, which can’t hurt.

My runner up: Jim Webb- Tailhook and all.

Health and Human Services-Delaware’s Governor Ruth Ann Minner. Why?
Here’s part of the Governor’s official biography:

“Born in Slaughter Neck, Delaware, Ruth Ann Minner left school at age 16 to help her family work their farm. She later married Frank Ingram, who died suddenly when she was only 32 years old. As head of the household with three sons to raise, she returned to school to earn her General Educational Development (GED) diploma, while working two jobs and providing for her family. She later married Roger Minner, who died of lung cancer in 1991.

Beginning her political career in 1974, Governor Minner served four terms in the state House of Representatives (1974-1982), and served three terms in the state Senate (1982-1993). She served as Delaware’s Lieutenant Governor from 1993 until 2001. Governor Minner became the first female Governor of the state of Delaware on January 3, 2001.”

She has aroused concerns with her association with waste-disposal interests in the State, and her environmental policies; but there are also those who admire her efforts to address the problems facing Delaware citizens with cancer. If we take advantage of her strengths, HHS could be a good fit.

Director, NASA-John Pike has been an expert in this area for many, many years. For those of you not familiar with, visit and see his work in action. Before that he was with the Federation of American Scientists. We need some direction at this agency, and this could be our guy.

So there’s a start.
Who else needs to be on the team?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

On Rethinking Homeland Security, Or, Let’s Invest In These Defense Technologies

It has been a pattern in these discussions to begin with a proposition, and today is no exception.

Specifically, I propose that the current Administration, as well as others before it, have misunderstood what investments are needed to create real National Security for this country.

That war fought, and weapons used, don’t create the real security all Americans desire.

That D candidates, by redefining National Security, can grab purple voters they need in 2008 and beyond.

In order to properly consider what investments are really needed, we need to identify our most important Homeland Security risks. With that in mind, let’s create a short list, in no particular order.

Public Health and Safety. Disasters happen every year. Avian flu is on the way. The possibility of biological or chemical attacks, by Americans and non-Americans alike, cannot be ignored. The only way to control such events is to contain them, which requires a population willing to go to the doctor, and a stockpile of supplies handy. If you have a portion of the population who are afraid of the bill, you have a problem. If you inadequately fund stockpiling initiatives, you have bigger problems. In an emergency, this could be fatal for entire communities.

Ignorance. In “The Fog Of War” Robert McNamara reminds us: “Belief and seeing are both often wrong.”. If you have not seen the film, do so now. Note with particular interest the discussion of the misunderstandings on both sides regarding each other’s intentions and motivations during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ignorance is dangerous, and investments in education and understanding of the world equal more security for everyone.

Climate Change. Nothing threatens our peace and stability in this century more than the prospect of hundreds of millions of displaced refugees-millions of them citizens of our own country. Not to mention the changes in agriculture and the loss of real estate investments. For that matter, what about the industrial complexes along the Mississippi River and the Intercoastal Waterway? Ports across the nation? Investing in solutions now is much, much cheaper than responding to the disaster later.

Loss Of Respect. The Cold War was as much a victory of international perception and economics as it was a military confrontation. Our ability to be accepted as an “honest broker” is worth more in international dispute resolution situations than an air wing, a carrier battle group, a Marine Expeditionary Force, and two Army Divisions combined.

Having created a list, let’s now address the question of how we might frugally invest in each area to really be more secure.

Public Health. There are several areas for investment that cry out for attention.

For starters, we need national health care for all citizens. Whether a single-payer, or Government operated, or somehow privately financed system is your preference, there’s no doubt that, simply from a National Security/ability to respond in an emergency point of view we must be able to quickly offer the access to care to every American. It is just not reasonable to expect that we will somehow be able to quarantine and serve all the affected citizens in an “attacked” (or avian flu infected, or “disastered”) area. There’s even an argument to be made that a generally healthier public is in itself a sort of Civil Defense issue.

Can we afford it? We spent $1.7 trillion on health care in the US in 2004. Divide by a population of 300 million; you get $5600 per citizen. That’s twice what it costs per month for Washington State’s Basic Health Plan (pick any county when you get to the page-the price is the same).

FEMA and the CDC have a role here as well, and we should be stockpiling the things today that Katrina has taught us we are lacking. Basic things, like tarps and water and radios, and antibiotics. This practice is expensive, and wasteful; after all you risk buying some supplies over and over (antibiotics and batteries, for example), but we’re engaged in much more wasteful practices today in the name of National Security.

Ignorance is not bliss. Our national Security situation today would be far, far better if we simply had a better educated public, and a Nation that better understood the cultures and motivations of the other Nations that see us, for better or worse, as The Superpower.

There have to be ways to inexpensively communicate these facts to our citizens. Perhaps a character like Smokey the Bear could be created to advance knowledge about others (“Only you can prevent international ignorance”). Maybe a game show-a sort of “Jeopardy” meets “American Idol” of international culture, geography, and general knowledge. It seems reasonable that if there’s a million dollars to be won, Americans will pay attention to the rest of the planet. (George Soros-are you listening?)

Crime is also damaging to National Security, and far more Americans are victims of this form of terrorism than any other. Crime is also, I submit, something that can be reduced through education. Education equals employability, and having a job you enjoy makes you much less likely to go out at night and rob someone. Education also advances equality for all citizens-and that’s real National Security.

Education isn’t cheap, you’re probably thinking, but consider this: According to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and the California Postsecondary Education Commission you could send a student to any of 16 major colleges for a year for much less than the annual cost of incarceration in a Federal prison. College graduates (read: taxpayers) versus criminals? Cost savings to boot? Which one looks like a better National Security investment to you?

Climate Change is the big one, as we said. Interested in some numbers? Consider the effect of $150 billion a year in insurance claim payouts on your premiums. Consider that Katrina, which displaced at least a million people, cost over $120 billion in the first year of recovery alone, with much, much more to be spent. The 2005 population of Florida is estimated at just a bit under 18,000,000. Suppose one-third were displaced by the rise of sea level. That suggests $720 billion of current dollars just to assist a small subset of all potentially displaced Americans.

I propose a Manhattan Project sort of initiative to retrofit, invent, refine, and prevent our way out of this change.

Half a trillion dollars spent today will seem cheap later.

Which brings us to respect. The strategic value of reputation to the Nation cannot be underestimated. When we act in a manner consistent with our own highest ideals, it is a substitute for occupation forces, it bonds other nations to us, and it is the most cost-effective way to ensure we remain secure. Why? Because reputation is earned in inexpensive ways, like foreign aid, or granting more education visas-sometimes even with bribery. Maybe even a Peace Ship

Compare just this $12 billion or so spent by the Department of Homeland Security to the $359 million Peace Corps budget in the 2004 fiscal year. In terms of increasing National Security, when examining these two expenses, what cost-benefit analysis might you infer? (By the way-in 2004 210,000 enlistees joined the military, 4,800 joined the Peace Corps. Imagine if those numbers were more equal?)

So let’s boil all this down to a few talking points:

Fighting wars doesn’t always make you more secure as a Nation.

On the other hand, spending money making America healthier, making America smarter, and making America more engaged in the world will make us more secure as a Nation.

The more the world respects America, the more secure America will be.

The best part: all of this can be done for about the same money we’re spending now-or less.

Candidates, are you listening?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On Electioneering, Or, Lessons Learned In Unlikely Places

Big Business is the source, if you read in the right places, of All Evil In The World, and as a result, should never be trusted.

The conversation today is designed to suggest that we might derive considerable wisdom from those we challenge, and particularly in the field of electioneering.

Specifically, I’d like to offer wisdom from the world of customer service, and show its application to political campaigns.

Why customer service?

Because politics is, at heart, a customer satisfaction exercise.

Voters are no different than any other customer-they seek association with a product (“Candidate-Brand”); that product, at its best, incorporates an emotional experience that bonds the customer.

Successful campaigns know (incumbents, too-see “constituent service”) each “customer contact” should be treated as a relationship nurturing experience.

In the old days (1990’s?), customer contact meant doorbelling, the rubber chicken circuit (how many Rotary breakfasts are there in America?), and checks-in-the-hand fundraising; supplemented by phone banks and direct mail.

Although the Internet has changed the technology of campaigning, I submit that it has not changed the customer expectation that voters place upon candidates.

With all that in mind, let’s discuss one aspect of the issue: the troll.

For those of you facing trolls n a daily basis in your campaigns, here’s some advice on handling angry customers:

First, from the Federal Government itself, this:

“Make it easy for your customers to complain and your customers will make it easy for you to improve.”

At first this seems counterintuitive, but it makes good sense. If politics is a listening exercise (and it is), then the easier it is to listen, and the more likely voters will feel bonded to the candidate.

To apply this advice to our topic: trollers echo the same themes over and over, but the aggregate of those messages creates a sort of informal list of possible needed responses.

There’s also this: there are those who will visit a site, not to troll, but with a point of view dissimilar to the community’s. These are the potential purple voters that all candidates will need so badly this cycle and beyond.

Embrace them-even if the desire is to “clean up” the community by ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away.

Maybe they won’t be converted, but consider the non-posters who also read these exchanges. They also judge based on how the site makes the candidate appear, and reasonable responses sell purple voters better than unreasonable ones

Gaebler Ventures, a business incubator company, offers this advice to entrepreneurs dealing with angry customers:

“Don't Take It Personally

Emotions run high in situations involving irate customers. Even though the problem may have been out of your control, the customer will likely focus his frustration toward an employee because at that moment the employee represents the company. Avoid the temptation to take the complaint personally. Instead, try to diffuse the emotion of the moment by remaining calm and responding in a reasonable manner”.

Any of this sound familiar?
Trollers are nothing if not irate.
(I told you there was a connection between politics and customer service.)

Here’s more from Vadim Kotelnikov:

“Sadly, mature companies often forget or forsake the thing that made them successful in the first place: a customer-centric business model. They lose focus on the customer and start focusing on the bottom line and quarterly results. They look for ways to cut costs or increase revenues, often at the expense of the customer. They forget that satisfying customer needs and continuous value innovation is the only path to sustainable growth. This creates opportunities for new, smaller companies to emulate and improve upon what made their bigger competitors successful in the first place and steal their customers.”

Substitute the words “Barack Obama” for “new, smaller companies” and the words “policies that fit the voter’s desires” for “continuous value innovation” and we’re on to something here. Candidates have to try to prevent trollers from the beginning by concentrating on identification with the angry, frustrated voter who eventually vents his frustration upon you and your community.

Finally, from Azriela Jaffe, a story of heating ducts, failure, and redemption:

“In late July, 1997 my husband, Stephen and I parted with $250.00 of hard-earned cash to get our home air ducts cleaned… my detail-oriented and frugal husband had inspected each duct with a flashlight to be sure he was getting good value for his money. Good thing he did! Stephen was furious to discover that the ducts hardly looked any cleaner than before… I called the company the next morning and spoke to Jeff, the man who had done the work. Jeff expressed great surprise and concern, and scheduled a return trip to our home the following day… My husband had carefully prepared a list of all of the ducts that were in question, but after glancing at the first one, Jeff replied: "We tried a new way of cleaning ducts at the beginning of this week. Obviously it didn't work. I should have caught that before I left and I didn't. I'm sorry. I will reclean every duct in your house."… He continued: "And to make up for the inconvenience, you can call me every year for the rest of the time you are living in this house. As long as I'm still in business, I'll clean your ducts again for free."

Did providing more than was expected make a customer for life? Probably.
That translates to a voter who will vote for you in this cycle and the next, without much persuasion (budget).

How can a candidate offer a troll more than they expected?

Assign a staff member to personally respond to each one.
Personalize that writer’s concerns.
Get them tickets to an event, or a bobblehead, or something.
Most importantly, try to uncloak the writer.
The less anonymous the writer can be, the less vitriolic the writer will be.

So let’s sum all this up:

There are parallels between customer service and electioneering.

Make it easy to receive complaints-and then listen.

Don’t confuse trollers with those of differing opinions.
Either way, welcome them in.

Remember-non-posters are watching, too. Be nice.

Don’t take it personally.

Remain close to the desires of the electorate-prevent trolling before it starts.

Give more to the troll than they expect.

So that’s it for today.
In closing, just remember: treat the trolls well, and they’ll go away less upset than when they came.

Or at least, you’ll be less upset at them.

And remember-with any luck, and a bit of personal attention, you might turn some votes, and even, possibly, gather a few donations along the way (!)

Best of luck-it’s a long run ahead.

Monday, February 12, 2007

On An Alternative Election Methodology, Or, Is That OJ Stalking Me?

Clinton, Edwards, Hagel, Obama, McCain, Biden, Gravel, Brownbach, Hunter, Giuliani, Kucinich, Tancredo, Romney, Dodd, Vilsak, Savage, Swift, Stanhope.

That’s only a partial list of candidates for President in 2008, and my head already hurts.

I know by the time this is over I’ll be sick and tired of elections, and probably the American electoral system generally.

Anticipating this problem, I have designed an alternative to the current system of elections that I feel has considerable merit.

Consider this:

If my plan is adopted, there will be more than 30 second sound bites defining the candidates.

If my plan is adopted, there will be more voter participation then there is today.

If my plan is adopted, there would be a reason for Tom Tancredo to actually be in this election.

So what’s this great plan?

Presidential Survivor.

Basically the way it works is we take all announced candidates, put them on an island together, and every week the American people, after watching them face some trials, vote one out.

Now here’s where it gets really good.

Today OJ Simpson sits in Florida, idling his days away on a golf course, looking for something to do.

Why waste this valuable American resource?

I say put OJ on the island, and let him stalk the losers-and then help him find the “real” killers afterward.

This plan has advantages.
For example:

The whole thing is easily accomplished with public financing-no more soft money, hard money, illegal money, period.

In fact, ad revenues and DVD sales could theoretically make elections a profit-making enterprise.

The Republican propensity to pick based on “it’s his turn, so let’s nominate Dole" (for 2008, substitute McCain) will be discarded after the first few episodes.

Fringe candidates will be quickly (and permanently) removed from contention, creating a centrist tendency that will serve us well in the future.

The desire to begin the election cycle as soon as the previous one ends will quickly dissipate-or we’ll have two seasons of the show per election cycle. Either way, America wins.

As the candidates dwindle, bipartisanship will flourish.
Other members of the political establishment will see the benefits, and as a result government administration should improve.

There’s even an economic benefit-if the show is based in Louisiana it can assist the redevelopment of the Gulf Coast!

So that’s my plan.

Now here’s my question to the community:

Who do you think will win?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

On The Wild West, Or, Who’s That Blogger?

In the 1870’s, a tall man in a tall hat would ride into town, hitch up his horse, and head to the local saloon.

Maybe he’d find himself at the general store, looking for a job and a grubstake.

Of course, many others staked their land from the back of a Calistoga wagon, or mined a hole in the ground, or panned a river. They ranched. They drove cattle.

Some of them rustled those cattle, and robbed a stagecoach or two, as well.

Put it all together, and you have the Wild West.

This in many ways resembles modern blogging.

As I look around today, I see a blog universe that has grown from individuals writing “my diary” posts, to journalism in the classic sense, to blogging “communities”, whose existence transcends the individuals posting.

It is within that universe of communities that I would like to focus today’s discussion.

A blogging community faces an inherent contradiction from the very start-the desire to advance the community’s objectives versus the freedom of speech that is clearly required if the community is to remain popular and a source of new ideas.

This issue is of particular note if the community is intended to advance a particular purpose-a product or political community, for example.

In my wandering around the Wild Web, I’ve noticed certain “management” issues that have yet to find solutions. Consider these three examples of “stagecoach robberies” that can or have occurred:

Over at BlueNC there’s a conversation ongoing regarding possible planted messages from a supporter of “possible” gubernatorial candidate Richard Moore.

Organized (or disorganized) groups of “shout-downers” (trolls on steroids) with a message opposite of the stated purpose of the community launch attacks that deter others from staying with the community.

The community’s “regulars” can become unwilling to accept the outside interactions that the owners desire

How can these concerns be addressed?

Let’s consider the BlueNC situation first.

Because these communities desire an open membership policy, there doesn’t seem to be an easy “gatekeeping” solution, and you’ll notice the comments among the members of the community reflect this reality.

Vigilance, however, has brought the issue up for comment, and that might turn out to be the most effective solution-to the extent that the connections can be noted.

But what about the “member on member” interactions? And how can the community’s management and owners appropriately respond?

Let’s put it in a political context.

If you are operating a campaign community, you want to have a “guest-friendly” environment, but be open as well. Obviously removing the most “trollish” and intentionally offensive posts is easy enough.

But what about a community that becomes insular?

The campaign is a marathon, and the communities are going to discover that 2 years is a long time to run chat and blog without weariness setting in.

How many times can the same group of regulars face “your candidate sucks!” over and over again without losing the desire to interact with outsiders at all?

This is where we get into new ground.

Obviously new methods of “wrangling the regulars” will have to be developed.

Here are a few quick suggestions:

Use the power of ownership. Consider the creation of “superusers” who are brought closer to the community’s management-maybe even a private chat room.

Create “evangelizing” opportunities for your regulars-for example, as a manager of a D candidate’s community I might challenge the superusers to visit R leaning websites to discuss my candidate, using talking points I develop in conjunction with the superusers.

Constantly remind the community of the ambassadorial and educational functions the candidate is hoping to achieve.

Create fun opportunities as well-anything from personalized gifts to VIP opportunities at various campaign events.

This is going to be a groundbreaking election cycle for the Internet, and a lot of rules are going to be written this time that will set the stage for many elections to come.

So git along, lil’ dogies. There’s a long trail ahead.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

On Abortion Protestors, Or, What If They Had A War And Nobody Came?

There is poetry in judo.

Consider this quote from the International Judo Federation website:

“What are some of the working principles of Judo?

The use of balance and off-balancing. The use of leverage to achieve greater power. Taking advantage of the opponent’s strength. Taking advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses. The value of yielding and giving way. The proper application of timing, momentum and force.”

To see an opponent felled by his own perceived strength, to see a combatant adapt the techniques of another to reach victory-it’s a beautiful thing.

This is why I want to take a bit of your time today to discuss the business of war, and the lessons of abortion.

Before we do, let me set the stage.

I propose that a potential weak link in the Administration’s efforts to continue the war is recruiting.

I suggest that many of the individuals considering enlistments are not getting both sides of the story, and that a few facts delivered in a compelling manner would be useful.

Further, that highly public demonstrations in major media centers will have disproportionate impact.

And finally, that techniques borrowed from abortion protesters could be used with great effect against the US military recruiting effort.

Having put forth the concept, let’s discuss the practical applications of this line of thought.

There is no more important media market than New York City.
If you can make it there, well, you know the rest…
And since 1950, dead in the middle of Times Square sits the Times Square Armed Forces Recruiting Station-or “The Booth”, as it’s also known.

The place is famous, and as a result it draws enlistees from all over.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ “Engineer Update” refers to the location as a “recruiting powerhouse”

It was the site of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” demonstration just last November, in fact.

And now it’s time to discuss abortion.

Any readers familiar with the term "sidewalk counseling"?

If not, let the Pro-Life Action League fill you in:

“Sidewalk counseling is exactly what the name implies—standing on the sidewalk outside an abortion clinic, counseling women and couples on their way inside. It is a last attempt to turn their hearts away from abortion and offer real help.”

Here’s more:

“Sidewalk counseling is, in my estimation, the single most valuable activity that a pro-life person can engage in. When pro-lifers counsel at an abortion clinic they come between the baby who is scheduled to be killed and the doctor who will do the killing.

Counseling goes to the heart of abortion. Babies are killed in abortion clinics or hospitals or doctor's offices, and pro-lifers go there to intercede for the baby's life. Our job is to get more people on the streets to stand between the killers and the victims… We believe so firmly in the humanity of the unborn child that we put ourselves between the child and the abortionist. But we must be armed with knowledge and skill. We have to do the saving through words, actions, right attitude, and prayer.

As we said, sidewalk counseling is probably the single most valuable pro-life activity we can engage in. If done on a large scale, it may prove to be one of the main means of stopping abortion. If abortion clinics don't have customers, they go out of business. Two or three counselors, on a regular basis, at each of the abortion clinics in the United States, could save a hundred-thousand lives each year. Many clinics would be forced to close.

Requirements for effective counseling are an interest in people, compassion and empathy. The best counselors are good listeners, since people often find their own solutions if they have someone to listen while they talk out their problems. Counseling is nine-tenths listening and one-tenth advising.”

(From the book “CLOSED: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion”, Joe Scheidler)

They use images to discourage abortions, as well.
Giant pictures of aborted fetuses are a favorite tool.

So imagine if every time some gung-ho high school kids walked up to “The Booth” they were forced to see an Iraq war vet and her artificial leg.

Pictures of the coffins.

Images of the innocent, but still dead, Iraqi children.

Oh, and don’t forget the "Truth Trucks"

The reality of war-right in their faces.

Sidewalk counselors helping the newly aware to come to a different decision.

You might ask: “is it even legal to do all this?”

Remember the poetry of Judo?

Check out the Pro-Life Action League’s “Know Your Rights as a Sidewalk Counselor” page for an excellent discussion of these issues.

The Station is in Times Square.
How much media you think dead soldier pictures, Truth Trucks, and coffins would attract?

Do the same thing in L.A., Chicago, and D.C., and somebody’s gonna have a problem.

I’m not the only one thinking along these lines, by the way.
Check out this story, and this list of organizations who are also trying to impact recruiting.

So, anybody feel like having a war where nobody comes?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

On The Costs Of Climate Change, Or, Florida Bets The State

It is always a surprise when you begin to write one story and end up writing another, and that is the situation we have today.

Originally this was to be a story set in the future, but it turns out the future is now.

Here’s the deal: while watching the Super Bowl (love the mouse commercial!), I was considering the economic consequences of a flooded Miami, seeing as the ocean level is projected to rise over the next century, and Florida isn’t.

Specifically, I was thinking about what will happen to the economy of the state when you can no longer transfer real estate because the property is uninsurable.

In my mind, there would be a sort of tipping point where the State would have to look for outside assistance for their collapsing insurance situation, perhaps even seeking some sort of Federal bailout.

As it turns out, this is a story set right in the here and now. Since 2005, Florida home and business owners have had a major problem either finding or keeping property/casualty insurance.

The problem has become so serious that the State has initiated a major expansion of “last-resort insurer” programs that have existed since 1971.

By “expansion”, I mean the State has voluntarily made itself liable, through the Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, and other provisions of Florida law, for $36 billion of damages in the event of a single major storm.

How much of the State’s money might potentially be at risk?

The Florida Department of revenue reports that 2005’s assessed value for the entire State’s real estate is about $1.6 trillion, and in fact the State’s Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, had to talk the Legislature out of accepting unlimited liability for the entire amount.

There are provisions of Florida law that will seem unusual to many of you.

Here’s just one example:

If the State’s Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has a bad year policyholders of other companies (and other types of insurance-including auto insurance) can be billed by the State to make up the difference. In fact this is occurring right now, and will for at least the next ten years; under a deal included in the most recent insurance reforms.

The Citizens Property Insurance Corp. intends to build up the $36 billion they need to cover this liability in a reserve fund, but at the moment that fund only contains $2 billion, which means $34 billion of premium surplus must be collected from Florida ratepayers before a major storm hits if this is to work.

If a storm hits first, the State intends to issue bonds to cover the difference; and of course, if there is a major storm every 2 or 3 years, the hit to the taxpayers will be potentially quite severe.

But as I mentioned before, this was not the story I set out to tell.

This was supposed to be a story of rising sea levels, 1200 miles of shoreline, a Super Bowl city that pretty much sits less than 15 feet above sea level, dikes that might cost $25 million a mile, and the inevitability of an eventual tipping point.

Instead, we find a story of policyholders drowning now in a flood of premium increases, tax hikes, a slowdown in property value appreciation that may have much larger effects on the state’s economy than we yet recognize, and a State willing to bet it all that they can find a way out of the path of disaster.

Good luck to you Florida, but remember-you’re betting against Nature, and in the end, the house always wins.

Monday, February 5, 2007

On Solving The Iraq Problem, Or, How About A New Old Idea?

I need not tell you gentlemen that the world situation is very serious.
That must be apparent to all intelligent people.

I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation.

Furthermore, the people of this country are distant from the troubled areas of the earth and it is hard for them to comprehend the plight and consequent reaction of the long-suffering peoples, and the effect of those reactions on their government in connection with our efforts to promote peace in the world.

In considering the requirements for the rehabilitation of Iraq the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines, and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of the Iraqi economy.

For the past 10 years conditions have been highly abnormal.

The feverish maintenance of the war effort engulfed all aspects of national economics. Machinery has fallen into disrepair or is entirely obsolete.

Under the arbitrary and destructive Ba’ath rule, virtually every possible enterprise was geared into the Iraqi war machine.

Long-standing commercial ties, private institutions, banks, insurance companies and shipping companies disappeared, through the loss of capital, absorption through nationalization or by simple destruction.

Confidence in the local currency has been severely shaken.

The breakdown of the business structure of Iraq during the war was complete.

Recovery has been seriously retarded by the fact that 2 years after the close of hostilities a peace settlement with Iran and Syria has not been agreed upon. But even given a more prompt solution of these difficult problems, the rehabilitation of the economic structure of Iraq quite evidently will require a much longer time and greater effort than had been foreseen.

There is a phase of this matter which is both interesting and serious.

The farmer has always produced the foodstuffs to exchange with the city dweller for the other necessities of life. This division of labor is the basis of modern civilization.

At the present time it is threatened with breakdown.

The town and city industries are not producing adequate goods to exchange with the food-producing farmer. Raw materials and fuel are in short supply. Machinery is lacking or worn out.

The farmer or the peasant cannot find the goods for sale which he desires to purchase. So the sale of his farm produce for money which he cannot use seems to him unprofitable transaction. He, therefore, has withdrawn many fields from crop cultivation and is using them for grazing. He feeds more grain to stock and finds for himself and his family an ample supply of food, however short he may be on clothing and the other ordinary gadgets of civilization.

Meanwhile people in the cities are short of food and fuel.

So the governments are forced to use their foreign money and credits to procure these necessities abroad. This process exhausts funds which are urgently needed for reconstruction. Thus a very serious situation is rapidly developing which bodes no good for the world. The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down.

The truth of the matter is that Iraq's requirements for the next 3 or 4 years of foreign food and other essential products -- principally from America -- are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character.

The remedy lies in breaking the vicious circle and restoring the confidence of the Iraqi people in the economic future of their own countries and of Iraq as a whole. The manufacturer and the farmer throughout wide areas must be able and willing to exchange their products for currencies the continuing value of which is not open to question.

Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all.

It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.

Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.

Such assistance, I am convinced, must not be on a piecemeal basis as various crises develop.

Any assistance that this Government may render in the future should provide a cure rather than a mere palliative.

Any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will find full cooperation, I am sure, on the part of the United States Government.

Any government which maneuvers to block the recovery of other countries cannot expect help from us.

Furthermore, governments, political parties, or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States.

It is already evident that, before the United States Government can proceed much further in its efforts to alleviate the situation and help start the Iraqi world on its way to recovery, there must be some agreement among the peoples of Iraq as to the requirements of the situation and the part those peoples themselves will take in order to give proper effect to whatever action might be undertaken by this Government.

It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Iraq on its feet economically.

This is the business of the Iraqis.

The initiative, I think, must come from Iraq.

The role of this country should consist of friendly aid in the drafting of a Iraqi program so far as it may be practical for us to do so. The program should be a joint one, agreed to by a number, if not all Iraqi ethnic groups.

An essential part of any successful action on the part of the United States is an understanding on the part of the people of America of the character of the problem and the remedies to be applied.

Political passion and prejudice should have no part.

With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibilities which history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome.

Okay, now for the confession: if you’ve been reading this thinking: “this looks so familiar…” you’re right.

This is a slightly altered version of the speech George Marshall gave at Harvard University June 5th, 1947.

Mr. Bush, I know you’re not listening, but if you were, I’d remind you…

…We’re looking at spending $250 billion or more this year between budget, black budget, and supplementals on Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran if we continue on the same path as we are today.

I’m willing to bet we could get a lot farther on half that money following Marshall’s advice.

Last comment: any Democrats still looking for an Iraq plan?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

On Being A Candidate ©, Or, The Music Never Stops

It is now becoming a fact of political life that campaigns for National office never end.

Even more importantly, for the purposes of today’s discussion, politicians never seem to leave “campaign mode”-even when not campaigning.

As an example, consider Al Gore. Even though he’s not currently engaged in a campaign, he’s central to the thinking of at least two of the current candidates: Clinton and Edwards.

An even better example, for the purposes of this discussion, is a candidate who has left and then re-entered active politics. This year that candidate is John Edwards.

(Consider that the time he spent away from politics, even if it was done for totally non political reasons, still reinforces his political image.)

In a previous discussion, I questioned whether there might be a place for Party-independent “branding” of “political actors”.

I submit there is such branding already, and that the politician as a “brand” (someone whose identity is managed without consideration of a particular electoral cycle), will become more and more commonplace.

There are a number of Rs and Ds who either drift in or out of Presidential contention (Dole, McCain, Gore) at various times, and those who are positioning themselves for 2008 and/or future runs (Clinton, Obama, Biden, Giuliani, Romney); and I offer each of these as examples of “transelectional” candidates who do or could benefit from having a permanent, well-managed brand identity.

What is a brand?

I submit that a brand is an emotional idea represented by a product (“The Marlboro Man”, “Morning In America”).

Look at how Rudy Giuliani uses this concept-the emotional reaction of his 9/11 response outweighs the discussion of the policies he actually oversaw as mayor, and that “brand identification” is the major reason he is in the Presidential discussion today.

Most candidates do not have historical events to place them in the market’s “emotional consciousness”.

So how can a candidate create a permanent emotional connection to the electoral market?

This brings us to Al Gore and John Edwards.

Both have active website communities, and are clearly benefiting from the Internet. But that really isn’t the answer to anything.

What matters is that they both have active public personae which draw the public to the candidates, and then their communities.

Personae that are based around emotional issues (global climate change, poverty); bringing a human element to both “candidates”. (I include Gore as he may or may not enter this or a future campaign.)

How can we apply this, in a practical way, to the candidates we mentioned above?

Giuliani seems well on his way-he makes “National Security” speaking appearances, and this plays well to the R base.

Hillary also seems to be making a “brand” for herself-concerned working woman with a tough side.

Nancy Pelosi-Mom at work.

McCain-scary old guy who’ll frighten the terrorists into submission.

So where’s Obama’s niche?
How about Horace Greely meets competent technocrat?

He seems to be moving in that direction, and it’s a smart move on his part; all sorts of issues (Social Security/Medicare, “terrorism”, health care, and on and on) appear to have no competent “hand on the tiller”, and the perception of competence could go a long way.

Note that in every case the brand is not associated with a particular election, office, or Party-that the “Candidate-Brands” are designed to exist long past any particular electoral cycle.

Now let’s look to the future:

If I were a politician looking to become a “Candidate-Brand”, what images might still be available for adoption? Here are three, for starters:

America’s Dad.

War hero returns to enter politics.
(Jim Webb is moving in here fast, but if a woman war hero were to emerge that would be a formidable brand indeed.)

Al Franken.

So let’s go one step further.
Let me pose a question to the community, if I may.

The players (and their brands) have probably been identified for the 2008 cycle.

But what about beyond?

Who are the “unbranded” candidates (and current non candidates-think Bloomberg, for example) for 2010 and beyond, and with which brands should they connect?

I’m looking forward to the community’s thoughts.