Category Archives: Politics

How to Win an Election II

Winning the “money race” has always been a significant determinant in every political race but next in importance is the endorsement of those who control or influence large numbers of voters.  Several years ago, on a flight from Washington D.C. back to L.A. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a woman who was the second in command at a very large Union.  It was one of the most entertaining conversations I have ever had on a long flight, and one thing I will always remember was her stories regarding politicians seeking funds and endorsements from her Union.  “Groveling” is probably a more appropriate term than “begging” but whichever term you choose, she told me that most politicians were spending more than half their time raising money for the next election and/or offering their loyalty for an endorsement.

In my last “post” I expressed my hope that the continuing evolution of Social Media will lessen the impact of money in our elections but there is another change coming, thanks to Social Media, which may not be as positive.  We have developed a culture of “Celebrity Worship” in our country and although celebrity endorsements have been around, there was no Social Media connecting the celebrity with his or her fans.  Social Media creates a much more personal and intimate relationship that may be a lot more powerful.  Katy Perry has over 70 million followers, LeBron James 23 million, Justin Beiber 64 million, etc., etc.  Presidential candidates can only dream of such celebrity status. Hillary Clinton has 1.7 million followers while on the Republican side, much to my surprise; Donald Trump has over 2 million.  (Trump’s numbers probably have nothing to do with his recently announced bid for the White House.)

Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008 is widely believed to have made the difference in his victory over Hillary Clinton.  At that time, many believed Oprah was the most powerful woman in America.  Basketball fans saw a simple Justin Bieber “tweet” put Kyle Lowry in the NBA All-Star Game.

Rightly or wrongly, celebrities have enormous marketing power.  Next year they may not be selling just shoes and cologne, they may be selling us politicians.  We may even see those candidates with the most money lose to those with the best Celebrity Endorsements.  The Media and all the political consultants may not like it, but the Social Media changes are coming.

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How to Win an Election

“Raise more money than your opponents.”  Sadly, this strategy more often than not, leads to success in politics.  It also corrupts our political system and leaves us far short of our desire to have “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Once the money has been raised (and all the promises made), how is that money being spent by those running for office?  I didn’t have to spend a lot of time using Google to confirm my suspicion that the biggest expenditures are for “media buys,” somewhere between 55-75% depending upon the year and the political office being sought.

Political campaigns are a huge source of revenue for the major networks and their local affiliates.  It’s billions of dollars, and the related expenses are negligible.  It has to be the most profitable segment of their business.  Recognizing this, I wouldn’t expect to see much effort from the Media to advocate any changes.

But change is coming for the following reasons:

1.    Social Media is a powerful tool, which can be used to reach voters.  Television ads may still be effective with older voters but the end is near.

2.    The cost of using Social Media is negligible.  Those running for office will not have to sell their soul to the highest bidder to get their name and message “out there.” “Big money” will no longer be writing the script.  That should be appealing to every voter.

Every day we see how technology and Social Media is changing the way we live, how services and products are delivered to consumers, and how we interact with others.  In my next post I will discuss the coming revolutions in our political system that may bring us closer to the democracy our Founding Fathers envisioned.

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AND——“WE’RE OFF!”

Next week, after the mid-term elections, we have the unofficial start of the 2016 Presidential Race (although numerous Presidential hopefuls have already begun “testing the waters,” traveling the country and watching the polls very closely).  For me, it’s a great time to be writing a blog because there will be no shortage of “subject matter” for the next 24 months.

Thanks to Hillary Clinton’s, big gaffe during her interview with Charlie Rose, “businesses do not create jobs,”  we are off to a great start.  The entire race looks a lot like a NASCAR race.  All the candidates are jockeying for the “poll position” that will give them an early lead.  Just as with the racing cars, it becomes a race of attrition, with the winner being in many ways, the last man or woman standing at the end.  NASCAR drivers have pit crews to get them back in the race when they have a malfunction or they need new tires, the politicians have their “spin control doctors” to get them back in the race when they make their inevitable gaffes.

Sometimes the damage from a crash or an engine malfunction is so great, that even the best pit crews, cannot get the driver back in the race.  It’s no different with politicians.  In the last presidential race Governor Perry, during a campaign debate, could only remember 2 of the 3 departments of the federal government he wanted to close down.  With that one gaffe, he was out, but now he’s back for this race wearing glasses, hoping to look more intelligent.  Sarah Palin was a virtual “gaffe fountain” which earned her my “Jerry Springer” award.

George W. Bush made so many gaffes he engendered the term “Bushisms.”  Joe Biden stated that the middle class had been “buried over the last 4 years.”  The problem was, this declaration was made at the end of the Obama administration’s first 4 years in office.  Al Gore made the ludicrous claim that he invented the “internet.”  But he recovered nicely with a simple power point presentation that won him a Nobel Prize.

Obviously, politicians from both parties continue to give us “well documented” evidence that we are not being led by our “best and brightest.”  Watching Hillary Clinton’s pit crew try to explain what Hillary was actually saying has been entertaining but it is also sad.  Her comment was so offensive that I have serious doubts about her completing very many laps in the coming race.  Even China and Russia came to the realization over the past century that businesses are more efficient at creating jobs than the government.

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“Where Have All The Flowers Gone”

For those of you too young to remember, this is the title of a song written in 1955 by Pete Seeger and made popular by the “Kingston Trio” and “Peter, Paul, and Mary” in the 60’s.  The question raised several times in the lyrics is: “When will they ever learn?”  (If you are not familiar with the song, I suggest you go to You-Tube and watch the music video.)

Why is all this relevant?  After all, this is not the 60’s.  But in some ways the situation in the Middle East today is not all that different than it was in Southeast Asia in the 60’s. (You know the history.)  We had to stop the plague of Communism before it could spread all the way south to Australia enslaving millions along the way.  It was called the “domino theory” whereby one nation after another would fall. They had to be stopped!

Now here is where I see similarities between the 60’s in Vietnam and the Middle East today.  In Vietnam it became obvious that most Vietnamese did not want us there.  The North Vietnamese wanted to reunify their country and the Viet Cong in South Vietnam wanted the Americans out.  Realizing just how much we were despised we came up with a program to “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese.  Advisors known as the “Green Berets” were trained to work with the Vietnamese and to give them the ability to defeat the communist.  Billions (in todays dollars) were spent training the South Vietnamese and equipping them with the best weapons and lots of air support.  Yet almost 10 years later we beat a hasty retreat from Vietnam as the Viet Cong closed in on the capital, Saigon.  57,000 Americans lost their lives and many more were maimed for life.  In addition, several hundred thousand Vietnamese died.

Are you starting to see any similarities?  I took part in only one “joint operation” with the South Vietnamese and it was very evident that they did not have the same level of motivation as the enemy, why would they.  Their political leaders and the U.S. were asking them to fight against Vietnamese. And worse yet, what if they lost and the Viet Cong won.  Well that is exactly what happened and they paid the price after the Americans left.

Now to the Middle East 50 years later–after 10 years of training and spending billions to build an effective Iraqi Army they seem to be totally incapable of accomplishing anything against ISIS (a group that would make Hitler proud).  Our current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs claimed this past week, that the Iraqi army may need American advisors on the ground “to be all they can be!”  I wish he had been old to enough to experience how that strategy worked out in Vietnam.  He might have a different opinion.

So—“will we ever learn?”  There is no American solution to the problems in the Muslim world.  That is a very sad fact but it is still the truth.   And the sooner we acknowledge the truth and change our strategy, the better off we will be.

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When Did We Lose Our Moral Compass?

I would love to have feedback on the words I am about to write. Our country has never had totally pure motives when dealing with other countries or even our own citizens. However, I have always been able to rationalize our actions by telling myself, at least our “code of morality” is no worse than that of any other country, but I am starting to have serious doubts and it’s very troubling.

You are no doubt familiar with the drone attack, ordered by President Obama, to take out Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Al-Awlaki was an American citizen who had moved to Yemen and was advocating terrorist attacks on the U.S. and U.S. citizens. Being a threat to America, his voice was silenced once and for all with the drone attack.

When this attack was reported in the news, the debate began over whether or not the President had the Constitutional authority to order the execution of a U.S. citizen without any “due process” as required by law. That debate continues but it is likely that nothing will come of it. I am not a lawyer and feel unqualified to question the legality of the President’s action against a self-described enemy of this country. But debating the legality of this attack is missing a bigger issue regarding what our government did in Yemen.

Al-Awlaki’s 16 year-old son, an American citizen, who had moved from Denver to Yemen to live with his cousins was targeted two weeks later and killed along with four of his relatives while having dinner 250 miles away. Why? Roger Gibbs, former White House Press Secretary, suggested the boy would not have been murdered if he had a more responsible father.

For me, this is not a “constitutional issue” but a “moral issue.” Evidently the President expressed regret about what happened to the son, but no one is being held accountable. You might think that as the world’s only super power we would have the opportunity to show not just our military might, but to also show moral leadership. Unfortunately we seem to be headed in the opposite direction.

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The Growing Wealth Gap

Income inequality and the gap between rich and poor are going to be “hot topics” as we move toward the mid-term elections in November and the discussion will become even more heated in 2016 when we elect our next president.  I believe these are serious issues and we need to find solutions.  Unfortunately, most of the proposed solutions we hear are geared to advance political careers with little thought given to the overall impact on our economy.

But before I speak about solutions I would like to point out what has caused a huge increase in the wealth gap over the past 5 years.  The rich, at their end of the spectrum, have investment capital.  The poor, at the other end, have very little if any investment capital.  With the Stock Market (as measured by the S&P 500) up over 125% during this period, it is obvious why the wealth gap grew dramatically.  However, during the prior 2 years the Market lost 50% of its value, and of course this narrowed the wealth gap.  (A market crash that narrows the wealth gap is not a solution to the problem.)

Capitalism will always favor those who have capital to invest, and unless we come up with a solution that encourages or even demands participation in the capitalist system, the wealth gap will only continue to grow.  I also believe that far too many politicians who claim to be advocates for the poor have an ulterior motive.  They benefit from having a constituency that is dependent on the government for their subsistence and that will always vote to keep them in office.

So how do we go about dramatically increasing participation in the capitalist system, with all the inherent benefits, currently enjoyed by those who have the means to participate?

Believe it or not, government can provide the answer.  Here’s how.  Every employer and employee (roughly 93% of the working age population) would be required to contribute to an investment account run by the government.  This capital would be invested in broadly based, low or no cost, passive index type market portfolios.  Employees would not have control over the investment decisions eliminating all the “emotional” mistakes that have severely damaged many retirement plans.

Wall Street would be against such a program because it would take away their ability to earn fees on what would be a very large pool of capital.  (But perhaps those on Wall Street, who believe they can “beat the market,” would be allowed to participate if they guaranteed that any underperformance would be made up out of their own capital.)   Something tells me there would be few, if any, money managers who would accept such a condition.

The amounts contributed, the allocation to equities relative to participant age etc. etc., would have to be determined but I believe that would not be very difficult.  Basically it would be a program that “enfranchises” most workers, allowing them to participate and benefit from our capitalist system.

A simple idea but it has to be a better way to go than simply redistributing income and/or wealth.

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Justice?

I am among those who are very troubled by the “not guilty” verdict leaving George Zimmerman unpunished for taking the life of Trayvon Martin. However, what troubles me is the “laws” in Florida that gave George Zimmerman the right to carry a concealed weapon which he used to murder Trayvon Martin.

Laws define what is legal or illegal in our country. But the word “legal” is not a synonym for the word “ethical” or the word “moral.”  Those who made the laws governing the outcome of this case must share some of the guilt for this murder.

Throughout history we have had laws that condone unethical and immoral behavior to the detriment of many innocent people.  In our short history we have had many laws discriminating against innocent individuals based on their gender, race, sexual orientation and economic standing. None of these laws would today be considered ethical or moral rules for society. Of course “immoral and unethical laws” are not the sole province of our country. Throughout history we see a plethora of unjust laws making it legal to carry out horrendous crimes against innocent victims.

Those with power put laws in place and they are used to exploit those with little or no power. Those committing immoral and unethical crimes always defend their actions by stating that they have done nothing illegal. Apparently they have no conscience. But I am hopeful there is a “higher court” somewhere that will hold George Zimmerman accountable.

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