Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The five things Obama should be thinking right now.

In Culture, Economics, Lifestyle, Politics on November 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm

“You can’t be a half way gangster Nucky, not anymore” – Jimmy to Nucky Thompson in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”.

This quote from one of HBO’s newest dramas amazingly describes the state of the Obama administration. “Shellacked” by the GOP in last night’s election (Obama’s words, not mine), the American people have sent a message of dissatisfaction with the current administration; or perhaps the message is that they are dissatisfied with Washington collectively and said “what the hell, let them back in”. Regardless, what is clear is that they didn’t get the message that Obama has been trying to convey to them in recent months.

“The economy is getting better” (Several months of job growth excluding seasonal Census workers and GDP growth)

The stimulus worked” (TARP repaid, stimulus, many economists believe Obama avoided a Depression)

“Healthcare Reform is good” (Verdict is still out overall but lifetime caps and additional coverage for children/young adults can’t be bad right?)

Obama had a wonderful toolbox full of great, rational “features” of his administration to run with. Tangible things that most reasonable people would conclude has helped the overall masses. The Obama brand has indeed began to deliver on the change it promised in 2008. However, he continues to forget that the general public doesn’t see features, only explicitly, painfully oversimplified benefits. The wonderful, rational features the Obama Administration has championed have been so effectively drowned out by the emotional rhetoric of his detractors. Despite having a perfect platform to counter with, Obama has thus far had no answer.

For the first two years of Obama’s administration, the Republican party has pretty much made no qualms about the fact that they had little to no intention of playing ball with any of his signature initiatives. Bipartisanship is a pipe dream in that environment. The benefits of balance of power are only realized if both sides are aiming towards the same goal. That clearly was not the case. The stage was set for the Democrats to effectively “position” the GOP as the party of “No” but it just didn’t stick. Instead, the GOP managed to position Obama as a brazen, overspending socialist born who knows where, who worships who knows what, hell-bent on bringing about changes that most would benefit from but don’t want because it attacks their aspirations and ideological values. Long sentence I know, but you get the point. Just months after the disaster a lack of regulation and intervention amongst the markets brought, the GOP has managed to convince the general public that the market forces should be left alone and that they will some how magically solve all of our problems without articulating exactly how. You have to give them credit and at the same time ask, “how did this happen?”.

Well, we can’t blame it all on American’s general lack of understanding basic economic principles and receptivity to propaganda. Some blame must be placed upon Mr. Obama himself; a “let’s meet in the middle” type of guy almost to a fault. Us progressives are lusting to get a glimpse of the youthful Obama displayed in the headline image of this blog that conveys a subtle but pronounced tone of rebellion and hint of  “I don’t give a fuck, I’m a do me” bravado. That time has come. The game IS indeed the game and it’s time for Obama to put his school of Chicago Politics to use. Here are five things I hope he’s thinking right now.

The GOP will be held accountable both privately and publicly.

If Obama is to be reelected in 2012, he will have to spend the last half of this term governing through the eyes of the American people.  Every attempt of the other side to block progress must be publicly called out and displayed. He must successfully drive home the message that the other side is a lot more interested in playing politics than working on behalf of the people. The message should be consistent, clear and relentless.

I have to make the things that I have done “real” to the American people.

Let’s face it, we walk among the dumb, deaf and blind. Things must be simple, clear and concise. Messages must be explicit and to the point. This is a challenge for someone as smart as Obama but he must learn the art of simplicity if he wants his messages to stick. He must explicitly show how the things that he is doing, will have positive effects on people.

I have to make the things that the GOP has done “real” to the American people.

It’s obvious we have short memories. We need to be reminded of the things that occurred as little as two years ago that put us where we are today. Obama must consistently remind the public of the pain of two years ago as well as the cause to draw contrast of the progress made (as well as it’s cause). “I inherited…”should be stricken from his language. It must be brought to life in a more tangible way than words and driven home repeatedly.

I must re-embrace ideology and emotional arguments just as much as rational ones.

I hope Obama has realized that he is as much of a salesman as the guy who sold you your last appliance at Best Buy. And unfortunately, people buy from the right side of their brain as opposed to the left side at a substantial rate. Obama has to find ways to ladder up what he is trying to accomplish via his initiatives into an ideological concept that connects with the American people on an emotional level. The GOP/Tea Party are masters of this but if Obama is looking for a case study or inspiration as to how it should be done, he should grab David Axelrod and review their 2008 campaign strategies and briefs.

I have to create a crisis or rallying cry to energize my base.

Good leaders know that nothing inspires self-directed motivation amongst a group of people more than a crisis. A rallying cry. A reason to be energized. A simple, singular short-term goal to fight tooth and nail for. Obama should create this rallying cry as a way to mobilize his base to get back in his corner.

I think Obama has done a terrific job of getting things done. Whenever people say things like “he is doing too much” that is a good thing in terms of productivity. Health care reform, student loan reform, banking requirements for loans, fair pay legislation, his accomplishments are substantial. But again, people see and vote on big ticket, front page, large font issues. Ultimately, they are the audience.

“The game is the game” – Marlo Stanfield in HBO’s “The Wire”

Barry, it’s time to play.


My Top 5 Moments in “Authentic Response”

In Business, Culture, Lifestyle, Politics on September 25, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Unfiltered honesty in today’s society is revolutionary. It stands out. When you hear it in a public form, it captivates you. It might even make you uncomfortable. It incites these reactions because it is surrounding by pontificating, lip service, spin, double speak and virtually every other brand of bullshit one can think of. Corporate leaders, politicians, celebrities and other public speakers go through painstaking lengths to learn to massage, modify, mitigate, manipulate or flat-out mask the truth. They are trained by professionals to manage images and appearances through the most ingenuine of ways. However, every so often, someone decides to say “fuck it” and actually speak or act without constraint or concern for the resulted perception. A truly authentic response. As expected, some are rubbed the wrong way while others are intrigued and admirable towards the authentic gesture. The interesting thing about it, is that the latter feeling tends to last a lot longer. America’s relentless distrust and suspicion of virtually any and everything is a direct result of being flooded with bullshit for so many years.

As a major proponent and subscriber to the “No Bullshit” policy, I would like to celebrate five of my favorite Moments in Authentic Response.

#5 Slain Former NFL Star Pat Tillman’s Brother Rips Maria Shriver and John McCain for their Religious Gesture

Richard Tillman is so raw and unfiltered, we had to include his entire segment on Real Time with Bill Maher’s where he talked about the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his brother’s death in Afghanistan.

#4 Kanye West Gives his Take on George Bush

Kanye West has stated on several occasions that he has denied media training and coaching. The result is perhaps the king of Authentic Response. Visibly angry towards the delayed response for help during Hurricane Katrina, Kanye went into a now famous several minute rant that has come to be perhaps the most memorable moment in his stellar career.

#3 Kanye West Politely Disagrees with an Award Recipient

Remember when I said Kanye West’s rant about George Bush was perhaps the most memorable moment in his career? Well, I lied. This one was.

#2 Steve Jobs Tells Student to Take a Hike

Journalism student Chelsea Kate Isaacs was looking for a response from someone at the technology giant Apple. When the media relations department didn’t respond, she figured she’d give Apple’s quirky Steve Jobs a shot. She was successful in getting a response. In fact, she was lucky enough to receive one of the most authentic responses in recent memory. “Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry”. When that wasn’t enough of a hint that Apple would likely not be of much help to her and Isaacs responding, Jobs concluded the discussion with a simple “Please leave us alone”. Ouch! Steve Jobs willingness to berate a customer makes Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s open criticism of Obama’s healthcare plan look like a conservative move. Both are far left of the traditional expected behavior of a Fortune 500 company CEO which made them both pretty extraordinary and refreshing.

#1 John Legend’s Critique of his Humble Midwestern Upbringing

The first four moments were authentic responses delivered in the most brazen of ways. However, sometimes people are able to deliver truly authentic responses that cut incredibly deep with the delicacy of butter. John Legend’s UPENN commencement speech which included a remarkable segment where he speaks candidly about questioning the validity and truth of certain aspects of his humble, religious midwestern upbringing. Legend does it with such intricacy and poise but make no mistake about it, this was a speech full of subtle criticisms of much of the “truth” that he was taught while growing up in Springfield, Ohio. This was both one of my favorite moments in authentic response and speeches of all time.

Why the small business jobs bill won’t work

In Business, Culture, Economics, Politics on September 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm

The Senate passed the Small Business Jobs Bill which is aimed to stimulate job growth via the nations vast number of small businesses. The bill will flood $30 billion in funds to small business owners in the hopes they will use it to increase hiring to shave the near double digit unemployment rate. The bill however is not addressing the the biggest concern of most small business owners today; consumer’s unwillingness to spend (evidenced by increasing savings rates).

Aside from rising costs most significantly associated with health care, small businesses continuously cite a decreased demand as their biggest concern. With that said, how likely or even smart would it be for a small business owner to invest in resources to increase productivity (labor), when demand is simply not there? Businesses currently in survival mode don’t have the luxury of accumulating more debt in preparation for the upswing. They simply want to be around when that upswing occurs.

The only thing that will encourage sustainable hiring is a need to increase productivity. Demand generates a need for productivity. I think everyone agrees that sustainable job growth is our best route to economic recovery. I see essentially two paths to sustainable job growth to accomplish that. The question will be which will come first?

1. Bye Bye Boomers – Labor statistics estimate that nearly 80 million baby boomers will exit the workplace in the next decade. Generation X will then backfill those positions allowing the nations most unemployed Generation Y to finally enter the job market. Result = Increased Sustainable Demand.

2. Innovation Nation – Attempting to hold onto jobs that globalization has deemed unsustainable is an upstream battle that  the stream will ultimately win. The innovation of a new industry to create incremental jobs is needed. Result = Increased Sustainable Demand

Since income disparity has been a hot topic this week, here is a thought.

How about a progressive corporate tax based on the wage disparity between a company’s Top 1% and its average worker? It’s simple. If the people at the top of your organization make a disproportionately higher amount of income compared to your average worker, you will pay dearly in taxes. That would undoubtedly encourage corporations to increase long stagnate labor wages and provide considerable raises to many. A sustainable increase in personal income will create a sustainable increase in demand. Sustainable demand (not stimulus demand) is the only kind of demand that will get our economy out of the mud.

Now many who will read this suggestion will scream “Socialist!” Maybe. But to those who say “let the laws of the markets sort it out”, haven’t we learned what markets left unchecked leads to? The housing and financial market collapses were not simply the result of natural economic laws and forces. The only natural drivers of those market collapses were greed and reckless disregard. Those markets were abused and perverted by those willing and able to do so. At some point, moral hazard and human behavior has to be accounted for in our economic system. If we have yet to learn that, then perhaps this recession was not harsh enough to drive this point home and we are doomed to repeat our same mistakes.

Blocking the American Dream

In Business, Culture, Lifestyle, Politics on September 17, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Timothy Noah of has been uncovering the growing income gap in America. He also explores the concept of The Great Divergence; an economic period beginning in the late 70s when the top 1% of the country’s share of income began to grow at a fast pace. While his findings are both provocative and disheartening, they aren’t at all shocking.  Here are some highlights:

  • The top 1% of Americans today earn more than $368,000 per year
  • The share of income that 1% commands has increased 4 fold since 1979
  • As of 2005, the top 1% of share of income in the United States is the highest in the world (tied with Argentina at 17%. The U.K. and Canada are tied at #2 with 14%)
  • The income gap between whites and blacks has only closed by 4% in the last 35 years; blacks now earn $.62 for every dollar whites earn
  • The income gap between women and men has closed by 17% in the last 20 years; Women now earn $.72 for every dollar earned by a man.
  • The tax rate of the top 1% has decreased 7.5% in the last 28 years; I must also note that the tax rate for the bottom 20% has been cut in half from 8% to 4% in the same time span. 

The issue of income disparity is a complex one. The above statistics only scratch the surface. What we do know, is there are two general ideological beliefs that drive a person’s stance on income equality and the American Dream.

1. America is the land of opportunity for all. Everyone is born with obstacles. The great rise above their personal obstacles and succeed. Our capitalistic system rewards hard work and dedication towards one’s personal success. Society’s failures are simply a byproduct of a fair system that does not reward the weak, undisciplined, lazy or unwilling.

2. America is the land of opportunity for those privileged enough to have access to those opportunities. In America, you have to know somebody or have a special skill to get ahead. Hard work does not guarantee success if there are no opportunities. Uncontrollable factors such as favorable environmental upbringings, nepotism and cronyism grant opportunity access to society’s elite. Sure there are examples of successful people whom have reached success from nothing, but they are the exception, not the rule.

The more likely reality is that both of these are correct. Society falls short by framing the discussion as if it has to be one or the other. Regardless to what side you favor, this trend’s current trajectory has the potential to cause a lack of confidence in the viability of the American dream. The education one obtains or the risks entrepreneurs take are all benefits to a society. However, for those efforts to be deemed worthwhile, one has to believe they will pay off. The ROI of home ownership and higher education for example are more in question today than ever before. When all of the upside continues to be concentrated by the top 1%, at what point does the rest of the players deem the game rigged and grow discouraged? 

Despite this negative income disparity trend, I’m inspired to see how layoffs and growing contention towards “Corporate America” is creating an influx in Entrepreneurship. For now, many may not believe the game is entirely rigged but acknowledge that the rules have changed drastically. Rising unemployment, non-existent job security and stagnate wages has brought the perceived risk between a good job with a salary vs. entrepreneurship more in line.

This dynamic is one of the few remaining hopes to reverse the negative trend of income disparity. The blocking of the more traditional roads to the American Dream seems to be spawning a renewed interest in alternative routes. Let’s see what happens.

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