Enlightened Conflict

How do you solve a problem when one half absolutely hates the other half?

February 10th, 2017

Polar Opposites conflict

 

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I want people to think about our politics here in America, because I’m telling you guys that I don’t know of a single nation in this history of the world that’s been able to solve its problems when half the people in the country absolutely hate the other half of the people in that country.

This is the most important country in the world, and people in this body cannot function if people are offending one another.

Marco Rubio

 

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Well.

 

Polarization can create some pretty foul conduct.

 

Polarization can bring out the worst in people.

 

Polarization can create stillness within turmoil when movement within teamwork is needed <and desired>.

And.

 

Polarization within leadership is a virus that infects everyone in the organization … not just in leadership.

marco rubio speech on respectful conflict

I was reminded of this as I watched a completely underreported and under the radar speech Marco Rubio gave on the senate floor after <I believe> Elizabeth Warren had been asked to stop speaking.

Warren gained all the headlines where Rubio actually had the words we should have all been listening to. It is maybe 8 minutes long and worth every second.

 

 

Please note that I believe this message is more important than just one directed toward the Senate … it is a message which all Americans should take note of.

We are fortunate to have the privilege of freedom of speech & thought and we should embrace that freedom as one to permit healthy discussion, debate and disagreements … all of which should enable healthy, positive decisions.

 

Freedom is a tricky thing. In the United States of America we have the unique opportunity to “criticize a president without retribution.” <as past President Obama said to a group of military people at MacDill Air Force base>.

 

But our freedoms are being challenge by Trump and his attitudes & behaviors in ways we haven’t really seen in a very very long time.

 

The Trump Affect ripples way beyond simple executive orders and specific friends unfluencers ripples2actions that will have an impact on the people of the country. The more dangerous ripple effect is one of attitudes & behaviors.

Within this dangerous Trump affect ripple,  the freedom to freely criticize is a little less secure … and the way we criticize, debate & discuss in the Trump era appears to be one of not listening, not respecting and not believing that there could possibly be a way to do something differently than the way “I believe.”

 

Trump and his merry little band of morally corrupt liars suggest that there is no middle ground for “ladies & gentlemen to disagree with ladies & gentlemen” <note: this is a rip off of the Ritz Carlton motto>.

 

The Trump Affect has trickled down into his direct organization … the congress.

 

And within that ripple Republicans either embrace the bully opportunity or simply privately watch in horror as leadership decorum and leadership example <which, by the way, IS important as impressionable children and adult seeking cues on how to be leaders watch closely>.

And within that ripple Democrats screech & gnash their teeth in impotent frustration over not only having no power to shift the tides of change but also because, in their heart of hearts, they know this is not the way business should be conducted.

 

Balance has disappeared.

compromise balancing actWhile people can bitch & moan that decorum, in the past, has only encouraged stagnancy & lack of action they should not confuse with what business is conducted and how business is conducted.

Just as I am more accepting of my high school football coach if we have a losing season but the players play with respect & dignity and go to class and show signs of growing up with a healthy personal responsibility … I am less accepting of the coach who permits poor behavior & lack of respectful competition even if they win more.

You can have all the good in this case. But balance has been lost.

 

In fact.

 

We should face the fact that balance deserted us the day Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy.

 

And that is why Rubio’s speech is so important. Without actually saying it he suggests that we shouldn’t let Trump drag us down into some dysfunctional squabbling amorphous blob of indignant jerks.

 

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“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.

Both are nonsense.

You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

 

———-

Rick Warren

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I like conflict and I think conflict is healthy.

creative spark light bulb

It is a basic Life truth that conflict is the positive friction that often creates innovations and new thinking and new ideas.

But, as with most things in life, there are degrees of conflict.

 

The kind of conflict we need now, more than ever, is the productive type.

 

We need to better embrace the valuable contradictions in life.

Things like:

 

Smart and funny.

Silent but says a lot.

Liberal conservative.

Cynical optimist.

 

Oh.

 

And enlightened and conflict of course.

 

We need to better embrace the fact that contradictions are powerful.

They create a chemistry ending in positive friction <when done right> and the fire for innovative thinking and thoughts.

 

In general I believe contradiction not only make life & people interesting but they also forge the kind of decisions that become the iron construct for a solid culture, civilization and country.

 

We need to embrace that conflict is part of life and not treat it as only a negative thing.

 

void embrace the unknownHumans are neither passive nor stagnant. We move. We do. We think.

 

Combine that fact with individuals are unique <although they may group together> and inevitably there is some conflict. It can simply be healthy competition or it can be staggeringly evil intended activity <i.e. there will be conflict because your point of view and thoughts shouldn’t exist and I am going to extinguish them>.

 

We need to embrace the fact that conflict can be “managed”.

Maybe call it competitive camaraderie. I call it enlightened conflict. I believe if people know more about stuff <I don’t really believe it needs a technical term> then conflict will be conducted with knowledge.

 

I would suggest that ignorance, and being close minded, guides conflict toward evil interactions … while knowledge guides conflict to responsible interactions.

 

Lastly.

 

We need to embrace that enlightened conflict is really some version of pluralism.

A pluralism in that it encourages, and embraces, freedom to learn and freedom to think different thoughts.

 

In the end I imagine what I really care about are people’s actions. They can remain mute as far as I am concerned as long as their actions respect others opinions and others lives and meets global responsibilities.

 

Look.

 

enlightened conflict ideasIt is silly to think that conflict doesn’t exist as part of our natural behavior <I apologize to all the “why can’t we all get along” groups>.

 

It is silly to think that friction between beliefs and causes is not the spark for something better.

 

It is silly to think conflict and friction is not good.

Good conflict leads to positive friction and ideation and evolution of ideas.

 

But it needs to be conducted with respect. Respectful disagreements & debate lead to two things:

 

  • Positive friction.

 

  • Enlightened conflict.

 

 

The first is based on curiosity plus friction equals better ideas and thinking.

The second is lack of ignorance plus conflict equals respectful competition.

 

We here in the United States have an incredible privilege … a freedom to say what we want and disagree and criticize whomever we want. We shouldn’t abuse that privilege by not understanding that it creates good conflict which enlightened conflict thinkenables ‘gooder’ ideas.

 

Marco Rubio did something in his speech which I endorse wholeheartedly … he tried to make an impact on his own little corner of the world … encouraging positive friction for enlightened conflict.

 

 

Marco Rubio had a stellar enlightened conflict moment … and more people should see it and listen.

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“Enlighten the people, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

Thomas Jefferson

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finding a better version of capitalism

May 28th, 2016

 capitalism conspiracy elite

 

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“The combination of technology and capitalism has given us a world that really feels out of control.”

 

Jonathon Franzen

 

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 “Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the Kingdom of Brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis.”

 

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Martin Luther King 1967

 

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Why am I writing my umpteenth article on capitalism?

 

capitalism kills loveI saw a number from some USA research the other day … something like 50% of people under the age of 30 do not believe in capitalism.

 

Ok.

 

Capitalism is good.

 

Capitalism is not bad.

 

Just wanted to get that out of the way.

 

But that does not mean there isn’t always a tension between good and bad in the soul of capitalism. It is an incredible wealth-creating & life bettering mechanism and, yet, left to its own devices can run off the tracks <morally and financially>.

 

Capitalism needs guard rails. Or some smart guy called it “embedded countervailing power.” It needs guard rails because humans will be humans.

 

When business is good, human beings become greedy.

When business is bad, human beings become fearful.

 

And I would like to remind everyone that culture is created by … uhm … human beings.

I say that not to be a smart ass but to suggest there is a real culture war in America, maybe the world, and it is occurring in the business world.

 

I purposefully use ‘culture’ because it has to do with some ethics or moral fortitude, some personal responsibility and some pragmatic hope for the future.

In fact … if we fix how capitalism works <systemic & infrastructure aspects> the net result is addressing income inequality, wage stagnation and overall economic prosperity as well as some individual “self-stuff” <kind of all the big societal issues we tend to discuss>.

 

Anyway.

 

A moment on the role of government.

trust the government society young

It is both a fallacy to believe Government is not the problem nor believe they are the solution.

We have a mixed economy < I stole that term from Foreign Policy magazine>.

 

Capitalism is not a governance system which is about maximizing corporate profit at the expense of the citizenry. Effective government curbs greed obejectives & regulates capitalism so that it does the good things it is supposed to do <innovate & bring prosperity to many> and it doesn’t do the bad things <be driven solely by greed>.

 

Let’s be clear.

 

America is not based on an unfettered capitalism nor has it ever been <nor was it ever meant to be by the founding fathers>.

 

It is a managed capitalism system <always has been … I say that to head off any of the ‘government is too involved’ today talking heads>.

 

Government attempts … sometimes better than other times … to put reins on humans within a capitalistic society.  Let’s say it’s something like giving enough range for wild horses to run free … but not to trample the gardens and lawns of the surrounding areas.

 

This ‘fettered’ managed capitalism idea is not perfect. It ebbs and flows and morphs into different shapes as time passes.

But it IS an effective economic and political system.

 

I would suggest that while polarizing … capitalism is balanced … when balanced.

But a better version of capitalism really is not dependent upon governance and laws <and putting banks out of business> but rather personal decisions, choices & responsibility.  Yes. I just suggested <again> that people, not the system, will define the better version of capitalism.

 

Adam Smith suggested the three pillars of a society are: prudence, looking after oneself as best as one is able; justice, keeping the law of the land; and reflection people imperefcetbeneficence, caring for others and society where there is need.

 

Clearly our main issue is not how to survive on true scarcity <that is not a perceived scarcity or a “less than” scarcity> but rather how to live well with plenty.

 

To date we have chased double digit growth and higher GDP all the while seeking higher material happiness <sometimes confused with higher standard of living>.

 

We have become societally insatiable.

 

In other words … we cannot have enough.

 

This funny Maslow chart reflects that as additional personal needs are fulfilled it induces new needs <which we, as humans, constantly improve ourselves in order to further attain these ‘self actualization’ activities>.  Think about this from a non-funny sustenance perspective in growing from poverty to non poverty <but the dimension perspective will always reside in the human mind>.

money puzzle-maslow

 

Yes. Capitalism has certainly vastly improved our lives and our means to live.

 

But it has also fed this insatiability.

 

Some guy named Sandel wrote in “what money can’t buy … the moral limits of markets:”

 

  • the more things money can buy the more the lack of it hurts.

 

  • buying and selling can change the way a good is perceived (he used “giving children money as incentive to read a book may make reading a chore rather than a simple pleasure”).

 

This all leads to an overall attitude that endless <and double digit> growth is essential to maintain and improve our quality of life. While I will not go into the detailed debate … that is simply not true <this is a standard efficiency versus effectiveness argument>.

 

Now. All that said.

 

The issue is really about the attitudes & attributes we are attaching to capitalism.

 

As I share some thoughts to try and address the young’s lack of belief in capitalism I will lead with two things:

 

  • Communism promises to make everyone equally rich and instead makes everyone equally poor.

 

  • Youth thinks it invents the world. Maturity respects the world it finds.

 

Suffice it to say that Capitalism is becoming some evil entity in the minds of many young people. In addition, aspects of other ideologies <communism being one> are being used relatively flippantly as ‘better than’ what is occurring within capitalism.

I actually believe it is a lack of understanding … but it is also quite possible there is a deeper lack of faith with capitalism.

 

If you step back you can see why the young <and the shallow thinkers> feel this way.

 

  • Real unemployment is nearly in double digits. Most Americans think the economy will recover next year, but only 2% think it will make a complete recovery.

 

  • On average, according to Gallup, Americans believe that 50 cents of every dollar the federal government spends is wasted. Democrats, who are supposed to believe in big government, guess that 41 cents of every federal dollar is wasted. Republicans think it is 54 cents, and independents put the number at 55 cents in the dollar.

 

  • A poll found that most Americans would rather their government did less. Some 57% said it was doing too many things that were better left to individuals and businesses. Only 38% thought it should do more.

 

And many people have genuine complaints. Many working-class men have lost their jobs. Those who are still employed have seen their wages stagnate. And overall they don’t trust government not to make it worse.

 

This is a sad state of affairs <for government who CAN make shit happen> because regulations can positively address stagnation & inequality without intervening in entrepreneurial decisions or in the price/profit mechanism.

 

The harsh black & white truth no one wants to say is that regulation is what makes free markets … well … free <free markets cannot sustain themselves>.

 

Anyway.

moral crossraodsI have been thinking about capitalism for a while nudging my mind toward discussing morals and character <society & culture>.

 

I found it interesting to think about Schumpeter when addressing the youth capitalism challenge.

 

  • what Joseph Schumpeter called ‘the cultural contradictions’ of Capitalism

 

One of the cultural contradictions <I believe he outlined 5> was … Rationality.

In that Capitalism encourages rationality in behavior. And that culture creates, and demands, a natural conflict by insisting on some ‘irrational’ behavior.

 

Rationality comes to life as the “maximization” of particular interests of individuals and groups.

This same rationalization then bleeds into both personal lives <family & home> and ultimately becomes embodied in some form or fashion into cultural forms.

 

Children become quasi economic assets <or their rearing incorporates rational ‘maximization’ theory embedded in capitalism>.

 

At its extreme … maximization bleeds into soulless wealth and extreme consumption thereby substituting saving and societal salvation.

 

Oddly, but fairly, he suggests consumption wins against accumulation. This leads to a certain diminishing of the desirability of incomes above a certain level.

 

At the same time, however, when the breaks of certain values associated with ethical or religious tradition fail <called the sophrosyne: Greek philosophical term meaning healthy-mindedness and from there self-control or moderation guided by knowledge and balance. Roman poet Juvenal later interpreted sophrosyne as “mens sana in corpore sano” – “a healthy mind in a healthy body”> individuals and groups come into natural conflict with capitalism. The basic human instinct is one of core values <in some degree within everyone> and therefore the natural contradiction forces some balance within capitalism.

 

This means that the irrational components of behavior are critical for capitalism to emerge and withstand rational arguments … especially when based on long term considerations.

 

But.

That said.

 

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“This is the genius and the Achilles’ heel of American culture. We … have a strong belief in self-determination and agency, even when our expectations fly in the face of reality,”

 

Katherine Newman, who studies social mobility

 

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Capitalism in America is not functioning efficiently for a variety of reasons … but that doesn’t make it bad.confuxed

 

The issue of Confused capitalism … or being confused by capitalism.

 

No matter how altruistic and non-materialistic you may be … the issue is simple … as we sit perched on a stool at the bar of society where we can scan the room and see the danger of those who have nothing or little … as well as those who have the most <and lots of most>.

 

If the majority of us begin to look like we are either nearing the dangerously ‘nothing people’ or, contrarily, appear to be too distant from those who ‘have the most’ <no matter what your exact status is> we get nervous … if not angry.

 

Materialism, culturally, is therefore naturally cyclical in that it will always seek to balance itself. For we always ‘want’ … but most of us want it to be within the realm of ‘hopeful that we can get more’ … without appearing too greedy. Hence that is fairness.

Give me a chance for something more than I have … and give me more and I won’t be too greedy.

 

While everyone can debate the role of money with regard to people’s happiness … it is true that economic health does make people happier <more secure, more comfortable, more sustenance>.

This actually means that free-market capitalism is not devoted to integrity and a reliance on trust but rather economic growth.

 

And this suggests the people need to be regulated.

 

Why do we balk at regulation?

 

The US has always been a wide-open, free-wheeling country, with a high tolerance for big winners and big losers as the price of equal opportunity in a dynamic society. If the US brand of capitalism has rougher edges than that of other democracies most people inherently believe it is worth the trade-off for growth and mobility.

Buut while we like the free wheeling we also recognize that we are going through some type of crisis. It just becomes a discussion on what type of crisis.

 

Some think it is a crisis of capitalism. <I don’t>

 

Others think the crisis is moral. <I do>

 

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“Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.”

 

 

Bertrand Russell

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First there is attitude. What is maybe a disregard for societal fairness versus what could be construed as individual ‘winning’ or ‘what I deserve.’

 

A lot has been written about the effects of globalization during the past generation. Much less has been said about the change in social norms that globalization enabled. Many people, particularly people in power positions, took the vast transformation of the economy as an excuse to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behavior.

 

I say that because while there will always be isolated small groups of lawbreakers in high places what truly destroys morale is a systemic corner-cutting, rule-bending, self interest behavior type of construct.

 

I have thought about how and why this happens.

 

It starts early.

As young children we start off with a healthy core of greatness, but before long it gets covered in layers of doubt, fear and guilt. Often this is caused by people we trust most like parents, teachers and managers who put us down in subtle and less subtle ways. It’s as though people were flicking bits of mud at us until our core of greatness is totally covered. Even worse, we flick mud at ourselves by accepting smaller versions of ourselves through negative self-talk and poor thinking; and we become a tiny fraction of the potential that once existed.

 

Once potential is curbed we seek to find success in other ways … sometimes circumventing “what is right” to make small excusable steps in our behavior to attain ‘small personal successes.”

 

repair faults consumerism

Second is our propensity to consume <and its self perpetuation>.

Our propensity to consume without thought for the planet, the poor or even the person next door is a sign that greed and fear are the motives of the moment.

 

Freedom certainly creates problems (inequalities most notably), but it also solves them.

But the central aspect of freedom advanced by these thinkers was the market, or what Adam Smith had described as the propensity to truck, barter and exchange. In this area, freedom allowed dispersed individuals—disposing of their own resources and choosing for themselves what they want to buy—to generate a level of prosperity that has had no precedent in human history. And the pricing system that emerges from the market—that is, from the push and pull of supply and demand—provides the indispensable knowledge needed to guide the economy.

 

So. All that said.

 

I would tell young people that Capitalism is not the issue.

It is the people within the system <and young people can fix that by entering the system>. The system can work just fine … it is simply being abused at the moment.

 

Capitalism needs to be managed to be more oriented to the long term and socially more responsible.

 

Interestingly … Richard Branson has formed an initiative to do just this … but I found it interesting that initially he sought to have a board of Business Elders … but  there were too few candidates from the business world of sufficiently unimpeachable character to staff it <insert ‘oh my’ here>.

 

Anyway <to conclude part 1>.

 

Since World War II in particular, America has been on a consumption surge/binge. While wages have certainly stagnated family disposable income has grown, life standards have improved, health has improved and overall quality of life has improved <and showed a continuous growth>. Unfortunately, at the same time, while families busily lived their lives they also had access to the finest inventory of toys capitalism could provide. Each generation was doing better than the one before, life was good and standard of living acquired a layer of ‘non essentials’ as part of how the people lived a successful & happy life.

At the same time.

Televisions starting bringing news, influential people talking and capitalism toys into the family living room. Television allowed busy families the opportunity to be exposed to complex issues through professionally crafted sound bites and talking points. People were now becoming more informed from a larger perspective, not just local perspective, and we ushered in the inevitable “keeping up with the Joneses” aspect.

What we face is the natural rising tide of ‘better than before’ facing the ebb and flow of time. The waters being drawn backwards is not appreciated by those standing in a spot washing their feet in the surf. Is it greed for most people? No. it is simply a desire for the status quo – “better is a right not a privilege.” Therein lies the social & cultural task at hand.

 

Anyway <to conclude part 2>.

 

Doing something.Accountability where you stand

 

Me?

 

I write and post on my blog. And speak about it wherever and whenever I can <especially to young people>.

 

It is easy to talk about it because it seems like if we take a moment and reflect on the problems in the world today we might easily come to the conclusion that it is mainly due to deterioration of our morality compass.

It seems like everywhere we see people filled with greed and intent on self-gratification.

It seems like people are always willing to compromise on values/morality to make personal gains.

 

If we start talking about values and create some sort of awakening in the minds of people.

 

Will everyone do it? of course not.

But someone has to go first.

 

Someone has to become the catalyst for change.

 

Why not the youth? We should encourage them to enter the system and build what they desire from the inside out rather than simply breaking the system as unfixable.

Speeches and speech writing

March 17th, 2016

 speechless

 

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“He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word.

The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.”

 

 

Joseph Conrad

 

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“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”

 

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Well.

 

With an election going on all you have to do is turn on the television or go to any news website and you will see someone giving a speech. Great oration is a skill … almost an art. Some people are naturals. More people are not.

 

But.

 

process presentationHaving given some presentations in my lifetime, as well as provided some training, let me share one of the biggest secrets to presenting … if you have a great speech it is easy to present it.

 

 

In business we spend so much time trying to train someone on ‘how to present comfortably’ and ‘tricks’ to connect with an audience that it masks what presenting & speeches have in common with social media – content is the key.

 

Give me the best speech in the world and the worst presenter can give it.

Conversely … even the best presenter will stumble over the worst speech.

 

I thought of this as I watched several presidential candidates give a post mortem speech after the Tuesday elections.

 

I watched Rubio <sadly, yet defiantly, dropping out of the race>, Kasich <touched by a win in his own state>, Clinton <stepping up to the bigger beast in the room – Trump> and … well … the beast himself.

 

I won’t go into specifics of the four speeches but let me say that Rubio & Clinton must have great speech writers. Poetry and prose mixed with aspirations & hope & pragmatic expectations.

 

By the way … that is incredibly tough to do in a speech.

Very very few people can write that stuff.

 

Kasich speeches are easy to write because he has some common themes that come from his core beliefs & values. But suffice it to say that all three of those speeches were about ‘we the people’, what ‘we’ can do together, the spirit at the core of a country, hope for something better … and a dose of caution to not be enticed by the easier road of frustration, fear & hate.

 

Oh.

 

And then there was Trump.

 

He has no speech writer. He is the speechwriter and you can tell.

 

There was no ‘we’ it was all ‘me.’

My poll numbers. My popularity. My smartness. My success. My creating voter turnout.dumb ass me

 

And the only “we” incorporated in were the stupid people who were losers or the enemy peering over the gates like China, Islam & Mexico <who he is gonna punch>.

 

It was all about his polls, his numbers, and him.

 

The contrast between speeches is stunning.

 

Everyone else talks about the people and attitude and spirit … he talks about how popular he is and … well … how stupid everyone is because we are losing too much.

 

The difference between the words, tone and attitude of the speeches was … well … truly stunning.

 

Anybody in business who writes presentations and gives speeches knows the Trump speech path is ultimately a dead end. People like to hear confidence & strong leadership but they want to feel participation and connection.

Solutions are always preferred to problems.

Implying people together is always preferred to tearing people apart.

 

Suffice it to say that without a grander purpose, something beyond an “outcome” objective <like a ‘win’> a speech only leads everyone down a dead end path.

 

A speech should attempt to find that sweet spot of prose, real facts, anecdote and the commitment to a greater purpose. People deserve to hear the good and it shouldn’t be overwhelmed by any bad.

do souls need to be hugh

Trump offers speeches carved on … well … tombstones and not hearts.

 

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“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.

 

A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

 

 

Shannon L. Alder

 

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I love words and I love hearing a great speaker give a great speech. While Trump may be one of the most comfortable people I have ever seen behind a podium and a microphone he also may be one of the worst speech writers I have ever heard.

Simplistically … he delivers bad words, bad thoughts & bad rhetoric … but he does it well.

 

I admit.

 

Give me the good, the hopeful, the commitment to a higher purpose any day of the week. And I honestly believe most people want to hear that.

Great speeches, given well, lift people up off of the easy angry, resentful, blame-paved path and let us fly when we don’t even realize we can fly.

 

Anyway.

 

I can write an okay speech <I have two posts coming up – one on writing a presentation and one on giving a presentation … as if there aren’t enough “how to” garbage already available online>.

But I am honest enough to know that even on my best day and in my best speech writing moment I may only get a glimpse of what a great speech writer can accomplish.

 

As I share that thought I remember a nice little scene from West Wing where Toby <the chief communications director> comments on Presidential State of the Union speeches and who can write them. He suggests there are maybe 6 or so in the country that can do so. I will not haggle over the number but suffice it to say he is correct … great speechwriters are few and far between.

This also means the everyday schmuck <think … “you & I”> writes a generally crappy speech <even though we all think it is great>.

 

I believe I am in the minority in this thinking.

I think many people <more than can actually do it> believe they write great speeches.

 

Maybe worse for the business world is that I think many businesses believe too many of their own people should, and can, write speeches.

 

Look.

 

As a word guy I want to teach & coach everyone to use words well & wisely.

But, in business, it is … well … business.

This is not a popular thought in the current business world view of collaboration & empowerment but I believe businesses should identify their great speechwriters and empower them to write the business speeches.

 

What this means is that some people end up delivering speeches written by other people.

This freaks a shitload of people out.

 

I actually believe they get freaked out for two main reasons:

 

<1> conceptually it fights the internal “I am best at delivering shit in my own words … words I would use”. The key here is ‘conceptually’. Good words are good words and good thoughts are good thoughts. The kind of words you would actually use shouldn’t change the meaning of a great speech or presentation. But we freak out nonetheless … even before we even see the speech

what want need give

<2> pragmatically most business presentations and speeches are written by crappy writers therefore I do end up freaked out just by looking at what I am being asked to speak. This is beyond the ‘corporate speak’ stench that emanates from every hallway in every business. That is just business crap. a great speech has order and ebbs & flows and seamlessly slides from point to point. Most businesses do not have a shitload of people who can do that.

 

 

In business … you almost cannot pay a great speechwriter or great presentation writer enough money. If you have one in your organization you should treat them like gold.

 

 

Anyway.

 

Within a great speech there is often a paragraph or a line that you know is great even as it slips across your lips:

 

 

  • Clinton’s line about Trump … “it doesn’t make him strong … it makes him wrong.”

 

  • Kasich’s indirect jab at Trump … “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land.”

 

 

But the greatest of the great speeches cross over into some unseen universe of euphoria. As a listener you listen, hear … and may not remember specifics but you remember how it made you feel.

 

Nowhere has this been showcased better than on the old television show West Wing.

 

For example … after a pipe bomb explodes at a university killing 44 people, including three swimmers, the president gives a speech that includes the following:

 

 

“… More than any time in recent history, America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedoms and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. Forty-four people were killed a couple of hours words big brevityago at Kennison State University; three swimmers from the men’s team were killed and two others are in critical condition; when after having heard the explosion from their practice facility they ran into the fire to help get people out … ran ‘into’ the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”

 

 

Or.

 

 

The explanation that the director of communications gives when discussing free trade:

 

Toby Ziegler:

 

You want to know the benefits of free trade? Food is cheaper.

Food is cheaper! Clothes are cheaper. Steel is cheaper. Cars are cheaper. Phone service is cheaper. You feel me building a rhythm here? That’s because I’m a speech writer – I know how to make a point.

It lowers prices, it raises income. You see what I did with ‘lowers’ and ‘raises’ there?

It’s called the science of listener attention. We did repetition, we did floating opposites, and now you end with the one that’s not like the others. Ready? Free trade stops wars. Heh, and that’s it. Free trade stops wars! And we figure out a way to fix the rest.

 

 

Words really do matter and, possibly even more important, words delivered well really matter. The wrong words and speech can kill the best idea. Back in 2012 I wrote about elections and words used well and made this point.

Hugh something to believe in

 

Regardless.

 

Speeches are not like stories. Just as presentations are not really stories.

Speeches are all about using words well to lift people from one place to another.

 

Yes, lift.

 

Speeches are not meant to lower themselves into the ordinary uncomfortable truths of what we feel. Speeches are meant to recognize the uncomfortable truths and then lift us above it so we can see a horizon where things are better … the comfortable truth that what is will not always be and what will be is better for you, me & everyone – that no one gets left behind.

 

Bottom line.

 

A great speech lets us see what will be and not what is. Anyone who writes a speech … and gives a speech … would do well to remember the wise words of Hugh McLeod … “the market for something to believe in is infinite.”

All I know is what’s on the internet

March 17th, 2016

 stupidity handicap napoleon trump

 

 

Here is the quote of the day.

 

 

From aspiring president candidate Donald Trump:

 

 

 

“What do I know?” Trump replied. “All I know is what’s on the internet.”

 

 

trump generation of idiots

Well.

 

This actually explains a lot.

 

Credible sources track Trump comments/claims he makes running at about 75% false.

 

Now we know why. He clicks on Wikipedia or urban dictionary or instagram <scanning an image with some quote or factoid> and then tweets it out or parrots it in on-air interviews.

 

 

He has no credible sources … he just makes shit up or maybe even worse … he doesn’t truly think about what he believes.

 

 

I know many of my readers do not live in USA … but for those who do … please think about that before you vote.

 

 

Ok.

 

Now ponder this Trump wisdom.

 

 

 

“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things. My primary consultant is myself and I have – you know, I have a good instinct for this stuff.”

 

 

Well, Donald, that sounds quite reasonable. It’s not as if the world, let alone the Middle East, Ukraine, the South China Sea, is particularly complex or that there are nuanced delicate diplomatic situations or even that it is important to get it right.

 

I imagine just going on instinct makes sense. Or maybe go on the internet because there you will surely find all the answers you will need.

 

 

<note some heavy sarcasm there>

 

 

When I read what he said I thought of a Samuel Adams quote:

 

—-

 

“If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”

 

===

 

Samuel Adams

 

——

 

 

With Trump we are facing a vain man, maybe the vainest of vain, and an ego amigoaspiring man – one who aspires with no rules, no boundaries, seemingly no moral imperative, or … well … any trivial nuisance that could get in the way of a win.

 

He appears, alarmingly so, to be free of any actual solutions.

 

He appears to be free, alarmingly so, of any real policy <beyond his ‘good instincts for this stuff.”

 

He appears to be free,  alarmingly so, to offer frighteningly hollow rhetoric.

 

He is the ruin … not of the country <we will still be standing despite him> … but he is the ruin of what makes the country great <which is not simply ‘winning’ as he suggests it is>.

 

 

In my little corner of the world I will do everything in my power to convince everyone of the sham Trump is and what he offers.

 

Why?

 

I will refer to Samuel Adams again <and let everyone who has not spoken out yet think about these words>:

 

 

“… the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance. Let us remember that “if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom.” It is a very serious consideration, which should deeply impress our minds, that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers of the event.”

 

==

Samuel Adams in The Boston Gazette 14 October 1771

 

online megaphone listen speak

 

Speak out now.

 

For what we say, and do, today has an impact … an impact that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers of the event.

 

We seek to circumvent the miserableness for the millions yet unborn.

 

 

 

========

 

 

Toby Ziegler <West Wing>:

 

“We don’t know what the next president is going to face. If we choose someone with vision, someone with guts, someone with gravitas, who’s connected to other people’s lives and cares about making them better; if we choose someone to inspire us then we’ll be able to face what comes our way and achieve things we can’t imagine yet.”

 

———-

let the bout begin

October 5th, 2012

Alright, time for me to write about the first American presidential debate.

Of course, me being me, I am going to look at the first American presidential debate very differently than all the talking heads on tv are looking at it.

I will let everyone else debate on who won the debate and the excruciating dismantling of each word. Mostly because it was such a mosh pit of he said/she said partial/selective truths which was incredibly annoying and in the end I believe the everyday person had no clue if either told the truth.

Anyway.

What fascinates me is watching what I perceive as two significantly different debate strategies … not ideologies <although they are lurking their within their debate strategies>.  And what may make my point of view different than others is:

–          I don’t know diddly about politics or debate strategy so I have an unfiltered business <or sports> point of view on what I saw., and

–          I truly believe that despite what we all feel about politics and politicians there are some very very smart people thinking about everything that is being done and said and that there is very rarely anything done without a purpose. Anything. Even a perceived disinterested participant.

That said.

Here is what I believe.

Both campaign teams know this is a 3 round boxing bout (with an under card bout). And I think both campaign/bout handlers know exactly what they are doing and the candidates are delivering on a 3 round  strategy  <no matter how the talking heads want to tear apart one as if it is the end all be all>.

Let me take on the biggest elephant in the room … for example, while we may not have seen the presidents ‘A game’ <I think he could have been sharper> I do believe he did exactly what he was asked to do by his Angelo Dundee.

Anyway, that is what I believe and here is what I saw.

To me I saw the Raging Bull (or ‘strong like bull’ if you prefer) strategy versus the Muhammad Ali strategy.

Attack, deflect and create doubt (with an eye to knockout) versus absorb, counterpunch and show unshakeable confidence (with an eye to knockout) strategy.

The Romney debate strategy is former and president is latter.

Both extremely viable strategies.

Both really smart strategic plans of action for the appropriate candidate.

Let me begin with the Romney Raging Bull strategy because it was executed flawlessly in the debate.

First.

Attack.

Relentlessly attack.

The Republican trainer <I apologize … I do not know the Raging Bull’s trainer> told him before he went into the ring “you need to win this round on punches” and “don’t come back to the corner with any punches or energy left. Leave it all out there.”

Now. Here is what truly made this strategy effective in the first debate. The trainer had Romney commit to a brilliant opening psychologically driven tactic.

Intellectually we all know it is an open debate of ideas.

However, psychologically, when the president is involved, there is an additional dynamic. Psychologically we expect our president to be treated with respect so no matter how you prepare yourself for it the first attack, the ‘he was wrong’ or ‘he wasn’t smart’ or ‘he didn’t prioritize correctly’, we bristle. We don’t like it and maybe even get a little angry at the attacker (unless you are Rush Limbaugh of course).

Now. We get over it in a debate, but the first punch hurts.

The republican trainer had Romney rip the band aid off fast and quick and early (opening). He punched the president right in the nose as soon as he stepped in the ring. Painful?  You bet. But he got it out of the way and paved the way for a full 40 minutes or so of attack. Well thought out. Well done.

After that it was all about landing punches … didn’t have to be good solid punches but be relentless, don’t give him any space, just keep punching  … because something will land and even if they don’t it doesn’t give him any openings to attack.

And attacking played to his strength. Romney is an excellent debater and excellent when the subject is one he has prepared for. His weakness is the unforeseen. He sometimes struggles <and gets flustered> when things aren’t going as planned.  Therefore the Romney team avoided the semi-impossible task of guessing every question or possible punch and created the platform for him to win – attack. Just get out there and say what you want to say and what has been scripted.

Oh. They also told him … ‘on anything else? Do. Not. Say. It. <and don’t even think about saying it>.’

Next.

Deflect.

His trainer told him “I do not want you to absorb one punch. Not one.”

Romney was brilliant on this strategic objective. And I mean frickin’ brilliant. It didn’t matter whether the president counter punched with a real truth, a half truth, a partial truth or no truth because whatever the president said the response was “that’s not true” <or ‘you are wrong’>.

He deflected.

And when he actually decided to go on the attack again by counterpunching he simply selected whatever one aspect he had a script memorized on. He slid the punch and counterpunched on his terms. Slightly aggravating to the viewers because that meant he didn’t actually answer the questions but, to the Romney team, it was about punches. And after a while the president simply stopped punching because even he recognized he gained nothing as no matter what he said all people would remember is “that’s not true” every time he said something.

The other brilliant aspect was that it kept the dialogue on parts and not the sum of the parts <brilliant>.

Parts:

Would he increase deficit? Of course not. Never.

Would he cut taxes for the rich? No.

Would he cut back on America’s future investment strategies? Silly, of course not.

Would he raise taxes on the middle class? No.

Would he roll back regulation? No <if it is smart>

Would he cut education? Never <they are our future>.

Sum?

<p.s. – they cannot all be true and add up. It really is arithmetic>

Brilliant. Well played.

Now.

As a truth person I hated the strategy. As a strategy-to-win person I thought it was brilliant.

Lastly.

The trainer told Romney, after he told him he needs to win the round, remember, whatever happens in the fight itself when in doubt you counterpunch with the objective to create doubt in the president – his words, his actions, his knowledge of facts – so that people just aren’t sure about the overall current plan and leader (of course the ultimate hope is the president may even show a crack of doubt or regret at some point for some past decision when I assume Romney would have pounced – rightfully so).

Stay on mission. Whatever you do stay on script and create doubt on whatever he says.

I am not sure that last objective was achieved but that’s not the point. It was the strategic vision. And I think whoever (the Romney Raging Bull trainer) designed the strategy deserves a cocktail.

The risk?

The risk is partially energy (like a real boxing match) but the debates are so spread out (although it does mandate a high level of energy every round) so I believe it is really about rhythm. You only have so many punches. The risk is he slips into some rhythm that can be read before the punch comes or he slightly revises the punch <going slightly off the practiced script> and leaves a big opening. Or he simply runs out of punches and the champ is still standing and has some whoopass punches left. But Romney has a lot more punches he can throw than the president can. Any challenger in a tough economy does. In addition he has the benefit of selective hindsight … punching past actions without having to defend his own actions. And when an economy is doing poorly the challenger has a simplified attack stance as he punches … no need to explain the case of what is wrong … everyone knows <but it is an easy punch to throw if you are suddenly backpedaling>. All Romney has to say is: “I can do this job better than that.” Look. It is always easier to look back and say “stupid, why did you do that?” when no one knows what you would have done in that time and place. But that’s how the bout is fought. Raging bull won a lot of matches. He can win.

– The proof that my theory may be right?

Romney is a bottom line business guy through and through. I would probably love him running a troubled business. I do not doubt for one minute he is a compassionate man but all business leaders have a switch. A switch where it ain’t personal  … it is business. And you have to do that sometimes <as a business person>. I imagine he is ruthlessly effective at dissecting past actions of others, revise and improve moving forward. And I tend to believe his business credentials show that this strategy is a mirror reflection of what takes place in a boardroom. What makes him appealing is that when cornered he really doesn’t know how to play politics … he is a business guy. He knows people are involved, and he cares about them, but ultimately he is about making the right business decision and believes the happiness of people will follow. This strategy is perfect for him.

Moving on to the president.

The Muhammad Ali strategy. To me this was the most interesting.

Because while I believe the raging bull strategy was very easy for Romney to implement I believe the Muhammad Ali strategy is a little more difficult for the president to implement.

I believe the democrat Angelo Dundee told the president “remember champ, this is a 3 round bout, not one, and you are the champ, he cannot knock you out in this round, so this round you absorb every punch he’s got. Let him give you the best he has. You will probably lose this round. That said … I only want you to come back at him if, and only if, you think you can put him down on the mat. Other than that, suck it up, absorb what he’s got and just give enough counterpunches to see what else he’s got.”

Well. The president did what he was asked.

Flawlessly if not painfully. He was pushed on the ropes and took a battering.

He used counterpunches to show he was unshakeable in his beliefs on his plan. He used counterpunches to show aspects of his vision. And, yes, there were some openings (albeit not many because frankly the relentless attack was pretty relentless). But if the criteria were “only if you can put him down” then he did what his trainer told him to do.

Let me give a hypothetical, but realistic, example.

The Democrat team is in the bout strategy room and someone says “okay champ, when you get an opening you swing from the hips with the 47% punch and rock him.”

Everyone says ‘hell yeah.’

The republican Angelo Dundee, sitting in the corner with a twisted sweaty towel, clears his throat and growls … “do we know his counter punch if he slips it? … think about this …  the other guy says ‘I am glad you brought that up Mr. president because I owe America an apology … especially the 47% but 100% of America. I was wrong to say that and I apologize. I am for 100% of America, have been, and always will be. Please accept my apology’ … all said looking directly at the camera and 67 million people” <plus youtube & media the next day> …  Angelo takes a deep breath and then says … “Champ, you can’t ask him if he was flip flopping or changing his mind or even lying … he just apologized to 67 million watchers and 250 million Americans. That punch misses.”

Silence in the room as they think.

(He lets the room ponder that for maybe 30 seconds as he sips some water … clears his throat and turns directly to the president)

“Champ, you can throw that punch if you want, but you need to get your hands up quick to protect your jaw because you know for sure that immediately after he has looked directly at the camera and apologized he is going to turn to you and look directly at you, in front of 67 million people, and ask you ‘is there anything you would like to apologize to America for?’”

He doesn’t even let that one sit in the room but immediately reminds the entire room “in round one the champ only attacks with a punch that will put him on the mat. Let’s move on.”

Someone give the republican Angelo a raise.

Now.

I do not think this was easy for the president. And while some viewers thought he was disinterested or making notes I actually think he was writing something like “remember to take Angelo out to the woodshed, if Michelle doesn’t, and kick his ass for making me do this.” Because while I believe this is a great strategy for a champ it is not an easy one for someone who wants to fight.

Which is why I believe the president was at his best in the closing comments.

He basically got to finally come off the ropes after being battered for 40 minutes and say “I took the best he has, I am bloodied but still standing here, I am unshaken and confident that my plan is the best for America and its people.”

He got to say to Romney “if that is the best you got you, you didn’t hurt me <and you are screwed and should be worried because I am not going away>.”

I am not sure the president can do this strategy, for personal pride reasons, for one more round and wait for the third to finally come out swinging. Well he could, and maybe should, because strategically it is quite possible <although he does need to find some openings in round two to score some solid points> but I think personally this strategy is very difficult for him to take. But if his Angelo Dundee could convince him … I would. Muhammad Ali was one of the best strategist and counter punchers of all time. He waited. And waited. And watched. And waited more. And by taking the best shots and still be standing he gained confidence, he gained some respect, and then he used all he learned and won.

Now.

I think the Democrat Angelo Dundee is going to give a different strategy to Biden … I think he is gonna tell him “go out and kick the young whipper snapper’s ass and feel free and be a jerk about it. Win us the old white folk.” But that is a different post.

Anyway.

The risk here? You can’t deliver the knockout punch in the last round. It’s all or nothin’ in the 3rd round and by this time all of America that will ever even think about voting is watching.

67 million will look like frickin’ peanuts by this debate.

And he has to win by TKO or KO. You are too far behind in points to simply win on points. You need to put him on the mat a couple of times or out for good. It puts a lot of pressure on the champ. But those are the moments champions are defined. Mohammed Ali won a lot of bouts this way. But he did lose some matches. The president can lose.

– The proof my theory may be right?  Well. The democrat strategy was exactly the same during the republican primaries. People were jumping up and down saying “why aren’t the democrats defending themselves?!?” as the republicans used the president and the administration’s plan of action as a punching bag. The administration just absorbed the punches and unshakabley kept on keeping on. And then they came out swinging. Time in and time out by biding their time they got the ammunition they have needed for the counterpunch uppercuts. They have used this strategy before.

In addition … the media is actually throwing the punches for him as he rests in the corner for the next round. All the talking bobbleheads are sitting around talking about all the things he could have punched Romney with. Gosh. Romney won the round on punches but the announcers are all talking about the quality of the punches and punches the President could have taken. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm … kinda smart that the president didn’t have to bring them up.

Someone knows their shit in the democrat camp.

Okay.

If I am right, I actually believe these strategies are a reflection of the choice America has and they were outlined pretty clearly in the debate:

–          Romney. Aggressively attack the short term issues and deflect the long term (not ignore it but the priority is “create jobs now”).

Private, private, private <with some delegation to states>. Now. I don’t really believe he believes this but this is the message. But he is certainly a believer in unfettered <or minimally fettered> capitalism. Let me use healthcare as an example because it is such a lightning rod.

When people hear him talk the people are confusing state rights and his business acumen. In his heart he wants 50 small businesses managing America. It is irrelevant they are called ‘states’ he just believes that businesses generate effective bottom line and effective cost-efficient solutions. That may be an extreme generalization but that is the core of his belief.

–          Obama. Absorb the best punches (issues) we are given and create an unshakable future (this doesn’t suggest ignoring immediate job creation but the priority is a solid foundation for the future).

Balance, balance, balance. People don’t like to hear it. Romney message is a lot easier to grasp. The president pounds away at selective governmental assistance and encouragement of private sector innovation. It ain’t sexy and it ain’t just talking about jobs. The president, using business acumen as an example with regard to healthcare, suggests Massachusetts was a new product test market which can now be rolled out nationally. From a business perspective the president philosophically is actually pretty close to a national franchise business model.

Please note that both are viable approaches with pluses and minuses on each. But do not be fooled into believing one system is better than the other. They are simply systems. It is always the people who manage the systems over the long term (not just a year or 4) that make or break either of those business models.

That’s my thinking.

Oh. And who really wins if I am right?  The media and whoever covers the third debate. Viewership will continue to increase as the Obama strategy is to guide everyone to the last round of the bout. Especially if the second round goes the way I think it will <a purposeful draw>.

And, actually, I imagine the candidates do also. In a very close race the last debate becomes the make or break moment.

I am sure a lot of people do not want to agree with what I just wrote but, remember, a lot of these yahoos have Harvard and Princeton and a whole bunch of high falutin’ degrees. They may not be in touch with what happens around the average American kitchen table but that doesn’t make them dumb. They know their shit.

And rarely is something happening that they haven’t planned … they just don’t tell you their plan <that is the Bill Belechik acumen I believe>.

I look forward to rounds two and three … and the undercard also.

end-of-term report on Obama administration

September 6th, 2012

So.

Elections bring out the best and the worst in truths, half truths, selective truth telling and how all of those things just listed are communicated.

That said. Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker at the democratic convention last night. And I am glad to report that while certainly biased he delivered truths. Even better? He shared true choices. Beyond that he reminded me, and made me think, of several things as he spoke (and, yes, I will make an american election prediction after I hear president Obama’s speech).

1. Bill Clinton is this generation’s greatest orator.

Like him or dislike him he has the ability to summarize complex issues simply enough that there is clarity. The speech he gave was a non traditional Clinton speech in that he had an inordinate amount of detail and numbers and yet he still maintained the charm to captivate and maintain listener interest so that even after 44+ minutes you were still there so he could do what Clinton does best – close.

Spectacular speaker. Spectacular.

2. I am no Bill Clinton.

And luckily I have found myself among masses of like people (many democrats and many within the administration).  And no … it has nothing to do with his hair.

For several months I have found myself defending the current administration (despite not being a democrat nor even sure I want to vote for Obama). I have defended the administration because I felt like he was being blamed for an inordinate amount of unrealistic results as well as not being given credit for some things. I have failed in my efforts. Interestingly many of the paid democrat administration people also failed.

But Clinton did not.

Now. Do I buy all he was selling? Nope. Do I buy the “we are better off”?  Well. Maybe it is semantics but … no. I would buy if he had sold me “we are on the right path to being better off.”. But. Maybe semantics.  What I did buy was how he explained the pros & cons and choices. No one has more clearly outlined the choice people need to make. He provided a biased opinion but at least we can now build a scorecard evaluation to discuss some clear differences.

3. Running a country is not running a business.

At least in terms of how you get things done. Bill reminded me of something one of the best business owners I have ever worked for told me after I had had a rather heated passionate discussion on what should be done. He looked at me (after taking a long pull off his cigarette) and said “bruce, this isn’t a democracy, you will run a business someday and you will see.”

I was next reminded of when I was chairman of a president’s advisory committee (for a business president). He said “please know I will always consider your advice” <note: consider>.

And, lastly, when I did manage a business I recognized the really difficult, hard, often unpopular, but business shifting/game changing decisions were made best unfettered – unfettered by ‘agreement’ or ongoing debate.  Business, for the most part, is not a democracy. Maybe call it a ‘benevolent dictatorship.’ As that first boss said “I hate to break the news to you but really the only vote that matters is mine.”

Government is democracy. All votes matter. And gathering those votes is imperative to getting anything done. I love running a business. I would hate <or just end up in a mental institution> running a country.

4. Because a country is not a business and policy shifts, and decisions, seem to take eons … if they even ever get done at all. Why? It’s that silly vote thing that democracy demands.

That means evaluating success cannot be judged as a business is … well … okay … I guess it can if you put the right ‘perspective goggles’ on.

So I put myself as a business guy, with business perspective goggles <which are kind of cool looking if you like no lens glasses> into the president spot and evaluate myself.

First. I shoot myself. Hopefully only maybe in the foot or the fleshy part of the leg.

Second. Then I take a step back and say if I was running say a multinational company and when I took over the company was a 2 mile long train that was not only going downhill but at an increasing speed … and was even going in the wrong direction … obviously I would be looking to do things immediately … slow the fucking train down and try and get it, at least, on the right tracks going somewhere. Now. That takes a lot of energy and work and you usually have to fire a shitload of people and start slamming trusted smart ‘competent on that particular challenge’ type people … oops … I can’t fire those people <they were voted in> … and I can’t hire those people <they have to be voted in> and I also would probably jettison <eliminate> some products & services and focus on some new innovations … oops … I couldn’t do that either … we need to vote to make that happen <months from now>. Note: this is also probably the point I would revisit #1 with the intent on aiming better.

Okay. You get the point … therefore I end up listening to Billy-boy Clinton and nodding my head and saying … well … yeah … as a business guy I think I would judge Obama administration as it least slowing the train down … possibly even stopping it from going downhill <let’s say its somewhere in the flatlands> and put the train on another set of tracks <possibly not the right tracks yet but at least got it off the one leaving for the station to hell>.

Bill said it. And I agree. No president, not even Bill, could have dug us out of that mess in only 4 years.

Now. If it were a business I would say fire his ass. But it isn’t. And comparing it as a business is not only slightly ignorant <or maybe slightly naïve is a better way of saying it> but it isn’t fair. Yeah. I typed fair. The cold hearted business me did type that. America has always been, and will always be, a place where everyone gets a fair shake <or that is the intent> and a fair assessment.

We have a right to be angry. We do not have a right to not be fair.

Fair, Crisis and Transformation

Ok. A minute on ‘fair.’ I fear if I don’t share some thoughts on it … it will come across as flippant, maybe naive or even silly. My sense of fair in terms of judgement is based on a couple of really really big assumptions which I believe <many may not> and of which I am slightly surprised is not discussed more often:

I assume the depth of the crisis was not driven solely by policies but rather by a myriad of issues which had built up over  period of time.

Many of the debates & conversations center on policies & business & all that smart stuff. So maybe I am just not that smart. It seems to silly me that policies may have contributed to the hole america fell into but self interest and greed and ‘profit centric’ and ‘not doing the right thing’ are character issues. It is a complex issue but suffice it to say I tend to believe the economic crisis America faced was also a societal crisis. Let’s call it a “mojo” crisis of which economics made everyone sit up and say “whoa … something is really rotten in denmark <sorry … something wrong in america>” – translation … america has lost it’s mojo. I believe the democrats are doing a pretty nice job of at least trying to bring this discussion to bear. Maybe the Obama administration has been reading my blog <they haven’t> but the crisis seemed to be intertwined with self interest versus selves interest. In addition they seem to be addressing the fact you cannot run a country solely seeking profit but rather some intangible things on the balance sheet … pride, integrity, what Obama called ‘citizenship’ and things like that.  So, getting back to fair, if you buy what I just wrote then you need to be fair with regard to judging decisions. Some decisions are simply not just dollars & cents decisions. Sorry. They are not. They are people decisions … and what is right to do for people.

– I assume we are <and should be> transforming America infra-structurally <economically & program/initiative & policy-wise> to maintain status in a new global world.

Now. Some people may not want transformation. And if you do not it will drive your perspective on this whole thing. Me? I believe transforming America now is smart. The same ole America wasn’t working. But transformation is tough. And what makes it tougher to discuss is that there are a variety of ways of doing it <I will generalize here>. The Romney plan is to allow America to transform itself through a trickle-through process by the invisible hand of business. The Obama plan is selectively taking pieces and changing them now <unnaturally>. Well. The second sounds painful doesn’t it? Yup. And the first one sounds less painful doesn’t it? Yup. Well. I am a broken record on this … big changes take remarkable effort and resilience and are … well .. hard. And while no one likes a crisis, a crisis provides an opportunity for big change. The bigger the crisis the bigger change opportunity you have <that is a business management thing>. Me? I believe we have an opportunity to transform and I believe we should take advantage of the opportunity. There is a wacky movie called 2016 that suggests the Obama administration wants to downsize the American dream. That is crazy. The Obama administration wants to transform america infrastructure so we can offer, and attain, the american dream in the long term. Same size dream. So, getting back to fair, transformation in a democracy is even more complex then in a business. If you believe in transformation, then be fair in judgement based on realism of the challenge.

Anyway.

Rather than address Bill’s myriad of factoids strewn throughout his speech I went to The Economist and pulled out their report card for the Obama administration <note: I have done this without their permission but I do it with the intent of meeting my site’s main objective ‘ enlightening and fighting ignorance … dear economist … please forgive me and, more importantly, please do not sue my ass>.

I think it is a fair assessment of the Obama administration. I agree with some and I could debate with some other things but I figure these guys are not only more knowledgeable than I am but they are also smarter so let’s go with what they say:

Economist Headline: obama’s record is better than the woes of America’s economy suggests

Sep 1st 2012 | The Economist <a reprint without their permission>

NOT since 1933 had an American president taken the oath of office in an economic climate as grim as it was when Barack Obama put his left hand on the Bible in January 2009. The banking system was near collapse, two big car manufacturers were sliding towards bankruptcy; and employment, the housing market and output were spiralling down.

Hemmed in by political constraints, presidents typically have only the slightest influence over the American economy. Mr Obama, like Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Ronald Reagan in 1981, would be an exception. Not only would his decisions be crucial to the recovery, but he also had a chance to shape the economy that emerged. As one adviser said, the crisis should not be allowed to go to waste.

Did Mr Obama blow it?

Nearly four years later, voters seem to think so: approval of his economic management is near rock-bottom, the single-biggest obstacle to his re-election. This, however, is not a fair judgment on Mr Obama’s record, which must consider not just the results but the decisions he took, the alternatives on offer and the obstacles in his way. Seen in that light, the report card is better. His handling of the crisis and recession were impressive. Unfortunately, his efforts to reshape the economy have often misfired.

And America’s public finances are in a dire state.

Seven weeks before Mr Obama defeated John McCain in November 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed. AIG was bailed out shortly afterwards. The rescues of Bank of America and Citigroup lay ahead. In the final quarter of 2008, GDP shrank at an annualised rate of 9%, the worst in nearly 50 years.

Even before Mr Obama took office, therefore, there was a risk that investor confidence would vanish in the face of a messy transition to an untested president. The political vacuum between FDR’s victory in 1932 and his inauguration the next year made those months among the worst of the Depression.

Mr Obama did what he could to ease those fears. As candidate and senator, he had backed the unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) cobbled together by Henry Paulson, George Bush’s treasury secretary. After the election he selected Tim Geithner, who had been instrumental to the Bush administration’s response to the crisis, as his own treasury secretary. The rest of his economic team—Larry Summers, who had been Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary; Peter Orszag, a fiscally conservative director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO); and Christina Romer, a highly regarded macroeconomist—were similarly reassuring.

Resolving a systemic financial crisis requires recapitalising weak financial institutions and moving their bad loans from the private to the public sector. Under Mr Bush, the government injected cash into the banks. But doubts about lenders’ ability to survive a worsening recession persisted. Mr Obama faced calls to nationalise the weakened banks and force them to lend, or to let them fail. Mr Summers and Mr Geithner reckoned either step would shatter confidence in the financial system, and instead hit upon a series of “stress tests” to determine which banks had enough capital. Those that failed could either raise more capital privately or get it from TARP.

The first reaction was one of dismay—stocks tanked. Pundits predicted Mr Geithner would soon be gone. But the tests proved tough and transparent enough to persuade investors that the banking system had nothing nasty left to hide. Banks were forced to raise hundreds of billions of dollars of equity. Bank-capital ratios now exceed pre-crisis levels and most of their TARP money has been repaid at a profit to the government. Europe’s stress tests were laxer, and some banks that passed have subsequently had to be bailed out.

General Motors and Chrysler presented a different challenge. Ordinarily a failing manufacturer would shed debts and slim down under court-supervised bankruptcy. But in 2009 no lender would provide the huge “debtor-in-possession” financing that a reorganisation of the two would require. Bankruptcy meant liquidation. That would have wiped out local economies and suppliers just as the banks were being rescued. On the other hand, simply bailing-out badly run companies would have been too generous.

Mr Obama’s solution was to force both carmakers into bankruptcy protection, then provide the financing necessary to reorganise, on condition that both eliminated unneeded capacity and workers. Both companies emerged from bankruptcy within a few months. Chrysler, now part of Italy’s Fiat, is again profitable, as is GM, which returned to the stockmarket in 2010. Nonetheless, the government will probably lose money on these two rescues.

The audacity of hope

Mr Obama’s attempts to fix the housing market were less successful. By early 2009 9% of residential mortgages, worth nearly $900 billion, were delinquent. The traditional playbook called for the government to buy and then write down the bad loans, cleansing the banking system and enabling it to lend again. But when the Treasury studied such proposals, it found there was no ready mechanism to extract dud loans from securitised pools. An alternative was to pay banks to write down the loans to levels homeowners could handle. But the risk then was “you either overpaid the banks…doing a backdoor bail-out without enough protection for taxpayers, or paid too little and banks would not be willing to do it,” recalls Michael Barr, who worked on those efforts and now teaches at the University of Michigan.

Instead, lenders were prodded to reduce payments on mortgages with subsidies and loan guarantees. Even Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, though now explicitly owned by the government, resisted taking part. As of April, only 2.3m mortgages had been modified or refinanced under the administration’s programmes, compared with a target of 7m-9m. Had Mr Obama ploughed more money into writing down principal at the start, the results might have been worth the political risk. “They were prudent,” says Phillip Swagel, an economist who tackled similar questions under Mr Paulson. “In retrospect, I bet they wish they had been imprudent, spent a lot of money, and actually solved the problem.”

Textbook economics dictates that when conventional monetary policy is impotent, only fiscal policy can pull the economy out of a slump. For the first time since the 1930s, America was facing just those circumstances in December 2008. The Federal Reserve cut short-term interest rates to zero that month and experimented with the unconventional, buying bonds with newly printed money. The case for fiscal stimulus was therefore good.

Sluggish growth since 2009 has fed opposing assessments of the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Conservatives say stimulus does not work, or that Mr Obama’s was badly designed. Most impartial work suggests they are wrong. Daniel Wilson of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco inferred the stimulus’s effect through an analysis of state-level employment data. He concluded that stimulus spending created or saved 3.4m jobs, close to the CBO’s estimate.

Charges that the plan was made up of ineffective pork are also unfair.

Roughly a third of the money went on tax cuts or credits. Most of the spending took the form of direct transfers to individuals, such as for food stamps and unemployment insurance, or to states and local governments, for things like Medicaid.

Liberals make the opposite case: the stimulus was too small. Ms Romer originally proposed a package of $1.8 trillion, according to an account by Noam Scheiber in his book, “The Escape Artists”. Told that was impractical, she revised it down to $1.2 trillion. Mr Obama eventually asked for, and got, around $800 billion. Some critics note that this was too small relative to a projected $2 trillion shortfall in economic activity in 2009 and 2010. But it was far more than Congress had ever approved before. Despite the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010, Mr Obama eventually got nearly $600 billion of further stimulus, including a two-year payroll-tax cut.

If stimulus worked, why has the recovery remained so sluggish? GDP has grown by just 2.2%, on average, since the recession ended in mid-2009, one of the slowest recoveries on record.

For one thing, the economy hit air-pockets in the form of higher oil prices, caused partly by the Arab spring, and the European debt crisis.

Moreover, from the fourth quarter of 2009, state and local belt-tightening more than neutralised the federal stimulus, according to Goldman Sachs (see chart 2).

Perhaps the simplest explanation is that recoveries from financial crises are normally weak. Mr Obama was guilty of hubris in thinking this one would be different. He also created expectations that, once his team gave up radical intervention in the mortgage market, he could not meet.

An economy in his own image

From his earliest days on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama made it clear he wanted to do more than just restore growth: he dreamed of remaking the American economy. Its best and brightest would devote themselves to clean energy, not financial speculation. Reinvigorated public investment in education and infrastructure would revitalise manufacturing, boost middle-class incomes and meet the competitive challenge from China.

Once in office, Mr. Obama devoted himself to that agenda, in the process displaying a fondness for industrial policy. “When we first started talking about the Recovery Act in December of 2008, the earliest discussions were about clean energy: smart grid, wind, solar, advanced batteries,” says Jared Bernstein, then an economic adviser to Joe Biden, the vice-president-elect. Some advisers, like Mr Summers, were uneasy with industrial policy. Others, like Mr. Bernstein, argued that orthodox economics allowed for government intervention in early-stage technology.

Mr. Obama’s personal priorities carried the day.

The stimulus allocated some $90 billion to green projects, including $8 billion for high-speed rail.

Some of this has clearly been wasted, but perhaps not as much as critics think.

Less than 2% of the Department of Energy’s controversial green-energy loans, such as those to Solyndra, a now-bankrupt solar-panel maker, have gone bad.

The bigger problem with this spending is that it went against the economic tides. Last year Mr. Obama boasted that America would soon have 40% of the world’s manufacturing capacity in advanced electric-car batteries. But with electric cars still a rounding error in total car sales, that capacity is unneeded. Many battery makers are struggling to survive. Makers of solar panels face cheap competition from China, while natural gas from shale rock has undermined the case for electricity from solar and wind. As for high-speed rail, extensive highways, cheap air fares and stroppy state and local governments make its viability dubious. A $3.5 billion federal grant to California may come to nothing as the estimated cost of that state’s high-speed rail project runs out of control.

Mr Obama has always portrayed himself as a pragmatist, not an ideologue. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works,” he said in his inaugural address. In practice, though, he usually chooses bigger government over small.

Sometimes this is a matter of necessity. The complexity of Mr Obama’s health-care law was a result of delivering the Democratic dream of universal health care within the existing private market.

The financial crisis made it necessary to deal with failing financial firms that are not banks, to rationalise supervisory structures and to regulate derivatives, all of which the Dodd-Frank Act does.

Unfortunately Dodd-Frank does much more than that. In other areas, too, Mr Obama’s appointees have proposed or implemented more costly and intrusive rules than their predecessors on everything from fuel-economy standards for cars to power plants’ mercury emissions. The administration says the benefits of these rules far outweigh the costs, but that case often rests on doubtful assumptions.

If the sheer volume of new rules has alienated business, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric has also given the impression that he comes from a hostile tribe. This has been self-defeating, more so because his actions in the past year have suggested a change in direction. The White House has forced the Environmental Protection Agency to delay a costly and controversial new ozone standard. Mr. Obama is now a cheerleader for shale gas. His administration has written new rules in favour of the industry, for example giving well-drillers an extra two years to meet emissions guidelines.

After initial indifference, Mr. Obama has also warmed to trade. He struck a deal with Republicans to ratify three bilateral trade agreements, and is pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. An early round of tariffs on tyres proved an isolated provocation in an otherwise well-managed economic relationship with China.

This pragmatic turn may have come too late for Mr. Obama to woo corporate America. Instead, free-market types worry that without the restraining influence of officials such as Mr. Summers, Cass Sunstein and Mr. Geithner (who is likely to depart at the end of this term), Mr. Obama’s more interventionist disciples will have the run of a second-term government.

The elephant in the second term

In fact, Mr Obama is likely to move closer to the centre if he wins a second term. His principal legislative goals—health care and financial reform—are achieved. The Republicans are almost certain to control at least one chamber of Congress, precluding big new spending plans, regardless of the state of the recovery.

That leaves the public finances.

There is little to commend in Mr. Obama on that front. True, he inherited the largest budget deficit in peacetime history, at 10% of GDP. But in 2009 he thought it would fall to 3% by the coming fiscal year. Instead, it will be 6%, if he gets his way. Back in 2009, he thought debt would peak at 70% of GDP in 2011. Now it is projected to reach 79% in 2014, assuming his optimistic growth forecast is correct.

This is not quite the indictment it seems: normal standards of fiscal rectitude have not applied in the past four years. When households, firms and state and local governments are cutting their debts, the federal government would have made the recession worse by doing the same.

Less defensible are the plans for reducing the deficit in the future. Chained to a silly vow not to raise taxes on 95% of families, Mr. Obama’s plans have relied almost exclusively on taxing rich people and companies. Efforts to cut spending have fallen mostly on defence and other discretionary items (meaning those re-authorised each year). He has yet formally to propose credible plans for reducing growth in entitlements. His health-care reform did not worsen the deficit. But it did little about the growth in Medicare, the single-biggest source of long-run spending.

Mr. Obama assumed entitlement reform would be part of a grand bargain in which Republicans also agreed to raise taxes.

He miscalculated: Republicans have not yielded on taxes. But there is a deal to be done if Mr. Obama wins a second term. Given the canyon dividing the two parties, it might seem more likely that they will both relapse into their usual mode of mutual recriminations. But both the president and the Republicans want an alternative to the alarming year-end combination of expiring tax cuts and sweeping discretionary and defence-spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff”.

Last summer Mr. Obama and John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, briefly had a deal to raise taxes and cut entitlements. The bargain failed largely because of political miscalculations by both men. Mr. Obama’s re-election might allow the two to pick up near where they left off.

He still has a chance to improve the worst score on his report card.  Mr. Obama should go out and make that case between now and November 6th.

Enlightened Conflict