Monthly Archives: August 2019

A Party of Losers

If you are a Democrat who looked at the title of today’s post and said, “Good, more arguments why Donald Trump and his cultist supporters in Congress have to be defeated next year,” I hope you are sitting down.  Because in my counter-intuitive world, the Democrats have become the party of losers.

This morning’s entry was triggered by yesterday’s announcement that Georgia Trumpist Senator Johnny Isakson is resigning his seat in December for legitimate health reasons.  (I only use the word legitimate because we continue to see other Trumpists who will not seek re-election for dubious reasons when, in fact, they do not want to be on the same ticket and have to defend their glorious leader.) Within hours the Huffington Post reported Jon Ossoff was seriously considering a run next November for Isakson’s vacated seat.  For those with short memories, Ossoff, ran and LOST to Trumpist Karen Handel in a 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

Image result for jon ossoffThis was considered a bellwether election which would signal whether Democrats had a chance to win back suburban voters needed to retake Congress in 2018.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent in access of $6 million dollars to flip the seat once held by Newt Gingrich, current Senator Isakson and Tom Price, who triggered the special election when Trump tapped him for Secretary of Health and Human Services.  In a June 13, 2017 memo justifying its financial commitment to the race, the DCCC wrote:

What should have been an easy Republican hold has become the most high profile and expensive Congressional election in history, thanks to a strong candidate in Jon Ossoff and an unprecedented level of grassroots support for his top-notch campaign.

Image result for lucy mcbathWell, his top-notch campaign fell short by 3.6 percentage points.  And the DCCC declared a “moral victory” in a district with a 30 point voter registration advantage for Republicans.  That would have been the end of the story except 17 months later  Democrat Lucy McBath (pictured here) defeated Republican incumbent Handel with 50.5 percent of the vote.

In 2020, Georgia will be in a unique position.  With the special election to replace Isakson, Georgia will have two Senate seats up for grabs.  And one of the announced Democratic challengers to Trumpist David Perdue is (drum roll) Sarah Riggs Amico who LOST the 2018 race for lieutenant governor by 3.2 percentage points.

I focused on Georgia because of its currency with Isakson’s announcement.  But the Peach State is no exception.  Among the more famous Democratic losers who may think the only reason they lost was because they did not run for a high enough office is Beto O’Rourke.  Despite the buzz and outside money pouring into Texas, he still LOST to Ted Cruz by 2.6 percentage points.

In Kentucky, early primary polls suggest Amy McGrath will be the Democrat choice to unseat Moscow/Massacre Mitch.  McGrath’s credentials are impressive, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.  However, McGrath’s first attempt at electoral politics was a LOSS to incumbent Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.  I hope she wins, but I would be more comfortable with a candidate who has proven he or she can flip a congressional district or governorship.

Image result for colin allredYet, many Democrats are urging O’Rourke to forego his presidential bid and run against Texas Senator John Cornyn next November.  I have a better idea.  Pick WINNERS to challenge Trumpist incumbents.  In Texas, Colin Allred defeated Peter Sessions, then chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, who represented the 32nd District for 22 years.  Or in Georgia, let’s promote WINNER Lucy McBath who has already demonstrated she can turn a solid red district blue.  We do not have to depend on LOSERS. In North Carolina, the Democrats have a WINNER in State Senator Erica Smith.  Or in Maine, another WINNER Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon is challenging Susan Collins.

If we had a living, breathing Democratic National Committee and Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, they would stop pushing LOSERS to run for Senate seats.  They would identify more Colin Allreds, Lucy McBaths, Erica Smiths and Sara Gideons.

Which brings me back to Georgia.  A role model for LOSERS is Stacey Abrams.  She is under tremendous pressure to announce for one of the two senate races next year.  Following Isakson’s resignation announcement, her spokesman Seth Bringman released the following statement.

Our thoughts are with Senator Isakson and his family.  Leader Abrams’ focus will not change: She will lead voter protection efforts in key states across the country, and make sure Democrats are successful in Georgia in 2020.  While she will not be a candidate herself, she is committed to helping Democratic candidates win both Senate races next year.

She has made fighting voter suppression her sole mission going into the 2020 election.  That is how a LOSER becomes a WINNER.  Not by running for another office.  But by asking oneself, “Do I need to accomplish more before running again?”  Pundits keep asking when will Trumpists put country before party or their own political ambitions.  Just in case they don’t know what that looks like, show them a picture of Stacey Abrams.

For what it’s worth.


One Minus One Equals One

Yesterday’s Washington Post opinion page included a column by Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson titled, “Trump’s Obama Envy Is Getting Even Worse.”  According to Robinson, Trump’s green monster was on full display at this weekend’s G7 meeting.  Despite every opportunity to suggest his record eclipsed Obama’s, those damn facts continue to show how the past three years are no match when compared to the previous administration.

  • Unemployment fell by 5.3 percent during the Obama years compared to just one percent since Trump took office.
  • With the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics revision of job creation in 2018 (500,000 fewer), job growth in the first two Trump years fell even further behind Obama’s last two years.
  • Asylum seekers on the southern border were at a 10 year low when Obama left office.  Trump declares they are now at crisis levels.  Who’s fault could that be?
  • Despite blaming it on Denmark’s rejection of his offer to buy Greenland, could Trump’s real reason for cancelling the state visit be fear that his reception would pale in comparison to Obama’s when the former president speaks to students and business leaders at Aalborg University in late September?

Not only does Trump’s record of achievement lag behind Obama’s in almost every foreign and domestic category, his obsession with outshining his predecessor is bad politics.  According to Robinson, “Trump is so fixated on trying to erase Obama’s accomplishments that he repeatedly acts against his own interests.”

But there is one thing Robinson missed.  Despite Trump’s lack of knowledge about any issue of consequence, he is the world’s leading repository of trivial information about Barack Obama.  No case proves this point better than Trump’s self-proclamation of being “the chosen one” to take on China.  Some pundits questioned whether Trump, not satisfied by declaring he has done more than any other president, now wants to be the next messiah.

Image result for oprah dec 11 2007 rally in columbia south carolinaBut it is not a messiah complex which triggered this dictum.  Like everything else that drives his raging sense of insecurity, it was an Obama complex.  I have to believe Trump is still thinking about Oprah Winfrey’s campaigning for Obama, especially at a rally in Columbia, South Carolina on December 11, 2007.  Before a crowd of more than 29,000 people, Winfrey shared a story from The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Pittman, who survived slavery and the Civil War, would look at every black child and ask, “Are you the one?  Are you the one?”  On that day, Winfrey told the crowd:

I do believe, I do, today we have the answer to Miss Pittman’s question – it’s a question that the entire nation is asking – is he the one?  South Carolina – I do believe he’s the one.

I guess Trump got tired of waiting for someone to say the same thing about him.   In the midst of Friday’s temper tantrum on the White House lawn, he could have threatened to hold his breath until someone spoke up.  I must admit, to see his face morph from orange to blue, would have been quite a spectacle.  But when you are as narcissistic and impatient as Trump, you don’t wait.  You proclaim yourself “the chosen one.”

Isn’t that what any stable genius would do?  But as Jim Fallows reminds us in his January 2018 article in The Atlantic titled, “How Actual Smart People Talk About Themselves,” anyone who has to call himself a stable genius probably isn’t one.  Which is why when you subtract a self-proclaimed chosen ONE from ONE anointed by someone other than himself, it is not a zero-sum game.  The legitimate ONE is still there as a role model.

For what it’s worth.


The Death of Political Incorrectness

This week a retiring trustee at Miami University informed me, at their July meeting, the board of trustees adopted a version of the University of Chicago principles of academic free speech.  The email included a list of some of the other colleges and universities which had recently adopted similar guidelines which on the surface make a lot of sense.  In a nutshell, the gist of the statement is affirmation of openness to opposing views as long as all parties respect the rights of the other side.  Proponents argue it is a balanced approach, making room for both unpopular views and the right to hold protests against the advocates of those perspectives. My question?  Why now?

The debate is not new.  In a 1989 case Doe v. University of Michigan, the presiding judge Avern Cohn explained why the issue of free speech on campuses is so complex.

It is an unfortunate fact of our constitutional system that the ideals of freedom and equality are often in conflict. The difficult and sometimes painful task of our political and legal institutions is to mediate the appropriate balance between these two competing values.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the position of most academic institutions was to prohibit speech perceived to harass or intimidate ethnic minorities.  But, to paraphrase country singer Roger Miller, “Campuses swing like a pendulum do.”  Students protesting unpopular speakers are now thought of as “snowflakes,” afraid to face opposing viewpoints.  Advocates from the alt-right are charged with promoting hate.  The University of Chicago principles were a counter-measure to what some viewed as obsessive political correctness.  For a topic which has been smoldering for decades, my question remains, “Why now?”

Political incorrectness used to be fun.  Ethnic jokes were not hate speech, especially when the targets of such humor were in the audience and would laugh at the cleverness and creativity behind the content.  Don Rickles and Richard Pryor made a damn good living making fun of an array of ethnic populations, including their own.  And no one thought twice Rickles really hated Jews with the possible exception of our then eight-year-old daughter who first saw “Mr. Nice Guy” during her grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration at Kutcher’s Resort in the Catskills in 1991.  For those unfamiliar with Kutcher’s, just think “Dirty Dancing.”

Image result for eddie murphy's white characterOr that Pryor’s successors Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock hate black people.  Even when the target was outside their own race, gender or religion-based politically incorrect humor, although potentially offensive, could be enlightening.  For example, in a 1984 Saturday Night Life skit “White Like Me,” Murphy goes undercover in white face to expose white privilege.  The New York Daily News observed the exaggeration was exactly what one would expect from SNL, yet it somehow had a ring of truth.

On a more personal level, political incorrectness was a bond that solidified our close circle of diverse friends when we twice lived in the Washington, DC area.  For my second deployment to DC in 1990, I reported to my new job while my family stayed in Austin until the end of the school year.  A close friend (actually the best man at our marriage ceremony) offered to let me stay at his house in Annapolis rent-free for two months.  In return, I would do chores which included mowing the lawn.  To this date, my friend reminds me having a Jewish gardener was the epitome of success for an Italian-American Catholic.  And the thought still makes me laugh. No harm, no foul.

One more time, why now?  I have a theory.  Post-passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, there was a collective sense of white guilt associated with 250 years of slavery and 100 more years of Jim Crow.  Anything that reminded the victims of economic and social injustice was off-bounds.  Then, as more and more victims of both de jure and de facto prejudice rose to visible positions in government, business, entertainment and society in general, most Americans thought maybe, just maybe, the United States had turned the corner.  Gags about ethnic stereotypes and bigots were now more acceptable.  They were commentaries on the past, not an argument to return to a darker era in our nation’s annals.  They were just jokes.

Yet, the pendulum, as all pendulums tend to do, swung back to its other extreme.  I’m not sure exactly when it started, but it seems to have coincided approximately with the election President Barack Obama.  Or maybe it was when a professor at my university posted a picture of Obama as “The Joker” on his office door in plain site of African-American students or a celebrity real estate developer told his audience the president was born in Kenya or alt-right social media traded pictures of the first lady as a primate.  Most Americans may have turned the corner but too many were stuck in a traffic jam of past fear, paranoia and hate.

College Speech CanceledWhich brings us to 2014 and drafting of the Chicago principles, one more swing of the pendulum’s arm.  I find it hard to disagree with either the intent or the language.  And unlike Charlottesville, there are actually cases of overreach on both the left and the right.  A conservative website FIRE.COM keeps a database of speakers who had invitations to speak on college campuses rescinded.  From 1998 to the present, they have identified 429 instances where a guest has been dis-invited or attempts were made to block their presentations.  Recent examples include actor Amy Irving being barred from giving a speech on abortion and contraception at Loyola University and an incident at Beloit College at which a lecture by Blackwater founder Erik Prince was cancelled when students piled chairs on the platform from which he was scheduled to speak.

Why do I think these are overreach?  Because a university’s primary mission is not to protect students or the communities in which they are located from hearing diverse and sometimes offensive points of view.  Its prime directive is to train students how, if they disagree, to find their own answers or present an opposing case based on fact, analysis and scientific method.  Such an approach holds water regardless of where the pendulum falls on the arc of time.  Educators, more than anyone else, should embrace the words engraved on the Upham Hall arch at Miami University.  “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”  Free of group think, free of the next temporal trend du jour and free of thinking America will be a totally different place if only comedians and others stop making politically incorrect jokes.

For what it’s worth.


After B*R*A*S*H

Image result for trump and netanyahuOne thing I never thought I would ever have to do in America was figure out, by virtue of being born and raised in the Jewish faith, whether I am “uniformed” or “disloyal” or both.  But there is no doubt I am one of the people Donald Trump has been referring to this week.  Though a strong supporter of Israel having been there four times (dare I say more than Trump has),  I disagree with many of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies. I believe such challenges to the status quo make me neither un-American nor anti-Israel.  But according to the self-proclaimed “chosen one,” I am now a traitor to my own people.  Maybe I should ask a Trump supporter if I can borrow his “Proud to be a Deplorable” t-shirt.

Trump’s comments have been rightfully denounced by civil rights organizations (e.g. ADL and NAACP), the mainstream media and others with two exceptions, Republican in Congress and white Evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  But their selective support for religious freedom is a story for another day.  Among the concerns raised is whether Trump’s rhetoric will trigger retaliation from his most extreme followers ala Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh or El Paso.  However, being a student of political science versus a theologian or psychologist, I am less concerned about the present than the near future.

So, let’s go to the video tape or, in this case, the CNN exit poll.  In 2016, the Jewish vote made up three percent of total ballots cast.  Of those who went to the polls, 71 percent voted for Hillary Clinton, 23 percent for Trump and six percent for other candidates.  Did they write-in Netanyahu?  After all, in an April 2019 address to the Republic Jewish Coalition, Trump referred to the Israel leader as “your prime minister.”

Fast forward to 2018 and according to CNN, the Jewish vote split 79 percent to 17 percent in favor of Democratic congressional candidates.  It is hard to make a statistical case based on two elections, but the trend is unmistakable.  Clearly the assault on a Pittsburgh synagogue carried out by someone echoing Trump conspiracy theories about Jews funding illegal immigrants two weeks before the election did not help Republicans.  As a result, Jewish support for Democrats was higher than any other religious denomination including non-believers with a 70 percent pro-Democratic vote (which as a devout agnostic, I also find hard to believe).

From a counter-intuitive perspective, while I share others’ concerns,  the “stable genius” occupying the Oval Office must realize that more violence against Jewish targets will push this demographic’s anti-Trump vote even higher.  The Jewish share of the population in three states Trump must win to reach 270 electoral votes rank in the top 13–Florida (3.0 percent), Pennsylvania (2.3 percent) and Ohio (1.3 percent).  An energized anti-Trump Jewish electorate could mean an inside straight (as was the case in 2016) will not be enough.  His campaign will need a royal straight flush to stay in power.

Which brings me to the near future.  Imagine exit polling during the 2020 election shows the difference in battleground states was a greater deterioration of Trump support among Jewish voters.  What if Jewish turnout increases by half a percent from 2016 and the partisan split is 85 percent for the Democratic candidate and 13 for Trump?  We already know Trump will blame everyone but himself for the defeat.  But so will the all-right media and that is where the true danger lies.

Breitbart news and the Daily Stormer will surely claim Jewish money and an international Zionist cabal brought Trump down.  I can already hear Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson bemoaning the fact “Jews turned their backs on Trump after he did so much for Israel.”  And how will their audience receive this message?  We know many already feel their situations or misfortunes are the fault of “the others.”  How will some react if they believe those same forces of evil have deprived them of the one person in American politics who, on a national stage, vocally agreed with them?

That is why a counter-intuitive view of the next presidential election is critical.  As much as I and many others think a second Trump term, unencumbered by the need to run for re-election, will be a disaster, a Trump defeat could be even worse.  That is why silent Republican leaders must speak up now.  If post-Trump, radical right domestic terrorists, deprived of their #1 spokesperson, still believe their cause is just, the past three years may be looked back on as “the good old days.”

For what it’s worth.


The Upside of Cheating

Based on the positive feedback to Sunday’s post about noise versus signals, I thought I would further explore the value of clear signals.  The operative word in the previous sentence is “clear.”  So much of what we see and hear is often internally inconsistent.  Just ask comedian Steven Wright.

My teacher told me, “Practice makes perfect.”  My mother told me, “Nobody’s perfect.”  So I quit practicing.

What does that have to do with the non-nonsensical, counter-intuitive title of today’s post?  Is there really an upside to cheating?  Is Dr. ESP suggesting cheating is a good thing?  YES and YES.

Cheating is the clearest and most non-transparent signal any individual or organization can transmit.  No one wants to cheat.  Yet it happens.  Not by choice, but by necessity.  During my nine years as a member of the faculty at Miami University, incidents of cheating was the single best indicator of student achievement.  Not because the perpetrator was dishonest.  In the most illuminating sense possible, students self-identified themselves as underachievers.  I did not have to give them a grade, they graded themselves. If they knew the content or adequately prepared, there was no possible reason to cheat.

Image result for bait and switchThe true value of cheating comes from the signal received by the person a deceiver hopes to fool.  A few examples from the world of commerce.  Consider the time honored scheme referred to as “bait and switch.”  Based on an offer in a circular or on-line, you go to a store to purchase the “deal.”  When the sales representative suggests you will not be as satisfied with the advertised product versus the higher priced upgrade, what is he or she actually saying?  The fact they carry inferior merchandise?  Or maybe they do not even stock the advertised model?  Even if you participate this time in the “bait and switch” transaction, what are the chances you patronize that store again?  Or is it more likely you will share your experience with friends and family?  As we always tell our students in business classes, the ultimate goal is NOT to make a SALE but to make a CUSTOMER.

The second example demonstrates the value of cheating in commerce at an industry level.  We hear a lot about how the Chinese do not play fair.  They steal intellectual property.  Chinese companies use inferior materials and underpay their labor.  The government manipulates their currency to make products made in China more price competitive and foreign imports more expensive.  Read between the lines and you cannot miss the signals.

If we were as innovative as the United States firms, we would not need to loot their intellectual assets.  If our products were superior, price would not be as important a variable.

The true danger will come when China realizes its investment in industrial espionage and market manipulation is better spent on creating more innovative, higher-value products on its own.  Some of us remember when Japanese cars and Korean electronics were cheap knock-offs of American-based technology.  Today they are worthy international competitors for the right reasons–innovation and product quality.

Dr. ESP, are you suggesting we just let them cheat?  Not quite.  But I do question the allocation of resources.  Let’s return to the above example of the electronics industry.  A plethora of intellectual property (IP) infringement suits have centered on the design and functionality of smartphones.  Samsung sues Apple.  Apple sues Google. Google sues Samsung.  And who benefits?  The legal profession, which instead of chasing ambulances now tails Geek Squad vans.  As Willie Sutton would say, “That’s where the money is.” The more important question is how do these mega-corporations actually hold on to their markets.

Court battles have not crippled Google, Samsung or Apple despite the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars spent on litigation.

  • First, they keep innovating.  Let competitors copy the iPhone 9.  By the time their knock-offs hit the market, Apple will release the iPhone 10 with new and better features and functionality.
  • Second, deliver what you promise.  Create real value.  Separate yourself from your competitors who can only offer inferior products.  Give the customer what they need and want at a reasonable price.
  • Third, create a community customers are proud to be part of and a support system where consumers know you care after the sale.

To prove this point, look at the reviews for anything offered on Amazon.  Consider individuals who bought “Hydro Mousse Liquid Lawn Kit.”  (The product is not worth explaining.)  Seventy-five percent of reviewers gave the product a one-star review with comments such as:

Complete waste of time and money. Was not even close to as advertised.

Wow. I don’t know what they do in the infomercials to make it look like it works but this is absolute garbage.

Comes with this “Mousse” conditioner that’s sealed in the plastic bag filled to the brim. It exploded on me when I opened it up and got green stuff all over my hands face, clothes, driveway etc.

Returned and have not received refund.

I world Not Recommend This to Anybody Not even My Worse Enemy!

Americans know a bad product when they see one, especially when they make a mistake and purchase it one time.  They are fast learners.  They quickly differentiate the perception in a staged infomercial and reality.  They understand “bait and switch.”   And they don’t like being conned.

So, do not waste your time and resources telling people what they already know.  Next time, they will look for a better product.  They want to feel like you really care, not just at the time of the sale, but all the time.  They want to be part of a consumer community they can be proud of.

Are you listening Democratic candidates for president?  (Oops, I think I just created my own “bait and switch” scheme. Sorry!)

For what it’s worth.