Monthly Archives: September 2019

The Case for Youth


Image result for greta thunbergNever before has the issue of age become such a significant factor within American politics.  At one end of the spectrum is what can only be described as a “children’s crusade” of energized young people on issues ranging from gun violence to climate change.  In an ironic twist on the song “Children Will Listen” from the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods,” adolescents such as the Parkland high school students or 16-year-old Greta Thunberg have inspired older generations to rethink the consequences of their inaction on matters of national and global import.  The best evidence of their effectiveness is not opposing arguments based on substance, but the willingness of critics to go after them personally.

At the other extreme is the advanced seniority of many of the contenders heading into the 2020 presidential election.  Consider the age of the following major candidates on November 8, 2020.

Bernie Sanders/79 years, 1 month, 26 days
Joe Biden/77 years, 11 months, 14 days
Donald Trump/74 years, 4 month, 20 days
Elizabeth Warren/71 years, 4 months, 12 days

No need to detail the concern raised by their younger competitors about their mental and physical agility. Or not being in touch with the culture and advanced technologies which steer the present and future.

In light of current events, I want to posit one more compelling reason we might want the country’s chief executive to be of less advanced age.  Consider the following.  At no time during these past presidential terms did we have the slightest concerns whether the offspring of the commander-in-chief were benefiting financially off of their father’s position.

  • During John F. Kennedy’s term in office, out biggest worry was whether John-John would get lost under the Resolute Desk or Caroline would fall off her pony Macaroni.
  • In the case of the children of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford our attention was riveted not on business interests, but love interests.  Their activities were more likely chronicled in the Style Section of the Washington Post than on the front page.
  • Amy Carter, nine-years-old when she took up residency in the White House, became a topic of controversy only once, when a radio talk show host commented on her physical appearance.
  • Coverage of Chelsea Clinton had nothing to do with her own behavior, but the situation in which she found herself when her father’s affair with Monica Lewinsky became public.
  • Presidential offspring scandals hit a new low when George W. Bush’s underage, twin daughters Barbara and Jenna had a little too much to drink at Chuy’s while attending the University of Texas-Austin.  (NOTE:  Having lived in Austin and eaten many meals at Chuy’s, the bigger scandal would have been if underage UT students did NOT have too much too drink.)
  • Which brings us to Malia and Sasha Obama, perhaps best known for eye-rolling at their father’s “daddy jokes.”

In contrast, history will remember the more chronologically mature children of past presidents for their financial or political activities, not the first family photographs or the trials and tribulations of growing up in the national limelight.

Of course, this is not to say anyone with the foresight to think they will be running for president at a more advanced period in their lives cannot go down a path that puts them in the same category as W. or Obama.  Skip the first wife.  In your late forties, 47 to be exact, choose a trophy wife (or two).  And for heaven’s sake, remember that photo ops with the kids carry more political favor than those with dictators.

For what it’s worth.


Another Bankruptcy


There is a indisputable tenet which guides successful commercial ventures, preached in every business school worth its weight. Make a customer, not just a sale.  One can argue this maxim is based solely on common sense. But activities that are dependent on a bottom line must be justified by empirical evidence.  In this case, the customer versus sale prerogative is backed up by two data points.

First, profit margins are not a simple matter of subtracting the wholesale cost from the retail price of a given item.  Each sale also carries the financial burdens of customer acquisition.  These cover everything the seller must do to convince a potential buyer to want the product and more importantly to purchase it from a particular establishment.  These costs include marketing to inform the customer of the product’s existence and its availability on-line or at a physical location.  For many new products, it also includes outlays to educate the customer about the product’s value or its ease of use.

For every new potential customer you incur those expenses again and again. But these costs are dramatically reduced when dealing with a repeat buyer or a new customer referred by an existing one.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point,” he encourages businesses to nurture a category of customer he refers to as “evangelists,” those people who love to talk about their commercial experiences.  Think of them as pro bono marketing reps.  At no cost, they are talking you up among family, friends and associates with the  advantage of already being viewed as a trustworthy source of information.

Image result for loyalty programsThe second data point is the proliferation of loyalty programs.  They are the best example that relationships travel on two-way streets.  Why would a hotel chain or airline give you a free room or flight which it could otherwise offer paying customers to increase its bottom line?  Because the numbers show you are more likely to patronize that company even when a competitor offers a lower price or is more convenient.

More importantly, the relationship is not based solely on “what have you done for me lately.”  Everyone screws up.  However, a loyal customer is more likely to overlook that occasional bump in the road when stacked up against months and years of preferential treatment or appreciation.

Though many do not want to admit it, politics is a business. What differentiates the two is not organizational structure or procedures, it is nomenclature.  The CEO is the CIC, commander-in-chief.  Corporate divisions are cabinet departments.  The currency is votes, not dollars.  Bankruptcies are failed legislation, lost elections, resignations and impeachments.

Over the past four days, Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “duke of debt” reminded us he is also the “baron of bankruptcies.” And the enterprise known as the Trump administration is about to learn what every successful for-profit entity already knows.  Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” may apply to the customer, but not the vendor.  To the contrary, a penny spent on nurturing and sustaining a customer relationship is a future stream of many pennies.

The term quid pro quo has been tossed around a lot since news of the intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint surfaced in the Washington Post.  Yet, the fact is every transaction is a quid pro quo.  You exchange money for a good or service. You go to a play or movie and you are entertained.  Donald Trump is the quintessential transactional chief executive.  Everything he does is a quid pro quo.  He deprives military families of better schools for their children so he can tell his most rabid supporters he kept a promise thus alienating a voter bloc which was with him in 2016.  He gets Rudy Giulliani to manufacture alibis and false accusations to protect him in exchange for an opportunity to be relevant again.  Yet, Giulliani’s manic behavior makes Trumpist congresspersons’ task to defend the indefensible that much harder.

There is another problem with these efforts at immediate gratification.  Immediate also means they are seldom based on a solid foundation, especially one of loyalty.  That is why when Trump needs them most, Bill Barr is hiding out in Italy.  Kurt Volcker resigns and tells the House Intelligence Committee he is ready to cooperate.  A whistleblower remembers when the commander-in-chief stood in front of the CIA’s Wall of Honor and used the occasion to honor himself or chose the word of Vladimir Putin over the men and women who protect America from the next 9/11.

Do not be surprised when a line of “creditors” forms outside the House Intelligence Committee room next week when the Trump organization once again finds itself in bankruptcy court.

For what it’s worth.

A Thousand Days


BLOGGER’S NOTE:  The direction and content of many of the posts on this site begin with the title.  As you know by now, I am always looking for a play on words which compel the reader to ask, “Where the hell is he going with this one?”  My task is then to put together the facts which support the premise or suggest we need to take a second look into what at first seems obvious. The original subject line for today’s entry was, “Rat Place, Rat Time.”  Why?  Because I’m sitting in a row house in Baltimore, Maryland  What better location to reflect on the quickly evolving events which will determine the future for Donald Trump, than the place he described as a “rodent and rat infested mess.”  But as I was organizing my thoughts, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, announced the committee would be working through the two-week recess scheduled to begin today with hopes that the panel could provide the Judiciary Committee with corroborated evidence to support articles of impeachment, if warranted, by Thanksgiving.

Much is being made of comparable situations in American history as Donald Trump faces the increasing momentum toward impeachment.  I must admit, I wondered, “How does this compare to the cases involving Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton?”  I intentionally chose to omit Andrew Johnson from any such inquiry for two reasons.  First, he had never been elected president, ascending to the position following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination thus the issue never involved overturning a voter referendum.  Second, the forces behind his impeachment were members of his own political party who disapproved of his plans to quickly repatriate the confederate states with minimal punishment.

However, insight does not come from jumping to answers, but by asking better questions.  And the question I realized had not been asked was,  “To fully grasp the scope and import of current events, why would anyone limit comparisons only to two chief executives of the United States?  What about the other 42 predecessors who held the office prior to January 20, 2017?”  That is how my thoughts shifted from WHO and WHAT to WHEN?  And one answer emerged when New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney suggested, with the documentation already at hand, Americans have a pretty good idea of WHO was involved and WHAT happened between Trump and the newly elected president of Ukraine and which closets hold the skeletons.  All that is left to do is corroborate and verify actions by Trump, his accomplices and his enablers.  He closed by suggesting Congress should be able to complete the task by Thanksgiving.

Imagine, the fate and legacy of a president of the United States being determined by Thanksgiving of the third year of his first term.  What are the odds of that happening twice out of 45 opportunities or within the span of 56 years?  According to Representative Maloney, more likely than anyone could have contemplated a month ago.

I know what you’re thinking.  Dr. ESP, surely you’re not going to suggest there is any resemblance between Trump and John Kennedy.  Of course I am.  But not solely due to the coincidence in time in office before their fate is sealed.  Nor does it have anything to do with the ironic and eerie coincidence the names Kellyanne Conway and Lee Harvey Oswald both contain 15 letters.

Image result for writing a novelWriters of fiction and non-fiction write best when they know their subject matters.  And, as many of you know, I am currently drafting a political novel which offers a different and highly improbable twist on the Kennedy assassination.  My focus is on the still unanswered question, what was the motive for killing Kennedy.  To make the incredible just a bit more plausible, I have spent the past two years researching every aspect of the lives of JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby and other true-life individuals tangential to the story before injecting my fictional characters.  It has been an educational and highly enjoyable exercise in the art of manufacturing a conspiracy by finding the dots to fill in the manufactured connections.

In the end, both my novel and the real time saga of the Trump/Ukraine affair are not about conspiracy.  They are about legacy.  Having pored through every one of Evelyn Lincoln’s entries in Kennedy’s appointment calendar from December 1962 to November 22, 1963, one obtains a clear understanding of the interests and priorities of our 35th president.  And, in a limited number of cases, an appointment or a gap in time raises suspicions Kennedy’s closet may not have been skeleton-less.  I wish I could tell you more, but you’ll just have to read the book when it comes out.

So, this morning I wondered if I could gain a similar understanding of the 45th occupant of the oval office if I had equal access to his appointment calendar.  That assumes, of course, it has not yet been transferred to a code-word protected server.  The value of real-time observation in the age of 24/7 presidential news coverage is you no longer need to scour the archives of a presidential library to follow the chief executive’s movement.  Cameras document how he foregoes a trip to Poland on the premise of staying home to oversee the federal response to a pending Category 5 hurricane, bearing down on the Florida coast, but spends the majority of those days golfing.  You watch a man who has violated every one of the ten commandments leave a United Nations session on climate change to discuss religious freedom with evangelical christian leaders who oppose secular freedom for those who adhere to any religion but their own.

Bottom line?  One’s fate can seal one’s legacy. Sometimes, it takes an individual’s complete life time to grasp who they are and solidify their place in history.  In other cases, it only takes a thousand days.  And I will leave it to an historian as talented as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. to publish a sequel to his 1965 tribute to a fallen president, perhaps titled, “A Thousand Days Later.”

For what it’s worth.

Déjà Poo

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

~George Santayana

How many times have we heard someone justify a specific course of action by invoking Santayana’s words or some variation thereof?  But the ultimate value of this adage as a compass depends on one essential caveat.  Memory of the past must be accurate.  It must be what actually happened as opposed to what is perceived to have occurred.

Image result for nancy pelosiTwice this week, I have heard influential Democrats warning anyone who would listen to heed the lessons of history.  The first involves impeachment of Donald Trump.  Even though this may all change when Speaker Pelosi, dare I call her “Nervous Nancy,” meets with her leadership team this afternoon, she has been hesitant to green light impeachment proceedings despite the volumes of evidence of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors already available.  Her hesitancy is based on a concern that impeachment without conviction by the Senate will result in higher approval ratings for Trump and strengthen the GOP heading into the 2020 election.  To prove the point, Democrats point to the aftermath of the Republican-led impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1988.

Makes sense.  But only if it is true.  Bill Clinton did, in fact, leave office with an approval rating of 65 percent according to a Gallup poll, the highest for a departing president since Harry Truman.  Though one can argue this positive assessment was less about backlash to his impeachment than the fact the economy was strong, the nation was not engaged in any foreign conflicts and his administration balanced the federal budget three years in row, something that was unthinkable when he took office.  Despite these achievements, of the respondents to a 2000 CNN/USA Today/Gallop poll, only 45 percent said he would be missed, 68 percent said he would be remembered most for the scandal involving Monica Lewinsky, and 58 percent felt he was dishonest and untrustworthy.

Yet I doubt Pelosi is really worried how people will remember Trump as a person.  That ship sailed a long time ago.  Her fear is closer to home.  Could the Democrats lose their majority in the House?  Would impeachment make it harder for Trump’s Democratic opponent and lessen the chances her party will take control of the Senate?  Will Democrats in general be punished by voters for political overreach attempting to oust Trump before letting the electorate make that decision in November 2020?  If you use the 2000 election as a harbinger of things the come, the answer is not necessarily so.  After all, despite facing the headwinds of a failed effort by the Republican Senate  to convict Clinton on articles of impeachment and Clinton’s historically high approval rating, the Republicans took back the White House and retained controlled of both houses of Congress.

Image result for elizabeth warrenCase #2:  Elizabeth Warren at the head of the Democratic ticket will be a drag on down-ballot races for House and Senate.  The fallacy in this prediction is not so much whether the historical facts are true, but what history one uses as a benchmark.  If you rely on the 2016 election as your standard, you can make the case.  After all, Democrats were expected, not only to retain the White House, but also to gain control of the House and Senate.  But this comparison works only if you think of Warren as “the female candidate,” or the next Hillary Clinton.

Gender is not what worries Democratic strategists.  It is her progressive policies which they believe will scare moderate voters.  Wouldn’t 2008 be a better comparison?  The same thing was said about Barack Obama.  What could be of more concern than the first African-American with the middle name Hussein at the top of your national slate?  And yet, Democrats handily won the presidency, gained eight seats in the Senate and solidified their House majority by a margin of 257-181.

Do not misinterpret the above as an endorsement of Elizabeth Warren over the rest of the field.  My purpose here is to warn against eliminating a candidate for the wrong reasons.  But I do believe many pundits are misreading the tea leaves.  The American Heartland is yearning for a truly progressive candidate.  They voted for Obama.  But were disappointed and switched to Trump based on his new-found, but clearly trumped-up (pun intended) progressive credentials.  If I am correct, just imagine what would happen if there was a truly progressive candidate who delivered on his/her promises.  It could change the electoral map for years to come.  From a historical perspective, just ask Franklin D. Roosevelt.

For what it’s worth.


Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That


Related imageLike life, the presentation of entertainment awards is not always fair.  I still bristle every time I think about the 1970 Academy Awards.  Despite the fact Midnight Cowboy took home the Oscar for best picture, best director (John Schlesinger) and best adapted screenplay (Waldo Salt), Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Ratso Rizzo was deprived of the best male performance award when John Wayne won for playing himself in True Grit.  Hoffman’s cinematic achievement was of particular note when viewed side-by-side with his big screen debut two years earlier as Ben Braddock in The Graduate.  

There are two reasons this outcome may not have been the injustice it appeared to be.  First, both Hoffman and Jon Voight (playing Joe Buck) were nominated for best actor and may have divided the vote among Midnight Cowboy’s devotees.  Second, this was Wayne’s third nomination (previously as Davy Crockett in The Alamo and as Marine Sargent John Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima).  After 43 years on the silver screen and 170 roles in movies and television, perhaps Wayne was more deserving of a lifetime achievement Oscar, but this was the way his peers chose to honor him.  (CINEMA FOOTNOTE:  Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film to win an Oscar for best picture, although it would barely garner an R rating 50 years later under today’s standards.)

As I watched the Emmy’s last night, I wondered if there was a totally different reason members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences decided who would take home the prized statuette, particularly in the acting categories.  Before I make the case, let me say I did not see all of the performances, and of the ones I did see, none of the nominees were unworthy of consideration.  I just wondered if something else was going on.

Were Academy members trying to use this venue, the one time each year they have an international television audience to celebrate, not just the their art, but their values?  Despite its occasional flaws, the entertainment industry has become the voice of diversity and social justice in the era of Donald Trump.  Did voters look at the list of nominees and anticipate who might give the more compelling acceptance speech?  Consider the following four examples.

Jharrel Jerome for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie/Jerome portrayed Korey Wise in “When They See Us,” the story of the Central Park Five .  Only by winning the Emmy could Jerome introduce the actual subjects of the story as the “Exonerated Five.”  One more reminder Trump has still not apologized for calling for their execution.  I am not sure Jerome’s performance topped those of Jared Harris in “Chernobyl” or Hugh Grant in “A Very English Scandal,” but I am confident they do not hold a grudge against the Academy for giving Jerome the stage.

Michelle Williams for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie/Few viewers of her starring role as Gwen Verdon in “Fosse/Verdon” were probably aware of her demands during the series’ production, but I have no doubt Academy voters did.  As with Jerome, did they ask, “Is this a chance to share an important lesson we have learned with a broader audience?” If so, Williams delivered.

So thank you so much to FX and Fox 21 Studios for supporting me completely and paying me equally. Because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work. So the next time a woman – and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart – tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her. Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.

Billy Porter for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series/Porter became the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy for his role as Pray Tell in “Pose.”  Did Academy members hope Porter would make the connection that the presence of authentic characters, not stereotypes or caricatures, of all genders, colors and sexual preference/identity can be teachers and role models.  If not, his acceptance speech made the point anyway.

We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.

Peter Dinklage for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama/If you questioned whether Dinklage would win an Emmy for the fourth time as Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” you were mistaken.  Despite his four foot four inch frame, he stands tall among his peers as a representative of the entertainment community.  Once again last night, he did not disappoint.

 I have no idea what I’m about to say, but here we go. I count myself so fortunate to be a member of a community that is all about tolerance and diversity, because no other place could I be standing on a stage like this.

And no one, except Fox censors were shocked when he referred to the GOT cast and crew as “10 years of the most incredible, talented, funniest motherfucking (bleeped out) people–hey, it’s over, I don’t care–I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with.”  That too was a message, about loyalty to and faith in one’s co-workers, not self-interest.

So, sometimes it is not a question of whether the BEST man or woman wins.  A better question is whether the RIGHT one does?  Last night the moment eclipsed the performances, and even if there were artistic injustices, I’m okay with it.  Sometimes life is unfair.  But on occasions like this, we should echo Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

For what it’s worth.