Monthly Archives: September 2020

Seven Days in September


You will never experience less reality than when you are watching a reality show. You’re watching people who aren’t actors, put into situations created by people who aren’t writers and they’re second guessing how they think you would like to see them behave if this were a real situation, which it’s not. And you are passively observing this; watching an amateur production of nothing. It’s like a photo of a drawing of a hologram.

~Comedian Dana Gould

In other words, “reality show” belongs in the pantheon of oxymorons right up there with jumbo shrimp, original copy and deafening silence.  Yet, pundits trying their best to explain the past four years, describe the Donald Trump presidency as a reality show, as though it was an extension of The Apprentice.  If you believe that depiction, last night’s debate was the live finale.  And according to the post-debate polls, Trump was voted off the island.

Frankenheimer's “Seven Days in May” resonates now more than everThe title of today’s post is an obvious reference to the 1964 John Frankenheimer film Seven Days in May, in which the military led by General James M. Scott (Burt Lancaster), fearing a sneak attack from the Soviet Union, plots to overthrow unpopular president Jordan Lyman (Frederic March) who supports a bilateral disarmament treaty.  Sound familiar?  Except in this tale of political intrigue, the roles are reversed.  President Lyman is the voice of reason and General Scott is unhinged.  During the week in question, the audience becomes aware of the motives of and power plays by the two adversaries.

A similar real-life drama has played out over the past seven days beginning with the 480 former national security officials who signed a letter endorsing presidential challenger Joe Biden.  They painted the threat of a second Trump term in office as follows.  “We love our country.  Unfortunately, we also fear for it.”  Only to be followed by last Friday’s release of Trump’s tax information by the New York Times, one more critical dot to add to the collection which, when connected, explain Trump’s performance in the first debate.

A quick review of the facts based on the Times investigation of Trump’s finances and other sources.

  • In 2003, Trump was in financial trouble following six bankruptcies mostly tied to his Atlantic City casinos.
  • Between 2004 and 2016, Trump netted $427 million from The Apprentice and associated endorsements.
  • That income was used to offset loses from the 15 hotels and golf resorts he purchased since 2004, all of which are highly leveraged.
  • Principal on the debt associated with these properties, totaling $421 million, will come due within the next four years.
  • Since taking office, taxpayers have reimbursed the Trump organization over $970,000 for approximately 1,600 room rentals at Trump properties. (Source: Vanity Fair/May 2020)

So, if you are Donald Trump, here are your choices.

  • Spend four more years in the White House ripping off the American taxpayers even though the financial returns are a pittance compared to the cash needed to satisfy his lenders (whoever they may be).
  • Convert his political base into a consumer base willing to watch Trump TV following an anticipated takeover of One America News Network (speaking of oxymorons), hoping to repeat the financial windfall from The Apprentice.

Last night you got your answer.  In the CNN post-debate poll, 60 percent of viewers thought Joe Biden won while only 28 percent favored Trump.  Not great if you’re running for president, but a 28 percent market share of any business is nothing to sneeze at.  Especially, if your followers believe they will benefit from their undying loyalty to Trump (another oxymoron if they have attended a Trump super-spreader event).

The only remaining question, “What business model would Trump use to implement this strategy?”  That too is no mystery.  In January, 2020, Reuters reported on a Trump rally at a Palm Beach, Florida megachurch.

The event by Trump at the 7,000-capacity King Jesus International Ministry church has drawn fresh attention to his administration’s ties to “prosperity gospel” preachers who tell followers that generous donations to their churches will be rewarded on Earth with wealth, health and power.

Except in Trump case, it will be know as “prosperity media.”  It does not take a leap of faith (pun intended) to imagine Trump echoing King Jesus pastor Guillermo Maldanado’s call to his flock, “You can’t have the Father’s favor until you honor Him.”  Just substitute “Trump” for “Father.”

And make no mistake about it.  Trump’s admiration for leaders of the “prosperity gospel” movement like Maldanado and Joel Osteen has nothing to do with their claimed spiritual mission.  He sees them for what they are.  According  to an interview in the September, 2020 issue of The Atlantic, Trump fixer Michael Cohen attributed his boss’ esteem for televangelists to the quality of the scams they perpetrate.  “They are all hustlers.”

Of course, this late-life career pivot might be derailed if convicted of tax fraud, bank fraud, tax evasion, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, etc., etc.  Then again, maybe Ivanka, Junior or Eric are doing the math.  How many “Free Donald” t-shirts and gimme caps does it take to raise $421 million?


Melania, one piece of advice.  On election night, if Donald asks you to join him in the bunker, DON’T GO!  Call 911 or Brad Parscale’s wife Candice Blount.  And, thank goodness Florida is not a community property state.  I would hate for you and Barron to be responsible for half of Donald’s personally guaranteed loans.

For what it’s worth.

Skin In the Game Redux


Warren BuffettThe phrase “skin in the game” was coined by none other than Warren Buffet based on his belief business owners and executives should have a significant personal stake in the outcome of the ventures they run.  It is a lesson taught in every entrepreneurship class.  And, if you are a regular Shark Tank viewer, you know panelists such as Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and Kevin O’Leary consistently ask the aspiring entrepreneurs, “How much of your own money have you invested so far?”

“Skin in the game” is also a sound principle outside the business arena.  Take for example a medical insurance co-payment.  It ensures a sometimes small, but significant level of involvement over decisions related to one’s health care.  Without that out-of-pocket contribution, one can imagine the burden on the health care system from hypochondriacs who would view a visit to the doctor’s office as a daily means of recreation.

Some parents use it as a way to impress upon their offspring the value of money.  A child wants a bike or a new video game?  The parent offers to help, but not pay for the item in its entirety.  Their theory being, children will take better care of their possessions if they have contributed to their acquisition.

Which brings me to the topic du jour.  There is no better case of “skin in the game” than taxes.  Besides being the revenues that support essential or even questionable public goods and services, these levies on income, property and sales are the price of demanding quality and accountability.  It is the flipside of taxation without representation.  Taxes are the “skin in the game,” that significant, personal stake in how we are governed.  Without them, the standard would be representation without taxation. Just imagine if public services came free of charge.  Of course, you could still complain if you thought the quality of promised benefits was less than par.  But, federal, state and local officials would be within in their rights to question your standing.  “You get what you don’t pay for.”

In a society founded on the mantra “of the people, by the people, for the people,” the value of taxes as “skin in the game” must apply to those who govern as much, if not more so, than the governed.  After all, elected and appointed officials are the “business executives” of the public sector.  Which is why yesterday’s revelations about Donald Trump’s tax history go far beyond questions of fraud, tax evasion or conflicts of interest.  As importantly, he is CEO of an enterprise in which he allegedly has little, if any, investment.

Think about it.  Why does he care if funds intended for military facilities to support the families of armed forces are diverted to pay for a border wall?   It’s not his money.  Or defense funding for medical supplies is instead used to buy spare parts for tanks and planes?  It’s not his money.  Donald Trump has no skin in his latest game.  Much like he had no skin in the game when it came to Atlantic City casinos or the Trump Foundation.  Which only proves the point, without personal investment, there is no need to be rational or prudent.  Every time a Trump business went under, he walked away unscathed.  And in some cases, such as his casinos, he actually came out ahead owning a percentage of the properties which were more profitable and better run by the new owners.  That’s what you can do if you have no skin in the game.

As is likely to be the case when Trump either walks or is dragged out of the White House on January 20th.  Having made no significant financial investment in his own administration the past four years, he will likely reflect on the experience as follows.

I guess I showed them I’m still the “king of debt.”  Look at everything I was able to do, and I did it without using any of my own money.  And now all those “losers” and “suckers” are left holding the mortgage.  Ivanka, Junior, Eric, what’s next?

One can only hope, without the protection of Bill Barr and contrived DOJ policy memoranda, the IRS, District Attorney of the Southern District of New York, New York Attorney General and New York City Attorney Cy Vance will prosecute private citizen Donald and the Trump Organization for a series of legal violations.  However, when it comes to America’s tarnished reputation, I am reminded of Paul Newman’s last line as Michael Gallagher in Absence of Malice, “Who do I see about that?”

For what it’s worth.


The Conversation


Millions of Americans are in danger of being infected by a rampant contagion which is spreading rapidly throughout the country–polling fatigue.  Almost every website includes a paid banner or pop-up asking your opinion about the presidential race, which issue is most important to you, would you take a COVID-19 vaccine, do you feel safe sending your children to school, etc.  I have received three phone calls this month from survey research firms (or so they say) wanting my opinion on similar issues. A clearly biased group texted me on Monday asking if I approved of the violence in cities like Portland, Kenosha and Minneapolis to which I responded… (My wife would not have approved of my finishing the sentence.) The people conducting this last survey must also believe the “scientific method” is a form of birth control.

Yet, no one has asked me the two questions about which I am most curious.

  • Have you and your family had a conversation about leaving the country if Donald Trump is elected to a second term in office ?
  • Does it matter whether you believe his victory was legitimate or not?

The only statistically valid data related to these questions come from a January 2019 Gallup report which compared the propensity of Americans to permanently leave the U.S. under the last three presidents.

George W. Bush/11 percent
Barack Obama/10 percent
Donald Trump/16 percent

Among those potential emigrants, the largest demographic subset was women under the age of 30.  And the number one desired destination was Canada.  In the case of Donald Trump, the percentage jumps to 22 percent for those who disapprove of his performance in office.

My own research, admittedly anecdotal based on discussions with family and friends, suggests those who would answer yes to the first question is consistent with the Gallup findings, if not higher.  And of course, there is a difference between those who would act on their preference and others who make idle threats.  For example, Susan Sarandon infamously said she would emigrate if George W. Bush won re-election.  Sadly, she did not.

When I receive a positive response, the obvious next question is, “Where would you go?”  On this matter there is a wide range of opinion.  Canada. The Cayman Islands. Costa Rica.  Portugal.  Israel. The reasons also vary.  We already have friends or family there.  Such and such website says it is one of the top choices for American ex-pats.  The cost of living and amenities make it a great place for retirees.

The FRONTLINE Interview: Barton Gellman | United States of Secrets | FRONTLINE | PBSHowever, we never get to the second question for which I take personal responsibility.  Probably because I had not given it much thought until Trump’s recent comments and Barton Gellman’s article in The Atlantic, “The Election That Could Break America,” which documents the ways Trump and the GOP might claim victory despite a vote tally in which Joe Biden wins both the popular and electoral votes.  These new data points make the nature of Trump’s continued occupancy of the Oval Office a legitimate criterion in the conversation about staying or leaving the country.  And perhaps, the one deserving the most weight.

Why?  Because a legitimate Trump victory is not an indictment of Trump who we know does not care about democracy or the Constitution.  It would be the American people who are guilty of the crime of violating their oath of citizenship.  Renunciation of their pledge of allegiance to the flag.  If a majority of Americans either vote for Donald Trump or sit out the election enabling his re-election, those individuals are signaling, in the strongest of terms, they too do not care about democracy, the Constitution or the rule of law.

Like many, I fear if Trump circumvents the will of the people in November, there will be chaos, mass protests and the inevitable violence that accompanies societal unrest.  If a meaningful majority of Americans feel the cause is just, I would be proud to stand with them.  However, if Trump and Trumpism is the will of the people, one must seriously re-evaluate the options.  The proposition becomes, “Do I want to live in a country where a majority of the citizenry no longer is willing to stand up for the ideals on which the union was founded?”

Sadly, that makes the choice unquestionably easier.  It’s time to pack the belongings and start combing the MLS listings outside the U.S.  I am optimistic the voters will not let us down.  But we do not need 20/20 hindsight to know it is a possibility.  We have 2020 experience.

For what it’s worth.



DEPROGRAMMING 101 is one person’s attempt to encourage others to open their minds and challenge the status quo. I do not pretend I have all the answers nor do I want you to take my positions as gospel. The blogs on each topic are presented as food for thought and stimuli. Each ends with the tagline, “For what it’s worth,” which in some cases may be zero. The ultimate goal is not to find RIGHT answers, it is to promote the asking of BETTER questions.

Dr. ESP/October 28, 2015

John W. Gardner - WikipediaGo into any bookstore.  There are shelves upon shelves of volumes in the “Self Help” section encouraging individuals to “reinvent themselves.”  My personal favorite is Self-Renewal by John W. Gardner, founder of Common Cause and former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Lyndon Johnson.  The main thesis centers on the impact of change on individuals and societies.  Gardner observes, throughout history, failure to recognize and respond to natural and man-made metamorphoses has led to the decline and fall of great civilizations, but such outcomes are not inevitable.

However, there is an alternative route to survival in difficult times.  I became aware of this option as the result of a marketing exercise I began in 2012 to find potential clients for The ImagineIt Project, a company I joined in 2005 and took over as CEO in 2011.  I Googled the term “reinvent” in corporate annual reports and in CEO presentations to stockholders.  While this research identified several potential targets, the source documents contained another equally intriguing phrase.  “We need to go back to our entrepreneurial roots.”  In other words, what did we do at the outset which made us successful?  And where might we have gone astray?

Which is why I began this post with the first words I ever wrote about the philosophy and mission associated with this endeavor.  But more importantly, I wanted to assess whether I had violated them, spending more time trying to explain what was happening rather than looking for “better questions” which would encourage others to join in the search for new knowledge and enlightenment.  Therefore, on the the occasion of this milestone, post #600, I decided to circle back to the roots of Deprogramming101 and present a series of questions which deserve more thought and new perspectives.

  1. Why do politicians and the people who vote for them have such short memories?  Example : In a monologue about mascots, comedian Costaki Economopoulos (real name) reminds us, “The Republicans have the elephant, who never forgets.  But Republicans can’t seem to remember what a bad idea supply side economics is.”
  2. Why do Catholics who represent 22 percent of the U.S. population currently hold five out of nine seats on the Supreme Court, soon to be six?  One would think white Evangelicals, who are the most loyal Republican voters beginning with Ronald Reagan, might ask, “When are you going to appoint one of us?”
  3. If the 1962 Supreme Court decision in Baker v. Carr affirmed the concept of one-person-one-vote, why shouldn’t that apply to the election of the president?  Prior to the decision, states could apportion seats in their legislature’s upper chamber based on geo-political boundaries (i.e. counties) which gave undue power to voters in rural, less populated jurisdictions.  You know, the equivalent of Wyoming having one electoral vote per 195,000 residents while Florida has one electoral vote per 741,000 residents.
  4. Why is there still no available ala carte cable or streaming television service?  A related question:  Why don’t the major broadcast networks and their affiliates stream programming for free since their main source of revenue, advertising fees, increases based on the number of viewers?
  5. What if black lung disease prevents COVID-19 related fatalities?  West Virginia ranks 44th among the states and Washington, D.C. in number of COVID-19 deaths (Reuters) although residents have the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure in the United States (AP News/December 18, 2018).
  6. Why was only one American (Kareem Serageldin) sentenced to prison for his role in the 2008 financial crisis?  According to the Financial Times, 47 bank employees and directors worldwide received jail terms, led by Iceland with 25 convictions.  Serageldin was sentenced in 2013 to a term of two years and six months. In 2011, Oklahoman Patricia Spottedcrow was sentenced to 12 years in prison for selling $31 worth of cannabis (Source: Tulsa World).  Justice may be blind, but she has not lost her sense of smell.
  7. Why does a single Ace pocket comb at Walmart cost $2.22 and the 2-pack costs $6.98?  Perhaps this is a means of assessing the quality of math instruction in K-12 education.
  8. Why do successful young golfers feel the urge to change their swing when the old one is still working?  Cases in point, Jordan Spieth and Ricky Fowler.
  9. Why would director Gus Van Sant and Universal Pictures think Americans would pay to see Anne Heche instead of Janet Leigh in the shower scene in the 1998 remake of Psycho The same goes for updated versions of The In-Laws, The Out-of-Towners, King Kong (1976), Death Wish and Footloose.
  10. And finally, a question raised by the late Glenn Brenner, sportscaster on WTOP television in Washington, D.C from 1977 to 1991.  Why do squirrels risk getting run over to gather acorns on the other side of the street when there are just as many on the side where they already are?

This list is far from exhaustive.  I encourage readers to add their own.  Who knows?  Maybe some of them will be  topics of the next 600 posts on this site.

Thank you for being there for the past five years.  For what it’s worth.


Timber Land

NOTE:  Today’s post is the 599th since I started this project in October, 2015.  I have spent much too much time thinking about the focus or subject of #600.  I want it to be memorable, if not monumental.  Maybe an update on past topics.  Or a mea culpa reminding readers “FWIW” was occasionally zero, considering all the things I got it wrong over the past five years.  Or a philosophical piece questioning whether there is blog-life after Trump.  Or even an announcement that I am passing the torch to a new generation of bloggers when my GoDaddy hosting contract expires next spring.

But today I am inspired by former RNC chair Michael Steele, who yesterday reminded us the key to November 3rd is focus.  Make the election about Trump’s apocalyptic failure to address the pandemic.  All his “dumb ass comments” are noise which do not deserve our attention.  They should be ignored by Joe Biden and the media.  A clarion call to a frustrated satirist turned blogger.  If not Trump, someone else needs to step into the arena and produce “dumb ass statements” worthy of note.  Challenge accepted.

Do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave to a certain extent, as it put me, and I think lots of White, privileged people in a cave?

~Bob Woodward/Rage

In the ultimate example of Donald Trump’s ability to project his own attitudes and behavior, he responded to Woodward’s question by accusing the Pultizer Prize winning author of being a captive of the “woke” movement.  “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you  Just listen to you.  Wow.”

Certainly not what I would have said.  But Woodward’s question made me wonder if I too sported a pair of white privilege blinders.  While I have yet to come up with a definitive answer to that specific query, I did learn something else this week.  I definitely have a mental blind spot which demonstrates how cultural experience and references affect how black and white Americans might view the same situation differently.

This epiphany followed a September 17, 2020 story in Footwear News about Kamala Harris’ choice of (drum roll) footwear during a trip to California to observe the wildfire damage and efforts to bring the disaster under control.

For a visit to one of the sites of California’s wildfires near Fresno on Tuesday, Harris was seen talking with Governor Gavin Newsom wearing a pair of Timberland boots.

The TwittterSphere and other social media sites heralded the story as an iconic cultural moment, something I did not understand until reading Brooke Leigh Howard’s column in The Daily Beast.

Timberland boots have come to be an emblem of the Black community, and this week—after a much-buzzed-about photograph of her stepping off a plane in California—vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris has owned that statement.

The move was unapologetically Black. For me, it is the kind of move that signals that I can be Black without having to code-switch.

NOTE:  Code-switch is a term used to describe the need for a person of color to tone done appearance or behavior in the company of whites.  Example:  Switching from urban radio to a Top 40 station when carpooling with white co-workers.

I had no idea.  My first inclination?  What was she supposed to wear to a wild fire?  Stilettos?  But it did not take long before I came to the conclusion this fashion statement fell within a more familiar cultural context.  As I so often do, I reverted back to the white person’s handbook Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Seinfeld.

Of course, my last cultural recollection of Timberlands was from the November 20, 1997  Seinfeld episode “The Betrayal.”  Seinfeld fans often refer to this unique story about the gang traveling to a wedding in India as “The Backward Episode.”  Jerry introduces George to his platonic friend Nina, after which George asks Jerry to “fix me up with her.”  There is only one hitch. George is wearing a new pair of Timberlands when he first meets Nina, which make him look taller. The following conversation ensues.

GEORGE:  Wait a minute.  Nina just saw me in my Timberlands!  Now I have to wear them every time I see her.


GEORGE:  In any other shoe, I lose two inches.  I can’t have a drop down.  We were eye to eye.  I can’t go eye to chin.

Kamala Harris and her trending shoes: VP candidate makes Timbs trendThat must be it.  Kamala Harris is five feet two inches tall.  Her Timberlands make her look taller, especially knowing she would be photographed with California governor Gavin Newsom (6’3″).

Except it wasn’t.  So let me take this opportunity to thank Ms. Howard for this moment of cultural sensitivity training.  The only question left is how Donald Trump or his campaign will use this information to smear Harris.  I expect they will flood social media with ads suggesting Senator Harris is unfit to be vice-president because she is “lifting.”*

*For non-Seinfeld aficionados who may not understand this reference, check out the Wikipedia article titled, “The Stand In (Seinfeld).”

For what it’s worth.