Archive for the ‘Political Meanderings’ Category

The Last Decade & Mediocrity……A Look Ahead

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

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There’s a Kurt Vonnegut short (very short) story called Harrison Bergeron. In it the United States Handicapper General, under the auspices of the 211th, 212th, and 213th Constitutional Amendments, has stamped out individual talents and characteristics for the sake of total unimpeded equality. The population is fed mindless entertainment, all their memories periodically wiped clean. It isn’t torture, not exactly, nor is it intolerable. It’s just mediocre. Imposed, entrenched mediocrity.

And it is terrifying.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that our current moment is anything like this Vonnegutian nightmare. But it was close to this for the last decade. We weren’t physically burdened by actual weights meant to “level the field”, nor did buzzing alarms trigger mass distraction and short-term amnesia. Intelligence and beauty are not outlawed. We still had our wits and our various beacons — in politics, culture, athletics, the arts, and so forth. And yes (or no), we were not suffocated by comprehensive, dystopian egalitarianism.

Things did seem during the unfriendly 2000s to be damn mediocre! We seemed to be waiting, on pause, not necessarily with bated breath so much as with Lunesta and an Us Weekly. It was as though we’d been treading water beneath mostly gray skies for a seriously long time, without a “Look, land in sight!” We were weary, we’re wary, and rather than swim for shore we floated straight-laced and glazed. Our so-called entertainment stood in for our current events (quotes left out for obviousness). Our political anger was sooner directed toward straw men than funneled into substantive policy debate and prescription. And while we don’t loll about hamstrung by the Handicapper, world citizens did tend to diminish or ignore our most natural advantages. Our enormous opportunities — many of them unique to America — for renewable alternative energy. Our once-prodigious diplomatic capital. Our heavy industry. Our edge in scientific and technological innovation.

So ready for good news: We did not die out nor did it turn out we were living a post-American life. And Newsweek was sold for a dollar to an old geezer destined to destroy its whiny words of nothingness and bold headlines that made us feel worse. Now we are starting to scrape the sky. We’ve since become — not in every way, but in a lot of ways — just a wee bit more than average. In our actions and in our expectations, we stop this toeing of that safe, paunchy middle.

Look back. Kennedy promised the moon by a decade’s end — it happened. WW II’s Greatest Generation was asked to tighten belts and roll up their sleeves — they did. And while these admittedly cherry-picked examples might have been nothing more than a function of their unique times, is it easy to imagine us reflexively rising to the moment in ours? Look where we stood for nine-and-two-thirds endless years: on a precipice, always told of danger and devastation. But even with terrorism, climate change, one or two constantly-simmering wars, genocide abroad, a credit crunch affecting us till we cried “Uncle”, and countless other messes the newest century has brought..what precisely defines US (not Us)? Had we struck out with renewed vigor? Had we succumbed to fear? Neither. We are slowly becoming less mediocre. We’re embracing a new term.

Like our heroes, a lobotomized couple who are at the center of Harrison Bergeron, we sensed something wasn’t right from 2001-2010. We knew we ought to be breaking inertia. And this unease wasn’t just a tickle in the recesses of our minds because, behold, it has pushed itself front and center. But what will do the trick and wake us all from the stupor (stop checking your email while reading this)? Could it be another catastrophe? Web 7.0? One of those Tea candidates that actually won? Or will it not be so dramatic, this eventual extrication from the muck of mucks? Might it be more like the car you rock back and forth until what had been an inconspicuous gathering of momentum launches it back onto the road with a heart-starting roar?

Let’s forget the 2000s. Things today aren’t so terrible; they are (to use a teen word) ‘meh’. I know that most of us feel that: plateau coasting is better than a downward spiral. But the Internet-savvy 1990s were notable ONLY for jejune prosperity. Those unnamed 2000s are remembered for the steady unease we could never shake.

I proclaim a promising decade starts in 2011. It will be nothing like its immediate predecessor–because that would be the saddest sign ever. Means we’d be living inside a pattern of room temperature mediocrity that hasn’t soured us but kept us looking down, at our laps gazing at the latest text or news. (Taylor Swift has a new CD out; it’s everywhere.)

Look forward. . . only forward.

Like-minded ideas are found in the book 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade, now out in whatever you want it to be.

[On twitter via @laermer for laughs and reportage.]
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Special Episode of “The El Show” (El-ection Day Wrap-up)

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The regular Tuesday El Show on Blog Talk Radio was interrupted this Election Day for a special with guests anchor David Brancaccio and ad man Steve Cone. Listen in. But here is a summation just so you know what’s in store:

    Blog Talk Radio Presents “The El Show: El-ection Day Special”

On this Election Day special, I start off with an idea there won’t be much change in these mid-term elections which I find arguably disappointing since I’m really a big believer in change. Joined in this discussion is David Brancaccio from Public Radio’s “Marketplace” (former host of the fabulous “NOW” on PBS) who takes a different standpoint and claims that these mid-terms will result in change and that is due to the issue of money. David claims that the economy plays a big part in determining the election despite education being the classic fundamental issue of elections in the past. He says that despite economic indicators saying we’re coming out the hole, consumer confidence is down which gets people annoyed and they lash out on the polls. With certain politicians losing their seats, despite not making an obvious difference, David believes the makeup of congress dictates how money flows so as more republicans come in, money flows change which in turn affects how large companies choose to invest. However, I point out to David: let’s be real. I feel precarious about the true scale of change that is going to happen particularly in the next two years, not just because a lot of people aren’t showing up to vote except for the partisan supporters on either side, but also because even if certain politicians get displaced for others within their party, they’re still going to stick to party lines as there’s not enough passion out there to make radical changes.

Speaking of passion, David brings in the youth element arguing that there’s neither the passion among the youth to register to vote nor the interest due to the disappointment from the lack of change that was promised to them at the last election. Many just look and see the same old thing. Obama was an opportunity lost to the in-house politics and fighting and less focus on what’s for the greater good (my feeling). David blames the media too for focusing too much coverage on these issues, making it out to be a sports race and less on how much peoples votes can actually make a difference. Negative advertising and campaigning, said to have cost a staggering $1 billion this election, doesn’t necessarily make people want support the one releasing the negative campaign. If anything it just puts more people off voting because it all gets blurred together, where everyone is made to look like the bad guy, hardly good publicity for Congress’ already low approval ratings. So after all the money spent they shouldn’t be surprised when turn out is low. Although sticking to his argument that this election will matter, David argues that low turn-out has historically benefited the Republicans.

So we turn to the ad whiz Steve Cone (”Steal These Ideas”) who has noticed that the theme of voter’s sentiment is to “throw the rascals out” )to quote Norman Mailer) and to “get rid of the incumbents”. Cone, too, is disappointed to see just how much money has been spent on negative advertising arguing that 90% of adverts are negative and found the same correlation that it doesn’t swing votes. In fact, he believes its backfiring on all politicians as it makes them out to be crooks. He has yet to see an advert that he believes is of good quality and that a campaigner could be proud of. The only people they appeal to and persuade to come out and vote are the extremists and already committed. We both believe that a more successful candidate would be one who came out with a feel good campaign such as what Spitzer did and Cuomo just completed in New York, promising to weed out the crooks on both sides.

A solution that Steve proposes is that candidates should be more aggressive at seeking people out online, use technology to make people feel engaged like President Obama did in his successful campaign. Rather than spending obscene amounts of money on ineffective adverts, they would get more votes by using the Internet as its cheap, easy, interactive and most people are online these days. Politicians should ask people what they want to see in an advert, what issues they want addressing and resulting in more effective advertisements that they can say are approved by the people. Adverts need some form of response mechanism to get feedback from their viewers.

As a final note to end the show is the very true statement that everyone should vote because if you don’t vote you can’t complain! To listen to the whole kaboodle: http://blogtalkradio.com/TheElShow. Play it.

Don’t forget The El Show is live and taking calls every Tuesday at 9 AM e.t.

Twitter @theelshow and @laermer

The Lion In Water

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Ted Kennedy was the lion of the Senate who lived a long and consistent life as a public servant. Not even political foes can argue that his service was not of the highest order; he served just as his brothers before him had. Always a liberal trendsetter, this Kennedy pushed for single-payer national health care starting in 1974. A consistent promoter of what he believed was right, the man never wavered.

Throughout the career of the Massachusetts leader, a notable cloud followed him at all times. He was not able to shake Chappaquiddick

Nobody Out-Novaked Novak

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Robert Novak was a man.

He served our country honorably during the Korean War; was an excellent journalist; and was, in very many ways, a pioneer in cable news. His six-times-weekly Evans-Novak Political Report was

Is Socialism The Norm & We Just Don

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

The country is currently immersed in a wide-ranging (and healthy) discussion about health care. This overhaul of the for-profit system we use is alarmingly overdue so the debate is on in every city and town.

Without going into detail for days, some Democrats, including President Obama, are trying to enact a plan that would revamp the entire industry. Part of it would mean Americans could essentially purchase low-cost insurance from the Government. This is called

Much Ado about So Little It Hurts

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Supreme Court confirmation hearings are the ultimate made-for-TV event. The

Why No One Runs For Office Today: An Allegory

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

I would never run for office but there are some good people who get sucked into it. This is a story about a friend of mine who tried to help his local citizenry. His name is Jeff Perlman and he was twice elected Mayor of Delray Beach, Florida — where an election takes place this month that he will be far away from — and he taught me one thing about politics that we should remember as we sit judging the elected officials we chose.

You know this already: Politics is not a good place for a good human being to hang out.

We are going to have a lot of trouble getting young people to want to be our leaders. Notably after any of them read this story.

I spent time with Jeff Perlman (my firm, RLM PR, helped him through one of 25 crises while he was Mayor; he was the only client who ever handled a crisis with good cheer and constant reassessment and skill…but got the bad end of every stick) while people gave this hard-working man of the people a tough time for everything but wearing jeans. He was a part-time Mayor and skilled in PR; he got paid about $20,000 a year for his work as Mayor (Delray is a very small city) and was stopped by the people for taking any part-time jobs “on the side.”

He and his family just about got by on his wife’s salary. Yet when he tried to do some consulting at a local media relations firm, the towns folks went into a tizzy, calling it a conflict of interest. This little firm had no government clients — not even close — and yet he had to leave it because the voters, who had no hobbies, refused to allow it.

Jeff Perlman

The former Mayor explains how Delray citizens demanded to know his clients at all times: “I got sued for accepting a contract to publish a monthly newsletter for the school district, a job which netted less than $20k for a year’s work. The suit, filed by a political rival’s millionaire wife, cost me in excess of $20,000 to have thrown out, only to have it re-filed within hours of a deadline costing me another $10,000.” Perlman settled the second suit because defending himself again would have cost him between $25,000 and $30,000.

In its coverage of a town where the news people also have too much free time, the Palm Beach Post placed the first suit on the front page above the fold and above an item announcing that Al Qaeda had developed a nerve weapon.

When Perlman bid on a PR contract with the South Florida Water Management District (keeping in mind that other part-time elected officials do work for other governmental agencies), the Post wrote several stories costing him the contract even though he was actually he lowest bidder, was amply qualified, and executives were pleased with his work.

Says Perlman: “After a lawsuit and dozens of negative stories in the media, I no longer pursued any public work.” He feared an ulcer.

Here’s what Perlman’s public life was like:

February 2005: A young black man, Jerrod Miller, is shot and killed by an off-duty Delray Beach police officer. Story after story runs about how Delray is “split along racial lines…” But this is news to people who live there. The local press blames the Mayor, who has won all his elections by landslides, works tirelessly, and helps everyone get along and get what they need in Delray Beach.

May 2005: Jerrod Miller’s family files suit against the City of Delray Beach.

August 2005: The police officer who killed Miller is cleared of criminal wrongdoing in by a Grand Jury. The Mayor is taken to task for not holding enough meetings with the local NAACP. But the national NAACP doesn’t think this is an issue. Mayor Jeff has been doing whatever he can to heal the City; no one credits him with anything!

October 2005: Hurricane Wilma knocks out power to the whole city. Florida Power and Light (FPL) takes more than a month to turn it back on. Somehow, the Mayor is caught up in this, and he is powerless to do anything to stop the bad press — or FPL. “I simply didn’t sleep much. I spent hours driving neighborhoods, delivering ice and working with FPL to and state authorities to get real help.”

November 2005: Hurricane Wilma had ripped roofs off at Carver Estates (public housing), and the City decides to tear it down and rebuild, for which the Mayor is vilified. Prior to Wilma, the buildings were declared dangerous due to 40 years of federal and local neglect that the Mayor inherited. “We made it a priority and worked feverishly to relocate every single family to safer homes. Moving expenses were paid, and hefty stipends were secured, which enabled everyone displaced by the storm to find better homes.” The media went wild.

March 2006: Police chase…and eventually catch…a burglar in Perlman’s backyard. “This was an 18 hour manhunt for a criminal who was skilled at home invasions. Helicopters, K-9s and heat seeking radar were used before they fished him out of bushes in my canal.” You cannot make this up.

March 2006: Delray — under Perlman’s leadership — places a moratorium on building McMansions, which upsets those who don’t give a rat’s tush about historic preservation or conservation. One of several historic preservation-related scandals over the years and of course Mayor Perlman is caught up in it.

August 2006: Commissioner and former Vice Mayor Jon Levinson speaks (too) frankly and Perlman is forced to make a statement saying he doesn’t endorse Levinson’s actions. “Levinson went off in a goal setting session, pointing out the City Manager David Harden was mismanaging bond issue projects and failing to follow commission directions. While Jon’s remarks were far from diplomatic…he was 100% right.

The headline in the Post said we questioned the ‘work ethic’ of city workers. Not true. In fact, we praised City workers for their hurricane response but we had the temerity to challenge the manager who was indeed failing to complete projects or follow clear policy directions because of general incompetence. We criticized him. I did tactfully. Jon, not so tactfully.”

The Post writes an editorial that “Harden is Not the Problem” and credits the Manager for healing the city during the recent racial unrest. But the Mayor tells me: “Not quite. He was AWOL the whole time.”

August/September 2006: Because the city has a minimized budget, it is not able to pay firemen and paramedics well, so there are now 16 vacancies at one point, and the townspeople are in an uproar. Also, smoking is banned on City beaches. For once the press loves something — but smokers hate the Mayor and protest vehemently (and publicly).

December 2006: Two streets get converted from one-way to two-way, which required some closures and merchants were livid. Just guess who was blamed?

December 2006: Delray allows a developer to build town homes on the site of a monastery. Later (in February), Palm Beach Diocese backs out of deal to sell a house to eight elderly nuns, and blames the city of Delray Beach.

December 2006: Delray (and Boynton Beach) had been dumping their sewage into the ocean for four decades. But, when the permit comes up for renewal, some say it was Perlman’s fault that it was being dumped into the ocean to begin with! Perlman actually headed the group that decided to end the practice and had begun a major water re-use program. Press ignore this basic fact, even though when the story broke the City had cut emissions by 40 percent and were well on the way to 100 percent as soon as construction was complete on new pipes.

January 2007: Office Depot, among the biggest corporate businesses in town, leaves Delray and Perlman is blamed, but well used to this, he sets about resuscitating the Office Depot site and is successful.

March/April 2007: A spanking budget disaster now overshadows all Perlman’s good work: “An email to a lame duck City Commission notified them that the city had to borrow about $40.5 million if certain improvement projects were ever to get off the ground. Mayor Jeff Perlman never saw the email before the meeting.” (Palm Beach Post).

Perlman tells me: “The City Manager [Harden] never told us about the problem and in fact insisted we were fine, stating that there was no need for new borrowing. It turns out we did not need $41 million, a task force knocked the number down to $27 million and that included millions of new goodies sought by the manager including a new city environmental services building, a new fire station, a new IT building and an expansion of City Hall. Not funded: What the voters asked and paid for: a new senior center. The FBI launches an investigation into the bond issue.”

He did not run for reelection that year even though he was granted a 72 percent approval rating when he left office. You can pretty much see why.

July 2007, from the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel: “Over the weekend, former Mayor Jeff Perlman denied trying to pressure the City Commission to fire City Manager David Harden. But on Monday, an email was leaked that he had sent to most of the commissioners chastising Harden and [new] Mayor Rita Ellis. The July 17 e-mail was sent in reaction to a Sun-Sentinel article that disclosed public comments were being edited out of City Commission meetings that are posted on the city’s Web site. The removal was ordered by Harden.” Perlman responded, and the Sun-Sentinel followed up with an editorial saying he should not in fact exercise his first amendment right to express an opinion.

September 2007: City settles with Jerrod Miller’s family for $1 million; the suit, says the local press “blamed then-Mayor Perlman, city commissioners and other city officials for embracing policies that it says led to Miller’s death.”

And now it turns out that there was illegal managing of city funds (so typical now) going on behind the scenes. Indictments are handed down. Perlman is not even a footnote in any of it. Political power broker and long time County Commissioner Mary McCarty and her husband Kevin are heading to jail. 18-year veteran Harden is implicated in a corruption scheme that is like a Hollywood tale with a severely bad rewrite.

Mary and Kevin McCarty

Mary McCarty, who seemed so business-like and austere when I met her, certainly played her part well. She was charged with conspiracy and mail fraud, stemming from her alleged failure to give her constituents honest services after voting on several bond issues that directly benefited her husband Kevin’s employers, including, yep, Bear Stearns. The McCartys allegedly received about $300,000 as a result of the votes. McCarthy also allegedly failed to disclose hotel stays provided by one of the county’s vendors.

A committee examination of how Harden’s decisions as Manager led to McCarty Mania should have been completed by now. Naturally, it’s going to come down after Tuesday’s big election, where the mayorality and other public offices are up for grabs.

Who was the scapegoat in Delray Beach? Jeff Perlman proves my thesis: Why on earth would anyone run for office and spend low-paid days and nights handling the “mishegos” of people who make you feel less than adequate no matter how hard you work? This is one man’s story, but it is certainly not as big an anomaly as you think.

It’s just the best one I know.

AMERICA! (sigh) HOW COULD YOU?

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Let’s come to grips with the fact that this country is going down. Straight out — no one is happy. Sure, we’re thrilled to see someone new leading us, it’s cool that some big box stores are reporting less-than-stellar results, and oh yeah Wall Street, don’t get me started, is in a hole it long deserved to be in.

But mostly, we’re mad at our country and countrymen for taking the easy way out during the so-called good years (circa 2002-06).

America!

You don’t need me to review, but who out there wasn’t at least a little surprised to hear about acquaintances getting mortgages way beyond their means, or friends spending money they didn’t even nearly have? Or, worse, companies that were getting away with “things” we knew in our hearts someone should stand up to! Finally, what was UP with the way the people let the Government be run amok by their friends: the money-chucking corporate hounds?

I think for a while now, it’s been hard for the citizenry to stand up to what’s wrong, mainly due to our SSLR drugs (Prozac, Xanax, et al) keeping us feeling good. How can you revolt if you’re dulled? But it’s got to be more than that — it’s time, in my never humble opinion, for us to become more vigilant regarding those we suspect and those (Hello, Barack) we have the faith in. Let’s not just sit around and feel like it’s all eventually going to be all right. There is a time (turn turn turn) to stand up for what we know in our churning gut is just smacking wrong!

Recently on twitter a tweep cracked wise how politicians should wear their “sponsors” on clothes like NASCAR drivers and while I laughed like you, it also seemed like a good way to start a new kind of thinking. No matter what political party you think you’re part of, you are definitely suspicious of IT today. There was Barbara Boxer, who is a good one, on MSNBC laughing and saying to Rachel that the tawdry way our stimulus pack was played out in Congress is “simply the way it works!” But then I see whole towns out of work with formerly fine families living in shelters and desperate for some help from DC.

The scene seemed like a placard for people in power playing with the patsies.

So it may be a good time for red-blooded Americans (we’re not being Dems nor GOPers here) to start doubting the motives of everyone- not cynically, but rather realistically - and seeing politics like usual as the killer of what this nation stood for.

Gee, let’s see. Does it seem as though a party voted away a “spending bill” as if to make a point? And was that point “it’s going to be bad no matter what and we want to be right?”

Gee, let’s see. Did celebrating righteousness while Rome, err, the U.S. is burning, have an awful taste to it?

Gee, let’s see. What contributors to which party leaders made sure that “Buy America” was in the package when in fact that is not necessarily the best way to get the infrastructure truly, finally fixed?

Final gee: Is politics as usual going to be the ruination of what we stand for?

I thought this nation did super well during crises. Now I see how the dastardly “meeting culture” (art of bringing everything to a committee in corporations and Government) has made it easy to paralyze even a major player like us.

We just elected a new super powerful dude with some measured yet electric ideas. This week we will see a central list of what will be done, as President Obama gives us information about the state of our union. Let’s listen carefully–let’s also judge a little. Okay, it is good, as P-Clinton said on Friday, “to think hopefully,” but we’d be better off with clenched fists reminding one another that we are already in hell in a hand basket. If those we elected to “high” office are not going to get us into anything better, we can get up and take things into our own hands.

I say use our vigilant typing fingers to find out who actually advises our politicians, whether it’s fine corporate friends, eager beaver lobbyists or overpaid influencers. Because, yes, our officials really can be the ones who bring us to a place like hell, depending on their actions right now.

Can’t we all agree on one aspect of scary times: blindly being led hasn’t worked for a while!

I’m Richard Laermer and my stuff is on twitter @laermer.

President Obama Will Not Mow Your Lawn

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

…or shovel your walk, or find you a job, or raise your children, or make you rich.

The Expectations Game

Time is near - finally! In a handful of days the Bushes will mercifully vanish and a new hope will inherit the crisis that is the United States. We have elected a man who, while light on so-called traditional experience, represents how America

Caroline Kennedy And Her, You Know, Problems

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Caroline Kennedy

New Yorkers have always had an interesting relationship with Senator Hillary Clinton. We weren’t quite sure what to make of it when she moved into our state apparently for the sole purpose of running for one of our senate seats, and we really didn’t know what to do with her during the now famous race against Rick Lazio. We do know now - on the eve of 2009 - that for the mostpart, we like Senator Clinton, and that she has done an admirable job in her role. She is battle-hardened enough to satisfy even the gruffest of City dwellers, yet thoughtful enough to be genuine. We wish her well as a member of President Obama’s cabinet.

With Senator Clinton soon to leave the legislative branch, Gov. Patterson has to perform a Constitutionally-mandated duty of choosing the much-discussed newbie. This is an awe-inspiring and worthy task, uh isn’t that right, “Governor F-Word”? One prospective name that seems to be circulating is that of a certain Ms. Kennedy - daughter of the last Obama. While Kennedy certainly meets the legal requirements to become a U.S. Senator, I have to wonder if she is up to the task of being one of New York’s crucial legislators.

New Yorkers (like me since birth) strongly dislike non-authentic types. We don’t do bullshit. If you aren’t going to talk straight, we wish you’d get out of our way. There are millions of people in our state and surely someone will give us what we need. That said, when Ms. Kennedy gave an interview to the New York Times, she repeated the phrase “you know” an astounding 142 times. One hundred and forty two! I mean… Palin may have been a public catastrophe, but she has to be cackling now.

Ms. Kennedy, we don’t know. We want to know what qualifies you to be in the Senate as opposed to, say, a public servant at a lower level. We want to know why the interest to become a political figure? All of the sudden? Why after 50 years of “leave me alone and let me raise my children in peace”-iness. Mostly though, we want to know why you don’t deserve comparisons to our dear friend from Alaska, who was ridiculed even by those who did not doubt her.

Objectively speaking, Mrs. Palin has infinitely more political experience than La Kennedy. Palin has been elected to municipal office and statewide office, no small feats, and was (still is) widely lampooned as “not experienced enough” for a shot at Washington. If she lacks experience, what does Ms. Kennedy have besides the President-Elect’s vote to escape this double-standardized criticism?

Look, Caroline (can we call you Caroline?)-we like Teddy. He’s a good man We loved your Uncle Robert. We adored your dad, and because we, like she, epitomized New York, we were beyond infatuated with your mother. We want to like you. But we’re smart and see through the noise.

Please give us something of substance. And add a decent public speaking course to your resume. Or your argument stops at “Gee, my name is Kennedy… you know?”

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