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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Meg Whitman 2.0

Back in 2015, I went on record -- to everyone's laughter -- with my favoring Donald Trump's chances of becoming President of the United States. Nobody's laughing now, however, which is one more reason why I so enjoy writing these posts.  This time, I've dug back to 2009, when to nobody's surprise, I pummeled tech CEO Meg Whitman for her clumsy losing bid to become governor of the state of California.

Despite spending over $150 million of her personal billion-dollar fortune, Whitman got crushed by bad handlers and Jerry Brown's measly $35 million effort. It would have been laughable were it not so pathetic. Whitman bungled every step of her way to the loser's shed, camping on the wrong side of each issue while crusading as one of the most antipathetic candidates in the state's history.  Her trail of scorched earth through Disney, Hasbro, DreamWorks and Ebay didn't exactly rally the forces of Silicon Valley to her cause. Neither did Gloria Allred's last minute lawsuit on behalf of Whitman's "abusive" employment of an undocumented alien in her own home.

But that was then. This is now.

In November, 2017, after nine years at its helm, Whitman quietly stepped down from her perch at Hewlett-Packard with little fanfare. It was a voluntary move that hardly went noticed, which can mean only one of three things:

1. She's terminally ill.
2. She's got another gig.
3. She's eyeing another run for the governor's seat.

I'm confident that at age 61, Whitman's health is just fine. If anything, her recent photographs reflect a new, more vibrant image than her past images that made her look more like Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958. Someone is finally giving this woman media advice -- possibly for a reason.

I'm also not convinced that her "announcement" about buying into an MLS expansion team is anything more than a cover for her real agenda: the team she's reportedly buying is, not so coincidentally, based in Sacramento. Just a stone's throw from her would-be office.

All of which points to Option #3, which makes a whole lot of sense, for a whole lot of reasons.

As Steve Bannon recently advised a group of Republicans in an Orange County speech, "you guys got everything you need" to produce the same results in California that his team produced nationally for Donald Trump. People, money, effort and a purpose -- everything else is just icing on the cake.

More to the point, the timing is right. In the first place, Donald Trump proved that one person really can take on an entrenched system and win. He made believers out of a country that previously had given up its government as hopeless. Secondly, Hillary Clinton may have lost the election, but in her own way, advanced and encouraged the potential of women's gains in much the same way as Trump did for his platform.  Third, the Harvey Weinstein Syndrome wreaked havoc in a very public way, and by all accounts, will continue to reverberate and vilify men throughout the election year, especially when the top two Democrats contenders, Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa, are on public record as lifelong womanizers.

For those of you who don't reside in California, let me add three more ingredients to the mix:

1.  While it's not politically or socially acceptable to do so, an increasing number of Californians -- at least those outside of San Francisco -- are getting tired of dealing with the costs and crimes of illegal immigrants. Off the record, far more people -- including legal immigrants -- prefer Trump's wall to be built sooner rather than later.

2.  The new Federal Tax Reform plan hits high-income, high-tax states like New York and California particularly hard, because it no longer allows those residents to deduct their 11% state income taxes from their Federal tax returns.  Ouch. That means more people will likely vote for lower taxes and less government.

3.  While everyone accuses Republicans of representing the rich, by far, the bulk of the "let's have the government spend more" sentiment is being attributed to Democrats, whose public perception is deteriorating faster than the chances of cashing an expired food stamp at a liquor store.

Put them all together and this branding guy sees a big picture in which the right woman at the right time -- this time with all the right answers -- could upset the Democratic stranglehold that's been killing California.

That woman could be Meg Whitman, assuming of course, that this time Whitman's maid has a valid Social Security number.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Misunderstanding Nazis

Anyone who knows me also knows how much I've enjoyed the last year or two here in the United States. I tell young people to pay attention, because these are historic times that won't reoccur any time soon. There hasn't been a "world order" shake-up like this since the turn of the twentieth century, when most of the world's monarchies were displaced by republics in a relatively short number of years.

Of course, not too many people know their history, so they know nothing about that previous shake-up. Millennials know even less, because they simply accept whatever answers Google retrieves as the gospel truth. Revisionist academics seem intent on censoring, altering and filtering historical facts, patting them into place in an effort to fit the world comfortably to their own agenda.

Unfortunately, the truth has a funny way of surfacing all by itself. It's happening as we speak. This time, it's with Nazis.

I spend my time observing from the sidelines, where I can't help but laugh at everyone calling anyone with whom they disagree a Nazi. These are, by and large, the same people who are offended by everything and seek to limit your personal freedoms in order to quell their own inadequacies. But I'm not here to preach. You already know all that stuff.

Here's something you might not know:

If you talk to the people who really know what Nazism is about, you'll find them to be strong advocates of an open, limitless society.  These are incredibly tolerant people, accepting anything other than limits on their -- and your -- personal freedoms. These are not people who majored in sociology and political science. They're not academics isolated in their university ivory towers. Nor are they uneducated marchers with smart phones in hand.

No, the folks I'm talking about have real Nazi experiences. These are the true authorities on what Nazis are. They're holocaust survivors.

Most of them are dying off now, but not before they've told and recorded their experiences for posterity. Were it not so tragic, it's almost amusing to hear some twenty-something rant about Nazis within earshot of an elder victim who watched her entire family shot to death in her own home or wither away from starvation in a death camp for no reason other than who and what they were.

They've had decades to suffer with the memories and the loss, as opposed to an uneducated, uninformed and wholly unrealistic generation of kids -- including those forty-somethings suffering from their own chronic condition of prolonged adolescence -- who have convinced themselves they really know what Nazism is all about.

They do not. One viewing of Schindler's List or Sophie's Choice doesn't speak to the real life experiences of those whose lives were destroyed in Europe, only to be rebuilt under the aegis of American freedom.  That's why virtually all holocaust survivors have defected from the left to wholeheartedly embrace and protect the freedoms that saved their very souls.

Personally, I love it when I hear people calling other folks Nazis. The uneducated are so easy to defeat. And that's not just my opinion.  As history notes, it was certified by a national vote in 2016.


Let's see them try to rewrite that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Tech Meltdown

Not everyone agrees with what I write here. In fact, whenever I opine about things, most of the reactions are of the pooh-pooh variety, pummeling me with posts about how far off the mark I am. I know I see things playing out politically, socially or economically, but that's because I view them through a different lens. Every once in a while, though, some of my most fervent critics will return to admit my analysis was correct, albeit a tad premature.

This may be one of those times. So tighten your chinstrap. You may not agree with what's coming.

At the time of this writing, the current national pastime seems to be the undermining of anything having to do with Donald Trump, both personally and professionally. The facts notwithstanding, an ever-shrinking contingent is still protesting pointlessly, although nobody seems to know about what. The entire "progressive" left seems to be riding on momentum now, fueled by their bitterness left over from their losses in the 2016 election. It hasn't much longer to live, however, as Trump's rising economic tide is indeed lifting all boats: Even the most vocal protesters are spending more time watching their 401Ks grow and less time whining about it.

If you're a student of history -- real history, not the revisionist stuff that tears down statues and builds bathrooms dedicated to gender confusion -- you can see that Trump's recovery and reconstruction efforts are working even faster than Ronald Reagan's did during his first term. When Reagan was saddled with repairing the widespread damage done by Jimmy Carter, it took him two full years before the country could begin to feel the ship being righted. In less than nine months after his inauguration, Trump is already way ahead of Reagan's schedule, with just about all sectors of the economy up and improving -- and feeling it.  That's all good news. One sector, however, is likely to head south, and even though nobody wants to hear about it, I'm here to tell you:

The Tech Meltdown is coming -- and way sooner than you think.

Tech giants like Apple, Google, Amazon and even newcomers like Snapchat and other tech-based ventures are completely out of step with what's happening in America. Sure, they're huge and well capitalized. But that's the result of decades of a lackluster economy, when nothing was happening and nobody had any reason to invest in anything else. Decades of malaise instilled the notion that innovation and technology were the future, and millions of boomers and millennials bought into it.

That's all changing.

Of course it's not fashionable to  say it, but America has always been, and likely will always be, an industrial economy. That's not to say that services and technology don't have their places. But industry and manufacturing have always been the engines powering our progress.  You can see it happen now, if you know where to look. Energy, defense, manufacturing and all of their ancillary industries have soared in value -- and real business orders -- since Trump was sworn in.  Don't take my word for it. Check your own stock ticker to see who's up and who's not. Look at GDP rates and real unemployment figures.

All the needles are pointing in the right direction -- and tech has nothing to do with it.

Now that the market has more real options to invest in real companies with real products that pay real dividends and offer real growth, the two decade illusory-yet-unfulfilled promises of tech are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Dark concerns about Apple's built-in obsolescence, Google's omnipotent disregard for privacy and Amazon's anti-trust behavior only add to the mix.  The Silicon Valley venture model of pumping and dumping short-lived, valueless propositions is just as unsustainable. As the internet bubble once taught us, corporate hubris takes you only so far.

That's why the glory days of tech are over. It's only a matter of time until the big selloff hits.

That's the bad news. The good news is that it may just be the ticket to make Bay Area real estate affordable again.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cracking The Internet Lens

If you were born after 1990, you and I are not the same. We're very different, because you've never experienced what life is like during a healthy economy. You've never known a time when optimism was a way of life. And as I wrote a while back, you've been taught to make do with what little you have rather than building your life into something bigger and better.

That's too bad. Because there's still plenty of opportunity out there. It's just that you wouldn't know it because you've spent your life viewing it through the Internet Lens.

Before you dismiss this as some older guy's rant about politics, forget it. That's not what I'm ranting about at all.  Besides, you get enough of that with your latt√© and morning bran muffin. A more appropriate consideration would be what the internet has done to irreversibly harm the market for collectibles, those once-rare items ranging from knick-knacks to cars that could only be discovered after hundreds of hours hunting.

Weren't expecting that, were you?

Collectibles, especially rare ones, aren't that tough to find any more, of course. Now you can discover just about anything you want, anywhere in the world, with a simple point and click. As a result of the internet, what was once considered rare might not actually be as elusive as once thought. It's that way with collectibles and it turns out it's that way with humans, as well.

Before the web, people who lived in the shadows and margins of humanity felt alone and isolated, usually closeted and/or shunned by the conformity of pre-internet society. Each one felt as alone and as rare as a double-struck nickel. After 1998, however, that all started to change, as the internet did what it does best, making it easier to find rare specimens -- human or otherwise -- were not quite as rare as they'd thought.

When you take three giant steps back to see the big picture, you will find people and postage stamps are not that dissimilar. In fact, they are perfect examples of life through the Internet Lens, where much of what we see, hear and view is -- by the nature of the Internet Lens itself -- skewed by the views and values of those most motivated to use the internet to discover those more like themselves.

And that's why anyone expecting any kind of impartial, politically-agnostic content would be massively disappointed in their hunt for objectivity. While the internet provides a platform for all to present their views, it's only those who are motivated to connect with others -- usually in an attempt to confirm their own self-interest -- who actually do so.

It doesn't matter if you're extreme on the left or the right or possess an ardent passion for chickens. In fact, it doesn't matter what you think or do. All that matters is that you're motivated enough to send out the call to connect with those as rare as yourself, while the rest of us conformists merely sit and endure the absence of any refutation of your views. The result is an illusory reality that is absolutely skewed by special interests -- but not by the usual cast of multi-national, corporate villains. These special interests have their own agenda and it's not at all like yours.

Welcome to life through the Internet Lens: Where rare is represented as normal, no matter how abnormal it actually may be.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Easy To Be Hard

I have no idea why science fiction writers exert so much energy on fantasies about time machines when all it really takes to be launched into another age is a decades-old hit playing on the radio.  In this particular case, I was tootling down the highway when I was ambushed by a major hit from the sixties musical Hair entitled Easy to be Hard.

Although the show was a big hit on Broadway (and even a a movie), the big money was its soundtrack, and this version by Three Dog Night commanded American airwaves for months.  For those of you who never saw/heard about the show, it was the first major production to convey all the issues of the hippie counter-culture to mainstream America. It caused a big commotion, and was made even more popular by the fact that -- for the first time ever and as a challenge to censorship laws -- it featured one scene in which the actors on stage appeared completely naked.

Yeah. That was way before PornHub.

Back then, most people thought Hair was just about hippies, a 90 minute glimpse of the long-haired, free love mind set.  Today, however, the show -- and especially the song itself -- have taken on an eerie new significance. Keep in mind that the hippies of the sixties preached gospels of love, tolerance and universal acceptance, yet as the show points out, in practice, they could be just as capable of cruelty and intolerance as those against whom they protested. Hundreds of hippies could march together against the cold, oppressive, unfeeling Establishment while simultaneously ignoring the personal pain of the confused adolescents marching right there with them.  Easy to be Hard sums up the dissonance perfectly, with a melody just as haunting:
How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd
How about a needy friend
I need a friend

How can people be so heartless
You know I'm hung up on you
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no
Now, a new millennium reveals that the grandchildren of America's hippies are just as self-absorbed and unfeeling as their grandparents were. Every day, mainstream America is subjected to the whines and rants of professional victims, clamoring for the rights and privileges of ever-emerging minorities while viciously savaging their neighbors and just about anyone from whom they differ.

Gay, trans, lesbian, queer, black, brown, feminist, PETA and the rest -- you name 'em, they hate you and seem to have no problem spewing bile toward you while demanding unconditional acceptance for themselves. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with various groups' self-advancement. I do, however, have a big problem when they preach love while swinging a baseball bat at the heads of those who differ from them.

The last few years has allowed social and not-so-social media to rack up endless clips of social justice warriors' attacking anyone, anywhere -- and usually for no clear reason at all.  It can't be doing too much good, other than pointing out the very obvious:

The sixties may be gone, but human hypocrisy, apparently, is timeless. 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Islam 442

In case you haven't noticed, there's been a lot of hand-wringing over how the world should be handling the issue of radical islamic terrorism.  I've noticed it, too.  I'm probably just as frustrated as anyone who wants to rid the world of a true global plague. Watching national leaders on every side of the problem do little more than issue public statements of condemnation "is the very strongest terms" just isn't cutting it.

Hey, I'm just a branding guy. A strategist. So whenever I see a problem, my first reaction is to suggest some sort of a workable solution or at least ask the right questions.  Some days, a brand strategy is all it takes to turn a business around.  Other days, the same kind of strategy is all it takes to turn a political situation around.  After all, brand strategy is all about human behavior, and as long as we're influencing the human decision-making process, its principles can work almost anywhere -- including combatting radical muslim terrorism.

If you know your history, you need not look too far to find a real, tenable solution to the problem -- only you'd have to look the right place to find it.  In this case, you might want to take a look at the 442nd Regiment Combat Team of the second world war:

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is an infantry regiment of the United States Army, part of the Army Reserve. The regiment was a fighting unit composed almost entirely of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry (mostly from Hawaii) who fought in World War II. Most of the families of mainland Japanese Americans were confined to internment camps in the United States interior. Beginning in 1944, the regiment fought primarily in Europe during World War II,[2] in particularItalysouthern France, and Germany.
The 442nd Regiment was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare.[3]The 4,000 men who initially made up the unit in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly 2.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts. The unit was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations (five earned in one month).[4]:201 Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor.[2] Its motto was "Go for Broke".

The above Wikileaks summary gives you a good idea of what Japanese, Italian and German Americans were up against when they were relocated into internment camps as part of the American war defense.  It was not a pretty time, but the reaction of each group tells a remarkably similar story:

While they were innocent victims, Japanese, Italian and German Americans took it upon themselves to prove their character by taking up arms against the very people from whom they descended. If you've ever read the chilling accounts of the 442 in Italy -- overtaking Nazi positions thought impenetrable -- there's no doubt of what true American heroism is about.

It doesn't get more convincing -- or effective -- than that. So I guess the big question here is where is the muslim 442?

We live in an age of super media, where data and publicity zip around the world far faster than they did in 1944.  News travels in seconds instead of weeks.  Given Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and every other social medium, it seems the muslim world could do itself a lot of good if it enlisted its own on behalf of its western friends.

Let me be clear: Cultural and racist issues against Japanese, Italian and German Americans didn't suddenly stop after the second world war. But less than a decade later, their situations were greatly improved, and our enemies were vanquished, thanks largely to the 442 and the like.

History provides all the lessons we need.  It's just a question if anyone really wants to learn them.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The French Canary

I have my political views. You have your political views.  For a minute, put them aside for the sake of some pure, staggering, strategic analysis.  This could be historic, so buckle in.

Look, I'm a brand strategist, so I'm more concerned with why things happen, on the theory that if you understand why things happen, you're better prepared for when they happen.  If you're really good, you can also get an accurate picture of what's going to happen, which comes in handy, too.  My work tends to stay in the commercial sector, but make no mistake:  Branding is about making decisions, wherever those decisions are made.  So as long as humans are choosing their actions, the forces at work in purchase decisions will remain very much like the ones influencing social and political events.

Which brings us to France.

At the time of this writing, France has just inaugurated its youngest president in history.  That's not important. Two thirds of the French vote carried the center-left Mr. Macron into office, sending the right-leaning Ms. LePen to defeat.  There's no doubt that Ms. LePen had a serious branding problem, but that's not important, either.

Here's what is important:

Starting in June, 2016, the world has witnessed profound growth in anti-globalist sentiment.  It began with BREXIT and -- regardless of social media hash tags to the contrary -- continued with the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.  Social media like Facebook and Twitter is rife with malcontents who post memes and videos espousing the dangers of unrestricted immigration.  In the past year, Sweden has become the poster child for increases in crime, while Hungary and Poland are being heralded for their own zero tolerance policies.

Clearly, the battle lines are being drawn all over the world. But it's France that tells the real story.

Two decades ago, LePen's National Front party was barely a blip on the radar. Two weeks ago, it registered roughly 30% of the national French vote -- and that's just the official tally:  That doesn't include those who were sympathetic to LePen, but simply couldn't bring themselves to vote for her.

So now, France -- a country not well-known for its tolerance of non-white, non-Christian cultures -- has a major portion of her population reaching its boiling point.  Once known as the City of Lights, Paris has become a checkerboard of dark, impoverished ghettos where sharia law prevents the enforcement of French civil law.  The French are witnessing first-hand the degradation that social media has been blaring  about for the last few years -- and they don't like it one bit.  That's the significance of LePen's recent advances.

But there's more.

Nothing angers a mob -- especially throngs of Frenchmen -- more than being ignored by elitist rulers. It bothered the people of France enough in 1789 to start chopping off their own rulers' heads.  Now, with their civil remedies, elections and laws proving ineffective, it's not all that unlikely that we'll begin seeing Frenchmen take to the streets, going to those places where no French civil or military authority dare go.

Historically, "having run out of viable options" is what propels civil unrest movements, which often have a knack for turning violent.  So it shouldn't come as a surprise if/when France's white, unemployed working class -- in response to its tone-deaf government -- decides to take matters into its own hands.  Call it the Timothy McVeigh Syndrome, as multi-story residential tenements in Paris's immigrant neighborhoods begin collapsing in heaps of bomb-blasted rubble, each episode empowering the anti-immigrant movement on to its next attack.

The predictable reaction would be Macron sending in the French militia to restore order, which would backfire as social media portrays the action as "the French government favoring immigrants over its own citizens."  In the business, we call that a "PR disaster."  In the real world, we call it a precursor to civil war.

And that's why France is worth watching.  She's the canary in the European coal mine.

Okay, so that's one scenario and I'm just a branding guy. It could happen.  It might not.  But then, calculating the possibilities what I get paid for -- even when those possibilities aren't especially nice.