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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Democrats' 2020 Nominee

At the time of this writing, there are well over twenty Democrats who have formally declared their intentions to seek the office of the President of the United States in the year 2020.  The list includes just about every size, shape, gender and color of human being in the catalog, but thus far, nobody seems to know who will emerge as the front runner.  At this point, I assume the higher-ups are panicked just trying to figure out how to cram everyone on to the same debate stage at one time.

The problem with Presidential prognostication is that too many pundits are basing their predictions on unreliable or just plain weird data.  Some use the same tactics they applied in high school to determine whose popularity would win the prom queen crown.  Others utilize the "packaging" approach, trying to stuff as many facets into one conglomerated individual in order to pander to the maximum number of voters.  Still more prefer the cynical strategy, in which "nothing ever changes" or "the Deep State political machine will choose its candidate the same way it always has."

As usual, I opt for another method entirely.

I submit that to really get a handle on 2020, forget what color the people are and start focusing on what color the states are.  That's where the first big clue really is.  One glance at this map shows exactly which states the Democrats lost in 2016, but thought they were going to win.  The so-called "purple states" -- which could swing either way -- is where the big battles are.  The Dems want to do everything they can to swing those states' Electoral votes to blue in 2020, so it stands to reason that a nominee from one of those states has an inside track.

If you buy into that argument, the Democrat nominee is currently eating his lunch in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina or Virginia.  Yes, there are more purple states, but with ten or fewer Electoral votes, they're minor players.

Notice I mentioned the nominee eating his lunch?  That's because even notable Democrats are spooked by the party's public shift to the far left and fear losing even more center-aligned Democrats to either an independent or President Trump.  So the second Democrat imperative is to recruit a middle-aged white man: First, in order to reassure the rank and file, the Democrats need optics that confirm the party hasn't gone over the edge.  Second, without conceding his successes, the Democrats want to wheel out their version of a kinder, gentler Donald Trump.

In case you were sleeping, this is why Howard Schultz is rattling the bars on his cage.

What about diversity, you ask?  Simple.  That's what Vice Presidents are for.  Roll up a non-white, female of questionable gender as your veep, limit her to one public debate and you're good to go.

Next, start eliminating the mathematical factors.  No member of the House of Representatives has made the leap to the Presidency in over a century.  No reason to think it would happen now, so scratch those names off your list.   You can also cross out any mayors or state politicians, because they're perceived as way too local and/or green.

That pretty much leaves the short list United States Senators and Governors. As you can see, only Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina have blue governors -- and they're all white men.

Ooooo, the plot thickens!

Look at those states' United States senators, and they're all white men, too.  Knock out the losers (Tim Kaine is too closely identified with Hillary and Ralph Northam is stained with black face) and the list gets pretty short -- if you're buying into any of this.

Okay, so maybe this isn't how it's going to play out.  But you have to admit one thing:  It makes more sense than anything else you're seeing from the Democrats these days.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Hot Chicks Will Destroy Socialism

Like anyone else, I have my own political viewpoints. I'd never ask anyone to agree with my own, for a number of reasons:

1.  I think it's rude to tell other people what and how to think.
2.  I think it's rude for other people to tell me what and how to think.
3.  Frankly, I really don't care what and how other people think.
4.  It really doesn't matter what and how other people think.

Okay, that last one probably sounds a bit presumptuous, but that's the one that's most important. Look, I realize I'm no longer a young man.  In fact, at this point, I may even qualify as a borderline antique.  Fine with me.  I'm totally okay with trading youth for experience, because if you pay close attention, life has a way of teaching you patterns that are, for the most part, totally and completely immutable, yielding wisdoms of the master sages.

That's why it never really matters what people think at any given moment. I know their opinions are going to change as they age and life starts beating the crap out of them with unforeseen events and circumstances that nobody saw coming, including deaths, diseases, accidents and girlfriends who got pregnant even though they swore they had taken their pills.

Oh, sure, when you're young, life is all about rejecting the old and exploring the new.  Your twenties are all about arrogantly defining who you are and to whom you're trying to sell it. Some tactics work; lots of them don't. And somewhere between the time they decide to reject their parents' values and the day they accept the late charge on their Mastercard bills, life begins to point and laugh at young people's attempts at self-direction.

Being young, poor and insecure, the easiest path for these kids to choose is usually socialism, which makes sense, since the majority of socialists in America are young people in their twenties (and early thirties) who haven't yet succeeded, accrued wealth or figured out how to make sense of their lives. In fact, about the only thing they have discovered, is that creating a successful life is far more challenging than how this week's Netflix movie would have them believe.

Success, as it turns out, is not a thirty-second montage.

Out there in the digital world, where virtue signaling is the currency in which young socialists trade, eschewing material wealth and demanding entitlements is the stuff to which young socialists can relate and fuels the charisma of pols such as Bernie Sanders.  After all, he's a socialist and he's old, which must mean socialism isn't just for young idealists.  An old socialist, it turns out, can be a very reassuring image to a young socialist, who still craves parental approval.

But I digress.

Since 2008, the socialist agenda has swelled along with the ranks of impoverished twenty-somethings who feel that sharing a little holds more promise than risking a lot.  But if history teaches us anything, it's that fads like socialism are doomed to fail, if only for one solid, basic, proven reason:

Hot chicks.

Don't laugh. History is on my side for this one.  And here's why:

Young people are not immune to the laws of nature. Neither are you. You can grow as big a man-bun as you please, but at the end of the day, women are viscerally drawn to masculine providers, not posers. The more a man can provide, the more women he can attract. This is why men build tall buildings and great bridges and foolishly lay it all at goddesses' feet.  Men, being the grunting savages we are, know that the more women we can attract, the higher quality woman we can win.  So we bulk up what we can, where we can -- usually in our bank accounts -- which unfailingly brings droves of incredibly gorgeous, talented, intelligent women within matrimonial striking range.

It doesn't take more than, say, one ten-year high school reunion before socialists in their late twenties meet up with their class members who've long since abandoned their socialist cause.  Most often, these are the hot chicks, with rich, older husbands in tow, who long ago traded their pussy hats and Bernie buttons for million dollar mansions, complete with three kids in private schools, two dogs who are walked by her live-in maid, and a leased limited edition Mercedes coupe.  One look at that three carat pear-shaped diamond on her hand tells Mitch, the sparsely-bearded former Sanders community organizer, that he's been hiking the wrong trail for the last ten years with nothing to show for it other than his father's wedding tuxedo that he borrowed for the occasion. In one instant, if he's paying attention, he'll have learned that nobody -- especially hot chicks -- chooses a flea-infested commune in Berkeley over a hot tub in Aspen as the more rewarding way of spending the rest of their lives.

Try as many drugs as you want; nothing wakes you up faster than the realization that life -- your life, in particular -- has been passing you by, made even more bitter by the fact that fewer and fewer people are sticking with your program and most are hopping the next train for their last chances of traditional happiness.  It happened to hippies in the sixties and it will happen to socialists just as predictably -- if it isn't already.

And that's why I don't worry about socialism at all. For the billionth generation in a row, nature wins again:  Women want the best providers. Men want the best women. Don't blame me if you find that sexist: that's nature's law, not mine.

Sure, Bernie likes to promise the nation's youth everything they could want.  But until he can deliver slender, curvy brunettes in high heels and string bikinis poolside, he doesn't have a chance.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Jeff Bezos is the Devil

You'd have to be a millennial Rip Van Winkle to not know who Jeff Bezos is.  The founder of Amazon is famous for becoming (at least as of this writing) the richest man on the planet.  Owning a digital empire that includes a vast retail operation, a national newspaper and even his own space flight program, Bezos has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest internet dreams.

He's definitely the most successful man on the planet. But I submit to you he is also the most evil.

Never mind his personal peccadilloes. That he's leaving his wife of 25 years for an aging ex-beauty queen holds no currency for me, moral or otherwise. The rumors swirling about deplorable working conditions of his thousands of employees doesn't interest me either, because I have no idea if any of those stories are based in fact.  No, what makes Jeff Bezos the most evil man on the planet is something altogether different:

Jeff Bezos is the man most responsible for the breakdown of human social interaction that's crippled us in more ways than you can imagine.  Allow me to explain:

Prior to Amazon, the quickest way to buy a book, special order a hammer or purchase a pair of shoes required two important factors:

1.  Time
2.  Human interaction

No matter what you wanted to buy, you had to move yourself to a brick and mortar destination, at which point your only choice was talk to a real person face to face.  That interaction required thoughtfulness, courtesy, clarity and quite often, a little casual humor.  It reinforced a bond or helpfulness and broke down barriers among strangers. Once that connection was established, the conversation usually resulted in one of two outcomes:  the salesman either had what you wanted in stock or if the item were not in stock, he'd order it for you.  At best, the transaction was completed in a matter of hours (by the time you returned home with your purchase); at worst, it would be weeks before the item arrived at the store for you to pick up, necessitating yet another trip.  For the record, you should know that along with commercial transactions, a substantial number of friendships, courtships and marriages got started this way.

Jeff Bezos destroyed all that.

Today, if you wish to purchase just about anything, you simply look at a screen, point and click.  For no fee, the item will arrive at your doorstep in a day or three.  For a few bucks more, it will arrive the very next day.  And if you order early enough in the day, it might just arrive before tonight's dinner.

No human interaction. No waiting.  Just quick, cold service that panders to your whims.

It all sounds wonderful until you realize that an entire generation has grown into adulthood lacking any sense of patience or communication skills.  People don't initiate relationships in real time any more; it's all done via text.  And texting isn't a dialogue.  It's a two-way monologue, a series of one-sided comments launched into the ether at no particular time for no particular reason, totally lacking the subtle vocal responses and timing cues that are essential to meaningful conversation.  Likewise, people have lost all sense of patience, demanding instant results and getting angry when their needs aren't immediately served -- or their texts aren't immediately acknowledged.

But it gets worse. More evil.

If Bezos's pioneering were strictly limited to the commercial sector, I wouldn't be writing this. But the fact is that his model has proliferated, permeating and polluting our social and political environment.  He has created a model which negates the need for human interaction, replacing it with a sense of selfish entitlement.  What he's sold as convenience has simply removed all human contact, increasing polarization, isolation and serious cases of depression.  Enhanced by the false notion of "luxury marketing" we end up with a society that turns to Siri instead of its friends, and insists on Peleton bikes in their living rooms instead of communing with other humans at the local gym.

Then people wonder why they end up single, alone and living with their cats.

It doesn't stop there, either.  Politically, the United States has always endured widespread factionalism. From 1776 onward, debate has raged throughout the land over policies and practices.  That's nothing new. What is new is the deeply-rooted divisiveness, because prior to this century, our social and political fabric was woven with far less self-interest and far more collective responsibility. We got along because we were all interdependent. That, I'm sad to say, is no more. Today, schools no longer teach the basics on which our society exists, choosing instead to "cater to the individual needs of each student."

And then you wonder why those kids just want to play video games in their parents' basements.

Today, thanks largely to Jeff Bezos and his irresponsible ilk, the very best of humanity has been undermined, reducing us to a bunch of isolated, miserable peons, each in his own little box wondering how he became so miserable in a world so full of promise. Nobody, it seems, is interested in anyone or anything beyond his own wants and needs.  It's heartbreaking and I blame Jeff Bezos for all of that.

Then again, while Jeff Bezos may have robbed us of our humanity, it's only because we've allowed him to.  If you don't take back your humanity, he remains the most evil man in the world.

But you're running a close second.

Friday, January 18, 2019

How to Bring Back Journalism

Between the time you're first labeled a Nazi and accused of Fake News, there comes a time when combatants of all stripes bemoan the fact that "journalism isn't what it used to be."  They're right, of course.  Most, if not all of what passes for journalism today would have failed Mrs. Johnson's seventh grade English class for rambling discourse, lack of structure, editorializing, misspelling, bad grammar and inappropriate use of the Oxford comma.

People like to think journalism isn't the grand Fourth Estate as it once was.  They mourn how the bastion of impartial reporting has long since crumbled into a juvenile, biased free-for-all, in which readers never get past sensational headlines written by media salesmen motivated by generating clicks.

But how much of that is even true?

The reality is that ever since the invention of the printing press, mass media has hardly lived up to its romantic ideal as the source of objective fact-gathering.  In 19th century America, for example, virtually every important newspaper -- including the illustrious New York Times -- railed against businessmen, politicians and socialites with reckless abandon, accountable to nobody for anything they published.  The inaccurate reporting got so bad that more than a few of the media victims countered with the defensive strategy of purchasing controlling interests in competing publications in an attempt to level the playing field.

So the devolution of ideal journalism has always been something of a convenient myth. When you add the sad fact that an internet allows anyone, anywhere (including me) to publish anything on a potentially international platform, you eventually land in a swampy quicksand of bad information, fueled by the flight of professional old school reporters who simply can't survive on the money publishers are paying 20 year-old kids living in their parents' basements.

Quite the conundrum.  If, as I suspect, the American public would choose objective, sourced news reporting over click-bait, baseless editorials, how could a journalistic enterprise take advantage of that market in a digitally viral age?  I submit the answer is deceptively simple:

I'm a branding guy, so when everyone else zigs, I prefer to zag.  And in the field of journalism, the big zag is taking the business offline.  That's right, I'm talking about going back to good old tree-killing weekly or monthly publications delivered by U.S Mail.  Sound absurd?  Read the next paragraph and see if you don't agree.

In the first place, scooping your competition by reporting news first is no longer winnable or even relevant.  Everyone pretty much gets the same news at the same time, which means those trying to win the "first to report it" war will never win that battle.   Second, digital delivery is another myth that counters all business sense.  Since people don't need to get most of their news immediately, there's no need for an "instant, updatable resource," especially in a market when most news is reported before it's even fact-checked.  Third -- and this is critical -- going back to paper returns bulletproof ownership of reader data to the publication.  No hacks. No "denial of service" attacks on their servers. Fourth, a pure paper play offers time delay, in which the publication never rushes out an issue, instead delivering thoughtful, considered content that delivers real value.  Finally, going back to pulp ensures there's only one way to obtain the publication's content.  No screen shots.  No sharing of posts.  Oh, I suppose a few cheapskates could scan a few pages here and there, but it's not like illegally downloading an MP3.  In the model, everyone who plays, pays -- like real businesses do.

Does this mean journalism eschews all things digital?  Certainly not.  It just means recalibrating and downsizing their digital presences to a few pages:

1.  How to subscribe to the print edition
2.  A list of topics covered in this week's issue
3.  A directory of back issues for purchase.

That's it.  Simple. Easy. And probably effective.  Of course, I doubt the current generation of business illiterates will comprehend it, but if and when they do, believe me: You'll read all about it.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Lawsuit You Don't See Coming

Back when a liberal arts college education was actually useful in teaching people how to think, I spent one quarter of my junior year in one of the most perennially effective courses I ever undertook. It was called An Introduction to Business Law, essentially a four-year law school education packed into ten torture-soaked weeks that were both agonizing and fascinating at the same time.

Perhaps the greatest impact the course had on me was the manner in which it shifted my thinking from purely reactive, youthful emotion to a more thoughtful, rational style of pre-adult logic.  Among its most fundamental precepts was how, for the first time in my life, I came to see how feelings took a back seat to concepts like "reasonableness" and critical thinking.  It was a whole new world for me.  A safer, more predictable -- and not to put too fine a point on it -- a more successful world, too.

Over the years, that one course allowed me to outwit some adversaries and completely vanquish others.  To this day, I compose all but my most intricate legal documents and agreements.  On those rare occasions when I do hire lawyers, the meetings are quick, decisive -- and deadly efficient.  The greatest benefit of the course, however, hasn't been its guidance as to how to get out of trouble, but how to avoid a problem by spotting it long before it has a chance to become a problem.

The fact is that with the exception of Black Swan events, most lawsuits are easily avoidable.  Usually, they're the result of one or more parties' inability or unwillingness to consider all the options of a given situation.  Those involved may be lazy, ignorant or in most cases, both.  But to the rational, fact-based critical observer, it really isn't that difficult to see trouble coming down the road, no matter how many miles or years away it may be.

Here's one that nobody sees coming, but it is.  Charging straight at us like a locomotive on rails:

Let me start by telling you I hold the unpopular opinion that there are only two genders.  I realize that some of you will stop reading at this point, but the rest of you who are mentally sound will want to keep reading, because it's within my unpopular opinion that my observation begins, with these two questions:

1.  Who decides a child's gender?
2.  When do they decide it?

At this writing, there are parents in the USA who are administering hormone-suppressants to their pre-pubescent children in a bid to stave off those children's sexual development.  The theory behind this practice is that these parents strongly believe their children may be/are misgendered.  I have to believe these parents think they're doing what's best for their child, but let's put that issue aside for now.  Here's the critical question that nobody is asking, let alone considering:

What happens ten or fifteen years after the child is robbed of his pubescent development?  What if the kid has a change of mind?  What if she's permanently sterilized, unable to have the family she's always dreamed of?  What if he's permanently physically disfigured?  Or psychologically impaired? Never mind that the transgender suicide rate is well north of 40%.  Forget about any moral or religious arguments you can muster.  Stick to the facts.  Like, say, this one from An Introduction to Business Law:

"Whenever one person is found to have unjustly caused harm to another, those matters are generally resolved in court as personal injury lawsuits," and unless I miss my guess, the fastest-growing segment of P.I. suits is set to pit children against their parents for the permanent damages suffered by those kids as a result of their parents' decisions to subject the kids to hormone-suppression treatments.

Just as with mesothelioma, Thalidomide and a whole spate of industrial and pharmaceutical disasters, it would seem that a whole new discipline is about to emerge, specializing in the psychological and physical damages inflicted on innocent children by parents who were supposed to know, who should have known better.  Like those parents who think chaining their kids in a dark closet with no food for a month is "good discipline."  Or those who feel that burning kids with cigarettes is "the only way they'll learn."  Yeah, like that.  Only for way bigger bucks and even more tragic consequences.

Think it can't happen?  It can. And it will.  Maybe not today and perhaps not tomorrow.  But thanks to An Introduction to Business Law, I can see trouble coming from twenty miles out.  If you open your eyes and take a look for yourself, maybe you can see it, too.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How J.C. Penney Predicted Trump's Win

By now you must have heard that yet another all-American brand is circling the drain.  Yes, it's true: Sears has declared bankruptcy.  This comes as absolutely no surprise to those of us who watched how, since the late 1980s, Sears' CEO, Ed Lampert -- a financial guy, not a retail guy -- abandoned Sears' retail efforts in favor of "unlocking shareholder value."  Like so many corporate raiders of his time, that meant plundering assets and selling them off for cash.  In Sears' case, that meant selling/developing/inflating real estate parcels that were valued on the books at 1920s prices, and spinning off solid gold brands like Craftsman and DieHard.

A sad story, but a predictable one.  With Lampert at the helm, there was never any doubt that Sears was headed for the meat grinder.  But if you'd been watching retail over the years, a far more subtle-yet-telling story was developing across the street at Sears' still-breathing-but-just-barely competitor, J.C. Penney.

Unlike Sears, the board at J.C. Penney has always been about retail.  As a staunch all-American brand, its presence has been ubiquitous around the United States for as long as any other, outliving most of them due to its unwavering allegiance to its core retail brand values.

At least until 2011.  That's the year things got very interesting for J.C. Penney -- and those who watch it.

If you'd been paying attention in 2011, you'd have seen that the name on everyone's lips at the time was Apple.  Despite Steve Jobs' death, the company was roaring ahead, turning everything it touched into gold.  The country was in the midst of the Great Recession, but Apple was thriving.  "If only we could get an Apple guy aboard," dreamed most corporate directors, "....maybe we could be the Apple of low tech retail."

And so it happened that (according to Wikipedia)  "in June, 2011, J.C. Penney announced that Ron Johnson, who had led Apple retail stores in a period of high growth, became the company's new CEO."  J.C. Penney's board of directors fastened their seat belts as Johnson, fresh in from the coast, dive-bombed the midwest with his magic wand in hand, and instantly began to change everything about J.C. Penney:  its merchandising, its layouts, its operations, its stores, its people, its culture -- you name it.

Everything happened with lightning speed, which unfortunately, included this:

That's right.  JCP stock dropped like a rock, from the high 20s to about $4 a share and stayed there, mainly on the disastrous losses suffered by Johnson and his Apple-flavored nightmare.  After huge layoffs and losses, Johnson was forcefully invited to leave J.C. Penney -- forever.  As of October, 2018, JCP stock shares are keeping their noses just above delisting at $1.52.

Not pretty.

But look deeper into that chart and you'll see something that only true branding guys seem to be able to discern.  In this case, it was J.C. Penney customers voicing their dislike for all the Johnsonian New Age/Millennial changes being forced on them.  They didn't like their old brand being taken from them, and they let J.C. Penney know it, the best way they could:  With their wallets.

It wasn't the rejection of the brand that hit me as much as how sustained it was.  This was no blip on the radar.  This was not an anomaly.  Something was up with Middle America.  They were angry.  They were fed up.  And their entire story added chapter after chapter on one simple stock chart.  To them, J.C. Penney's abandonment of its American heritage and tradition was one last betrayal they were no longer willing to tolerate.

They didn't yell.  They didn't protest.  They simply -- and very quietly -- took their business elsewhere.

They did the same with their politics.  Which is why in 2015, it was not terribly difficult to imagine that the next President of the United States would not -- and could not -- be the Ron Johnson of politics.  It was going to be someone who was true to the traditional American brand.

And that's exactly how it turned out.

Customers are voters.  Voters are customers.  Every once in a while, you have to stop selling them what you've got and start listening to what they want.  You've always got to watch them -- especially as they're headed out the door.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

How The Feds Save California

Considering that the state of California represents about one-sixth of the entire population of the United States, it's somewhat perplexing that the Golden State allowed itself to deteriorate into something more akin to stryrofoam.  The plain truth is that was once considered the Promised Land is now pretty much a showcase for how far the mighty can fall.

I'll spare you all the rhetoric about people pooping all over the streets of San Francisco. Or the numerous nests of needle exchanges sanctioned by the government.  I won't get into anything about immigration, the wall or the ridiculously corrupt primary election system designed to eventually bankrupt America's most glamorous welfare state.

It suffices to say that the political forces that condemned California to its current pathetic situation are mighty indeed, having entrenched themselves for no reason other than to further enrich themselves at public expense.  But that's an old saw. You've heard all that before. And if you happen to have a few Republican friends in California, you've probably heard their laments about how there's nothing they can do to fix the problem.

They're right.  But just because they feel powerless to fix California's ills doesn't mean the problem is not fixable.  Cast your orbs on this:

Chances are you don't recognize this. It's a map of the United States' Circuit Court system.  Circuit courts were created by Congress to adapt to the union's rapid geographical expansion.  Acknowledging that many Americans were unable to get to court, Congress decided to bring the courts to them, establishing routes, or circuits, which judges would travel to dispense justice.

You may have noticed that ninth circuit on the left coast.  You may be familiar with the phrase, "Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals."  That's because the ninth circuit is the one notorious for rendering decisions which often overturn -- or attempt to overturn -- the more conservative laws passed by legislatures or Executive Orders issued by the White House.  The ninth circuit is notoriously liberal, a handy ally in the left-leaning agenda of states like California, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon.  

But if you know your history, you also know that there weren't always a limited number of circuit courts.  At Congress's behest, their number was increased as the nation's population and geography expanded.  And therein lies the Federal solution to a statutory problem:

What if a conservative United States Congress authorized the creation of a new circuit court by splitting the ninth circuit into two?  Sound nutty?  I know.  So did the election of Donald Trump, but if you'd been reading this blog in 2015, you would have seen that coming, too.  

By taking California, Hawaii, Arizona and New Mexico into a new circuit -- staffed with new, centrist judges -- and restricting the ninth circuit to Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana, it's just possible that the new court could hear and decide challenges that would free California to revert back to the social and economic glory it once enjoyed.

Hey, I'm just a branding guy.  But I get paid big dough to see solutions where others never dream of looking.  And considering the dearth of other possibilities, this may be one way to end California's nightmare.