Thursday, July 27, 2023

Spinning Taiwan

At the time of this writing, the world is in a mess.  More of a mess, I'd say, than at any time since the Korean War, for sure.  It isn't that there are lots of countries engaged in kinetic conflict.  But it's definitely at a point where a lot of places are in a lot of flux.  A whole range of pots of simmering on the stove, all seemingly about to boil over.

If you've been keeping up, you can list conflicts -- political, environmental and economic -- on just about every continent, with the possible exception of Antarctica, where penguins still worry about little more than the occasional orca.  Most of the world's conflicts are pretty generic, driven by stated and actual agenda, along with secret deals and ulterior motives.  

One thing you can count on, however, is that they all come wrapped in the patriotism of each country's national flag. Every faction is sure that God is on its side, justifying whatever it is they plan on doing to the other, so most of these conflicts run by the same playbook.

Well, almost all of them.  To me, the big exception is China and its plans for acquiring Taiwan. I suspect that one is not going to end the way most people think:

The first thing you have to realize is that the clock is running, at least until 2024. That's not a political statement; that's just the way things are. I don't know anyone who thinks the world has been normal since 2020, either here in the United States or anywhere else on the planet.  We've all been through a lot in a relatively short period of time. But realistically, an election in the USA could signal a return to traditional politics just as quickly, which means every country, from Russia to China to France to the United Kingdom has only a limited time to get their agenda completed -- or not.

China is not immune from this. It knows it has to move on the capture of Taiwan before the end of 2024, because that's the last time it can do so without firing a shot.  Here's how:

First, realize that at least four generations have long since forgotten why Taiwan even exists.  They have no recollection of Chiang Kai Shek, Chinese history and the fact that Taiwan is actually a free country that rejected communism outright.  So for most of the world, there is no moral imperative to save Taiwan or its free society. 

Second, those who do know their history can point to the repatriation of Hong Kong, which also occurred without warfare:  The British colony simply handed over the keys to the Chinese and that was that. So what's the big deal about Taiwan?

Third, and likely the most important, Taiwan, like Hong Kong, is really nothing more than a muscular ATM, dispensing cash to whomever owns it.  With the Chinese economy tanking, it needs as much revenue as it can muster, which means it has no intention of destroying Taiwan, but preserving its revenue-generating capacity. It's a gold mine and China wants that gold.

Fourth, the rest of the world that depends on Taiwan's manufacturing doesn't want any interruption of its supply chain.  So they really don't care who owns Taiwan, as long as the chips and semi-conductors keep flowing.  To them, a non-violent takeover is a win/win situation.

And the United States is going to let it happen with barely a yawn.

Of course, there's going to be a heavy spin effort blasted at the American public and the world at large in order to justify the conquest.  My bet is that instead of this being reported as a "hostile takeover," the Biden administration will sell this as "a long overdue reunification of the sovereign Chinese people."  In fact, I'd bet that someone, somewhere will nominate Secretary of State Anthony Blinken for a Nobel Peace Prize citing his part in "the glorious reunification considered unimaginable just a few short years ago."

Then everyone will get back to business.

Think people won't buy it?  Depends who you ask and how many of them are getting their fourth booster shot.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Where's the Beef?

One of the great advantages of being older is that you can draw on years of war stories: lessons you learned from personal experience rather than history books.  Don't get me wrong, history books are where I live most of the time, because I'm a confirmed believer in learning from other people's mistakes. But sometimes, there are mistakes made that simply don't appear in the history books. Sometimes, they occur for the first time ever, and if you're observant enough, you just might catch them as they happen. In fact, we're seeing one right now, in the case of imitation foods and they're inability to profitably sustain an ever-growing, ever-skeptical consumer population. 

Imitation food isn't itself that new.  Neither is the public's suspicion and rejection of it.  We've had everything from the "healthier alternatives" to disgusting facsimiles for almost a century (In fact, long ago, I wrote and recorded a song about it.  But that's another story).

More to the point, media such as Bloomberg, The Washington  Post, Forbes, The New York Times, The Guardian and all the other usual suspects are, as of this writing, reporting another aspect of the imitation food sector that has rarely been reported:

They're complete failures as investments.

As it turns out, legions of financial overlords (including Bill Gates, proponent of reckless vaccines and the doom of humanity in general) are hemorrhaging cash in an industry that's bleeding red ink.  The public, it seems, has no appetite for beef flavored sawdust.

But that's not the real story here. Here's what we're seeing that we've rarely, if ever, seen before:

A lot of companies bet big money on the gloom and doom that they thought would propel the imitation food business. In fact, if you look really, really closely at the entire sector, you'll see that the entire industry is based on whim, speculation and, well, fashion. I've been in conference rooms where new business are launched.  I've watched projections, assumptions and recasts of spreadsheets, and this I guarantee you:

Not one of these companies has ever had a business plan or a financially sound strategy.

On the contrary, all of these companies thought they could ride a wave of social justice propaganda that they themselves would supply, in effect creating a category which they would instantly dominate. These are not your fathers' or grandfathers' businessmen building real products people can use.  These are not your former giants of industry creating useful machines of iron and steel.  These are over-funded, lazy and ignorant adolescent  fashionistas raised on a few decades of overnight fortunes amassed from software, apps and tech.  

More typically, these types of enterprises are created with little or no discipline and absolutely no regard for the end user.  Whether it's technology or meatless patties, the usual attitude is "they'll eat what we feed them." The next step is to create a mirage of success by paying for wide distribution, creating the illusion of public acceptance. The third step is to set up straw man competitors to further the myth of consumer demand.  The fourth step, of course, is to manage consolidation of companies through cash buyouts and dump the stock for a hefty profit.

Does that sound smart to you?  Or really stupid? Well, in this case, it's beginning to look really stupid, Because like so many other undisciplined, failing non-businesses (Peleton comes to mind), these profit-at-any-cost hedge-funds are dying on this hill They're finding out the hard way that whether it's fake eggs, lab grown chicken or estrogen-loaded soy milk, you can't fool all of the people all of the time. 

Which has left Bill Gates and his hedge fund cronies with a very bad taste in their mouths.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Newsom versus Trump, 2024

If you're wondering what the Democrats have up their sleeves for 2024, I'm going to speculate that their nominee is Gavin Newsom from California. Here's why:

1. Newsom is Nancy Pelosi's nephew. Her inter-married families have ruled California for the last 60+ years (Google "Brown-Pelosi-Getty-Newsom California" to learn that history). Now they're going for the brass ring. Nancy will use everything she has to put Newsom in contention for the presidency of the United States.

2. At this writing, the only Democrat in the field other than Joe Biden is Robert Kennedy Jr., who is, by all accounts, a flash in the pan. He entered the race way too early, and my guess is that by the later part of 2023, his one-note sonata will have run out of gas. Yes, the vaccines were bad. Yes, their purveyors are criminals. No, neither he nor anyone else is going to do anything about it. Other than that, RFK has no domestic or international agenda.

3. Joe Biden, by all acounts, is senile. Even the Democrats want him out, but shudder to imagine Kamala Harris in the White House, so they're content to hold that off.

4. Between Senile Joe and RFK, Newsom can and will be positioned as the "reasonable alternative" as the public will forget all the damage he's done to his home state. All of that won't matter, because the Dems will be left with no choice other than Newsom -- Pelosi will see to that. And just in case you were wondering if Newsom can attract less radcial Democrats, I humbly submit that Newsom is a white male, which never hurts.

This may explain why we're currently seeing Newsom taking shots at Ron DeSantis, not Trump. By doing so, Newsom is attempting to elevate himself to presidential levels. If this plays out as I think it will, we'll see Trump run against Newsom, with Newsom leveraging the Never-Trump faction against Trump's twin agenda of domestic/foreign accomplishments and Newsom's mismanagement of California.

There are some who believe the Trump has run out of steam. There are those who believe Newsom could really win. I imagine those are the same people who buy Bud Light at Target.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Lost Art of Initiative

I'm older. I get it. I can tell I'm older, because I'm acting my age, regaling in the camaraderie of others who drench themselves in the nostalgia of their youth and wonder how things ever got so messed up. In fact, the only thing that keeps me balanced is recalling how my parents looked at my generation and thought the same things.

Still, I'm just as tired of hearing young people whine about everything as you probably are. Mostly, it's their inability to meet potential life partners, but it seems that since the invention of the play date, kids have grown up expecting things to be served up to them. To most of them, swiping left or right can determine their Saturday night plans. Pointing and clicking not only lays a world of options at their feet, but enables expectations that are wholly unrealistic and somewhat depressing.

When the internet became real (I use 1998 as the date), it held a lot of promise about connectivity, open resources and the freedom of access to information. I was there. I recall the rush of excitement of not only global reach, but instant global reach, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But the one thing nobody saw coming ended up crippling an entire generation of humanity:

The internet destroyed initiative.

It turns out that when you lay the world at people's feet, they start expecting you to, well, lay the entire world at their feet. When they're just a screen away from getting results, they begin to think that life is an instant set of search results. They stop asking questions. They stop wondering. It doesn't occur to them to object to anything. They cease developing their innate hunting skills in favor of leaning back and waiting for their next request to be fulfilled.

People often ask me why the world is in "such bad shape." I tell them the world isn't in bad shape at all. Everything we had before 1998 is still there. It's just that a generation lacks the initiative to get out there and hunt for real answers to real questions that suits their own real interests. If you settle for what Google tells you is the answer, you deserve what you get: an unfulfilled life.

Think I'm kidding? Take a look at some of the confused, irrational and downright impossible policies that are being proposed, passed and enforced by the people in charge of your local, state and Federal government. People who just a few short years ago had no problem defining what a woman is or understanding that you can't ban airplanes or diesel-powered ships and still get to Hawaii mostly grew up in the age of point and click.

This whole issue was brought to a head when I overheard some young guys bemoaning their frustrations with dating. Hey, let's face it: every generation moaned about meeting someone. But these young men use dating apps and dating websites and just about anything else that could charge a monthly fee, and none of them was meeting anyone. That's when I asked them about taking some initiative. "Are you going out there? Are you hunting for these women or just sitting around? Are you dressed like a winner or a loser? Even at the grocery store, you need to be on the lookout. You have no idea how many people fall in love in the produce section!"

While that piqued their interest, they responded lethargically: "Yeah, but where are we supposed to go?" At this point, my being helpful got charged with my own frustration: "Just be an interesting young man and if she's of interest to you, ask her along! To Museums! Art galleries! Parks! Theaters! Bars! Clubs! Grocery stores! Nature hikes! Just walking down the street! Say hello! Make conversation! For crying out loud, you want me to fuck her for you, too?"

It might be the most Old Dad thing I've ever yelled.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Faux Authority

It's now gotten to the point where I've been around for a lot longer than i'd care to admit. For a time in my career, I was the youngest voice in the room. And then one day I realized the situation had flipped and I was now the Voice of Experience. That realization came as somewhat of a shock, but on balance, it was rewarding news, mainly because at that point, I could look back and know I was right about one of my most basic tenets:

Rejecting unauthorized authority.

Even as a kid -- and much to my parents' frustration -- I'd always questioned any kind of authority. It wasn't my thinking I was smarter than everyone. I'm not. It was more about questioning what and who qualified these authorities and granted them such power. As such, I never went through a typical rebellious phase. I was much worse. I went through a questioning phase. One that seemingly still hasn't ended.

At first it was relegated to simple observations, rooted in youthful resentment. I never liked being told what to do, but really disliked who was telling me to do it. I could understand the earned respect and authoritative voices of proven talents. What I couldn't tolerate was an ever-growing universe filled with posers and opportunists.

Among my first suspects were clergymen and teachers, whom I realized had no moral, intellectual or educational value that qualified them to dispense any kind of comment with any type of authority. Indeed, it seemed that the very reason they chose to become clergymen and teachers was their own inability to garner and earn the respect of their peers in their personal lives. By simply walking into their occupations, these clergymen and professors wrapped themselves in a built-in pre-supposition of respect and authority. They didn't have to earn authority -- it came with the job.

I found this model fascinating. And the more I looked around, the more poser authorities I found. Most were where you'd expect them to be: law enforcement, the judicial system, religion, financial advisors, psychologists -- even the crossing guards in front of the local grade schools. All imbued with a faux sense of authority granted to them by a diploma, firearm or some other badge proudly pinned to their egos as one who must be obeyed.

The more you look, the worse it gets.

Sadly, the permeation of disingenuous authority has led to a widespread acceptance of faux authority, and that's not good. Almost anyone can pose as an authority on almost any topic and pass as a knowledgable resource on whom others form their own opinions. In this age of non-accountability, few are held culpable when their claims are proven false, or worse yet, cause people serious mental and physical damage.

It's not hard to connect the dots from the empty promises of faux authority with stories about mentally unbalanced, violently frustrated people: These are people who have been told to obey their faux authorities' commands, and having obeyed, explode with rage when they discover no reward in having done so. Nothing incites quite as much rage as having discovered one's been played for a fool.

Faux authority has not only destabilized the gullible, it's also spawned the rise of fear porn, in which breaking news is nothing more than fallacious claims, usually baseless and fictional, but offered up by faux authorities on television, internet and social media. The most often-use formula of faux authorities is faux data sprinkled mixed with faux logic, in which cherry-picked data and combined with expert opinions to convincingly predict more doom and gloom.

For crying out loud, even the Daily Racing Form warns you that “past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.”

Is there any chance of defeating faux authoritarianism? Of course, and it's far easier than you think: Think for yourself. Question authority at every juncture. You'll find your challenges will deflate faux authorities quickly and efficiently, while securing and enhancing your own authority over your own personal freedom.

But don't take my word for it. In fact, don't take anyone's word for it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Myth of Libertarianism

As she sipped her latté, the woman announced with pride that while she was conservative, she was certainly not a Republican. Perhaps hoping that nobody would call her out, she confidently proclaimed, "I'm a Libertarian."

I can't help it. Sometimes I'm just in a mood, and sensing her millimeter's depth of political knowledge, I couldn't resist asking her exactly what being a Libertarian entailed. To be candid, half of me really wanted to know, but to be completely candid, I really sniffed an incoming crock of bat dung coming my way. I was not disappointed.

"And what," I inquired, "makes you a Libertarian?"

She took a thoughtful drag on her cigarette and striking her most intellectual pose, began her treatise. "I'm just not aligned with any political party. After all, they're both really the same. I'm of the view that people should be able to act independently as long as they don't hurt anyone else."

Well, that sounded simple enough. She prattled on a bit more, tossing her word salad with phrases such as laissez-faire and anti-statism. Before long, it was clear this woman was the human equivalent of a poorly trained myna bird, with almost no understanding of any topic at all. "I think people should be left alone, without any government interference," seemed to be her favorite platitude.

That's when I stopped her in order to ask a question: "What about abortion?" I figured I'd start with the toughest example and ease up from there.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "Well," I began, "Seems to me that if you're pro-life, you'd be against abortion." She disagreed with that. She insisted that preserving a woman's right to an abortion was consistent with the Libertarian rejection of authoritarianism. "Interesting," I responded. "If you were truly LIbertarian, wouldn't you leave the decision up to the baby, rather than inflict your authority over another person?" She didn't like that.

"Another thing puzzles me," I continued. "Legally, if a woman chooses to have the baby, the father is on the hook for child support. He has no say as to whether to abort or not, correct?"

"Correct," she replied. "Okay," I replied. "But if that's the case, if she makes the decision against the father's will, is she not imposing her will on him? And wouldn't that fly in the face of Libertarianism?" She had no response to that one, but it didn't matter. I was just getting started.

"Further," I queried, "Libertarians believe taxation is theft. But they also believe a minimal government is obligated to defend its country. How is a government supposed to pay for the military and law enforcement if it doesn't levy taxes?" She answered that one with another, long, silent drag on her cigarette.

"And that's the fallacy of Libertarianism, "I lectured. "It's purely selfish and completely amoral. It kicks fiscal realities down the road and leaves moral and ethical questions unanswered. Whether you like it or not, the question of one's liberalism or conservatism isn't one of politics; it's a question of ethics and morality. That's why conservative people tend to be religious and theist, while liberals and Libertarians tend to be areligious and atheistic. Libertarians reject all forms of authority in favor of self-centered individualism. But a society of individuals is not a society at all. A society, especially a free one, is glued together by common values, ethics and morals. And that's why Libertarianism is myth. No society or country can survive as such."

I stepped off my soapbox feeling pretty good about myself. "So which are you -- liberal or conservative?" "I don't know," she mused. "I'll have to think about it."

"And that," I smiled sincerely, "is the wisest thing you've ever said."

Monday, March 20, 2023

Sound as a Dollar

At the time of this writing, if you listen to any media, you're convinced that the world is about to end and that the United States -- as we once knew it -- will cease to exist.  Pundits the world over are selling clicks and ads as they conflate a myriad of events that in reality, seem to suggest that everything is inextricably tied together through cause, correlation or both.  Front and center is the usual conclusion that "this means the end of the dollar as the world's reserve currency."

But is really? As I've mentioned so many times previously, I'm just a brand strategy guy, but throughout my career, I've managed to untangle some of the worst commercial spaghetti in order to get a clear view of what's happening and more importantly, what's not happening.  So how about we take a giant step back and look at the situation from the 100,000 foot level, high above the media spin of manufactured crises?

At the time of this writing, we've seen a bunch of really stupid banks make really stupid decisions, resulting in their being dissolved and their assets being sold off at bargain prices.  Bad news for them, good news for the buying banks, who are buying healthy, performing assets for as little as 20¢ on the dollar.  Believe me, if I could walk through life doing that, I'd be building houses out of gold bars.  Another result of the Biden incompetence is that the previously artificially inflated Fed rates have dropped like a brick, so while not as low as they once were, at least some home and car loans are more affordable.

So what does that mean for the good old U.S. dollar?  If you listen to the media, they'd have you believe that China, Russia, the Middle East and just about every other not-so-friendly region is taking advantage of the situation to destabilize the dollar as the world's reserve currency.  Really?

For the those unfamiliar, the phrase world reserve currency means that  no other country on the planet trusts the value or stability of any other country on the planet. So when France does business with Zmibabwe, they both agree to conduct the transaction in U.S. dollars.  There's more than one reason for that, but among the top few are:

1. The United States of America is the most politically stable country in the world.

2.  The United States is the most physically secure country in the world.

3.  The United States is the most economically powerful country in the world. 

If you find those hard to believe, ask yourself why virtually all the gold reserves owned by virtually every other country is stored in the United States, either in the New York gold depository or Fort Knox. Transferring hard assets like gold is not like breaking up with your girlfriend -- you don't just show up with a pick up truck to move your gold back home.

And if you haven't been paying attention, the sworn mortal enemy of the United States, the Chinese Communist party, has been dumping their ill-gotten gains into American real estate for years. And they're not doing it to have a nice summer home.  They're actually overpaying for the opportunity because they know their currency is an unstable as a propped-up currency gets.  That's why they buy dollars and then dump them into real, tangible performing American assets like real estate.

Additionally, let's add in the notion that the United States is really, really difficult to invade.  It's bordered by two expansive oceans and two "friendly" weak nations who depend on us for their existence. Every other non-North American country is bordered by at least one other country of whom they're suspicious, if not downright hostile toward.

So where does this leave us? Well, this is the brand strategist talking again, and here's the long play as I see it:

In the short term, China, Russia, the Saudis, North Korea, the entire continents of Asia, sub-Asia and Africa will rattle their sabers as they mock the Biden impotence. But if history is any indication, that won't last long. OPEC has been brought to its knees more than once. Embargoes usually fail. Alliances get undercut by backroom chicanery. And through it all, the United States remains the land of plenty.  Plenty of energy, food, and natural resources for a self-sustaining economy.

So after the kids are finished and the adults take the wheel, everyone will come running back to the dollar as the world's reserve currency.  And old Uncle Sam, if he's smart, will re-establish domestic industries and programs, and will have learned the simple lesson that even Dorothy had to learn from experience:

There's no place like home.