Tag Archives: Politics

Welcome, new readers from our nation’s intelligence community!

17 Jun

I, for one, welcome my readers from the U.S. intelligence community. Now that I know you’re here, I surely will post more often!

* * *

I’d like to be more incensed about the revelations over the past few weeks about the extent of NSA data mining. But I find myself more nonplussed and amused. It may be because I’ve lived under two assumptions that I’ve always believed would comfortably cancel each other out: 

1. There is no such thing as online privacy. We’ve been living for years under the assumption that the government could listen to phone calls, invade our email accounts, and  track our online movements. Not only that, but if they have only slightly better imaging than Goolge Maps, they may well be able to watch me mow my lawn (or, more likely, send me periodic reminders that the grass in the backyard is getting a little shaggy).  

2. Most of the time, nobody cares. There are so many people connecting each day that very few of us are actually being watched or overheard or seen mowing or not mowing our lawns. It is, unfortunately, highly unlikely that the few dozen readers I have each day include members of any foreign or domestic intelligence communities (though, hey, they may just be excellent at covering their tracks!). Most of the time, as individuals, no one is watching

You probably already see the problem here.  No one is watching. Until they are. 

Americans don’t want less or more government. We want perfect government. Perfectly efficient in war. Perfectly effective in pushing the levers of our economy. Perfectly where they need to be when they need to be in times of emergency. Practically precognitive against terrorists. Perfectly invisible when we don’t want them around.

Perfection requires perfect more and more information from more and more sources…and the ability to analyze and synthesize it into something meaningful. 

Right or wrong…this is what we wanted.

Advertisements

Rally Time!

31 Oct

Last night, my wife and I went to a rally for Al Franken’s senate campaign…the draw: Bill Clinton was coming to town.  It was my second rally of the year; the first was last week I took my son to see Hillary Rodham Clinton when she came to town to goose the Franken campaign.  

I come to these things as a sort of tourist. I just can’t bring myself to get truly revved-up-fist-pumping-slogan-shouting over — as  President Clinton artfully called it — “some whoop-de-do political speech.”  Anyway, I know who I’m going to vote for, but heck — last week it was Hillary and this week it was Bill and my wife wanted to see what the fuss was about.  

So we got there at a decent time and carved out a spot in the crowd with a pretty good sightline.  And after two rallies this year, some observations: 

 

  1. If you go to one of these things, expect to stand.  A lot. Since it was the former president and we were lined up in front of the auditorium at the Minneapolis Convention Center, a few of us had the thought that we might get to sit in the auditorium. But you don’t want 5000 volunteers, partisans, celebrity hounds and curious folks who just want their kid to get a glimpse of the former president to be photographed lolling about in auditorium seats.  You want them standing, shouting, cheering and waving signs proclaiming that Obama+Franken=Change to stamp out that ticket-splitting idea promulgated by that silly old StarTribune! 

    So we stood. 
     

  2. These events aren’t exactly run like well-oiled machines.  They start early and end late — timed to finish in time for the 10 pm news (they failed on this one by the way.  WCCO had its reporter talking over Clinton live).  You get your warm-up acts — mayors, representatives, state officers.  Then you get a break. Then you get Walter Mondale, a nice surprise.  Then you get Sen. Klobuchar, and then a recorded Al Gore speech.  Eventually, Franken and Clinton arrive.  We’d been standing for 3 hours at this point.
     
  3. You can really tell who in the party’s ‘big leagues’ at these rallies. They speak in ways that are not just smooth and practiced, but passionate and controlled.  They’re confident, comfortable in their own skin. They tell stories that flow effortlessly from funny to personal to issues to the big picture.

    My take from afar? Though she’s not running this year, Minnesotans will have the chance to vote for Sen. Amy Klobuchar for a long time.  And Minneapolis’ R.T. Rybak seems to have matured over his years in the mayor’s office … strong speaker, and comfortable working the lines outside, too.

  4. There are a few Democrats who haven’t gotten the message about rising above identity politics.  Rep. Keith Ellison, for example, felt the need to give a shout out to the usual laundry list of Democratic ‘communities.’ Sounds 1980s to me. The Democratic message resonates strongest when it speaks to us as individuals with common issues and aspirations, rather than communities with interests.
     
  5. Al Franken comes across far better in speeches than he does in debates or ads.  Granted, it’s a good crowd  for him.  But the guy is engaging. He’s clearly smart. And he’s funny, but in ways that get you thinking.  Moreover, he never talks about himself – never says his own name. Never even says “vote for me.”  He talks about his audience, and he talks about issues. 

  6. Watching Clinton, I can’t help but compare him to the Republican vice presidential nominee. Clinton isn’t shy with the y’all’s.  He apologizes for not giving a “whoop-de-do political speech”.  He’s not being folksy.  He is folksy – and frighteningly conversant on issues from the financial crisis to national security. 

At times, Clinton dances on the edge of being condescending or didactic, but largely, it works … you’ve got to respect what he he has to say (and besides, as my mother-in-law says, “he’s a very handsome man). 

    At 700 words, I’ll stop here… a few more thoughts tomorrow on politicians as public speakers. Thanks for reading! 

    Not a Political Blog…but…

    10 Oct

    Any good guide to writing — thus to blogging — will tell you, “write what you know.”  The trouble is that I’ve got presidential politics on the mind…a notion which is in direct conflict with my own unwritten rule that this is to be a PR/communications/marketing/branding/media blog, and not at all a political blog.

    But I have found that an itch to not just write but communicate about a topic results in the inability to write about anything at all.  So…where there’s a will, there will have to be a way.  I’m still not going to take anyone’s side here on the blog, but if you’ll indulge me for a few hundred words, let me state the following:

    • Partisan blogs are frightening. The absolute assurance that some people have of the evil that is one candidate despite any contrary evidence, versus the reasonableness of the other side, despite equally contrary evidence, is to me astounding.  Are people really that sure that they’re right, or is it all for show?
    • Pundits should respect to their viewers. TV news commentators are far too enchanted with the thrill of the campaign to be of any use to those of us following politics in our spare time.  They think we care whether they are bored with the candidates stating the same old positions — as if any more than 10 percent of us has ever seen, heard or read a candidate’s stump speech in its entirety.  They complain that the debates gave us nothing new, as if we the electorate already had a deep understanding of the old stuff.  They judge the candidate’s debate performances on how others will react to it, as if…well…as if they know…

      Show us some respect: Recap the issues.  Judge the actual debate. And as for the performance, just tell us what you think and let the polls handle the rest.

    • Obama versus McCain is a new media versus traditional media battle. It’s fascinating to watch the communications battle play out.  McCain seems to be focused, day to day, on making news.  He delivers stories.  He tried to “break news” in each debate — first with a government spending freeze, then with the home mortgage bailout proposal. Obama is doing the integrated marketing thing.  His campaign’s use of the internet, social media and mobile marketing has been well documented.  But I get the feeling that Obama’s campaign has been frustrating for news junkies looking for that daily jolt of newsie goodness.
    • If you want the truth, find good blogs and read them. The problem for mainstream media covering politics is that, by tradition and a code of ethics, they can’t call a lie a lie.  Bloggers can.  Traditional news organization report facts.  They do so within the construct of easily understood stories that play out in the campaigns’ daily drama.  Bloggers — and op-ed writers to an extent — can pass judgement.  They build around the work of professional journalists.  They check facts. They call out the candidates on oft-repeated statements that mislead, obfuscate and cover up the truth.  They call a liar a liar.

      The challenge, of course, is to find the “good ones”.  To me, the best of them offer an opinion and a link — and let you judge for yourself.  If you find that the articles and videos don’t back up their opinions, drop them.  If you find that they only link to like-minded opinionators, drop them.  If you find that they offer you links to the news along with their own unique perspective, keep reading…you’ll learn something.

    Finally, here are a few of my favorite RSS feeds of late…Anything you think I should add?

    Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish — more links and opining than can be consumed in a day…conservative, not Republican.
    James Fallows — smart, reasoned guy on a wide range of subjects.
    Clive Crook — another guy from The Atlantic.  So sue me…  Seems reasoned and conservative.
    Real Clear Politics (via TIME) — polls, polls … and surveys.
    Eric Black Ink (at MinnPost) — Minnesota reporter, blogger and journalist.
    The Same Rowdy Crowd — Communications professionals arguing about the practice of communications in politics.
    Slate — direct link to their political coverage…their writers strive for the angle not yet taken.
    Salon — Just started getting back into this magazine again … decidedly to the left, last I checked.

    How to Consume Political Commentary – 5 rules

    3 Oct

    I’m a pretty even-keeled guy, but political commentary is about the only thing that consistently gets me throwing things at the television and shouting at my laptop. After absorbing all the spin I could stomach, I thought I’d try to contribute something positive to the discussion.  Herewith, five guidelines for analyzing political commentary.

    • Ignore focus groups. Repeat after me:  “You cannot draw broad conclusions based on focus groups.” Even focus groups equipped with cute little dials that draw pretty lines that go up and down as people talk.  Every marketer knows this.  Talk to an experienced marketer about focus groups, and they roll their eyes.  They know how easy it is for a focus group to steer you wrong.
    • Ignore all political operatives. To pick on CNN specifically, I don’t understand what Paul Begala, Donna Brazile, Ed Rollins and that Republican ad-guy are doing on a panel.  They will give you their party’s line no matter what. They are ideologically committed to their parties’ ideals, and they are tribally committed to supporting their team.  When they talk, don’t listen.
    • On surveys, question the questions. It was great to get results of CNN’s instant opinion polls. But as with any survey research, the questions asked, their context and the audience is vitally important to broader understanding.  For example, 84% said Palin did better than expected … a result that tells much about the low level of expectations, and little about the quality of the performance.   51% say Biden wins … but how many say that winning a debate is important to them.  Similarly, Palin was seen by 54% as more “likable” than Biden (36% felt the opposite), which compares the two, but tells us nothing about whether or not they find Biden or Palin likable at all.    On the other hand, the result that 87 percent of those polled said Biden is qualified to be president, while 42 percent said Palin is qualified seems telling.
    • If someone’s doing real analysis, pay attention. I like sites like RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight, that aggregate polls (though they’re in a bit of a tiff with each other over perceived bias in their poll choices). I’m a big fan of James Fallows of The Atlantic, who has for many years been watching and analyzing debate performances with almost scientific rigor; he delivers great insights in the magazine and on his blog.
    • On blogs, click the links. Just because you tend to agree with your favorite blogger, it’s important to “trust but verify.” Know who they’re quoting.  Does that person have any authority, or is the blogger just amplifying someone else’s uninformed opinion?  I’ve been following Andrew Sullivan’s blog lately.  It’s taken awhile to get a feel for his unique take … what he gets worked up about, where I think he goes too far … mostly by following up on his sources, which he helpfully provides.

    It’s the only way to come to your own conclusions.

    Big Bad Russia: Back in the News

    13 Aug

    Are we witnessing the return of the “big bad Russians”?

    The other day on Twitter, a public radio journalist I follow wrote, “It’s like the ’80s again. Russia’s soldiers are invading countries and its judges are jobbing us at the Olympics.”

    Back at the end of the 1980s, I was sliding seamlessly from graduation to graduate school.  As I cast about for a master’s thesis topic suitable for journalism school, I kept coming back to one issue:  how is it that everything we knew as ‘eternal’ about the Soviet Union could be wrong.  I wanted to see how this played out in the media.  I analyzed Associated Press stories from 1983-84 — when movies like “The Day After” and “Red Dawn” seemed plausible — to 1988 — across the years of glasnost and perestroika when our whole worldview was turned upside down.  What I studied was how the state of relationship and conflict between countries has an impact on the use of stereotypes in the media about Russia and its people.  The hypothesis: that when our countries were opposed, there would be an emphasis on differences in culture and values between us and them; in times when our interests were more aligned, the emphasis would be on similarities.

    The thesis was, perhaps, a bit obvious.  But the AP was supposed to deliver the news; it wasn’t supposed to be portraying Russians as evil, violent, bearlike, ruthless, drunken and foolish with an evil government that every last Russian would flee if they could. But they were, subtly.  And as our conflict with the Soviets thawed, so did the use of these kinds of stereotypes.

    And now, as Russia continues to rise as a US competitor and as a potential threat to US interests in Georgia … and perhaps Ukraine, the Middle East and South Asia?  Well, if you believe a callow graduate student from the early 1990s, watch for more stories in the media that make you see the Russians not just acting against our interests, but as different. And in international relations and journalism, different is not good.

    Thank You Note to a Journalist-Blogger: Eric Black

    7 Aug

    If you can be a fan of a daily newspaper reporter, I’ve been a fan of Eric Black’s for almost 20 years.  At some point, the StarTribune here in the Twin Cities was publishing long feature stories that actually offered in-depth historical context for national and world events:  The first Iraq War, the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Balkans, Bosnia, the fall of the Soviet Union, not to mention various and sundry politicians — you name it.

    And it seemed whenever I’d sink my teeth into one of these big juicy history stories — stories that cut through the daily rhetoric to hone in on the something closer to a complicated truth — the byline read “Eric Black”.  So I’d look for the byline, at times swearing at stories where background was scant and context lacking and grumble, “Where the hell’s the Eric Black story on this?”

    It’s pretty clear these days that this sort of journalism isn’t making it into my daily paper any more … and neither is Eric Black.  Over the past few years, he’s plied his trade in local blogs.  Most recently, that’s MinnPost, a non-profit venture promoting the idea that professional journalists have a great deal to offer when given the freedom to explore the news and offer an opinion or two.

    I write this after spending a half-hour or so learning as much (or more) than you ever wanted to know about the stance of two Minnesota senate candidates on the Iraq war.  It’s a story you’ll never read in a newspaper, built from in-depth research, nearly hour-long interviews with the candidates themselves and fact checking that is both independent and allowed the candidate’s PR staff to offer assist (incidentally peeling back the veil of how reporters work with a PR staff to facilitate a story). Further, if you’re worried that Black has misinterpreted your favorite candidate, he offers audio downloads of the interviews themselves.

    In other words, anyone who wants to spend the time with this story gets:

    • a comprehensive view of the candidates’ positions — both now and how they have evolved (or not) over time.
    • the chance to hear the candidates’ responses to sharp, informed questions in their own voices.
    • a deeper understanding of how reporters do their jobs, warts and all — and how a good one takes nothing for granted on what his interviewee claims he said or didn’t say.
    • a deeper understanding of how campaign staffs work and how PR facilitates a reporter’s work.

    As I said, you don’t see this kind of depth often out of daily newspapers — no doubt, there’s no time, no staff and no appetite for it.  And maybe this much depth isn’t necessary.  But in a time when it feels like everyone is spinning, nothing is genuine, no one knows the truth, Black the journalist-blogger is offering transparency, rigor, insight … and the whole complicated, messy truth.

    So…thank you.

    %d bloggers like this: