Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Dear John, you’ll be missed

John Edwards’ decision today to end his presidential campaign saddens me. But my respect for him has never been greater. I was a supporter of his in 2004. After he and Kerry lost that year, Edwards began devoting himself to ending poverty in America and making plans to run again this year. Here was a candidate for the highest office in the land willing to stake his candidacy on a cause — poverty, economic injustice — most politicians will at most give lip service to.

In announcing his decision to stop campaigning, Edwards said he doesn’t know how it is his party became so silent about the needs of the millions of Americans struggling to get by:

For decades, we stopped focusing on those struggles. They didn’t register in political polls, they didn’t get us votes and so we stopped talking about it. I don’t know how it started. I don’t know when our party began to turn away from the cause of working people, from the fathers who were working three jobs literally just to pay the rent, mothers sending their kids to bed wrapped up in their clothes and in coats because they couldn’t afford to pay for heat.

Edwards was not a perfect candidate. Like others, I was unhappy to see him building a multi-million dollar mansion in Chapel Hill, NC while championing the cause of the working class. Yes, Edwards is a very wealthy man. But I’m not cynical enough to believe his campaign themes were politically expedient or hypocritical. Does anyone think speaking out for the poor was his ticket to election? His announcement today, set in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, proves otherwise.

As Time magazine reports, his efforts have not been for naught:

Edwards leaves the race having made a big impact on the two remaining candidates. His populist rhetoric forced his rivals to compete for union support, and he was the first out of the gate with detailed plans for universal healthcare and education, putting pressure on the field to match him. “He led on just about every single issue: poverty, economic stimulus to universal healthcare,” said Joe Trippi, a senior adviser to Edwards’ campaign. “He pushed both of them further than they would’ve gone without him. When they wanted to blur the lines and not have real proposals, he came out with them and forced the others to move ahead.”

Edwards underscored this today:

Now, I’ve spoken to both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. They have both pledged to me and more importantly through me to America, that they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency. And more importantly, they have pledged to me that as President of the United States they will make ending poverty and economic inequality central to their Presidency. This is the cause of my life and I now have their commitment to engage in this cause.

I’m sad John Edwards won’t be our next president. But I believe he made Clinton and Obama better candidates, and when one of them occupies the Oval Office a year from now, we will become a better country.

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008
Posted in Politics | 2 Comments »

Hearing the message of a despised messenger

I spent more than 20 years in high tech marketing before recently moving my career in a different direction. I never thought I’d be in the position of defending Bill Gates, who for most of his years at Microsoft has been widely despised for his ruthlessly competitive leadership style.

I am quite certain many in and out of high tech are uttering something like “yeah, right” having learned of Gates’ speech before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland calling for “creative capitalism.” Gates has been creative all along — as in always finding ways to put his competitors out of business.

That’s the old Gates. The new Gates is the extraordinary, soon to be full-time philanthropist. And that’s who was speaking yesterday.

“We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well…I like to call this idea creative capitalism.”

Call it whatever you like, Bill, but it’s about time people of your stature use a platform such as the World Economic Forum to urge big business, in particular, to attend to the needs of the neediest.

We can kill the messenger, but his message must be heard:

“I am an optimist…But I am an impatient optimist. The world is getting better, but it’s not getting better fast enough, and it’s not getting better for everyone.”

Now consider for a moment how free market apologists construe the words of the world’s most successful capitalist of our time. Here’s Larry Kudlow, CNBC and National Review, spouting off:

Don’t you just love it? A guy without a college degree who invented a new technology process in his garage that literally changed the entire world, a guy who took advantage of all the great opportunities that a free and capitalist society has to offer and got filthy rich in the process, is now trashing capitalism and telling us it doesn’t work. What chutzpah…

So I just have to smile when billionaires like Bill Gates and George Soros turn cold shoulders to the blessings capitalism bestows. Or when their buddy, Warren Buffett, broadcasts the importance of hiking tax rates on successful earners and investors.

Look fellas, the command-and-control, state-run economics experiment was tried. It was called the Soviet Union. If you hadn’t noticed, it was a miserable failure.

Is that what Bill was doing, trashing capitalism and urging Communist state-run economics? Is that what the putative richest man in the world meant yesterday when he said, as the AP reports, “business must work with governments and nonprofit groups to stem global poverty and spur more technological innovation for those left behind”?

Thanks for clearing everything up, Mr. Kudlow. I always suspected business leaders who join the struggle to eradicate poverty are nothing more than closeted Communists. I mean why take personal action when you can just let the free market fix everything.


Times are tough, better go shopping

So it looks like you’ll be receiving an $800 economic stimulant come April 15 ($1600 per household). All of this courtesy of Bush and Congress (if they do the president’s bidding). I know what you’re thinking. You really want to save your tax rebate, pay down your credit card debt or donate it to charity. The last thing you want to do is head out to the mall, right? But wait, there’s our president urging you, as he did after 9/11, to go shopping. That’s what we Americans do when times get tough.

“Letting Americans keep more of their own money should increase consumer spending,” Bush informed the media today.

It’s practically un-American to even imagine you would sock the money away. Or hand it over to a family whose idea of consumer spending is putting food on the table. Or share it with an environmental organization that believes more consumption is the last thing we ought to be promoting.

No, consider it your duty as a citizen to indulge your fantasy for a new HD television and an overstuffed chair to plop down in front of it. After all, buying more stuff that you don’t need is what will keep our economy strong and growing.

As for those fringe dwellers who want you to believe unbridled consumer spending is exactly what’s wrong with our economy today, tell them to get a life.


Shedding light on Obama’s choice of identity

As never before, race and gender are playing into the politics of presidential elections. With the Republicans floundering to decide among a slate of undesirable candidates, the Democrats appear almost assured of winning the White House with either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as our new president. Either’s election would be historic.

Lately, I have been wondering how it is that Obama, the son of an Kenyan father and a white American mother, decided to identify himself as African American. What are the issues he had to weigh in making that choice? NPR’s Day to Day news program yesterday asked that question in a piece that discusses the reasoning Obama probably used in calling himself African American rather than biracial. Turns out for Obama to identify as biracial would likely cause more division and confusion among voters than declaring himself to be African American.

In a better world, Obama’s race and Clinton’s gender would not be factors in this campaign, although they clearly are. We haven’t reached a place in our nation’s development of being well past our historic prejudices against women, African Americans and other minorities. Even so, the election of either Obama or Clinton would be a sure sign of progress.

Thursday, January 10th, 2008
Posted in Politics | 1 Comment »

Trusting word of mouth, but for how long?

In advertising circles these days, “word of mouth” has its own acronym (WOM) and trade association (WOMMA), signaling its arrival as a marketing discipline. Companies love good WOM because they believe their customers are likely to believe friends and peers who recommend their products more than any commercial source. While that marketing axiom has been around for decades, what’s changed is the dedication and technology marketers are applying to monitor and generate WOM — or buzz.

So with a raised eyebrow I read an op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times, “Loose Lips Win Elections.” The authors, executives at a research firm, claim that John Edwards and Mike Huckabee performed better than expected in the Iowa caucuses because they benefited from what they called “word of mouth advocates” — evangelistic supporters who spoke to friends and colleagues before and during the caucuses.

Whether by chance or design, such citizen advocates created the explosive growth in support for Mike Huckabee and sustained John Edwards, even as both were vastly outspent by their opponents.

I don’t believe sophisticated presidential campaigns leave anything like this to chance. It was by design that Edwards and Huckabee got their citizen advocates out in large numbers. Good for them. As the op-ed writers noted, both candidates had to do something to counteract the much larger TV advertising campaigns mounted by their chief rivals. And they understandably chose a WOM strategy. According to the authors:

Public trust in all kinds of communication is eroding, with a notable exception: word of mouth…Our mid-December survey of Iowa voters found 38 percent saying they trusted information provided by TV ads, while 69 percent trusted “comments from friends, relatives and colleagues.”

There’s reason to believe even word of mouth will soon suffer the same credibility loss as other forms of communications. Why? Because marketers are increasingly manipulating and instigating word of mouth, as Adweek magazine explained in last week’s issue:

People, of course, have always acted as brand ambassadors by sharing recommendations with friends and associates…Now, however, these interactions have become supercharged thanks to a new breed of brand ambassadorship programs that formalize the relationship between marketers and average consumers passionate about their products. These programs “hire” consumers, via incentives and rewards, to act as part PR agents, part sales reps and part evangelists. They mix the spontaneity of buzz building with technology to instigate, guide and measure what repeat customers are saying to each other about their brands.

As citizens begin to understand how these so-called ambassador programs work, it won’t be long before many of us start doubting the credibility of certain acquaintances or colleagues who speak with unbridled fervor for a brand — whether a product or a candidate. After all, they may be receiving compensation of some sort for speaking out. I say “may” because right now there’s no guarantee these enthusiastic consumers or voters will divulge their relationship to a commercial or political entity. As Adweek explains:

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association, a trade group of agencies and marketers who use word-of-mouth marketing, has instituted an informal, but largely unenforced, industry policy that brand reps must always disclose their relationship to the product or service when promoting it.

So whether on behalf of products or candidates, word of mouth appears destined to become yet another suspect source of communication. That means the Huckabees and Edwards of the next Iowa campaign won’t be able to count on vocal supporters to sway opinion like they did this time around. And worse yet, the rest of us are left to wonder whose words we can still trust and whose opinions have been put up for sale.


Oregon law gives teeth to business sustainability

Oregon has opened its doors to a new kind of corporation. In a bill passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2007, businesses can state in their Oregon articles of incorporation they will operate with equal regard for environmental, social and shareholder impact. It appears Oregon is the first state to adopt such a law. And according to The Oregonian:

It’s not an empty gesture. One of the principles of business law is that corporations must act in the best interests of their shareholders. Some courts have narrowly interpreted that to mean companies must act only to maximize profits, even if the action runs roughshod over wider community interests.

It will be fascinating to see where this little publicized change in Oregon’s corporate governance laws will lead. Last spring, I heard a presentation from the founders of B Corporation, an organization whose aim is the widespread formation of corporations acting on behalf of all stakeholders (environmental, community, employee, supplier), not just shareholders. Oregon’s new law gives legal teeth to efforts such as this. According to Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future, which drafted the legislation (HB 2826),

The statute makes it clear that anyone forming an Oregon corporation can include a provision in the
articles authorizing or directing the corporation to be operated in a sustainable manner. Moreover, any
existing Oregon corporation can take that step by amending its articles of incorporation, which will
then govern operations after the date of the amendment.

Under such a provision, corporate officers will be directed or authorized to make decisions that adhere to a triple bottom line (people, planet, profits). How this will all play out is anyone’s guess. Ideally, we will see businesses throughout Oregon adopting the triple-bottom-line standard for governance. And perhaps even a rush of out-of-state companies that want to incorporate here so they can legally act out of concern for more than maximizing shareholder return. But how long might it be before powerful investment groups challenge Oregon’s amended corporate code in the courts? Or an individual company is sued by shareholders for failing to act in their best interests while making decisions that benefit other stakeholders? Conversely, will the adoption of these sustainability provisions leave businesses vulnerable to lawsuits from other stakeholders who claim the business is failing its environmental and social responsibilities?

Legal issues aside, I’m anxious to see how companies that adopt these new governance provisions actually behave. Will their conduct be measurably different from shareholder-centric companies? When push comes to shove, will they make decisions that reduce short-term corporate profits or shareholder return out of an obligation to the environmental or social common good?

The Oregon lawyer group behind HB 2826 acknowledges “profitability is built into the DNA of a corporation.” The question for Oregon, and the rest of the country, is whether the truly sustainable corporation is even genetically possible. Thanks to the Oregon Legislature, we’re about to find out.