#TCOT Round 2: Convince Me I Am Wrong on Auto Loans and I Will Publicly Recant

December 13, 2008

One of the first things that drew me to new media applications like Twitter and FriendFeed is the way in which they exponentially expanded our ability to share our thoughts and engage in debates over ideas. The downside to all of this is that once we choose to put our ideas and opinions out there there is no taking them back.If your assertions are proved wrong you can either retain your credibility and acknowledge the error of your ways and recant or dig in and make it clear that you are no friend of truth.

I don’t ever want to believe in or continue defending something that has been proven wrong so when I directed this post at the #TCOT (Top Conservatives on Twitter) community that I have recently become a part of I did so in the hopes that it would bring me a greater depth of argumentation than the rampant hyperbole I had been exposed to up until that point.

If the central goal and driving force of the #TCOT community is going to be something other than the advancement of realistic, practical and achievable solutions that are founded on conservative principles and that provide the best possible outcome for our nation then I want nothing to do with it. Here is the community’s chance to prove their intentions.

As one who believes that, generally speaking, limited government and freer markets provide the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people I would GREATLY prefer that our government not loan money to our beleaguered auto makers. However, I also mentioned that I believe the world we live in does not usually allow us to choose between exactly what we want and what we do not want. Our choices are almost always between options that each carry with them their own harms an demands that we decide which option is best.

In my previous post I laid out some of the general assumptions that have lead to my support of providing the auto makers with loans. I have never and will never claim to be the final authority on in-depth economic theory and analysis. Like most of you the best I can do is listen to the arguments, research and educate myself on the issue and decide which policies I will support based on my own common-sense understanding of which option will provide the best outcome.

Even so it is undeniable that the dynamics of the current state of our economy and the intricacies of the auto manufacturing industry provide an enormously complex web of considerations that must be taken into account when deciding whether or not to support the extension of loans to the auto industry.

As a result I wanted to provide a research document that clearly lays out a detailed anaylsis of the potential costs associated with providing the loans as well as a conservative effort of the possible outcomes of the further collapse of part or all of the auto manufacturing industry.

Here is a report that the Anderson Economic Group recently released clearly laying out what they believe are the likely costs of providing or denying the auto makers access to these loans.

Even though it is not the full report it very clearly lays out the assumptions and supporting evidence. Take a look at it and share your thoughts on where the report or I am wrong in our thinking.

If you can provide me with enough logical arguments I will happily change my opinion and publicly recant my support for the loans.

I am curious though – if you find enough evidence to convince you that it will do more harm not to provide the loans – will you do the same?

In the interest of full disclosure my current employer as well as the company that owns our parent company do work for Ford Motor Company. However, these are my own personal opinions and should in no way be taken to reflect or represent the thoughts of my employer or our parent companies.


#TCOT Why This Conservative Currently Supports the Auto Loans

December 13, 2008

I’ve experienced a decent amount of condescension from my fellow TCOTers for questioning the wisdom of denying the extension of loans to our auto manufacturers. I wouldn’t mind it so much if the condescension was attached to arguments that addressed anything resembling the world we actually live in.

As my friends on the other side of the aisle can tell you I will argue all day long that, generally speaking, limited government and freer markets provide the best outcomes for all. Unfortunately, we live in a world that often demands that we make difficult decisions between two less-than-ideal choices.

Telling me that the White House and Congress are not a bank is not a valid argument. Of course they aren’t but, and I’m just spit-ballin’ here so correct me if I am wrong, I am fairly certain that the legislation would direct the Treasury Department to loan the money.

I don’t want the Federal government to have to loan the auto manufacturers this money. I would prefer that our auto makers be able to pull themselves out of this hole themselves but that’s not the only consideration in this process.

My belief in limited government and the power of free markets is, at some point, theoretical in nature. WAIT. STOP. Before you freak out let me explain. I say somewhat theoretical because “limited government” is a fairly vague phrase – if you were to be successful in making your case over time then the logical end to the statement “government should always be smaller” would eventually be no government. That’s obviously a silly thing to advocate so while we may believe that smaller government is better, we also acknowledge there is a need for government involvement of some kind.

The same goes for free markets – having studied economics and been blessed with the basic level of common sense that comes with being a human I believe that, generally speaking, markets that are more free to operate provide a more efficient means of producing wealth. But an absolutely free market has NEVER existed on a, economy-wide scale. On a continuum that has a purely unregulated free market on one end and a 100% government owned, regulated and controlled economy on the other, the US economy is certainly much closer to the purely unregulated free market than say, France’s. BUT we still allow for some government regulation because we have seen that human nature is such that the harms caused by no government regulation eclipse the harms caused by some government regulation.

My point? No matter how firmly we may believe in the core tenets of our ideologies we obviously recognize that the world we live in does not allow us to implement solutions in a vacuum.

It is for that reason that, after surveying the potential harms of the only two options we have been given (provide the loans to the auto industry or do not), I have determined that the potential damage that could be caused by not providing the loans GREATLY outweighs the potential damage that could be caused if we do provide the loans.

Let me end by briefly laying out some assumptions that I have made as I have made my decision.

* I believe our economy is already in a precarious state and that exacerbation of the adjustments the auto industry had already begun to experience years ago would have devastating effects on our economy

* I believe that that the inter connectivity of our auto industry’s part suppliers and auto dealers as well as the national security implications of losing US-based ownership over our entire auto manufacturing industry confers an importance on the auto industry that, like our agricultural industry, is unique and there fore worthy of aid that I would not support for other industries

* I believe that these are loans, that the last time we loaned money to an auto maker in trouble our government was repaid and made several hundred million dollars on top of that

* I believe that the severity of the threat the collapse of our auto manufacturing industry is great enough to make the provision of a relatively (compared to what has already been outlaid for banks) small amount of loans a reasonable solution, even if there is a risk that some or all of the loans will not be repaid

and to reiterate – most importantly:

* I believe that the potential negative impact of not providing the loans is outweighed by the potential benefits of providing the loans

I have tried to lay out some of my reasons for supporting the loans and make it clear that my goal is to support the solution that I believe provides the best outcome.

If you can provide compelling and logical reasons why I should value something other than the best outcome or why the assumptions I have used to make this decision are wrong I would love to hear them.

Xbox Live/Netflix Watch Instantly Recommendations

December 8, 2008

My wife and I have been loving the new Xbox Live interface, especially because of the Netflix instant streaming capability that it brought with it.

While I look forward to the day that there will be a much wider selection available for instant viewing, I wanted to share some of the interesting titles I have found thus far.

Aside from The Office, I have spent most of my time scouring for cool documentaries – you will quickly see that I am fascinated by music, politics and subcultures/non-conformist views of thought.

Here are some of the things I have enjoyed thus far:

The Office – Seasons 1 – 4: ‘Nuff said

Downtown 81: A gritty, punk-rock fantasia starring legendary graffiti artist, poet and musician Jean Michel Basquiat, Downtown 81 was, for years, considered a “lost” film. It chronicles the hipper-than-hip downtown New York art and music scene of 1980-81 while capturing one of the most interesting and lively artists of the late 20th century as he stands poised for fame. Features appearances by Deborah Harry, Fab Five Freddy and Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

Put the Needle on the Record: Filmmaker Jason Rem traveled to Miami to shoot footage at the annual Winter Music Conference and came up with an award-winning chronicle of the evolution of electronic music and the role of the DJ in pop culture. The result is a thought-provoking collection of interviews with top artists such as The Crystal Method, Paul Oakenfold and DJ Colette, footage from events around the globe and a brilliant soundtrack to go along with it all.

Better Living hrough Circuitry: Director Jon Reiss’s documentary about the history of the U.S. rave scene captures the people and music that shaped the nation’s underground subculture around electronic music. The film combines an emphasis on the music and light shows that accompany raves with interviews with turntable maestros the Crystal Method, DJ Spooky, Roni Size, Moby, Psychic TV, Carl Cox, BT, Meatbeat Manifesto, Frankie Bones, Scanner, Loop Guru and Simply Jeff.

Tom Dowd and the Language of Music: Rarely do we get a chance to see a feature-length documentary about a true unsung hero. Tom Dowd was an innovative music producer and recording engineer. Historical footage, photographs and classic music tracks underscore how Tom Dowd altered the course of contemporary music via his many technical achievements. Features appearances by Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Les Paul and Aretha Franklin.

Cocaine Cowboys: This penetrating and sometimes harrowing documentary from director Billy Corben pulls out all the stops to explore the many dimensions of Miami’s cocaine-trafficking boom of the 1980s, from how the drug was moved and the financial impact on the city to the havoc and violence that followed in its wake. Told by the smugglers, cops and average citizens who were there, this film is an unflinching study of Miami’s most notorious and lethal vice.

One Question To Rule Them All

December 5, 2008

Yea, I know, I should be beaten for such a horribly unpunny title (oops).

You figure out the “why” and the rest will follow.

I feel unbelievably fortunate that someone introduced me to that concept many years ago – as I have tried to make it a central part of my approach to life I have seen its power. I have also seen how easy it is to stop one-step shy of the uncovering the final (real) “why.”

I have been thinking alot about the Republican Party, what has brought us to the place we currently find ourselves and how we move forward. I believe that most if not all of the explanations and solutions fail to uncover the actual “why” and as a result are destined to yield less than optimal results at best.

As I become more and more enthralled with all of the developments within Digital/New/Social Media I see a similar pattern as many “experts” fail to grapple with why these tools work in lieu of the verbal equivalent of a dazzling light show.

There are a number of people out there who achieve a great deal of success without ever bothering to understand the “why.” These individuals are talented and masterful executors of  the things they have been taught and while they are rewarded with varying degrees of wealth and respect they will never max out their abilities and will always be reliant on others to teach them newer and better ways.

There is also a small group of individuals throughout the world who, for whatever reason, each find themselves drawn and dedicated to the discovery of the most basic “why” they can find. These are the ground breakers, the game changers and the history makers.

Just a quick reminder (probably more for me than anyone else) that, in order to achieve the optimal level of performance in any given endeavor, you have to start by figuring out the “why” first.

What about you?

Are you merely executing what you have been taught or are you mentally or physically breaking down whatever it is that you do until you reach that final “why?”

Digital Media and the Field of Dreams Myth

December 2, 2008

You don’t have to convince me of Digital Media’s power – I’m already a huge believer.

While I am happy to see more and more organizations grow in their awareness for their need to take advantage of its many benefits, I am frequently amused/frustrated by the Field of Dreams mentality that seems to be so prevalent in their current approaches.

Digital Media is not a magic baseball field. People are not going to come just because you build Social Media applications. Creating a Facebook group for your issue or organization is not going to create a torrent of enthusiasm where none previously existed.

Take the Obama campaign for example. To say that their use of Digital Media created all of the excitement we witnessed is beyond ridiculous. I’m not trying to take anything away from the Obama campaign’s amazing use of a vast array of tools that helped connect and engage supporters but at the end of the day all they did was amplify what was already there.

This isn’t a chicken or the egg situation – in fact John McCain provides the perfect example. In the 2000 election with an enormous amount of organic excitement for his candidacy, John McCain was able to break new ground in the area of online fundraising (oh how quickly we forget – he wasn’t always viewed as technologically challenged). Ironically, it was the enormous success of their online efforts in 2000 that created many of the early financial problems for McCain version 2008 as much of their lauded $100 million primary war chest was predicated on a robust online fundraising effort that never materialized.

What changed? The natural level of existing enthusiasm.

What I love most about Digital Media is that it is nothing more than the exponential enhancement of the communications dynamic that has existed throughout history. Strip away the funny sounding application names and the dizzying array of usage options and you are left with the same fundamental concepts of human nature that have always existed.

So do me a favor, if in your current capacity you advise or implement communications plans that include Digital Media please remember – in the real world people don’t just drive to baseball fields because somebody built them. They drive to baseball fields because they are excited about baseball.

The Problem With Language and the Current GOP Debate

November 25, 2008

UPDATE: Ed Feulner, President of the Heritage Foundation, has an interesting post up at the Next Right that address the problems with language from a different perspective.

As my poor friends can attest I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the future of the Republican Party lately.

As I watch the ongoing debate that is spawned by the proposals from the growing litany of voices offering their solutions to the party’s woes I grow increasingly frustrated by the role language is playing in making it difficult for the various coalitions that comprise the GOP to come to some kind of consensus on how we should move forward.

There is a reason why “communication” professionals have become, and will continue to be, an important part of our society’s landscape. Each of us interprets messages contextually, based on our perception of the world around us, the messages vehicle and our own experiences.

This dynamic is a large part of the problem with the current intra-party debate.

One word is particularly responsible for these problems: ideology.

As I mentioned before, David Brooks recently penned an editorial that sought to categorize the two camps of thought currently emerging with the GOP. It’s not perfect but its broad generalities make discussions like this one much easier so for simplicity’s sake I will continue to use his Traditionalist and Reformer groupings. If you haven’t read his article yet give it a quick look before continuing.

I plan on putting together some thoughts about the biggest areas of disagreement I have with the Traditionalists later. For now I will just say that one of their biggest problems is that the phrasing they are using to defend the party’s core ideologies is from a different era with different problems. As such, what many Traditionalists mean when they invoke certain phrases and what voters hear are very different things.

Reformers recognize the need to reformulate our ideological expressions to address the problems of today. The problem is that much of the language they use to make their case is interpreted very differently by the party’s base – a segment of the party that largely comprises the Traditionalist camp.

The problem the Traditionalists have is that they are failing to delineate between ideology and the application of ideology.

Although I identify more strongly with the Reformers I strongly agree with Traditionalists when they say that voters are largely supportive of much of our core ideology. The GOP’s messages of limited, fiscally responsible government, lower taxes and a strong defense have gained broad enough acceptance to force noticeable shifts in the policies of today’s Democrats. Our failure to remain true to these ideals has certainly played a role in our losses.

I also believe that the GOP has relied on decades-old applications of those values. Here is where we have a problem.

Instead of arguing that we must update the application of our ideology to address the problems that most concern voters today the Reformers simply say “we need to modernize our ideology.”

Traditionalists hear Reformers say “we need to modernize our party’s ideology” and they bristle. What they hear is “We need to CHANGE our ideology.” What Reformers actually mean is “we need to modernize the way in which we apply our ideology to today’s problems.”

I am certainly over-simplifying the issue here but if we are to show the American people that we have heard the message that they have sent, with increasing volume, over the passed two elections, those vying for control of the heart of the party must pay heed to the importance of language.

If we do not, the leaders with the ability to renew the GOP’s ability to proactively provide solutions to today’s problems will fail to earn the support of the party faithful and we will be stuck making our case with phrases and arguments that will not resonate with voters.

The Republican Party of Strategies and Tactics

November 21, 2008

There is an enormous amount of talk right now in the Republican Party about what the election results mean and how they should impact the future of the Republican Party.

It appears that there is a consensus that we lost – that’s good I suppose – and it also appears that there is an understanding that the nearly abusive level of voter-administered corporal punishment was caused by some sort of systemic failure within the party. Trouble is we can’t quite agree on what that systemic problem is.

David Brooks has labeled the two camps that have developed the Traditionalists and the Reformers. As he explains, the Traditionalists believe voters support our small-government, lower-tax principles but rejected the Party because we abandoned those principles with big-government initiatives. The Reformers, according to Brooks, argue that times have changed and our defeat was the evidence of a party whose priorities and concerns are out-of-step with those of the voters.

They are both wrong. They are both also right.

Of the two generalized camps I certainly agree with the Reformers more strongly – in fact my only disagreement with them is a very slight and very nuanced level of focus. The Traditionalists, on the other hand, are dead-on when they say that the general voting public subscribes too many of our core values and that part of our losses can be attributed to our inability to remain true to them. Where they grossly miss the mark however is in their prescription for the problem.

Who am I and why should my thoughts on the matter be of any consequence to you? I’m no one – just a mid-level campaign hack who loves his party who can no longer stand silent as I watch my party reach a hand out of the toilet to grope for the handle. Based on my name alone there is no good reason why you should pay attention to a word I say – so don’t filter what follows based on what you think of me – base them on the arguments themselves. If I am wrong, I would love to hear your thoughts as to why.

The Republican Party of Strategies and Tactics

There were certainly a number of factors that contributed something to our losses this November – I would even grant that some of those factors were completely out of our control as a party. That said, our problems did not begin with the 2008 election and I strongly believe that there was one factor that, far above any other, has lead to our downfall: We.Stopped.Solving.Problems.

We elect our leaders to solve problems in accordance with the values and priorities we express through the electoral process. If we feel the government is getting bloated and taking too much of our money in the process, we support candidates who commit to trimming government and cutting our taxes.

Problem is for years now the Republican Party has made strategic and tactical perfection in both the policy and campaign arenas our focus at the expense of generating ways to solve the nation’s problems in accordance with our philosophy. And make no mistake, until recently we have been VERY successful to that end.

Am I saying strategies and tactics are bad? Absolutely not – like it or not the best-intentioned candidate with the best ideas in the world who pays no heed to the need for strategic and tactical excellence will have a very hard time winning against an opponent who is largely devoid of ideas but superior in their strategic and tactical approach.

Strategies and tactics in the political realm provide candidates and parties with the ability to efficiently and effectively share their ideas with voters and make the case that they are the better choice. They are tools that are vital to success but they are, at the end of the day, still only tools. They are both the cart and the horse but the greatest vendor in the world, with the strongest horse and most beautiful and ornate cart will still go home broke if they take rotten, moldy fruit to sell at the market.

For a few years now a question has been brewing: what does it mean to be a Republican? A few weeks ago, voters got tired of trying to figure out the answer.

Some of them may not have liked everything he stood for and some of them may have wished for a more detailed list of solutions but they supported Barak Obama anyways because he was able to convince them that he was more likely to solve the problems that concerned them than his opponent.

More to come…

An Ace on Fire is Still an Ace

July 24, 2008

Let me start by stating the obvious: I am absolutely trying to capitalize on the attention my previous post received.

Its not quite as self-serving as it seems.

I’m not looking to increase my rss subscriptions or further my own personal “brand.” What I would like to do is share some thoughts on what I think Twitter can (needs to) do to successfully pull out of the flat spin they induced recently.

I mentioned previously that I thought that Twitter had set their Ace-in-the-hole afire when the latest snafu impacted the community’s Holy Grail: their subscriptions.

I have noticed more and more people commenting that the early adopter community tends to focus on the reasons a product will fail rather than the things that need to happen in order for it to succeed. I want to offer (what I hope will be) a constructive and helpful perspective derived from my experience in the campaign and public affairs arena.

There are certainly a number of marketing/public affairs/public relations professionals with far more experience than me on Twitter or FriendFeed – I hope they will add their own thoughts (but by all means please do so on FriendFeed, put them here an no one will ever see them!).

The biggest threat to Twitter’s survival is not rooted in technology but communications.

What I am going to suggest does not necessarily mix well with the old school PR or campaign regime whose focus often revolves around message control. Many would probably say that Twitter’s current PR/communication approach strikes the right balance between acknowledging the problem and discussing your plan to solve it and being so transparent that you make your product look more unstable than it really is.

There are certainly situations where it is important to find that balance. But not this one.

This is not Multinational Corporation X trying to figure out how to handle an internal study indicating their may be a higher than expected fail rate on their new hard drive, this is Aunt Milly drunk off her ass at the family reunion.

The cat’s out of the bag, we all know it is an infrastructural problem that will take some time to fix. We didn’t leave when we first heard the news so why would we now?

If Twitter fails I guarantee it will not be because they couldn’t fix the glitches fast enough – it will be because they failed to honor and leverage the rare and special community that has sprung up around a very flawed product.

So here are my suggestions – some of them may already be in place and users may simply need to be made more aware of them. Most of us have acknowledged that Twitter has created a very special community of  users – let’s put some action behind that belief.

My suggestions:

  • Update the standard FAIL page to include links to every official update channel. I don’t visit the Twitter blog or developer forum or status page – add links and I will probably click on them when I get the service is down page and feel better that I am not in dark about what is going on
  • Create an official Twitter channel on a video streaming site and make it company policy that someone from the Twitter staff will jump on within X amount of time of any major problem to provide users an update (even if it is to say “we are working to identify the problem”)
  • Identify a group of the most influential users (Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, etc) and provide them with regular briefing via  video conference, be open and transparent, allow for Q & A
  • If further decisions are required as to which functions need to be temporarily disabled (or the order in which disabled functions should be added back) ask the users!

I was verbose enough in the lead up so I wanted to limit my suggestions to what I considered to be the most important.

Again, I understand that the underlying concept of throwing the doors wide open and pushing uber-transparency goes against the grain of most of today’s accepted PR and communication CW but I would put money on their effectiveness in this situation.

Twitter is not your standard application or product – we don’t love Twitter because of what it DOES, we love Twitter because of what it has DONE.

Twitter has created a community out of its users but they will lose that community if they do not show they understand and appreciate its power by using it to ensure the growth and survival of the service.

PLEASE – go back to FriendFeed, Twitter, your blog, WHEREVER and begin your own discussion on what Twitter could do to avoid the ultimate FAIL.

I have no allusions that this post alone will lead to the communication changes that Twitter so desperately needs BUT we all interact with several individuals on a daily basis who have the ability to encourage change – collectively our ideas can and will make a huge difference.

So there are my thoughts – what are yours?

As a user – what could Twitter do from a direct communication standpoint to make it more likely that you not only stuck around but became a Twitter evangelist once again?

Twitter Just Pulled the Ace From Their Sleeve and Lit it on Fire

July 24, 2008

I’ve always been keenly aware of the massive chasm that exists between my core abilities and experiences and those of many of the people I follow on Twitter and FriendFeed (in fact that is precisely why I love following so many of them), so I do my best to leave the deeper analysis to the experts.

Even so I have always been an interested “outside” observer as the ongoing “will they or won’t they make it” Twitter saga has played out.

When I first began immersing myself in new media I was startled by the volatility that exists in the user market for any number of web-based programs and I have always intrigued by the way that Twitter has avoided this pitfall.

Unfortunately, their most recent snafu (see the link at the beginning for a succinct explanation) may be too much to overcome.

I can’t imagine any other service surviving as long as Twitter has while exhibiting the same level of near-constant problems they have and I think the underlying lesson, while extremely intuitive, should serve as a powerful reminder for anyone, in any business, in any industry.

None of us are perfect – we may make perfection our goal but it is a universal constant that every human and every organization is going to fail at some point. The trick is to identify the things that you MUST get right in oder to ensure your survival.

For Twitter I believe this was the subscription process.

There have been a few comments on FriendFeed chiding people for focusing on form over function, implying that the outcry over Twitter’s latest stumble is the result of the rampant egoism of some who find more value in amassing a large audience instead of developing quality relationships and conversations.

I can see where they are coming from but I don’t know that I agree entirely – while there are certainly some who view Twitter as a game to see who can build the world’s largest megaphone, there are also many people who haven invested a lot of time cultivating a community and environment that provides mutual exhortation.

I firmly believe that the success that a large number of highly influential individuals had on Twitter is the very thing that kept the service alive.

Makes sense doesn’t it?

If you had invested countless hours in a service and, as a result, had amassed a “following” of several thousand individuals who were eager to hear from and interact with you wouldn’t you give that service every chance to survive as well?

I’m pretty sure I would.

And so a cycle was created that acted as a virtual respirator for Twitter: highly interesting or knowledgeable person develops a large following on Twitter, word spreads as more and more users enjoy and benefit from the service, more join, Twitter hits massive potholes in the road, power users hang on for dear life not wanting to lose all of the hard work they had invested, mass defection is avoided as the rest of the service’s users enjoy the interaction that a growing, vibrant community offers.

Unfortunately, Twitter’s latest error was aimed squarely at the one thing that may very well have kept them alive all of this time.

This isn’t another “Twitter is now dead” post – the game isn’t over and, although it would take enormous effort, Twitter may very well still survive.

Instead, my hope is that this can serve as a reminder that no matter what the endeavor – relationship, job, company, etc – so long as we identify and remain aware of the expectations that we must meet at all costs and apologize and rectify our screw ups in all of the other areas, things will turn out just fine.

But if we neglect one of those core expectations…

Guest Post on Burson-Marsteller’s “Digital Perspective” Blog

July 18, 2008

I have had the wonderful opportunity of getting to know Burson-Marsteller Chief Digital Strategist, Erin Byrne lately and was honored and excited when she asked if I would be interested in writing a guest post for Burson’s digital media blog discussing social media from a grassroots perspective.

If you have a moment – pop on over and give it a quick read. Would love to hear any thoughts you may have!