Aug 19

You’d Think She’d Know Better

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and her entourage breezed into the seafood restaurant in which I was dining last night. As one might expect, there were quite a few knowing glances and a general cessation of the usual mumbles and harrumphs.

The waiter scurried up to greet Ms. Whitman. He bowed and sighed, "So nice to have you with us again, Governor Whitman."Whitman_christinetodd

The Whitman party of four was seated just behind me. How cool. But, as it turned out, I could have been sitting across the room and still heard some of her vitriolic comments.

You see, the erstwhile governor and cabinet member was not in a festive mood. I’m not sure what had set her off, but the invectives were flying faster than a souped-up NASCAR racer at Talladega.

Most of Ms. Whitman’s louder lamentations seemed aimed at the current administration. She bandied about words and phrases like "patsy" and "sacrificial lamb" to describe herself and her experiences. She also bemoaned the fact that no one from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue had ever bothered to alert her in advance before "41" visited the Garden State.

Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned. And, we diners heard quite a few choice morsels from this scorned politico.

Ms. Whitman may be totally justified in her complaints. But, in this era of cell phone videos and Youtube postings, one would have thought the ex-governor would have been more circumspect. A less gentile and more enterprising Repman, for example, just might have gone for a scoop and posted the Michael Richards-like performance for all the world to see.

But, then, I’m not into the whole National Enquirer, kiss-and-tell type exposes. I thought a cautionary tale like this might be of more benefit to Governor Whitman, her handlers and anyone in the public eye who gives a lobster’s tail about image and reputation.

Jun 13

Mugabe Squashes a Beacon of Hope in Africa

Guest post by Joe Becker.Robert_mugabe

There’s a famous story about a impoverished man who grew up in a small town in Rhodeshia who went on to lead the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) for African independence from European colonists and then get elected as the head of government for Zimbabwe.  This man was invited to speak at the United Nations as the leader of an African nation which was seen as a beacon of success for peace, economic growth, job development, personal safety and commerce.  Not 25 years after the UN speech, which was met with universal fanfare and hope, Robert Mugabe has transformed his homeland into an example of heartbreak. 

The New York Times ran a news piece on Mugabe’s arrest of opposition party leaders being arrested for treason.  If you didn’t already follow this story, Mugabe has strong armed voters, rigged election results and harmed thousands in his quest to iron fist his role as leader of Zimbabwe for nearly 30 years. Recently he actually lost a reelection to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, getting 43% to his 47.9%.  I can’t imagine how many more people actually voted for Tsvangirai to overcome the fixed election, but Mugabe has been fighting the results and recounting votes in select areas of the country for weeks now.  Mugabe who once offered hope and peace instead invented hyperinflation, expelled tens of thousands of people from their homes and built a government of corruption and brutal repression. 

I share story because my wife studied urban and rural planning in Zimbabwe a number of years ago and speaks fondly of happy people, trusting people and a people looking for hope and reform.  I’m not entirely oblivious; I know governments and people can be corrupt, I’m just sadden that one man can temporarily destroy a country and its sprit. 

I look forward to seeing how this story and election plays out in Zimbabwe, I’m optimistic but the results to come are slightly predictable and sad.

Apr 15

You did just fine, Mr. Mayor

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was the dinner speaker for Arthur Page Society’s spring Conference.Koch
As we wolfed down our meals, Koch regaled listeners with one anecdote after another, demonstrating a sharp wit and full grasp of the current political climate.

When asked to reflect on his time as mayor and point to his greatest accomplishment, Koch didn’t hesitate in responding, "I believe I gave New Yorkers back their pride." And, he did. The New York City Ed Koch inherited was a total mess. It was bankrupt, riddled with crime and struggling to forestall corporate and private citizens alike from heading across the Hudson.

Koch turned all that around with his ‘can do’ attitude, workmanlike approach and obvious pride in the city. He made us feel good about New York’s image and reputation as he and his successors literally rebuilt the city from the ground up. Today, New York City is THE place to be for so many different segments and strata of society. Would it be that way if Koch hadn’t been mayor at exactly the right point in time? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Koch’s trademark was to ask average New Yorkers how he was doing. The voters responded in no uncertain terms by reelecting him. And we Page members did the same thing with our standing ovation on Thursday night. You’re doing just fine, Mr. Mayor. Just fine.

Nov 12

Religiously pursuing profits

Televangelists sure give fundamental Christianity a black eye. These self-righteous men and womenPlate
pound their podiums, thump their chests and offer lots of false hope: all in the name of Jesus and the Almighty Dollar.

So, it’s nice to see the government finally step in and investigate the charlatans who preach poverty but live in the lap of luxury.

Ah, there’s nothing like a good Congressional investigation to put the fear of God in a double-talking, bible-thumping fraud. And, while there are undoubtedly some legitimate preachers out there, my gut tells me the majority simply prey (pun intended) on the fears and ignorance of the great unwashed masses.

Organized religion deserves its checkered image and reputation. Too many scam artists have hurt too many unsuspecting faithful over the years.

So, let the investigations begin. And, hopefully, some of these profit-hungry pastors will be doing their preaching in prison and not on the boob tube.

Sep 05

Who needs a Tony Snow?

The White House has a new, number one cheerleader in the person of CBS Nightly News Anchor KatieCouric_2

‘On assignment’ in Iraq this week, Katie has filed one flattering, pro-administration, pro-surge report after another. In one, she’s busy touring an airy, laugh-filled Baghdad marketplace. In another, she’s tooling around an oh-so-sedate Fallujah with General David H. Petraeus. As they stretch out in the back of a Humvee, Katie asks the top Army kick how things are going…..

Petraeus: “Very well, Katie.”

Katie: "Yes, it’s clear that things here are under control. How important was the recent 30,000 troop surge to this success?"

Petraeus: "Huge. The extra troops have allowed us to really keep things in line. We’re now spiraling up instead of spiraling down."

Katie smiles contentedly, adjusts her sunglasses and, no doubt, goes on to ask the general if his Humvee comes equipped with a lighted vanity mirror she can use to touch-up her face. One would think Iraq’s heat and desert winds must wreak absolute havoc on a top journalist’s hairdoo.

And, what was up with the timing of Katie’s ‘frontlines’ assignment and W’s ‘surprise’ visit to war-torn Iraq. Is there any doubt conversations were held between the White House and CBS to negotiate a dramatic, on-the-ground interview between the two embattled figureheads?

Katie’s recent reportage indicates her having come full circle in her career. She started out as a high school cheerleader and has now gone back to the future on 43’s behalf. Who needs Tony Snow when Katie’s available?

Jan 11

Penn Station security guards should make weight loss their number one New Year’s resolution

I’m not sure if it’s the plethora of New Year’s resolution stories, the pantheon of reality TV shows or such provocative Discovery Channel fare as "I was a 687-pound teenager," but it sure seems like Fat City for the overall subject of weight loss.

Which may explain why I’ve been so weighted down by the sight of portly security folks at Penn Donut_2 Station. Today alone, I espied one weight-challenged security/military type after another waddling around the bustling train depot. As I did, I thought to myself, "Hey, what’s going on? Are we securing our city’s most vulnerable transportation hubs with the creme de la creme of our nation’s guards and soldiers? Or, instead, are the morbidly and grossly obese among the rank-and-file simply being posted to seemingly ‘out-of-the-way’ venues?"

Regardless of the reason why so many obviously out-of-shape security people are at Penn Station in the first place, the real concern is this: if an untrained eye like mine is picking this up, what must our enemies be thinking?

One would think our nation would want an image of a fit, lean and mean fighting machine, both here and abroad. Yet, the exact opposite is the case, at least at Penn Station. Instead of thinking "Army Strong" when I saunter past these ladies and gents, I’m thinking "Army Slow," "Army Ponderous" or, worse, "Army Vulnerable." It’s time for the Penn Station guards to shape up or ship out. And, here’s hoping a serious diet and exercise plan is on the New Year’s resolution list of many, if not all of them.

Dec 07

Don’t weep for Rummy

Rumsfeld_cartoon_75pc_2 Newly named Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has received positive reviews and immediate Senate confirmation for his new Cabinet gig. Nearly universal praise is being heaped on Gates for being open and honest about the nightmare that is the War in Iraq.

Simultaneously, deposed chieftain Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld is being pilloried for an obviously misguided military strategy and implementation. But, as bad as things in Iraq have become (even Matt Lauer is calling it a ‘Civil War’ for heaven’s sake, as Rummy himself would say), the erstwhile Secretary will probably be best remembered for his evasive, vitriolic and just plain rude exchanges with the media.

The guy refused to ever admit there were problems, said that "… goes to war with what one has" and predicted, along with the vice president, that U.S. troops would be showered by flowers and greeted as liberators by Iraqi citizens. But, hey, that was then and this is now. Like Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and other "celebs" who have shot themselves in the foot (sorry for the quail-hunting analogy), Rummy can afford to just sit back and wait for the dust to settle. Happily for him, he has tons of options in the short-term future. He can do absolutely nothing (unlikely). He can go on the lecture circuit a la Messrs Welch, Clinton and Giuliani, and pull down a cool $100k per session (possible). Or, he can pen his memoirs for a huge, multi-million dollar fee and do a media tour of the morning talk shows (probable).

Either way, Rummy is sitting pretty. He may have left behind a car wreck of a situation in Iraq that could take years, if not decades, to correct. But, even his most ardent supporters should keep their handkerchiefs warm and dry. Rummy will be back (and better than ever).

Oct 04

Foley Scandal has to be the ultimate nightmare for Republican Party’s image

HastertchickenRepublican strategists and spin doctors have to be logging some very late nights trying to figure out how to rally mid-term election voters in the wake of the Mark Foley/Dennis Hastert disaster. Republicans have been basically waging a two-plank campaign that emphasized staying the course in Iraq and espoused Christian principles in the way they govern the country and create and interpret new laws. Now, though, with the Foley scandal (and Speaker Hastert’s apparent indifference/weak management during the Florida congressman’s sexual spree), the G.O.P. is reeling.

Foley’s "Do as I say, not as I do" conduct (i.e. on the one hand, he proposed legislation to strengthen laws against sexual predators using the Internet to attract underage kids while on the other hand he engaged in improper, sexually explicit instant messaging with Congressional pages) is a huge hurdle to overcome. And, Hastert’s hands-off management style has Republicans and Democrats alike calling for the latter’s resignation.

So, what’s a political party to do when one of its core foundations is undermined and made to look doubtful at best and hypocritical at worst? Cut and run, to be sure. The best policy is to do what some Republicans are doing now: castigate Foley, distance themselves from Hastert and focus on issues other than religion and ethical behavior in their mid-term politicking.

I‘ve always been wary of people who wear their religion on their sleeves. Some are genuinely passionate in their faith. But, then there are the Jim and Tammy Fay Bakers and countless others who turn out to be total frauds. Sadly, Congressman Foley is cut of the same cloth (an unethical cloth to be sure).

It will be fascinating to watch the Republican image machine cope with the Foley fallout over the next 30 days. Karl Rove & Co. is unquestioned masters at the game, but with the Foley albatross hanging around their necks, it sure looks like time for a Hail Mary pass.

Sep 29

Is this any way to run, or report on, a war?

Dexter Filkins, a former New York Times correspondent who covered the war in Iraq, says things are so dangerous there that the Times sub-contracts actual, on-the-scene reporting to a group of 70 Iraqi nationals. They do so, says Filkins, who is now a Fellow at Harvard, because Western journalists are prime targets for local terrorists.

As a result of the horrific surroundings, the Times has constructed a facility in Baghdad that 186321m_1 reminds me of the old movie, "Fort Apache, the Bronx." It’s surrounded by "45 full-time Kalashnikov-toting security guards who patrol its two blast-wall-enclosed houses." There are also machine gun nests on the roof and three fully armored cars. The Times also pays hefty insurance premiums for the five reporters who hunker down and do the actual writing inside the fortress.

So, what we read in the Times every day is once removed from the actual incident. Perfectly understandable in terms of safety and security, but if true, a major scandal. The Times is the bastion of liberal America and the number one cheerleader against the war in Iraq. If they rely on locals to collect the news and information, how do they (and we) know it’s not slanted one way or the other? How do they (and we) know it’s 100 percent accurate?

To compound the problem further, Filkins says the U.S. Military is just as out-of-touch with the day-to-day realities of daily Iraqi life as their counterparts at the Times. Soldiers are mostly confined to bases and don’t interact with locals at all. Filkins summarized his report (which appeared in Editor & Publisher) by saying that 98 percent of Iraq and most of Baghdad is simply off-limits to western journalists.

So, the administration is basing its decisions on what its military leaders tell it to do. But, they’re so hunkered down that they see very little of what’s what. And, the media are so scared that they hire others to do the actual fact collecting.

So, what are we left with? In my mind, no one really knows what’s going on, why it’s going on or if it will ever end. In the meantime, one of the greatest newspapers in the world is reporting second-hand news? The only winners in this scenario are the bad guys. When the credibility, image and reputation of both the government and the media are called into question, it’s time to either immediately fix things or pack up one’s tent and go home.

Jun 30

How about a blogger-in-chief cabinet level position?

As our country approaches yet another July 4th celebration, we have much to be proud of. At the same time, though, from an image and reputation standpoint, we’re probably not the most popular country in the world. So if the U.S. were my client, I’d advise an immediate grass roots education program that was open, honest and consistent. I’d propose we start communicating not just the good, but the bad and the ugly as well. I’d open up an honest dialogue with countries/people around the globe.

As part of my total communications program for the U.S., I’d create a blog for the government in which we posted daily comments about our thoughts and policies, and engaged in an interactive dialogue with friend and foe alike. The best companies are open and honest with their constituents, and the smartest ones are leveraging the blogosphere to create new relationships based on trust.

So, while it may be totally naïve on my part, why not establish a cabinet-level "blogger-in-chief" position, appoint a Tony Snow type-communicator to post thoughts and let him/her loose to criticize or praise the government, explain why we do the things we do, and, critically, respond to comments from others who post their thoughts. It works for IBM, Apple and Microsoft, so why not for the US?