About Me

Based on a career (mis)spent in American politics, I debunk politicos, pundits and spinners, usually with a dose of humor to make it fun.

Email me with news tips, comments, and ideas for disinfo rehab any time!

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January 23, 2012

A Modest Proposal for Campaign 2013-Onward: End Public Subsidies for Partisan Primaries

Regardless of what political party you may belong to, one cannot escape the conclusion that "primary" elections, particularly at the national level, have been devolving into epic, money-fueled "sh*tstorms" for the last few decades. Every year it's the same thing - a few small states suddenly become "important" for a few weeks, other states play games moving their primaries to be important, some states still have party caucuses and so on.

It's hard to believe that it really wasn't that long ago when primaries were not the main method of selection for delegates to the national party conventions - much less choose in advance who said nominee would be. I'll skip a long history lesson and simply say this - it's time to ask if primary elections are effective anymore in a post-partisan era, and more importantly, why cash-strapped states should be forced to pay for what is essentially an exercise by private entities to decide matters related mostly to internal governance.

Having lived in a caucus state in the past, I can tell you that while party caucuses can be a bundle of crazy in and of themselves, they do attract people who are genuinely interested in what's going on, and supporting a certain candidate or political ideal. In the last few presidential years, participation has increased in caucus states, and I believe even more people would attend if they simply knew where to go (in this example I'm excluding Iowa for obvious reasons).

More importantly, people of a particular party should be the ones to decide their nominees - not lazy sometime voters who only vote based on junk mailers and obnoxious Super PAC TV ads. If they want to let in non-members that's the party's choice - but again, I don't see why the taxpayers need to pay for it (and in the case of caucuses, they do NOT since it's a party function. Heck Iowa's GOP makes money off their straw poll!).

But beyond that, regardless of how parties want to conduct themselves, I still have yet to hear a solid answer as to why the state needs to spend millions to conduct an election that's really just a private organization's decisionmaking apparatus.

If a party wants to have us use county and state resources so they can have a poll about who they're supporting as their presidential nominee (or whatever), they can simply raise the big time cash they raise anyway, and write a check to pay the costs. So to be clear - I don't necessarily want to abandon them altogether - but the subsidy has to be reconsidered.

Heck, why not open up the voting booth to any private group that wants to poll their members? Maybe this is a money maker counties and states are passing up?

Seriously, it's time to end the public funding of these moneybombed storms of tv ads, mailers, and more. It's fine if the Democrats and the Republicans want to have their fistfights and their precious primary elections - they can simply reimburse the taxpayers so it's one less burden on us when we really can't afford it anymore.

September 16, 2011

Which of San Francisco's Artwork for Campaign 2011 Window Signs Do You Like Best

It's campaign silly season again, and we're about to see a massive deforestation effort to provide endless piles of junk mail, doorhangers, window signs and the like all over Our Fair City. Having worked in this business for some time, one thing I find interesting is the amazing graphic design (or total lack thereof) in these things.

In the past, I've scanned in mail pieces and done some critiquing (which you can find to your left in the Categories section). I may do some of that this year too. Today, however I'm asking readers - which of the many candidates' window signs do you find look the best, design-wise, regardless of whether you support them or not?

I have some thoughts, and I've mentioned a little before about those awful Run Ed Run design abortions (complete with ironic captions), and about the politics of black and orange. However, add your thoughts in the comments below. Remember, this is all about design only - not about the candidates themselves (that's another column).

August 7, 2011

Just How Much Is Anyone Making Off Mayoral Candidates in SF?

To nobody's surprise, it seems Temporary Mayor Ed Lee, backed by powerful financial interests and a shadow campaign that has yet to see sunlight, is running for mayor. And again, as the unofficial press spokesperson, the Chronicle once again provides cover for their candidate.

Today we read about how St. Ed is not taking public money for his campaign, instead relying on the aforementioned shadow campaign, and whatever private money he chooses to take. This contrasts with others who participated in the public matching funds/spending limit program provided by the City of SF. The Chronicle, naturally, uses this to somehow distinguish St. Ed from his opponents. It's a nice hit for Ed, but it's just the latest in a line of articles that the Chronicle has written that basically promote Ed. That's fine, but if I wanted to read a dying medium's political endorsements sold as news, I'd read the Guardian (which I don't).

However, putting that aside, the article also starts to rattle off how much consultants have made off the other candidates, again implying that they were all "subsidized" with tax dollars. There are several problems with the reporting on this piece of news.

First, the matching funds are only awarded if a candidate has raised money from a lot of private donors, who can ONLY live in San Francisco, and they have to have significant disclosure as to who donated. There is also a cap on how much campaigns can get from the city, and the majority of their funding is private, despite the Chronicle's insinuations. Moreover, there is more disclosure than there ever was for the shady "Run Ed Run" campaign which denies helping the Mayor even though it was helping the mayor.

Second, the amounts. I've yet to meet a reporter that understands how the political consulting business works, especially when it comes to the actual business of running such an operation. So when I read about "fees" for consultants in the Chronicle, my first question is how this amount is computed.

Naturally, the Chronicle wants to provide an image of these "consultants" raking in the big bucks on the poor taxpayer's dime, and so on. What the Chronicle doesn't seem to understand is that just because a campaign handed over a big bundle of cash, the consultant doesn't necessarily keep all the money, depending on the arrangement.

For example, I used to work for A Big National Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named a few years ago. Our company was working on a Big Campaign, and if you looked at the disclosure forms, you'd think we were raking in the big bucks. However, what the disclosure statements didn't point out was how much of that was going right out the door to pay for printing, letterhead, campaign staffers we administered payroll for and other products the campaign elected to purchase. Out of about $180,000 or so in "moneys" we got, we kept maybe $5000-$7500 that could be considered a fee.

Another example: some campaign consultants don't take more than a modest retainer at the start, and then charge no consulting fees at all, and mark up things like TV ads, direct mail (printing/production, not postage!) and other items at the standard industry rate of 15% to cover their overhead costs (taxes and staff and a modest profit). So looking at the gross amount isn't very realistic.

There's also another thing about San Francisco campaigns that no one in the press corps seems to understand - working in SF politics is no way to make a living in the consulting business. Even with a well funded campaign, with campaign donation limits, as well as the "consultant tax"** and other unique requirements for campaigns in San Francisco, you won't be netting a large landslide of cash. Supervisor races make very little for anyone involved as well.

That's not to say they pay so little no one will work on them, but with all the limitations, being a consultant for city candidates isn't a great way to make a living. Consultants are better off working for either a labor union(s) or other organizations, or working in jurisdictions Not In San Francisco. When I was working in the business, most of my work was out of state. Not only did it pay me as a freelancer fairly well, it was also a lot easier.

I'd expect the gaggle of New Yorkers working for the various chain-owned online entities to get this wrong, but I'd expect more from the supposedly Old School Journalistic Entity located here for over 100 years. I guess when you keep on firing the people who make the product you're supposedly selling, mistakes happen.

**The "consultant tax" I refer to is a profoundly bone-headed attempt by the Board of Supervisors, ages ago, who hated a certain consultant, and decided to clobber him a little with this law. The intent was to make consultants pay a special "consultant tax" and disclose for whom they were working for. This is stupid for several reasons. First, the "tax" they impose also applies to campaign day to day workers. Ironically the big companies and out of town companies can pay this no problem, but the poorly paid, day to day overworked staffer ends up paying proportionally more than the Big Companies.

Second, the disclosure as to whom people are working for is already done in the campaign finance reporting that is required for every candidate. So once again a typical SF Progressive FAIL: More rules that hurt the lowest paid people, and duplicate efforts elsewhere.

July 26, 2011

Who Paid For This Anti-Ed Lee Ad On Facebook? No Assuming, Please! UPDATED

So this morning while on Facebook (something I use rarely), I noticed an anti-Ed Lee ad appearing on the side of the page. Curious as to what it was all about, I clicked on it, assuming I'd be taken to either a Facebook Fan Page, or linked to a campaign website that would tell me who was putting this ad on Facebook, and what they were all about. Instead, it just linked me to the Mayor's official website and its "Contact Ed Lee" online email page.

Facebook keeps pushing back on disclosure for political ads, but here's an example of how their "links are disclosure" defense doesn't hold up. I, the voter, am left to make assumptions instead of having facts. When I posed the question to Twitter, naturally it started endless speculation that Leland Yee's campaign, or perhaps his consultant, Jim Stearns, posted the ad.

Personally, I don't think that's very fair to Yee or Stearns, since it's not a fact, it's an assumption. If they didn't do it, they're getting tarred with something they had nothing to do with. If they did buy the ads, then they should just say so somewhere. However, given the fact that Yee and Stearns have been aggressive in attacking the less-than-transparent doings of the "Run Ed Run" operation, I don't imagine they'd be dumb enough to pull a shady move of their own that would be as un-transparent as the "Run Ed Run" movement.

I'll be waiting to see what, if any, information is later found. Given how lame the Ethics and Elections office is in San Francsico, and how SF politics tend to be some of the most corrupt, I doubt we'll ever know. It's kinda like that anti-Leno site that stole my pictures off flickr.com and never paid me for my stolen image.

UPDATE: In a tweet to myself and another Twitter user, Mr. Stearns confirmed that neither his firm, nor the Yee campaign purchased the Facebook ad.

July 14, 2011

Just How DO Paid Signature Gatherers Get Paid?

Today's Chronicle had a report that signature gatherers for Public Defender Jeff Adachi's pension reform measure were "caught on camera" saying things to voters that were "misleading." After checking out, all I can say is that if anyone thinks they found a smoking gun, they may not be aware of a) how words can be twisted and b) how paid signature gathering works.

First, the words: many canvassers in the video were saying things like "if you want to prevent night time parking meters sign this petition." It is very correct that the petition says nothing about it, but at the same time, it would be almost impossible to prosecute. That's because if city pensions begin to dominate city spending, why yes, one could reasonably infer that "nighttime parking meters (WTF?) could in fact be a response to said financial crisis.

So could a tax on unicorn horns. You see where this is going.

Also, those that point the finger should be darn sure none of their folks pulled any similar weasel word stunts too - these things can backfire spectacularly if you're not on solid ground.

I avoid signing petitions at all costs, unless it is for something that I've heard of that is sponsored by people I trust. I think people in San Francisco would be doing themselves a favor by not signing these things based on some emotional chatter they get from some fool collecting signatures. It sucks, because many good things are put on the ballot this way, but I think we need to thin the herd on ballot measures for a while.

Second, the methods. When the press talks about paid signature gatherers, they'll usually do their research and find out how much they're paying per signature. In California it can be as high as $6 a signature. The question is - did the hippie in front of Safeway who asked you to sign a petition get $6 for your signature? Probably not.

Campaigns usually hire a professional firm to gather signatures for a ballot measure (local or state). That company will then hire contract workers who then go out and get the signatures. However, these sub-contractors don't simply go out with a stack of clipboards and start earning $6 per signature. Instead, they go out and hire another series of sub-contractors, and pay them a percentage of the $6. In some cases those sub contractors might even hire another level of folks, but that is rare.

Let's make it simpler: Campaign Signature Company "A" hires contractor "Elvis" to get signatures at $6 each. "Elvis" then hires a crew of 10 people to get signatures, but pays them only $3 each. This means that 10 people are being managed by "Elvis" bringing in signatures, who is getting $3 each and isn't actually out there doing anything - he is instead managing a crew of 10. Any one of those could take a dollar less and sub out the work themselves too, if they wanted. In the end, "Elvis" is going to make more money farming out the work to 10 people, each armed with 4 clipboards a piece, than he ever would alone getting the full $6.

Most of the people who do this are pros who follow the action wherever it goes, similar to those who once followed the Grateful Dead back in the day. They may or may not be from the jurisdiction and in almost all cases are simply trying to play a numbers game, racking up as many signatures as they can. Needless to say, these aren't people who know or care much about what the petition is for, so it's easy to see where the incentive is to make up stuff just to get people's signatures.

A bill to regulate the signature mills made its way through the state Senate. Predictably it was all on party-line votes - Democrats wanted it regulated to prevent fraud, while Republicans want to ensure that money buys access to the ballot.

One thing you can do right away is if approached to sign something is to ask if they are paid or not. Under the law, they have to tell you and it must be printed on the petition.

Either way, take the time to read the fine print before you sign. Just because something is called "The Kittens Puppies and Rainbows Initiative to Save The Children" doesn't mean it's so.

June 12, 2011

Worst. Political Sign. Ever. AKA Who Gets Paid for This Sh*t?

IMG_3898.JPGSo there I was enjoying my Sunday afternoon, running some errands around the Inner Funset, and upon entering my favorite place for kimchi, saw this...this thing amongst the myriad of posters and flyers in the store. At first I assumed this was some sort of prank, but upon inspection found out this is in fact apparently a legit sign for this so-called "grass roots" effot to get Temporary Mayor Ed Lee to run for a full term.

Putting aside the political insider basebal/endless prattle by pundits, as well as the most recent controversies involved in this alleged grassroots effort, let's just focus on one thing: design. On ANY level, this sign sucks. Big time.

I don't like to judge harshly but I have to say, if this is indeed a funded effort that seriously wants to have Temporary Mayor Lee to run, and attract mainstream support, this sign is an "epic fail" on many levels. It does not cost "lots of money" to hire a designer to make something that looks credible. Hell, if the "Run Ed Run" folks had called me, I could easily have rallied several of some of the best designers in the business, who could have hashed this out easily, and come up with something better - blindfolded.

Instead, we have this bullshit cutesy cartoony thing that doesn't inspire the viewer to think "Hmm, perhaps this Temporary Mayor should be Mayor for a while." No, it goes for that cutesy bullshit that started in January about "ohh tee hee hee Ed Lee's mustasche, ooh tee hee he he's not slick Newsom, blah blah bullshit bullshit bullshit." Plus, if you're going to put the man's face on a sign, find a picture of him doing something badass like giving a speech - don't make a cartoony face that is easily transformed into the pigs in Angry Birds.

I find it fascinating that while I'm struggling to pay the bills, people with absolutely no talent somehow get these paid gigs. I mean, I don't even do design myself (I hire professionals) but I could sketch out something better than this and I can't even draw. "Mason Powell," who designed the famous N Is Near shirts as well as a myriad of amazing beer bottle labels (and isn't even a pro) could do better than this.

If ever I needed proof Ed Lee isn't running, I suppose this might be it. The man is an honorable civil servant. Apparently his backers didn't figure that part out, and went the cutesy cartoony way. At a time when the city is circling the drain, fiscsally and socially, the last thing I need is more cutesy bullshit - we had enough of that under Newsom.

June 8, 2011

The Politics of Black and Orange.

Graphic design in political communications is either Really Amazing, Generic & Dull, or Crapola. Really Amazing is so rare when one finds it, you have to document it otherwise no one believes you. Generic & Dull is SOP for the political business (and gets worse every year as professional designers are pushed aside for Nephew Gary who "knows computers"). As for Crapola, well...the less said the better.

Most signs, for example are in some sort of combo of red, white, and blue. A terrible combo (red and blue don't work well side by side), and one that's been done to death. So when I see a campaign that tries something that's either Really Amazing, or at least uses contrasting colors so you can can see the damned sign in various situations, I take notice.

Bevan Dufty's campaign e-literature and website have been featuring a new sign/logo that looks like a postcard from the Good Old Days. It's very simple, easy to read, but also captures scenes from around San Francisco. Whether you support him or not, one has to admit that design catches the eye, and communicates something, and does so well.

Sup. Avalos' campaign for mayor took a simpler approach. Using nothing but bold, sans serif type and the colors black and orange, it stands out because it's easy to read, and when you get a bunch of them together...it kinda looks like a bunch of Giants fans at first. Either way, it's easy to read, and those of us who are Giants fans have that knee-jerk reaction to anything black and orange that makes you want to take a second look.

He's not the only one picking up on this idea. Last night at the Board of Supervisors, many people were testifying on various projects, pro and con. I noticed that members of the Laborers International Union (good hard working folks all) had a special shirt with a custom union logo...and their shirts were orange and black. Same reaction from me - the first thing I thought of, before reading the logo was , "how cool", and even after I figured out who it was, I have to tip my designer hat to them for good communications via design.

This made me wonder if campaigns would be better served making their signs in the color of their local team (when feasible) instead of some eye-blinding combo that sucks? At the very least, choosing good colors that contrast well, along with good typography, ensures that their logo is represented well as a sign, a letterhead, a sticker, online, etc. Also, if someone on the staff suggests crowd-sourcing this stuff, fire them immediately and send them back to school. Seriously.

In all of these cases, the power of good design be it detailed (like Dufty's logo) or simple (like Avalos' and the union's art) provides an extra punch in what is likely to be a difficult election season in 2011 and beyond.

February 1, 2011

How to Read a Campaign Financial Disclosure Statement!

This week, the first campaign finance disclosure reports for Mayoral hopefuls were released. Via SFist and the Examiner, we learned how much each campaign had raised as of December 31, 2010. (If you were on any of these candidates' mailing lists, you probably got a million emails asking for money up until 11:59pm December 31.)

While these do report how much they raised and spent, they do not necessarily indicate how much money each candidate has on hand as of today. That's because virtually every campaign engages in a little trick whereby they will defer certain payments (salaries, etc.) from friendly vendors or employees, until after the reporting period. This then allows them to show more money on hand, even though the very next day (January 1) they'll pay out the money owed to whomever hasn't been paid yet.

Making this link is almost impossible, since the next reporting period won't be for several months, and by then, no one will remember this. It's a neat trick, for sure, but it can also bite a campaign in the backside later on. If in fact a campaign really doesn't have the money after paying out their debtors, moving forward in 2011 can be tough.

So in the end, these reports don't mean much if you don't know if the campaigns are playing the deferred payment game or not. A better way to do reporting would be to have campaigns report daily, their donations and expenditures, and have that information online and printed out and distributed to the public to designated locations daily, or weekly. That ends the deferment game, and the public would be better informed on who is paying for whom in an election season.

Of course, the next step would be to regulate taxpayer funded campaign mail, which we'll have in 2011 in the Mayor's race this year, with several candidates likely to take advantage of the program. After all, we're paying for their propaganda - shouldn't we at least regulate it in the best interests of the citizens that fund it?

November 19, 2010

Tired of Dead Tree Political Mail? Tired of Seeing Tax $$$ Go to Shady Political Ads? Here's a Solution!

IMG_1597.JPGSan Francisco loves to pride itself on being the "leader" on all sorts of issues. Problem is, its "leaders" come up short. We say we ban plastic bags - but we don't because every liquor store in town is using plastic bags. We claim to be for all sorts of Big Important Non Binding Resolution on Big Issues, but of course, no one's listening because no one cares.

Today I propose some tough new laws that would make San Francisco in the vanguard of something we can all agree on - the end of that massive flood of dead tree mail full of hysterical BS that infects our mailbox every election year.

One of the main reasons you get so much of this junk is because….you're paying for it. Yes, that's right, you the San Francisco taxpayer were funding that flood of crap in your mailbox. That's because some do-gooders decided it's better if you pay for it, instead of those mean ol' "special interests."

Instead, the mean ol' special interests go ahead and fund their own campaigns, free of any interference from said candidates. This is better, how?

It's time for the citizens of San Francisco to ask our leaders to do better, and to set a high standard for taxpayer funded campaigns. That's why it's time San Francisco institute strict conditions on the use of tax cash for political communications.

Let's call it the San Francisco "Truth or Consequences in Taxpayer Financed Political Advertising " Law. And unlike some non-binding resolution, this will be something that has some consequences. Break the law? You pay the taxpayers back the cash - with interest.

Key Provisions would include:

-Telling the Truth: Any campaign mailer, online ad, TV ad, must file within 24 hours all the research detailing the claims in any ad. Said filing would be posted online within 24 hours for voters to review. If it's not filed or the campaign is found to be lying, they must refund the taxpayers the cost of said mailer. With interest. (For those that can't get online, print copies would be made available at all public libraries).

-Carbon Neutral footprint: this means ONLY using post consumer recycled paper, ONLY using organic inks, and all other means including eliminating gas-driven delivery, and so on. If that means direct drops to carriers, well that's life in the world of climate change, kids. This also means using local printers to do said work, since it's just San Francisco and it's not like anyone's sending mail to Vallejo or Los Angeles, so there's no reason they can't print locally at locally owned businesses.

-Tax-financed campaigns would also be required to file daily reports of campaign contributions from private sources. Instead of quarterly reports that are manipulated by campaigns, and making them hard to find online, campaigns would send in a list with copies of all checks (minus information that could lead to fraud) and said information would be posted online, within 24 hours for voter review.

And no one say it can't be done, this is where Google, eBay, Yahoo, Intel and a whole host of companies come from, so outsource it to someone from the second decade of the 21st century to do it, not some fools at the City who would just boondoggle it.

This is just a rough draft, and certainly not a set in stone policy. Obviously any taxpayer funded TV, radio, robocall or online ad would fall under the same general guidelines, etc. But I don't think it's unreasonable for us to ask the "big talkers" to stop talking, and start putting their alleged beliefs into practice.

It is time for us to ask more of those who are using taxpayer money to kill trees and send out political advertising. We've had enough of screaming headlines and distortions of facts from the people claiming to be "clean money" candidates. It's time for them to take the "clean money" - but stop playing dirty with the voters.

November 4, 2010

Is This The Election That Ends IRV in San Francisco?

The election results are in and the winners are.....well we don't know yet. We may not know for several weeks as mail ballots are counted and the tedious so-called Instant Runoff Voting process begins. But we do know this - there are many close elections, but due to the fact we're not having a runoff, and we're using IRV, some weird things are happening.

In District 10, we have a situation where the top vote getter on election day got 1200 or so votes and may be on the way to the Board of Supervisors, out of only 10,000 votes cast. (Hey wait, wasn't IRV supposed to increase turnout?). That's rather scary - when you consider that others had to get many more votes than that to also serve. We'll do the IRV counts going through the many, many loser candidates who got a handful of votes, and of course this all assumes people voted "1 2 3" (which they didn't), and in the end, God knows what the result will be. After a campaign that had a mob of candidates making 1 minute statements into a microphone, the voters really don't know who or what they're ending up with.

In District 8, we had higher turnout and a spirited contest between several well-funded campaigns. However, we also had some of the most negative and deceptive campaigning mailers produced (hey wait, wasn't IRV supposed to make this more "positive?") and we won't have a traditional runoff where candidates running such shamelessly negative campaigns would have been held accountable - and we'd have a clear choice and better debates.

And so on. The endless mess in District 6, which featured some of the nastiest campaigning, the shady "independent expenditures" and a distinct lack of disclosure on the part of certain candidates has led to a situation where any candidate elected in the IRV debacle is not going to have a clear mandate, or again, be held accountable to their statements.

Traditional runoff campaigns would provide voters a chance to make their choices clearly and force candidates to be more accountable for their general election campaigns. Also, voters would have had more time to focus on the local elections, free of the distractions of eMeg and Uncle Jerry and the endless list of stupid ballot measures that clutter the ballot in November. Plus, after a Giants season like this, voters would be more likely to pay attention than they could when having Giants Fever in October.

The promises of IRV have not materialized. They have not saved money. They have not rigged the elections for progressives. They have not made the campaigns "more positive." They have not resulted in more cooperation amongst the candidates. The second and third place endorsements are wankery for political hacks. And more money was spent on elections locally than ever before.

Time to hit the reset button, and take this out-of-town sponsored lab experiment and dump it in the recycle bin of history, kids.

October 25, 2010

And the Award for Epic "Green" Campaigning Goes To...

So there I was, a day before all that rain, walking home when I noticed something in the doorways of all the apartments on my street...piles of doorhangers. In the picture, note how this "grassroots" campaign covered the front gate with no less than 7 on the gate and a few more on the ground.

Guess what happened to them?

These went in to the recylcer and NO ON SAW THEM. The other ones made their way onto the street, and by the next day, when it rained, they were a papier mache mess.

Now, the candidate in question shouldn't take all the piss on this one - just about every Big Campaign, especially the "No on B" campaign, did the same thing.

News flash: it is the second decade of the 21st Century. Sending a bunch of people in the last weeks of the campaign to put up expensive die-cut door hangers made of dead trees in piles around the city is NOT GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGNING.

(I guess no on listened when I said this before.)

For the same price as a pile of junk mail, these campaigns could have chosen a better way to get the message out. With online advertising being as cheap as it is, they could have spared the neighborhood some dead tree papier mache, and instead put the money into window signs and a hyper targeted mailer.

Just remember: In San Francisco, we force everyone to compost...but we never force politicians to be more Earth-friendly with their tax-funded campaigns.

Wait a minute....this may become a "thing." What if candidates who took the public financing in SF were required to use only soy inks, super-recycled paper, vegan snacks and other tough regulations?

Hey, it could happen, especially with the so-called "progressives" in charge!

And the Award for Epic Design Fail For Campaign 2010 Goes to...

This campaign season has been one of the worst in history in terms of the sheer amount of bullsh*t heaped onto the public via the media, and not just from Her Megness and Carlyfornicated and Uncle Jerry and about a million ballot measures. Combine that with some of the worst design I've ever seen, and my eyes are ready to bleed.

So imagine the amount of eyeball blood spilled when I saw this ad in the Sunset Beacon. I've shown this to professional designers and we all agreed - if they'd submitted this work to a client, they'd have been fired, and rightfully so.

What kills me is that the people who paid for this thing had a ton of cash, and it's not like you can't find decent print or web designers in San Francisco who understand political advertising.

Anyway, more political razzies as events warrant.

June 30, 2010

Political Parlor Tricks: Fundraising Reporting Fun!

Right about now, just about anyone running for office, from Mosquito Abatement District Commissioner to Governor is sending out pleas on Twitter, Facebook, email, smoke signal, etc. begging for money. You see, we're hitting up against a "reporting deadline" whereby after today, most candidates will have to account for money raised and spent up to this point. Hence the e-begging and so on.

The Press, as usual, will peruse these, and based on how much money is reported, will declare who is a "viable" candidate. Predictable, yes. Accurate? Not necessarily.

That's because virtually every campaign (with the exception of those run by vain plutocrats) plays a little game with the reports. What they'll do is often ask staff to hold off being paid, or find vendors willing to wait a day past the deadline to get their bills paid. Why, you ask? Simple. By not showing that money as being spent they can show it as "cash on hand." Then, when The Press reports how much "money" they have, it looks like they have more than they really do. Trust me when I say this goes on way more than you might think.

It's a cheap trick, kinda like using wide ruled paper to make your report in school look longer than it is, or bumping up a font on that term paper. However, it is a tried and true way to make you look good, and The Press always falls for it. They can't help it - the next reports won't be filed for months.

Quarterly reports and the like are so 20th century. Instead, if people want to do public disclosure of money raised and spent, they should be filed electronically every week, and put online within days, and that way this kind of nonsense ends. More importantly, if you wanna drill down and see who is getting money from who, and whom they might be spending it on (vendors, consultants, pollsters, ad agencies, etc.) you'd find out a lot sooner.

As it stands, "disclosure" just means more money for the specialty lawyers and accountants who can deal with this bureaucracy legally, while the voter remains uninformed.

San Francisco has some unique twists on this, especially regarding spending limits, public financing, and so on, but that gets its own blog post.

June 8, 2010

Why I Didn't Do My Usual Scan and Critique of Mail...

For years I've often picked up pieces of political direct mail and scanned them in, with critiques, much like the way mainstream media does with political TV ads. I'd collected some for this season, but two things got in the way of doing so in advance of the election - technical difficulties (both with the blog software and my scanner) that took forever to fix, and a lack of material.

Normally I tend to get a lot of mail because I'm a mail ballot voter. But this year most of my mail was concerned with things like this zany Democratic Central Committee stuff (I mean really, do you even care who's on this, much less remember ever hearing about it before this year?) which is lovely for those who produce it and for the people running. As I sat here trying to come up with something to write about the actual mail, it was hard write it in a way that people would actually read. I mean, it's one thing if you're writing about advertising for a big campaign for Governor or Mayor, but Central Committee? Really?

I suppose what surprised me the most, with all this money being spent, is how not one slate of candidates, or any of the various local organizations promoting their favored candidates, used any online advertising. When you consider that the typical mail piece costs $600 per 1000* voters mailed to, versus online advertising where you're paying less than 10% of that**, you'd have thought that maybe allied candidates or whatever would have mixed in a little online advertising to reach voters, instead of relying exclusively on dead tree which end up in the recycle bin. And it's not like their consultants wouldn't have made money either - they just wouldn't have had the overhead of paying designers, printers, mailhouses, postage and shipping, but would have still made their 15%.

Ah well. I'm kinda glad this boring primary is over. I'm really hoping the next few months we see something better out of our candidates for state office, and for city office. I know it's asking for too much, but would it kill some of these people to avoid devolving debate into small smart-ass soundbites and instead demonstrate that they know something besides what some smart guy told them to say?

May 18, 2010

How Many Trees Must Die For the Sierra Club's Sins?

There's a really boring primary coming up in June and by now you've likely received a voter guide, and some political junk mail. It's rather amazing to see so many groups and campaigns (especially for DCCC) that have little money to begin with, who are spending big money on dead tree mail and doorhangers.

It's especially baffling to see the Sierra Club, which is allegedly in the business of Saving The Earth or something, literally littering neighborhoods with thousands of dead-tree doorhangers. In fact on the day they hit my neighborhood, not only did they do a poor job of distribution (often just dumping them in a pile at the front door or in our case putting them on our gate), but because it was windy, 80% of them blew all over the place. Really effective and "green," smart guys.

It was followed up by what is likely to be their one postcard sent to voters before the primary - one that cost a lot to mail because postage is now so high for bulk mail, and because they had to use a special blend of smug and soy to print the damned thing. Guess how much I (or any of my neighbors) looked at it? Well you can come by the recycle bin by our mailbox and see how effective all those dead trees were.

It never ceases to amaze me how lower budget campaigns insist on using dead trees as their exclusive campaign communications medium. It's especially amazing given that San Francisco has the highest concentration of voters online anywhere in the United States, and by using targeted online advertising, they could reach more people for less money, and a big percentage of their budget wouldn't be at the Post Office. And yes, their consultants could still make the same 15% they would off the junk mail.

San Francisco: Where talk is cheap - and so is "going green!"

May 15, 2010

Let's Do Write Ins For The Non-Challenged Incumbents in June!

Oh, June Democratic Primary Ballot. You are, in fact, the worst primary ballot yet, and I've been voting in these things for far too long. At the top of the ticket is a yawn-fest (if some crackpot no name actually beats Gov. Brown in the primary, I'll buy everyone that reads this column a beer), in the middle an "evil of two lessers" choice (nominees for Attorney General), and at the bottom, a confusing battle locally for people who actually want to serve on the San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee (a job that pays nothing, sucks up your time, and drives you mad).

What to do, what to do?

Here's what I'm doing - my time-honored tradition of using my mail ballot as a taxpayer funded coloring book. Now, far be it from me to trivialize voting in the World's Greatest Democracy, but when so many of these things have been pre-ordained, I think it's time for some Write In Candidate Fun.

This is nothing new - when San Francisco instituted its IRV/RCV/WTF/OMG/FML voting system, it was reduced to a joke since so often, incumbents were unopposed for re-election. Despite the fact we were promised it'd make it easier for no-names to beat the Big Kids, nothing changed, so I took the liberty of making those poll workers work, by counting my write in ballots, more than once.

This time, I propose something different. Many, many incumbent legislators are on the ballot in the primary who have no opposition, so there's no risk if you decide to say "Frak It" and write in the name of someone else. It's not like we dislike people like Fiona Ma, Tom Ammiano, or Leland Yee, but they're going to win with 99.99% of the vote in the primary, AND win re-election in the fall. So why not write in someone for those spots, and have some fun with it?

I have no delusions that out of such an exercise we're going to read in our Google Readers the day after the election that Fiona Ma has been ousted, via write-in votes by Rory B. Bellows or some other crazy thing. So go for it, and post in the comments who you wrote in for what.

PS: Of course, the idea that taxpayers are paying for an election that is for the nomination of candidates by party is nonsense - there's no reason at all we need to waste tax dollars on this. Party nominees should be made by members of that party, be it by convention, private vote, or whatever, but this idea that the government has to sponsor such contests is ludicrous.

January 21, 2010

I Wish I'd Posted My Prediction on the Massachusetts Senate Race...

Lessons for bloggers: don't hold back on unpopular predictions, lest you end up being right. A few weeks ago I predicted that Martha Coakley would lose the US Senate special election in Massachusetts. Every single time I brought this up, my Democratic friends would look at me like a heretic and proceed to rattle of something they read on "Daily Kos" about why I was wrong and that speaking such heresy meant I was going to Hell. And yet, none of their reasons had anything to do with actual facts or history. So here was my reasoning, and why liberal bloggers sometimes have their heads in the sand:

-Martha Coakley's campaign was spectacularly poor. She didn't campaign like she should have, once she got the Democratic nomination. If part of life is showing up, in campaigns, it is everything. By basically assuming she'd win by default, she made the classic mistake that allowed the other candidate to define the race. She also made several verbal gaffes that amplified her seeming disdain for talking to actual voters.

-Her campaign was run almost exclusively by DC based political people, and veteran campaign consultants and workers were sidelined by the Geniuses from DC. Another sign of something Really Bad. Pushing aside the people who know the state in favor of generic strategies based on abstract polling data and focus groups doesn't work well. Plus, there are a lot of rings that need to be kissed in Massachusetts politics, and you don't necessarily know which ones those are if you're relying on whiz kids from DC.

-Massachusetts is not 100% Communist Leftist Whatever. Massachusetts has elected Republicans as Governor exclusively since 1990, and it was only in 2006, when Deval Patrick won, that the cycle broke. Also, remember that Ted Kennedy himself came dangerously close to losing his re-election in 1994 against Mitt Romney (!), and it took a Herculean effort of money and resource to ensure his re-election. Had it not been for some extremely poor choices of words by Romney, and a recognition that Kennedy was in trouble in time to do something about it, he might have well lost. Remember, in 1994, the Speaker of the US House lost his bid for re-election that year.

-President Obama is an easy target. People know right now they can call him names, they can use code words for the "n-word," and they can call him a liar in front of the entire country, and nothing will happen. Obama's obsession with getting the acceptance of people who quite literally, do not think he's a legitimate holder of the office, and who will say or do anything to tear him down, is his ultimate weakness.

No one fears President Obama if they cross him, so they rip him a new one on any big or little thing (remember that bullshit crying spasm the righties had about his choice of mustard? WTF?). So of course they're going to prop up some dude in Massachusetts and make 41 the new majority number for a Senate of 100. (Wait, what?)

There's no reason why Obama and Democratic office seekers can't turn this around, but it isn't likely they will. Running around and "re thinking" and "re framing" are popular pastimes of bloggers, party insiders, and the endless amount of "staff" of officeholders, and while they're talking and bitching, the other side wants to kick their asses. Until they decide they're going to respond in kind, they will continue to get their asses kicked.

The sad part is the other side has nothing of substance to offer beyond blind rage. When we had them in charge of Everything (President, Senate, House, SCOTUS), the best they could come up with was Tom DeLay/Jack Abramhoff style corruption, a war without end, and endless trillions added to the deficit, and a bubble economy that just blew up on us. But we don't think about that anymore, right?

PS: Oh, and one other thing: despite what the folks Outside of California assume about our Golden State, California is not 1000% Communist either. Look at the history of statewide initiatives and elections starting in 1982, and see just how well "lefties" do. Barbara Boxer has always had to run a tough race, and the Democratic hold on statewide offices has NEVER been absolute, ever.

The fact the California State Democratic Party acts like it IS 1000% Democrat is well, I suppose good news for Republicans?

PPS: Jack Donaghy is one of my all time favorite characters on TV. F*ck yeah, Jack!

October 14, 2009

The Most Annoying Disclaimer On A Piece of Mail. Ever.

IMG_4080.JPGSo I was going through what little political mail I've been getting during this quiet political season, and the other day I got one from the No on D campaign, decrying the horridness of billboards on Market Street and so on. Whatever.

I mean this is one of those magic bullet measures that proponents say will bring an era of rose petals and unending "free money" for whatever, and the opponents say will be the beginning of Armageddon. So I normally don't pay attention.

However, this little chestnut on the mail piece, next to the union bug was an eye opener:

"Printed with VOC-free, soy based inks at a 100% wind powered union shop."

Wait. WHAT?

You have to be f*cking kidding me. They really went there, huh?

As always, my colleague "Mason Powell" had the best response upon seeing said disclaimer:

"You mean a beer fart from the pressman counts as wind power?"

F*ck yeah!

October 9, 2009

Let's Show Gavin Newsom How Crowdsourcing Is Supposed To Work

image.php.jpegSo the other day I ranked on "Mayor" Newsom's gubernatorial logo crowdsourcing efforts, something I still stand by. I mean, not to go all Don Draper on this, but this selection is a joke. I say this with many years of experience conceiving and executing mail and online campaigns. And as I've said before, although I personally do not do design, I know how to talk to creative people in the design field to execute good products.

After talking to several colleagues, we all agreed that perhaps this might be an opportunity to show how crowdsourcing is done properly. Now while I can't offer cash prizes for submissions, I DO have a couple of projects coming up soon that will need some work, and I'm interested in casting a wide net for talent.

So, in the spirit of Being Constructive and Having Fun, I'm putting out a call for my own Gavin Newsom Logo. Here are the design parameters I'd like you to consider:

-Since we're not the official campaign, we're going to go with "Go Gavin Newsom!" as our slogan/logo/whatever.
-Stylewise, I'm looking for something that's pop-culture aware, but not too cutesy
-The artwork has to be easily seen from a distance (signs) and reproduce well on a variety of media (t shirts, stickers, mousepads, signs, etc)
-Irony, humor, satire and so on are welcome if done well
-If you use the Obama Font, do so carefully. It's already overdone as is, so show me something new.

Personally, my biggest wish in the political mail business was to do a bio of a candidate in the style of a 70s action movie poster (you know the one where they have scenes of the movie behind the main actor, all popping out at you from the center), but no one ever went for it. I suppose action scenes of commission meetings and speaking out at public comments time aren't as cool to detail as chasing bad guys in a speedboat in Louisiana.

October 7, 2009

The Graphic Design Abortions Known as the "Choices" in Gavin Newsom's Logo "Contest"

Ack! By the time I got home to write this, Everyone Else already blogged something way cooler. Curses!

418216434_8b199a59b4_m.jpgBy now, the Newsom for Governor campaign has spent so much time believing its own hype and that their candidate walks on water, it's almost a bit painful to critique 'em because they're punishing themselves just fine. Today, I got a way-too-enthusiastic email from a John Hughes movie villain asking me (yes me!) and everyone else on their list to "vote" for a campaign logo! Oh wow! So web 2.0!

Now, mind you, Newsom had a campaign logo earlier this year at the convention and there was nothing wrong with it at all. In fact, it was kinda nice in that it didn't look like a typical campaign logo (and it had a URL, Facebook and Twitter logos on it too!) They even had this totally SF hipster tee for sale too for the folks in Sacramento.

But following in the footsteps of Steve Westly and Barbara Boxer, who also offered similar "vote for the logo and be empowered" nonsense, they're doing this to keep people busy and avoid thinking too much about his actual record or mysterious relatives. I guess if you've been cooped up in a war room for the duration it sounds really "out there."

Fine. But like Westly and Boxer, the choices offered are so crap-tacular, the designer(s) who came up with these should be sent to remedial design school or something. Sure, I am not a designer myself. I have, however, done some award winning creative on direct mail and on the web, because while I can't draw a picture, I work with some of the best people in the business, and we come up with kick ass shit. Sterling Cooper can kiss our ass.

Before I pick apart these things, one by one, the way one might pick apart a really bad something or other, it's clear that these are all variants on a very narrow theme.

They all obscure his name a little in some weird way ("ooh he's the new thing on the horizon, dear!") and few of them reproduce well in a variety of mediums (the the green one in particular has hideous typography and can't easily be seen at a distance) If they want the mob to pick a design, fine, but at least have some decent choices so that they don't end up with a stinker.

Ok, now to the nitpicking, Internet style:

These are two variants on the same design, one is white on blue (easier to read) but is crippled by the weird yellow shit in the middle. The other is blue on white, but the typography is so thin, it is hard to make out. Neither one lends itself to multiple mediums, such as print, the web, stickers, signs, and so on, so creating brand consistency is difficult. If I was the client and got these I wouldn't even consider them two designs - it's one design with some dongles changed here and there.

The second worst one of the bunch. The fade in the middle makes this an especially difficult design to reproduce in print, or in black and white on flyers. There's no URL for the website, Twitter and Facebook (oh wait, the new guys can't make 15% off of those so I guess those are out), and in almost all these designs there's a maniacal focus on obscuring part of the guy's name. This is not edgy design, people, this is just stupid.

Now this seems to combine weird pieces of the second and fourth logos, and again, it doesn't work. The typeface is way way too thin to be noticed from a distance, and the weird faux sun ray effect simply does not work. If you're gonna do the whole sunrise, new dawn, new day bullshit, do it right.

This one is a favorite of my good friend Brock at SFist who makes an excellent point about the whole Manchurian Candidate vibe. However, between the blood red color and this fetish for thin, white typefaces, this doesn't come close to say, Dianne Feinstein's standard designs, which have been used in one form or another since 1990.

This last one is a doozy. Where to start? Ok, I get it, it's a green sign because, oh right, he's the Mr. Green Jeans of the campaign, running around telling everyone what to do about their recycling, all the while driving a gas guzzler and killing Muni back at home. Right.

Fine, but this looks less like a campaign logo, and more like something we'd see in Gavin's private life, when he partners with Lisa Simpson to start a company to recycle animals into slurry. I'm sure this got points in the war room for "not looking political" (um, like the original) but that's half the battle, kids. You have to "not look political" and also "not look like crap."

So far it looks like the consensus amongst the cool kids is for "the wed wone," If this is any sign of things to come, in the wake of Streetsbloggate, all I can say is go, Gavin go. I need a respite from the day job's work, and let's face it, Gavin's provided enough blog fertilizer in the past to let a thousand blogs bloom. Yes We Can!

UPDATE So today I got this little email from the "campaign manager" talking about all the excitement over this cool, edgy contest:

Dear Friend,

It’s been a fun couple of days with the launch of our online logo contest. So far we’ve had over 6,000 total votes and the comments have been pouring in.

Elisa from Facebook said, “Let's be bold and go with red!”

Greg said, “I love the green one.”

Jenny on Twitter thought the logo with the white background, navy and sun said, "new day, new way."

As of this email, the logo with the white background, blue lettering and yellow sun is in the lead but the dark blue logo with the yellow sun is close behind.

Thanks to everyone for participating and giving us your feedback – we've been following the commentary and have seen some great ideas.

Voting is open until Sunday at midnight. So, if you have not voted, now is the time.

Cast your vote and help us pick the official Newsom campaign logo.


Nick Clemons
Campaign Manager
Newsom for California

P.S. To stay connected, join with over 1 million supporters on www.GavinNewsom.com, Facebook and Twitter.

Wait, so out of over "one million supporters" online, only 6000 have voted? Hmm..lessee...that's .006% of this online army he bragged about not too long ago....WOW. Work that online mojo, Gavster!

As I've said before, you can get into a numbers war on Twitter, et al, but it's all meaningless if they don't do anything.

And for the record, THIS Greg thinks the green logo sucks ass.

January 28, 2009

A "June Special Election" for San Francisco? What, Are You Kidding?

A lot of folks around town are talking about the city's budget problems, and the prospects of a special election and whether it'd fly or not. While the City deals with its headaches, the MTA and MUNI are dealing with similar misery.

There's a multitude of bad laws that deny people the right to determine what they want to do or not do locally (so much for local control of local government), but putting all that aside, I don't see how anything put on the ballot for a "June Election" would succeed.

First, while the board voted to call out the situation as an "emergency" to get the ball rolling to have the actual election, there is nothing in writing, ready to go to the voters as of now. So that means we've got at least a few weeks, maybe a month before we'll have some sort of tax thing, probably written in a hurry, that'll be approved by the board and go through all the legal wrangling by early March.

Ok, now the fun begins. We have some sort of thing or things to "vote on" but guess what? No money raised, no campaign committee ready to go, nothing. And we're in the beginning of March. That means that now, the group of Good People, trying to do whatever, have at best two and a half months to pass a major tax measure on the ballot, during terrible economic times, and when recent history has shown how hard it is to pass these things in the first place.

This is just asking for a fail. Let's look at recent history:

-To get the SF General Hospital Bond passed (2008's Measure A) took a tremendous amount of hard work by a committed team of experts, a lot of coalition building over a long period of time, and more, to win the supermajority needed to pass. And that was a huge bond for something most people like (i.e. most people are not likely to want to blow up the hospital).

-To get the MUNI Reform Measure passed (2007's Measure A) took a significant amount of serious negotiations over many months before we finally got something worthy of the ballot. It eventually passed, but it had well-funded opposition and it took a hard working team to get it passed.

See where this is going? Without building up a solid coalition of support, and a campaign that can fight a tough fight with a solid organization, all this talk will just result in failure.

If you believe that some sort of new tax source is necessary to save the city, you might want to consider holding off a little bit and have a chance of winning, instead of the usual "put something on the ballot and hope it passes" strategy.

November 2, 2008

UPDATED: Case Study: One To One Campaign Marketing AKA Why I'm Supporting David Chiu

One of the most misunderstood parts of Campaign 2008, be it the Obama for President campaign, or a down ballot race, has been the power of social networking and one-to-one marketing in political decision making. Plenty of consultants and the like know buzzwords like "social networking," "Facebook," and so on, but many still don't quite understand what we're really talking about here.

While the Internet and Web 2.0 have brought about new, fast, easy ways for people to talk to each other, in the end it has been the power of friends and neighbors talking to people they know, who have emerged as the "king makers" in elections. This is nothing new - the only difference is that today, it's much easier and quicker to get people to engage each other and do the kind of one-to-one marketing and grassroots organizing that was possible in the past - but with a significant time/money/staff cost.

A case study could be how I chose to support David Chiu for Supervisor in District 3. Now, normally I would either a) not care or b) not necessarily support someone that's being pushed by the fatwa issuing Bay Guardian and Chris Daly.

But because I heard about David's campaign from people I know and whose judgment I trust, such as my friend Stan (the quizmaster at the Blackthorn's trivia Mondays), and my friend Anna at Metblogs (who lives in the district), their opinions mattered more to me in the end than what some ad said or what Chris Daly's shifty junk mail says.

Now, think for a moment about this year's campaign season, which has seen a blizzard of junk mail and TV ads from various groups all wanting to influence local elections. Few of them, however, regardless of political side, really mobilized a one-to-one communications plan, or did old-school organizing to beat back the "big money".

Case in point: The Realtors! They have been noted for their flashy spending on tv ads and mail. Ironically, the biggest weapon they had in their arsenal went virtually unused - the many Realtors who have blogs, email lists of their customers and business contacts and so on. A campaign to organize these Realtors, and transform take someone people trust - their Realtor - and turn them into an evangelist for the issues and candidates the Realtors as a group care about, went largely unused.

Had they borrowed a page from the UFW/Old School Organizing handbook, and utilized Today's Technology, they could have been the stealth army that would have taken everyone by surprise.

There's been some interesting analyses of the Obama campaign and all note the importance of technology.

However, without millions of Americans getting involved, being organized, and talking to their friends about who they supported for President, all the gadgets in the world wouldn't have made a difference.

Ironically in a digital era, it's the kind of old-fashioned organizing at the grassroots level that will have the most impact now, and in the future.

Progressives in town seem to think a grassroots campaign has to be an underfunded mess of people running around in circles, gossiping and dropping dead-tree lit on people's doorsteps. Others seem to think the only way to win is with big TV ads and lots of mail.

Neither side gets it - in an era of high tech, going back to what politics used to be - the door to door organizing and listening to voters (as well as talking with them) is what will win in the future. The only difference is now there are many new tools to make this easier and more efficient.

UPDATE: Today, the Chronicle had an interesting story about how blogging can help Realtors get more clients and develop a relationship with their customers.

Hmm. How about that!

June 4, 2008

The Only Post Mortem I'll Do on the Leno/Nation/Migden Bitchfest...

Plenty of geniuses can do all the political post mortems on how Carole Migden and her Sacramento crew invented a new way to lose a sure-win re-elect. For me, I have but one question: will the people who stole my photos of frakking Flickr at least have the courage to reveal themselves, and buy me a case of Schlitz Beer for stealing my photos?

Come on. You stole an image from me, and didn't have the courage to post an email address or any contact info on your website. The election is over, Leno won, now come clean. It's good for your karma, and I'll happily forgive as a good Christian, but I can't do so unless you 'fess up.

Bogus Turnout Means It Didn't Take A Lot of Votes to Win...

While reading up on the results of last nights sort-of election here in the Bay Area, I wanted to see how things turned out in some San Mateo County races, and I was struck by two things:

1. San Mateo's elections site is easily the best one out there. While all the other counties have some long boring URL, San Mateo's URL is shapethefuture.org, and they even name brand their (excellent) results section as "RaceTracker."

Beyond that, if you've ever had to deal with San Mateo County's combined Assesor/Clerk/Record/Elections department, you know that this is easily one of the few citizen-friendly, efficient operations out there. Warren Slocum has long been recognized as a leader in applying innovation and technology to improve the elections process, and the function of the departments he controls, with amazing results.

While we in San Francisco continue to plod along with an Elections and Ethics system that's half-assed, San Mateo has a model of honest, efficient government. In other words, how it's supposed to work. Can we vote to get annexed by San Mateo County, or pay the brainiacs at the stem cell council to clone the awesome Warren Slocum? Pleeeease?

2. Anyone running in an open primary in most races really didn't need a lot of votes out of the eligible voter ranks to win. Check out the results for the Assembly seat down south - the winner only needed 10,000 votes to win! So few people bothered to show up (as there was no presidential contest or statewide contest on the ballot) that really, only a handful of people voted at all, and the winner, who will now probably coast for three terms, got off pretty lucky.

It's kind of funny to think for all the money the outside interests spent to support or oppose the candidates, the cost-per-vote must be huge. But those trees were gonna die anyway, so I guess they died for a good cause.

May 23, 2008

Email Spam From Campaigns In Full Force....

One of the new features of the voter registration form is the fact you can voluntarily enter in your email address, along with the other info, which means inevitably someone goes to City Hall, buys the voter data, and campaigns start sending email out willy nilly. My friend Anna, who's a professional in the email marketing business, has an interesting analysis of the stuff she's received.

I am getting relentlessly spammed by Cindy Sheehan's "campaign," which seems to place its faith in poorly written hysterical emails that make it hard for me to treat her campaign seriously. However, I got one today from the campaign for Judge Thomas Mellon that was actually pretty good. The message was short and to the point - more importantly however, it was from the trial judge in the landmark gay-marriage case, which is rather timely.

Mellon's opponent is Supervisor Sandoval, who I wouldn't trust to run a two-car parade, much less be a judge in a courtroom. Mellon's campaign was smart, however, not to spam me with a negative messave, but instead with one that is timely from the judge in the gay marriage case.

Political campaigns need to resist the urge to blast out lots of crappy emails just because it's easy or free. Spamming people is a sure-fire way to piss off voters, and mealy mouthed justifications about how the CAN SPAM act doesn't apply to 'em just makes people even more pissed off.

Instead, it's better to use online social networks, such as Facebook, to recruit supporters and communicate with them, and allow them to opt in to online communications. Everyone's happy and no one gets spammed!

May 6, 2008

Tired Catch Phrase of the Day: "Agent of Change" vs. "Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E."

Every political season we get a mix of the tried-and-true soundbits**, and we get a few new ones that the Smart People decide really "click" with the voters and use them, ad nauseam, on every single campaign from president to dog-catcher.

Today, I want to make a plea to politicians, politickers, and whatnots in the Big Media to please take a flamethrower to the dossiers and computers that suggested one use the term "agent of change" in any political related materials, now and forevermore.

It's a meaningless phrase, tossed around even more so as the One Guy who talked about Change suddenly got popular, and then suddenly EVERYONE wanted to Talk About Change, and How They're an Agent of it.

Folks, unless you are literally an Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Aboveground Nuclear Germanic Enemas), CONTROL, SPECTRE, or some other spy-related organization with the cool logo and gun to prove it, please, find a new way to talk about your tireless work on the amendment to subsidize puppies and rainbows.


Think of the Children.

**Note: I meant to say "soundbits" not "soundbites," so grammar/spelling posse, put away the rope and the branding iron. Please?

April 19, 2008

Sen. Obama Puts Clintonian/McCain-ian BS "On Notice!"

You have to admire how these guys can find away around the silly bullcrap that passes for "running for president" from the establishment types....how rad is this?

Of course, I've been no stranger to the On Notice Board on the More Popular Blog...

And, just for laughs, here's a video that seems to indicate that perhaps there's a virus that infects the Clintons when it comes to straight talk. I keep forgetting that this kind of nonsense is somehow better than the liar we have in office NOW:

April 16, 2008

Call For Entries: Disinfo Rehab Mail Archive - June 2008 Primary Edition!

It's that time of year again, when people decimate entire forests so that they may flood your mailbox with endless amounts of political mail. This June we've got all sorts of mayhem on the ballot, what with the Nation/Leno/Migden rage-a-thon in full swing, and an assortment of those ballot measures folks just love to put on the ballot, and assorted other electoral detritus and term-limited open primaries that makes San Francisco (and Bay Area) politics so much fun.

As always I don't always get the latest and greatest political mail, or at the very least tend to only get certain pieces targeted to westside Democratic voters. So, if you get some particularly egregious piece of political mail, or if you wanna show off your mad mail skillz, or if you really would like to help me lead the charge in debunking politicos and their spin, feel free to send me either a) a pdf or JPEG of said mail or b) email me and let me know what you have and we'll make arrangements to either have you mail it in or I'll pick it up.

Most mainstream media outlets can debunk tv commercials rather easily, since they either end up on YouTube, the candidates' websites, or can record them off of TV.

Mail, however, does not usually get noticed as easily, and passes "under the radar" and into the voters' mailboxes. By publicizing what campaigns are doing, and discussing the tactics used to convince you, the voter, of what to do, we can all get a better understanding of what's being said out there.

Check out our 2006 archive and our 2007 archive, and let the fun begin!

PS: For more information on how direct mail is created, check out this clip of my good friend (and super smart consultant) Jim Spencer, who appeared on the Daily Show a while back.

PS2: If you're a support of Speaker Pelosi and like Our Fair City, I've been working on a new blog that's in the embryonic stages in support of Our Speaker and City. I'm sick of people bashing our City like it's some hippie dippie Disneyland, and bashing Nancy Pelosi. If you have suggestions or would like to help, please feel free to drop me a line.

March 14, 2008

Clinton Nostalgia, the 1993 DNC Annual Report And How Things Have (Sorta) Changed....



Hoarding gets such a bad rap these days. I mean, sure, if you hoard every edition of the newspaper for 50 years along with your 20 cats and assorted random bottlecaps, that could be cause for alarm (or at least a fire hazard). But in politics, saving all those assorted pieces of detritus seem like a pile of junk in the present, but become oddly helpful in recollecting days of old later on.

Today's nostalgia trip is the "DNC Annual Report," of which I've scanned in two pages. The first is the cover with President Bill and Vice President Al, and everyone was aglow over the fact that Old Man Bush had been sent packing, and new Members of Congress, like Sens. Boxer & Feinstein and many more, were now in office. "Change" it seems, was in the air. National Health Care was on the way, thanks to Co-President Hillary, and Democrats, it seemed would be in the drivers seat for some time.

Well we all know how that worked out. 1994 anyone? Speaker Newt? Majority Leader Dole. Senator Santorum?!?

But today I would like to focus on one piece of the "DNC Annual Report" - the section that talks about the DNC "grassroots campaign" to support the "Health Care Plan" for Presidents Clinton and Clinton. If you don't remember any of this, don't worry - that's because in the pre-Internet, pre-blog, political world, efforts like this cost a fortune and didn't really do so great, no matter how hard people tried.

When the cost of disseminating information and organizing people nationally is high and is led from the "top" down, the chances of igniting a movement to change something as big as the health care system is really difficult. Entrenched interests fought back with those f*cking "Harry and Louise" ads, and well, the rest is history (often revised, Soviet-style on the campaign trail, it seems).

Today, however, there are many ways for people to talk amongst themselves, and link up with like-minded folks around the country (and world), rather easily. Movements can take a life of their own, and evolve (as MoveOn did from the late 90s) and today, we have the prospect of a presidential candidate who is able to be competitive with a well-financed, Washington insider because he can activate over a million active donors (most of whom are giving in small amounts.)

It's interesting to see how much has changed in technology, communications, and organizing in the last 15 years. It's also interesting to see how little has changed in the mentality of the well-paid pundit and consulting class in Washington DC who seem to know how to make lots of money, but not how to get anything done. They do know, however, how to complain and whine about "blogs and the internet" and urge a nostalgia for something that never really existed. Funny, that.

March 2, 2008

For All Those Who Still Have Some Need for Clintonian Nostalgia...Bill for Prez 1991!


I was going through some old files this evening and found one of my many stashes of direct mail I've kept over the years for various reasons. Somehow, in all the moving and whatnot over the years, this piece, from the first Clinton campaign in 1991-1992 got misfiled in a batch of 2003 SF Mayoral mail (!) which I was looking up because...well, you know.

Anyway, click on the images for a larger version of the covers and the inside spread. You can tell this is probably one of the first brochures the campaign made, most likely in 1991 when Clinton's campaign began, but before James Carville and Paul Begala joined the campaign (in 1991 they were busy winning an impossible bid for US Senate for Harris Wofford).

Design notes, and a clip from "Mad Men" after the jump! Read on!

Continue reading "For All Those Who Still Have Some Need for Clintonian Nostalgia...Bill for Prez 1991!" »

February 27, 2008

Be A Nosy Neighbor With Fundrace 2008!

If you're bored at work and have that urge to be a nosy neighbor, check out Fundrace 2008, which is now being hosted this season at the (sigh) Huffington Post.

You can type in an address, a city, a name or even just a zip code and start finding out who's donating to whom, right in your own neighborhood. It's a mashup of Google Maps and the publicly available data from the Federal Elections Commission.

15 years ago, to get data of any sort like this meant either going to the FEC in Washington, D.C. and copying down the info yourself, or buying information from a vendor. Now, if you want to analyze and snoop around presidential campaign finances, all you have to do is get on the Series of Tubes Known As the Internet and poke around to your heart's content. Hurrah for technology!

February 11, 2008

There's No "Safe Word" In San Francisco Politics And Mayor Newsom's Team Knows It...

You really have to hand it to Mayor Newsom and his team. They can pretty much get away with anything, short of murder for hire, and no one seems to really mind. Even more amazing, even when "progressives" are right on the issues, they can't seem to get their message out.

This latest brouhaha, between Supervisor Peskin, the Mayor, the infamous MTA, et al gets the usual "political gossip" treatment, as always. But also, as always, we tend to forget a few salient points as to how we got here.

We're in a situation where the city has a big budget deficit and Mayor Newsom has ordered awesome-sounding "across the board cuts," sounding all fiscally responsible. Which is funny, because as Supervisor Daly tried to point out, this is the same Mayor who blew out the budget with big expensive pay raises and increases in the City payroll.

What's even funnier is that as Daly was trying to point this out, his infamous "cocaine" line blew up into this Big Problem, and Supervisor Peskin was gamed into removing Daly from the Budget Committee. So even though in this case Daly was right, it was he who paid the price - and the Chronicle waited 6 months to note Newsom's key role in blowing out the budget.

Now, to be fair, it was not that hard to push Daly aside - his acrimonious style, and his spending of political capital on symbolic measures made it easy for the Mayor's people, and their friends in the press, to make it all about something Daly really didn't say. Chalk one up for repeating the "mean Chris" meme, and one down for any serious budget reporting.

Likewise, as the Mayor is demanding we cut funds from things we need, he's spending a lot of money on plasma TVs and fancy new offices. And to pay all these people watching ProRun on those plasma tvs, he's swiping money from MUNI and other agencies so he can fill the chairs.

But once again, it really doesn't matter if the Mayor's people are doing anything wrong - they're recasting this as a "personal attack" and upping the ante with all kinds of personal and legal attacks, so no one stops and thinks about the actual issues at hand. And once again, as in the case with Daly, Peskin's temperament and style are being used against him. Suddenly we're talking about he-said-he-said, instead of talking about whether the Mayor is breaking the law, or mismanaging the taxpayers' money.

Brilliant. One thing progressives and their allies don't seem to understand is that in these fights being "right" with the facts isn't enough - you have to have the political capital to be able to fight back.

Blowing it all on symbolic measures and feel-good stuff means you don't have it when you really need it. Now, the Mayor's holding all the cards, and although his opponents may have caught his hand in the till, they're losing the battle.

As this latest political battle escalates, it's clear the Mayor's people don't mind playing rough with their opponents. There's no "safe word" in San Francisco politics, and those who would oppose the Mayor would be wise to remember that.

Note: I wish I was clever enough to come up with that last bit, but it's actually a paraphrasing of a comment I heard from a friend, so I wanted to be sure I mentioned that.

February 10, 2008

Record Voter Turnout in Presidential Primaries Has Some Lessons for Local Politickers

The LA Times has an interesting report on the record voter turnout we're seeing in primaries, and in particular the lopsided increase in turnout on the Democratic side.

The article has some interesting facts and figures, but it pretty much bears out what I said last week - that if you have good candidates who aggressively campaign on issues and ideals that people actually care about, people vote. Who told?

(Oh, and I find it equally amazing that Sen. Obama has been able to run an incredibly close race fueled mostly by small to mid-sized donations...while lefty champions are once again left in the dust.)

It's a stark contrast to the mind numbingly stupid elections we had in Supposedly Liberal Brainiac San Francisco, where "progressives" had a FAIL so complete and total, turnout was in the toilet. And now, of course, the progressives are crying about the Mayor's shenanigans, not realizing that if they'd just bothered to run a real candidate, the election might have had a different outcome. Boo hoo for them.

Most importantly, these record turnouts of voters are coming out without any of the lefty electoral gimmicks out-of-state reformers are trying to peddle across the country as ways to "increase turnout."

It's really simple, people. If you run a good campaign, you win the election. If you inspire people to action, they act. If you listen to people and talk about the issues they actually care about, they get excited and feel like politics is an opportunity for change - not just a tired exercise that people don't feel matters to them.

There's a chance that local "progressives" might take a lesson from all of this in the upcoming elections in November, and perhaps try strategies that don't involved running around in circles, gossiping like junior high girls in gym class, and whining.

News flash, progressives: THIS DOESN'T F*CKING WORK. Stop trying to game the electorate with phony reform bullsh*t. Run on a vision and an agenda that works for the citizens who actually vote in elections, and you might win. If nothing else, it would be an improvement over last year's "act like gossiping dorks" strategy.

The real winner will be the voters of San Francisco, if they're given an honest race between various factions who all strive to offer a cohesive vision of policy and politics for the next four years. We'll see what happens.

February 6, 2008

Typographers and Designers Weigh In on Candidate Logos...

Following up on that Life Savers post, here's an analysis of the Presidential campaign logos, as judged by professional designers and typographers. It's definitely entertaining, and you learn something too!

February 5, 2008

Primary Day Record Turnout: If It Matters, People VOTE...

Record turnout in today's California primary, as well as in other states, is getting all sorts of press-y goodness. Everyone's just simply amazed at the level of interest in the process. Astounded!

And now the Institute of No Duh makes a point: If these things are front-loaded for some professional bore like say, Sen. Kerry (as we had in 2004) guess what? No one cares. If you have a battle of the Titans like we had in 2006 for Governor of California against Gov. Doofinator, guess what? You get record low turnout even in the Bay Area!

But o hai! If you have a contest where something's on the line, and you have candidates who are kicking ass and taking names to get a nomination for President, and you have a population that has seen what happens when you let Ralph Nader and the GOP define things, guess what? People go to the F*CKING polls.

They don't need lefty gimmicks like "IRV" or other phony baloney reforms - they just need people to step up and do something. We have had an entire generation of politicians scheme and plot to take any sort of spontaneity out of the nomination process (mostly on the Democrat side) because of the scars of 1972.

Along the way, politickers and prognosticators, pundits and pontificators forgot something pretty basic - if you have something that matters, people will participate. If it's all phony baloney BS that serves up a big batch of Mushy Rhetoric with a chaser of "We Don't Give A Crap What You Think," then guess what? People tune out.

If you're in California and haven't voted yet, do so at once! It matters and it's worth it. I voted for Obama today and I couldn't be happier, to be honest. It was a difficult choice but when I see so many good people who felt politics was crapola turn around and decide that not only would they get involved, but do so for this guy, I figured he had something we could use.

Vote early, vote legally, and if you're a DTS (aka non aligned, aka Independent, aka nonparisan) voter, demand a Democratic ballot and vote. (The GOP hates DTS voters and won't let you play, but Democrats have seen the light. Good for them.)

February 4, 2008

Learning A Political Lesson from A Piece of Candy - The Life Savers Rebranding

Although I work on primarily political campaigns, I try to read as much as I can about "real" advertising, since the political consulting industry can sometimes get a bit static. We tend to use the same ideas over and over because they usually work - and no one wants to go out on a limb (especially clients) and try some crazy new idea and lose and be "the guy who sank the campaign with the weird idea."

That's unfortunate, because to reach people today you have to speak their pop culture "language" and compete with thousands of messages from "real" advertisers. If you always hit them with "red white and blue," they tune out. At the same time, unlike "real" advertisers, we can't sell 365 days of the year so the tendency to stay the course is understandable.

One of my favorite places to catch up on all things ad and design related are the Under Consideration constellation of websites, and in particular, their Brand New blog which chronicles the retooling of corporate logos and brand identity.

Most recently, they wrote about the remake of the Life Savers logo and packaging which was fascinating. Almost everyone knows what Life Savers are - little hard candies that haven't change that much for decades. Thus, how do simple sugary candies stand out in an era where everything marketed has to be "xtreme" or "totally awesome" and as loud as possible?

The folks at Wrigley's figured it out - rather than compete on the same level as all the trendy fad candies, coming up with zany flavors, they decided to play to their strength - simplicity. In a crowded aisle full of colorful packaging the Life Savers candy bags - with their simple depiction of just one BIG picture of the candy - stand out.

In politics, sometimes you have to do the same thing to win and get your message out. There was a school of thought (especially in Democratic circles) that to win against the "other side" one had to pre-empt them on "their" issues by making them "yours" as well, so you couldn't be attacked - you were "innoculated." (Just take a trip in the Wayback Machine to 1984 and 1988, and you can see why people thought this might be a good idea.)

While that strategy might have made sense in the late 80s and early 90s, as it was with folks like former DLC chairman Bill Clinton when they ran for President, it's not entirely foolproof. If politicians compete to be more and more alike, the result is often mushy rhetoric that sounds "phony" to the average voter.

Sometimes if you really want to distinguish yourself and your message, you have to stop competing with your opponent on their terms, and redefine the argument to your strengths instead. Plus it has the added benefit of being a bit more honest.

It's funny how a piece of candy can teach you a lesson about politics. The question is, which Presidential candidates are learning the lesson, and which aren't?

I guess we'll see on Tuesday! Don't forget to vote!

February 1, 2008

Hey! My Friend Was on "The Daily Show!"

Thanks to The Internets, I was able to see my good friend Jim Spencer of The Campaign Network on the Daily Show, even though I don't presently have cable.

Jim's a great guy and one of the best political consultants in the country, and has run some pretty amazing campaigns over the years. I worked with him when we both worked at The Big Company I Can't Name, and later in 2003, I spent a summer working for his firm in Boston which was quite fun. Here you can see the view from the company's offices in Boston.

And, thanks to Comedy Central, you can see the video, and learn a little about direct mail! Check it out! (link fixed...)

January 31, 2008

Why Barack Obama's Campaign Rocks: The 12th CD Campaign Is Having Their Party at the Blackthorn!

So here I am, finishing off the Obama/Clinton debate, and I get this email from the good folks volunteering for Barack Obama in the 12th Congressional District (SF/San Mateo). It seems our good citizens working for Sen. Obama in SF are having a primary watch party just a few blocks from my house...at the Blackthorn Tavern!

Loyal readers of my way, way, way more popular blog The N Judah Chronicles know that this is my favorite bar in the Inner Sunset. I've been known to attend pub trivia here (which rocks), and overall it's one of the friendliest and most fun places to hang out here. Since the new owners took over in June of 2007 they've really made this place a great place to hang out. Why go all the way into SoMA or Downtown when you can have a fun time out here? At least that's what I think.

And now the Obama folks are having an event there. Smart. Very smart. Once again, the Obama folks are where the people are, and know how to bring folks in. If you're going to have a vote watch party, why not have it at one of the best places in the Inner Sunset?

Then again, any time is a good time at the Blackthorn anyway, and this just adds to the fun. See you on Tuesday!

Why John McCain Should Scare The Crap Out of Democrats....

The funny thing about living in San Francisco is that to the outside world, folks seem to assume this is some sort of Greenie Communist Disneyland, with abortions on demand at every corner, parades in honor of Lenin and Ho Chi Minh, and so on.

Even here in town, you have people that parachute in here, thinking that we're the capital of the left, and some of even carpetbag themselves into a Congressional run, thinking that they're in Liberal Lefty Nirvana.

Bzzt! Wrong again!

I say this because as we close in on a Mega Super Happy Fightingest Primary Ever, and Democratic voters try to decide Which Candidate to Vote For, something has been coming up, time and again in conversations I have with Real San Franciscans: a lot of people here will vote for McCain, mostly if Sen. Clinton is the nominee.

It's really weird. These are not discussions with political folk per se, these are chats with good people of various ages, ethnic backgrounds and whatnot who really live here, and it keeps coming down to something folks really want - after 8 years of the GW Wrecking Crew and 6 years of a GOP congress, this country not only needs a political colonic to flush out the toxins of the past, but also move forward and push aside the professional screamers and assorted idiots that poison politics and get sh*t done.

And for some reason, folks seem to think that Sen. Obama might be the kind of guy who can do such a thing, but they don't see Hillary (or is it Bill and Hillary) and the politics of the 90s being the way to go, and as such would bolt to McCain in a second.

Read that again. San Franciscans, who are alleged to be godless hippie Communists, will vote for John McCain, pro-life record or not.

Kinda freaky when you re-read it, huh?

And now the punchline - I'm not so sure I won't be one of them. I know full well the many many problems with McCain's past, many of his stands on issues are diamertically opposed to my own, and God, the thought of actually voting for a presidential candidate that is in the same party as President 28% and Vice President Vader still gives me the shakes.

At the same time, however, Sen. McCain has been one of the few Washington politicians who has stood up for a rational immigration policy (something of interest to my neighbors out here in the Sunset as well as folks on the east side of town).

And, unlike the Clintons in the 90s, McCain does not see Indian tribes as cash machines for political soft money donations, but instead has tried to force the inherently stupid Department of the Interior to settle the trust lawsuit that was filed to force the feds to admit they stole from millions of people for over 100 years. And up against a more Democratic Congress, a President McCain would be more likely to work with a Speaker Pelosi or a Majority Leader Reid, vs. say a President Guy Smiley (Romney).

Heresy, I know. But people are more concerned about just what kind of country we'll have, and want to see action, not more shenanigans. President Clinton II or President Romney is more of the same old bullsh*t.

At least with Sen. Obama we might have someone who could try and bring people together, and work with folks (and hopefully a Congress populated with more REAL Democrats to back up Our Speaker ).

But a lot of people are starting to think that if it's a McCain/Hillary contest, things could go bad, and if even us hippies in San Francisco are thinking about McCain as a legitimate choice, it's time to take a Clue Pill and try to not invent a new way to f*ck up what should be our chance to set things right.

UPDATE: Yet another reason Democrats should fear McCain. The famous button of the early 90's "Oh God PLEASE Not Another Republican" seems appropo.

(I won't deny that it doesn't hurt that Sen. McCain and Sen. Kennedy honored my cousin Helen, who passed away in 2006, honoring her tireless honesty, fairness, and trailblazing career as a woman journalist in DC. That said, it's not the ultimate reason, but in the interests of full disclosure bla bla bla, I thought I'd mention it.)

April 11, 2007

"Street Fight" vs. "Dork Fight" : A Look At A Truly Tough, "Mean" Campaign

This weekend I got a copy of Street Fight. Although the title suggests it's a Hong Kong action flick, in fact it is a great documentary about the 2002 Newark Mayor's race. It has as much drama and tension as any Scorsese film, and it has more eye-opening and jaw-dropping moments than I can remember.

Why all the drama? In this case, the battle was between Councilman Cory Booker, a young African American attorney (and Stanford grad!) who was serving his first term on the Newark City Council, and incumbent Mayor Sharpe James, who'd been in office for decades.

Watching the film, and the amazing abuses of police power, democracy, and how easily an American city can toss the freedoms we take for granted into the dumpster, was really something to watch. In the face of such adversity, most people would give up, or lose it as the endless BS piled up against them, and who would blame them?

Instead, it was both the personal integrity Booker had, along with his strong sense of self and true belief in what he was doing, that kept him going through these really tough times. The film does an excellent job of showing behind the scenes moments in a campaign few people get to see, and by the end you're really rooting for the guy.

Continue reading ""Street Fight" vs. "Dork Fight" : A Look At A Truly Tough, "Mean" Campaign" »

March 19, 2007

Obama-mania Comes to the Bay Area!

This weekend was a big one for Barack Obama supporters in the Bay Area. Over 10,000 people jammed downtown Oakland to get a chance to see Sen. Obama in person, on St. Patrick's Day, no less. You can see some great photos of the rally at the campaign website, and on Flickr.

On Sunday, the Chronicle featured this front page story about a viral video in support of Sen. Obama (but not created by the campaign itself) that has been spreading across the Internet. It is pretty funny, a spoof of the old Apple Computer "1984" ad and Sen. Hillary Clinton's recent speeches. Check it out here!

And, we're now selling our take on the whole Campaign 2008 story...with this new shirt celebrating our preferred candidate for president, Admiral Bill Adama, whose heroics on New Caprica were like, really cool, ok?


March 9, 2007

Friday Fun: John Edwards is Everywhere

Due to the fact all the big primaries for Campaign 2008 are so heavily frontloaded, presidential campaigns are pretty much in full swing now, much earlier than usual. So, for at least a few months we'll occaisionally hear from the leading candidates as they might come by to the Bay Area once in a while.

Don't for a moment expect that a February primary, designed mostly to give Arnold and the Legislature more terms in office, will mean small-scale events with the candidates in town-hall like settings (i.e. like in Iowa or New Hampshire in the Olden Days). Instead, look for mostly high dollar events, with some notable exceptions, such as that big rally Obama is holding next week in Oakland.

That doesn't mean you can't get involved. And, if you're looking to support John Edwards, well, you don't have far to look. It seems like you can't swing a dead (virtual) cat without finding his campaign somwhere online at just about every social networking site there is. Heck, he's even on Twitter! The Edwards campaign even has a space on SecondLife! (I wonder if you can make a campaign donation in Linden Dollars?)

All joking aside, it's pretty amazing to see how far national political campaigns have come in their use of the various technologies enabled by the Internet. It was not too long ago when campaign websites were an expensive, usually useless, and annoying sideshow, bolted on to an older way of doing things. Today, not being on MySpace, much less the Internet, is almost inconceiveable for any serious candidate.

Just watch out for that virtual feces on SecondLife and you'll be ok!

November 17, 2006

When Reality and Rorschach Collide: Election Analysis Roundup

Every election season, once the ballots are counted, we the readers of the news, are treated to "election analysis." Read any major paper, alt-weekly, or "the Internets" and you have all sorts of Big Experts talking about What It All Means.

What strikes me, having worked on campaigns for years, is just how little one finds out about what actually happened during the election season that gave us the results - instead these "analyses" function more like a political Rorschach Test, telling us more about the prognosticator than about what really happened or more importantly, how.

Let's take a look at local election post-mortems. Most people locally tend to use pollster David Binder's premiere post-election analysis as a starting point, which is primarily concerned with statistical information about turnout, who voted, polling info and the like - in other words, facts that are agreed upon to be verifiable with some interpretation by the knowledgeable Mr. Binder to translate these raw numbers into conversational English.

Fog City Journal ran a short analysis (which I was asked to write literally minutes before I walked in the door at SPUR, hence its lack of polish) , BeyondChron, and even the "blog" at the Bay Guardian used some form of Mr. Binder's work to base conclusions and the like.

This is also where things get interesting. In the print edition of the Guardian, the results are trumpeted loudly as a rebirth of the local "progressive" movement, and at times one gets the impression that the authors are almost breathless in restating over and over "Things are OK. Don't worry. We're doing fine, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end."

Which is fine, I suppose for people who want to hear that. But what I missed in the article most was the "why" and "how" - how did Chris Daly managed to win after a bruising campaign? Why did candidates like Supervisors Dufty and Alioto-Pier crush their opposition, if they had any at all?

Continue reading "When Reality and Rorschach Collide: Election Analysis Roundup" »

October 22, 2006

Disinfo Rehab Mail Archive - Fall 2006

Note: This entry will be updated as I get more mail. New mail is featured at the bottom of this entry! Today's additions: Jane Kim, Marin Healthcare Board, and more!

As promised, here is the first installment of the Fall 2006 Disinfo Rehab Mail Archive. Unlike television ads, which bloggers and media folks can easily dissect because they're on TV, YouTube, candidate websites, and the like, mail is a "below the radar" medium. You know it is out there, but unless you're on the targeted mailing list, you won't see it.

Which is why it makes for a great way to send distinct messages to distinct groups of people - and a great way to attack someone and get away with it. By the time anyone notices it, it's too late to do much about it, and the press usually isn't sent copies of hit pieces by candidates!

Since I personally do not live in a district with an angrily contested Supervisorial race, I'm interested in submissions from readers who might have something they've received in the mail in the Daly/Black/SF Republican Party brouhaha, and the mega-money festival that is the District 4 battle to replace Fiona Ma, now that she's been elected to a 6 year term in the Assembly. Oh and if anyone has any "freaky" mail from way out in Distrct 8, send it over!

As always, if you submit a big pile o' mail, I'll buy you a drink/coffee/whatever once this nutty election is over. Email me and tell me what you have and I'll make arrangements to pick it up, or you can simply scan them in yourself and send them in as JPEGs.

Please note that all pieces that appear on this page were sent to actual voters, who in turn gave the pieces to me for inclusion in this fall's archive. (To protect their privacy from identity thieves, their names and addresses have been Photoshopped out)

A mail piece's appearance here does not indicate I'm endorsing or not endorsing a particular candidate, and it does not indicate that campaign endorses this site, its views, or anything at all. Conspiracy theorists, please put down the crack pipe and find something else to worry about.

Update: A loyal reader tipped me off to a similar project being done by the East Bay Express, entitled Fun with Misleading Mailers. Short and to the point, the additional coverage of the myriad of pieces hitting the mailbox is great for voters

And now, for the fun, after the jump!

Continue reading "Disinfo Rehab Mail Archive - Fall 2006" »

October 9, 2006

Now Accepting Donations for the Fall 2006 Direct Mail Disinfo Rehab Archive!

By now, you're probably beginning to get the first wave of what will be an avalanche of political junk mail between now and November 7th, as am I. But before you toss the latest missives from Gov. Doofinator, or any one of a myriad of well-heeled groups who are pushing some Big Initiative on the ballot, email me and we'll arrange to have it posted at the Disinfo Rehab Archive later this month. And, if you've got really great junk mail, I'll buy you the drink of your choice! Really!

Political consultants who have pieces they are proud of should also consider submitting a JPG or dropping us a copy in the mail as well. You'll get free publicity, and you don't have to pay thousands of dollars in "conference fees" like you do with the The AAPC. What a bargain!

With any luck, we'll also be hosting these files at a new photo gallery here on our own domain, instead of at Flickr, which is great, but can't handle the load, given how many people checked it out during the primary.

Thanks in advance for your help - we look forward to your submissions. I will be posting mail as I get it as well!

September 29, 2006

Free Tip of the Day: How to Reach The Voter Formerly Known as Absentee

In a week those that have elected to vote by mail will be getting their ballots via the USPS, and a flurry of activity from political candidates will begin, mostly via expensive direct mail and TV/radio appeals. That's because the conventional wisdom surrounding mail ballot voters is often stuck in the past, without a real understanding of how mail ballot voting has changed in California.

In the past, "absentee voters" were voters who were either out of town on Election Day, or conscientious voters of a particular political and ethnic persuasion who didn't want to miss a chance to vote. Thus, this mini-electorate was different in its composition, and behavior, than the general voter population.

Most of these voters returned their ballots fairly quickly, and soon became a key part of any winning election strategy. Reaching the voters quickly, with a targeted, conservative to moderate message was often the difference between winning and losing a close race.

Thanks to some changes in California election law, the composition and behavior of people voting by mail has changed. Today, anyone can register to be a permanent mail ballot voter, and not have to keep re-applying for an absentee ballot every election.

With so many people opting for the convenience of mailing their ballot in, this group of voters is no longer monolithic. More importantly, the behavior of these voters has changed. Instead of quickly filling out the ballot and returning it within a week or so of receiving said ballot, voters are often holding on to them longer, due in large part to the huge number of ballot initiatives one has to wade through.

In June's Super Idiotic Primary, where we had primaries full of Unknowns and a dogpile of initiatives, many elections officials were reporting abysmally low rates of return of mail ballots. People were hanging on to them until the last minute and creating an avalanche of ballots in the postal system - often delaying the final count in close elections for days, even weeks!

So what is the lesson for politicians and their associated politickers? Simple - the nature of mail ballot voters ("absentee voter" is no longer an accurate term) has changed significantly, and the strategy to reach them needs to change as well. Trying to dump a pile of mail and TV on voters the exact day they will be receiving their ballot in the mail will result only in ensuring that the voter, overwhelmed with campaign appeals, will not hear their message with any clarity.

For smaller campaigns or underfunded races, this can be fatal. By blowing a significant amount of money on October 6th, the same day, they may lose out on a chance to send a targeted message out more than once. Worse, unless they're producing something that truly sticks out from the pack, the voter is going to send their piece of paper into the recycling bin, unread. (Besides, Battlestar Galactica premieres that night, and many smart, sophisticated voters will be glued to their TVs, not the mailbox. :-) )

Instead of rushing to send Yet Another Piece of Paper in the junk mail blizzard on October 6th, campaigns (especially those without huge piles of cash) should consider sending their message to mail ballot voters out a few days later, since it's unlikely the majority of ballots will be returned within a week.

They should also consider alternative methods of reaching registered voters, such as Advocacy Inc.'s innovative email system and email an interactive email to mail ballot voters. It's a safe bet that most campaigns won't be doing anything like this, so the message is likely to stand out. And, if there's a level of interactivity as well, it's going to create more of a memorable impression than a plain vanilla postcard.

Another way for campaigns to reach these voters cheaply and effectively is the use of automated calls, such as those provided by Flying Colors USA, based in the East Bay. Traditionally, automated calls are used for Get Out The Vote (GOTV) appeals at the end of the campaign. However, they can also be very effective at reminding mail ballot voters of a candidate's message during the week after they've received their ballot - especially if they feature a prominent supporter or member of the community.

With all the large scale campaigns being waged, from US Senate, to statewide initiatives, to local offices, voters will have an unprecedented wave of conventional political warfare aimed at their mailbox and television. For candidates to be effective, especially those without untold riches, being creative will be essential to cut through the clutter and reach the voters they need on Election Day.

August 7, 2006

Anatomy of an Earned Media Hit: The Phantom (Check) Menace in San Francisco

We're about 90 days out from Election Day, and elections in San Francisco are starting to catch some attention. Thanks to "Ranked Choice Voting" (or IRV, or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days), incumbents, such as Supervisors Chris Daly and Michela Alioto-Pier will not be in any serious danger of losing their jobs.

However, in the case of the Board of Supervisor's race in District 4, there is an open seat, as incumbent Fiona Ma won the Democratic Primary for Supervisor, so quite a few people are running for this seat. According to the SF Usual Suspects website there are at least 8 running so far, with two - current Ma aide Jaynry Mak and Douglas Chan considered front runners.

Here's where things get a bit strange. I knew of Jaynry Mak's campaign before anyone had said anything, simply because in my day to day travel in the Sunset, I've seen a LOT of Mak signs in Sunset businesses and homes that went up in what seemed like minutes after Fiona Ma's election was certified. All of them promiently displayed Ma's endorsement of Mak, so I figured that she had it cinched. Besides it is not cheap or easy to get that many signs up that fast for a first time candidate. So she must be doing something right, right?

Well, not according to the powers that be, including her boss, Supervisor Ma. If you opened up today's Chronicle, you were treated to this semi-insightful, semi-Incendiary tome on Mak's fundraising. Now, Mak has out-raised all of her opponents by a significant amount in a very short time - usually something that is seen as an advantage by campaign observers.

So, someone had to throw water on this party, and do so fast. The task of carrying out the hit came to Wade Randlett, of SFSOS, a group that bills itself as a voice of reason (but often sends out very angry emails to its subscribers). The hit was well played - suspicion (but of course no proof of wrongdoing) was laid heavily on the fact that some of her donors don't have white collar jobs, but gave money anyway. ""In my 20 years of raising money for elected officials, I've never seen anything so hard to believe," Randlett said." in the article.

Continue reading "Anatomy of an Earned Media Hit: The Phantom (Check) Menace in San Francisco" »

August 1, 2006

When a "War Room" Clever Idea Goes Bad: Case Study With Alix Rosenthal in SF

Political campaigns are always seeking out new and innovative ways to reach voters. While most are content to do things as they've always been done, others, such as Ned Lamont in Connecticut, have found new and innovative ways to try and make their case to the voters.

However, current and future manager of campaigns should take note that for every groovy great new idea that works, there are about a million more that sound great in the "war room" but in the real world, fall flat. That's because the good ideas tend to come from regular folks who are smart and savvy, and the bad ideas tend to come from people who spend too much time cooped up in a campaign "war room" , spending all their time with like-minded people and read like-minded blogs and news sources. It ensures that whatever that walled-off-from-reality group comes up with will be bad for the candidate.

That's how you get some of the venal, negative ads we saw this past June and why you get boneheaded moves such as Mayor Frank Jordan's shower with some LA DJs on the eve of the election, or Dukakis in a tank. That's why it's so important for campaigns to have people around who aren't totally plugged into one particular sub-group or so totally in to politics they lose touch with reality.

Not all bad moves are game killers such as these. Others can simply add to existing doubts about a candidate, and reinforce an overall sense that the candidate is not ready for prime time. While the "war room" folks are patting themselves on the back for being so clever, the average voter reacts with a "huh?" or (worse) a "wtf?" .

Campaign 2006 in San Francisco already has such an example. Take a look at the late-starting campaign of Alix Rosenthal, who is trying to unseat popular incumbent Bevan Dufty who represents the Castro and surrounding neighborhoods on the Board of Supervisors.

Recently, the campaign sent out what was meant to be a clever "e-vite" to a fundraising event with a "cute" headline that suggested people to get in bed with Alix at a self-styled "Burning Man meets Cirque de Soleil" event. (No, I am not making this up.)

That in and of itself may not be so bad, aside from some eye-rolling it's produced amongst the echo chamber of political insiders and denizens of City Hall. But in a campaign where the candidate has already had to deal with a less than flattering "Burning Man" picture in the San Francisco Chronicle , eye-rolling comments about how how she's a "freak" in "freaky SF" , and the fact she's a non-gay woman running against a popular gay incumbent in the district with the Castro in it, well, you see what I mean.

Plus, relying on the SF Party Party for significant help is probably not a great idea. (Don't get me wrong, I am as entertained by the SFPP as anyone, and appreciate their views, but this is not helping Alix in the Get Taken Seriously Department.)

You can almost see the independent expenditure hit piece with quotes and that Burning Man picture in thousands of mailboxes this fall.

Lesson for all you aspiring and practicing politickers: an idea might seem like a great idea to you and the kids in the war room, but may, in fact, sink your campaign. Stop. Take a deep breath. Go outside. Talk to humans who don't spend all day reading blogs and cable news, who are based in the real world. If after a breather that oh-so-clever idea makes you have doubts, DON'T DO IT. Find someone cooler than you and smarter than you to come up with something better that actually works.

Your campaign will appreciate it, even if they don't tell you. Trust me.

PS: Special thanks to SFist.com for the link! Thanks!

July 5, 2006

Why Panic Isn't a Strategy OR Joe Lieberman IS His Own Worst Enemy

So it seems the esteemed Senator From Connecticut's little announcement this week, basically saying he's so worried now about a primary election he's hedging bets and filing to run as so-called "independent has the whole world in a tizzy - if you read blogs, that is.

Those netroots guys are all atwitter on this one (especially since they appeared in one of his ads - how cute!). The Esteemed Senator from New York has weighed in on this race, declaring her support for "The Democrat" who wins the primary. Cooler heads have provided some provided some alternate commentary that doesn't fit neatly into little boxes, as well.

No one, however, has commented on one thing that's driving this, in fact, the reason why so many campaigns go off the rails - Lieberman's decision is being driven by candidate-induced panic and reaction, nothing more. While it is unusual to have a candidate like Ned Lamont challenge an incumbent senator in the primary, in that he's not a drooling lunatic or a drug-addled hippie running on the Three A's Platform, I have yet to see a poll that shows him ahead.

Now don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Democratic primary voters have a choice between a US Senator, and a well-funded, thoughtful challenger with neat ads. There's no law that says that anyone in office is owed re-election (unless of course you live in So Called Liberal San Francisco where we re-elect all the "I's" no matter how much we claim we don't like City Hall's style..) and it'd be nice to think that after 3 terms, Lieberman was secure enough in his relationship with the voter citizens of his state to take a few punches.

But his move to suggest that if he loses he'll file as an "independent" candidate show that the Esteemed Senator is neither a secure man, nor a particularly bright one when it comes to politics. To react to a challenger coming even somewhat close by not only saying "I'll leave the party and continue to run anyway, even if my alleged base rejects me" not only smacks of arrogance - it also says flat out that he'll run even if the people who used to vote for him reject him. That's just plain stupid.

Moreover, he may have ensured he loses a primary that he could still win. If he offers the "Lieberman Voter" an out by signing a petition, he's effectively removed any reason to go vote in August. After all, if (and I do mean if - how may petitions do ya think the Lieberman machine gathers these days?) they are getting signatures, a Lieberman voter doesn't have to vote anymore in the Democratic Primary to support Their Guy.

In other words, if Senator Bushlite wanted to really stay in office. he'd ride it out in the Democratic primary he sang the praises of up until a few days ago, and force the issue. Most likely he'd win. But then again, maybe he might not. That'd take guts, it'd take a true maverick, and it'd mean ol' Joe would have to roll a hard six to win.

Now, all those thinking Senator Jojo has the mojo to pull a stunt like this off and campaign without a safety net, say "aye"

The silence is deafening. But let's thank him for keeping up that keeping up that New England Tradition of blowing elections.


June 14, 2006

California Primary 2006: The Death Rattle of So-Called "Reform"

Wasn't that just a wonderful primary election?

We had the a record low voter turnout statewide, and we had a record number of mail ballots that were held until the last minute, simply because people either didn't know who to vote for, or who to vote against. We had some of the nastiest campaigns, funded by all sorts of well funded interests, and Democrats in particular are left with a slate of candidates most people still don't know a lot about, at a time when we're facing Real Problems.

Whose fault is it? Oh, it depends on who you ask. It's the Democrats' fault. It's the Republicans' fault. It's the consultants' fault. It's the special interest groups' fault. It's the fault of people who wear those rectangle glasses. It's the fault of someone's husband. It's the "progressives'" fault. It's the "conservatives'" fault. It's the know-it-all bloggers' fault. It's the fault of Someone Else.

Oh, and don't forget it's Money's Fault. Bet you didn't know inanimate representations of currency could be at fault. But to some it is.

"So," you ask, "whose fault is it really?" you ask. Good question - thanks for asking!

It would be easy for me to take the Official Snarky Knowitall Position that it's everyone I just mentioned's fault but that would be a bit too easy, and a bit overdone. Instead I'm going to suggest another idea: that we in California had a Perfect Storm of Unintended Consequences, from all the so-called "reforms" that self-styled "reformers" have pushed on us for the last several decades.

Continue reading "California Primary 2006: The Death Rattle of So-Called "Reform"" »

May 31, 2006

A Modest Proposal Ridding Us of So-Called Independent Expenditures

Special Note: Don't forget to check out the Direct Mail Disinfo Rehab Archive with mail from the 2006 primary election, recently featured at SF's Usual Suspects website!

Whenever you pass a political money reform bill, the road to Hell gets a new paving of unintended consequences. Take Proposition 34, which was supposedly going to limit "big money" in elections for state office.

We passed "limits" which were designed to keep "big money" out of elections, and it did have the effect of limiting large unlimited contributions, which are apparently evil in and of themselves, out of campaigns by candidates for office. One problem: no one found a legal, Constitutional way to limit efforts "independent" of candidates by those "big money" folks to speak loudly, carry big sticks, and have an incredible amount of influence in an election.

We've gone through 3 cycles under the new regime, and as both a manager and observer of Assembly races, I have to say that the influence of outside groups has increased ten-fold, as backers of previous reforms had hoped. Now, when a candidate runs for office, he or she has to pray to the God of their choice that assorted interest groups not only support them, but will spend untold bucks on their behalf, and pray that they'll do something that's helpful to their campaigns.

In 2002, we saw trial lawyers, eager to take a posthumous hit at then Assemblyman Lou Papan, spend uncounted millions on behalf of Gene Mullin, to "punish" the daughter of Lou Papan for not toeing the line enough in his time in office. While Gene Mullin's campaign claimed it was "all them" when they won, the fact was if it was not for untold spending by outside groups, we may or may not have had a different result.

Likewise, in 2006, we have the political gang war that is the 12th Assembly district primary. No less than 11 allied "independent expenditure" committees (who oddly enough seem to have the same candid photos in their ads as the candidate does) are picking on Janet Reilly, for reasons obvious and not so obvious. For all the "experience" people talk about, it seems strange that the only thing people helping a candidate can do is to pump out mail that is more about hype than substance.

There is, however, a simple cure for this disease, one that does not require demolishing the First Amendment, passage of new Road to Hell legislation, or even taxpayer funding of politician's races. It relies solely on common sense, and a candidate's values.

Continue reading "A Modest Proposal Ridding Us of So-Called Independent Expenditures" »

May 23, 2006

California Primary Political Mail Archive is Up at GregDewar.com!

The first step of our Disinfo Rehab project is up and online! Thanks to good friends on the Peninsula and in San Francisco, as well as some trusty campaign volunteers, I've posted the first of what will be many entries into a Political Direct Mail Web Archive that you, the citizen, can review in advance of California's Primary Election on June 6th. (Temporarily, PDF files submitted to the arcive are featured here while we get Flickr to cooperate!)

Currently the archive features entries from State Senate Candidate Mike Nevin , who has some of the most novel mail pieces, evoking an earlier era in campaign themes, as well as a piece I picked up at a street fair last weekend from the campaign of Fiona Ma, who is running in Assembly District 12.

More from our gubernatorial candidates, our friends in high and low places, and those running for other offices will be featured as the days go by. You may also make submissions by email by sending me an email with your reasonably sized JPEGs or PDFs of stuff you find.

Oddly enough, because I recently re-registered only a few months ago into the new house I moved into, I'm not getting the volume of doubleplusungoodmail I usually get. So, if you're looking at that steaming pile of dead trees, and thinking of junking it, think again!

I'm offering a drink bounty to voters for new and unusual pieces of mail, in particular those sent out by special interests influencing the outcome of many of the Legislative elections in California, where so many people are running for ever so many offices.

Enjoy the archive and keep coming back as more images (and more commentary) are added to the new disinfobabble and artistic licenses issued by today's politickers. Consultants are also welcome to submit pieces they are proud of, as well.

UPDATE: Big updates coming this weekend. Meanwhile, check this article out discussing the increasingly flat out false mail going out to the public.

UPDATE 2 - May 28th: More pieces have been added from the Reilly/Ma race and the Yee/Nevin/Papan race....anyone wishing to submit pieces they've received should email me with their entries...thanks!

Oh and some advice for the volunteers eager to tell us about their candidates - the moment you put a handout or a piece of unauthorized crap in a mailbox, not only do you earn bad karma, but you are also committing a federal crime. Just last night I found two piecesfor a candidate for DCCC shoved in my mailbox at home in the Inner Sunset. Not smart. Kids, learn the rules and play it safe, ok?

May 18, 2006

50 Million Westly Dollars Can Be Wrong

Much is made when a personally wealthy candidate runs for office about how, by the miracle of “spending lots of money,” they can automatically win office. Steve Westly’s campaign not only benefits from this conventional “wisdom” – it’s an active part of the campaign’s message.

What pundits, politickers, and the like tend to forget is that part of winning a campaign is having the money to pay for what you need to win – but that the other part is how you spend your money. And in the case of Steve Westly, our multi-millionaire Richie Cunningham running for class president, it's becoming clear that the how of his campaign is starting to kill whatever advantage, cash-wise, this guy had.

Last night I caught the latest spat of ads from Westly on TV, and they were laughable at best, pathetic at worst. We are less than three weeks away from a pretty significant primary election, and what is the Westly campaign blowing tons of cash on? Ads about whether Phil Angelides is running a "negative campaign." (Don't try looking here for them - I guess they don't mind putting them on the air, but they sure didn't put them on their own site.)

So,umm, let me get this straight. This is the big issue millions of Californians are concerned about in this year's gubernatorial election? I guess that whole affordable housing/jobs/economy/environment/education/taxes thing isn't the main issue at the kitchen table this season.

No, it's whether "Mean Old Phil" is playing by some imaginary Marquess de Queensbury rules, and rather than move on and just tell people about why he's the better candidate, he's spending money talking about something no real voters give a crap about and tosses in a lie about Angelides' tax plan that's patently false. Hmm. Sounds like someone broke his own promise about those Queensbury rules.

Putting aside for a moment whether Phil or Steve is the bestest Democrat boy running, there's a bigger issue here. If Steve Westly can't handle a random, unscripted question from the peanut gallery, or a few jabs from a fellow Democrat, how the Hell is he going to handle going up against Gov. Doofinator and his huge team of spinmeisters, politickers and a massive state funded disinfo ops team, much less the many millions in independent expenditures from allied right wing groups that will toss out crap far worse than he's ever had to deal with?

No wonder this guy barely beat McClintock in 2002. Perhaps after the election, Westly and Senator Huffington, President Perot, Governor Checchi, and the rest of the rich geniuses can get together and have a beer about those Queensbury rules.

Don't forget to send in your political junk mail so we can do some disinfo rehab prior to the election! Send me a note and we'll get it on Flickr ASAP!

May 15, 2006

Turn That Political Junk Mail Into Gold (Sort Of)

Last weekend, mail ballots in the California Primary were mailed out to voters, which means the first wave in what is going to be an avalanche of political junk mail is starting to make its way through the US Postal System. A primary such as the one we have now, where just about every term-limited politician is running for every other office on the ballot, makes it even more ominous.

This is also a chance to observe the power of dead trees vs. television. That's because TV ads are seen by "everyone." Heck, you can go on YouTube.com and see ads by the ever telegenic Steve Westly, the humorous Phil Angelides and more. You can even scrutinize the oh-so-clever ad by Fiona Ma, driving around town in a shiny new Prius! How enviro-friendly! (I wonder if she actually owns a PC-Prius or if they just rented it....frankly I'd be more impressed to see a candidate slog through the district on the N Judah, in a TV ad, complete with weirdos and stalled trains, but I digress).

Now here's the thing about TV ads - the reason it's so easy for snarky bloggers, politicos and the local press to pick apart these little gems is because they are so accessible. Direct mail, however, is not. Everyone is getting different pieces of mail depending on where they live, and what their past voter history (if any) is. More to the point, by the time anyone in the press sees anything earth-shattering or nasty, the election's over.

This time, however, you can help particpate in a good old fashioned Disinformation Rehab for the Primary. If you start to get a nice big pile of steaming junk mail, don't recycle it. Instead, send me an email and tell me what you've received in the mail.

If it is something I do not already have, you put it in the mail and send it to me, and I buy you a coffee or other beverage of some sort somehow. I'll scan in the best of the bunch and post a gallery on Flickr, and we can all give these guys and gals a once-over they don't usually get.

And besides, it'll be fun! Really!

November 2, 2005

So What Were You Doing A Year Ago Today?

What were you doing on November 2nd, 2004?

Funny how a year changes things, eh?

A year ago Kerry and his team found a new way to blow an election, Bush and company were flying high, and there was all sorts of big talk.

A year later and House and Senate GOP leaders are under investigation, there's an indictment of a sitting VP's chief of staff, and poll numbers for the high flyers aren't so great.

So what will you and I be doing a year from now?

I have no idea. But tonight I'm going to rejoice in the fact I'm not a VP's chief of staff, nor am I responsible for explaining those bad poll numbers to the CiC.

Sometimes it's the little things that make life great.

PS: Something else to think about: Was it scary seeing Bush get re-elected, appoint dorks to FEMA, and screw up this year, or would it be scary if Kerry got elected, and was in charge of appointing people and trying to talk the hurricane to death?

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

May 15, 2005

Those Guys Who Run Campaigns, Mainstream Media Style

Every campaign cycle has the obligatory "guys who run campaigns" story, that usually is little more than a resume of each "guy" with anecdotes. From reading these kinds of stories, you'd think the reporters just buy a "Mad Libs" pad and insert (name of politico) in (year of story) and (write it like that).

The LA Times did its obligatory piece on Friday the 13th (ha!) While these are of mild interest, nothing in them tells the reader anything they ddid not already know, or hear, the last time these pieces were written.

Each "bigwig" got their name, their age, a paragraph about their past work, a few quippy lines, and that's about it. Great. I read this and wonder just what it is I, the reader, am supposed to learn from this article? There's no real questioning about what it is these guys have been doing this cycle, nor is there any real discussion about what their role is, and is not in this campaign cycle.

It serves to reinforce preconceived notions of these guys as something they're not, and we don't get any real examination of the role of people who play an important part in how and why we discuss the election in the terms we usually do.

It'd be far more informative if we had a reporter or two (or three) as a guy like Kam Kuwata how he can say some of the things he does with a straight face, and expect people to take him at his word based on what's been said as Hahn's spokesman this cycle, for example.

It might be interesting to talk to someone like Ace Smith, and as for a macro-level discussion on just what "opposition research" is and is not in a campaign like Villaraigosa's. Or even better, ask some of these guys about the campaigns they've lose (i.e. Bill Carrick's loss with Rep. Dick "Screamer" Gephardt" ) and what they've learned (if anything) from the experience. Even better, call up Sen. Dianne Feinstein and ask her what she thinks of some of Hahn's tactics in 2005 - and how that'll affect her decisions in 2006?

The biggest problem with the political consulting business is that for the most part it is a largely unexamined piece of the advertising business. True, there have been some excellent studies done by James Thurber at American University, and occasionally you read a decent article somewhere. But overall, it is an industry without much serious discussion, which is unfortunate.

Switching gears, there was another story, the obligatory "let's do a piece about the underlings who work on these things" piece in the main Los Angeles papers. I'm surprised no one noticed how the Los Angeles Times article, which appeared on May 14th, was almost identical to one that the Los Angeles Daily News ran on May 8th.

More importantly, it raises a basic question - are so few people working on the respective campaigns of Jimi Hahn and Tony Villaraigosa that these are the only two underlings that were worth spending any ink on? Might there be some people, perhaps some actually from Los Angeles, the press could have talked to?

Personally, when I read accounts like this of why some young people get into politics, or talk to younger folks, I tend to wince when I hear someone describe themselves as a "political junkie," and seem to thrive only on the game itself, and for no other reason.

Years ago, I met Tom Hayden at UC Santa Barbara, and he said something to a group of us assembled to learn more about getting involved in the political process. Basically he said (and please bear with the paraphrasing of an event I attended 16 years ago) that young people should pursue whatever it is they believe in or wish to advance, and use the Democratic Party and the political process to achieve their goals as they see fit, and not just become a party apparatchnik for the sake of "politics."

It was a lesson worth learning, and one, I'm afraid did not reach too many people in the room. However, it's something these young guns on the Hahn and Villairaigosa campaigns would be wise to heed. The "thrill of the game" ends quickly, and you have to decide on some level what it is you are trying to really accomplish.

It's easy to become so consumed with polls, swing votes, percentages, and focus groups, forgetting in the process that if you're not really focused on accomplishing something, you end up looking back at your "career" in politics and find you've spent a lot of money, done a lot of neat campaign tricks, but have little to show for it.

To me that's not very satisfying, but then again, I've been in this line of work for a while. I suppose for some others, like the aforementioned Big Wigs of Politics, that's all that seems to matter. I guess I'll never know, since all I have to go on are those "Mad Libs" style puff pieces in the Times.

Anyone want to prove me wrong?

PS: Here's a fun story for some enterprising reporter to consider: Take a look at the many talented people who got some of their early start with Tom Hayden's Campaign for Economic Democracy in the late 70s and early 80s.

A quick review of the folks who got their start with Hayden and Jane Fonda's organization would be a Who's Who of some of the smartest people in politics today, many of whom have retained some sense of idealism or political leanings since their days with CED. I could print a partial list here, but I would not want to insult anyone by accidentally leaving them off the list. Still, it would be interesting.

I've often felt that the repeated demonization of Hayden by conservatives obscured many of his actual accomplishments in the public eye. Remember, it was Hayden, in retirement, who shut down Gov. Doofinator's attempts to change pet rescue las by unleashing the power of a network of  pet owners and their army of Pound Puppies to smack down the Doofinator, and send him in full retreat.

I'll be looking....Reporters, start your engines!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

May 6, 2005

Hey! I got quoted in The Economist!

I'm trying to find some kind soul out there who subscribes to the Economist Magazine. It seems that I got quoted in this article about campaign paraphenalia in their April 28th issue.

However, I can't read the web version because one has to subscribe to the magazine first to read it. So...if any of you kind readers out there already have a subscription and wouldn't mind helping the Schädelmann out with a free look or something so I can read it, that would be cool.

AND...if you help me, I'll reward you with...a free song from the Apple iTunes store as a thank-you.

I had spoken with their reporter a while back but hadn't had a chance to track down a print issue before the local newsstand ran out.

I was not really sure if they'd even use my quote, until I heard about it from my friend Dr. O'Sullivan, a Fulbright Scholar in Amman, Jordan, who happened to read it and was quite surprised to see my name in print in that particular magazine.

All for the greater glory of my ego, I know. But it was some much-needed good news after what was kind of a crappy week.

UPDATE! My good friend Mark Rutherford, a subscriber to The Economist gave me a copy of the article, which I will reprint here for you...Thanks Mark!

Apr 28th 2005

Why political accessories are changing

IN GENERAL elections past, the political temperature of a British street could be taken by looking at the windows. Candidates' posters--blue for the Conservatives, red for Labour, orange for the Liberal Democrats--marked the positions of rival camps more precisely than any voter database. But allegiances are less obvious this year. Particularly in Labour-held areas, there is often little sign that an
election is about to take place.

"People don't want to parade their political preferences any more," says David Heyes, who is defending his seat in Ashton-under-Lyne. Political cynicism, unmoving opinion polls and flaccid national campaigns are partly to blame for the lack of colour in the constituencies. But a bigger reason is that the focus of campaigning
has moved from the street to the telephone and the letterbox.

Better data management by the major parties means that potential voters can be identified and targeted more accurately than in the past, and from a greater distance. Printing is cheaper and faster; more importantly, digital presses can run off messages aimed at specific voters. The results can appear devious. Humphrey Malins, a Conservative candidate in Surrey, produced one leaflet, in English and Urdu, that touted his record of helping with visas. But another leaflet advertised the party's tough anti-immigrant line. "My local literature is intended to be very local," Mr Malins explained.

Like so many political innovations, this is an American import. Greg Dewar, a political marketing consultant who has worked for several Democratic candidates, says that direct mail has become the best way of communicating with voters--a lesson that, as he admits, Republicans have learned especially well. The effect on old-style political paraphernalia has been the same as in Britain. As American campaigns have gone postal (and, much more tentatively, online), buttons and lawn
signs have disappeared.

Oddly, one traditional tool has survived the winnowing: the campaign balloon. Labour candidates, in particular, can often be found lurking outside school gates handing out balloons and "Dear Parent" letters to children. Lawrie Quinn, who is campaigning in Scarborough and Whitby, remembers organising only two such events during the 2001 election campaign. He has done 14 so far this year, and makes sure always to carry a few spare balloons in his back pocket, just in case. The idea is to reach young women--some of the main beneficiaries of Labour largesse, but also some of the greatest gripers against Tony Blair--through their less politically jaded offspring.

Such is the theory, anyway. At a recent school-gate event in Putney, a west London constituency, children were delighted to accept helium-filled propaganda. But the warmth of the day meant that the little nippers got only a few yards before a bang and a howl of anguish announced the beginnings of political discontent.

May 2, 2005

Emily's List Points One Finger At Others, But Has Four Pointing At Itself!

A recent article in the Knight Ridder Chain reports that Emily's List is worried about the prospect of "losing" women in state government, thanks in part to term limits.

They point the finger at all sorts of factors, but fail to realize as they point the finger at others, four more are pointing back...at Emily's List, as well as the whole self-appointed Women's Political Mafia that has evolved over the last 20 years.

Remember the "Year of the Woman" in 1992? We were supposed to ooh and ahh at all the women getting elected to office. Groups like Emily's List, which once operated out of basements in Washington DC moved into the spotlight, as they helped underdog women candidates with early money, and provided support to their campaigns to try and "level the playing field" for (liberal) women candidates.

Which is fine. Many great people got elected to office, including my perennial favorite, Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn of Washington State (whom I count as a friend and former client). And I'm all for a level playing field so that the best candidate wins, based on merit, not on bullshit, even though I really tire of "identity politics" and the crap such phony baloney brings on in our system. That's another column.

Back to the point: The problem is, after 1992, Emily's List became as much a part of The Problem in Politics as it was once The Answer. Once the secret weapon of underdog candidates, it quickly evolved into an incumbent protection system for women elected in the early 1990s.

A few years in the corridors of power during that brief time in the Clinton Administration when "Democrats" (real and corporate) ran everything, and suddenly Emily's List was no longer interested in taking chances with women running for Congress, or elsewhere. It was All About Protecting The Small Gains instead.

So while a wealthy Corporate Sponsored Democrat like Jane Harman (D-Venice Beach) or another millionaire, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) could count on Emily's List to beat the drum for their candidacies, other women could not. And if two women ran against each other? They'd stay out. Rather than try and make a decision as to who the best candidate would be, they'd sit it out. Usually the corporate PAC money backed candidate won in those cases.

As the 1990s wore on and the GOP gains in 1994 clearly weren't going away, Emily's List and other similar "mainstream" women's groups spent more time in Washington DC, still pretending to be in power, when in fact they were getting their asses kicked. Sure, Senator Boxer won in a landslide. But guess what? They're passing all sorts of legislation these women's groups claim to be against in the US Senate. And I didn't see Emily's List taking many chances in the Congressional or US Senate races this time around.

Most people don't know that the majority of my clients have been women clients, primarily by accident or referral, but nonetheless I've ended up on the side of underdog women candidates more than once, mostly because I'm good at what I do and I'm not nearly as nasty as I seem in print.

So I've seen first hand the kind of shenanigans I describe, and there is nothing more sad than having to tell a client the reason they're not going to get the support of some Big Women's Political Group has nothing to do with their campaign's strength, their stand on the issues, or the years of hard work volunteering for said causes, but instead a back door deal cut by interest group leaders and Corporate Democrat leadership types.

Even on a local level, "women's political groups" often make decisions based more on the politics of accommodating power, instead of standing up for the people (women) and politics they claim to believe in. Last year, while working in San Francisco in the supervisorial races, I was astonished to watch local women's political groups endorse men in races where supremely qualified women were running.

Here I was, in a supposed bastion of liberalism and feminism, with a plethora of well-qualified candidates running for office - people like Christine Linnenbach who came damn close to winning the election - lose out on endorsements to lesser qualified men, from women's groups.

It was stunning. Here was an intelligent, thoughtful and highly qualified candidate with hundreds of endorsements, losing out to a no-name man, just because of some civic politicking that had nothing to do with helping women get elected, and more to do with sucking up to The Man. Great job, girls For an encore, why don't they just give up, and put on some aprons and let all the men do the hard work?

Harsh? Yes, but so is seeing the cynicism of these kinds of groups at work. I like to make a note, and the next time I hear some local self designated Arbiter of What Women Think from these politicos, I take it about as seriously as a crank email from a nut like Hal Netkin or Jimi Hahn.

If Emily's List, and the many other members of the Women's Political Mafia are truly concerned about the status of liberal women in the political world, they'll take their heads out of the sand, and their hands out of the pockets of corporate Democrat incumbents and go back to the reason they were founded in the first place.

Local and national women's groups need to stop licking the boots of male corporate politicians and assert themselves a little more. Sure it may be risky, and they may have to go to some new sources of funding since the credit card PACS might not like them.

But if they don't, they're going to remain a part of the problem with the political system, and not a solution. I, for one, won't take them too seriously when they make their latest complaint, knowing that when they've had the chance, too often they chose status quo power over real change.

UPDATE: Emerge, yet another groups that purports to be about helping women get elected had a big fundraiser in San Francisco with Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, who, apparently, used to live in the Bay Area.

Great PR for the group, and always a lot of talk, and the interviews with the up and coming "new leaders." But of course, most of the talk at the event was How We Gotta Help Dianne Feinstein, and support the impossible prospect of a Granholm for President campiagn. (The Governor is unable to run for president, as she is not a native born US Citizen). But hey, it makes for good PR and makes people "feel good."

But watch how fast the power-suited women in the room help their young charges when they run for office in the future. Funny how most of the people in that fundraiser were the same ones who time after time, hold back on helping women candidates when they don't fit the  status quo.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

November 4, 2004

Guest Blog from Favel Stoda- Down But Not For Long In Santa Fe

As promised, we have one last posting from our guest blogger Favel Stoda, who was kind enough to post to my site from a "swing state" with her observations on the scene. When I write up the book of Campaign 2004, Favel is one of my "rock stars" I talk about..."

Well, it looks like it's over except maybe in Iowa or New Mexico.  We won't know for two more days about the 28,000 Provisional ballots but the optimist in me thinks that the dems will prevail and I'll begin to feel a little better.

I don't know if it will make many of you feel any better but I wanted to share some of what I saw the last few days of the election as a ground troop.  In the final days of the elections, thousands and thousands of people flew themselves to various parts of the country (aka swing states) to help get out the vote.  A few hundred came to the Northern New Mexico area and I think I met most of them.  Thousands of New Mexico residents were already volunteering and even more joined them- there were people of all ages, races, and religions all working on a common cause-getting rid of
On my third day there, I was given the charge of  feeding the volunteers in the Santa Fe area for the final GOTV days and election day. My committee was comprised of seven local women of various ages, one guy in his 30's, two women in their twenties from Austin, TX and a male doctor from San Diego.  We had quite an exciting challenge on how to feed them all but somehow we did it and I must say it was rather biblical (you know the story about Jesus and some bread and fish).   Santa Fe residents and businesses donated money and food to help us out and if any of you get the chance-try

some Chicken Posale (it's wonderful on a cold day). Late on Sunday afternoon, 24 pizzas arrived just as a hundred volunteers returned from canvassing.

It was very exciting and as I talked with local residents many were also caught up in the fever of early voting and campaigning at many different levels ( I had predicted that 50 % of Northern New Mexico would vote and I was pretty damn close.). Until midnight on Tuesday, I really felt like we
were going to win-especially after I heard our returns in Nambe (look it up sometime).  It was wonderfully exhilerating to be a part of the effort to get the most people ever to the polls and vote but on November 3rd I really felt like what was the point.  What I find most disheartening, is that it was hate and anger that drove so many of us to the poll...but I must be honest with all of you because it was anger at Bush that made me get involved, too.

In my last (and only) posting, I put out a challenge to everyone to stay involved after the election and I'll share with you how I'm going to stay involved.  There needs to be some serious election reform and I'm going to start on the lowest level.  I heard and saw many stupid errors at the polls. Election volunteers not crossing off names as people came to vote, my mom was in charge of her precinct and the first few pages of her voter rolls weren't included and so anyone with a last name beginning with an A or B had to get a provisional ballot, precincts ran out of provisional ballots, people were sent to wrong polling stations and the list goes on and on....

Also, why the heck do we still have an electoral college?  When the U.S. goes to war with other countries to bring them democracy we don't force them to have an electoral college.....I think it's time we reconsider it and really let each of us have one true vote.  Maybe I'll get involved with that project.

I'm also going to continue sending care packages to our troops and if you pray, please say a prayer for them and their families.  On Sunday, I'll rejoin my Veterans for Peace" friends at the Santa Monica pier and if you

live in the area stop by and say hi or better yet help us put up a few crosses or rake the sand.

I'm going to try and do my best for a better tomorrow and I hope you do,

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

October 25, 2004

Guest Blog: Favel Stoda in New Mexico- "Bush Made ME Political!"

In addition to short updates, I'll be featuring "guest blogging" from my friend Favel Stoda, who has traveled from Los Angeles to New Mexico to work in these final days of the election in a "swing state." She'll be posting front-line commentary as she can while she's busily assisting efforts in that state.

Ten days before the 2004 National Election, I find myself staying with some very nice people that I didn't even know a week ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I ask myself what brought me here?  The answer: George W Bush.

Two weeks after 9/11, I was having dinner with some close friends.  One of my friends was born in Baghdad but her family immigrated to the United States when she was a child.  She was telling us that within a year the US would be at war with Iraq.  She believed that President Bush would use the “terrorist excuse” to finish off what his father had started along with gaining control of the oil. I knew she was wrong.   After all, the terrorists were in Afghanistan and that was several countries away from Iraq and most strict Moslems despised Saddam.

Thirteen months later, there was a large peace rally in downtown Los Angeles.  I didn’t attend because I believe Bush was only posturing to get the UN inspectors back there and surely we weren’t going to war.  I celebrated the holidays hoping that we would find Osama.    My brother-in-law, is full time army and was on notice that his unit was going to be deployed for Iraq and he was to get them ready.  My hope for world peace was beginning to waiver and I was very worried about my sister and their kids but I was still hopeful.

In January 2003, I began to have some serious doubts about the posturing.  Our elected officials had already voted to give our President the authority to go to war with Iraq.  I attended a very large peace rally in Los Angeles and realized that I had been naïve for too long.  I bought myself a pair of Doc Martens and took a bus to San Francisco and joined over 400,000 protesters.  It felt great to be a part of such a big movement; surely the President would take notice.  My Doc’s gave me blisters and I attended two more rallies but it ended to be all for naught as all of us discovered on March 20th.

In April, my brother-in-law went to Baquabah, Iraq for a year.  I organized care packages for our troops at work and realized that I needed to learn more about how my government works and the Middle East.  I wanted to do more but  didn’t know what to do.

I started following politics and was quite pleased when Wesley Clark got into the race.  Finally, someone I believed in and felt like I could trust.  I
joined up with some other Hollywood supporters and worked on fundraisers for Clark.  I loved it but then Clark had to drop it.  I have no hard feelings, running a national campaign costs tons of money and he had entered a little too late.  I followed Clark’s lead and jumped on the Kerry bandwagon.  I gave money to almost every appeal that came my way (I had never given to anyone running for office before Clark!)

In April 2004, my brother-in-law returned safely from Iraq and I started
volunteering with the Veteran’s for Peace in Santa Monica.  A wonderful group of volunteers and on Sundays they put up “Arlington West” just north of the pier.  Arlington West is a temporary cemetery of three-foot high crosses and each cross represents a serviceperson who has died in Iraq since the war started.  We start at 7:00 am and have the 1,000+ crosses done around 10:00 am and then take them down at sunset.   I learned to wear gloves after the first time I volunteered and got blisters on my hands from raking the sand (more blisters for Bush-it kind of sounds like a country song).

Now, it’s October 24, 2004 and I’m in Santa Fe with over 500 volunteers from the Santa Fe area, California, New York, Texas, Arizona, DC, Virginia and numerous other locations.  I've met housewives, retirees, students, people like myself taking time off from their jobs to help in a swing state. On my first day as a volunteer with the New Mexico Victory 2004, I made 300 phone calls beside a retired 75 year old Methodist Minister (he’s amazing on the phone).  Later, I attended a rally in Espanola where a group of low riders (wearing “Vatos for Kerry” t-shirts and I really want one) escorted a bus carrying the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a few other Hispanic leaders came to town.  I got to shake hands with Deloris Huerta and General Baca!

I spent today in Las Vegas (New Mexico, of course) phone banking and canvassing the town for potential volunteers and voters.  Although, I’ve had an altitude headache for two days I’ve never been more excited about this volunteer work.  It’s so important that Kerry wins this election but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years-what Margaret Mead said over 50 years ago is even more true today “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world-indeed it is the only thing that has.”

I'm feeling confident that Kerry is going to win on November 2nd but what’s equally  important is for all of us to decide what are we going to do on November 3rd.

Stay tuned for my next update on this novice’s grass roots campaign on probably the most important election of our lifetime…it really is.   (Yes, I sent in my absentee ballot before I hit the road.)

All my best,
PS (Californians don't forget to vote yes on Prop 72!)

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

October 23, 2004

Fun Website For the Last Ten Days of Election 2004

The American Museum of the Moving Image has a wonderful website where you can watch campaign commericals from 1952 to 2004. I found this site today and found it to be quite entertaining.

I especially liked the chance to watch some of the older commercials, some of which, like Lyndon Johnson's famous "Daisy" ad, were so over the top hilarious, it was like watching an episode of the Simpsons. Brilliantly produced 40 years ago, it still shines as an example of over-the-top campaigning.

What's more interesting is to compare election ads from say, 1992, to today. You'll notice that thanks to changes in style, technology, and pop culture, the ads for Bush I and the ads for Bush II are very different in appearance and style. In fact ads for all the candidates in the early 90s have a distinct look - one I'm glad to say is long gone.

I was particularly amused by a Ross Perot 1992 commerical that warned that if Americans didn't elect Perot, we'd have an $8 billion deficit by 2000.

Well people didn't vote for him and guess what? We had to wait for big mega-billion deficits until 2004 - after we had surpluses by 2000. Guess he was off by a few years.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

September 20, 2004

Myths of the Campaign Trail Revealed or Why Your Gig with Kerry or Bush Won't Get You to DC

Presidential campaign years offer many opportunities for people, young and old (but mostly young) to get involved in the day-to-day operations of a political campaign. Every four years it seems the size of both incumbent and challenger presidential campaigns grows, and the affiliated positions available at "coordinated campaigns," political parties, and other races for US Senate, Congress, Governor, Dog Catcher, etc. are all available to those who really want to get their hands dirty in the inner machinations of politics.

The catch is that most of the actual "work" on political operations like these have little to do with policy, politics, ideas, or Big Important Things. Instead, as the Deputy Assistant Political Director for the Very Big Wig Campaign for Whatever, one's job is as likely to be about figuring out what one-horse town to have a rally at, or making sure enough baseball caps are available for assembled third-tier celebrities at a press conference, as they are about anything else. In other words, unless you're at the very top of a campaign, your job is more about moving things around on time and under budget, than it is about "politics."

It's important that those considering a move into the "political business" understand this early, because every year the streets are littered with the burned out remnants of political operatives at the bottom rungs of the ladder disillusioned at their station in life, because they thought they were getting involved in something important and "meaningful."

They did get involved with something important, if one accepts the idea that elections are, but what they didn't' realize is that for the most part, your job on a Big National Campaign is to make a big machine work, and most parts of a big machine are small. And replaceable. Cheaply.

If you accept that your job is that of a production-line employee, moving things and people around on time and under budget, you can take pride in a job well done and use those skills in politics, or in life. But if you don't accept it, you're setting yourself up for a nice run in with a brick wall known as Reality.

More importantly, to those who are working their fingers to the bone for Sen. Kerry or President Bush in the hopes of attaining some lofty position in a future Bush II administration or a Kerry Administration need to realize that while their hard work in service of electing said folks was duly noted and appreciated, it is no guarantee they'll be getting anything more than a computer-signed photo of said candidate in the future. In fact, if history is any guide, working on a Big National Campaign almost ensures that one does not get a future gig with President Whomever.

That may sound counter-intuitive, but it's been proven over and over again by both parties over many, many years. Unless you happen to be one of the few people at the highest levels of the campaign hierarchy, or you happen to have raised an incredible amount of money, the sad fact is that the future administration does not particularly care much about what happens to you once November 3rd rolls around. To be true, there are exceptions, but I've met too many people who gave up way too much for these big operations only to end up very disappointed when inauguration time comes around.

That's why I can't stand how so many of these people behave during the campaign. You find that unless you work with particularly mature, or intelligent people, many of the middle management types are particularly forceful when elbowing you or others perceived to be "in the way" of their ambitions to be in a future administration. I've often said the most dangerous place to be in a presidential year is between a mid-level position and an overly-ambitious political wannabe.

One can attempt to reason with said folk, and encourage them to work towards the common goal of electing Candidate Whomever, but it tends to fall on deaf ears. That elbowing and jockeying for position can create situations in even the best run campaigns where people are quibbling amongst themselves over perceived slights and perceived perks, forgetting that their job is not to help themselves, but get someone much more important than themselves a new job (or keep one).

There was a time when I found such behavior irritating, but nowadays I find it more amusing than anything else, since I know what happens next. No one believes me now, but come January 2005, I'll be proven right, or at least sort of right, once again.

It's nothing I take much delight in - I'd rather see people more realistically understand what it is they get into so they get the maximum out of it they can, but I find that with younger staffers these days, the only way they learn is the hard way. I suppose there's some amusement in that, especially after you listen to some 22 year old who just got out of a training session at the DNC or RNC tell you why it is You Don't Get It And They Do.


For those of you looking for a fun way to get involved with politics and potentially win $100,000, I strongly urge you to follow my link to VoteOrNot.Org and enter the contest. It's really simple - you register to vote via the site (or if you're already registered, just enter the contest) and you will be instantly entered into a contest to win $100,000!

Here's the groovy part - by using my link, I get a chance to win too. So if you win $100,000, I win $100,000 too!

Think of the possibilities. With one click, you can enter and possibly win enough money to buy something really nice - or if the wrong guy wins election, a ticket to Amsterdam.

Either way, it's a great deal and I encourage everyone to follow the link. If I win, I'm buying all of my loyal readers a drink at the Waterfront Cafe over by my place.

You win. I win. And America wins! Woo hoo!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

September 8, 2004

"Bush's Brain" or The Triumph of The Hair Splitting Lie

2004 has become the Year of The Documentary with an Axe to Grind. Mere mention of Farenheit 9/11, OutFoxed, The Corporation, Uncovered: The War in Iraq, The Hunting of the President and now Bush's Brain is enough to send certain partisans into hissy fits that make the most emotional leftist seem calm by comparison. More interesting is the fact that with the exception of Fahrenheit 9/11, none of these films were slated for a theatrical release, but now almost all are seeing some basic distribution in movie theaters in advance of the November election.

Most recently, Bush's Brain was released in the Los Angeles area, and a premiere held on September 3rd featured a Q & A session with the producers of the film, Joe Mealey and Michael Shoob. I missed the big event due to my extended trip to Pennsylvania on behalf of Progressive Majority, but I did manage to get ahold of a copy on DVD and checked out the film.

To be honest, I was not thrilled about this movie, not so much because of any concern as to whether it might hurt Karl Rove's feelings, but because I tend to wince at the suggestion that political consultants have all that much power in our political system. It's a nice media hype that makes reporters feel good when penning a half-researched piece on the election cycle, but the sad fact is that the "power" of political consulting is limited at best. (Just ask anyone who's worked for a winning candidate who's been stiffed on their paycheck! Yes, it really happens!)

That said, I still wanted to see the film and hear what the creators had to say. To my surprised it was not as much a film about the alleged "power" of Karl Rove, President Bush's longtime campaign manager, but instead a recounting of the kinds of tactics Mr. Rove has been willing to use, be it running for the presidency of the Young Republicans in the 1970s, or running candidates for office in Texas, or for President.

The picture painted is not a very pleasant one, and even I, who knew who Karl Rove was long before most people even knew who George "W" Bush even was, learned some new things about the person the President puts his trust in to run his campaigns. None of it was particularly good. It's worth seeing - to try and repeat the entire film in this space would take too long, and not have nearly the impact, that seeing the film has on the viewer.

For me, the message was simple: Rove is not a "genius" in the sense of a master strategist who has an intimate knowledge of public opinion and history. Rather, he's an asshole. An asshole, who will do whatever it takes - lie, cheat, steal, attack, slander, and claw his way to the finish line. More to the point, he's an asshole with over $500 million dollars and the leverage of the federal government's executive branch to manipulate public opinion. Hooray for him.

To me that's not a genius, and I regard him for what he truly is. Let's be clear - give me 500 million dollars and deny me free access to Pabst Blue Ribbon  and I can get anyone elected President, too. Heck, cut off my access to my Netflix DVDs and you can ensure that your candidate of choice will get elected.

Why? Because you'll have on your hands someone with the enmity and the overwhelming resources, to engage in every single sneaky, lying, underhanded tactic and whim needed to get your clown elected, ethics be damned. Anyone.

This may sound cynical, but it's not - it's more of an appreciation of the landscape we live in these days. This is the era that substitutes honesty and straight talk for lawyer-like obfuscations, the hair-splitting lie, and the wink and a nod when it comes to what is said versus what was meant. It's what allows people to put things out in the media to create an impression, while at the same time giving themselves wiggle room Nixon could only dream of to avoid any accountability if someone tries to call them on their foolishness.

That's why you can do a photo-op on an aircraft carrier with a banner that says "Mission Accomplished" and then say it wasn't you who put it up there when you find out more people died in Iraq after "mission accomplished" than before. Don't take responsibility, don't fess up - make up some nonsense saying it wasn't really your idea and you don't really know who put that up in the first place, and oh by the way, didn't they just say ketchup causes cancer today?

It's also how you can have a sitting Vice President lie about a statement we all know he said and rather than just cop to a mistake and move on, have to weasel his way out with bluster and foolish rhetoric. In fact, I don't know that any member of the current administration who has the ability to cop to a mistake or even admit they're less than perfect - no matter how much they screw up.

But then I remembered this is a hallmark of the Rove style of campaign, and win or lose, we'll be seeing more of this kind of nonsense from more than one side in the future. It's unfortunate that most voters won't call their own people on such foolish behavior. If they did, it might stop. Might.

PS: For another example of the kinds of sneaky, underhanded tactics being employed by self-styled Rove wannabes, the Attorney General race in Washington State has produced a truly nasty situation, one worth condemnation by good people of all parties and ideologies.

A rash of nasty TV ads attacking Deborah Senn, a former Insurance Commissioner and Democratic candidate in the September 14th primary, have popped up on the air, with no disclosure as to who is paying for the ads.

The group's spokesman is engaging in classic lawyer doublespeak to try and evade any sort of disclosure as to who is doing this smear campaign and why, hoping that by the time anyone finds out who did what, the election will be over and the damage done. It's not unlike those anonymous smear ads that hit Howard Dean during the primaries earlier this year.

Whatever it is, it's disgusting, and I'm urging people to send Deborah Senn the support she needs to stand up to this kind of crap. She is not only someone I consider to be of unimpeachable character - she is also someone I consider a friend with whom I had the pleasure to work for during her re-election campaign in 1996. I often cite "the Commish's" hard work and straight talk when I coach candidates around the country on how to be effective and thoughtful candidates on the campaign trail. Go get 'em, Commish!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

August 5, 2004

Politics and Music, Part XXVVII

This week a number of high profile organizations announced some equally high profile music concerts aimed squarely at the presidential race. In the past there have been celebrities on all sides who've helped out campaigns or causes, but this marks the first cycle where we've seen so many larger-scale events, with many musicisans who don't usually do this sort of thing. It's an interesting phenomenon, and it makes me wonder if in fact we're seeing something permanent to the scene, or if politics is the "fashionable" thing to do this year.

In Los Angeles, the RedefeatBush.com team is putting together an all-acoustic show, entitled Unplug Bush at the El Rey Theater on August 10th.

The Redefeatbush.com folks seem to have a knack for organizing events that appeal to a younger, more alternative crowd - but they don't just put on a good show, they also get people to actually do something while having fun. If you live in the greater LA area and are looking for something fun to do, buy a ticket online and you might even see me there lending a hand.

Also interesting was the announcement that Bruce Springsteen agreed to headline the Moveon.org PAC concert tour this fall. Springsteen has been asked by both parties to participate in elections since the 80s but he has always declined to do so for various reasons. Thus it was significant that he's finally decided to come out of the woodwork, and has done so in support of a group like MoveOn.

I have to admit, I was rather surprised, not in a "good" way or a "bad" way, just surprised to see he was getting involved so publicly. I've seen this over and over again - people who never get involved in the process are voluntarily getting involved in the process like never before. It's fortunate we have so many options and organizations for people to choose from to do so, because quite frankly, I don't know that aging party apparatuses (apparatii?) have the ability to assimilate so many diverse people into their ranks and put them to work.

In an era of 527s, and other assorted organizations, we now finally have more and more ways for more and more people to get involved the way that is best for them. The whiners and killjoys in politics may bemoan so many new groups, but it's safe to say that without 'em we'd be stuck with too much "politics as usual" (i.e. boring) - and that's no fun for anyone!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

July 19, 2004

Straight Talk on Washington State's Gubernatorial Primary

Normal posting has been delayed due to my rigorous schedule providing candidate fundraising coaching for Progressive Majority here in Washington.

I've had the chance to travel to suburban cities across King and Pierce Counties so far, and spent the day in scenic Sequim today. Tomorrow I'm off to Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA, and on and on.

I've always enjoyed assignments such as these because it gives me the chance to spend time on the ground all over the state, and work one-on-one with grassroots candidates outside of urban, Democratic Seattle. On Friday, I met with Tami Green, a promising candidate for State House recently endorsed by Democracy For America (aka Dr. Dean's organization).

She is running a terrific grassroots campaign that is sophisticated enough to combine a organized field effort with a well researched and funded voter contact plan. That may sound like Campaign 101, but you'd be surprised at how many campaigns think "grassroots" has to mean "unorganized and wasteful." This one doesn't.

Tami ran for office once before in 2000, and lost by only a few votes, in a truly negative, nasty campaign, featuring some very rude, personal, non-issue oriented attack peices from incumbent Republican Mike Carroll. Most people would not step up to the plate again after such a race, but Tami was inspired by Howard Dean's campaign to run again, despite the challenges a political campaign places on someone these days.

This is yet another anecdotal story that tends to confirm something I'd been wondering about for a while - the effect of Dean's campaign in ways not measurable at the ballot box or at the media's latest "poll." True, his campaign, besieged by the DLC, a hostile media, and a few mistakes may not have been successful.

However, the impact he had on grassroots Democrats, restoring "Democratic Pride" is having an effect on the political system most pundits and prognositcators have yet to figure out. He made it ok to stand up for one's values once again, and has shown others that the solution is not in some cult of personality, but in themselves - and people are heeding the call.

Another candidate I've enjoyed working with is Kevin Van De Wege, a firefighter and president of the International Association of Firefighters in Sequim, WA (the sunniest part of the state!). Kevin is running against a longtime incumbent who has not been seriously challenged in a long time, a common occurance in Washington. Usually the cycle goes like this: feeble incumbent raises lobbyist cash, politicos on the other side don't even try to find a candidate, some self-selected gadfly files his papers, and does little to get elected, and feeble incumbent gets re-elected without a serious challenge.

That isn't happening here. Kevin is a very articulate and energetic candidate who has spent his time knocking on voters' doors across the 24th Legislative District.

Sounds easy, until you realize how big this district is - it includes the Olympic National Park and three huge counties! Kevin has also enlisted the support of hundreds of people in the district, and relies primarily on individual donors for his campaign's war chest. So it's worth the long drive out to Port Angeles to visit him at Clallam County Democratic Headquarters.

Traveling out there also made me appreciate one of Kevin's issues he's running on - the improvement of highways on the Olympic Peninsula. After getting off the Edmond/Kingston Ferry, I was driving along State Highway 104 to get to US 101 (yes the same 101 we Southern Californians use!) to arrive on time for our meeting. However, a 5 car pileup near Discovery Bay shut down the entire highway for almost two hours!

As we were in a rural area, without lots of turnoffs, there was no way for me to take an alternate way into town - I was stuck in the middle of rural Jefferson County without any way to get out. Now, couple this with Kevin's perspective as a firefighter and paramedic and you realize that poor quality highways aren't just an inconvenience - they're a public safety menace too.

For that reason alone I'm sending in some money to Kevin's campaign - how often do you have someone talking about an issue that actual voters discuss and care about? He's the kind of guy you want voting on a budget somewhere and his hard working campaign and clearly articulated views that are in sync with his district make him a star to watch. The fact that he looks like Neil McDonough can't hurt with some of the voters either.

Working with people like Tami, Kevin, and the many other candidates I'm meeting out here is always fun for me because it gives me a chance to bring the kind of coaching and training normally reserved for someone running for the US Senate or US House to the candidates who can really make use of such help, but wouldn't normally be able to afford it. It's also nice to be working in areas that aren't 100% "D" or "R" - these races are where real politics are practiced. Cushy re-elects may pay the bills, but they also dull the senses.

Plus it's also refreshing in the era of partisan foolishness to meet people who are running for an office like state House in Washington state, because to do so you really have to want to do something for others with a position like this. It does not pay very well (I think city councilmen in Lynnwood, CA make more in perks!)l, it does not have a lot of glory or media attention, and you're working year-round despite the fact it's technically "part time."

Depsite these and other hassles, there are some good folks out there running for the right reasons. I'm happy to give them a hand, and I urge others to do so as well. It's time to stop whining about the quality of our elected leaders and take proactive steps to elect some good people for a change.

Cynicism and nastiness need to give way to common sense, and folks like Tami and Kevin aren't waiting for someone to come along and do it for them - they're taking the lead in their communities right now. Now it's our turn.

UPDATE: Read this article that appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution today that mentions Kevin by name - and my training! Right on Kevin!

Coming Up: Watching my past predictions come true regarding Washington State's primary foibles, their impact on the Sims vs. Gregoire gubernatorial race, and California's latest attempts to cure a disease that doesn't exist with a potion more poisonous than the ailment it claims to cure.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

June 2, 2004

Tax Dollars, and the Strings they Attach to God and Man

Most people have no idea what President Bush's "Faith Based Initiative" buzzwords mean, as most people aren't running church oriented social service organizations. That's fine. I'd argue that those forceful advocates of making sure government money goes to church run organizations and programs have no idea what it means either.

That may sound like it makes no sense, but it's the "faith based" organizations, (who tend to be more conservative), who are the ones with no idea what they're getting into as they advocate for their cut of federal tax dollars for their work.

It's nice to think that there are all these great organizations out there, doing the Lord's work in the Devil's cities, who could use a few more bucks from Uncle Sugar to help further their mission of helping the downtrodden.

There's no denying that many wonderful organizations, run by evangelical Christians, Jews, and any one of a number of the seemingly innumerable religions out there do some good and need all the help they can get.

As someone who once seriously considered going to seminary to become a Protestant minister, I'd say that I probably appreciate this work more than the average political foot-solider of the right. At least I know what a faith based homeless shelter does.

That said, the determination to ensure that religious groups get their "cut" of federal dollars is a disaster in the making, one that will ensure the destruction of the autonomy of religious social service organizations and one that will seriously undermine the cause of the conservative movement in ways they can't even begin to see. Which ultimately is bad - if we have one side die off from self-inflicted hara-kiri, we're ensuring the other side gets a pass on being called on their bad ideas, and that's not good for anyone.

How? Simple. By making religious organizations yet another draw on the dollars out of Uncle Sugar's pockets, we introduce a whole spectrum of new problems. Lobbyists will be hired at great expense to ensure that each religious group gets their piece of the taxpayer sponsored pie.

Religious organizations will have to get more political (and in the process endanger their tax exempt status) in order to get the money they need. They'll be subject to the whims of the party in power, and if "their guys" get pushed out (and they can!) they'll be looking at a huge hole in their budget where government dollars used to be. Not fun.

But more to the point - by making these organizations first the happy recipients of a bonus from Uncle Sugar, then addicting them to tax dollars, we are ensuring that the government maintain its complex and high taxes as they are now - and will continue to be maintained and increased, regardless if the people in power have an "R" or a "D" next to their names.

These same new recipients of Uncle Sugar's wallet will have to fight to defend that tax collection system - regardless of how oppressive or bureaucratic it may be. Yet another whole group of people will work to ensure that the state can continue to use its ultimate authority to jail and penalize taxpayers with a mandatory collection system to get them their piece of Uncle's pie.

We'll have yet another class of well organized folks who will never say "no" to more money - they'll want more. If you think this won't happen, check to see which of the many social service agencies we already pay for actually said "No, take some of that money back, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer." If you find one, I'll buy you a pint.

Worse, as we all know, government money comes with strings. Don't believe it can happen? Just ask the fine folks who run Hillsdale College. This private school takes no federally funded student aid, instead opting to find private sources for student aid to pay tuition. It's one of the few schools in the nation to do so. Yet it maintains a solid academic reputation, and manages to provide aid to those who need it.

Why do this? Because if they took federal student aid, they'd take the many mandates and strings that come with it. Doing so would compromise their academic mission they envision for their students, and they'd rather stick to their beliefs than compromise for a few federal tax dollars.

It'd be nice to think that somehow we could pass some laws that would make it possible for private organizations to take federal money with no strings attached, but there's just too many reasons why that pipe dream isn't going to happen. And if it can happen to colleges, it can happen to social programs too.

The concept of a Catholic-run health care facility being compelled to provide abortion services may defy logic to most folks - but if they're taking Uncle Sugar's dollars then someone can make them do it regardless of their religious beliefs. Already Catholic health care systems are being required to cover contraceptive services in employee health plans - several lawsuits have ensured this already.

Yes, that sucks, given that they're being forced to go against their own very important beliefs, and yes, it defies common sense. But it also sucks for the millions of taxpayers who aren't Catholic that they have to pay for it because of their very important beliefs. And on down the rabbit hole we go, in a spiral of "you can't make me pay for that" and "you have to pay me for that." And this is better how?

It's the ultimate irony that people who call themselves "conservative" and for "less government" would endorse any plan that would ensure that the state maintains a massive bureaucracy with complex and confiscatory tax laws that are as much as about controlling personal spending as they are about collecting the government's money.

Think about it. Sure you get a "deduction" for all sorts of goodies - but you're still missing the cash out of your pocket. Wouldn't it make more sense if you just paid less in taxes, and then could do more of what you wanted instead? Isn't that "conservative?"

In other words, it's yet another example of how American "conservatives" aren't really for less taxes and less government - they want more government to pay for the things they want. This latest plan is yet another prop to support an all-powerful central government and ensure that a redistribution of money to ensure dependence on federal government whims is extended to yet another group.

It's really too bad we don't have some real conservatives who advocate things like a low flat tax and and letting people keep more of their own money to do what they want with it. It's something even many liberals would support - and would ultimately free up more money for those faith based initiatives some claim they support.

Ah, it's just as well we let President Bush pursue this latest scam. At least we won't be listening to pastors laugh about how they screwed over folks like those guys at Enron did. Right?

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

April 23, 2004

Plank THIS In Your Political Platform!

Every four years we're treated to a national political convention from the major (and yes, even the minor) political parties. Two of said conventions, the Democratic and Republican National Conventions will be televised. Much ado is made about such conventions, in particular, the byzantine navigation of party rules and regulations at the national, state, and local level to craft what is known as a "party platform."

Personally, I think if you asked most people what a "Party Platform" was they would think you were talking about the thing the politician stands on when he or she gives a speech. I don't say that to suggest most people are stupid - on the contrary, I'd say it suggests just how relevant the "real" party "platform" is in American political life.

Every year, especially when there's an open election on either party's side (or as in 2000 on both) there's much hand-wringing and big political talk about "the platform." Winning candidates don't talk about it much, except in broad strokes; less successful candidates talk about advancing their candidacy to "influence" said document. You'd think these people were talking about the Magna Carta II: Electric Boogaloo or something by the importance placed on it.

Nowhere are the fights more bitter, or more vicious, than at the local level. In fact, as you go down the food chain, from the Big Deal At The Convention, on down to the state level, and then on down to the congressional, state legislative, and precinct level, you'd find that the fights, pissing matches, longwinded debates, and endless talk by party "activists" gets more and more irrelevant as you go.

I will never forget the horror story a friend of mine in Washington State relayed to me years ago, when he was deputized to run a local caucus that began delegate selection in that state. After running through the day's business at the usual pace (slow) the entire proceeding was held up by an intense debate about the wording of some resolution that people wanted to make that would really stick it to The Man and express their will as Democrats.

What was the Big Issue? Was it "abortion"? "Taxes"? "Defense Spending"? "Guns"? "Malt Liquor Taxation Rates"? SOMETHING important?

No. In fact, the 3 hour debate was whether to word some resolution to say the Party was in support of working families versus working people No, I am not making this up.

The debate got so heated he had to call a time out on the whole thing and make people go into separate corners, like kids. He called me up that night and relayed said experience, and began to wonder what it was they put in the coffee that day.

By no means is this confined to one party - I have attended events on both sides, and even some "third party" conventions, and found this to be a universal truism. Friends in the GOP tell me horror stories that easily match the rage and futility that match situations like this all the time.

The problem is, the "platform" in today's system is almost entirely irrelevant to what happens should Candidate A or Candidate B get elected. Sure, one party can take potshots at another over some particularly goofy statement that accidentally gets through the system, but these potshots are becoming more and more rare as both major parties devise layers of rules to keep anything from happening - again, not that it matters.

I have yet to see a collaborationist Democrat or a collusionist Republican get seriously reprimanded for going against the national or state party's platform. What would happen if they did? What if said platform was the defining document of all political identity in say, the Democratic Party?"

I've always imagined it might be something like this:

Scene: A dimly lit chamber, with five thrones up on a very tall stage. A renegade politico (picture Steve Westly, for example) stands in shackles, with a large spotlight beaming directly overhead.

Five hooded figures, each with a donkey and tattoos of Adlai Stevenson on their foreheads and dark heavy cloaks march out and take their places and glare at the One Who Dared Collaborate With Doofinator.

After hailing their Great Leaders of the Party (Truman, Roosevelt, Clinton, et al) who appear on huge, Soviet-realist style portraits two stories high, The Party Bigwig begins to speak.

Party Bigwig 1: Steve Westly, you are hereby charged with violating a tiny portion of the Democratic Party Platform. Before the Central Committee passes judgment, what say ye?

Steve "Beaver Cleaver" Westly: Um, I'm really sorry I supported that dumbass credit card bond? And, oh yeah, vote for me for Governor in 2006!

Party Bigwig 2: SILENCE, WORM! You have violated the Mighty Platform, and YE SHALL BE PUNISHED!!

Steve "Beaver Cleaver" Westly: Please...have mercy...I thought it was a good idea at the time...all the other kids were doing it...an older kid made me do it...no...don't punish me O Mighty Bigwig

Party Bigwig 1: SILENCE, TRAITOR!  It is the determination of this Committee that YOU have VIOLATED the PLATFORM, and you shall now feel the full force of the wrath of The Party! You will be removed from office forthwith, and you will be banished from politics forever! Let this be a lesson to all who dare oppose....THE PLATFORM!! Muah ha ha ha ha!

Cue dramatic gothic organ music, and a chorus singing the Internationale. Or the Macarena. Whatever works.

Well, wouldn't it be cool if they did do that? Oh come on, you're no fun!

We know what really happens. People spend a lot of time wording these things, other people spend more time rewriting them. But in the end, it doesn't mean a hell of a lot. Any politician can pretty much do whatever they want, call themselves what they want, and no one can really stop them unless voters toss 'em out.

It's why a guy like Governor Doofinator can nominally be "pro-choice" or "pro-gay" but still remain in a party whose official platforms strongly oppose both. It's also how a guy like Bill Clinton can be voted in by Democrats twice, while never getting that national health care thing done in eight years.

To political journalists, it's something to write about when they get tired of the ping pong match of TV ads we're seeing right now, and it gives some candidates something to talk about now that the nominations of both parties are "decided" in "advance." No one has to really abide by them, and no one really cares in the party, outside of the party, or anywhere.

Which is unfortunate. It would be nice if we had conventions that really decided things, and were interesting to take part in and watch. It would be even better if we had more parties that stood for something, instead of two "big tent" parties that try to be all things to all people. But most prefer what we have, simply because it's easier to cover, and easier to understand

Besides, if we had the system I've always advocated (four parties: Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, and Republican) which would let people more easily express their real intent at the ballot box, it would at least make things more fun.

Hey, it worked in New York for many years! Why not try it nationally? Can things be any more dull than they are now?

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

March 29, 2004

Dissecting the Reasons Why I Call Myself A Producer at the Bar

When you work in the world of "political consulting," you work in a world that everyone thinks they know about and have an opinion on, yet few actually understand, or bother to learn about. For 3 years and 9 months of a 4 year cycle, I decline to tell people what I do for a living, simply to avoid some pointless conversation, and to talk about things more fun and interesting when I'm "off-duty." (It has also been a primary motivator for me to transition away from the profession entirely.)

The only time it's worth saying the worlds "political consultant" in a bar is when the last few months of the Presidential race are in gear - then you get free drinks for your "insider" knowledge of "the system." It makes for some good nights out for a few weekends.

When I read things like this little jewel of "reporting" from Yahoo News/PCWORLD, I find I am confronted with the latest example of ill-conceived and poorly researched "journalism" that is considered to be "objective" in today's discourse.

After reading it with a critical eye, however, it was full of distortions, double-entendres, and overall painted a very deceptive picture of how campaigns are using the Internet to communicate their views. It also reinforced negative stereotypes about the work I do. Hence my evasiveness in public.

So, for today's fun, I decided to dissect the rhetoric, and the failed attempts by PCWORLD's "reporter," to get that Woodward-esque Pulitzer nailing "The Man."

Using this article, I shall illustrate how the press can tell you something that may have its some of its fact straight, but uses characterizations and innuendo to imply something else.

Let's look at the "lead." With emotion-grabbing intensity playing off the reader's inherent dislike for unwanted email (the bane of all of us on-line) with this witty little opener:

A new class of spam is sliding into in-boxes alongside pitches for Viagra and low-interest loans. It's coming from President George Bush and Democratic frontrunner Senator John Kerry (news - web sites) and their supporters.

Oooohhh! Scary! A picture is painted of the evil, mind-numbing tentacles of Politician Propaganda, devouring the disk space of the Proletariat. Help us, o valiant reporter and expose this dastardly conspiracy!

Seriously though, this is an example of a mischaracterization that smears the President and Sen. Kerry needlessly and unfairly. While there are plenty of things to tag both men with in their quest for the presidency, this is not one of them. This opener immediately prejudices the reader, regardless of the facts (using the slur of "spam" for their communications). It sounds great, and I am sure he got a pat on the back for being so creative. Too bad that it's not really true in this case.

I know people at the Kerry campaign, and while I have no direct knowledge of the operations of Bush/Cheney '04, I can say with almost 100% certainty that they do what the Kerry people do with their email blasts - they send them only to people who've signed up to get their daily missives - not to anyone else.

To be sure, there's the occasional wise-ass who signs up his pro-Bush boss for the "Liberals for Kerry" list after getting outsourced, but both Bush and Kerry provide very easy means for someone to never receive a message from either campaign in their lifetimes if they so desire.

This fact is nowhere in the article, and it's most likely because either a) the "reporter" didn't bother to do the research to prove or disprove this assertion or b) has little knowledge on this subject (political communications) so instead discuss what they do know (in this case commercial spammers).

But our intrepid "reporter" does not fire all of his missives at Bush and Kerry - citizen organizations get the slur as well:

White House hopefuls aren't the only folks taking advantage of the ubiquity and low cost of e-mail. Conservative and liberal groups alike use spamlike tactics (emphasis added) to promote their causes.

The conservative GrassFire.org is an issue-driven group that recently sent 300,000 e-mail invitations to view an online ad that calls Massachusetts senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy "opponents to conservative values." GrassFire.org representatives say they hope its e-mail will be forwarded repeatedly. Their goal is for 1 million people to view this ad online.

This slur against a conservative citizen's action group (along with another one aimed at the liberal MoveOn.org group) is particularly clever. Notice how the writer used the phrase "spamlike tactics" in the characterization of each group's activities.

This gives the reporter a nice way out of a hole should he be confronted with a nasty note from Grassfire.org or Moveon.org. Rather than slur them with the term "spammer" he can say "Oh, but I didn't say you were spammers - just that your tactics are spam-like. And well, don't spammers sent out lots of emails? Don't you?" That sound you hear next is the libel suit going out the window. The vagueness of English once again benefits the lazy writer.

Curious to know more about Grassfire,org, a group I had only heard about in passing, I went to their site and found the following statement in their FAQ:

Do you spam?
Grassfire.org is an opt-in service. We do not spam. Virtually all our online team came to Grassfire.org from the referral of a friend or family member.

Steve Elliot, the president of Grassfire, was kind enough to respond to my inquiry on this issue with this statement:

"Grassfire.org is an opt-in network of more than one million citizens who are using the tools of the Internet to impact the key issues of our day. Every month, hundreds of thousands of citizens give us their personal endorsement by forwarding our messages to their friends and each time. This means more to us than anything the media may or may not say about what we are doing. We believe we are on the leading edge of the future of political involvement and are excited to watch the influence of our online team grow."

As of presstime, I did not have a response back from Moveon.org, but in the interest of fairness, I did notice this at the bottom of my Moveon.org email message:

This is a message from MoveOn.org. To remove yourself (Schadelmann) from this list, please visit our subscription management page at:


When I get a response, I'll edit it in here. Really.

Now, without some real evidence to hit these guys with the spammer label, such as oh, I don't know, a primary source (remember that term when you got your Communications degree, guys??), slamming Grassfire.org simply isn't fair.

Similarly, as a subscriber to the moveon.org list, I know for a fact they only send email to the people who ask for them - just like Grassfire.org does. Not only is it a matter of political practicality - no group wants to annoy people who don't want to hear their message - it's also a matter of logistics - harvesting emails is not an easy task, and would be foolish for any political group to pursue. The negative response and the media attack from one's opponents would not be worth it.

Thus, the "spamlike tactics" label prejudices the reader about each group's work unfairly. While I may or may not agree with what some of these groups do, I don't think that slamming them with a false label does any good.

If the reporter had perhaps consulted with many of the leading anti-SPAM resources out there, such as Emailabuse.org, SpamCop or similar sites, perhaps he'd find that neither group appears to be seriously considered "spammers" as we know the term today. They aren't using the tools, tactics, (and suffering the consequences) of blasting out unwanted mail to people who don't want to receive their messages.

Oh, but it gets better. After pissing off the reader with the threat of "political spam" we get the final touch:

Outside the Law (emphasis not added)
If you don't like the political spam you're getting, you're out of luck this season. That's because the recently enacted Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, known as CAN-SPAM, applies to unsolicited commercial e-mail only, not to unsolicited political e-mail.

For the record, both the Kerry and Bush campaigns told me their bulk e-mail lists are homegrown and generated exclusively by people who have opted in to receive the candidates' e-mail.

Here you see the most common tactic of reporters, political and non political, when they want to slur an elected official without much in the way of facts, or in this case, with the facts, but ones that do not fit the construct created by our intrepid "journalist."

(Side note: look at how the response of the Bush and Kerry campaigns explaining their activity was buried in the story. Perhaps it was inconvenient to mention way up at the top?)

In this case, the bold headline "Outside the Law" implies that all the folks mentioned in this piece are doing something illegal. That of course is false, as the next paragraph states - in the most recent legislation, political advertising was exempted from the anti-spam law, as were phone calls, direct mail, and other forms of communication.

What he fails to understand, or even find out, is why. Over the years, as more and more consumer legislation has been passed to eliminate the harassment of the telemarketer, the junk-mailer, and the junk-emailer, there have been consistent provisions exempting political speech that may make use of the telephone, the Postal Service, or the Internet.

That's because any time such an attempt has been made to restrict the freedom of citizens to talk to other citizens about political and social issues it's been struck down by this funny little gadget known as the First Amendment to the United States. Commercial speech designed to sell you something for money has always been considered separately from political/social speech in court decisions and the law.

Now, in this article, you read none of that. Instead the implication is that the "mean politicians" gave themselves a legal break. Right after they're accused of doing something illegal. It fits nicely with the cynicism that journalists cultivate to claim "objectivity" and feeds into people's inherent dislike of public officials. Unfortunately in many cases such reflexive cynicism does little to inform people with facts - instead it's all about fueling emotions to make a great "story."

Now, if our intrepid "journalist" had done some actual research into real-life cases of politicians who do spam, he may have found out something not only that would perhaps be accurate in the "political spam" debate, but also something quite relevant to campaign 2004: the case of former Secretary of State Bill Jones' past spamming activities. Bill Jones is now running for the U.S. Senate in 2004 in California.

For those of you who weren't following Campaign 2002 in California, a quick recap is here at Wired Magazine. Using a forged email header, and routing a list of unsolicited emails through a elementary school server in Korea, Jones' campaign sent out millions of unsolicited emails promoting his campaign - even to people who didn't live in California.

A quick Google search revealed many postings by folks who were not from California who got their "Vote Jones" spam. Picking links at random I found some here and here among many, many posts at blogs, Slashdot, and other sources, mainstream and not. Go to Google and do a a search of your own - it's rather a long list I'm afraid.

But even more fascinating was this link here which would appear to indicate they're planning to hire the same pack of yahoos who sold them this dumb idea in the first place. Attempts to contact the Jones campaign were not successful as of press time.

Now in this case, the spam slur I've decried doesn't apply to Mr. Jones. Why? In this case, we have well-documented cases of Jones' campaign using the tools, tactics, and suffering the consequences of blasting out unwanted mail to people who didn't want it, and should not have received it, for the benefit of both Mr. Jones's campaign, and the many recipients involved.

Obviously if I were working for a more mainstream publication, I would not discuss this issue as an aside, based on Google research - I'd spend the time, to go talk to many sources and verify everything. Given that Mr. Jones is challenging an incumbent Senator, and has made claims he is in touch with "high tech," it's worth a look to see if he practices what he would seem to preach and find out what the actual facts of the matter were then, and now. If they give Mr. Jones a black eye, so be it. If not, so be it as well.

In other words, I'd be doing for PCWORLD or the LA Weekly (or whomever would be willing to pay me) what I thought most reporters were supposed to do - get off their backside and their cynicism and find out what's going on - not just write a good "story."

Enough. I'm off to the Waterfront Cafe to discuss the latest about the movie I'm working on. Who woulda thought that telling someone you're a producer would be more reputable than telling someone you're a political consultant? After reading coverage like this, you begin to see why!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

March 16, 2004

A Very Useful Clarification on "Corporate" Money

One of the many things I find irritating about the coverage of campaign finance, and the activists who continue to come up with worse and worse "reforms" for said system, is how people will look at a disclosure report, note all the employers listed (as required by law) and then pompously pronounce that Corporation XYZ gave X amount of dollars to Candidate Doe.

It makes for a dramatic headline and story. The problem is it's completely wrong. Corporations cannot give to federal candidates - there's no vagueness on this issue. It's one of those "1 or 0" situations - i.e. it's either one way or another, with no in-between answer. In this case the answer is "0". Yes individuals who work for those corporations can give, but those are just individuals deciding what they want to do with their money. But that tends to be less dramatic and exciting than the former analysis.

There is a very well written analysis at the National Review which discusses this issue quite eloquently.

Special thanks to the Rick Hasen's well written Election Law Blog for highlighting this article.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

February 25, 2004

March 2nd Primary Endorsements- Taxpayer Funded Fun!

The geniuses who moved California's primary from the sensible, and safe June to the irrationally early March did so to "give California more say" in the presidential primaries. But because of the unbalanced front loading of the primaries so far our "choices" have been reduced to picking amongst who'se left: Sen. Kerry, Sen. Edwards, Rep. Kucinich and yes, Rev. Al Sharpton, in the Tuesday primary. Whatever "influence" California might have had has once again been snatched away, reminding one of poor ol' Charlie Brown's quixotic quest to kick that football Lucy has.

While this may reassure Sen. Kerry's campaign, it has the unintended effect of potentially dampening turnout for other campaigns this March, which would be unfortunate. Several very important issues are on the ballot, and it's important to make sure one's voice is heard since many of these will have a more direct and immediate impact on people's lives than who gets elected President. Plus, with so many races already decided, you can do what I do when confronted with inevitable winners in these races, and use your ballot as state-funded entertainment.

So without further ado, some humble recommendations from Schädelmann.com:

President: The only real race right now is on the Democratic side - I am unaware of any serious insurgency on the GOP side. I make two recommendations for you to consider, it really depends on how you feel when you mark your ballot.

If you want to be able to say "Hey, I voted for the winner" then vote for Sen. John Kerry. Polls indicate he's got anywhere from a 25 to 32 point lead over Sen. Edwards, and the rest trail far behind. Thanks primarily to a large loan from himself to the campaign, he was able to revive his flagging fortunes and already President Bush and his minions are attacking him. Even if Kerry's lead were to drop 15 points (not likely) he'd STILL win by over 15 points anyway. So if you want to vote for the "winner" , vote for Sen. John Kerry.

If you don't care about voting for a winner, and want to have some fun, vote for Rep. Dennis Kucinch. I've had the pleasure of meeting Rep. Kucinch and think he's a genuinely nice guy and his campaign staff has always been fun to talk to. Barring some revelations over the weekend, he's not going to win the California primary. But then again, with Kerry being the inevitable winner anyway, voting for Kucinch won't hurt Kerry a bit, and could help Rep. Kucinch get some issues aired at the convention in July. So if you'd like to use your ballot for some taxpayer-funded fun, vote Kucinch.

Proposition 55: Vote No I hate to vote no on building schools, or fixing them since so many are in such sorry shape. But as usual, these fund will build lots of buildings, but make not one assurance that there'll be a dime to fund any classes in them.

Plus when you read the fine print and realize we're paying as much in interest (12.4 billion dollars) as we are in getting actual money to the schools (12.3 billion dollars) you begin to realize this is short term borrowing with long term debt problems. We have too many bonds issued as is - force the Doofinator and the Legislature to fund schools properly, or take the shackles off of local government and let local communities decide for themselves how much they would like to pay for decent schools in their area.

Proposition 56: Vote Yes. The two-thirds requirement to pass a budget is one of these idiotic "think tank" ideas some genius comes up with as a way to try and make things better, when in fact it makes things worse. It makes no sense for a budget with 64% of the votes in the Legislature fail, because it didn't get a full 66% vote.

The wild-eyed claims about making it "easier" to pass higher taxes and the threat of Californians waking up one day to find all their taxes have been quintupled is foolish. If a state Legislature raised taxes too much, they'd get voted out of office - that's our job as voters if that is in fact how we feel.

More importantly, it would force all of our state leaders to make hard decisions about how to run our state government, instead of allowing them to pass clever little "non tax" taxes, like state assessments on parking tickets and the infamous "snack tax" of Gov. Pete Wilson (aka Arnold I).

Return majority rule to the state budget process, and take away the excuses both branches use to evade their roles as leaders charged with making decisions.

Proposition 57/58: Vote NO NO NO NO. Gov. Doofinator ran Gray Davis out of town claiming that Davis resorted to budget trickery that ran our state in to debt, and that he, the Doofinator, would make "tough choices" and bring "leadership" to Sacramento. This bond and pony show does neither.

Rather than be a balls-out real Republican and cut like crazy, he instead proposes to get out the state credit card, and borrow our way out of our problems. This is not leadership - this is deferring the problem to future generations so that Doofinator and the Legislature can say they "fixed" the problem without having to make any difficult choices.

Particularly galling is the total sellout of the Jarvis Taxpayers Association, longtime foes of budget shenanigans (we thought) who have signed on to this foolish package, as well as the sellout of "Democrats" like Steve Westly, who claims to be a Democrat, but can't seem to get those sparkles out of his eyes when standing next to the retired movie star. The witty rejoinder we keep hearing from people who "reluctantly" support this nonsense is the old "well we don't want to make cuts in social programs, so this is the best we can do."

Bullshit! It's is just this kind of crisis that can force everyone to make real decisions and stand up for what it is they truly support and discard what they do not. Sure the battle would be ugly, and the short-term damage would be horrible, but the eventual compromise from an honest debate would be far better than this noise.

Superior Court, Los Angeles County: Since I recently moved here, I do not know much about these candidates. Rather than cast an irresponsible ballot, I'm leaving these blank. I rarely do this, but when I know so little about LA Superior Court issues, I'm not going to add to the noise by casting crazy votes and accidently voting for some nutcase candidate by mistake. Maybe that makes me less of a "knowledgeable pundit," but I'd rather admit I don't know something than lie.

Los Angeles County Supervisor: Los Angeles County, an area bigger than 20 states, has only five supervisors running the County. These people run "their" districts like little feudal kingdoms, safe from any real opposition with huge election bank accounts that ensure no one dares take them on. The geographic area of each supervisor's district is so big, that running a low budget campaign is next to impossible. Thus, voting in these races is like voting in a third world country where the election's been determined in advance, and the "winner" gets something like 110% of the vote.

Thus, vote for any non-incumbent in these races. If the ones running in your area are particularly insane, then write in someone. Anyone. Yourself, your friend, your dog, whatever. Punch a hole in these folks' egos and deny them their 90%. It won't change much but at least you'll make someone at the Elections OFfice have to hand count your ballot.

No matter how you end up deciding to vote, be sure to do so. And make sure you know where your mail-ballot is and your polling place. Although I'm registered in Venice as a Permanent Mail Ballot voter, I have yet to receive my ballot, and after several frustrating calls to the Elections Department did I find that I may never get it - and if I'd followed the advice of the first person to take my call, I would not have been able to vote at all this time around! Scary.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

February 20, 2004

"Scary" Database or Same Old, Same Old?

One thing you can count on the media, and many people in general, is a quick, knee-jerk reaction to buzzwords, that, when strung together in a certain order, are designed to shock, stun, and otherwise startle the reader. Recent postings at Slashdot.org and CNN.com regarding the database activities of the two major parties in the United States fit this mold rather well.

Much ado is made of the fact that both parties are developing in-house nefarious sounding "voter files," made up of information about registered voters across the US...including YOU! Evoking scary imagery of Big Brother, and other privacy concerns, the alarm is sounded like a 21st Century Paul Revere: "The politicians are coming! The politicians are coming". The press gets to tsk-tsk once again, and people can get Really Mad at the bastards responsible for this horrible criminal syndicate disguised as political activism.

Party spokesmen brag with buzzwords too. Take for example Democratic chairman Terry Mc Auliffe in the CNN report: "We can tell you exactly which house on which street we need to get out the vote, because we know that the issues they are concerned about are Democratic issues," party Chairman Terry McAuliffe said. "And we know what to say, and we know what not to say."

Sounds impressive. Or scary. Even kinda reminds me a bit of the song Electric Eye by Judas Priest, even. Either way, the reader is left with the idea that somehow this massive conspiracy is out to get them, and we're just one step away from voter ID chips implanted in our backsides, and assorted RNC and DNC hacks piloting space-based orbital laser canons to knock off swing voters in Florida.

Now for the patented Schädelmann.com Reality Check (tm): This is one of those stories that "sounds" a lot worse than it "is." Trust me when I say that of all the things to worry about, this ranks rather low on any rational scale of Threats To The Republic.

Why? Very simple - taking public voter registration rolls, all public record and all which can be purchased for a small fee from any voter registrar in the U.S., and matching it up with other public records, such as the tax rolls, car registration information, or other publicly available demographic information has been done by technologically savvy political professionals for over 30 years.

Yes, you read that right. This is nothing new, no 21st Century dotcom wizardry to be had here, but rather a very old (by tech standards) business. Political pioneers such as Richard Viguerie for the GOP and Clint Reilly for the Democrats saw the usefulness of targeting voter communications more efficiently, and used new computer technology in the 70s and 80s to build some of the first lists of registered voters, coupled with demographic information, to better reach people for fundraising and voter contact.

Their work and the work of others went on for years, in the full view of the public and press eyes, and yet we haven't seen the kind of scary pronouncements we hear today. More to the point, it's produced better campaigns, with people getting more relevant information transmitted to them about the issues they're concerned about in the course of a local, state, or national campaign.

I have been working in professional political consulting for over ten years, and I can tell you that none of these lists are generated by anything not already available to the public for free, or for a fee. I can walk into Political Data in Burbank, CA or Labels and Lists in Bellevue, WA with a check in hand and walk out with a list of registered voters, broken down by party, gender, voting history, or whatever I want, and it's all perfectly legal. It's also not a threat to anyone on the list either.

It's also going to be a heck of a lot more accurate than anything a political party can cook up and brag about on CNN. Any political consultant will tell you that 9 times out of 10, when a political party tries to manage their voter file in-house, it usually ends up being pockmarked full of holes as the ability to administer such a list sways with the political winds.

There have been some notable exceptions in some states, but from my experience, when I hear big pronouncements by national political party spokespeople that somehow they've got some silver bullet "list" they've been spending money to build, I feel more threatened by being forced to use it than by being on it.

Many may feel a bit strange that public data can be aggregated and re-used by for-profit companies. It's a legitimate concern, but it goes to a larger issue that "public" records and "public" disclosure bring up: a government agency may be forced by law to provide information to the public - but is not necessarily obligated to provide it in a form that is of much use to a member of said public.

If you are a candidate for office, you have the right to speak to the people who vote in said election. If you collect the data from the registrar, chances are it's got gaps, mistakes, or hasn't been updated in a while. Thus you, as a candidate, find that while the "public" information is "available," it's usefulness to you, your opponents, or anyone else is limited. Your ability to talk to the people who vote in your election is curtailed by the often antiquated systems many areas keep their voter files in.

So, if you can go to a vendor who's not only going to give your efforts the information you need, but also be obligated contractually to correct it with publicly available corroborating data, it's no more of an imposition on the privacy of said public data than if you were to use a phone book from a private telephone company to look up the phone numbers of voters in my district. Technology changes the speed and accuracy of such aggregation, but the act itself is no different.

It's not the most comfortable feeling in the world, I agree, but the fact is the worst thing that will happen is that you'll get a pile of dead trees emblazoned with [Your candidate here] and their platitudes on an 11 x 17 flyer, you're not going to have the KGB or Gestapo taking you to a re-education camp.

I think.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

February 11, 2004

Mission Accomplished: Short Term Gains, Long Term Worries

The corporate thinkers in the Washington Establishment have accomplished their mission - get a nominee quick and easy. Do it as fast as possible, and make sure that people know who's the one who is "electable." And be sure to knock off any latecomers to the party, so to speak - we don't want any trouble, we just want safety.

Front-loading the primary schedule as was done this year was designed precisely to do this. By stacking up the campaigns so quickly, it left little time for much debate, analysis, or testing of the candidates, and hopefully keep the rabble out. When Howard Dean threatened to usurp the process by bypassing the traditional methodology to reach the $20 million by Jan. 1 milestone one needed, the party and the establishment responded in force.

Shadowy advertisting with little disclsoure paid for by unions and retired Sen. Robert Torricelli. Unprecedented collusion between the campaign managers of no less than four independent presidential campaigns to "Stop Dean." A hostile media with biased coverage complete with the inevitable crocodile mea culpas from CNN and ABC. Top it off with some tactical mistakes by the Dean crew, (inevitable in any campaign), and you have an effective dismissal of the party-crashing Dean.*

Onward to victory, we're led to believe. Hurry up, get that nominee. Never mind that large states, such as California and New York, will have little to no role in determining the viablity of said candidates, while highly representative states like Iowa, New Hampshire and Delaware get to vote for any candidate they want - and determine who we're left with.

Never mind that in the past 40 years, no winning Democratic nominee in a tough race (Kennedy, Carter, Clinton) came from a safe primary battle - they emerged from a long, hard fought campaign that tested their campaign's organization, message, and resolve through a process that allowed people some time to at least find out who these people even were.

No, the corporate short-termer thinkers like Terry McAuliffe, Al From, and the rest of the Congressional Washington Establishment wanted it done quickly and painlessly, and a lazy media was happy to go along for the ride. Throughout the campaign's news coverage, you got the sense they just wanted to pronounce it "done" and go home so they can write up the daily "Kerry attacks Bush, Bush attacks Kerry" missives from the DNC and RNC. Watch how fast this lively exchange gets tuned out by most people for its dull repetitiveness and negativity.

The joke is of course that the most popular programming on television right now is the infamous "reality show," where people compete to the end, and each week we're treated to some poor sap getting voted "off the island" or married to some big weird guy. There's ample evidence to indicate that a spirited primary battle was capturing people's attention and provided some interesting television to say the least. But as quickly as the focus began, it's now ended - as has any interesting news or drama.

Apparently the corporate crowd in Washington doesn't watch the same TV as the proletariat - unfortunate for them because pop culture determines more of our political culture than vice versa. Their overriding fear that the contest would degrade into a messy Battle Royale prevailed over any sort of rationale that doesn't fit into a table or a spreadsheet.

I have said more than once, and with tremendous sincerity, that a more inclusive system would not be state-funded primaries, or dull caucuses, but rather a national telethon to raise money for the eventual nominee through a series of bi-weekly American Idol style votes.

Each episode would focus on an issue, and pre-registered particpants could vote via cell phone, telephone, Internet, etc. and each episode would leave one less candidate on the dais. You can ridicule such a concept - but remember, more people are voting for the next American Idol than for the eventual Democratic (or Republican) nominee. Rather than high-brow bemoaning of the degradation of culture, why not embrace it - and pull more people into the process? Too messy, I guess. Besides, you might get someone who's not part of the in crowd. Scary!

I have no problems with Kerry personally, I just worry we're all saying he's "The One" without enough tests in today's bitter partisan electoral landscape to make sure he'll pull through. Even Neo had to fight Agent Smith and get shot full of bullets to find out he was The One.

Surely we could have afforded a few debates where he could take som fire - and prove he's The One by repelling it easily. Compared to the debates before Jan. 1 - where it was 8 Democrats vs. Dean, relentlessly attacking him over and over and over - Kerry has had it very easy. Too easy.

That said, I admit, it was fun to have worked advance at Kerry's kickoff at Fanueill Hall in Boston. I got to meet the Senator and he seems like a nice enough person. Plus, it's always fun when you get to see yourself on TV news coverage wayyyyy in the background, with a big crowd of happy people.

The system's done its job, and there's no sense in complaining. It's time to see what's next in the race. I'll cast my ballot and support the eventual nominee, and just hope if they get elected things will improve. However, as a California voter, I now face the prospect of casting a ballot in an election that's already been decided. Has a sort of third-world feel.

Those pro-Bush positions on "Leave No Child Behind," tax cuts, and the Iraq war hopefully were just to stay "electable," and once "elected," said frontrunner will cast aside such expediency and reveal their true selves. Practical politicians do this all the time, and political observers like myself need to get on the bandwagon and stop asking questions. It'll all be OK.

This play has an eerily familiar tone to it - I seem to remember someone else who got elected on a similar platform 12 years ago. They even included promises of health care coverage for all, complete with a Democratic Congress to back them up - only to end things 8 years later with a health care system in tatters, jobs being sent overseas, and brewing corproate scandals at Enron and MCI.

Is it a good idea to take plays from a 12 year old book for a game that isn't played on the same field as today? Will playing the middle work in an era of red state/blue state and a hyper-partisan President that called an injured war veteran in 2002 "disloyal" and "unpatriotic?"

Well, these and other considerations are to be pushed aside. The winner of the California primary won't have to do more than attend some fundraisers in LA and San Francisco to "win," and the serious problems California faces will be but a sideshow.

The Important People Who Know Better Than Me running the campaign can pat us on the head, smile and say they "care" about our problems and insert some college Spanish into a few speeches. Meanwhile we'll never really know which of the Democratic candidates even understands the issues Californians face, much less their stand on them.

Let's just hope they pick up something before November 2004 to ensure winning California's 60+ electoral votes. Otherwise, one wonders what it will be like in January 2005.

Update: USA Today, that thoughtful and deliberative journal of the American landscape, seems to agree with me today!

*(Note to wannabe challengers of the system: you better have your act together if you want even half a chance to get taken seriously. Put down the macrame pamphlets and get your organization disciplined, and organized! Watch your back and for God's sake, be careful about how you take on the media - otherwise others may cash in on the fear you generate with these folks.)

� 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

February 7, 2004

A Rather Accurate Account of How Weird Presidential Caucuses Are

If you've never been to a presidential caucus and are wondering if this process is an open, small-d democratic way to do things, check out this story at the LA Times and read an interesting account of a caucus meeting in Bellevue, WA.

I can vouch for such an account - when I lived in Seattle I went through the caucus system in 1996 and 2000, and they are not much fun. Years of adding rules and regulations to ensure everything from diversity to preventing the "wrong" candidates from winning, makes it a mess.

In 1996 I remember going to a caucus in my neighborhood, West Seattle, held at a community center. I picked the room that seemed to be the right one, and sat in the back, late. I looked around and it looked like people from the neighborhood were all there talking about something Really Important.

Then I realized I wasn't in the right place. In fact, I was at a meeting of the Little League parents' group. I left and went to the right room, next door. It was sparsely attended, save for a few old-time Democratic partisans, and a lot of people I knew who lived in the area and worked as political consultants or for city and county government. The guy running the caucus was a real trooper for wading through countless pages of counter-intuitive rules to make sure everything ended up OK. That guy was...(Paul Harvey moment..) Tom Carr, who later became Seattle's elected City Attorney.

It was an interesting contrast. In one room were the people who might have an interest in participating in the caucus process but who had better things to do that night. In the other were a pack of mostly well intentioned civil service employees, and political staffers, who themselves did not completely understand the byzantine structure of the evening.

One final note: Out of a state of millions of voters in Washington State, only about 10,000 voted for John Kerry. More people vote for a city councilmember in rural cities than for presidential nominees. Hmm.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

January 23, 2004

The Junior High Presidency Hangs In The Balance...

I've been thinking a little bit about junior high lately. Most people look back on their junior high days with either dread, relief, humor, or a mix of all three, I tend to look back at it as a very instructive time that taught me a lot about how the world works (although I did not know this at the time). These lessons especially hold true today.

For example, back in junior high, you had to be constantly concerned about what "they" thought. "They" was an amorphous group hazily defined, but "they" could telegraph an incident, complete with descriptive narration, if you wore the wrong shirt, or did something mildly embarrassing.

In my own junior high in Burlingame, CA, I seem to remember a few incidents involving bad hair days, PE class silliness, and that whole series of "seventh-grader-in-the-trash-can" incidents that seemed to make the "news." Real information was not as important - it was more important to relay and embellish a good gossipy story, if only to assert yourself in the social hierarchy.

Fortunately I was never involved in any of them - I was too busy being a nerd, reading books, and doing my own thing to catch the attention of the junior high news crew. Which is fortunate - an ill-timed comment or stupid mistake on the first day of seventh grade could mark you for your whole two years! Even now I know of some people, who even now still get a casual ribbing about some "incident", 22 years later when I see them at a bar back home.

As I said, I had no idea at the time that this life lesson would be one to take to heart and remember, 22 years later. But after watching the "news coverage" of the presidential race this week, I'm beginning to think that Burlingame Intermediate School was teaching me something more important than algebra and how to fake a bug collection for science class, but I'd obviously missed the lesson until now.

I realize more and more that all those classes in journalism I took back in college that beat reporters should focus on what is really going on, and avoid trying to inject too many personal coloration to their work must not be taught anymore in schools, or not a basis for hiring people in the news media. The media's playful exuberance discussing the "Howard Dean Scream" to me is about as useful, and as relevant, to the presidential contest as hearing the latest gossip on who got tossed in the garbage cans at lunch break.

Lest one think this is another "the media is run by Republicans" rant, it is not. I remember the media having a similar field day when President Bush was alleged to have choked on a pretzel while watching a football game. Now, I may disagree with the president on many issues, but this kind of nonsense is equally irrelevant to the issues of the day.

So he choked on a pretzel for a second. He didn't die, right? He probably just was watching football and got a little excited when his team was winning. A non-story if I ever heard it. Can anyone say they have never had a food-related incident in their lives (and remember, almost all of us were infants at one time)? I think not. Hence, it's bogus chatter, just like with Dean.

I took the time, once again, to bypass our mass media and see the incident firsthand on television. I also took the time to call a friend, who as it turns out was at the scene of "Dean's Scream." Here's what I found out: a candidate who'd been up for 24 hours straight, who was losing his voice (as many Republicans are known to have happen - ask President Pete Wilson in 1996), who was in a room full of 3500 college kids who needed a little firing up, and had the misfortune of competing with a loud crowd AND other distractions. Add it up, and you have something that on the ground that qualified as a Typical Goofy Campaign Rally, but nothing that told us much about what the guy would do as President (except perhaps remember to take more cough drops in his coat pocket and lay off the coffee at 10pm)

Now, in fairness, the Dean folks have been taking a pile of crap from the media and their opposition for months and by now should have realized that they're going to get a scrutiny far more than the President or the rest of the pack At the same time, this was not a big deal. It was just another day in a long campaign.

But to hear the news pundits, the media, and the so-called "reporters" covering this "incident" (using all sorts of colorful metaphors and smart-ass liberal commentary), you' think the guy had gone up there and read Mein Kampf to an assembled group of brownshirts or something.

No, he didn't do anything wrong, or even unpresidential. He didn't have sex with an intern, didn't call a reporter from the New York Times an "asshole" for the entire world to hear over a hot microphone, and he didn't say something false that led us into some sort of war or flip-flop on votes for a war. He just had an incident during a run for junior-high school president that made it over the PA system one day.

I've felt for a long time that the bias we get in corporate media really isn't ideological per se (although their biases can help one side or another). Rather it's a bias bought at a high-priced college and paid in installments at tony suburbs around large urban areas that tends to benefit the elite.

It's a bias from people who Know Better Than The Peasants what is right and what is wrong and what you should think. I've seen this from snarky conservatives who tell me why I can't read or watch something on TV and from smart-ass liberals who boldly pronounce what is happening, and are usually wrong.

It's the snide comments of a known liar like Joe Klein (he lied about not writing the dreadful novel Primary Colors) calling Rep. Kucinch's campaign "silly" and refusing to even listen to the guy - just because it doesn't fit his notion of what's "silly" and what's not - merely one example of many journalists who make arbitrary decisions about what you hear - regardless of whether it's true. They did the same thing to John McCain too.

Either way, it's a grown-up version of the junior high school hierarchy of gossip...if you don't repeat the gossip, you're not as "cool" as the kid who broke it first. If you don't' embellish it to re-assert yourself, you risk being on the outs. So we come up with cute little commentary on the TV news, NPR runs stupid little mixes of "I Feel Good" with Dean's comments, and the papers piously tell us what it all "means."

Whatever it is, it's bullshit and I'm getting tired of wading through it all, liberal bias OR conservative bias, to try and figure out what's going on.

Meanwhile, as you saw soon-to-be-ex Rep. Gephardt's tearful withdrawal from the campaign and national politics, no one in the press corps bothered to mention the real reason he lost - his own negative, nasty, well-funded, attack campaign.

Lost in the coverage of the race was the kind of campaign this alleged elder statesman was running in Iowa. Gephardt paid for an entire anti-Dean website worthy of the RNC, and a massive hate-mail campaign. And three campaign insider sources on the ground in Iowa for three different candidates counted a minimum of fourteen negative mail pieces attacking Dean from every direction blanketing the Iowa landscape. No bold leadership or ideas here, just a pile of negative crap.

Fourteen. Now, in most statewide contests, no candidate would even send out fourteen total pieces of mail to voters, much less fourteen hit pieces. That's a lot any way you count it. However it backfired - Dean turned and attacked Gephardt back, and the winner was John Kerry.

It's sad in a way - here's someone who once was a leader of Democrats in the House, who once ran for President, and spent years planning his big run - and the way he ended up finishing off his career was in a torrent of negative campaigning and some of the nastiest attack ads seen in a while.

One can almost forgive him for his total failure as a Democratic Leader in the House retaking the chamber from the GOP, but to follow up that failure with a bruising negative campaign that got him fourth place? Now that's a way to end on a high note.

Thus when I saw his tearful farewell to the world of politics, and the pious newspeople all giving a glowing farewell to this alleged statesman, after doing my own research on what was going on, I realize the real career-ending, "rageahol"-induced yell wasn't Howard Dean' scream. It was Dick Gephardt's nasty, hate-filled campaign as it went down to a fourth place defeat. Don't let the door hit you on way out, Dick.

Just the other day I was talking to a neighbor who noticed my latest Netflix delivery - Disc 3 of the Love Hina anime series. "You're watching THAT?" exclaimed my neighbor. "It's a silly little Japanese show about a hapless guy who's always getting his ass kicked for silly misunderstandings in an all-women apartment house."

I simply replied that I knew in fact, it was a silly show, but after a week of non-stop bogus news and a ton of work here at the home office, it made for an ideal escape and besides, if I'm going to be subjected to silly, juvenile humor and stories, I'd rather they be about the hapless Keitaro than about people who can launch nuclear weapons or pass laws that will tax me to death. And I can do so without having a forty oz. bottle of rageahol at my side.

My neighbor waved off my comments and we both went back to our respective apartments. Now I wonder, what will my anime-inspired nickname be around the apartment complex?

A note to former colleagues who worked on Dick's campaign - my comments are aimed soley at him, not you. Dick Gephardt was the one responsible for his campaign's tone, and hence, why I aimed my comments at HIM, and not his staff

2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

November 14, 2003

Quick Hit- Those Electronic Election(eering) Machines

This week I've been busy with deadlines for a number of projects so posting has taken a back seat to all sorts of fun and interesting projects - all of which have NDAs attached to them so I can't talk about them! So here's a quick hit for everyone this Friday:

Annalee Newitz writes a great column at the Bay Guardian that focuses on technology and cultural issues. This week's column focuses on the growing amount of doubt regarding the integrity and reliability the largest producer of electronic voting machines, Diebold.

Most people are not aware that not only is this company a major donor to the Bush re-election campaign, ALL companies that make electronic voting machines are Bush Pioneer/Ranger/Thundercat/Whatever donor/fundraisers.

You can also read internal memos from Diebold itself that upon closer inspection reveal a lot more than they'd like. George Orwell had no idea it would be this easy did he?

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

Fellow Travelers