Friday, April 11, 2008

Utah Co. GOP shoots itself in the foot

This post is a follow up to yesterday's on Rep. Morley's legal troubles with his Cottonwood Heights-based hedge fund and the Utah County Republican Party's role in trying to sweep it under the rug. Sure enough, the delegate meeting happened (despite rumors that it would be canceled due to press coverage) and the off-limits topics remained taboo.

Then Rep. Morley had the gumption to claim that "I think it would have been better if I could have got this out and explained how complicated it really is. The fact is, I put five million in, got two (million out) and lost three million." If you had said you wanted to talk about it, Rep. Morley, I am sure they would have accomodated that. Or you could have brought it up yourself during the meeting. But for "some reason" you didn't.
"This was almost canceled because a small group in the party wants to protect their own," said John Webb, a delegate.

"I'm so frustrated with this party right now and what they're doing."

Other delegates also heard rumors the event might be canceled due to rumbling about a showdown of personal attacks. The committee, however, denied talk of any termination.

"We just want to keep the meeting all about the issues," said Maryanne Davis, Utah County Republican Committee member. "In order to get the issues out, they're not allowed to attack personal character."

Davis defended Morley, saying 98 percent of businessmen end up in litigation. The complaint "doesn't mean a thing," she said. "It doesn't need to be brought up when it doesn't matter that much."

[Morley's challenger Chance] Williams disagrees: "We're talking about millions and millions of dollars in bids for charter schools and large lawsuits of misappropriating millions," he said. "How is that not an open issue?"
Davis has got to be kidding, right? Ninty-eight percent of all businessmen end up in litigation? As I lawyer, I guess I should wish it were true. According to small, "[t]here were an estimated 203,468 small businesses in Utah in 2004." Yet there were only 87,191 civil cases [PDF, see page 16 of 20] filed in Utah state courts in FY 2007, and three years later, I am sure there were more businesses in Utahby then, small, medium or large ones. Even this is being generous, since civil cases include interpersonal disputes (like where a bountry line is between two neighbors, who gets the house under Uncle Bernie's will, etc.) and not just business litigation. Even just business litigation is more often than not against the business itself as in entity, and not the individual owners or managers (which is the whole reason why people incorporate their business in the first place). Rarer still are prosecutions of invididuals by the SEC for ones business practices. So the idea that "98 percent" of businessmen end up in litigation like this is laughable on so many levels.

"These shouldn't be seen as personal issues," Chance Williams told reporters after the meeting, "they represent who [Rep. Morley] is and what he stands for." The meeting by contrast, showed what the Utah County Republican Party appearantly stands for: incumbent protection.

experience to be president

(Photo Credit: All, the Jimi Hendrix "estate")

This whole "experience" debate has annoyed me more than usual this year, even though the same debate happens every four years. Perhaps it is because the media has decided that 2 out of the remaining three candidates have the necessary "experience," and have agreed that Obama does not. What experience, exactly, is good training for being President of the United States? Obama has a point that "years in Washington" does not necessarily translate into good decision making while in office. But then again, it does matter how (but not necessarily where) you spend those years between running for president and being born.

Obama's case for having the necessary "experience" is two fold: (1) experience doesn't matter, judgment matters, and he was the only remaining candidate who had the requisite judgment to be against the Iraq War from the beginning; and (2) living and traveling abroad with "real people" and not just meeting with foreign dignitaries, means he has a real sense of countries that one doesn't get by meeting with ministers and presidents.

Having lived abroad myself for a year and a summer, I am sympathetic to his second point. Then again, I wouldn't say I know what the Italians or Swiss or Norwegians, or Dutch, or Danes, or French are like just because I briefly visited their countries (like Obama did with Pakistan in the early 1980s).

I definitely think that sitting on some congressional committee is the exactly wrong kind of experience to prepare oneself for the presidency. All one does as a committee member is listen to testimony (and try to sound clever with questions), get red carpet tours of foreign countries, and vote on bills that (other than military spending bills and the rare treaty) have little impact on the world. So the fact that John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain are members of the Foreign Relations or Armed Services Committee is wholly unimpressive in my view.

But McCain and Clinton aren't pointing to their time in the Senate in actuality. McCain is really trying to say that being a Navy pilot and POW in Vietnam makes him wise, and Hillary is saying living in the White House for 8 years as the closest aide/advisor to the President makes her wise.

However, despite being tortured for years, McCain still caved on the torture issue in Congress. Having experienced the horrors of war firsthand, he seems eager not only to continue the current one for 100 years, but start another in Iran. He doesn't get the difference between Sunni and Shia, nor why it is critical to understanding the dynamics of the middle east (why, for instance, the terrorist group named "Al Qaeda in Iraq" would never have anything to do with Iran). Just as the war in Vietnam was not about Communism for the Vietnamese, but about nationalism. So either he is ignoring his experience, or didn't learn the valuable lessons from it.

Hillary likewise saw her husband work hard to build coalitions in military actions in Haiti and Bosnia/Kosovo and him commit errors in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia/Croatia, and Rwanda. Yet she voted for the Iraq war and against amendments that would have watered down the AUMF. The truth is, like John Kerry, she listened to people who said "If you want to run for president, you have to look tough, and voting for the Iraq War is how do it."

Really, the only jobs that give a person any sense of what it will be like to be President is a 3- through 5-star general (who have to deal with not only waging war but with diplomacy, politics, and peacekeeping), anyone who got to be in the Situation Room on a routine basis (not the Beard's show), or a high-level diplomat with either a key ally (NATO itself, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, South Korea, etc.) or a key "adversary" (Russia/USSR, China, North Korea, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, etc.). Only these few people know how hard it is to make snap decisions that have lasting impact, and know which ones ended up being wrong, and hopefully thought about (and correctly diagnosed) why those wrong choices were made.

So by that standard, only Bill Richardson--who was a Congressman, Energy Secretary, UN Ambassador, Governor of NM, and unofficial liason between North Korea and the US--was adequately "experienced" to be president of the people that ran this cycle (for last cycle, it was Wes Clark, who reccomended going into Rwanda while working for the Joint Chiefs; helped negotiate the Dayton Accords; and lead NATO to a zero casualty victory in Bosnia/Kosovo).

Given with the choices that we are left with, who then is the most "experienced?" Since I have formulated experience as learning from bad decisions and/or making the right call the first time, I would say Obama. But I am interested to see what my readers think of my overall proportion.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

incumbent protection program

When is a primary not really a primary? When party bosses neuter the challenger's main line of attack.
State Rep. Mike Morley is facing lawsuits in Utah and New York, seeking to recoup $3 million "loaned" to him by a hedge fund that allegedly defrauded millions of dollars from investors.
But the topic is off-limits for Chance Williams, who is challenging Morley for the Republican nomination in House District 66. Williams is making ethics the centerpiece of his campaign, but says he was told not to raise the issue at a Meet The Candidates event tonight in Spanish Fork.
The whole reason most folks are challenging incumbents for seats in Utah's legisture is their concerns that certain legislators have grown out of touch, especially on issues of ethics. While Utah Democrats have been capitalizing on this to recruit candidates, many Republicans have bravely sought to primary their local legislator.

The Utah County GOP chairwoman claims it is all about "civility" and being innocent before being proven guilty. But the point isn't whether or not Rep. Morley is guilty of any wrongdoing, the point is that it looks bad and incumbents seem to be blind to such appearances of impropriety. Here are the particulars:
Morley had $5 million invested through Thompson Consulting Inc., a Cottonwood Heights-based firm headed by Kyle J. Thompson, in a pair of hedge funds.
Thompson and others solicited millions of dollars from 90 other investors, including a number of seniors, promising healthy returns with almost no risk.
But Thompson and business partner David Condie took considerable risks, the SEC alleges, sinking millions into a subprime lender whose stock tanked in March 2007. Between July 31 and Aug. 17, the funds' assets plummeted from $54 million to $200,000.
However, before the funds collapsed, Condie moved $3 million out of the fund to Morley to make up for losses Morley suffered, the SEC said. The agency described Condie as a distant relative of and "purportedly one of Michael Morley's attorneys." A total of $2 million ended up in Willowbend, a 109-acre development in Vernal where Morley has an interest.
The company called the transfers to Morley a "loan," but there were no loan documents and the SEC said Morley has been "unjustly enriched" and should repay the money.
Oh and there is a civil lawsuit as well.

The question Williams is trying to ask county delegates is if they want their party to be presented by a guy who is allegedly took millions of dollars from little old ladies for himself when his investment scheme went south. Of course, the irony is that, thanks to press coverage, the delegates will be taking about it more than they would had Williams brought it up himself and had Chairwoman Marian Monnahan not forbade any reference to the matter.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Utah papers' foreign correspondents

(Photo Credit: [British] Royal Geographic Society)

I love reading locally-written articles in Utah newspapers about coffee. The articles read like a journal entry of some 19th century British colonialist explaining some "lost tribe" in Africa or the Pacific Islands. To be clear, I am not mocking Utahns (or anyone else) who have never tried coffee. I am mocking the tone of these articles.

Here's one from the Deseret Morning News last October:
Barlow and Gerber, a legal secretary and receptionist for Eisenberg Gilchrist & Morton, are not alone. It's a morning ritual for millions of Americans, who can choose from the more than 24,000 coffeehouses across the country.

Whether grabbing a quick cup and a bite to eat on the way into the office or taking a morning break with colleagues, downtown Salt Lake City has plenty to offer when the time comes for a caffeinated pick-me-up.

In its unscientific survey of area coffeehouses, the Deseret Morning News found 13 locations between First Avenue and 600 South and 500 East and West Temple. The shops vary in size and style, and their prices and selection vary. Of the coffee shops visited by the Morning News, the price for a 20-ounce cup of drip coffee ranged from $1.75 to $2.50.
The locations appeal to different types of customers, usually based on where they work and live and how they want to receive their morning brew. Folks looking to grab it and go often visit drive-through locations such as Raw Bean Coffee House on the southwestern edge of downtown or Java Jo's in the Avenues.
The article fills up space by explaining statistically speaking, coffee is a very common and popular beverage nationally.

Today's article in the Salt Lake Tribune piggie backs on an AP wire story about Starbuck's Coffee's struggles--and ideas--to maintain its growth and profit margins due to increased competition. This article doesn't sound as ethnographic as the previous one, but still has its gems.
As industry king Starbucks teeters ever so slightly on its throne, other retailers, big and small, are moving in to offer coffee options of their own, even in brew-eschewing Utah.
...competition in the coffee business splashes over a state where more than half the population does not drink the beverage, mostly on religious grounds.
"Utah wasn't a natural market for iced coffee," said McDonald's public-relations spokeswoman Barbara Schmiett, of Salt Lake City. "That's why we tested it here in a handful of restaurants first, and we found that people loved it."
"[The new Pike's Place Roast is] fresh, but so is coffee at 7-Eleven," said Kyle Power, who had to wait for his freebie Tuesday as Starbucks baristas served paying customers first at The Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City.
For whatever reason, I have never read articles like this about alcohol or tea. Maybe coffee is just somehow more intriguing. If you do feel like having a cup, it seems Beans & Brews offers the cheapest one mentioned in the article--$1. And you get a nice little biscutt with it too. Cheerio!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

China's worst nighmare

The People's Republic of China (PRC) decided to bid for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games to show the world that they were a modern powerful country that should be respected. Yet due to the events of the last two years--and especially the last few months--China's giant PR festival is turning into massive damage control.

First, there were the stories of the polluted air, rivers, lakes, and land, so bad that the Chinese themselves were willing to take on the companies and their government cronies. Next, there was the numerous recalls of unsafe PRC-made products, especially children's toys dripping with lead paint--just in time for Christmas.

But the most important development was the crackdown after protests in Tibet. The world has always had a soft spot for Tibet, thanks to the brilliant Dali Lama's tours around the world and the various Tibetan monks that represent Tibet as a peaceful Buddhist kingdom.

PRC government officials don't get what all the hubbub is about. They see Tibet as their Vermont--a wayward boarder province that is a bit different from the rest of the country, but still part of the nation. But now every city the Olympic flame visits will be a chance for protesters to remind the world of all the human rights violations PRC commits on a daily basis.

But you know this is a real movement--and not just the usual liberal cranks--when you see this happening:
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman says he supports the protests in San Diego that are threatening the Olympic torch run.
["Of course, I do. This is who we are," Huntsman, who has represented the U.S. government in China, told the Deseret Morning News. "I think we ought to be totally American about it, in terms of our expressions of outrage and concern and speaking up front and openly as we always do as Americans."
Huntsman said such protests can help pressure the Chinese government to "undertake a healthy dialog" with Tibet, considered an autonomous region. Last month, protests by Buddhist monks in Lhasa turned deadly as Chinese security forces poured into the Tibetan capital.

"I don't think it's bad," the governor said of the pressure being put on China to confront concerns over human rights. "In trade issues, we always exert pressure. That's how we made progress. But it has to be pressure combined with appropriate timing."]

Huntsman says he took part in protests himself in 1989 in opposition of China's treatment of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. He says he protested outside of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., despite running the Commerce Department's Asian affairs bureau at the time.
Huntsman was also Bush's Ambassador to Singapore before he became Governor, and he was in the running to be Chinese Ambassador (he also speaks Mandarin fluently) so he is fairly prominent American government official in East Asia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Hillary Clinton want--who both have a lot of support from Chinese Americans---want to boycott the opening ceremonies. But it isn't just "liberals" that want to do that.
"If you think the opening ceremony is about recognizing China, then you probably would boycott it," [Mitt] Romney recently told CNN News. "If you think it's about recognizing the world and humankind, then you're there to pay respect to the athlete."
Well wait, which way do you think about it Romney? The Deseret News says your are against protests, but it could be construed either way...which I guess was the reason you said it that way.

While Bush might not lift a finger to remove the U.S. team from the opening ceremonies,you can be assured that some American Olympian will sport some sort of protest to PRC's regime. Some one's warm up jersey will have a Tibetan flag on it. Or someone will turn their back to Chairman Mao's flag. Maybe a person in the city will point out that their 400-year old family home was bulldozed in the name of "progress" (and of course, they don't have a Takings Clause in PRC). Maybe foreign protesters will flood Tianamen Square a build another lady democracy, and this time, the officials can't roll out the tanks or turn off the cameras.

PRC invited the world in to show off. "This is unprecedented for the Chinese to subject themselves to this kind of scrutiny and spotlight, and they knew in 2001 that would be part and parcel of hosting the Games," Hunstman said. "The reformers won out years ago by saying this is a good thing. There will be change." By the end of August, they may want to wish they could go hide. Tibet, Huntsman predicted, is "just the beginning of a litany of issues that will be brought up." The Chinese, he said, appear to be "willing to embrace greater change moving forward."

Monday, April 07, 2008

Penn-ing the next chapter in Democratic consultants

So as I am sure all you political junkies heard this weekend, Mark Penn the chief strategist/pollster of the Hillary Clinton campaign resigned/fired/stepped down sorta. Joe Trippi, who was John Edwards 2008 (and Dean's 2004) campaign strategist hit the nail on the head: "The only real question was, why did it not happen sooner? The conflicts have been a problem for the campaign from the start."

Trippi is referring to the many clients had interests that were at odds with Sen. Clinton's positions, including the Colombian government, which hilariously fired Penn for sure.

Democrats nationally have a lot to hear from Republicans nationally in terms of how to handle consultants. George W. Bush told all of his consultants that they had to quit all of their other clients and focus solely on his campaign. He also demanded a flat fee rather than a commission based ad design/placement/airing. And his previous counterparts wouldn't rehire consultants that lost multiple races.

You would think these are all obvious conditions for any serious candidate for president. Sure if you are a Mike Gravel, you can't be too picky on the terms, but if you are an Obama or Clinton or Edwards or Kerry, you should be able to hold all the cards. They should be fighting to work for you, not the other way around.

Yet in the world of big-time Democratic politics, it has been bizzaro world. All of the consultants get paid a percentage of the ads they put on TV, so obviously they have an interest in suggesting that TV advertising is the way to go. Folks like Penn continue to hock their books and lobby for their other clients while still running a $150M+ campaign. And most bone-headedly, senators running for president fight for the right to have perennial losers like Penn, Shrum, and even Trippi advise them.

Bloggers give just as good advice (if not better) as these clowns do, and we cost nothing, compared to Penn's $6M bill for January alone. Penn's key contributions to Clinton's campaign was to focus on big states on Super Tuesday with the theme of experience/readiness. Meanwhile, Obama focused on the neglected states with the theme of change. Oh and Obama's people spent a significant portion of money on the ground game rather than just TV. Guess who has more delegates, won more states, has a lead in the popular vote, and has tens of millions more to spend for the next ten contests?

Like Bob Shrum, I predict that Mark Penn will become blacklisted from presidential campaigns (maybe even Senate campaigns too). Even the most pro-Clinton supporters--including her own campaign staff--was overjoyed to see Penn go away. If Democrats want to be successful, they need to learn the broader lesson from the Shrum and Penn fiascoes, and not just about the individual consultants.

First, I would suggest canning the very idea of the consultant and focus grouper. The more a candidate listens to these people, the more they sound like a politician that will say or do anything for a vote, rather than a principled person who runs for high office. But if that isn't in the cards, then second, I would give these folks a flat commission with perhaps a bonus for winning by X percent. Third, exclusivity is mandatory. Fourth, broadcast TV has lost its prominence (given cable/satellite/Internet/TiVo) and ad dollars should be spread out and tailored to popular cable channels and programs, as well as the Internet, radio, etc. Fifth, spend the money on GOTV tools and efforts. Obama's campaign took advantage of the pioneering Internet organizing tools developed in 2004 by Dean and Kerry's teams to build crowds, activists, raise money, and contact voters on a personal level. Sixth, don't rehire losers, try to get local consultants/pollsters when running for House/Senate or outsider when running for President. Obama hired Chicago marketing people to design his signs and logos, and it has been a rousing success. Even his consultant technically hails from the windy city. Seventh, based your HQ outside of greater-DC. Location matters not just because of the message it sends, but because you get trapped into conventional thinking in DC, and detached from the rest of the country. Moreover, the rent is usually cheaper and those willing to move out to your HQ are far more committed than those who just commute in to a place in DC.

Ultimately the candidates are responsible for the decisions they make, even if boneheads like Penn and Shrum suggest them. So while Penn had dumb ideas, they were ones that the Clintons agreed with and Penn tweaked his advice and polls to conform with what the Clintons wanted to do anyway. The same goes for John Kerry in 2004 with Shrum.

To me, one of the few ways we can evaluate a presidential candidate's potential as a president is looking at their judgment in running their campaign. The Clintons made some bad choices, and one could argue that other than Obama winning Iowa, his status as the almost-presumptive nominee is more of a product of their screw ups than Obama's brilliant strategy/campaigning. But it still says a lot about the Clintons that they still want to keep Penn in some capacity, and it still says a lot about Obama that he noticed key gaps in the Penn/Clinton strategy and exploited them successfully.