Politicians Beware

Seth Godin describes how traditional political strategy clashes with the digital age of information.

Link: Meatball Sundae on Squidoo.

The traditional way to run a political campaign is to control your message. Control what you say and when you say it. Control who hears it.

Tell one story to your raving fans, and a more moderate story to people in the center.

As voters have seen again and again, politicians are good at this. Some people call it lying. But in general, politicians have gotten away with it.

The top-down, control-the-message strategy worked in the past for a few reasons:

* Media companies were complicit in not embarrassing the people they counted on to appear on their shows and authorize their licenses.
* Politicians could decide where and when to show up and could choose whether or not they wanted to engage.
* Bad news didn’t spread far unless it was exceptionally juicy.

But George Allen discovered that the rules have fundamentally changed. Allen’s challenger asked S.R. Sidarth, a senior at the University of Virginia, to trail Allen with a video camera. The idea was to document Allen’s travels and speeches. During a speech in Breaks, Virginia, Allen turned to Sidarth and said, "Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," said Allen.

… YouTube reports that Allen’s slur has been watched on YouTube more than 318,000 times. Add to that the pickup from the broadcast media (which picked it up because it was popular, not because it was "important"), and you see why George Allen lost the election.

The ironic part of the appearance is that the first words out of Allen’s mouth on the tape are, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re going to run positive campaign." The story didn’t match the facts, and the facts showed up on YouTube.

US Energy Policy: follow the money

If greed is good, our elected officials in Washington are great. Jim Jubak at MSN Money looks at the political contributions and pending energy legislation. Excerpts below.

Link: Congress follows the money on energy – MSN Money.

The names may change in Congress. Democrats may replace Republicans in the majority. But when it comes to energy legislation, the same rule always applies: Money talks.

So is it any surprise that agribusiness, a sector that gave $44.6 million to Democratic and Republican candidates in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, came out the big winner in the energy bill passed by the Senate on June 21? The oil-and-gas industry, which gave $19.1 million as part of a natural-resources sector that gave $46.4 million, didn’t do too badly, either.

Automakers, who gave $14.2 million of the $39.9 million contributed by the transportation sector, wound up with the short end of the stick in the Senate bill but look poised to recover in the legislation now moving through committee in the House. The auto industry is likely to benefit from the second rule of political giving: It’s not how many politicians you buy but which ones. The first rule, by the way, is give early and often.

  • Ethanol: huge winner
  • Oil and natural gas: big winner
  • Coal-to-liquid fuels: big loser
  • Alternative and renewable energy: big loser
  • Energy-efficient technologies: a reasonable victory

Freedom and Creativity from Minds Without Fear

Atanu comments of Atlantic Monthly’s list of The Top 100 most influential Americans. He says that many on that list could be called “The Top 100 Most Influential People”. Then he explores why  the modern world is defined and shaped by many on that Atlantic Monthly list. Click on the link below and read this uplifting post. Excerpts below.

Link: Atanu Dey on India’s Development » Minds Without Fear

How did such a small population – relative to the larger global population of humans – ever get to have such a disproportionate influence on the world by producing such a large number of amazing individuals? What is the secret of their success?

I believe that the answer is summed up in one word: FREEDOM. The Americans have enjoyed freedom and upon that fertile ground have grown up mighty oaks. The lesson is simple and striking: if a population enjoys freedom, it naturally produces phenomenally successful, amazingly creative individuals. The freedom to think, the freedom to speak, the freedom to write, the freedom to investigate the natural world, the freedom to act and create, and a large number of other freedoms—these form the environment which allows the human mind and spirit to flourish. America has truly been the home of the free. The country after all was founded on the fundamental urge to be politically and economically free.

I believe any collection of humans can produce the sort of super humans that America has done in its brief history if – and that is a big IF – the collection enjoys freedom.

FYI – Atanu lives in India.

Movie Recommendation: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonI had heard that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) is a great movie, but I had never seen it because I assumed it was out-of-date and probably very superficial (the first half was).

We watched it last night on TCM and saw a well-directed (the great Frank Capra) and well-acted film — James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, and Edward Arnold give excellent performances. I was surprised at the light it shined on dirty politics — how a powerful political machine can use media and innuendo to affect public opinion. Lots of lessons here that should never be forgotten.

Big Oil’s 10 favorite members of Congress

MSN Money columnist Jim Jubak describes why alternative energy gets very little financial support from the federal government. Big Oil knows how to maintain its monopoly — investing in Washington politicians.

Link: Big Oil’s 10 favorite members of Congress – MSN Money

Wonder why we don’t have a national energy policy or a serious push toward alternatives? Follow the money that oil and gas companies send to Congress.

Amazed that Washington loves to talk about energy research with promise 15 years down the road, but won’t put significant money into alternative technologies that could reduce energy consumption now?

For answers to all those questions and more, just follow the money. Nothing about U.S. energy policy should be a surprise if you know where the money’s been going and which legislators have taken the biggest payouts from the energy industry. So don’t miss your only chance in the next two years — the Nov. 7 election — to tell Congress what you think of its sellout to the energy companies.

The top five contributors were Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Valero Energy, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here are the top 10 — all Republicans — as complied by the Center for Responsive Politics:

Big Oil’s 10 favorite Congress members
Rank Candidate Office Amount given by oil and gas industry


Hutchison, Kay Bailey, R-Texas




Burns, Conrad, R-Mont.




Santorum, Rick, R-Pa.




Bode, Denise, R-Okla.




Allen, George, R-Va.




Talent, James M., R-Mo.




Cornyn, John, R-Texas




Barton, Joe, R-Texas




Hastert, Dennis, R-Ill.




Pombo, Richard, R-Calif.



Data from the FEC as of Sept. 11, 2006. Compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

avily to Texas Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; to Sens. James Talent of Missouri, Conrad Burns of Montana and George Allen of Virginia, all of whom sit on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; to Illinois’ Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House, who plays a huge role in deciding what legislation moves to the floor for a vote and what doesn’t; and to Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum, head of the Senate Republican Conference and announced candidate for Republican whip in 2006 if he wins re-election.

ngressional critics of global-warming theories. At a recent congressional hearing, he said, "As long as I am chairman, (regulating the gases that produce global warming) is off the table indefinitely. I don’t want there to be any uncertainty about that." But Barton’s likely replacement would be John Dingell, D-Mich., a fierce advocate for the U.S. automobile industry.

No matter how the elections turn out this year, of course, the connection between money and politicians will survive. Incumbents of both parties know that taking the money out of politics — I mean, really taking it out — would destroy one of most effective tools they have for assuring their own re-election. Taking the money out of campaigns is less likely than the Easter Bunny passing out eggs in January.

So vote your convictions. Throw this year’s bums out. They certainly deserve it. Then watch to see which newly elected politicians start quickly to work to become next year’s bums.

More Shortsighted Law-Making

Robert X. Cringely says that the new law against Internet gambling is unenforceable and will eventual fund outlaw groups who can exploit this law. Excerpts below.

Link: PBS | I, Cringely . October 6, 2006 – Risky Business

Last Saturday the United States Congress passed a port security bill that carried an amendment banning Internet gambling. This was a huge mistake, not because Internet gambling is a good thing (it was already illegal, in fact), but because the new law is either unenforceable or — if it can be enforced — will tear away the last shreds of financial privacy enjoyed by U.S. citizens.

…The amendment was a surprise late addition, pushed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has presidential ambitions and reportedly sees this battle against Internet gambling as part of his eventual campaign platform.

Only the new law isn’t really against Internet gambling at all, since it specifically authorizes intrastate Internet gambling, imposing on the net the artificial constraint of state boundaries. So the law that is supposed to end Internet gambling for good will actually make the practice more common, though evidently out of the hands of foreigners, which in this case includes not just operators from the UK but, if you live in South Carolina as I do, it also includes people from Florida and New York. Let a million local poker hands be dealt.

What the new law actually tries to control is the payment of gambling debts through the U.S. banking system, making such practices illegal (except, of course, for intrastate gambling, which probably means your state lottery).

Is the end here really worth the effort? The United States already has strict, even draconian, controls over fund transfers that might potentially be used to pay for terrorist activity. Buy a house or open a brokerage account and see how deep an interest the bank takes in where the heck your money is coming from. Now it is proposed that they apply the same diligence to transactions as small as one dollar.

This is ridiculous, not just because it is an unwarranted invasion of privacy, not just because we as consumers will ultimately have to pay for the cost of snitching on ourselves, but because the system of regulation ultimately won’t work. With an Internet gambling market approaching $20 billion per year, there is a huge incentive for new enterprises to spring into being specifically to get around this law. Frankly, it ought to be easy.

Any random group of 535 nerds is smarter than the 535 members of the U.S. Congress and able to circumvent ANY regulation if there is enough profit incentive to do so. Well the U.S. Congress has just created such an incentive where there was none before. And once these various payment schemes start appearing, what’s to say some of them can’t be equally used to finance terrorism? Of course they can be used for that purpose. Thanks a lot Senator Frist.

Here’s a law that purports to end Internet gambling but will instead enable it, a law that is intended to make certain types of financial transactions harder to do but will ultimately make them easier, a law that says nothing about terrorism but will ultimately abet it, making us all less secure in the process.

There is, to my knowledge, no center for Al-Qaida hacking, nor is terrorism as an industry big enough to attract much third-party software development. But ally the interests of terrorists and Internet gamblers who all want to be paid, that’s a $20 billion incentive to corrupt the world financial system — an incentive that didn’t exist before last week.

And what will be our institutional response to these obvious flaws when they come to light? More regulation of course! More scrutiny of financial transactions, not less. But as we’ve seen in recent years, this greater scrutiny often comes with lax or unequal enforcement, depending on your campaign contributions.

Once again, Congress is proposing to regulate something it ought not to — something that in any practical sense is probably beyond its power. And the result will be only bad, not good. And Congress’s response will probably be even more regulation, not less. And all this to push one man’s presidential ambitions?