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Archives for Media Criticism

Silence Villainizes Octouplet Mom


Because they are so rare, multiple births are bound to cause a media sensation. Pop out six, seven, or eight children and you’re news, whether you like it or not. That’s the hard lesson being learned by single mom Nadya Suleman.
When the 33 year-old mother of six went into labor on January 26, she was expecting just seven children when a surprise eighth came along. What had been a routine set of septuplets all of a sudden became news, as having octuplets put Suleman in rare company.
After giving birth, Suleman did what would seem natural–requesting to stay out of the media spotlight–which may also have turned her labor into a public relations disaster. In today’s media environment, silence equals guilt. And although there is no crime in bearing children, Suleman is becoming the villain in her own media circus.
Having seen the results of the first, last and only set of octuplets born in the USA–where one died just a week after childbirth–you can understand Suleman’s reluctance to jump into the media spotlight. And although I have never given birth to a child, I can’t imagine the first thing a woman wants to do after leaving labor is to go on a media blitz–and as a single mom, Suleman had no husband to step in front of the television cameras and deflect the media attention.
Instead of learning about Nadya and her children first-hand, the media was told that the mother wanted to keep her privacy and would not speak to the media. The hospital released photos from the historic event–of the doctors and nurses. That’s great, but it does not make for a very sympathetic image.
Another axiom in the practice of public relations is that if you fail to define yourself, others will.
One of the first things we learned about Suleman was that she already had six children, was unmarried and lived with her parents. You don’t know whether to have contempt or pity for a woman who decided to plant even more embryos into herself when she clearly few aspirations beyond being a mother.
But Suleman’s mother, perhaps tiring of being the live-in babysitter sure had something to say. “It can’t go on any longer,” she told the Associated Press. “She’s got six children and no husband. I was brought up the traditional way. I firmly believe in marriage. But she didn’t want to get married.”
With the financial stress of raising children, multiplying the cost exponentially becomes a burden. So it seems natural that Suleman wanted to sell her story. In past media circuses, a mother of eight would be showered with offers–for interviews, for pictures or more. But, perhaps because of her initial silence, Suleman’s “offer” to speak to the press for a mere two-million dollars comes across as rent-seeking behavior, known commonly as greed.
Now, the New York Times is questioning Suleman’s ethics, and the Los Angeles Times is digging up her history of workers’ compensation claims–portraying the mother of fourteen as something akin to a welfare mom.
Suleman’s image has become so toxic that Pampers and Procter and Gamble are staying away, not offering her the gifts of diapers, formula and other parenting necessities that usually come with a multiple birth.
Suleman must realize that her desire for privacy has backfired, and therefore hired not one, but two Los Angeles-based publicists, whose client list is headlined by the Union-Pacific Railroad. (Insert your own cervical-themed joke here).
Suleman should have considered a celebrity publicist, like a Howard Bragman, or better yet, a crisis management expert like Michael Sitrick or Eric Dezenhall. Any one of them would have told her that the media does not like being rebuked, that if she does not define herself, others will and that silence implies guilt in today’s 24-hour news cycle.
In nine short days, the mother of octuplets has gone from a medical miracle to villainous vixen, a scam artist for the SpongeBob set, simply because she wanted to maintain her privacy. It’s a lesson for us all that in this digital age, we are all public figures, and if we don’t take care of our own image, others will do so for us.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:55 AM | Permalink

Beware the Sugardaddy State


It’s not uncommon for people to use family metaphors for the government’s role in our lives. We have all heard of “Big Brother” and criticized the “Nanny State.” If Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform was government as the stern but loving father, under President Barack Obama we may be looking at the open-handed Sugardaddy State.

The sugardaddy has the disposable income, or at least likes to give the appearance that he does, so supporting someone else is not much of a sacrifice. But by making another person completely dependent on him for their existence, he exterts a tremendous power over another human being. As with the other metaphors – Big Brother and the Nanny State – the Sugardaddy State has it’s downside: it intrusive and addictive.

In eight years as President, George Bush went from being a stern father warning his children that the Era of Responsibility had begin to being more of a doting, rich, childless, uncle trying to liquidate his assets to shower gifts on his nieces and nephews on Wall Street. While Bush’s successor has no qualms about opening up the pocketbook, like a Sugardaddy, when he showers gifts upon Detroit or the American public, there will be strings attached.

With America’s auto industry on the brink of collapse – as Chrysler and General Motors executives carpool to Washington hat-in-hand – Obama has decided to use the car companies’ bloodied balance sheets as leverage to impose new regulations on carmakers. Needless to say, the auto industry is in no position to afford compliance with the new regulations, but non-compliance is even more costly, as they would jeopardize Washington’s willingness to continue bailing them out of their financial morass. On Wall Street, the government is using the bailout of the nation’s banking system to insert themselves in internal decision-making processes like never before. No big bonuses for executives and no more corporate jets for Citi!

For States like California, whose unemployment insurance programs are on the brink of collapse, the federal government is to the rescue but – again – only with strings attached. And states hoping to take advantage of a Federal Economic Stimulus to balance their books in 2009 had better start thinking about what unseemly acts they will have to perform over the next twelve months to paper over the books in 2010.

With money comes power, and there seems to be only one source of money these days: the Department of the Treasury’s printing presses. And President Obama seems eager to consolidate the federal government’s power as he writes convenience checks against future generations’ credit limits.

The problem with sugardaddies is that if you rely on one for too long, you forget how to make it on your own. This is the real danger of sugardaddies and the Sugardaddy State. In this relationship, there’s no metaphorical sister’s couch to sleep on should we decide to break the co-dependent sudardaddy cycle with the federal government. We will have to make it on our own, and should consider starting to do so now – while we still remember how.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:18 AM | Permalink

Obama Inaugural Shortchanges Hope


Although it may raise a few eyebrows among my Republican friends, I want Barack Obama to succeed as President of the United States. There, I said it.

There is a fine distinction, however, between Barack Obama succeeding as President, and the new President succeeding as Barack Obama. That is why I am mildly disappointed that Obama missed an opportunity to unite Americans with his Inaugural Address, focusing more of the message of “change” and less on the message of “hope,” .

For tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions more around the globe, Barack Obama was the embodiment of those two simple words. Obama promised to change the course of a nation which had suffered blows to its global stature from terrorism and economic crisis. Obama offered the hope that people’s lives could improve from an act of the government.

For his supporters, “hope” and “change” were synonymous. But for the more than 200 million Americans who did not cast a ballot for Barack Obama, they were not. For some, “change” to Obama’s vision of America did not inspire hope. For others, cynicism in government meant that even the promise of change was not enough to make them hopeful.

And while I was no fan of John McCain, you can guess which camp I generally fell into.

As he made his first address to the nation as president of the United States, Obama had an opportunity to speak to his opponents and to the cynics. He had a chance to rally the nation together. He had a chance to give them hope. And he missed the opportunity.

Beginning by painting a gloomy picture of America, declaring, “every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms,” Obama’s First Inaugural relied too heavily on the assumption that his listeners were hoping for his kind of change.

And gloom, apparently surrounds us at every corner: “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”

Where is a cave I can hide in?

It only got worse. Towards the end, when Obama declared, “this winter of our hardship,” whose only options are to embrace Barack Obama’s version of change or to let the American journey end.

Great speech – bad Inaugural Address.

Those who were not among the millions swept up in Obamamania were left out in the cold in this Inaugural. If you do not believe that change for change’s sake is a virtue, then you are a cynic. If you think that things aren’t that bad in America – or that they could be worse – then you were left out.

Obama’s message was clearly a repudiation of his predecessor and a messianic sermon from he who thinks he can lead us to the promised land. That’s too bad. Despite the growing storms, there is alot about America that should give people hope. Not everything in this country needs to be changed.

Although we wage war in the battleground of ballots every four years, we come together as a nation for a peaceful transfer of power in a way that is unprecedented in human history. It took Senator Dianne Feinstein to remind us of that.

Although our economy is suffering, it remains the largest in the world and – if currency bettors are correct – among the strongest.

Although we face crises, from failing financial institutions to failed intelligence, we respond quickly and take corrective action as we learn from our mistakes.

Although we may disagree on tactics, our nation’s belief that freedom is the great peacemaker sets us apart from previous world hegemons.

Ours is a great nation and acknowledging what’s right about America could give hope that the change we make can succeed. And that’s the opportunity that Barack Obama missed.

As former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk liked to say, “You gotta give them hope.” On Tuesday, Barack Obama offered lots of change, but for many Americans, very little hope.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:55 AM | Permalink

Obama’s Old Solutions for a New Economy


Last week, President-elect Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” slogan became, “Maybe We Can,” when it comes to fixing the economy. That seed of doubt should force the incoming president to re-evaluate his economic stimulus package before pushing it through Congress.

The Obama stimulus package reads like a political compromise giving Republicans and Democrats the two things each holds most dear: tax cuts and spending increases. The rest looks like a retread of campaign policy papers repackaged as a boost to the economy. After all, anything the government does will be good for the economy, some believe.

But will the economic stimulus do anything for the economy? I am afraid that perhaps it can’t.  Even if the United States Government spends upwards of a trillion dollars (that it doesn’t have) to get the economy moving, if it isn’t directed to the right places, people may end up saying, “Maybe We Couldn’t”.

The economy’s two largest enemies today are the lack of liquidity in the markets and the lack of consumer credit – both created by debt. Even though equities are cheap, people have no money to invest. Even though retailers are slashing prices, nobody has the disposable income to buy anything. Obama’s economic stimulus should focus on these two obstacles to recovery, and avoid anything which might hinder their repair.

Already the first bullet point, “Immediate Action to Create Good Jobs in America,” is unraveling, as Obama has withdrawn his proposal to create a $3,000 per employee tax credit for small businesses to create new jobs or save existing ones. That leaves increased expensing and the elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses. These are hardly measured that will get people off the unemployment lines and more government spending.

On the demand side of the equation, the tax breaks given to individuals will only put a dent in people’s economic woes but they’ll break the bank in Washington.

The centerpiece of the Obama plan to help “struggling families” is a permanent payroll tax cut of $500 per person. That’s nice if you have a job, but people going on unemployment won’t benefit, nor will entrepreneurs who are off the payroll tax grid altogether.

What’s more, by reducing payroll taxes instead of income taxes, the plan only expedites the insolvency of the Social Security and Medicare systems, which could be the impetus for our next major financial crisis in America.

All of this and, still, the average benefit to the American worker will be less than ten dollars a week. That’s enough to buy two shares of Citi!

The current economic crisis came about as a result of the burst of the housing bubble. Wall Street bankers assumed – like many homeowners – that housing (like the Internet before it) was different from other markets and that it would always appreciate in value. Wall Street and Washington turned a blind eye as an industry of crooks and liars placed bets on housing. Then they doubled down on their bets and now we are all paying for their losses.

While Obama proposes several measures to help homeowners – putting a temporary band-aid on potential foreclosures and helping people readjust their mortgages – his plan does little to address the symptoms that turned the housing bubble’s burst into a global financial meltdown.

In two years, the reductions in Capital Gains Tax rates passed in 2001 are set to expire. Obama has already said he wants to raise the capital gains rate when he gets a chance, and Congress will surely oblige. That’s a problem for the stock market, however, since it raises the cost of investing. We know that a lot of people lost a lot of money in the stock market in 2008. These are also people who are inclined to invest in the markets – if they had the funds.

So why not accelerate the rate at which investors can deduct capital losses – raising the maximum from $3,000 to $30,000 or $300,000 – and put money into investors pockets immediately? That would inject cash into the stock markets and provide an immediate economic stimulus. What’s more, because marginal tax rates are set to go up in a few years, this scheme would be revenue-positive since today’s losses would be offset against higher tax rates after the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011.

On the consumer side, Washington should consider ways to free up credit for consumers, rather than constrict it. The Obama plan has new regulations on credit card companies and payday lenders which would actually reduce the availability of credit, even if it is done in the name of protecting the consumer.

If Washington wants to help the consumer – and thereby get the retail sector moving again – then it should help the consumer by making interest on consumer credit tax deductible just like mortgage interest, if only in the short term. This would help people pay down their credit card debt and make purchasing a car easier, a measure that would directly benefiting Detroit in a way that other bailouts will not. If Washington is concerned that people won’t put their tax savings to these uses, then administer the tax credits using TARP funds and the banks. Any of these proposals will go much further towards stimulating the economy than a measly $10 a week.

The good news about economies is that they are always cyclical. What goes down will eventually go up, and America will be able to proudly say, “Yes We Did” – whether the government helped or not.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:32 AM | Permalink

Managing The Machines of Politics


Many science fiction movies have a common plot: The machines created by humans rise up to take power over their creators. And while the real world version is far more benign, our addiction to knowledge has created a world where we are, for better or worse, increasingly defined by machines. To survive in the Smart Phone Era, we must learn to manage the machines.

Just over a decade ago, I decided to go all-cellular all-the-time. In just a decade, however, the era of the cell phone has come and gone. The cell phone has given way to the smart phone and early adapters, regardless of how smart they truly are, are fast becoming arbiters of knowledge, news and information in their communities.

While visiting my family in Texas over the holidays, my relatives quickly saw how helpful it was to have hipside Internet access. Want the latest stock quotes? Need a phone number for a restaurant? Forget what time you had plane reservations? Just ask Scott, who has the whole Internet in his pocket. A quick tappity-tap in the phone’s browser and any question can be answered, from which team won the 1996 Rose Bowl Game to the ranks of the three enlisted men sitting at the next table over in their dress blues.

No more arguing, no more debates, no more people acting holier-than-thou because they have some trivial information stored in their heads. As my roommate says, the phrase, “I wonder” will soon be replaced by, “I Wiki.”

Where’s My
Fifteen Minutes?

In his new book, Where’s My Fifteen Minutes? Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself the Recognition You Deserve Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman argues that everybody has a public image that they must manage. What your Facebook profile or Google results say about you is as important as any image you put forth about yourself, talking at a seminar, walking down the street, dealing face to face with your neighbors and colleagues. Now that more and more people have the Internet in their pockets, first impressions are as important as the second impressions someone has when they look you up online.

Whenever I meet a new person, I look them up on Facebook and probably Google them. Same goes for many companies evaluating new employees. I have even heard of one courtroom prosecutor who befriended a defendant on a social networking site and gathered evidence for his case!

Our online personas are becoming part of each of us. A blogger’s online persona can quickly define them as a person in the eyes of others, for example. If someone does not manage their Facebook profile, the comments and photos of others will tell their story to the world – be it a true on or not. This, of course, goes double for politicians and public figures.

And if we do not control what is being said about us online, the Internet will begin to control us. Google, Facebook and other online outlets tell stories to others about us, and what everyone must learn is to take charge and tell the stories we want people to hear.

Today’s MySpace kids will become tomorrow’s leaders. The comments of a fifteen or twenty-five year old today could become a speedbump on the information superhighway should they decide to take on, say, a political career at some point in the future.

In some ways, the rise of the machines is well underway. As the World Wide Web becomes ubiquitous, on our desktops, in everyone’s pockets, in cars, on subways, at work, on vacation, those who have access to it will have knowledge to use as they see fit. So for politicians today, and those aspiring to go there, it’s more important than ever to control what you say, and what’s said about you, online as almost any assertion, unless corrected, becomes the truth.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:20 AM | Permalink

Forty Week Solution for GOP


After an often-turbulent, 14-year relationship, the American people broke up with the Republican Party last month, sending a clear message that they had found new suitors in a Democratic President and Congress. Today, and for the next year, the GOP must face a touch choice. Does the party stick around and fight for a love lost, or step back, evaluate what went wrong adopting the classic “it’s not you, it’s me,” strategy to assure the party’s long-term viability?

With the events that have unfolded since Republicans were swept out of Washington, it would be tempting to stick around for a fight. The Right’s favorite punching bags – the Clintons and their minions are back as part of the Obama Cabinet. Juicy corruption charges are engulfing politicians in the President-elect’s home state of Illinois. Congress is on the verge of an historic heist of the taxpayer’s treasure.

With so many opportunities, the temptation to score political points today must be unbearable. But for the sake of the Grand Old Party, we must resist.

After winning the hearts and minds of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party during the primaries, President-elect Barack Obama ran in the general election as a blank slate, upon which Americans could pin their hopes and dream that he could change the country to the America they desired. Only after the election when he had to start thinking of governing did Obama shifted to the center of the political spectrum.

Already, there are rumblings from Obama’s early supporters that President-elect Obama is not the same man as Candidate Obama. Congressman Barney Frank is already chiding the President-elect for a pledge to be a “post-Partisan” President along the lines of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And Progressive Democrats have created a political action committee to hold members of Congress accountable in 2010 for their votes in the first two years of the Obama Administration.

Given enough time to govern, the Democratic Party will tear itself apart or, at the least, offend the very people who brought them to power. In two or four year’s time, the American public’s flirtation with one-party rule from the left could be turned into just another “rebound” relationship where, as often in romance, bad judgement trumps common sense.

There is a natural reaction, of course, to rally around the GOP flag. Bring up Bill Clinton’s sex-capades, try too hard to link Barack Obama to the auctioneering of his Senate seat, or appear too obstructionist on attempts to fix the American economy. With those “tough love” propositions, Republicans will bring Democrats – and the American public – closer together, not tear them apart. Given enough time – and opportunity – the party’s internal divisions will easily boil over.

In order to facilitate the self-destruction of Democratic dominance, Republicans must sit down and shut up for awhile. So for now, it is best that the Grand Old Party take not just forty days and forty nights, but forty weeks in the wilderness. Give the Democratic Party time to bicker, then fight, then tear itself apart.

Step back, and look at how America has changed and how our party must change in order to win it back voters affection, respect and regard.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:53 AM | Permalink

Judicial Review Gone Wrong


In both the first and final ads for the Yes on 8 campaign – supporting a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California – proponents argued that the people, not San Francisco-based judges, should be the final arbiters of the matter.

Today, in a stroke of irony, the Yes on 8 campaign lawyers are asking the California Supreme Court to decide the referendum’s fate, after prevailing by a narrow margin on November 4th. And it doesn’t sound as though the battle between the courts and the voters will end on the day that the California Supreme Court makes its ruling.

More surprising, given the threats to recall any judges who disagree on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, it’s clear the religious right would rather undo decades of work to build a conservative judiciary than allow two loving people to get married.

At issue before the courts is a fundamental Constitutional question: Who has the power to determine the rights of a minority? Is that for the courts to decide or for the voters? And did Proposition 8 attempt to over-rule the courts or change the state’s constitution. The legal tests to determine it success rest on this very specific point of law.

Proposition 8 seems discreet, adding just fourteen words to the California constitution and dealing with just one subject. But a question about the intent of the amendment – and it’s actual legal status – remains unresolved. Does Proposition 8 take away a power from the Courts and give it to the electorate? If it did, well, we have a interesting set of circumstances.

On statutory questions, the courts clearly are the final arbiters. That was made clear in several decisions including the overturning of Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative which denied state benefits to illegal immigrants, and Proposition 22, the 2000 initiative statute to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. On the issue of protecting minority rights, the people of the state of California can – and do – make those decisions. And the courts can undo them.

That decision as to where Proposition 8 legally stands now rests in the hands of the California Supreme Court. Unlike federal courts, these judges are subject to election and the specter of a recall vote if the people disagree with their actions. Proposition 8′s proponents already tried to blackmail businesses who opposed their constitutional amendment, and now they’re trying to blackmail the State’s highest court, which is despicable.

Proponents of Proposition 8 are already threatening a recall of any judge who votes to overturn the measure. California Republican Party Vice Chairman Jon Fleishman argues that “proponents of Proposition 8 do have a “nuclear option” in their arsenal. That option is the recall or non-reconfirmation of members of the California Supreme Court, if they refuse to uphold Proposition 8. It has happened before, and the issue was the California death penalty.”

While claiming that, “The court should have a chance to do the right thing,” Proposition 8 attorney Andrew Pugno also threatens that, “no one would be able to stop,” a recall vote on the judges.

Republicans should be wary of taking the nuclear option out against Republican judges who were appointed by Republican Governors.

Should any member of the California Supreme Court be removed from the bench now or in 2010, their successor will be appointed by centrist Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, or even worse, a newly-elected Governor Jerry Brown, Antonio Villaraigosa or Gavin Newsom and face confirmation by a hyper-partisan, Democratic-controlled State Senate. Years of work to give the state a responsible conservative judiciary will be wasted.

So I ask my fellow Republicans: Is gay marriage worth giving up decades of struggle to control the State courts? Even if these judges lost their jobs, do you think a Schwarzenegger- or Brown-appointed replacement would overturn their decision?

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:45 AM | Permalink

The Dangers of False Hope


To win the White House, President-elect Barack Obama seized on two simple words that summed up what he meant to voters and the world: “change” and “hope”.

Obama would signal a change from a Bush Administration which had squandered the goodwill of the world and the American public over the last six years, and he became the embodiment of the hopes of a nation – and the world.

And therein lies the greatest danger for an Obama presidency. He may well be giving people false hope.

In Barack Obama, the auto-worker in Michigan saw the revival of an ailing industry.

In New York, Barack Obama represented the possibility of a more stable financial system.

In small towns like Wasilla, Alaska, Barack Obama represented the hope that maybe their boys won’t have to go on yet another tour in Iraq.

In Barack Obama, a gay Californian saw an insurance policy for equality should Proposition 8 pass, as it did, eliminating the right to marry for same-sex couples.

In Barack Obama, the French radio reporter saw the possibility that the United States join international institutions such as Kyoto, international courts of justice, accords on human rights and education, and a Sarkozy-led Bretton-Woods for the 21st-Century.

Can Obama be everything to everybody who placed their hope for a better future in the change he would bring? I am afraid not.

It is nearly impossible to get more than 50% of Americans to agree on anything unless they are faced with a zero-sum choice. Indeed many of the 52% of American voters who supported Obama have a different idea of what “change” means than the President-elect does.

Already, Obama voters are taking the blame in California for the elimination of the right to marry for same-sex couples on the same day that California extended a litany of rights to farm animals. I am pretty sure that is not the kind of change in which gay and lesbian Americans believed.

In Europe, Obama’s visage already graces more newsstand covers than any other politician or celebrity. In one man are embodied the hopes and aspirations of the French, the British, the Kenyans; just about everyone around the globe, according to an Economist poll.

Barack Obama will have a friendly Democratically controlled Congress to work with and should be able to advance most of his agenda – whatever that was. His greatest risk is that in order to advance an Obama Agenda, he will have to accept a Pelosi Agenda. That’s sure to pull the president-elect further to the left than the change agent candidate, who built a coalition of everyday Americans, not partisan liberal extremists, would like.

In fact, Obama is already trying to lower expectations. In his victory speech on Nov. 4, he said that change may not happen “in one year, or even in one term.” It’s as if he expects to fail at being everything to everyman as he promised during the campaign.

Obama should look at his predecessor as a cautionary tale. After September 11th, George Bush had an approval rating even higher than Barack Obama does today. He was our leader as the nation was under attack and he garnered international support for his actions. But Bush was unable to reconcile the agendas of the 90-percent of Americans who approved of his job performance and the coalition of nations who supported us after the attacks.

I wish President Obama well. I hope to heck that he can make everybody as happy as he’s led them to believe he will. One of the greatest pain inflicted on anyone is the scorn of having their false hope shattered.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 7:50 AM | Permalink

Three DOG Bubble?


If we learned anything from the late 1990′s, it should have been this: bubbles burst. What goes up explosively, must come down, in a similar manner.

The tech bubble that led to happy memories of the Clinton Administration came apart suddenly, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 40 percent and the NASDAQ down 60 percent in just one year. But those good times were so good that we forgot what happened next.

I don’t know if it is true or not, but Amsterdammers like to tell a story about the tulip craze. At the height of the tulip bubble, a bulb could fetch as much in the open market as a canal house on the Prinzengracht.

America has had its fair share of tulips in the last decade – the Internet, housing, corn, food, and oil – and each has risen precipitously, made a handful of speculators rich, until the bubble burst spectacularly. The common man usually only made it into the ponzi-scheme just before the bubble burst, leading them to buy high, sell low.

Lately, the stock market has reminded me of the main character from the movie, Terminator. We have developed stock trading machines that are so intelligent that they are out of our control. Last Friday, followers of the Dow Jones Industrial Average must have suffered whiplash as the market swung back and forth in a range of more than ten percent – sometimes rising or falling hundreds of points during a commercial break on CNBC.

The machines – computers, really, programmed to get the most out of every trade – told us Friday that an 8000-point Dow was the bottom, and the machines tested that bottom twice, only to have immediate surges of 600-points or more.

With this odd scenario in mind, it seems readily apparent that the new bubble in the American economy is the DOG bubble. That would be the Dow Jones Short Exchange Traded Fund. Woof.

Which would mean that speculators were betting on a reverse bubble. They were profiting off the Dow’s fall. What’s more, they’ll continue to do so. As with most bubbles, there are corrections along the way. Were Monday’s record gains just a correction or a sign that even the DOG bubble has burst? Only time will tell.

In the world of media, the “Feiler Faster Thesis” says that as society gets faster, the media cycle – our awareness and interest in a story or event – shortens. Once, when we relied on paper, news story may have had legs of several days; today, on the web, most stories last less than twenty-four hours. By the time a weekly or biweekly publication prints any “news” most readers have seen or heard the stories already.

Which raise a question: Is the Feiler Faster Thesis is spilling over into the markets? Bubbles used to last years; long enough for everyone to adopt the conventional wisdom that the price of a good – stock, tulip bulbs, houses, oil – would never change course. The last series of bubbles seem to have lasted but months each. And, of course, we are only weeks into the DOG bubble. It could be gone by the time you read this.

If we are lucky, the markets will find something new to fall in love with, other than the mass destruction of wealth through selling our markets short. Perhaps it will be gold, or maybe the Swiss Franc, but by the time the average person becomes aware of it, I’d suggest it will also be time to go against the grain and bet that the next bubble will burst as well.

Woof. Woof.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 5:00 AM | Permalink

Please, Joe, Don’t Go to WeHo


After the presidential race, the most closely-watched election in America is Proposition 8, the California Constitutional Amendment which would eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples. For the gay and lesbian community, the lap-dogs of the Democratic Party for decades, the debate over how to direct its limited resources is about to come to a head.

A few weeks ago, it became clear that for the first time, Proposition 8 had a genuine chance of passing in November when we learned the measure’s proponents had raised $25 million to the opponents’ $15 million. But that same day, the Barack Obama for President Campaign announced a $5000-per-plate fundraiser with Joe Biden in the heart of West Hollywood. It’s set for this week.

Immediately conversation at the debate-watching parties switched from conversation about the dullest presidential debate in memory to a new, hotter topic: What should be more important to gay Americans, electing Democrat Obama or defeating Proposition 8?

I, for one, was shocked to even hear there was a debate. The Religious Right, and especially the Mormon church, decided long ago that buying the election in California and defeating Prop. 8 was more important than sending John McCain and Sarah Palin to the White House. They’ve put their money where their mouths are.

But in gay enclaves like West Hollywood, the answer for many gay and lesbian Americans isn’t so clear. The reaction to Biden’s visit has fallen into two camps: those who argue that Obama will do more good for gay and lesbian equality if he is elected, and those who want to say, “Please, Joe, Don’t Go!”

By scheduling a big-ticket fundraiser in the heart of the Golden State just week’s before the election, the Obama campaign has turned the debate over civil rights for gays and lesbians into a zero-sum game. Should the $5,000 contributions be going out-of-state to elect Barack Obama? Or should they be going to buy television ads to protect the freedom to marry?

Sending Biden to West Hollywood in the heat of the battle over Proposition 8 is either a tone deaf decision or a stroke of genius. Either way, it’s a signal that Democrats thoroughly understand the political aspirations of America’s gay and lesbian community – and are going to take full and complete advantage of their long-time supporters.

In her debate with Biden, Republican Governor Sarah Palin adopted Barack Obama’s position of supporting hospital visitation rights. Contrast that to Biden’s saying he was opposed to marriage equality for same-sex couples, and that he believed that domestic partnerships can be constitutionally equal. By contrast, those like me who oppose Proposition 8 and are working actively to defeat it, are making the argument that marriage does matter – socially and in the eyes of the law.

The choice for gay and lesbian Californians should be clear. Do they want to remain full citizens of California with full equality under the law, or would they prefer to elect a Democrat to the White House who promises little more than what some communities have been offering for more than two decades, the right to “register” their partnerships at city hall?

To anyone thinking of writing that $5,000 check without doubling or tripling the amount to stand up for their own rights first, I have one comment: “Say it Ain’t So!”

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 5:00 AM | Permalink

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