Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Link -- Sayet Right

Pete Peltier recently introduced me to a video on YouTube. It was Evan Sayet speaking at the National Heritage Foundation. I'll take more time discussing his lecture later, but encourage everyone to watch Regurgitating the Apple: How Modern Liberals 'Think', and visit his blog.

Of course, remember to come back here for the really important stuff.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Accrediting your adversary

Republicans have already made a strategic error in the 2008 presidential election by focusing not on the merits of their own candidates, but on the presumed democratic nominees, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama. Every time those two democratic presidential candidates are mentioned republicans give them more credibility than they've earned or paid for. The most important names republicans have in the race are republican candidates', not the democrats'. This is what accrediting your adversary is. Rather than focusing on your proposition you focus on your opposition, and when you do that, you either elevate them to your level or lower yourself to theirs. In either case you make them your equal.

We can see this in our state's auto industry and sometimes in our own businesses or careers. We focus more on our competition than our jobs, products or customers.

Some conservatives in Ferndale are in a quandary on how best to help their city. They're concerned Ferndale's gay activists are taking the city down a path from which there is no return. Recently, Ferndale was voted the third gay-friendliest city in the US by Advocate magazine and the award was not greeted by enthusiasm by these social and religious conservatives.

Whatever Ferndale's gay population is (I expect less than 5%), by constantly whining about it they keep attracting attention to Ferndale's gay population. Whenever we name them as a contributing cause of anything we give them more credit than they deserve. Not unlike how global warming advocates elevate man to be as great a force of nature as even the sun, by claiming man's activities have contributed to the earth's warming (and apparently man has contributed to the warming of
Mars, Jupitor, and Pluto as well).

In any case, blaming gays for Ferndale's ills gives them more publicity than they need, and area conservatives may be thought to have a myopic obsession on homosexuality. In fact, as some give more credit to homosexuals than they deserve, they simultaneously discredit themselves.

The gay community has one (and a half?) councilpersons and enough sympathizers to pass the
HRO. It mattered not whether they did the right thing, only that they felt they did the right thing. But honestly, is Ferndale's greatest problem Ferndale's gay population?

They're a distraction. An embarrassing one for some, but a distraction all-the-same.

Ferndale's problem is not its homosexual hospitality. Ferndale is part of a region suffering economic recession, our state's greatest industry is in decline, our state government is over budget and our governor is working toward a tax increase, both white and blue collar workers are losing their jobs, our housing values are falling, we have no public transportation, our schools are below average, our city's socio-economically diverse neighborhoods make it difficult to craft unified policy, and Proposition A and Headlee have wreaked property tax chaos on our city's housing stock and contribute to Ferndale's relatively high millage rate (24 mills) compared to other cities to our immediate north (Royal Oak's 11). On less weighty issues, we've too little parking to support our downtown district which depresses its growth, its profitability, and its attractiveness to higher-end or name retailers like Barnes & Noble.

And area conservatives think our gay population is the city's greatest challenge?

Perhaps conservatives' greatest challenge is to be honest about the tough issues affecting all Ferndale residents, pursue the greater goals with the greater rewards, and ignore the low hanging fruit.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Two men and a truck ... and a bank

In 1803 James Monroe arranged to purchased the Louisiana Territory from a cash-starved French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, for $15 million. Despite young America's westward expansion and settling in the new territory, President Thomas Jefferson wasn't compelled to move our nation's capital from Washington DC to New Orleans or St. Louis to be closer to his "growing market."

Even today with continued population migrations to America's South West, President Bush has no intentions on relocating our nation's headquarters to Scottsdale Arizona, Dallas Texas, or anywhere else than where it's been for over 200 years, despite Washington DC's economic and social hurdles, or its fickle climate.

Earlier this month, Comerica Bank announced it will be moving its headquarters from its downtown Detroit home, where its been for over 150 years, to Dallas Texas. In a press release, Chairman and CEO Ralph Babb Jr. said it was important for Comerica to be closer to its "growing market."

Early responses to Comerica's announcement were mostly emotional and irrational, ranging from anger expressed by the Governor's office (Michigan's governor, not Texas') to resignation at the now-accepted belief the bank's move reflects an economic reality and shouldn't be thought less of for thinking less of Michigan. One of the explanations given on the radio was something like, "Imagine if your store was on the East side and all your customers moved to the West side. Moving just makes sense to be closer to your customers."

Perhaps. But all Comerica's customers didn't move.

But we're not here to blow about Comerica or whine about feeling betrayed. Let's assume Comerica's executives are the vanguard of business leadership and are setting an example other organizations might emulate. To be closer to their "growing markets" who else might move and where would they move to? If moving HQ to your "growing markets" makes sense then:
  • General Motors would abandon downtown Detroit for Beijing to be closer to its growing market in China
  • Asian manufacturers would move to Benton Arkansas to be closer to Walmart's HQ and their growing markets
  • Mexico's Presidente Calderón would move his country's Distrito Federal from Mexico City to San Diego to be nearer his migrating citizenship
  • IBM would abandon Armonk NY and Microsoft would leave Redmond WA for Bangalore, India
  • Anything French would stay where it is
Except for the last one, the others don't seem to make sense. The location of a company's headquarters is more influenced by where its executives live, or want to live, than their markets.

As business decisions go, there's room to criticize Comerica's as being peculiar and their justifications specious, and there needn't be anything emotional about it. Let's at least hope they hire Michigan companies to move their offices from 500 Woodward Avenue and at least some of the 200 employees that will be moving with the furniture.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Leading from the front rather than the back

Here's a quick (political) science experiment to try. All you need is a coffee cup, a vacuum that can both suck and blow and some popped popcorn. Take five popped popcorn kernels and scatter them on a flat surface with at least an inch between them. Place the cup approximately one foot from the kernels. Attach the vacuum's hose to the "blow" vent and try blowing the kernels into the cup.

This is the scientific equivalent to "leading from behind." The popcorn moves, and moves quickly, but it's nearly impossible to control their direction. EDS produced a fairly entertaining Super Bowl commercial in 2001 with a related premise:
herding cats. When politicians, parties, or political action committees send email, letters, or make impassioned speeches warning us against impending doom, a national crisis, or political villains (Pelosi, Gingrich) it's to move voters (popcorn kernels in our experiment into action) into some direction. At best this approach works best at moving voters away from something rather than towards something.

Now attach the vacuum's hose to the sucking vent and try to capture the kernels. I've repeated this experiment dozens of times with different bits and pieces representing voters (dried macaroni, bits of
Play-Doh, small marbles, and even dirt) with the same result--sucking is more effective than blowing, but blowing is more dramatic. This is how much more effective leading from the front is than the back, but the latter makes for better TV.

The problem with sucking over blowing is politicians must have a believable vision of where they want to lead voters. It's not about being against abortion (though they may be) it's about being for adoption, for marital sex, and for policies that encourage legitimate births and increase the strength and stability of two-parent families. It's not about increasing money for education, its about how best to use the education dollars we already spend. Increasing the amount of money is similar to increasing the vacuum blower's horsepower or adding more popcorn. By doing both we've done more of something but haven't improved the result. Traditionally, conservative politics have been focused on results and liberal politics on activity. Conservatives feel better when results are achieved, liberals feel better for having done something. Head Start is a good example. Money is spent and at-risk children are enrolled in government sponsored (read: paid-for) programs under the pretense of preparing them for kindergarten, but the academic results are unchanged. Liberals prefer affirmative action programs to enroll more blacks in colleges and universities but pay little attention to graduation rates (getting the popcorn into the cup).

Already, the 2008 presidential elections are in full-swing. Recently, at Michigan's State Republican Convention in Grand Rapids (February 9, 10) too many of the speeches regarding 2008's election focused on the presumptive democratic candidate apparents Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The republican machinery seems to be spending more time blowing delegates' kernels away with visions of democratic doom and gloom than promoting conservative policies worth getting excited about and evangelizing for.

During the convention I had a brief discussion with
Saul Anuzis, Michigan State Republican Chairman, about advertising for something rather than against something. He reminded me that negative advertising (blowing) polls better than positive advertising. Apparently, popcorn kernels aren't without a little self determination of their own. Regrettably, Saul is right--but only as it relates to political campaigns in the Post Ronald Reagan Era where our elected representatives and leader-wannabes are lacking for big ideas worth standing for (like Star Wars or ending the Cold War) than standing against smaller ideas like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

Emails and fund raising letters are great sources of blowing. At the end of the 2006 election I wasn't asked to support republican candidates but fight against the end of the world which would certainly come with Pelosi's speaker of the house--with my money, of course.

Blowing isn't the exclusive franchise of politicians. Everybody takes their turn blowing. Many people that consider themselves politically active are actually just political blowers. Consider the noise surrounding Comerica's moving its headquarters (approx. 200 jobs) to Dallas. Many politicians, pundits, and persons-on-the-street lambasted Comerica for abandoning its Detroit roots and threatened to take their banking business elsewhere. This is an emotional response with little rational thought behind it. Comerica was either a good investment counselor or it wasn't. It was either a good lender or it wasn't. The presence of the CEO and bank president at 500 Woodward Avenue didn't make their CD rates any more competitive. If banking with Comerica made sense before when they were headquartered in Detroit it should still make sense now they're in Dallas. However, if the only reason you banked with them was their home town roots then perhaps you need to take your banking more seriously and blowing less seriously.

Closer to Ferndale there's been sustained blowing about a gay-oriented adult bookstore opening near Hilton and Nine Mile roads. Too much of the opposition to the store's opening is focused on the content of the material they propose to sell and the store's proximity to neighborhoods and not enough is focused on zoning ordinances and other regulations that permitted the store's license to be granted in the first place. To my knowledge, although the Ferndale City Council has unanimously condemned the store's Ferndale address (not to mention its proximity to a neighborhood) little focus has been given to reviewing any of the city's ordinances.

Lastly, an elderly but politically active Ferndale resident was ticketed last year for endangering traffic. Her anti-war protest encouraged motorists to blow their horns (that's a clue) if they were against the war in Iraq. She contested the ticket and it was eventually dismissed. A lot of activity, but only a little egg on the city's face but none on the war in Iraq.

The last candidate to leave an impression for sucking (in a good way) was
Newt Gingrich when in 1994 he promised, as speaker of the house, that 10 bills would be brought to the house floor for debate and voting within that congress' first 100 days. It can never be discovered for certain to what degree the Contract with America was responsible for sweeping republicans into congress in the middle of President Clinton's first term, but I suspect it made shaky votes solid, and swung votes to the right.

I'd rather suck than blow, but aren't sure how that'll play on TV.