Business 101 or History of a Con

There are some very basic things that every one who wants to be a manager, let alone a CEO or leader of a major organization should know.

  • Your first job when taking over as CEO is to win over the workers.
  • You can’t effectively lead if the people in charge of implementing your strategy don’t believe that you know or care about what you are doing. And you’ll lose them if they think you are not selecting the most qualified people to get the job done.
  • You can’t shit on people, be them employees, customers or gatekeepers. If you do, you’ve lost them and you’ve lost.
  • If you are going to make a threat, you better be able to make good on it.
  • You can fire some people, but you can’t fire them all.
  • You can be tough once, you can be tough twice, but if you don’t deliver, you’ve lost forever. It’s hard to build a good reputation; it’s impossible to repair a bad one. And when you’ve got that bad reputation, the world becomes a very, very small place.

This is simple Business Administration 101, and that Mr. Trump doesn’t get Change Management is truly remarkable. This actually shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, even with all of his deal-making prowess and alleged business expertise. Mr. Trump has absolutely no experience managing anything other than a medium-sized family-owned business that sells little more than his brand name.

He may be a businessman, but he has certainly never been a CEO of a publicly traded company with shareholders and a market to answer to. He has never even been an employee or had a boss. Basically, he has never been told he was wrong or had to keep his word. Instead as president, Trump has:

  • Alienated professional bureaucrats with non-stop insults and scapegoating, apparently even running a witch hunt.
  • He shows no interest in details, just wants the victory.
  • He appoints people with no skill or background in the subject matter (ie, his daughter, son-in-law who you’re just going to love, and his personal bankruptcy lawyer).
  • He publicizes his own ignorance on a daily basis (ie, no one knows Lincoln was a Republican or that passing health care legislation was hard).
  • And he insults everyone, all the time.

Mr. Trump is even showing his incompetence when it comes to his signature, superior deal-making skills. As John Harwood twitted

He makes the mistake of thinking that he can live off charm and threats, like he’s a high school senior. I know this is Nancy Pelosi, but still she has a point:

“So far he’s acting like a rookie. It’s really been amateur hour,” she added. “He seems to think that a charm offensive or a threat will work — that saying ‘I can do this for you’ or ‘I can do this against you’ will work. That’s not the way it works. You have to build real consensus, and you have to gain a real knowledge of the policy — and the president hasn’t done either of those things.”

Even Obama wasn’t able to make good on his signature promise to close Guantanamo. But he didn’t whine and cry about the Deep State or that Republicans weren’t’ nice to him. If the Deep State didn’t exist, well Trump has just created them and given them power.

The fact of the matter is that Trump is over his head. He doesn’t know how to run anything other than his very simple brand-licensing business where his employees are his kids and where he’s suffered four bankruptcies. In part, that is why he thinks he can lie and get away with it. Paul Waldman in the Washington Post asks why Trump repeatedly lies:

So why is it that Trump feels comfortable repeatedly making this [promise to restore coal jobs] that no serious person, Republican or Democrat, thinks he’ll be able to keep?

I’d argue that the answer lies in Trump’s unique experience as a businessman. In his particular corner of the business world, you really can create wealth just by managing public perception — or at least he could. This was the theory of his entire career, that by fashioning a public persona that was as much of a caricature of wealth and success as Scrooge McDuck, he could turn himself into the picture he was painting. The more people saw Donald Trump as the embodiment of wealth, the more they would want to invest in his projects and buy his products, which would in turn make him wealthier. Making ridiculous promises and outright lying were all part of creating the image; one of my favorite examples is how Trump Tower is 58 stories high, but he numbered the floors up to 68 so that everyone would think it was taller than it is.

And it worked, even if not to quite the extent he claims. Over time, the Trump Organization became less about actual real estate development and more about brand licensing, where he would give someone rights to use the Trump name and its association with garish conspicuous consumption, take little or no risk and just collect the fees. It’s a good business, but it’s not the same as politics. Brand management is certainly important to political success, but if you’re the president, you have to deliver for people, and deliver on things such as health care, which are complex and require difficult trade-offs.

There’s another key difference between Trump’s business experience and politics. When he conned someone, like the attendees of Trump University, no matter how unhappy they were he could move on to other marks (even if he might have to pay his victims off if the courts caught up with him). It was a big world, and there were always other people who might be taken in by the next scam. But in politics, you have to go back to the people you made promises to the first time around, and ask them to put their faith in you again.

What concerns me is, as a I have mentioned with regards to the Russian scandal, not that Trump won the election because of evil Russians, but that Trump is so ego-blind that he sets himself up to be played at every corner. As Maureen Dowd writes about Trump’s Health Care fiasco:

You’re all about flashy marketing so you didn’t notice that the bill was junk, so lame that even Republicans skittered away.

You were humiliated right out of the chute by the establishment guys who hooked you into their agenda — a massive transfer of wealth to rich people — and drew you away from your own.

You sold yourself as the businessman who could shake things up and make Washington work again. Instead, you got worked over by the Republican leadership and the business community, who set you up to do their bidding.

That’s why they’re putting up with all your craziness about Russia and wiretapping and unending lies and rattling our allies.

They’re counting on you being a delusional dupe who didn’t even know what was in the bill because you’re sitting around in a bathrobe getting your information from wackadoodles on Fox News and then, as The Post reported, peppering aides with the query, “Is this really a good bill?”

You got played.

[Emphasis added]

But just when I am convinced that Trump is America’s biggest joke, that the thing that everyone who ever went to high school knows – that the tough guy bully is full of shit, is going nowhere, and self-destructs bald and bloated in the end. Just when I am convinced he’s too incompetent to be a tyrant. I then look at the facts from another angle, as I have seen a number of people doing on twitter:

And I think: imagine a movie about a guy who runs for president. He’s got the crowds on their feet. They’re chanting and enraged, “Lock her up, lock her up”.  And then he bravely declares, “I will repeal and replace Obamacare on Day One. It will be so easy.” The crowd goes will. They love him. He loves himself.

Day One comes. Then day two, three, four, and months go by. And of course she is never locked up, and Obamacare is not repealed or replaced, not to mention that Mexicans have not payed for the Wall.

But, his family makes a killing. Their business is soaring, and their expenses are paid for by the taxpayer.

I’d name that movie “History of a Con”.

It’s the United States of Suckers. We all just got conned. Not much of surprise. He’s been doing it his whole life.

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Get a Warrant

Been hearing stories of people being asked by TSA for access to their cellphones at airports, even on domestic flights. In theory, the Fourth Amendment is something both Republicans and Democrats should agree on.

So get a warrant!

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The End of Innocence

My six year son is having regular, recurring nightmares. Even before he falls asleep, he tells me that he is scared because he doesn’t want to have “bad dreams”. Normally when I ask, he says he doesn’t remember them, but yesterday morning he snuggled next to me on the sofa and said, “Daddy, I know what my bad dreams are about. War.”

It all started last month when his class began studying Picasso’s Guernica. He was fascinated about the painting, especially because his book on Picasso said the painting was bigger than a soccer goal (and my son is obsessed with soccer). But one night before going to bed, he asked me why planes were bombing the town of Guernica and what happened to the people when they were bombed, especially the kids his age. I did my best to say that the war happened a long time ago.

He then said, “Daddy, what was World War II?” which he only knew about because according to his book it is when Picasso lived in Paris. I told him that it was a war that happened mainly in Europe a long time ago. When he asked if Grandpa was alive then, I explained that his great grandmother (who is still alive today) had two brothers who fought in the war and that one of them was awarded the special Purple Heart medal.

My great uncles were first generation Italian Americans, who like many first generation immigrants were the first to be drafted and sent to war. I didn’t get into details, but here is an extract from a short piece about the one who was wounded (not the one in the photo):

In 1942, as a very young man, Ralph was drafted into the U.S. Army 441st Auto-motored Weapons Co. His first time out of the Metro New York area was for Basic Training at Camp Stewart, Georgia. From Georgia, his world travels began in earnest with his unit being deployed to Africa. Ralph and his army unit then became part of the Allied Forces that invaded southern Italy in 1943. Ralph became a member of the four-man team half-track crew, which housed a twin 50 caliber machine gun. Ralph’s unit then moved from Sicily to Anzio, where they joined Patton’s 5th Army.

As the 5th Army proceeded next to Rome, Ralph was very seriously wounded and left on the battlefield for dead. By some stroke of very good fortune, Ralph’s cousin happened upon him and carried him to the medic station. From there, he was taken to a hospital in Naples for the start of his treatment. Ralph Perrotta was awarded a Purple Heart, during his stay at the Naples hospital. He was enrolled in the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in recognition of exceptional sacrifice in defense of the U.S.

My son then wanted me to confirm that the war was a long time ago and that there were no longer wars or bombings. I told him honestly, yet gently that there are still some wars in the world, in particular one in Syria. He then asked if in Syria they bombed at night time and where the kids would go during the bombing.

I lied and said that the children were safe and that Syria was far away. But Syria is not far away, the kids are not safe, no one is safe, and no one can say that wars like the brutal civil war in Spain or the world war shortly thereafter won’t threaten my children in their lifetime. Certainly I cannot imagine what it was like for my uncles to be sent off to Italy to fight in a war, ironically they didn’t believe in (at the time many Americans, especially anti-communists like my great-grandfather, were very much against U.S. intervention in Europe).

Maybe it’s the man we now have in the White House, his utter disregard for the world order and all décor, the fact that on the other side of the Mediterranean, a horrendous war continues and that when a fire spreads, there is likely nowhere to hide – but I feel like I am losing the fatherly innocence that the world will be safe for my children. If my child is terrified by the 80 year old painting of a war, I cannot begin to imagine the life of a Syrian child or parent today.

* * *

A few weeks later, my sister and niece came to visit us in Madrid, and my son was very excited to go the Reina Sofa Museum with them to see the Guernica. “Daddy, it’s bigger than a soccer goal!” But when we were just turning the corner into the large room that holds the painting, my son began to cry and say that he was too scared to see it. After fifteen minutes of back and forth, I finally convinced him to take a look. He loved the painting, especially its size. It’s funny because I never thought much of the Guernica, but it is a real testament to Picasso’s art that 80 years later, his painting – which was intended to depict the horrors of war – can have such a profound impact on a child.

About the same time, Audi premiered its Super Bowl commercial about how girls face greater challenges than boys. I have two boys and a newborn baby girl. Until that commercial – even though I considered myself very conscious of the disparate treatment of women in society, I had never given a thought to the fact that the little girl before me would face a different reality to that of my sons. Who said art no longer has an impact?

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Brand USA® and What Makes America Great

As an American in Europe for more than fifteen years, I have a pretty clear idea of what makes America great and where we could also use some improvement. Contrast this month’s decision by the EU Court of Justice to permit employers to discriminate against employees based on religious practice to the U.S. courts’ repeated decisions to overrule or stay the sitting president’s orders to bar entry to nationals from six Muslim countries. And I am reminded of what I love about my country.

According the EU Court of Justice,

An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,” the court said in a statement.

This is, of course, the exact opposite of the right to freedom of expression, association and religion enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution and guaranteed to Americans by more than two hundred years of legislation and jurisprudence. Europe has never experienced anything similar to our anti-discrimination laws, Civil Rights Movement, or other social movements to make the “the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” of our Declaration of Independence available to all. Looking at the European court’s ruling with the eyes of an American lawyer, the Europeans have in fact perfectly defined and then legalized direct discrimination.

If you’re not convinced about the difference, read the rules prohibiting religious discrimination in the American workplace, including “religious garb”. Or read the judge’s decision on the second Trump travel ban:

According to Plaintiffs, the Executive order also results in “their having to live in a country and in a State where there is the perception that the Government has established a disfavored religion”

But isn’t that the real difference between how Americans and European define themselves? A large part of the American self-image is based on living in a society that does not promote or prohibit religion; in theory thus allowing for new entrants to compete for the American Dream based on economic ambition, rather than pure cosmetic and ethno-cultural assimilation. Of course in practice the reality has been less than optimal, but at least as a society we are able to aspire to the principles of our founding, and with the help of lawyers and activists, improve step by step. Where were the religious freedom activists when the EU Court of Justice gave its ruling? Meanwhile, there were scores of pro bono lawyers camping out at airports around the country when Trump passed his first ban.

On the other hand, Europeans have a lot of trouble figuring out what it means to be European other than simply being from Europe. So Europeans expect you as the new entrant to become just like them. To eat, dress, and talk like they do. In fact the biggest compliment a European can give you is “you are just like one of us”. Almost every single day of the week when I go to lunch an hour earlier than my colleagues here in Spain, I always get a comment about how strange I am for eating at 12:30, instead of at 2:00pm. Or for eating just a sandwich instead of a hot meal.

It’s no doubt that after having cleansed themselves of practically all non-Christians in the 20th Century, Europeans find any other form of religious expression, foreign and confrontational. No one finds it strange that women have to wear a veil when meeting the Pope at the Vatican, but could never understand why a woman would voluntarily wear a Muslim veil, unless under male duress.

They also forget that European women wore scarves well into the last century. In Madrid, for example, on the feast day of their patron Saint Isdro, local women and little girls were the traditional Chulapa dress and headscarf. And in my old neighborhood of Chamberí, if you saw a woman dressed like she was from Saudi Arabia, she was usually a Catholic nun (and teaching at a publicly subsidized charter school).

From an American perspective, having grown up in a multicultural town where my next door neighbors were Jewish, Iranian, Hindu, Black, Mormon, Nicaraguan, and Korean, there was nothing strange about having, for example, a Jewish or Sik boy sitting next to me on the yellow public school bus wearing a kippah or turban respectively or seeing my friend’s mother get the mail dressed in a sari.  As long as you bought into the fiction of the American dream (hard work and meritocracy), you could be whatever religion you wanted.

While I enjoy some of the significantly more civilized and advanced aspects of European life (few guns, low crime, free universal health care, generous vacation and paid maternity/paternity leave), when I read about the EU court permitting religious discrimination in the workplace by the same Je Suis Charlie hypocrites, I dearly miss my First Amendment right to be both free from religion and free to be openly religious.

But it’s not just the Bill of Rights. As my former boss and now president of George Mason University, Angel Cabrera, wrote yesterday in the Washington Post,

American innovation has been the envy of the world for the last century. Our ability to discover scientific breakthroughs, invent disruptive technologies and build successful companies that make those advances broadly available has been unparalleled. This creativity is the product of a culture that is uniquely open to new ideas, that encourages and rewards risk taking, that values people for what they achieve, not where they come from. It is also the result of a constant supply of talented people from outside the United States, many of whom came to this country seeking world-class education and an open society where they could thrive.

America is more than just my rights story. It’s a global brand with its can-do outlook. It’s about being solution-driven, making things happen, and moving forward. It’s about striving to be the best. But, people around the world don’t buy the American flag t-shirt or beach towel because they think it stands for “America First” or you are not welcome or trusted here. For that, they could have worn a different flag on their outfit.

Of all people, Mr. Trump of the Trump brand empire should understand that his words, travel bans, walls and nativism will have a major effect on the American brand.

So it is to Trump and Trumpsters that I ask: when you talk about “making America great again” what exactly is it that made us great in the first place? And when the rest of the world looks at USA® what is that you want them to buy into?

 

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Becoming a Developing Country

Back in January I asked the question, “Have You Ever Been to a Developing Country” to describe how Trump and Republicans’ vision of America would bring America closer to resembling a developing country where you cannot drink the water, only the rich can prosper, educate themselves, afford health care, and where the government only spends money on national defense and the police.

Guess what? Now it is official. Trump’s budget proposal looks just like that of any third world Banana Republic. At least unlike third world despots, we know that our president is not milking the presidency for personal gain.

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The Healthiest President Ever!

I apologize for the revisionism, but these photos speak for themselves.

Need I continue?

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Bipartisan Collusion to Make Russians More Important Than They Are

sessions-i-lie-because-i-can

 

UPDATED BELOW

Let there be no doubts. I have no love for Mr. Trump who I believe to be a uniquely unqualified mediocre businessman blowhard psychotic old man with small penis syndrome. But let’s be honest: This whole Russian thing is a big joke on Americans. The Russians did nothing and are nobodies.

The real scandal should be that the tiny brained Democrats need a tiny brained reason for Americans to hate Trump that does not bring to light the fact that Democrats have nothing to offer the American people and are in bed with the same Wall Street and corporate interests as Trump & Co. Then you have the dumb-ass Republicans who wrongly think the Russians did them a favor and somehow want to both show Russia their gratitude and hide that fact at the same time. Furthermore, Mr. Trump’s ego is so vulnerable to manipulation, that the mere hint that a foreign power favors him over Obama turns him into putty in their hands.

But the fact of the matter is that the hacked emails revealed absolutely no wrong-doing on the part of Hillary. Of course, Americans are too tribalistic and persuadable to have realized that it was all about nothing. All they knew was that there was supposed to be something bad about her private email server (but they don’t know what) and that there were hacked emails. Add those two together with 30 years of brainwashing that Hillary is evil, and ergo email scandal proves she’s Crooked Hillary.

Even though the investigations were never about corruption and those emails revealed no wrong-doing, I believe they were ultimately in the public interest, just as the leaked “grab’em by the pu$$y” recording of Trump was. Does it matter who disclosed them? Americans, Russians or others? The information was true and newsworthy. Had the Russians hacked voting booths, this would be a very different story.

Objectively the Trump recording should have been more damaging to Trump than the Hillary emails were to her, but it wasn’t. Evangelicals still voted for a disgusting con artist pig with no moral or business scruples while far too many Democrats stayed home on Election Day. Personally, I think the FBI decision to pretend to reopen the investigation was decisive but not the email hack.

Now we have Mr. Sessions (and other Trump appointees) lying about having spoken to Russian officials. In the case of Sessions, it makes absolutely no sense that he lied under oath. He had plenty of valid justifications as a Senator for having met with the Russian ambassador. So why does the person who is now Attorney General, the highest ranking US official in charge of enforcing the laws of the nation, commit perjury? Surely if he really is one of the top lawyers in the country, he understood the question and knew that his answer was false. Either he’s an idiot and unqualified or he is a felon. But in America, if you are a person of color or an average white dude, our judicial system is unforgiving. When you are an immigrant, you get deported. When you are part of the ruling elite, you keep your job and pay absolutely no personal or professional price for your actions. So much for Personal Responsibility in America. It reminds me of this silly kids song – Johnny Johnny Yes Papa – my 20 month old  loves. I have my own version:

Father: Jeffrey Jeffrey
Little Jeffrey: Yes, Papa
F: Speaking to Russians?
LJ: No Papa
F: Telling Lies?
LJ: No Papa
F: Open your mouth
LJ: Ha ha ha

Mr. Sessions lies like a little boy because he can get away with it. Ha ha ha.

But overall, the tragedy of going retro with the Russian paranoia is that both Democrats and Republicans have colluded here, arguably unintentionally for their own selfish reasons, to rehabilitate Russia as a global powerbroker and force to be reckoned with. Everyone should be ashamed of themselves. It’s just really dumb geopolitics.

UPDATE 5 March 2017:

Now that it is clear that various Trump advisors and appointees, including his son-in-law, had meetings with Russian officials during the campaign and prior to entering office, Trump has decided to go with “but Obama was illegally wiretapping me”. Here are some quick observations:

  • Again, who cares about the Russian meetings? Does anyone doubt that Bibi – who openly hated Obama – had conversations with Trump & Co.? I don’t think there is anything wrong per se with Trump speaking to Russians. I think he did engage with them because he has a pathetic need for attention, as said above. What doesn’t look good, though, is for the Trump team to try to cover up the meetings. While I am not concerned about those meetings (at least based on the evidence we have to date about Russia’s involvement in the election), I am concerned by (i) Trump’s need to cover it up with lie, (ii) having a president who is so easy for foreign governments to bait, and (iii) Trump’s decision to scapegoat a former president with wild, unfounded allegations.
  • Even if the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump, that would not absolve Trump if he or his team had acted illegally or excuse their instinct to lie about the meetings.
  • Explain this to me: Trump first asked that someone hack Hillary’s emails, congratulated the Russians for the hack, but then whines incessantly about leaks against his administration. Either leaks are bad or they are not.
  • The Republican mantra about domestic surveillance post Snowden has been “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about”. I guess that doesn’t apply to Trump.
  • Trump loves to keep a scandal alive. Instead of moving on, he goes off on twitter and tries to blame someone else, this time Obama. One would think this is just bad political strategy. If Trump were a master strategist, he might be doing this on purpose to distract Americans from, say, quietly pushing Bannon’s dark policies. But, Trump is both a nihilist who couldn’t care about policy and too dumb to think that far ahead.
  • After the election, Democrats criticized Obama for not having intervened on the Trump/Russian relationship. As the argument went, if Trump was in bed with the Russians, the intelligence communities would have informed Obama and he could have done something about it. But Obama remained silent. My guess is that Obama was smart enough to know that you don’t want to give Putin the free publicity. Had O Obama really wanted to get Trump, he would have had ample opportunity.
  • One of my biggest criticisms of Obama was his Look Forward Not Backward policy relating to the egregious law breaking of the Bush Administration because it meant that future presidents could commit the same crimes with the same impunity. In part that is how people like Trump could campaign on reinstating torture or reviving Guantanamo. But my purely political criticism was that no Republican president would ever respect Obama’s gesture of not investigating him. Clearly Trump never got that memo. As with everything else, he just doesn’t give a fuck.
  • No president in American history has ever played the victim as much as Trump. He won the election but still can’t come to terms with it. Everyone is unfair to him. Poor boy.
  • Welcome to Great Again!

Note: this post is derived in parts from comments I made on this subject on Facebook this week.

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