I know, wrong?

i_know_right_-_Google_SearchEvery generation has its annoying catch phrases.  The valley girls and their wannabes famously sprinkled every sentence with “like.”  More recently,  “not so much” has been used ad nauseum to express disapproval or disagreement.

“Whatever!”  It’s not “all good.” Admittedly, often it’s “my bad,” “yada yada.”

I have a house full of teens and young adults these days, so I’m particularly aware of a prevalent catch phrase.  When I assert something that meets with the youngsters’ agreement, a rare event, they invariably respond with “I know, right?”

The main problem with this, or any catch phrase, is that I know it’s only a matter of time before I hear those words coming out of my mouth.  Catch phrases are contagious that way.

I desperately don’t want to let this phrase into my lexicon, because it particularly irritates me.  It makes no sense to respond to an assertion with a question about whether the assertion is correct.

My mama taught me that it is polite to respond to direct questions.  So, it strikes me that the “right?” part of the response requires a response, which leads to mind-numbing exchanges such as this:

Me:  “The Twins starting pitching is crappy.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  “Right.  That’s why I just said it.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  (stink eye)

I know, it’s not really a question.  But then, why include the “right?” part.

I guess this is the “everyone gets a ribbon” generation that we raised.  Even when they are agreeing with us, they need still more affirmation that agreement is acceptable.

Right?

- Loveland

R. T. ‘s Wonderfully Intemperate Words

You go boy. R. T. Rybak deserves kudos for telling it like it is on gun control. We seldom hear politicians saying something that sounds like a real human, but R. T. is laying it out on the political dancing going on over whether we can curb military weapons in our streets and communities.

With President Obama in Minneapolis Monday calling for tougher background checks and limits on automatic weapons and ammunition magazines, R. T. got his two cents’ worth in, at a premium. He was quoted in The New York Times, the Star Tribune and many other news outlets. (It’s not clear from the stories, and I can’t find anything on YouTube, whether R. T. said this stuff from a podium or to reporters. Anybody know?)

RT gunFrom The Strib: Meanwhile, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak expressed outrage at politicians who already were talking down the proposal’s chances. “Well, guess what?” Rybak said. “People are dying out there. I am not satisfied with the main sort of front from the people in Washington, that this is sort of a game. Where are the other people on this issue? Get a spine, get a backbone. People are losing their lives.”

From The Times: R. T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis, mocked politicians in Washington who are unwilling to support an assault ban. “Oh, it’s not going to pass,” Mr. Rybak said. “Well guess what? People are dying out here, and I’m not satisfied with the lame kind of response we’ve gotten from some of the people in Washington who look at this like some kind of game… I don’t think any of us should accept anything other than complete effort and knocking off the political wimpsmanship that I think too often takes place around these issues. Get a spine. Get a backbone because people are losing their lives.”

“Lame.” “Political wimpsmanship.” “Get a spine.” These are not measured words, not the stuff of gentlemanly debate. They’re pissed-off words. They’re intemperate. They’re real. They are the words of a leader, strong enough to move us. They are a call.

Outstanding. More.

– Bruce Benidt

(Image from Newsobserver.com)

The Top 5 Best and Worst Things About the Blogosphere

People either love or hate blogs, with little in between. When I first started writing this one, I was definitely a hater. In fact, these were the first words I ever uttered in the bloguverse:

“Blah, blah, blog.  I hate blogs.  Self-centered, self-righteous, self-reinforcing, self-gratification.  Seldom right, but never in doubt.”

Thus began my self-loathing career as a person who writes blogs, but most assuredly is not a “blogger.”  (Those people are pathetic, don’t you think?)

But almost six years later, my take on blogs is a bit more nuanced and ambivalent.  Upon further reflection, this is how the pros and cons of the blogosphere net out for me.

The Worst

Anonymous contributors and the vitriol that brings.  Where blog participants are allowed to be anonymous, conversations get juvenile and shallow in a hurry.   That says a lot about human nature, and it limits the promise of blogs.  For me, this is the worst part of hanging around blogs.

The lack of fact-checking.  When it comes to truthiness, you can trust mainstream news outlets much more than blogs, because there are accountability rules and editors at the ready at mainstream news outlets.  Lots of bloggers don’t care about accuracy, and their readers take them at face value and get deceived.  Even bloggers who care about accuracy make bad mistakes when they are blogging on the fly in the middle of a work day, with no support staff to save them.  All of the inaccuracy in blogs is bad for blog readers, and for the credibility of the medium.

The overwhelming volume of information.  The Google machine tells me that there are currently more than 180 million blogs in existence.  The sheer volume of blogs makes it very difficult to find the worthwhile needles in this cyber-haystack.  That limits the promise of blogs. The “drinking from a firehose” cliche is inadequate here.  Drinking from Niagra Falls?

The echo chamberiszation of the planet.   In the blogosphere, most of us seek out voices that support our preconceived notions.  That balkanizes opinion, insulates us from true contemplation and make us all boorish.

The rush to judgement.  Unlike traditional publications, blogs can be published in the time it takes to click a mouse.  This makes the world move a lot faster.  If bloggers don’t post on breaking news now, they feel like the post will be stale.  As a result, bloggers often bypass education and deliberation, and go straight to pontification.  The world needs more education and deliberation, and less instant pontification, and breakneck speed of blogging aggravates the situation.

The Best

The lack of information gatekeepers.  Pre-Internet, very few of us had the money to start a publication to share our own thoughts.  Very few of us were talented enough to get published.   Even among professional writers, very few were allowed to write whatever they wanted.  Bankers, publishers, and copy editors have historically been among the many powerful barriers to mass unfiltered self-expression.  But free services like WordPress allow anyone to say whatever they want whenever they want.    If their mutterings are interesting or provocative enough, they will get spread around to others, for free.  Blogs have made free speech a little more free.

The lack of money influencing publishing decisions.  Almost no blogger makes money blogging.  That means that blog writing is less likely than mainstream media reporting and commentary to be influenced by commercial considerations, such as “what will the advertisers do if I write that.”   For this reason, there often is more speaking truth to power on blogs than there is in the mainstream news media.

The focus on connecting the dots of the daily news.  Only a relative few bloggers uncover actual news.  The rest of us merely connect the dots of news that is reported by mainstrain news reporters.  What mainstream reporters do is more important than what we do here, because it is a necessary prerequisite of what we do here. But connecting the dots is not unimportant.  News events are not stand alone entities unto themselves.  The interplay of news events matters.  These are  important things for citizens in a democracy to be discussing, and more of that type of discussion is happening because of blogs.

The coverage of previously ignored niches.  Mainstream news reporters necessarily can’t cover every societal niche.  But 180 million bloggers can come pretty close.  For people like me with nichey minds, that’s a good thing.

The lack of editing and style guides.  Many of my English major friends who cuddle up with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and my journalism and PR friends who are slaves to the AP Stylebook, can’t abide the no holds barred nature of blog prose.  They mourn the fact that no editor is used by bloggers to spare readers from the ravages of cliches, clunky phrasing, inconsistent usage, misused-hyphens,  and unconventional word choices (e.g. see “bloguverse,” “nichey,” “The Google machine,” “truthiness”) .  But the raw semantic and syntax anarchy you find in blogs also brings much color, fun, creativity, risk-taking and spontaneity to the conversations.   It makes information exchange a little less stuffy and controlled.  Sorry, Strunk, but I love all of that unsanitized prose.

- Loveland

What We Learned From Four Debates.

1. Say what you believe.
2. Short is better than long.
3. Be specific…
4. But don’t get buried in detail.
5. What you do matters more than what you say.
6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit.
7. Don’t whine to the moderator.

So, from a communications coach who never took a debate class, here’s my view, presented at lower decibel levels than when I yelled at the TV screen over the past weeks.

1. Say what you believe. When Mitt Romney said in the last debate that Putin wouldn’t get more flexibility after the election, as President Obama had told him, “He’ll get more spine,” it was a solid hit. Romney believes that, it’s not just a message point, he believes he’s a tough negotiator. He said it with conviction and it rang true. Not true in an ultimate sense, but true in his voice, in his guts. And when Obama said several times in the second and third debates, “Governor, everything you said is just not true,” he had more color and variety and inflection in his voice than in his other points. “You’re the last person who’ll get tough on China,” Obama said, with a solid ring. Even though that was no doubt a practiced line, the president believes it, and you could tell it in the passion in his voice. The stuff he said before that was just blah-blah and he delivered it to the moderator — then he turned to Romney and said it to his face, “Governor, you’re the last…”

In my coaching, i have people start a talk or an interview with what they most believe. No warm-ups, no preliminaries, get what you care about out right away. It brings out the real person, not the practiced person or the image one has decided to project. Imagine — say what you believe. It comes out more concise, in more conversational language, and with more of the speaker’s personality and passion engaged and evident.

2. Shorter is better. Obama often went on too long. He’d make a strong point, but had to layer on more context, which obscured the original point. Romney’s “He’ll get more spine” was powerful because it was short. So was Biden’s “But I always say what I believe” when Paul Ryan said Biden knows about how words don’t always come out the way one wants them to. Romney looked the worst when he was challenged and would go into a filibuster, flooding the room with verbiage in a faster higher voice that made him sound like a kid trying to explain about the cookie jar.

Say what you have to say and shut up.

3. Be specific… Assertions with no examples or specifics to back them up are just marketing blather. I’ll cut the budget. HOW? WHAT? Obama said Romney’s foreign policy is the same as Bush’s. How much stronger to back up that assertion with “Seventeen of your twenty-four advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration that got us involved in a disastrous war on false pretenses. Why should we believe you’ll do any better with this crowd?”

4. But don’t get buried in detail. When Obama explained for the second and then the third time, in the first debate, how his health care board was constructed and what it would do, you knew he was toast. Too much ‘splainin’. The point is — “Would you rather have insurance companies deciding what gets covered and for how much, or representatives of patients and medical staff?”

5. What you do matters more than what you say. Obama lost the first debate before he had two sentences out of his mouth. As so many have observed, he looked down, he looked pissed, he looked like this whole thing was just too stupid for words. Watch Bill Clinton in his recent talks for Obama — the guy’s alive, having fun, smiling — you want to hear him. In the second debate, Romney walking up to the president and saying, over and over like a petulant kid, “Have you looked at your pension, have you looked at your pension…” looked like a jerk and gave the president an opening for a smartass cutting retort. Which brings us to…

6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit. Obama said “My pension isn’t as big as yours, Governor, it doesn’t take me that long to look at it.” Clever, made his supporters feel good, and probably doesn’t sway anyone. Same with “Horses and bayonets” and “The unraveling of the Obama foreign policy” and all the canned talking points and practiced zingers. They sound canned and practiced. Real people respond to people who sound like real people. Even better if they actually are real people who speak like people in my Point 1.

7. Don’t whine to the moderator. When Romney kept saying to the moderator that the president had the first answer so he should get the next one and that he should be able to finish — he looked like the dweeb running for student council vice president. And when Obama did the same, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man who could run a country or stand up to Putin or Boehner or anyone.

I’ve said many times I’d like to see debates with no moderator. The two candidates in a room, start the camera, see what happens, no rules. And in another debate have a town hall audience, they ask questions, but no moderator, see how these two people handle themselves as human beings.

I believe the more a person is himself or herself — not some practiced line-spewer — the more people respond.

But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

– Bruce Benidt

(Photo from npr.org)

Showing Up for the Show in Denver.

It is a fact of modern public life that show biz matters. Or, put another way, that when up in front of a crowd, especially a large one, you have to deliver a compelling performance. So, to pile on, Mitt Romney schooled Barack Obama in that regard last night.

Content is, of course, a whole other beast.

But, I have to tell you I hadn’t seen either of the two guys on the stage in Denver Wednesday night. Here, at long last, was Mittens Romney the super salesman, the super CEO with all his homework done and ducks in a row for the big pitch to the next company he’s going to “harvest”. The obfuscations, mathematical sleight of hand and deflective narrative all … superbly rehearsed. The only other time we got a glimpse of that guy was in the notorious “47% video”.

By contrast, here was Mr. Cool, Mr. “I Got this One”, Mr. “I’m a Great Fourth Quarter Player” Barack Obama playing man to man defense full court, refusing to slap back and down at Romney’s most egregious assertions — “that $5 trillion in additional middle class taxes or deficit may not be in your plan, Governor, but there is no way it works without one or the other or both, unless of course you’d like to offer some details”. WTF?

I seriously doubt there’ll be any significant change in the end result of this campaign based on Romney’s performance — a “win” for him — in the first (and likely most-watched) debate. But the Obama performance is disconcerting.

As much as I admire what he’s been able to accomplish in the face of a wholly obstructionist Republican caucus (and partisan media), and the way he’s restored some honor to the country’s international standing post-the Cheney/Bush debacle (the drone thing is problematic), he is still too confident in and reliant upon a Lincolnesque attitude toward adversaries. Most liberals have been driven to distraction by his willingness to concede unearned territory to the Tea Party-inspired GOP. Likewise, in Denver, his biggest mistake — the essential fault of his performance — was the unwillingness (certainly not inability) to draw some of Romney’s blood.

Had he simply brought to the show the mantra, “The devil, Governor, is in the details. So I ask again, what exactly are you planning to do?”, he wouldn’t be taking a ripping today from the full run of the ideological spectrum.

And don’t get me started on Jim Lehrer. I may be in a very small  minority when it comes to a substantial re-think of how the established media covers politics, but even Lehrer’s set-up questions were broad to the point of pointless. Did anyone watching really not think Romney and Obama have “differences” on … every issue?

Old school, heavily self-modulated moderators like Lehrer are almost genetically incapable of asserting themselves and demanding a full answer to their question (assuming they asked something that had an actual answer, instead of eliciting a stump speech). They don’t want to be part of the show.

But … they are part of the show, and a critical part at that. By refusing to flash a bit of impertinence and impatience, their old school good manners merely allows the drama to spin off into a torrent of dubious claims, lofty-sounding pitches and salesmanship.

Vikings’ Jerry Burns Reminds Us How Badly PR Has F-ed Up News Viewing

The field of public relations has sucked nearly all the emotion, candor, color and sincerity out of news programming.

I haven’t done formal research on this, but my sense is that all of this started in the political world.  After the political handlers got done “training” their bosses and clients, the politicans became rhetorical robots.  As a result, they are now less likely to say anything politically perilous, but they are also unlikely to say anything remotely thought-provoking or candid.

The Sunday news shows are living proof.   Virtually no intelligent life can be found there.  It’s not because the guests aren’t intelligent.  It’s because the guests have all been trained.

About the same time, the burgeoning class of media trainers started to suck out what little color and candor ever existed in the world of corporate communications.  PR pros taught their bosses and clients to stay emotionally flat, avoid unflattering questions, and stay “on message” at all costs.  That is sound advice for the client, to a point, but it is absolutely lethal for audiences hoping to learn anything about a businessperson’s actual personality, insights, or intentions.

Increasingly, this rhetorical neutering reached, sigh, the sports world.  Listen to current Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, in all his emotionally flat, cliché-ridden blandness.  “One game at a time,” “everyone do their jobs,” “you take what they give you,” “stick with our game plan.”  Blah, blah, blahtedy blah.  Like white noise, Frazier interviews numb the ear drum.

The ever-programmed Coach Frazier will never begin to hold a player publicly accountable.  For instance, when wide receiver Percy Harvin recently spent a week acting like a spoiled brat, Coach Frazier, who had to be absolutely livid, instead looked like he had been lobotomized.  I can assure you, he had been, by media trainers.

As a result of all this training, I am no more likely to watch an interview of the Vikings’ verbal Vulcan than I am to watch an interview of Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi.  I have learned from experience that none of them will ever say anything remotely genuine or unscripted.  After all, they have been trained.

If you doubt me about how bad sports interviews have become from a spectators’ standpoint, treat yourself to a walk down memory lane with former Vikings Coach Jerry Burns.

Warning:  Do not watch this with the volume up within earshot of  the kiddies, clergy or your mother:

And mind you, this was a game the Vikings won.

Put that Burns interview alongside a contemporary Leslie Frazier interview, and you will see why the NFL is now rightfully called the “No Fun League.”  Burnsy wasn’t afraid to let his real emotions out, provide somewhat frank analysis and bring his cartoon character personality to the screen.  Burns was employed in the entertainment business, and he entertained unabashedly.

If the Vikings hired me to media train Jerry Burns, I supposed I’d feel obligated to put him through Charm School.  And you know what?  F*#k me for doing it.

- Loveland

Programming note:  Thanks to a West Coast Rowdy reader for passing along the vintage video.

Reframing Minnesota’s Moronic Ballot Questions

Reframing.

The good news is that the Minnesota Legislature pledges to adjourn earlier this year than they did last year. The bad news is that they are pushing their lawmaking responsibilities off to voters. Legislators are passing the buck on policy decisions about legislative rules, labor law, voting limitations, and marriage law.

And so now, we’re going to have a little taste of California coming our way. Not balmy weather and trend-setting, but endless ballot initiative campaigns.

Because Republicans are controlling the Minnesota Legislature, they get to write the bills that put these amendments on the ballot. As such, they get the first crack at framing the issue, and reporters largely mimick their framing (though the Star Tribune does now put quotation marks on the term “right-to-work”).

Then, the job of opponents will be to try to reframe the issue. Overwhelmed voters facing a lengthy ballot aren’t likely to dedicate a lot of frontal lobe bandwidth to these decisions, so the battle will be over what soundbite voters are hearing in their heads as they read the amendments on Election Day.

One bloggers’ lightly informed thoughts about reframing:

Supermajority Amendment” should be reframed as “Supergridlock Amendment.” Tagline: “If you like gridlock, you’ll love the Supergridlock Amendment.”

Strategy: Tap into the powerful post-government shutdown sentiment that is driving the 72% disapproval rating for the Minnesota Legislature among Independent voters.

Right-to-Work Amendment” should be reframed as “Right-to-Leech Amendment.” Tagline: “Because we all love That Guy who drinks the beer, but is nowhere to be found when the bill arrives.”

Strategy: Make the argument personal instead of about abstract notions of “pro- or anti-union.” That is, make it about the fundamental unfairness of some benefiting, but expecting others to pay for their benefits.

Photo ID Amendment” should be reframed as “Voter Red Tape Amendment.” Tagline: “A bureaucratic solution in search of a problem.”

Strategy: Frame this as something independent voters are very wary of – more unnecessary bureaucratic red tape making life more complex. About half (47%) of independent voters say regulation usually does more harm than good.

Same Sex Marriage Amendment” should be reframed as “Marriage Ban Amendment.” Tagline: “Who is government to say who someone can and can’t love?

Strategy: Frame it as the government overreaching by appointing itself The Love Police.

As is my custom, I’m operating 100% fact free here. I haven’t seen any of the relevant voter research, or findings from other states. But right now, all of these amendments look like they could pass, so even ignorant brainstorming from the peanut gallery probably can’t hurt.

- Loveland

Taking Out The “White Trash”

We talk a lot about language at the Same Rowdy Crowd, and in a week when we’re talking about dehumanizing language, I’d like to nominate a dehumanizing term that we all agree to avoid.

“White trash.”

If you peruse the 13 million hits you get when you Google “white trash,” you will see that this term is very normalized and accepted in popular culture, as is it’s cousin “trailer trash” (7 million hits). This is highly mainstreamed dehumanizing.

If you doubt that “white trash” is a dehumanizing term, try retrofitting it by replacing the word “white” with “black,” “Mexican,” “Asian,” or “female.” Make you squirm? If a talk radio jock started calling people in North Minneapolis “black trash,” would that be okay?

I don’t intend to be all self-righteous about this, because I’ve used the term, and laughed many times when others used it. But when I associated human beings – parents, kids, and grandparents, people who love and are loved– with the filthy decomposing crap we all thoughtlessly discard while holding our noses, I was messed up. Not my finest hour.

I’m not a big PC guy. But language is powerful, and the problem with dehumanizing language is that once we start labeling people as inferior Others, it becomes too easy to abuse them through personal, economic or policy-related actions. Even genocide. After all, they’re just trash.

I’m not suggesting anything approaching censorship here. I’m mostly just talking about avoiding the term. But if you’re particularly brave, maybe you could give the same kind of treatment most of us give someone when they use the “n” word: A gentle shake of the head and a “no, that’s not right,” the way Republican Senator John McCain gently did when the Minnesota woman asserted that Barrack Obama was not an American because of the sound of his name. Quietly, McCain did a noble and courageous thing by taking on the crowd that day, and we could do the same by quietly doing our part to take the social acceptability and hilarity out of “white trash” labeling.

Will avoiding the term “white trash” save the world? Nope. We’ll only be a barely better world. But hey, that’s not a bad day’s work.

- Loveland

Representative Franson’s “Animals”

Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) recently shared a funny with her constituents:

“Last week, we worked on some welfare reform bills. And here, you know, it’s kind of ironic I’ll review this little funny clip that we got from a friend. And it says ‘Isn’t it ironic that the Food Stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of Food Stamps ever. Meanwhile, the Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to please not feed the animals, (smirk) because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.‘”

My goodness, but that IS a “funny little clip,” isn’t it?!

Just as it has ignored outrageous Bachmannisms over the years, Minnesota’s mainstream newspapers ignored this gem. That’s too bad. It could have been a teachable moment. Because when you strip away the breathtakingly dehumanizing language, you learn who these “animals” are:

▪ 47% are children under age 18.
▪ 8% are age 60 or older.
▪ 94% are U.S. born citizens.
▪ 41% live in a household with earnings from a job, which is not to diminish the plight of those in an even more difficult position, because they can’t find a job.

In other words, these “animals” are the kids at your neighborhood school, the disabled senior down the street, and the women making the minimum wage to clean your public restrooms.

And they are receiving an average food stamp benefit of $1.05 per person per meal, hardly a level that would tempt anyone to intentionally linger living in poverty.

Sometimes the only upside of preposterous poitical polemics is that they serve to raise awareness about reality in America. But first, the media has to be paying attention.

- Loveland

Post Publication Note: I see that the Star Tribune DID post a story on their Hotdish Politics blog. Pretty thin coverage, but coverage. I’m not sure if it ran in the newspaper. My mistake. I didn’t see it in my initial Google.

Minnesota Media Sides With Anti-Union Forces By Adopting “Right To Work” Framing

On the abortion issue, one group of advocates says “Right to Life,” the other side says “Pro-Choice” and the news media usually opts for the more neutral term, calling it a debate over “abortion rights,” or describing the protagonists as being “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion rights.” Fair enough. On that issue, reporters have done a pretty good job of striking a balance on the language they use.

But on the top labor issue of the day, one side says “Right to Work,” the other side says “Right to Work for Less” or “union busting.” The media goes with “Right to Work.”

Pioneer Press headline: “Republicans set stage for right to work fight in Minnesota”
Star Tribune headline: “State Republicans launch right-to-work amendment”
MPR headline: “One on One: The Right to Work Amendment”

In other words, the news media is framing the issue exactly how pro-amendment spin savants want it framed.

As reporters know, there is a reason why amendment proponents deliberately chose the words “right to work” for their propaganda. Extensive market research told them swing voters felt supportive of the notion of having the “right to work,” and are opposed to someone taking that right away from them. Who wouldn’t? So, they invest in millions of dollars worth of marketing and PR trying to make that wording stick.

At the same time, amendment opponents’ market research told them that “Right to Work for Less” was helpful to their cause. Those words bring attention to the fact that the typical employees in states with this union restriction make about $5300 less per year than employees in other states, a fact that is extremely helpful in selling their point-of-view.

To be fair, perpetually PR-challenged unions don’t do themselves any favors on this front, as they continually use their opponents’ “right to work” framing in their own communications, making that label seem normalized and mutually acceptable.

Still, as with the abortion debate, reporters should avoid both side’s carefully focus grouped labels, and go with more neutral language. For instance, they could call it a “union limitation amendment,” or some such poker-faced pabulum.

Minnesotans are going to be exosed to a lot of news coverage about this amendment over the next nine months, so it’s a good time for editors to have earnest conversations about fair rules of engagement. Reporters need to get a lot better at covering the issue in a balanced way.

- Loveland

Minnesotans Shouldering Hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax

This week the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) announced that its member hospitals paid $226 million in “charity care” last year. The MHA is referring to instances when uninsured and underinsured patients are unable to pay their hospital bills, and the hospitals get stuck with the expenses.

While the term “charity care” is used by hospitals, hospitals don’t end up bearing the whole burden. They make up for the bills substantially by charging more to their insured patients, and insurance companies subsequently shift these higher costs to insurance premium payers.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either the hospitals or the insurers. They would go out of business if they couldn’t shift costs.

Supporters of preserving the Anti-Obamacare Tax.

But it is meant to be a criticism of Obamacare obstructionists. The MHA numbers are a reminder that those who have been aggressively blocking efforts to reduce the number of uninsured and underinsured through Obamacare are responsible for maintaining what is akin to an enormous annual tax on premium payers. An Anti-Obamacare Tax.

Given that a fully implemented Obamacare is predicted to reduce the uninsured rate from today’s 50.7 million people to about 18.7 million, and the number of underinsured people by about 70%, leaders opposing Obamacare in Congress, state legislatures and federal courts are effectively blocking the elimination of a huge annual burden on American households. If the anti-Obamacare obstructionists win, we all keep paying this Anti-Obamacare Tax.

And it’s not a small tax. In Ramsey County, taxpayers are up in arms over a proposed $10 million per year tax for the Vikings stadium. This hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax is much more painful. The Center for American Progress finds “on average, 8 percent of families’ 2009 health care premiums—approximately $1,100 a year—is due to our broken system that fails to cover the uninsured.”

- Loveland

The Creator and Me

Frank Luntz: Privilege Creator.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz is the genius who helped shift Republicanspeak from “inheritance taxes” to “death taxes,” and dramatically change public support as a result. You see, “inheritance” sounds unearned and aristocratic to the masses, while taxing death sounds outrageously insensitive and unfair. Score!

Similarly, at the behest of his wealthy clients Luntz changed Republicanspeak from “oil drilling” to “energy exploration,” “global warming” to “climate change,” and “health care reform” to “government takeover of health care.”

Is Luntzian linguistics Orwellian? In a 2007 interview with National Public Radio’s Terry Gross, Luntz embraces his inner Big Brother:

“To be ‘Orwellian’ is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is, to talk about what triggers something happening… and to do so without any pejorative whatsoever.”

Now Luntz is urging his Republican clients to repeatedly use the term “Job Creators” whenever referring to the wealthiest Americans. Mr. Luntz seeks to focus Americans’ attention on the 1%’s trickledownedness, rather than it’s gawdy and growing wealth.

Brilliant! After all, in the midst of a sluggish recovery no one wants to stand in the way of “job creation,” so this turn of phrase is getting Luntz’s wealthy clients exempted from debt reduction sacrifice. (“Sacrifice,” incidentally, is a bad bad word Luntz is urging Republicans to ban. If only Churchill and FDR had been so clever.)

This whole business got me to thinking, “if I could afford to hire old Frank Luntz, what could the wunderkind wordsmith do to get ME exempted from sacrifice?
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Contextual Contortion

Snip snip.

Context matters in communications. Obviously, quoting someone out of context, or only partially in context, changes the meaning and distorts the original meaning.

As self evident as this assertion seems, Willard Mitt Romney apparently sees nothing wrong with contextual contortion.

This week, Romney ran an ad showing President Obama saying “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” Bam, clean blow, right?

The problem is, the President actually said, “Senator McCain’s campaign said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’”

When pressed about the obvious flimflammery of the Romney editing, a Romney spokesperson refused to recant or apologize. Amazingly, Romney’s guy responded, ““He (President Obama) did say the words. That’s his voice.”

“That’s his voice.” Good grief, I hope the Romniac took a shower after that interview. This is the state of political communications in America today. Pathetic.

I hope my conservative friends can concede that Governor Romney went way over the line with his shameless broadcast butchery. After all, if that approach is good for the goose, it could also be good for the gander, as this satire from the liberal group ThinkProress shows:

Hey, he did say the words. That’s his voice.

- Loveland

Jon Huntsman and the Evolution of the “Moderate” Label

GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has signed several bills restricting abortion, and he supports a right to life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He supports building a fence on the Mexican border. He supports the death penalty. He governed Utah when it was named the most favorable state for business. He not only supports school vouchers, he actually signed a school voucher bill into law. He opposes an assault weapon ban. He wants to slash the authority of the EPA and NLRB. He opposes the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate. He wants to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit to dramatically increase taxes on the poor. At the same time, he proposes drastically cutting tax rates on the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

Moderate?

If you polled Americans and asked them how they would describe the political philosophy of a candidate holding those positions, they surely would say that candidate is very conservative. After all, Huntsman’s positions are at least as conservative as McCain, Bush 2, Dole, Bush 1, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, and Goldwater.

But despite Governor Huntsman’s strongly conservative record, the rigorous 90-second Google analysis I conducted today reveals that Huntsman is more likely to be described on the Internet and in the news as “moderate Jon Huntsman” than “conservative Jon Huntsman,” by an overwhelming 8-to-1 margin.

I understand that Huntsman is usually labeled a moderate because he is the most moderate person in the 2012 GOP presidential field, a radically conservative line-up. But still, it’s remarkable to see how far news reporters, bloggers and the general public have shifted their definition of “moderate” to the right as the Republicans Party has moved rapidly to the far right.

- Loveland

Daytoncare?

Source: National Public Radio, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine

During the national health care reform debate, polls found 6o% of Americans and 63% of physicians supported having a publicly operated insurer in the competitive mix, along with private and not-for-profit insurers. But congressional Republicans wouldn’t allow Americans to have that choice available to them.

Could Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton right that wrong?

In Aaron Sinner’s Minnesota 2020 Hindsight blog, University of Minnesota School of Public Health Professor Jim Hunt, M.D. was quoted saying that Minnesota theoretically could develop an insurance option that was publicly operated.

Theoretically.

Given the level of public support for a public option, and the potential for better, cheaper and more efficient care, why wouldn’t Governor Dayton – struggling to contain soaring health insurance premiums crushing Minnesota families and employers — develop a public option to compete with Minnesota’s health plans?
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Social Security Semantics

Jail FDR for starting Social Security?

In formal political debates, word choice is rarely accidental. And the word Texas Governor Rick Perry chose this week to describe Social Security — perhaps the most beloved government program in national history — was a colorful one indeed. “Ponzi Scheme.”

The dictionary helps us with a definition:

A Ponzi scheme is a type of investment fraud that promises investors exorbitant interest if they loan their money. As more investors participate, the money contributed by later investors is paid to the initial investors, purportedly as the promised interest on their loans. A Ponzi scheme works in its initial stages but inevitably collapses as more investors participate.”

This definition doesn’t describe the Social Security that Americans adore.

SOCIAL SECURITY ISN’T A “FRAUD.” A fraud is criminal deception. But for generations, the federal government has promised a benefit, and the federal government has delivered a benefit, like clockwork, as promised. A promise kept over many decades is hardly fraud.

SOCIAL SECURITY DOESN’T PROMISE EXHORBITANT INTEREST. Social Security contributions are invested extremely conservatively to ensure the safety of the principal.

SOCIAL SECURITY HASN’T SCREWED LATER CONTRIBUTORS. Many generations of Social Security contributors have been paid back, not just the first contributors.
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Minnesota GOP To Bring Back Fiscal Mullet?

George Orwell called it “Newspeak,” the restriction of disapproved language by a powerful entity. You may also recall that in his dystopian novel 1984, “goodthink” was used to describe an officially sanctioned viewpoint, and “thoughtcrime” was used to describe an illegal type of thought.

So finally I understand why Mrs. Stolles made me read that creepy book. For now I know what is truly going on in the budget negotiations between the GOP-controlled Legislature and DFL Governor Dayton. The biggest sticking point in these negotiations is not really whether DFL legislators can participate in the negotiations, or whether supplying respirators constitutes an essential government service.

No, the show-stopping sticking point is that GOP Newspeak dictates that use of the word “taxes” is a thoughtcrime, because it is not goodthink. No can do. Dayton may as well be requesting Speaker Zellers to commit serial murders on the House floor. Just ask GOP Chair Tony Sutton.

And this presents the Mother of All Sticking Points for budget negotiators.

But have no fear, State Rep. Joe Gimse is here. This clever GOP legislator from Willmar knows that someone who raises revenue but doesn’t call it a “tax” is not technically guilty of a GOP thoughtcrime. Kind of like a robber who only points a fake finger gun through a coat is not guilty of armed robbery, at least on the TV shows I watch.

The PiPress reports today that:

…(Grimes) said he would consider voting for proposals to raise revenue as long as the money doesn’t come from taxes. He said he would consider money from gambling, surcharges or fees.”

Fiscal mullet, Pawlenty style.

Mr. Gimse may be onto something. This looks to be a nifty little thoughtcrime dodge, though far from an unprecedented one. Those of you who hold grudges will recall that then-Governor Tim Pawlenty raised “fees” by 21%, while still aggressively marketing his fidelity to the No New Taxes gods. One cheeky blogger of the day dubbed the maneuver a fiscal mullet — “cosmetic constraint in the front, unrestrained growth in the back.”

So now we have something to negotiate, though we must choose our words very, very carefully. But since I am an infidel who is not governed by GOP Newspeak, I have my own word to describe the potential consideration of, well, you know, “new contributions for the support of a government required of persons, groups, or businesses within the doman of that government.”

I call it “hope.”

Loveland

“Neutrality” Declaration Off Target

Yesterday at Target’s annual meeting in Pittsburgh, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel was peppered with questions about the divisive gay marriage measure that Target-funded legislators put on the 2012 Minnesota ballot.

Mr. Steinhafel couldn’t move the conversation back to corporate business, because the questions about Target’s politics kept coming and coming. This was frustrating for Steinhafel, because he was armed with a well-rehearsed talking point:

“We’re neutral.” It seems Target fancies itself as a veritable Switzerland. Steinhafel repeatedly declared that Target’s position on the gay marriage issue is neutral, neutral, neutral.

But here’s why that message isn’t working. When Switzerland is neutral in a war, they don’t fund either side. But Target is funding a group of candidates obsessed with banning gay marriage. The citizens/customers caught in the crossfire of the Target-financed culture war do not view Target’s funding decisions as an act of neutrality.

From a brand stewardship standpoint, corporations should keep their multi-billion brands out of the destructive crossfire of the most divisive issues of our times. As long as they continue to fund political combatants, repeating the word “neutral” is not going to stop them from suffering the collateral damage inherent in any war.

- Loveland

Newt’s Nontraditional Language, with a Tip of the Hat to Mr. Orwell

“Of all the unmitigated gall.”

That phrase was used often in the Fifties and Sixties for someone who had the audacity to, while his hand is clearly in the cookie jar, say “My hand isn’t in the cookie jar.” In a classic moment on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show (see how old I am?), because Steve would often say “of all the unmitigated gall,” someone sent Steve a little vial of unmitigated gall and it broke him up spectacularly.

Newt Gingrich does not lack unmitigated gall. He’ll announce tomorrow that he’s running for president. That alone qualifies him for the Steve Allen line, considering how he torpedoed his own party by overreaching in the Clinton impeachment.

But the fabulous thing, the Orwellian thing, is how he’s handling the inconvenient little spill of hypocrisy that’s staining his nice white shirt — the affair he was having while he was going after Clinton for having an affair.

That affair resulted in another marriage to his current wife Callista, 22 years his junior. As Newt sails into the primary season dancing with the family values conservatives in his party, here’s how Callista’s chief of staff refers to their union, according to today’s New York Times: “Ms. (Karen) Olson summed up their history in what might just become a campaign catchphrase. ‘They’re a great couple,’ she said, ‘that had a nontraditional start.'”

A nontraditional start. Fantastic.

Bill had a nontraditional meeting with Monica. John Wayne Gacy had a nontraditional relationship with boys.

I’m not criticizing Newt for affairs — I’ve had ‘em. I’m not criticizing him for multiple marriages. I’ve had ‘em. I’m not even criticizing him for hypocrisy — I’ve been there myself, too many times. But spectacular, Hall of Fame hypocrisy — of all the unmitigated gall.

I’ve always called Newt “Newt the Poot,” since he started his career giving endless blowhard speeches on Special Orders in the House — Special Orders meaning the remarks were deep in the night to an empty chamber and the camera was forbidden to pan the room to show that the speakers were gassing only to themselves and their overweening sense of self.

Good luck at that president thing, Newt. You take yourself so seriously none of the rest of us have to.

– Bruce Benidt

Who Are Minnesota’s Most Heinous “Job Killers?”

These days Minnesota’s GOP state legislators mutter the word “jobs” several hundred times per day — sometimes with Tourette-esque usage and timing — to assure us how very, very committed to job creation they are. Similarly, any initiative Republicans oppose earns the label “job killing” _____ (fill in the blank).

The limitation both parties’ aspiring “job creaters” face is a’ $5 billion budget shortfall, which the Minnesota Constitution says must be eliminated every year. Both major options for closing the shortfall – increasing taxes and cutting assistance to families and communities – hurt the employment picture. Both approaches are job killing, but the question remains, which kills more?

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Talk With Us Like a Human, Mr. President

Just watched President Obama give a short talk about the tragedy in Japan.

He was awful. Flat. Dull. Unbelievable. As interesting and engaging and compassionate as a piece of typed paper.

Because he read his talk. Looking down every few seconds.

He said we’re all heartbroken about the tragedy. Reading “heartbroken” off his script. He said it reminds us we all share a common humanity, reading “common humanity” off the script.

This from a man who is one of the most riveting, compelling, commanding speakers in our recent history. It’s sad to see him tamed and broken like a wild stallion– whether by his advisors or his own sense of the weight of each word a president speaks. He’s not dancing with the one who brung him to the White House — himself, Barack Obama.

I tell my speech-coaching clients to speak at least the first few sentences of a talk without looking at any notes or slides or prompters. Know what you want to say at the beginning well enough that you can look at the audience and talk straight to them and — just talk. You engage an audience — or not — in the first few seconds of a speech. If you’re looking down — you’ve lost connection, you’ve lost the audience.

I’ve said before on this blog — lose the TelePrompTer, Mr. President. And lose the speechwriters. Now I add — lose the script. Sure, bring notes to the lectern, and nothing wrong with looking down now and then. But if you’re going to say your heart goes out to the victims in Japan, no heart is moved when you’re reading that flat statement off a script. If you’re trying to reassure us that nuclear power is safe, look us in the eyes and tell us that — don’t read it off a script.

Talk like a human, Mr. President. That’s how you lead. Words themselves are mostly flat. It’s the lift your face and voice and passion give them that lets them soar, that connects with us. Scripts and prompters and slides stifle the passion, drain the personality, kill the humanity. Leaders don’t read scripts, Mr. President, especially not in times of crisis and disaster.

Come on, you know this. What’s happened?

–Bruce Benidt

Pawlenty of Desperation

The other day, Minnesota Public Radio noted that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is trying out a faux southern accent on the Presidential campaign trail. For instance, MPR cited a piece in the New York Times:

The knock on Mr. Pawlenty, according to conversations with voters, is that his speeches sound sincere but do not always sizzle. At a faith forum last week in Iowa, he displayed vigor. But the next day at the Statehouse, the talk among several Republicans was that it seemed he had suddenly developed a Southern accent as he tried connecting to voters by speaking louder and with more energy.

The political blog of Radio Iowa heard it too and noted, “Pawlenty seems to be adopting a Southern accent as he talks about his record as governor.” As he spoke of the country’s challenges, he dropped the letter G, saying: “It ain’t gonna be easy. This is about plowin’ ahead and gettin’ the job done.”

Ever since I heard about this, I just can’t get this tune out of my head:

Come-n-listen to a story ’bout a man named Tim.
Poor Governeer left his state a mighty grim.
Then one day he was fixin’ to win it all,
And out of his trap come a bumblin’ “y’all…”
(Dropped “g’s” that is, political gold, real folksy!)

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Enough.

THIS POST HACKED.

- The Mgmt.

First Tea Party Revolution Victory: Empowering Bureaucrats!

THIS POST HACKED.

Is Outrage Extinct?

THIS POST HACKED.

“The Social Network” and The Rest of Us.

THIS POST HACKED.

- The Mgmt.

 

Introducing Gopher Coach Tim Brewster

THIS POST HACKED.

The “O” Word

THIS POST HACKED.

9-11 and Katrina — Lasting Symbolism, Fleeting Reminder

THIS POST HACKED.

- The Mgmt.

 

Visionless?

THIS POST HACKED.

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