Category Archives: politics

How to get things done: Obama publishes hard targets


There’s a little link at WhiteHouse.gov that takes you beyond the Obama videos, blogs and policy statements to a whitepaper — with detailed hard targets for Obama’s economic recovery plan. It’s a brilliant and risky chess move, and a model for how any business should break through the BOGSAT quagmire. (BOGSAT, as you’re surely used to, is a Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around a Table that jaw away at issues but never get anything done.)

Why does this work?

1. Specific targets build momentum. Obama’s own team is going to have to hustle if it is going to reach them. Metrics include saving 3 million jobs within two years, spending 75% of the plan’s funds in the first 18 months, doubling U.S. renewable energy capacity within 3 years, computerizing every American’s health records within 5 years … you get the point. Obama is telling his own team what they have to do, by when.

2. Obama’s critics now face a PR problem. Anyone critical of this plan — and with billions of dollars of stake, the plan deserves scrutiny — must contest the fact that it won’t save jobs or double clean energy, etc. The hard targets make a tougher argument to fight.

3. Any alternative ideas better have better targets. If an opponent has another approach, he or she will need to explain how that new plan will achieve better results. Obama, by setting forth specifics, is inviting his opposition to create even stronger ideas. Go ahead, but you better include a number.

Twitter listens in on Congress. Are you to follow?


Digital guru Mat Morrison of Porter Novelli has mapped the Twitter connections between U.S. congressmen and women. He explains: “The direction of the arrows show who follows whom, and the size of the blobs indicates how ‘popular’ a given congressperson is among their twittering peers.” Red and blue dots denote Republicans vs. Democrats. (Click map to enlarge.)

This is intriguing on two levels. First, you see some users — primarily Republicans — rely on Twitter for heavy two-way communication, vs. others who connect infrequently and only one way. That’s the difference between pushing messages shallowly and really engaging.

But second, this points out that one value of social media lies behind the scenes, as outside agencies and companies learn to track the connections between individuals and use them for business intelligence purposes. If nothing else, this could help sales in other marketing channels. A classic approach in direct marketing is to target consumers who are “lookalikes” to other consumers. A recent study by AT&T found that social acquaintances within phone networks are 5 times more likely to respond to direct marketing offers, the logic being birds of a feather shop together, or buy the same stuff. Add it up, and social network maps create a new form of customer valuation model in which you can place values on entire networks of target consumers — based on their interpersonal relationships.

Thus the real value of Facebook and Twitter may not be in their use as outbound marketing devices or even inbound listening for customer service, but in the intelligent mapping of communications between people … for a God-like view of how humans interact, and how, perhaps unfortunately, those connections might be manipulated.

McCain wins! And Obama wins! With Schrödinger’s cat.


Tomorrow both John McCain and Barack Obama will be victorious. Because for every possible world, another world is possible.

You see, we have this little problem in physics. When you measure small things, they move really fast — think you vs. bees — and the really tiny things such as photons (subatomic particles of light) act super strange. They can be in two places at once.

This little mind trip is called quantum mechanics, and it starts with a classic experiment. Head down to a physics lab and set up a light gun to shoot one itty-bitty particle of light (a single photon) at a time through a series of slits. The particle should hit the film on the other side randomly. But as you shoot a series of single photons through, first one, then another, each wavers on its way, as if a second photon in an alternate universe were acting on it at exactly the same time. Shoot a series and you get a classic wavelike interference pattern. Physicists believe the particle actually takes both paths at once — and only lands when you, the observer, observe it forcing the universe to land on one option.

You catch that? The universe is constantly splitting into options, and it only settles down when you pin your eye on it to measure where it is. Uh-huh. You really did go out with that hot guy/girl in high school, and if you can’t remember it, you’re just stuck in the wrong universe.

Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger pointed out the silliness of this subatomic duality with a thought experiment now called Schrödinger’s cat. In this, a subatomic particle could decay or not with equal odds, and its decay is tied to a vial of poison inside a box with a cat. If the particle moves the wrong way, the cat dies. But because subatomic particles do two things at once, the cat is both dead and alive inside the box at the same time — until you open and observe it. We think Schrödinger may have been smoking when he thought that one up.

We note all this because the U.S. electorate has become obsessed with polls lately, and the poll numbers have been all over the map. Obama is up, but McCain is closing fast. Early voters account for 30% of the electorate, leaning Democratic, but voters on Election Day may lean Republican. The strangest thing is both Obama or McCain could fairly win the election depending on the day the vote is taken (McCain would have won easily days after the RNC convention), and the randomness of Nov. 4 falling where it does seems a strange way to pick the future of our land. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics holds that both outcomes are true.

So it’s President McCain. And President Obama. In a world where you left high school at age 16 to become a famous rock star with that hot girl/guy in tow. Sleep tight, Americans, and see which universe you wake up in.

American politics, tied to the land


Give me some land, lots of land, and you’ll understand U.S. politics.

The slightly fuzzy graphic you see above shows the average votes of U.S. states in the past four elections from 1992 to 2004. Dark red are states that tipped Republican in all four presidential races; dark blue to Democrats in all four; and the rest are variations in the middle. Notice the trend?

Politics is a function of land — the more open space you have, the more conservative you tend to be. The map of voting results looks almost like one of population density; blue states are coastal or northeastern with high concentrations of urban development, and the red could be the wide open skies of Montana and Texas. Politics aside, this makes sense. Liberals tend to advocate a more active role of government, which is needed in urban areas where crowding, transportation, education, police, and health services may be more pressing. Conservatives believe in a lesser role of government, relying more on rugged individualism — which works best where scant crowding does not require cooperation and the resources of the land are abundant. Neither point is right or wrong; but the conservative-independence approach works best where you can carve your own path, while liberal-heavy-government helps manage urban density.

We like this thesis (which holds up if you dig down to county levels within states, too) because it helps explain why America often feels like a nation divided. All economic systems must deal with the creation and distribution of wealth; the father of economics, Adam Smith, after all, was the guy who invented the progressive tax. Politics is the debate over how much should be shared. Americans still haven’t figured it out; the top marginal tax rate was 91% under President Eisenhower, 70% under Nixon, 50% under Reagan, 39.6% under Clinton and 35% under Bush; while today’s structure seems like a historically fair deal, any discussion on changing it brings out heated attacks from both political parties.

As the history of our tax system shows, logic has little to do with either parties’ view; gut instinct seems to take over on whether to share more or less. Marketers might think about the collective consciousness of their target audience tied to the land they live on, and how it drives their motives for independent or cooperative response. If you are launching a campaign remotely tied to such motives in the U.S., very different messaging might work in different markets.

Well, at least we know why we sometimes disagree with the talking head on TV. She was probably born in the wrong state.

Genesis and the scary durability of communications

Look, we love Peter Gabriel, but this old video of him and Phil Collins playing Genesis makes us cringe. Probably makes them wince, too. Which brings up the fact that anything you type today, or any video clip of you, will now live forever. This wasn’t always true. FoxNews, for example, today went after Barack Obama about when he began dealings with the ACORN Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Fox claimed a relationship back in 1992, instead of the 1995 Obama cited. Don’t know why this tidbit has any importance, but it shows how old facts are often disputed.

No more, mates. Imagine your son or daughter running for President in the year 2048. Everything they’ve ever touched is recorded, for instant recall, on the internet — high school parties, college pranks, that crazy blog with opinions about advertising (um, whoops). It will be an interesting future when none of us can escape our past. Our advice: Don’t play the flute, avoid cameras, and get a good haircut.

Via Bad Banana.

Speaking of falling markets, McCain’s odds are now 29.5%


If you haven’t read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, all you need to know is that groups of people can be pretty accurate in their guesses. Ask a room of 100 people how many marbles are in a jar and every individual will miss, but average all the collective estimates and you’ll be right on the money.

One huge impartial group is guessing McCain’s odds of winning the presidency are now less than 30%.

The Iowa Electronic Markets is a prediction market experiment in which thousands of real people bet small sums of money on the outcomes of things such as the U.S. presidential election — and for years has achieved remarkable success. The idea is similar to betting on a horse race; the demand of people picking winners sets a price for the two horses, and those “odds” come extremely close to the actual outcome … since the group intelligence of all betters ends up predicting the real odds.

The IEM expresses odds in cents on the dollar, similar to percentage. After the bailout debacle yesterday, McCain’s odds in the “winner takes all” betting pool fell 17% from a recent high of 47 cents on Sept. 12 to 29.5 cents at midnight last night — or a 29.5% predicted chance of winning the election vs. Obama’s 70.3%. It’s noteworthy that these bets are not political opinions; they are the wisdom of people trying to make a profit by predicting the real outcome, which makes the guesses extremely accurate. Also note that this is not a guess on what percent of the voters will go for each candidate (which is much closer), but a “winner takes all” prediction on who, Obama or McCain, will win the entire election.

Crazy times. A lot could happen. Play this forward and you know that both Obama’s and McCain’s camps, who watch this type of thing, will be preparing bold chess moves to try to secure/dislodge the momentum. But bookmark IEM if you want to keep an eye on what the free market thinks about the U.S. political process.

A Short Love Story by Carlos Lascano


At about 11:57 p.m. last night we were pondering the heat within politics; the fact that otherwise intelligent people can see things so differently. In the U.S. elections the Republicans and Democrats are fighting mad. If humans sorted facts and stimuli rationally, and digested them intelligently, then you’d think people with IQs of 130+ would agree on national politics, resource management, military defense and human aid.

And yet we don’t.

Seems under the surface we are merely emotional animals, if we come to such different and passionate opinions. Emotion can be a good thing too. So we leave you with this.

Via Charlie Wollborg at Curve Detroit.

GOP and Dems come running when a baby cries


Let’s tread into dangerous waters and discuss Gov. Sarah Palin’s impending grandmotherhood. All of Twitter was ablaze today with U.S. liberals and conservatives angrily discussing the fallout over news Palin’s teen daughter is pregnant. We mentioned briefly to our online colleagues that Barack Obama himself was conceived out of wedlock (his parents married on Feb. 2, 1961, and he was born six months later on Aug. 4), so it all seemed a non-issue … and further fireworks flew.

None of this is meant to debate who is right or wrong, or whether an individual’s character can be judged by what his parents or her daughters do. What’s interesting is how fast the debate erupted — literally seconds after the news hit the wires. You could almost feel the Democratic and Republican strategists monitoring the social media communications flow for clues on how to reposition the event to help their respective parties.

Twitter and blogs have accelerated how issues flare, are spun and resolved. Monitoring these tools is becoming more powerful than national surveys, since you can see realtime data on opinions and the vectors of their shifts. Good luck responding this week, politicians; we expect more turbulence.

Photo: Whimsical Chris

Democrats are brandjacked on Twitter


The image above shows 2.5 million missed opportunities.

That’s the number of Twitter users the U.S. Democratic party conceivably won’t be able to communicate to tonight, because the DNC failed to secure its Twitter moniker (www.twitter.com/dnc). Now, tonight with Obama talking in front of all of Colorado in a stadium, with a young demo trying to tune in with multimedia, the DNC is hamstrung by a clever Twitter squatter. The RNC has no such trouble, and we’re sure they’ll be lobbing lots of chatter. We signed up to follow @RNC today because we know, whether we agree or not, the Twitter feed will be riveting.

Don’t laugh; your business is next. Most businesses don’t have a plan for monitoring, or using, emerging media. Just as smart brands look for competitors with similar products on the horizon, smart marketers need to follow new channels and jump in … before you lose the chance.