The Next Surgeon General’s Warning

Back in the 1990’s Microsoft was the Wicked Witch of the tech world. The techies were upset that the company made substandard software and then forced everyone to use it. For example, Internet Explorer was not as good as Netscape Navigator, but because Microsoft had tremendous clout in the market it could cut business deals that made it hard for consumers to use anything else and muscled Netscape out of business.

The government finally got involved went after Microsoft and got very close to breaking the company up, just like it did with Ma Bell in the early 1980s.

The current captains of tech learned their lesson. Google, Facebook and Twitter make pretty decent software. More importantly, they (mostly) don’t cut business deals that force you use it.

Instead, they work on your addictions. The employ behavioral physiologists and their techniques to get you hooked on their services. The smartphone and ubiquitous internet was a godsend to these companies, because you can feed your addiction to these services anywhere, not just at your desk – in your car, walking down the street, in the toilet, .

What they did not learn from Microsoft’s experience is that anything that gets too big and indispensable will eventually generate backlash. First, politicians from the left railed against these companies for allowing themselves to be used by fake news to influence the election of Donald Trump. Next, politicians from the right are upset that these companies are over correcting.

When both sides of the political aisle have you in their sights, it cannot be good.

It is not clear what the politicians will come up with, but it is clear that the underlying problem is the addictive nature of these services. If people were not so compelled to use them, they wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

Maybe a Surgeon General’s Warning would help:
Social media and search are highly addictive. Quitting greatly reduces serious risks to your mental and political health.


Thank You, Russians

We really owe the Russians a big ‘thank you’ for all of their activities during the past election. Russians can do music and ballet delicately, but they are quite ham-fisted when it comes to politics. Which is good, because if they had been more subtle their efforts might have gone undetected.

Now that they have been exposed, the results are mostly positive:

  • Anti hacking security is being taken more seriously. Electoral authorities are tightening up their vote tallying systems. Campaigns are finally taking measures to protect their emails and communications
  • Fake news and the robots that spread it have been exposed. There still are not a lot of great options for fighting it, but there is a start
  • There is a massive spotlight on the the power of Facebook, Twitter and others that would not have been there had the Russians not tried to use them to manipulate public opinion
  • Russia’s actions prompted a very rare show of Congressional bipartisanship and independence. Legislation to punish Russia passed overwhelmingly, with specific language to keep Trump from end-running it.
  • A Special Counsel was appointed investigate the Russian activities. For the anti-Trump crowd this alone is a huge positive, as the investigation has spilled over to the shady financing that undermines Trump Inc.

Of course, all of this will be for naught if the lessons are quickly forgotten.

Trump The Business

Donald Trump wrote a book about his business acumen and even started a ‘university’ to teach it to others. But like most things Trump, the reality is not as good as he says it is.

I once spoke to a banker about the traders in his company that used computers to trade massive amounts of money and make a few cents on each trade. It was impressive. He replied, not so much. The traders were trading using the bank’s money for free. If they had to borrow the money at market rates instead they would be losing their shirts.

It is a good bet that Trump Inc. is built on a similar model. The economics of his business deals are probably based on getting financing from unsavory characters (alleged mobsters and worse), highly aggressive tax maneuvers and illegal undocumented quid-pro-quo agreements. Trump Inc. might not be a money launderer per se, but you won’t have to scratch the surface very deeply to find the rinse cycle.

This is why Trump is so afraid of Robert Mueller’s investigations. They are bound to uncover the extent of the shady deals he and his family have done to stay in business. And since he and his family make all of the important decisions, there really aren’t a lot of henchmen to take the fall when the truth comes out.

So in addition to the Charles Kushner pardon pool, we ought to be thinking about wagering on pardons for Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner.


Mueller: Drip, Drip, Drip

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation must be like water torture for Donald Trump. Every piece of news about it is another brick in the wall that will eventually encircle the President and, more importantly, his business interests.

The wall won’t imprison Trump. It is doubtful that he will even be charged with any crimes. What the wall will do is keep others away. By the time Mueller is done, Trump Inc. will be a toxic hot potato that no one will want to be close to.

Trump is very well aware of this. So every time Mueller puts a fair sized brick in the wall, Trump tries to tweet it away. “No collusion” tweets Trump – he’s got nothing, it’s a waste of time. No Brick.

But the truth is that very slowly and very methodically, the wall is taking shape. Mueller is laying as strong of a foundation as he can to make sure that the wall will stand up to any legal trebuchet that Trump’s legal team can conceive of. So far, it looks pretty solid.


Succulents Are The New Black

Have you noticed how succulents are popping up everywhere? No longer content to be a curiosity in the garden store, succulents have gone mainstream and more.

For a few years now it seems like every craft fair has hosted a few vendors selling tiny pots with a little sprig of a generic succulent stuck in it. “Oh yes, that will be $15 please.”

Now it is getting even worse. Designers are weaving succulent walls into cafes, beer gardens and anywhere else they can get away with it. Succulent pots adorn office reception areas. They have replaced silk flowers in toilets. There is no stopping them!

Someday the fad will run its course and we will be hit by the next big thing. Air plants anyone?


Trump: It’s The Ratings Stupid

In case you have not noticed, Donald Trump is not exactly a traditional president. That includes how he measures how well he is doing.

Trump is from the celebrity and reality TV worlds (pretty much the same thing, really). In those worlds, success is measured by how often you are mentioned in the press and the ratings your TV program receives. It really doesn’t matter whether people ‘like’ you, how high your public approval ratings are or even what the press is writing about you. If you are in the news every day, you are successful. Period.

That is why Trump cares about how many people come to events like his inauguration. If he has the largest attendance then he had the largest ratings, and he is the ‘best’ president. Period.

If a celebrity finds their press coverage lacking, they have their PR flack manufacture something to bring them some coverage. Trump is his own publicist and he is brilliant at it, having honed his skills in over 30 years of sparring with New York’s celebrity press.

When Trump feels his ratings going down, he sends out a few tweets. Boom – he is back in the headlines and back on top.

The celebrity  press understands this game, but the political press is still trying to figure it out. Trump has completely broken their reporting model and until they come up with a new one he will continue to be a star and write his own headlines.