Category Archives: Legislative Affairs

Our Non-Essential Federal Government

We enter yet another week of the “partial” government shutdown.

Over the weekend we saw veterans bull rushing the WWII Memorial, tearing down the barricades, and re-positioning them in front of the White House lawn. “Good on ya!” I’d toss out to those veterans.

We heard news that states and private entities are stepping up to keep America’s finest assets, our national parks, open to the public. Thank you, on behalf of all of us that love the national parks.

And we continued to hear more bickering from leaders in Washington.  Ugh.

The developments over the past few weeks have led me to ask, “What exactly does the federal government do, anyway?”

The push to keep the national parks open is a clear sign that state and local leaders know a dysfunctional federal government will cost them millions in tourism dollars.  So they’ve pushed forward without a hint of politics and undertaken the federal government’s work.

Last night it began flooding in central Texas. I’m sure if needed, Gov. Perry will call out his state’s national guard troops. He and the Texas Legislature won’t wait for the federal government. If another massive wildfire hits the West, or a late errant hurricane hits the southern coastal states, chief executives and emergency agencies won’t wait for the federal government either.

City, county and state executives don’t get to “shut down” their governments because they can’t get along. They have to work together to do the job that people have elected them to do. Because they know that if they don’t do their job, voters will show them the door at the next election.

Elected officials in Washington have shown us in recent months that the interaction between the House, Senate and White House is dysfunctional, and that’s being diplomatic.

Unfortunately, the longer this cliff hangs over our head, the more “non-essential” leaders in Congress will appear to voters.

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Television is still the King

A lot has been written about how  digital media has numbered the days of more “traditional” news outlets, such as newspapers and television. A report out today from Gallup would tend to indicate, as Mark Twain would say, the demise of television has been greatly exaggerated.

Gallup reports today that television still dominates as American’s first choice for news. Fully 55% of Americans get their news about current events from television, followed by 21% from the internet. While digital news has swamped newspapers (only 9% indicate newspapers as their primary source), it has not displaced television.

I’m old enough to remember the news about crazy men like Ted Turner, who had a vision of 24/7 information delivery via cable channels. At that time, Americans got their news primarily from newspapers and the three large networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. The reaction Turner received varied between “give it a year” and projections of his imminent bankruptcy. Within a few years, that scorn had changed to clarion calls that the Big Three broadcast channels were staring at extinction. Neither extreme proved to be true.

What happened was the delivery channels were split, with news consumers getting more options. The pie, in other words, was merely split into smaller pieces. The same is now happening with the advent of digital media and the internet.

Yes, an increasing number of people are looking to digital for news. Yet television still dominates the market. Newspapers have taken a distinct hit in their market share, but I believe they’ve hit bottom and with aggressive moves into the digital space will find their balance. The pie has merely been cut into smaller slices yet again.

For our clients, it’s important to be everywhere: television, radio, print and internet. When we need to drive the news, we do it in a coordinated fashion. This not only ensures we hit our audiences, but gives us repetition in news cycles. There is no “silver bullet”…you have to be everywhere your audience is looking.

Television is a unique medium. It combines important moving visuals with delivery by news people you (hopefully) trust. If you don’t trust that host, there are hundreds of other options. It allows a vast amount of programming and entertainment options due to its 24/7 nature and bandwidth. And among other news outlets, it is uniquely situated to augment itself in the digital space.

Whether television remains at the top of the news business is yet to be seen. My money says it will.

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Filed under Legislative Affairs, Paid Media, Public Affaris, Uncategorized

A Tea Party with the Wizard of Oz

In the classic film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s diminutive dog Toto pulls back the curtain in the Emerald City to reveal the Wizard is nothing but a grand illusion. The Wizard uses smoke, mirrors and high tech equipment to appear larger than life, all knowing and omnipresent.

Some members of the Tea Party, and the final few members of the media who haven’t completely abdicated their media credentials, must feel like Toto this week with the disclosure of the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. Indeed this has been a bad week for the Administration, with the Benghazi attack and AP phone tapping issues coming to the fore. But nothing resonates as quickly or as viscerally with the American public as revelations that the IRS is crawling up the pant legs of Americans like a horde of fire ants.

We know from Watergate lore that President Nixon used the IRS to target groups on the left. What we may not remember is that Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and even Bill Clinton also used the IRS to target groups they deemed in opposition to their agenda. Remember the “vast right wing conspiracy?” There seems to be a pretty consistent theme that has developed over the last 70 or so years: an expanding federal government uses its investigative and tax powers to quash dissent.

A lot of my liberal friends chide me for the “divisive” and “uncooperative” nature of the Tea Party and its “horrible” influence on the country’s politics. They have been oddly silent this week. I’m wondering how they’d feel if the horde of IRS fire ants were crawling up the pant leg of their favorite charity, non-governmental agency or liberal public policy organization.

The revelations of this week will also have a direct impact on one (potentially the only) signature piece of legislation the President has ever passed, the Affordable Health Care Act. To “enforce” the new law, the IRS is slated to add almost 2,000 new employees. There are almost 50 “major” changes to the IRS Code to implement the new law. The IRS Inspector General calls those changes “the largest set of tax law changes the IRS has had to implement in more than 20 years.”

What could be more troubling? The IRS is establishing a sophisticated databases to “monitor compliance” with the AHCA. Working in concert with federal departments (Social Security, Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services) and state governments, the IRS is establishing the “Federal Data Services Hub” to verify identity, residency, employment, income, criminal history and enrollment in entitlement programs.

Please, someone go fetch Toto. I’ll put the water on. Looks like we’ll need more tea.

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The Constitutional Conundrum

I’ve been writing, rewriting, and rewriting this post for weeks. It deals with my perspectives on the gun control debate raging across America in the wake of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn.

There have been many voices on this subject over the past few weeks. And one of my favorite writers, Charles Krauthammer, synthesized much of what I planned to write in an article that appeared in Sunday’s Des Moines Register. And of course, Mr. Krauthammer’s article was much better than any of my previous drafts. There’s a reason he’s a nationally syndicated writer, and I’m not.

My premise in this debate is rather simple: We need to focus not only on Second Amendment rights. We also need to focus on free speech rights of the First Amendment; due process rights of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments; and equal protection rights of the 14th Amendment. The ultimate solution, if people are serious about finding one, will involve concessions from all corners of the Constitution and from all interested.

As Mr. Krauthammer stated,

That’s a lot of impingement, a lot of amendments. But there’s no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.

We made that trade after 9/11. We make it every time the Transportation Security Administration invades your body at an airport. How much are we prepared to trade away after Newtown?

Those who are serious about getting to the bottom of this issue will speak clearly to that point. They will take the time to discuss infringement of all rights before focusing on the infringement of any rights.

Those who are only interested in demagoguery will only address selected rights.

We will know immediately that they are not serious about solving this problem or protecting public safety. They will be interested only in scoring cheap political points.  On this subject, we’ve had far too much of that already.

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Supreme Court Times Decision to Deny Future Criticism

Today, the Supreme Court struck down major portions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. My post today is not meant to argue the merits of that law, #SB1070, but to highlight what I think was a brilliant strategic stroke by the Supreme Court in the timing of its decision.

For the past two years, and especially since the Citizens United decision, the Administration and leading Democrats have been attacking the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. Remember the President criticizing the members of the Supreme Court … as they sat directly in front of him during the 2010 State of the Union address? Rather than emulate the Court, they have chosen to emasculate it and undercut its integrity.

Now, of course, President Obama is not the first President to be critical of the Supreme Court’s decision on key issues. Nor will he likely be the last. But even President Nixon (no real fan of the Supreme Court, or Congress for that matter) heeded the judges’ decisions on the Watergate tapes and decided to resign rather than challenge the legitimacy of the Court’s decision. The Chief Executive walks a fine line in arguing to change rules that he or she does not agree with… and complying with an order from a co-equal branch of government to comply with a rule he or she may not like.

Today’s ruling cut major portions out of the controversial Arizona law. In the ruling, the Court signaled agreement with the Obama Administration of the key provisions it saw as so offensive. In other words, it ruled based on the arguments presented, its deep study of federal and state power balance and the United States Constitution. It was not a partisan decision, but a legal decision.

And it set up the decision, now anticipated for Thursday, on President Obama’s signature issue, the Affordable Care Act. If key provisions of the law are struck down (which I now firmly believe they will be), liberals who favor the law will attack the decision and conservatives will applaud. Basically, it will be the polar opposite of what is happening today, with conservative groups gnashing their teeth and liberals rejoicing. The Supreme Court, with the timing of its ruling today on the immigration law, took a large step towards denying its critics the ability to attack its legitimacy. You can’t rejoice in their collective brilliance on Monday, and then attack them as right wing activists on Thursday…

Democrats are not the only ones who have been attacking the Court, or the court system over the past few years. Republicans have been more than willing to join in the fray. Both parties, and partisan groups, should take a pause and think about this week’s decisions from the Supreme Court.

We may not like some of their decisions, and we may disagree with their legal reasoning. But in a nation of laws, and one in which we attempt to honor our federal and state constitutions, we have to comply with their rulings and interpretations.

Even Richard Nixon agreed with that premise.

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