Tag Archives: Donald Trump

A Story Begging for a Trump Tweet.

One of the refreshing things about Donald Trump is that he calls bullshit. He doesn’t get bogged down in the minutiae of why the world works a certain way – he just sometimes tells it like it is. Which is why I think if he heard Mike Gaetani’s plight we would see a Trump twitter storm.

Mike Gaetani turned 100 years old a few months back. He’s quite a story, an American story. Orphaned as a baby, Mike was passed around through some tough foster homes in the Boston area and never had a chance to finish high school. Yet he got a job, a good manufacturing job working for Johnson Controls, married the woman of his dreams, owned a home, had a child and scrimped, saved and prepared for a retirement he was firmly convinced only his wife would live to enjoy.

And his planning worked – as a 30 plus year employee of Johnson Controls (JCI) he steadily earned and bought shares in the company he made his career with. Over the years, JCI has been a rock solid stock, paying dividends that allowed Mike to stay off Medicaid, out of a nursing home and connected with his family. He did everything right, he got a little lucky – he was set, or at least he thought so.

At 100, Mike has congestive heart failure, “CHF” as he calls it, which if you are lucky enough to get to 100, most people have. But as faulty as Mike’s heart is – he has one – a big one, which is a lot more than we can say for the executives at Johnson Controls and Tyco that just completed one of the more despicable tax inversion details in history.  

A tax inversion is when an American company combines with a foreign company, typically moving it’s headquarters offshore, to escape our ridiculously uncompetitive federal corporate tax rate. Many see tax inversions as a gimmick for U.S. companies to boost their profits without actually improving business operations.

It was a hot topic during the Presidential campaign and earlier this year the Treasury Department actually issued rules that killed several pending tax inversion deals. Unfortunately, for Mike and the other 20% minority of JCI shareholders, one large inversion that wasn’t killed was a $16 billion deal involving the acquisition of Tyco, based in Ireland, by Milwaukee based Johnson Controls.

Why is it unfortunate? It seems that under federal law when a tax inversion deal closes, shareholders of the company inverting to the overseas tax location, JCI in this case, are hit with a tax bill as if they sold their stock. As such, the inversion is forcing thousands of JCI shareholders to dig into their pockets and pay taxes (essentially capital gains) on their unrealized gains just to remain shareholders.

Ok, that’s tough enough to swallow for Mike and other JCI retirees who acquired the stock at a low price over the years and are living off the dividends. But this inversion has a particularly pernicious wrinkle, in that the acquisition of Tyco was structured in such a way so that only 20% of all JCI shareholders are footing the entire tax bill for the inversion. That’s right 20% of JCI shareholders are responsible for 100% of JCI’s exit tax from America.  

You can guess which 20% of shareholders are footing the bill.  It’s not institutional investors, it’s not JCI corporate officers, it’s not the hedge funds – it’s the little guy, retirees like Mike.  

So I was hoping this story, obnoxious and true, might incite a Twitter storm from our President Elect. But alas, I realize with so many other things to tweet about it’s admittedly a long shot. Barring that – I’ll just generate some fake news and with any luck my bogus tweet will be treated as real and result in shining some light on this sad scam.

(Special thanks to the Donald Trump tweet generator)

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God’s Work

God’s work is being announced today in Indianapolis, but we’ll get back to that.

In 1994, when George Pataki became Governor, IBM was poised to move their corporate headquarters out of New York, no not to Mexico, but about 200 yards down the road on the same piece of property, just in Connecticut.  He called then CEO Lou Gerstner and asked him just to “give him a chance” and he would get the state moving in the right direction. Gerstner gave him a chance and IBM and New York would go on to have a very beneficial relationship…the most obvious outgrowth for those in the Capital Region is sitting at the corner of Washington Avenue and Fuller Road, today we call it SUNY Poly.

It was the right thing to do then and what President Elect Trump did with United Technologies is right too.  Leadership matters. Policy matters. I can imagine Trump had a similar conversation with Chairman & CEO Greg Hayes – just gimme a chance.  Kudos for UTC and Hayes for giving him that opportunity.

It’s important for a lot of reasons.  First, on the campaign trail Trump promised to keep these jobs in America…as a politician, as President keeping your promises matter. This was a good one to keep. Second, he sent a message to the business community and he didn’t use 140 characters to do it — he did it the right way.  Third, and most importantly, he saved close to 1000 good paying jobs.

Cynics will say he didn’t solve anything.  They will conflate decades long statistics on the steady loss of manufacturing jobs and say he doesn’t have a chance to reverse the trend. I believe the cynics are wrong on all counts. America’s energy revolution, coupled with rising wages in China, Mexico etc plus US technology / workforce superiority and a nexus to the North American consumer market are ingredients for growth in US manufacturing. Not a revolution – but real growth. The bigger problem is automation, which is constantly reducing labor needs.

But even if I’m wrong about everything – the cynics still are wrong too. I spent a good part of my career at Empire State Development chasing companies, cajoling, incenting, begging doing whatever it took to get them to stay in New York, because I knew it mattered. Not because of some donor, or the largesse of a big corporation (sorry Jim Heaney and my friend Richard Brodsky) and not because of politics (jobs were good press no matter where they were created) – but because it meant someone kept their job, someone could get a job.  A family had a better Christmas, a small town kept its anchor – a mother put dinner on the table and a father had pride and self-worth.

My father was lucky, he was always managed to stay one step ahead – every company he worked for closed within a year after he had moved on. And my mother, a single mom for many years, put aside her dreams and worked whatever job she could to provide for four kids. Through their example they taught us the value of hard work. There is nothing esoteric about that – a story repeated countless times throughout American homes. A story in danger of becoming an urban legend in certain parts of our country. Economic development isn’t always about solving every grand social, political or fiscal issue – pile up the wins, one by one, (bird by bird as Anne Lamont would say) and they matter.

Every job matters.  I treated it that way and believed in it with jihadi fervor and I still do.  And I was proud to work with a bunch of tremendous professionals at Empire State Development who by and large share that same passion.

Which is what brings us back to God’s work.  A few year’s back Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman of Goldman Sachs, was asked what sprung to mind when he thought of Goldman’s mission…he said “I’m doing God’s work.” He added, “We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle.”

In the wake of the financial disaster – widespread scorn was heaped on Blankfein. In the department of bad timing, he should have been smarter, but I kinda got it (because I read the whole quote) and because I had said the same thing myself on many occasions.  Saving jobs, creating jobs and wealth is about more than the numbers, more than any policy – it is essential to keeping alive the American Dream, rhetorically and in reality.

Trump with UTC saved some jobs in Indiana today and as far as I’m concerned – that’s God’s work.

 

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What I Meant to Say

In 2004, when I came up in the field of communications, I was privileged to be taught by some of the best – both LCA reporters and former colleagues. And while I took away different lessons from different people, there was one maxim that was universally held – “don’t lie!”

To be clear, “don’t lie,” didn’t mean offer the complete utter truth all the time. It didn’t mean return every press call or for that matter answer every question (God forbid). What it did mean, or what it used to mean, is that if you lied, your credibility would be lost, shot, kaput and your ability to be effective with the press would be over.

In the wake of what I have seen over the past few years, culminating in this year’s presidential election, that essential lesson seems like a quaint and outdated ideal. 

Over the past few weeks I can’t tell you the number of people, from the left and right, who have expressed their admiration for the job done by Kellyanne Conway, Jason Miller and much of the Trump press team. I have to admit their performance was intelligent, professional and stunningly effective – it also was often completely the opposite of what their candidate was saying. Everyday we were treated to the phrase “what he really means” as if somehow we were all profound idiots, unable to interpret the true meaning of a message usually less than 140 characters long.

Sadly the media, especially the television news ate it up allowing Conway and team to become the reassuring voice to the so-called establishment, while Trump continued to say whatever he wanted, when he wanted. It was a campaign waged in two different languages and by the end we were treated daily to two competing, yet strategically complimentary messages: the “what he said,” and then, the “what he really means.” If Dick Morris and Bill Clinton perfected the slick art of triangulation, Team Trump simplified it to a coarse duality.

To be clear, despite all the hand wringing, this phenomenon didn’t start with Donald Trump–he just took it to another level. The elected officials, the corporate mouthpieces, the NGO’s (who each year grow more brazen with their lies), and those in the fourth estate that invest credibility in the liars are all part and parcel of the problem.

Indeed, it seems voters have already grown immune to it. Having heard so much baloney over the years, they expect their politicians–including Trump–to lie. Much as Elena Gorokhova, wrote of her life growing up in the Soviet Union,“The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.”

I don’t pretend to know the answer, but as the media soul searches for how to “cover President Trump,” they need to be looking a lot closer to home in the stories that get covered everyday.

The notion that we live in a #PostTruth world is disturbing. There are facts. There is in most things an objective reality and if we lose our hold on that, I fear for our politics and our society. More importantly and most troubling, it would come as no surprise that those who obtain great power, in-part through lies, are certainly capable of the perjury to sustain it.

Today, there are candidates and consultants, Democrats and Republicans alike emboldened by Trump’s victory asking the question: does the truth matter? I know one thing: once you abandon the truth your options are far greater and much easier. There is no need to be obtuse or clever, let alone endure – or worse, make others endure – the banality of being repetitive or mundane. Finally, there is no need to ask reporters to divine some measure of truth from what is carefully unspoken. There is no subtlety or nuance in the #PostTruth world  – there is simply an ends and a means.   

 

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Deep Breaths

Take a deep breath everyone, step awaaaaay from the Twitter – Donald Trump has been elected President and the world has not ended. While it’s fair to say this has been one of the most dispiriting campaigns in my lifetime – the truth is that his election is a watershed opportunity to reclaim our system. When I say reclaim, I don’t mean from the Democrats or liberals or for that matter from Republicans or conservatives – I mean from the incestuous cross-section of the financial, media and political establishment that has long been gaming this system for their own purposes.

To some degree the campaign was a microcosm of what ails our process. Today, much of the mainstream media is wringing their hands about the results – yet is was the media’s coverage of a reality TV star that set the train in motion. They breathlessly followed every twist and turn, minute by minute. Broadcasting, analyzing and pontificating on every Trumperance – ultimately delivering over $2 billion in free media coverage to the Trump campaign. To have some perspective, the next closest GOP candidate, Jeb Bush, received only $214 million in earned media – just over 10% of the amount. Quite a difference, especially when considering all these same news outlets over and over predicted Trump can’t win!

While Fox led the way in skewing coverage when it came to the GOP, aka the Fox primary, all the media left and right got in on the act. Morning Joe created this new low standard of the “Trump call in” with Joe twisting himself to legitimize Trump’s positions only later to find some faux outrage. Trump is great TV and ratings soared. CBS CEO Les Moonves said it himself, “Donald Trump might not be good for America, but he’s great for the bottom line,” as record advertising revenues were scored by the cable and network new divisions.

But after cashing all those advertising checks, the same media that skewed coverage one way, decided it was time to drag Hillary across the finish line. When it came it to trying to finally settle the outcome of the election it was NBC that suddenly, mysteriously unearthed “the lost” Access Hollywood tapes in an October surprise. Unfortunately for supporters of team Clinton, NBC released the tapes too early allowing Trump to weather the storm, stabilize and finally for Hillary to be outdone and ultimately undone by none other than Anthony Weiner.

When it comes to Comey – I might be wrong, but my sense was he was put between a rock and a hard place when investigators found Clinton emails on Weiners’ computer. What might, under normal circumstances, have been managed quietly was blown up because if Preet knew of the emails, there was no certainty of when the rest of the world might know. Facing this uncertainty and after promising Congress he would notify them of any new developments – Comey had basically no choice. Comey didn’t cost Clinton the election – if anything Huma and Anthony did.

For the press, reporting the objective truth was more elusive and yes more challenging than ever. Watching Trump say one thing and then his team scramble to calmly explain what “he really meant” in 180 degree fashion was both disturbing and amazing to watch at the same time. Kudos to Conway and Miller for interpreting Trump-speak into reasonable sound bites, even if the dissonance was often jarring, But sadly it reflects the world we live in today.

Double standards, double talk and hypocrisy have become the norm and they have taken their toll on the electorate. 10 years after the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression not one person responsible has gone to jail. Just this year, Wells Fargo brazenly ripped of hundreds of thousands of account holders – yet the CEO walks away with a golden parachute. Many of our elected officials simply pick and choose which laws they choose to follow. Federal indictments are handed down in Nassau County mere weeks before an election. And the state’s top law enforcement office holds the Trump Foundation to one standard and the Clinton Foundation to another. Is it any surprise that voters are just a bit cynical when it comes to sorting out what’s important and what’s not? What’s the truth and what’s not?

Finally, when it came to the political establishment what a disaster. In a year when 16 rock ribbed establishment Republicans envisioned their own pathways to the White House all but one, George Pataki, hid for months while the 17th, Trump, built momentum toward the nomination. One after another, GOP candidates made the cynical miscalculation, much like the pundits, that the next misstep will take Trump down and their campaign would be there to pick up his voters. Jeb Bush’s PAC spent close to $100 million attacking Marco Rubio – not one campaign with resources focused on taking out Trump until it was too late.

For the Democrats, Wikileaks proved the conspiracy to undermine Bernie Sanders was real and was devastating to the Clinton effort. And as much as Trump was over reported by the media, Sanders, who was very much inspiring his own populist uprising, was largely dismissed and underreported. We can’t underestimate the impact of this disparity on the Democratic primary. Ironically, in many ways Clinton actually looked more like a Republican, certainly more establishment than Trump ever did. Her coziness with Wall Street, her experience voting for and overseeing two failed wars, her shifting support for free trade and her apparent wealth all could of easily landed her in a GOP primary. Is it any wonder she had a difficult time turning out the Obama coalition?

So now what? In the days after election I’ve heard of hispanic grade school students crying for fear that they might be deported, of mothers numb as to what it means for their daughters, a number of reporters genuinely concerned with rising anti-semitism and pundits one and all shocked that “this is not their America.” Their concerns, their fears are real and we must all be on guard for those elements of hate in our society that conflate an election result that acknowledges America’s tough problems with an acceptance of intolerance. But at the same time, this tendency to lump all Trump voters in with racists, homophobes or the general “basket of deplorables” is also unacceptable.

Finally, for those Democrats, liberals and independents who think it’s the end of the world, remember thrice married Donald Trump is not exactly a christian fundamentalist, he voted for John Kerry in 2004, was pro-choice long before he was pro-life and actually in the campaign set aside issues like gay marriage. Donald Trump is not a conservative and not an ideologue – he is real estate developer, a master marketer and ultimately a deal maker.  And while his temperament on the trail has left many of us concerned – only he knows how much of it was showmanship and how much of it was authentic. The truth is Trump seems equally as genuine denouncing Hillary as “crooked” as he does praising her as “lovely” and “tough.”

From repairing the promise of the American Dream for middle America, to reclaiming our inner cities to fixing our broken immigration system – there are tough challenges ahead. Challenges that have eluded establishment Democrats and Republicans alike, the professionals that have formulated their policies and the special interests that have funded them. For the past 18 months Trump has colored outside the lines. He did not campaign within the boundaries of what had been accepted practice – to fix America, he’s going to have to do the same thing.

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