Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So Few Candidates, So Much Time...

John Edwards withdrew today. So much to talk about. I miss Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich and I’ll miss John Edwards. Or I’ll miss his civility. Oh, and Rudy Giuliani also dropped out, but I won’t miss him. Back to John. He was the foam in a sea of ... OK I’m at a loss for what else is in the water. I know there is pollution, and sand, a few fish, and coral—but none works as an illustration of what I want to say. I guess I could take the fish route and say he was a guppy in a school of sharks but that would be overstating. He was more than a small fish in a big expensive swimming pool—although neither of the other candidates wanted him cluttering up the water. So maybe I should go for the coral... Nevermind, I’m starting to sound desperate. Anyway, he’s out of the race and I’m sure the phone calls to his supporters were ongoing and relentless.


I spoke to my mother today, she is an avid Clinton supporter. She was happy that John Edwards was out of the race and she wondered why Bill Clinton couldn’t be the Vice President. “Don’t you think that would be nice for the Clinton’s? Then he won’t feel bad about not being the President.” I tried to explain why that wouldn’t work and then I thought, well if Bill spent quality time trying to change the Constitution, maybe it would keep him out of the campaign. Then a friend said, he could be the Vice President, if Hillary asked him to run. So then, for absolutely no reason, I flashed back to last week when my mother and her twin were together. Aunt Peppy went out to Seattle to see Mom. They were thrilled to see one another and then after about ten minutes they started to fight—it’s what they do. My brother called to say the good news was that they didn’t kill each other –which would have been my preference because then, after long and happy lives, they could have gone together doing what they loved doing the most—having a good fight. Kind of like “Second Hand Lions” when the 92 year old former adventurer brothers built a plane and flew it into their barn—upside down. Anyway, I thought, changing the Constitution would be easier then getting Hillary to agree that Bill should be the Vice President.
Back to the campaigns. Giuliani appeared with McCain tonight and gave him an in person endorsement adding that he would go wherever McCain wanted him to go – unless it became a problem. I guess he was referring to all those questions of appointments and spending. Isn’t it funny that McCain, an honorable person, would want to be endorsed by a person of questionable character. And I don’t get it since about 6 people in the entire US were going to vote for Rudy. But since McCain admits he knows very little about the economy, he probably thinks “it’s not the economy stupid, it’s about the power.”

And speaking of stupid, it is outrageous that the media have seemingly selected Clinton and McCain as the nominees. Maybe I’m missing something but I thought there were other Primaries. In addition, the media didn’t do very well with their predictions in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina – so what makes them think they know any better now. This is a game of “will young people and independents vote?” If they do, Obama and Romney may do very well. If they don’t then “it’s about the stupid, stupid.” We’re just sayin...Iris

Another Big Purchase? Why Not!

I suppose we are no longer living in the neo-gilded age of the buy out mavens of the 70’s and 80’s. Jimmy Ling, one of the early masters of the discipline, cobbled a few million bucks here, and a few million bucks there, and created Ling/Temco/Vought, a multi-industry, multi-national, that was the model for any number of crazy buy outs for the next couple of decades. Some were based on the concept of de-construction: taking a company and breaking up all the individual parts of it, selling each, and ending up with way more money than the company would have been worth as a whole. No attention ever seemed to be paid to whether it was good for a)the country [i.e. defense or other sensitive areas], b) the workers who actually worked there [it’s ok… they’ll either keep their jobs or they won’t], and c) the shareholders [this is the one group which might actually profit from the break up]. Normally the folks who make out like bandits are the bandits themselves: the senior management team, the investment bank (why do they always get involved?), and the legal beagles. One of the other manifestations of business run amok is a leveraged buyout, where, with as much faith as cash, a company is cobbled together on the promise that the new entity will be able to create new found wealth by the mere existence of its new state of being [now what are the phrases those management companies always use? Oh yeah, “economy of scale”, “convergence” – that really worked for AOL & Time/Warner , and “repositioning” – when they use that one, you better check the state of your 401K!] My point is that while there have no doubt been some great moves in the business world, there have been some monumentally idiotic ones, which the deca-million paid geniuses didn’t see coming. Gerry Levin, the genius who engineered the aforementioned AOL-Time/Warner deal, and who briefly profited from it (last year he implied in an interview that he was down to his own last coupla’ million) was in charge of the wipe out which cost literally thousands of people the bulk of their profit-sharing and retirement funds. That happens when a stock goes from over 100 to about 15. The point is, any of the senior smart folks at the magazine division could have told you that these great convergence ideas would just not pan out as planned, but no one, it seems can tell the rainmakers anything.

Notice that I have been able to write this far without even mentioning ENRON, but I think you get the point. In the photo business, we complain that budding photographers coming out of Journalism or Photo schools aren’t really taught anything about the business of photography, and that, indeed, you need to STAY in business if you want to BE in business. [John Harrington, a very tall and smart Washington photographer has actually codified much of what we all should have learned in his book Best Business Practices for Photographers and on his blog (photobusinessforum.blogspot.com.] And as much as the geniuses would like to think they “get it” in every business they touch, there are often elements of a particular business which even the well honed MBA crowd sometimes miss. In the photo business, in particular, there are vagaries which have become only more annoying over the decades. The biggest problem is that we live in an era where “everyone” is a photographer. Hi resolution cameras (and cell fones) are now affordable to anyone remotely interested, and while the pictures they may take don’t always rise to the level of a ‘professional,’ whatever that is, there is an assumption that because we DO take pictures, we MUST BE photographers. It’s one of the few professions where the whole world sees itself as your peer. If you have any means at all you can buy a great camera, yes, but using it is another story. Let’s be honest.. .in the days of 35mm film.. you know, 3 years ago.. how many of the 3x5 prints would you trash when you got back your envelope of 36? Probably a lot. Even pros miss a lot of good pictures, it’s just part of the game. But in the end, folks feel like they can relate to you, simply because they take their own pictures. On a human level, this isn’t a bad thing. We can all kvell together of a baby picture, a sunset, or the glint on the Eiffel Tower at dawn. But in business, a difficult situation has only gotten worse. With the proliferation of the use of photography, you would think we photogs would be in better shape. Not really so. For a few really big names, perhaps it is—Salgado, Leibovitz, Gursky. But for the most part, the ubiquitisation of photography has only driven down the perceived value of it. ‘I mean, how can it be THAT difficult to shoot a picture [and corollary- Why Should I Pay For It? ],’ one thinks, ‘when I can do it myself?’

So we are all struggling for peanuts in a world that, having already been invaded by MBA’s and Efficiency Experts (I’m sure they would have found many faults with DaVinci’s way of working, and Picasso? Fuggetaboudit!) sees photographs as just another commodity. We are left to fend for ourselves. When asked how things are going, I often answer, “pretty good for being in such a lousy business.”

When Jonathan Klein, a Wall Streeter partnered with Mark Getty a decade ago to start Getty Images, and began buying out a large number of photo collections to add to the GETTY coffers, his idea was to bring the world of photographic imaging into the world of Wall Street itself. Commodotize everything, and get beyond the “mom and pop” store approach which had served the business well for decades. Sometimes there is a reason to shop at the “mom and pop.” Though, unlike little cafes which suffered a demise at the explosive growth of Starbucks for the last dozen years, the photo mom and pops were pretty much into and aware of their business. “Mom and Pop” never bothered to buy an espresso machine, and serve their customers that higher end beverage which they wanted. If they had, they would still be serving those tuna sandwiches with double decaf skinny lattes, and carmel macciatos. But they didn’t see it coming, and in the end, many fell from the good graces of the caffeinated public.

In the photo business, while Getty did run it like a bit corporation, making exclusive deals with major sports leagues, and trying to create exclusive markets for their work, they didn’t see the huge leaps in revenue which might have made it all worth while. The share price has tumbled over the last couple of a years to a fraction of what it was in ’05. So, I take pleasure in announcing today that my little boutique agency, Contact Press Images (10 office staff, two dozen photographers), will tender an offer for GETTY Images, the photographic behemoth. The asking price is $1.5 billion (with a “b”) and while it may seem like a big step, there is really no reason why it shouldn’t work. And we’re competing with Mitt Romney’s old firm, Bain Capital. No sweat. And get this…..what a match. Convergence: We have been looking to expand our projects in both sports and the stock resale market – a perfect fit. We have been looking for a few good young shooters to add to the illustrious Contact masthead – they have them. We need some expanded capability in converting much of our film and print based work into a digital form – they’d arrive with scanners in hand! What a match! True, I would only take a minor role in the leadership of the company, but I think we would be in good shape, and there is no question that adding Contact’s name to the GETTY brand will only help ratchet it up a few notches. Why they haven’t thrown themselves at our feet already, I’m not sure. But stay tuned: Stranger things have happened in the world of business, and with the current panic which seems to be buffetting the hallowed halls of industry, this might just be what the economy needs to get it back on its feet.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Huge Rally in More Ways Than One

We stood in the cold for 40 minutes lined up at a machine that took (no joke) 4 minutes per person to pay to for parking. There were at least 20 people in front of us and twice that amount behind. We discovered there was another machine across the parking lot, but that one had twice the line as ours. “OK, no more of that”, I said to Kat, “I don’t wait in any more lines.” She agreed, confiding that she could no longer feel her toes.

Kat attended American University and I was a Professor there a few years ago, so we knew how to navigate the campus, and indeed, found our way through the Mary Gradon Center and in the backdoor of the Bender Arena, where we slid through a large crowd of screaming students and found ourselves in the center of the event. But we were credentialed as press, and preferred to be in that area, so a nice volunteer directed us in through the back of the arena without any hassle. That whole process took six minutes. We did stop by the press credentialing table to say we inadvertently forgot to pick up our credentials, and they gave them to us without any fuss. I love credentials. As I have always said, if you look like you know where you’re going, people will think that’s the case. About five minutes later, we discovered they were closing the working press area with 200 press people waiting in the actual press line. They were not happy press. Unfortunately, those decisions are made by the fire marshals and the public safety people and there were already too many real people inside—it’s just a numbers game with no room for negotiations.

The program opened with an a cappella group singing 60’s songs into a bad mike --which made me a bit nervous about the rest of the event because I did want to hear what the Principals were going to say. The room was set up with the podium in the middle of the arena so that the speeches would be made facing the media and the crowd was placed on the other three sides. The press area was vast. I guess because there were so many people left outside there was an amazing amount of empty space. Even with the 16 tables, and chairs (a nice touch) the press area was not crowded. I thought it was fine because I could stand on a chair and actually see what was going on. (Yes, it is all about me). Space is something that never happens at a crowded political event.

After about an hour of entertainment. a female student made her way up to the suddenly repaired microphone to introduce the talent. “Today’s youth”, she said “ will join together to elect the next President”. Then she introduced Patrick Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy and Barack Obama. Patrick spoke first and reminded us that Teddy Kennedy was instrumental in lowering the voting age to 18. He introduced Caroline, who spoke briefly about how her children thought Obama would be able to change the country, and of course, about how she also believed Obama was a candidate like her Dad, who had the ability to inspire young people to make a difference. Then she introduced Teddy, who, when he is good is really good -- and he was.

His rhetoric was brilliant and targeted. He used phrases to describe Obama’s ability like, “not diminishing the hopes of the hopeful” , “lifting our spirits and making us believe again”. He said Obama had the “power to make America good again” . He referred to Martin Luther King’s “fierce urgency of now”, and how Obama would refuse to be trapped in the past. He talked about how impressed he was by Obama’s desire to bring the country together and referred to the the speech when Barack said, “we must no longer be red states and blue states, we must be The United States.” He also took a couple of hits out on Bill Clinton by saying Obama would win without “demonizing those who hold different views”, but he confessed that he would support whomever the public determined should be the Democratic candidate. The words and sentiments were familiar but the magnitude of the event truly left me breathless. I think the fact that it was shaped around a time when there was hope and the determination to look at the future in a positive way, moved this cynic tremendously.

In direct opposition to a positive vision for the future, what was John McCain thinking when he gave that “there will be war, more wars, many wars, wars to end all wars, breakfast lunch and dinner wars,” speech yesterday. Did I miss something? Isn’t this election about finding a leader who will take us out of war. One who will ‘lead’ the nations to a peaceful and diplomatically negotiated future. It’s bad enough that he is cheerleading for the Iraq war. Who wants a guy that says war is inevitable, that we will be in many more wars. Doesn’t he get it? It’s the economy, stupid. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Depending on Who's Writing the Story....

Depending on who’s writing the story, Obama won in South Carolina because Black people voted for him 2 to 1. But that’s not the real story. What is really important to those of us who have been trying to get kids to vote—is that the turn out of young people was twice what it was four years ago and that the vote among young people was close to 2 to 1 in that category as well. It’s easy to write off a Southern State because one of the candidates is Black. But does that mean that our first Black President – who spent the last week in South Carolina campaigning for his wife without making race an issue (not), might not have the kind of power with this constituency that everyone thought he had. Or, as one of my not-to-be-mentioned friends suggested, maybe the same thing is happening with young black voters that is happening with young white voters. Maybe the older Baptist preachers, like the older organization women, don’t have the ear of young voters.

Here’s the other incredible news. Remember when the Clintons said that Obama was no Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy, well tomorrow President Kennedy’s daughter and his brother Ted, are endorsing Barack. This is huge. In addition, the San Jose Mercury News and Xavier Bacerra, former chair of the Hispanic Caucus also endorsed. Again it’s easy to dismiss Teddy as just another incredibly important liberal. But no one can dismiss Caroline. She knew her father. She carries on the Kennedy legacy. She is part of an important political dynasty and she has decided not to endorse a Clinton dynasty. And maybe she, like Senator McCaskill will say, “it’s not that I don’t want Clinton... it’s just that I do want Obama.” I love this election. Not because of a preference for a candidate, but because it actually may be an election—a real race. When was the last time that happened?

Depending on who’s writing the story, the South Carolina Primary lead is about Obama’s victory speech, which got back to his message about hope—although I think he needs to get rid of all those stupid “change” signs and just keep talking about ‘hope’. Or it’s a story about Hillary in Tennessee hardly spending a minute and a half on the results of South Carolina. I watched her speech, which was not easy because after about three minutes most of the cable stations dissed her, and went back to the South Carolina coverage. But I wanted to hear her say something gracious about Obama and Edwards and it just didn’t happen. So I guess if you are writing with a Hillary perspective you say, “she knew she was going to lose so she needed to take the opportunity to talk about the future.” I guess that works. But if you are writing from an Obama perspective, you say, “She not only lost, but she lost 2-1. That’s not only a defeat, it’s a sign, a signal about where the election is going.”

I am not ready to make a judgment about who said what about whom and whether it was politic. But I can say that, just as the media was responsible for Hillary’s win in New Hampshire, Bill Clinton was responsible for her loss in South Carolina. You can argue with me about this but I took yet another anecdotal survey and people who were hard core Hillary supporters are so angry at Bill that they don’t want him back in the White House. They do not buy the “he made this a race issue” and his conversation is “fairy tale”. How stupid does he think the public is? Obama did not play the race card. Bill held that hand and used it in a rhetorically brilliant way.
When I was completing my Master’s degree in Rhetorical theory, we studied all the most effective rhetorical techniques, among which were use of repetition and turning the argument around so it would appear that the opponent said what you were actually saying. And that’s what Bill Clinton did. Read what he said. In addition, it is always a good idea to blame the messenger, in this case the media, and admonish them for something they did not do. The “Shame on you” in the CNN interview was wonderful. People hate the media and when someone actually accuses them of being unfair or even worse, biased, it’s the rhetorical ploy of asking them to look at themselves and be sorry, is likely to work. But it didn’t work in this case because there was no basis in fact. So rather than hanging their heads in shame, the media said “What the hell is he talking about?”, and proceeded to cover the facts in the story – which were Hillary was playing catch up and Barack was confident and comfortable with his campaign.

So depending on who’s writing the story, you can feel Hillary was right to move on and look at the States to come. February 5th could be a turning point for any of the three Dems and three Repubs. Or you might say Hillary needed to acknowledge the Barack win before she dismissed it—and Bill dismissed it as inconsequential. Again I have no predictions other than Mitt, but I think that if Hillary is the candidate of change, she may need to start to change. That will require a conversation with people Chelsea’s age. At the very least it will require a conversation with someone who has not protected and insulated her from the reality—she is in a real race, whoever is writing the story. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, January 26, 2008

How Do I Choose?

People are just living their lives and unless you know someone in Iraq or you happen to have a child in the military, the war does not have any effect on your life. Well. Maybe the gas prices are a bit high, or property prices are falling like bricks, or the deficit may cripple the economy—but it’s not like WW2 when people actually sacrificed for their freedom. Iraq has nothing to do with our freedom.

At dinner the other night we were with friends discussing the election. I was curious about how people I knew, and respected, were going to vote. The subject of Bill’s impact on the campaign was mentioned but these people felt it was no big deal. “We liked Clinton and he was a good President”, was pretty much the feeling. And then the conversation turned to Obama. “He doesn’t know anything. He is unseasoned”. So I thought about that and I remember when Bill Clinton ran the first time. He was unseasoned – the Governor of Arkansas -- and knew nothing. Does experience matter? I don’t know.

As I have said many times, I like Hillary and I think she would be a good President. But is it going to be her Presidency or Bill’s third term. Maybe it’s Ok for Bill to have a third term. I am not sure about that either. And I don’t know Obama. There are certainly questions about the slum lord he represented—or his firm represented. And there are questions about his voting record. Not that he voted incorrectly but that he only voted ‘present’. Is that an indication that he, (like the accusations about Hillary) was trying to be cautious and not make any decisions. Was he afraid, too willing to make deals, not capable of decision making? What we do know is that (on all sides) there are people who are going public with false and in some cases erroneous information. What we don’t know is the truth about anything. What a country. Al Gore still thinks he won the election in 2000 – but he never made it to the White House.

So here’s what I have to ask myself before I make a decision. Who is it that walks into the White House with the New President in January 2009? We can look at the list of each candidates’ senior advisors to get some idea. Will Hillary bring back Ira Magaziner, the person most responsible for the health care debacle? We can conjecture that Richard Holbrook will be the Secretary of State in a Clinton White House. What do we think of Holbrook as a leader, thinker, manager? Or it might be Susan Rice in an Obama Administration. Is she up to the task? And who will head the other Departments and the more than 192 independent agencies? Those are questions I wish the media would ask in a debate. What kind of judges will each candidate appoint. Who will serve on the Boards on quasi-government programs like the Voice of America. Will defense budgets be cut and energy be increased. Who will make energy policy, will it be an Al Gore or someone whose priority it is to take care of rich corporate friends—and that is not an issue specific to only the Republicans. During the Clinton Administration there were plenty of friends who were helped along by the Terry McAuliffe level appointees. The White House was always taking care of people with deep pockets. People think that the White House doesn’t fund raise, but there is always an election to be won for the President’s party if not specifically for the President. No one in politics ever takes a break from identifying big or generous donors -- which is why there are issues like selling the Lincoln bedroom, and who gets to go to a State dinner.

There is no question in my mind that Hillary, Barack and John are good people. None of the three is a crook. They may have been involved directly or indirectly with people of questionable moral core – but they are right thinking, honest people. So how do we make a decision about the person we will choose? It may be that you need to look beyond the person running and see how the campaign and the people running the campaign have conducted themselves privately and in public. Simple things like, did they thank the volunteers for their thankless jobs? Did they return phone calls to people beyond big donors? And did they look you straight in the eye when they were telling a tale about their candidate. Finally, it is important to look at all the records and see how much compromise are the candidates willing to make in order to get the bureaucracy to respond? Being the President is an overwhelming task so maybe we should ask the candidates why they really want to do it. And they are not allowed to say “because I want to make everyone’s life better.” It’s kind of like saying “I’m good with people”. They need to talk about the how’s and why’s and tell us exactly what it means to have a better life. We’re just sayin... Iris

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The First Black President

What is Bill Clinton thinking. Or rather, maybe Bill Clinton needs to stop thinking about himself as the candidate, and start thinking about the effects his attacks on Obama are having on his reputation (I would have said legacy but we don’t really know what that is going to be), and Hillary’s campaign. The calls have been coming on the average of three an hour and they range from “I gave Hillary money but now I feel like a hypocrite because I think Bill is behaving so badly I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather support Obama or Edwards.” To, “It’s not that I’m against Hillary, it’s just that I am for real change and I like what Obama has to say”. To, “What are the Clinton people trying to do? We need to appear united on important issues like eradicating poverty, and choice.”

Bill Clinton is the news. It is not because he, as a former President is supporting his wife in her effort to be he next Commander in Chief, it is because it appears he is running for a third term. There are people who think this is great. He was a wonderful President and he is the reason they are supporting her. But there are also those people who are supporting Hillary because they think she is capable of running the government without having to turn to Bill for advice or counsel or protection. There are those people who feel it diminishes his role as ex President to be name calling and messing with the facts.

Before the vote in New Hampshire, when most people thought she was going to lose (not this reporter), there was a sense that the ‘boys’ -- both media and opponents -- were piling on. Women hate that. We think it’s OK to lose a battle after a good fight, but we never think it’s OK to be dismissed or be denied an opportunity. It’s like when the "Washington Post" printed a story that the President Clinton’s international advisors considered Madeline Albright to be a second tier candidate for Secretary of State. It took about ten minutes and three phone calls to rally all the women’s organizations (conservative and progressive) to lobby the White House and insist they consider her in serious contention for that post. And voila, she was named Secretary of State. Women's groups did the same thing when Chris Matthews appeared to be unfair to Hillary during the New Hampshire Primary, and eventually, because of the women’s lobby, he apologized. Although, I think dismissing someone over their job qualifications and insisting someone not be allowed to say what they think, is really two different things. Chris is entitled to his opinion and didn’t need to do more than say, “I may have stepped over the line, but it’s what I think – and last time I read the Constitution there was still freedom to speak my own thoughts.” My point is, (and yes I have one), once women get organized over some kind of slight, they can become a powerful force. So what happens when the woman appears to send her husband out to do the dirty job of denigrating her opponent or opponents? I guess we’ll see what the results are in South Carolina. Hillary isn’t there until next Thursday, but Bill, (the first Black President) is out there working his constituency, with Chelsea – I guess the first Black child.

What do we think is going to happen in South Carolina and in Florida in both the Democratic and Republican races? Giuliani is betting everything that he will win in Florida, because, as I have often heard him say, there are a lot of New Yorkers in Florida. But from everything I have heard (and I am a part time New Yorker), no one in New York likes him. They hated him before 9-11. They liked him for 10 minutes after 9-11. They hate that he has used 9-11 as a personal agrandisment tool. They have learned a little too much about his business practices and his ‘old boy’ network to trust him, and even his children don’t like his wife. McCain won in South Carolina, Huckabee country, and Mitt went directly to Nevada—where he had a victory... no surprise - he looks like he belongs there. McCain might win in Florida, but Mitt has a much nicer tan. And speaking of tans, because that, along with Disney appeal, is no small issue in the sun state (or is that New Mexico). Giuliani looks like he’s been sitting under a sun lamp with bad sunglasses. He has big white circles under his eyes – not so chic. I don’t think McCain has ever been out in the sun and Huckabee really doesn’t matter because he has no money. So where are we? Oh yes, Obama might win in South Carolina but he probably doesn’t have as many friends in Florida because they are all from New York and Hillary is the Senator from that state. Edwards needs to mess up his hair or he won’t win anyplace where hair styling is not the priority. Isn’t this confusing? The good news is that no one knows who will win or where. The bad news is, that if Bill Clinton doesn’t stop this nonsense he will be responsible for Hillary’s defeat in many states as well as a continued unnecessary ugly Primary contest.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bernie Boston, A Great Guy

There were the cowboy boots, ever present. The tuft of silver hair...definately not gray. The smile, beaming like a Colorado sunrise. The nicest, cleanest, snappiest cameras, always a Leica amongst them. The Jaguar, yes there definitely was the Jaguar. What other photographer owned a Jaguar? Can't think of one. Kind of hard to imagine that he's gone. Bernie Boston died today. He was one of those guys who you don't imagine having time to die, as he still had too many things he was working on. He'd moved from DC to the Shenandoah hills after a 40 year newspaper career (Washington Star, Los Angeles Times), and was publisher and photographer (its easier to do that when you ARE the publisher!) of a little mountain newspaper, but it kept his eye sharp, and his trigger finger on the ready. But mostly, Bernie embodied a term that is, frankly, overused. He was a great guy. A Great Guy.


Bernie Boston, photographer (photo by Stephen R Brown)
When I first came to DC in the summer of 1967, Bernie was one of those figures who, once you met them, you'd always remember. I was being taken around the town (the Hill, LBJ's White House) by my mentor, Time photographer Wally Bennett, and in doing so I'd run into all the regulars. George Tames of the Times, Charlie Tasnadi from AP (who passed away just a week ago), and of course Bernie. In '67 he was still working for the Washington Star (ah, the days when there were two big, viable DC papers) and that year he would take the picture of the anti war protester stuffing flowers into the barrel of a soldier's M16 at the march on the Pentagon. That picture, more than most, came to symbolize his career: a great picture, taken at a big event, in the town he loved, Washington D.C. He really was a DC fixture all those years. Like many colleagues, Bernie WAS a White House photographer: by that I mean, someone who worked at the White House covering events for a paper or a wire service or magazine, and who saw in those public events of very public people, the chance to get a private moment: something which illuminated the personage in ways that no other medium could do. He loved DC, he loved the fact that being here meant you were at the center of the action. And I think he shared that feeling which I feel every time I walk past the guard house at the northwest gate: You are entering the White House, the President's House, the People's House; it is never something done lightly. There is an aura about the place, no matter who the President is, no matter which party is in power. The House is above all. When you have that kind of appreciation for the White House, it colors your view of your work. You feel an extra obligation to do something special everytime you enter those gates. It does not breed mediocrity. Bernie loved being there, loved the idea of covering those events which everyone in the country would learn about that night on TV, or the next morning in their paper. It is a very seductive feel, and not a bad one, really.

In North Carolina, in 1982, Bernie and I were invited to speak at a gathering of press photographers. I was in the early stages of my globe trotting, Bernie by and large was doing his Washington thing. It was a good mix. I'd flown down to Fayetteville, but Bernie, typically, had driven his Jaguar from DC. Now I suppose if I had owned a Jaguar, I would have driven, too, and avoided the pitfalls of trying to fly with Piedmont Airlines. On the last night of our stay, after our presentations, we joined in a volley ball game at the home of our host, the chief photog at the local paper. Well, as fate would have it, going for a slam, Bernie fell badly and broke his ankle. We all worried about how he would fend, but Bernie's only real concern was.... Who Would Drive the Jaguar back to Washington? Sadly, I wasn't nominated. That's a trip I would have loved taking.

Bernie was a singular personality. His camera was part of him, yet he was much much more of a gentleman. I don't actually recall him ever bad-mouthing anyone: there are few people I can say that of. I suppose if he had bad-mouthed someone, it would have been right on the money. But Bernie was a class guy, who you could always rely on for a smile, a joke, and a hand if you needed one. I saw him the last time at a party for another photographer, Frank Johnston, in Alexandria last summer. Bernie had rallied from his sick bed, and was forthright about his illness, yet unchanged in his amazing optimism, and positive view of life. One had the impression that Bernie was somehow still waiting to meet most of the six billion folks he hadn't had the chance to meet just yet. Sadly for them, that won't happen. But for me, every time I see a Jag, or a Leica all spruced up, or a pair of cowboy boots that catch my eye, I'll think of that wonderful guy with the camera who brought so much of his life to the lives of the rest of us. We're just sayin.... David

Inaugural Inaugurations

On the occasion of the anniversary of the 1993 inaugural—give or take a day, we are launching a new site as a companion to a book coming out in March. It's called “So Think you Can Be President” website to include a blog. Since half of the book belongs to me (the other to Clay Greager, not David) I thought I'd share this on our original blob. We hope each of these blogs will also provoke some controversy or, at the very least a few snickers and hopefully a couple of hearty laughs. We will, like most pundits, make predictions. And like most pundits we will probably be wrong – but isn’t that part of the fun. In addition, this blog will include timely questions such as:

You really want to win each primary contest. What do you think is the best way to do that? Choose from the following:
a. Assure the electorate that the little Baby Jesus has given you his endorsement
b. Assure the electorate that the little Baby Jesus will stay out of the campaign.
c. Make sure the little Baby Jesus you’re talking about is not an immigrant baby from Mexico.
d. Ask your spouse to take an active, vocal, even lethal, role by attacking your competition’s past record.
e. Make sure your spouse doesn’t have an active, vocal, lethal, past.
f. Send your spouse out to fund raise and avoid any hint of the public thinking, “sit down and shut up.”

Additionally, we will collect and include contemporary definitions of political terms such as this one anonymously distributed through e-mail:
Electile Dysfunction: the inability to become aroused over any of the choices for President put forth by either party in the 2008 election year.

Excited? Great, now on to the new-sy blog. But first a story. We will tell old political insider stories because this is a venue where people might enjoy them —rather than run screaming from the room.

On January of 1992, when most of the political elite (that’s Senior staff who, having won the election, finally felt powerful), were getting ready for the big inaugural parties, I still had other responsibilities. They both involved children. The first was walking in the inaugural parade, not as a participant, but as a mother watching to make sure my six year old (who was supposed to be nine), did not fall off the Raffi float. In 1992 Raffi, was the premiere children’s musical folk singer, you may remember he sang “Baby Beluga” and “Sun Sun Mr. Golden Sun Please Shine Down on Me”. (Don’t start to hum it because it will stay with you for 24 hours.) It was a cold day and the Raffi float was pretty near the end of the parade. While riding on a float might look glamorous, I can promise you, it is not. Sure the kids were excited and Jordan (my daughter) bonded with Raffi –to the point where a few months later when Raffi had an environmental meeting with Tipper Gore, he invited Jordan (then seven) to accompany him.

Anyway, we were in a confined area for five hours and there were no bathrooms. So despite the fact that the kids were freezing and hungry – we could not allow them to drink anything and besides, none of the parade organizers thought about feeding anyone. At the end of the parade, I grabbed Jordan wrapped her in a blanket and delivered the little ice cube home, chilled and happy. Since I had walked along side the float there was no need to listen to all the things that had happened to her (Raffi held her hand. people waved just to her), because I had to leave for the White House. Wow, the White house on Inaugural eve you are probably thinking. Not so fast!

For whatever reason, and the details of this are much too boring, while my friends were readying themselves for an Inaugural ball, I was at the White House packing goodie bags for Chelsea Clinton and her friends. And, the stuff inside the goodie bags did not magically appear. I had to ferry around Washington from store to store convincing shop owners that it was worth their while to donate things like kids make-up, games, films, candy, whatever it was that I thought a bunch of 13 year olds might like. I packed the bags, made sure the refreshments for the movie theater (yes, there is a movie theater in the White House), were in order and even did the decorations. All of this, I might add was a thankless job – 13 year olds are not big on thanks. I waited, as I had promised, for the kids to return until about 1:00am. But as was the case with some Clinton's, they were late, so I left.

Which brings us to years later when David, my husband and an excellent photojournalist, was covering Hillary and Chelsea was with the campaign. David introduced himself to Chelsea by saying that his wife had packed goodie bags for her and friends in 1992. Chelsea didn't seem to have any memories of that happy time,and later told another reporter that she doesn't talk to the press. I guess she was just doing as instructed but since I did work for the Clintons for years, and have known them since 1972, I thought that, as a very smart young woman, she might have used better judgment. She also denied a conversation to a nine year old reporter—so David was in good company.

Having worked with many family surrogates over the years I have pretty strong feelings about what kind of responsibilities family members should have during a campaign. And my feeling has always been, don’t put any family member (no matter the age) in a place where they are even the least bit uncomfortable. And in conclusion, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indentured Servitude, 2008

Hillary probably has no idea what it means to have guys really beat up on you. And I don’t mean husbands beating wives or boyfriends strong arming girls they date. I mean grown up men (often white, and sometimes waspy) trying to dragoon (I love this word) or coerce a woman into doing what they want her to do. If the issue is personal the conversation usually revolves around doing ‘what is best’ for everyone, and if it involves business then the conversation revolves around doing ‘what is best’ for the company. It has to include ‘what is best’ because, even though they can never find even simple items and they won’t ask for directions, they always think they know what is best for everyone concerned. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

And don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are men, but they still think they have all the answers. Again, if the issue is personal then the concerns while misplaced my be endearing – for a while. But if the dragooning (it’s such a colorful word), is in business then the men often treat their target as an indentured servant. For the record, an indentured servant is someone who labors for someone else by contract for a specific period of time. The problem came when the servant would somehow become indebted to their employer, (employers were expert at finding ways to do this) and then the employer would forgive the debt in exchange for an extension to the period of their indenture -- which sometimes went on forever.

My friend, let’s call her Wanda, who, after her husband died, found a way to continue to his creative endeavors. She worked relentlessly over the years, and not only found success but excelled – to the surprise and without much help from his publisher. Let me digress for a moment to mention that, while her husband was alive, the publisher was fabulous and when he died they really came through with support. But as is often the case, their attitude toward Wanda evolved into, “look what we did for you, now you owe us and we know what’s best for you – so sign on the dotted line and we don’t really need to pay attention to anything you may want or need or what is right and fair. You just keep working for us and if you’re a good girl, we will continue to take care of you.” But Wanda just wasn’t happy to settle for that. And in fact , since her contract ends in early 2008, she refused to sign this piece of paper which pretty much made her an indentured servant.

“Well, young lady” they said (I wasn’t there for the conversation and Wanda, in her outrage, doesn’t talk about it) but I figure it went on something like this, “You should be grateful for all we’ve done and you must sign a contract that keeps you in line”. Wanda has had inquiries from other publishing syndicates and was looking forward to the end of her contract so she could look for a publisher who would actually appreciate her talent and promote it. But as soon as she indicated she was going elsewhere they threatened to sue. So before they had a chance to sue her, she sued them. Now we’re talking David and Goliath as well as indentured servitude. And, it will probably go on without resolution. Although you can be sure that, having never been sued by an artist, they are sitting up there in their corporate clouds thinking, “who the heck does she think she is – that pip squeak of a girl” Oh my.

When are we going to get to the point where “the business boys” stop thinking they know what’s best for all the women in their lives. When will there be an end to business misogyny, and that is exactly what it is. Some men just don’t like women. They think it’s alright to marry them, but they are not crazy (this again is a kindness), about having them in the workplace. I should qualify all of this by saying that there are guys who are good colleagues who don’t feel this way, but when they think they own you it’s very different. It’s like when I had my last corporate job. The COO was a pal. We had great fun at work and even socialized after hours. But when I resigned because the company was sold, I went to talk to him about my severance (I had a “letter” rather than a contract stating how I would be compensated if the company were sold) he tried to tell me that I misread the intentions of the letter. That there would be no compensation. Needless to say, I found out the male senior staff were going to get their money but, as was implied but not actually said, I was supposed to be grateful that I had been employed at all. Clearly, this is a bit different than being an indentured servant because they didn’t want me anymore, but the attitudes about what they ‘owed’ me were not dissimilar.

And so it goes. To some degree women who stay at home cooking, cleaning, caring for kids, are indentured by a marriage contract (unless they get divorced). But let's not go there-- it's for another blob. What's funny is that when I talk to people about the campaigns, surprisingly, it's women who say they don't like Hillary. They might think she would hold her own as a President, but they don't like her. (This hurts her feelings). But men, don't feel the same way. I think it's because she is never the indentured servant. There is no way anyone owns her. When she had the moment of tearing up (she did not cry), women became more sympathetic about her plight and even made it a point to vote for her, they liked her more, but do we have to cry to be real people. All I know is that we have to stop allowing ourselves to play out these silly roles and just insist men be respectful of our talents and expertise -- no matter how it manifests itself. We're just sayin....Iris

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I Must Talk to My Doctor

It’s not easy to watch TV or read the paper without being bombarded by ads for a variety of diseases. In the paper I read this morning there was an entire page asking questions like - Do you have restless leg syndrome? Do you have a pain in your head that won’t go away? Have you tried unsuccessfully to rid yourself of toe fungus? Is it possible that people stay away from you because you have bad breath? And how are your hemorrhoids feeling? There were more but you get the picture, and it’s not pretty.

What was strange was my reaction and instead of turning the page I found myself answering the questions. Yes, it is personal but I want to share. 1. When my legs get restless I simply give my husband a good kick. I do it at night so he thinks the beating was inadvertent. 2. The pain in my head is never as terrible as all the pains in my tuchas...should I name them. 3. Yech.... 4. I wish it was just my breath that kept people away. 5. My hemorrhoids feel so great we’re going to have a celebration for them.

We have become a society obsessed with ridiculous health issues. The issues aren’t ridiculous, people are affected by terrible diseases, but the way we deal with them is absurd. Take for example the nightly advertisements that bombard us with suggestions to call your doctor if you think you have heart disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s—of course then you can’t remember to call your doctor, but they are repeated so frequently it is likely that at some point a person might pick up the phone immediately and make that call. So you get your doctor on the phone. Then what do you ask? Does the conversation go something like this?

“My nose is running and I thought it might be esophageal cancer so can we do a biopsy, have an MRI or is there a pill available to cure it?” After you have the conversation with your medical professional and they hang up the phone, turn to the people in their office and guffaw, what is your next step?

Hopefully, there is no next step except to get a grip. OK you may have a dreaded and oft fatal disease but shouldn’t you call the drug company instead. Of course, you call and ask for customer service, get the name of the person to whom you will speak, start to list all your symptoms and then, when they suggest you call your doctor, you say, “I don’t have a doctor. I can’t afford to go to the doctor because thanks to you (the money you spend on advertising), and the insurance companies, costs are so high no one can afford to have a health issue without selling their house or first born.”

That’s what drives me nuts. When you listen to all the people running for President, each has a plan to cut the costs of health care and health insurance. On the Republican side they keep saying we have the best health care system in the world. And that may be true if you have the money to participate in it. The Democrats want to make sure all the children are insured and they each have a way to do it but these things take time and are so complicated. And what about the elderly? And what about the getting elderly? (Yes, it’s all about me). My mom, thank God, has Medicare and Disabled Veterans benefits – It’s terrible but when you see what other elderly people have to go through to pay a bill --often having to make a choice between medication, rent, and food, I am grateful that my dad was disabled. And FYI, Medicare isn’t enough to cover drug costs. You have to have Medicare Plan B. Thanks to George Bush not only aren’t elderly people covered automatically, but they are guaranteed to be confused. My cousin, who has a law degree and family management business read the change about 100 times before she understood it. I guess if you are poor and have Medicaid you can celebrate but, of course, not be able to buy party favors—they are not covered in any plan. We thought that if we sold all Mom’s worldly goods it might mean that she wouldn’t have to worry about costs but alas, we needed to do that when she didn’t need care. Someone needs to do something soon and I’m afraid that no Congress person or elected official will understand how dire the situation has become because they all have plenty of health care. Their insurance is amazing. In fact, every citizen (this is not an anti-immigration sentiment but you have to start somewhere) should have access to the same insurance as the people we elect to federal office. Why not? What entitles the powerful to better and more reasonable care than the public. OK, the insurance companies won’t do that. Here’s another idea, let’s take all the money we will spend in Iraq over the next 12 months and buy universal health care for all the people who want it. Unrealistic, I think not if we admit that the American public has needs that might take priority over the Iraqi government.

David tells me that after 30 years, our insurance company is no longer going to offer the benefits to which we have become accustomed. That means that when we find a new insurance company they will not honor medical costs for any preexisting condition. Well, how do you get to be our age without any preexisting conditions. And you know that the new company will scour the records to see when we sneezed and if we had flu shots. It is incredibly frightening.

So maybe we should be calling our doctors. In no time, their insurance costs will prevent them from healing and ours will prevent us from being able to afford to go to one. It’s a sad story but here’s the good news. The ads are entertaining, (if your erection lasts for more than four hours) and since we can’t afford the medication anyway we won’t have to worry about the horrible side effects. (If your erection lasts for more than four hours). We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Picture Perfect



There is an annual Burnett Christmas Picture. It is always the same. It a picture of Jordan wearing a 1930’s night gown and robe, sitting on a 1940’s chair. Behind her is a Steel gray backdrop. Sometimes she wears a hat or has a flower in her hair but the accoutrement is peripheral to the idea—which is to show friends, family and colleagues show she has grown over the last twenty years. Once David takes the picture, in black and white, I hand color it and then he takes a picture of my work and we print and send it.

Taking the picture was a painful process when we started to do it. Jordan was a small and was certainly used to David shooting pictures of her but they were always candid. The act of getting her to sit still and pose wearing old duds did not have great appeal for her. I acted as stylist and kibitzer. If I must (and of course I must) say so myself, I was pretty good at both, but not good enough to make it a joyful experience for any of the Burnetts involved. As I recall there was lots of head throwing, accompanied by body stiffness and, of course, the prerequisite tsk tsking. On one occasion I was reduced to doing a body block to prevent escape—but we still got a picture.

Over the years there have been good photo days and bad, but for the last few years, because she is a professional actor, the sessions have been without incident. Unless she’s just in a foul mood – but we can usually dance her out of it or if I threaten to sing “Secret Love”, she rethinks the attitude. I mean once a year for an hour is not too much to ask of a kid whom you have supported (in a style often becoming a princess) for almost 22 years. Anyway, she is usually a good sport and ultimately we get a lovely Christmas pic.

Twenty years later we have quite a collection of Jordan a la 30’s character. What’s really interesting is that we have friends who actually have kept the entire collection. As a matter of fact, when we can’t remember which year is which, we call pals who claim to have saved all the shots and even included the year they were taken. This is above and beyond even our requirements for being an excellent friend. And although there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing the changes in kids or parents we love, (Paula’s boys are gorgeous, Kimberley’s girls adorable, the Balin kids, handsome and grown, Kimmy’s crowd blonde and beautiful—looking more mischievous every year, and we learned from a wedding photo that Michael had remarried.) I can’t name everyone but it’s always thrilling to see the changes. Sometimes the cards come with a page or two of explanation about the previous year, but my ADD prevents my concentrating on a prose update. And actually, I prefer to see the picture and use my imagination about what happened to the family. Frankly, I don’t think I have saved many, or for that matter, any of the snap shots. Although, there was a time when I put some on the fridge, but when we bought a stainless steel model that eliminated anything that needed to be attached with a magnet.

When I think back about all those years of picture taking I often make a leap to the people who were our lives at the time. Most of them remain because I can’t bear to part with anything—especially people, but like on all of those end of the year news shows, I do my own little summary of who’s gone. And they don’t have to be dead to be gone—although among my favorite comebacks when someone refers to a person who has gone to a better place, (not the Bahamas) as being the ‘late’ so and so, I want to scream, HE”S NOT LATE -- HE”S NOT COMING”. But that’s not my point (part of my charm is the amble). When people leave your life, say when they move, it becomes more difficult to keep up with what’s happened or is happening to them. Each of our lives keeps moving forward—sometimes it’s steady and sometimes there are big fat potholes in the road we need to get around. But unless there is a reason to connect, we seldom do. It’s like when I was traveling on the road with the Udall’s. Seth and Allan were in one place having a normal life that kept moving forward, but I, like most campaign people who travel, just lived for the campaign. And while I visited so many places I can never remember what they were, my real life (with my family) didn’t go anywhere. It was exactly as it was when I left for each trip. I think this is one reason why campaign people like to talk to one another rather than people who they left behind—it’s just too hard to explain that a million things happened but really, nothing changed. What’s even funnier is that campaign people don’t necessarily know about the lives anyone else left behind. I remember when my friend Eli Segal died and I called to send my love to Phyllis, his wife – with whom I also had a relationship, just not on the campaign trail. I was reminiscing with her about adventures and places I had been with Eli and she was amazed. She knew we were great political friends but she had no idea that we had a campaign history that developed over thirty years, because regardless of how close we had all become, none of us ever talked about events on the road. We didn’t think the participants in our real life would find it interesting.

Back to the people leaving your life. We find becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with large numbers of people because we don’t stay too long in any one place and no one seems to have the time it takes to make a physical meeting work. And when we confess that this stinks and we are going to try harder it doesn’t seem to happen with the frequency we would like. So, whenever old friends call and say they are not going to do a Christmas/Hannukah/Holiday card, I am very disappointed. I count on this card being the substitute ‘visit’ with people we love, miss, and enjoy and really do wish we could spend some time with. This card, picture, story, has a special place in the Burnett household and even though we may not keep them on the wall or the fridge, the people who send them remain forever in our hearts. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Work Is Almost Done.. (Almost is the Key)

This week, getting home after the travails of New Hampshire (Hillary 38, Barack 36, .. others... 20+) I made a little attempt at cleaning up the new office. Actually, I went to the Geographic Seminar, and let Iris make a big attempt at cleaning up the new office. Let’s face it, she does way better at these things than I do. She is allergic to clutter, and I think I must have some sort of archaic desire to be surrounded by crap.. something that no doubt goes back a few thousand years in the Burnett clan, when we were living in hay stacks on the steppes of Russia. (It’s funny... when you think back to the BC days of Europe, the Romans aside, most of our ancestors were really roughing it, weren’t they? I mean.. no plumbing, no refrigeration other than the fact that it was 11 degrees outside.. and there probably wasn’t a helluva big difference between ‘outside’ and ‘bedroom.’) Clutter was probably just something they lived with. I don’t think the screwdriver or the plastic container, or file cabinets would even have done them much good anyway. Nothing to screw, little to protect besides food, and nothing to file. (“Hey Zeke, I just invented paper. Wanna see a Poem I wrote?” )

We have such riches, and never really pause to ponder them, except when they are at risk, and for most of us that doesn’t happen. Barring a fire, a flood, or a Katrina like event, we have maintained our comfort zone pretty well for the last couple of generations. The ability of the human mind to adapt to upward mobility is amazing. Anything you have had since youth (for Jordan and her pals, that includes cell fones, computers, fax machines...) you probably think has been around forever, no matter what your parents say about their abject poverty, and walking 2 miles in the snow to school. You have no real experience to let you understand what ‘without’ those items would be like, so how can you ‘imagine’ it. You can’t really. And given the enormous reliance on technology today, the assumption we all have that things will always work ... the internet, airline bookings/schedules, delivery of food from all over the country to our local Safeway... puts us in a place where it could get ugly very quickly if something happens, man-made or natural, which makes those things go away.

A few years ago I bought a yogurt at TCBY, at a time when there was a brief electrical outtage. Their cash register had gone on the blink, and not powered back up yet, and the 15 year old kid told me she couldn’t take my money because the register wasn’t On, and she couldn’t figure out how much I owed her. Talk about a ‘one button’ life! I told her, that it was not so difficult to add 8 percent to a buck fifty, but more important than her inability to do the math was the cultural paralysis which came with the outage. She had absolutely no idea what to do, or how to do it. She needed to have that electrical system On in order to even charge me for a cone.

One of the positive signs we see now and then is that during a black-out, usually east coast, most often in summer, people definately take it on as a challenge, and look after each other. But I wonder how long that would all last if the outtage was more than a day or two, turning for a mini adventure in SwissFamilyRobinsonNess to The Survival Guy all too quickly.

But back here in Office One, the Kai Productions headquarters, yes the place where The Gefilte Fish Chronicles and other outstanding shows emanate from, things are finally coming to order. There is, as of yet, no real ‘wireless’ solution to setting up a photo-based computer system. You cannot have a laser printer, two inkjets, a half dozen disk drives, and two scanners, plus a few other assorted accessories, and expect them to talk to each other without a bundle of wire which looks like a spagetti factory in Pisa. But you can try and hide them, hide being a relative term. All you have to do is look down and under the soon to be clean desk, and you ll see what looks like the public wire and plumbing works under Third Avenue in 1927. (Thats a lot of wires!) But most of the wires actually know where they start and where they go (hey Geek Squad, where are you when you’re needed?!) Most of the stuff actually works, which is quite amazing since the history of these things is to get them set up once, use them, forget what goes where, and a year later when you upgrade or repair, have absolutely not a clue as to what actually needs to be plugged in to which plugette. This year I even bought a packet of cable stays, the little things which are 1/8” wide plastic bands, about 5 inches long, and with the loop on one end, you thread the whole thing around a bunch of cables, then tighten up the cinch like the saddle on a rodeo horse. They are quite handy. They are especially fun (the slightly larger sizes) for using on charter campaign flights to surreptitiously loop one thru a seat belt and a belt loop of a sleeping journalist’s pants, only to watch in great glee as they attempt to leave their seat at the end of the flight, and are brusquely prevented from doing so by the previously mentioned plastic stay. They call it a ‘stay’ for a reason.

I have sorted out a good amount of the stuff, and now it’s just a question (again!) of what goes where, but progress is a funny thing, and as long as we don’t have a 72 hour power blowout, I should be in good shape by mid week. And I even unpacked a new, small set of 'cool lights' for doing portraits with my big cameras. And they work. (Sorry, but in this house, the only person I have to shoot pictures of is Me...)-

Canon G9 @ 200asa, macro setting. And if you find yourself in Arlington, drop by the office for a cup of coffee. It’s the good stuff (excellent and probably decaf) and the service is always with a smile. We’re just sayin... David

Friday, January 11, 2008

Na Nah Nee Ahh Na

The place to be on Election night in New Hampshire was not at the Clinton or Obama parties (some of us were at Richardson), it was at the “after the big” party. This is where the senior staff and big donors get to meet with their candidates to find out what they really think. I am told that the Clinton people were so shocked by their victory that Hillary was almost speechless—in fact I don’t know if there actually was an after party but no one wanted me to know that I wasn’t invited. The Obama party, was surprisingly upbeat. The Candidate felt the loss was a good thing , (probably felt winning is better) but he remained gracious and optimistic about the outcome of the race.

Let’s be honest—you know that’s difficult for me but I’m going to try. The results were only dramatic because the Clinton people and all the pollsters were looking at a defeat—a big one. The win was important because it put her back in the race, but Obama didn’t lose. He walked away with an equal number of delegates and the 2% was not 20%. In fact, three weeks ago he was 20 points down. What New Hampshire demonstrated, among many things, was that Obama had become increasingly attractive to many white Americans -- young, old, independent and even Republican. And more importantly, he, is like the political J.K. Rowling. She got young people to read with Harry Potter. And Obama got them to vote. I never thought I’d see this happen. In 2004 young people registered in droves but couldn’t quite get it together to actually go and vote—but they did here and they did in Iowa. If nothing else, Obama has brought something to Presidential campaigns that no one has since the voting age was changed to 18. You remember that campaign? If he’s old enough to die for his country than he should be old enough to vote. There was no he/she because women weren’t drafted to fight in Viet Nam.

So do we think that the Edwards and Clinton people are going to engage in the rhetoric of hope and that they will encourage an excitement about electing the President. The rhetoric of hope is so much more imaginative than the rhetoric of change because change isn’t always good, and expectations of too much change brings about more of the same—the status quo. Nothing worse for young people than disappointed expectations leading to no movement, no difference, nothing new -- except maybe outright lies, also leading to the status quo. Power protects power. Which leads us to what happens now. How do the candidates conduct business and what do they instruct their staff and surrogates to do in order to win.

The negative campaigning has started again. The first thing I heard was that the Obama response to the likability issue in the debate was smug and indifference. I am still unclear about this being negative campaigning rather than a simple disinterested response but maybe I don’t know the difference. (A simple ‘na na nee na na’ might have worked more effectively.) Here’s what I find so interesting, since the “experience” approach wasn’t successful, and rather than crafting a message that would resonate, the Clinton’s decided to attack Obama about issues like ‘choice’. I know I took a leap there but stay with me. While I am uncomfortable about the word ‘choice’ meaning only abortion – I think women want to have choices (and opportunity) about lots of other things as well -- and I have argued with many female friends about this, I am resigned to the usage and there is no denying that it is a critical issue for women. And whether a candidate supports the right to choose or will not certainly can determine the way a woman will vote.

Hillary and Barack both have a 100% pro-choice vote rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. But apparently, Barack's commitment to protect women's rights was called into question by Ellen Malcolm CEO of Emily’s list (and a Clinton supporter). In a recent speech by pointing to old votes on a few politically motivated bills in the Illinois Senate. When I looked at this it became clear that Barack cast these votes as part of a strategy employed by pro-choice leaders in Illinois. It seems a foolish tactic at a time when the anti-choice (I hate that they got to call it pro-life), pro-choice community needs to be united. And even more importantly when anyone can check the facts. Ellen should have given the voters more credit than that. Certainly the resources spent on this kind of negative attack would have been better spent on costumed characters illustrating a character flaw. Remember the chickens used to comment on Bush’s resistance to debating Bill Clinton in 1992? Now that was an effective statement and no one could argue with the authenticity of the attack.

The question is, how will Obama (or his surrogates) respond to these attacks. And I don’t mean to ignore Edwards but he appears to be no longer part of the equation. This can change but I am doubtful since in 2004 he didn’t even win his home state of North Carolina. I’d like to see him back in the race but we won’t know that for two weeks – and maybe he’ll do something negative I can remark about. But what should Obama do in response? My advice would be to just move on, having his people point out inaccuracies but without any malice. The times they are a changing... young people seem interested and energized and have no patience for any negative rhetoric. They want to hear about a future to which they can look forward. This election may very possibly come down to a contest between which candidates vision for the future is the most attractive, realistic and hopeful. Is it possible to have all three? We’ll have to see. We’re just sayin...Iris

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's A Race

Bill Richardson is out of the race. I will miss him—he brought humor to the party (either a big or small P). The decision to go to his primary celebration was absolutely right. It was easy – there was no vying for position or access to the ‘power’. People just wanted to be with friends and have a drink and a smile.

If someone were to ask me what is going to happen in this primary season I would have to say that I think there is going to be a War. It will not be a race war, thank god, but a gender war between young women who want politics to be different, and established women -- those who women who fought the good fight, made real change - like Family Leave and Title IX. I spoke to a friend today who went on and on about how young women don't want to pay their dues, how they aren't grateful for what we gave them -- you know the rhetoric. But when you realize that they think Hillary is the status quo, that Hillary is the antithesis of change, it is breathtaking. Who would have guessed? It is when you understand that these women are angry about the war and everything that is status quo, you start to realize how to make the case for Hillary. What surprises me is that the women of whom I speak don't care if a woman is elected. They care that the government changes and that their lives can be better. This is not about opinion leaders or policy makers, or college educated -- this is about everyone else and independent college and high school educated. This is about the people who used to be Democrats -- now the Walmart shoppers -- who we lost when we became so smart they couldn't relate to us anymore. I will hope that Hillary will stop being the Al Gore "smartest kid in the room that no one likes’.

Bill Richardson is gone. John Edwards is probably going - although he says he will stay. He can’t stay if he loses in South Carolina and why should he win? If you remember in 2004, he couldn’t even win his home state of N. Carolina. But that’s neither here nor – well maybe it is there. John Kerry endorsed Obama today. Is that good news or bad? Well it’s bad for Edwards because as his running mate in 2004, it is really a gesture of no confidence in the guy who was his choice for partnership. And I guess it’s good news – although Kerry is the establishment and Obama is trying to send messages of change. Like I said yesterday you can’t claim to want change and surround yourself with the likes of Albright and McAuliffe. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Let’s do “let’s pretend” for a moment and pretend we are Hillary. After we have our big campaign pow-wow, what do we do? How do we look at the rest of the campaign? I have a friend who says that the reason she won in NH was because they did a computerized/telephone based get out the vote. That kind of thing can’t hurt, although why would you need to make computer phone calls when you merely have to walk out on the street and talk to whomever. In a state like NH I can’t help but think people pay no attention to anything computerized when they have access to every candidate. And that kind of phone bank is so ‘90’s. I can’t imagine it has real value but who knows.

Back to how I would spend the rest of the election if I were either candidate. My best advice, (and you can’t offer advice because if they don’t call you and you call them, they think you want something — as if it has nothing to do with making the country better), since women will determine the outcome of the election, is to target women in a very specific way. Women want conversation about their issues. They do not want a list of “what I’m going to do for you” — that is so dismissive of women’s potential. They want to know what ‘the candidate’ is going to do to help them help themselves. It’s a very Jewish concept called ‘tzedakah’. It is the highest form of charity because the person you are helping is really doing it for themselves. It’s like you can give someone a fish or you can teach them how to fish so they can be independent rather than indebted.

So, what I would do is talk about issues about which women are passionate. They transcend foreign and domestic issues because they address concerns about safety, (war, abuse, rape, guns, computer predators), health, the economy, opportunity, and education. Each having broad ramifications, but each critical to women. Whether I was Obama or Clinton, I would frame my conversation (and a conversation rather than a list or lecture it must be), around these issues. It’s that simple. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

And Now, LIVE, from Manchester

Manchester, NH: Primary Night -- It is 8:00pm and the race between Obama and Hillary is too close to call. If the media hadn't savaged Hillary today Obama would have won by at least 5%. The people don't like piling on--even if they don't like Hillary, they don't want all these guys ganging up on her. My friends in Obama seem to think they will win by 14%. I just don't think it's going to happen but when we wanted to move to Virginia there was a house we wanted and the asking price was $405,000 -- too much for us. It was 20 years ago and the agent said' "hang in there...I don't think they gonna get it" (the spelling is intentional.) Anyway they did get it and we didn't get the house. So one never knows in real estate or in politics.

But back to yesterday. We started the day with breakfast at a Richardson event at Dunkin Donuts. First we bought donuts and coffee for all the volunteers standing in the cold with signs. They were seriously appreciative. Then we found a table, got some gooey stuff for ourselves, and waited for the Governor. Bill and I go back a long way. When the Carter Administration went to DC and Bill went to Congress we all partied every weekend. I always went with my friend (not beau) Gabriel Guerra. Bill always assumed I was dating Gabe -- but who cared, we all just wanted to have a good time. Flash forward 20 years. Bill is the Ambassador to the UN. I am at USIA as Chief of Staff. We are at a cocktail party and I walk over to introduce myself. But before I have a chance to say hello, the Ambassador says, "I know who you are. Are you still going out with Gabe?" We had a good laugh because by that time Gabe was the Ambassador to Chile and happily married. Back to the breakfast at the 'Dunker'. So I let Bill say his local hellos and then I go to reintroduce myself (it's been at least 8 years). Again he says, "I know who you are. (and infront of 10 tv cameras) adds, "Are you still dating Gabriel?" It was a wonderful moment which none of the media people understood.

He left and we left and made our way to the hotel where I did a few great interviews about the book, (So You Think You Can Be President), the campaign, and the Democratic party. Presidential politics can be very seductive and it can also be incredibly ugly. People who start out as insecure think that when they have the power to say 'no' it's something they must do in order to be important--it's ugly-- but it's what happens. So there were a great many self important ass wipes making what could have been a wonderful day, less than pleasant. Moving on....

We went back to a few HQ's and I'm not sure but it appeared that the Clinton campaign had the volunteers in one location and the senior people in another. It took me back to the days when I was hired to be the Senior VP and USA and the Sci-Fi Networks and was told that I could have an office on the 20th floor. "Where is my staff?" I asked.
"On the 8th floor" I was told.
"So why would I want to be separated from them? How can you lead without being a part of who they are?"

Needless to say I found space on 8. So how can a political staff lead when they are more important then the people who really make it work? That was a rhetorical question--I'm not interested in answers--actually I am.

We finished the day at a Hillary event. It was sooooo disappointing because it was her stump speech. I wanted inspiration and instead I got a list and much like Gore -- it was as if she felt she needed to be the smartest one in the room. And Bill was up on stage. He came late and look bored. Why doesn't he just raise money? There is no accounting for what anyone does in a campaign.

So I guess we'll see what happens. I said this morning, "NH is up for grabs." It is never over til the fat lady sings and more importantly-- it is never over til the last vote is cast. We're just sayin... Iris


WerejustSayin
Bulletin: It's 11:00 pm. Hillary is leading. People hated what the press said about her after she teared up.The press won this primary for Hillary. Now what will they say....

New Hampshire or Bust

Whenever I arrive in a place where there are Presidential campaigns the first thing I do is visit the Headquarters offices because I think they are an accurate reflection of the campaigns. For example, in 1976 (yes when I took my dinosaur to work), a Boston reporter wrote a piece about the three leading campaigns – Harris, Udall and Bayh – Jimmy Carter wasn’t leading in Massachusetts. The article talked about how the Harris campaign had a million people, the Bayh campaign had incredible technology and the Udall campaign was using reverse directories. For all you young folks, reverse directories were the way you located likely voters without a great deal of technology. (If you knew the address, it would tell you who lived there.) It showed ingenuity, something on which we were not short and without money of which we were. The Udall campaign was friendly and welcoming and we had lots of volunteers and unfortunately fewer voters.

Your Correspondent at a Hillary rally, election eve, Manchester, NH
In 1984, if you visited the Hart campaign you would find a great many volunteers, the tables covered with used coffee cups, old donuts and empty pizza cartons. It looked like a campaign should look. The Mondale headquarters looked like a business office. It was not an inviting place to work or learn about your government to be.

We are in New Hampshire looking at all the candidates. We have visited many HQ’s because, as I said, I like to get a feel for the campaigns. The people in the Hillary Headquarters are a bit suspect of strangers. The Edwards people are nicer. The Obama people have figured out how to use volunteers – rather than ask for donations and the Kucinich people – well to be honest, I can’t find their HQ.

The first night we were here we went to the debate. ABC and Charlie Gibson did a terrific job. The host St. Anselms College did their best. There were was a bit of confusion, as is always the case, with credentials. And there were lots of answers to questions that I didn’t fully understand. However, I must admit that my favorite answer to any inquiry was when David, who was shooting for “People” asked to be in the pool and was told No. I asked who made the decision about Pool positions and was told, there is no one making the decisions. OK it’s politics but I suggested that a local reporter for a NH publication was probably not as good for national ABC as the shooter who was working for “People”—the only magazine anyone reads anymore, I think. Anyway, there was no one making decisions so David didn’t get into the pool which was irrelevant since they didn’t let the pool stay in the debate. And the one real moment, when all the candidates were pointing and trying to get Charlie to call on them, was not recorded- except by ABC video. That being said—ABC was a terrifc host and Charlie (on my list of all time favorite TV personalities) was just a class act.

On Sunday morning we went to an Obama event. Here is where I have to confess that I am one of the worlds great cynics. I am so cynical that calling me skeptical is almost like saying I am “glass half full”. Anyway, I was prepared to think he was a good speaker but without much heart to support the mouth. In addition I have perceived him as a Gary Hart-like candidate. One who is comfortable with what he says but not with touching the audience. Like after each speech he appeared to flee so as not to have too shake to many hands or answer any questions. And the ‘change stuff’ truly gets on my nerves. The Democrats are fighting about who wants the most change, can change, is the agent of change, and carries enormous amounts of change. But by the end of the event I felt that Obama was the ‘us’ we used to be. He was both inspirational and sensible. He mostly talked about hope. He announced that he refused to have anyone try to take his hope away. He said that some people wanted him to be more seasoned—to stew the hope right out of him, but that was not going to happen. This was probably a carefully choreographed speech and even the moment I liked best –when he called his state coordinator Jack Shapiro up to the stage he said that Jack had worked very hard to get everyone in the audience to vote for him. Then he put his arm around Jack and asked everyone who was undecided to raise their hands. Then he instructed this energetic talented young man to “go get um”. It was a way to thank Jack and to express his confidence in Jack’s ability. Too many politicians never say “thanks” so it was a special and noteworthy moment.

In the afternoon we went to an Edwards event where they produced the family of Nataline—the young woman who died because Cigna Insurance wouldn’t Ok a liver transplant—until it was too late and she died. Additionally, there was a middle aged man who had a cleft palate and couldn’t speak for 50 years because he had no health care. It was supposed to be a moving moment but it was soppy and disturbing. Touching your heart with a story has to be more intimate. It is a strategy that is intrusive and uncomfortable. Edwards says he will battle the insurance companies, he did it successfully as a trial lawyer and he will do it again as the President. But, in a way, it diminishes the importance of what a President should be.

We finished the day at a Ron Paul protest about being excluded from the Fox Republican debate. It was hardly as interesting as Dennis Kucinich saying, in an interview, that he wanted Ron Paul to be his vice president. Talk about reasons not to take candidates seriously.

There is no other state quite as interesting as New Hampshire is when it comes to Presidential politics. It is, unlike Iowa, where military personnel serving elsewhere and invalids who can’t attend a caucus, a place where independents can declare right before they vote, and everyone in the state has seen all the candidates up close and very personal. Sure there are whacko’s running for office – like a guy named Vermin Supreme
who wears a rubber boot on his head, or the guy who dresses trash and yells, “have I been elected yet”? But it is also a place where you can walk up and ask a person running for this important office, how some decision they make will impact on your life. It is the last time you will be able to judge a candidate without having to do it in some high priced media campaign— it is invaluable. It is New Hampshire. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, January 04, 2008

Iowa, May It Rest in Peace

Nearly a month ago I predicted that Hillary Clinton would come in third in the Iowa Primary. It was not an act of genius. (Although I am smarter than almost all of the so called political strategists who appear on cable shows and who say things like “Well, Hillary needs to tell people who she is” – I heard that one yesterday. Duh). Anyway, it doesn’t take any extraordinary talent to talk to people across the country (yes you do have to know people across the country, and you do have to care and listen to what they say) but from those 20 or 30 conversations (yes my poll was more anecdotal than analytical and far more telling), I knew that people felt that experience was what got us into the war, why politicians are evil, why real people can't pay for health insurance and kids are denied an education not dependent on getting "left behind". They are angry at the Democrats in Congress who they perceive as having done nothing over the last two years. They voted to change the Congress and had expectations that with the Democrats in charge things would be different or better – which they are not. Everything is pretty much the same. And you can blame the rules, the complexity of making things work, Joe Lieberman, whatever – but Newt Gingrich kicked ass when they tookover with their ‘Contract with America’. It was not my kind of change and I would have preferred a coup (maybe it was), but things certainly changed.

Most of my friends, and they are of both parties, don’t care that the ‘surge’ is working. There should never have been troops in Iraq that needed to be surged. They want our troops to come home. They want oil prices down, health costs affordable, not to have to make a choice between medication and feeding their kids. They want a government that helps them take care of an elderly loved one. They don’t think the economy is in such great shape—they are struggling to keep their homes and pay their mortgage. And yes, some of them did over extend themselves financially, but they wanted to pay for college for their kids as well as maybe go out to a movie or dinner on occasion.

Politicians who campaign using words like ‘experience,’ and then make a list of all the things they intend to do, (but never did), or who come 180 degrees around on issues, (this being part of their learning experience (yes every experience counts) or who think that they can modify their positions based on polls, must think the public is na├»ve or even stupid. People want change and they want to feel hopeful. Sure, we can use any words we want and have our rhetoric considered religious or flowery, or now we are using words like genuine or authentic, but meanings are in people—not in words. When a politician talks to a voter they have an agenda—to get elected. When a voter listens to the political schpiel, they also have an agenda – to find a way to make their lives better. What happened in Iowa was that the voters felt neither hopeful not authentic about Clinton (one on one). They liked Edwards – probably Elizabeth more than John – but they are not sure he’s an agent for change.

The Republican vote is easy to understand in the same way. They felt that Willard (Mitt –think about what we could do with that in a counter events operation) was neither reliable or trustworthy, and they felt that old “Law and Order” Fred should be given another chance.

People don’t know much about Mike or Obama, but these two genuinely authentic, good speakers made them feel hopeful and that the likelihood for change is a possibility. All this may be different in NH. It is a Primary not a Caucus so there will be less personal interaction among voters (if you saw the CSpan live cam from the a Des Moines caucus site, you will appreciate how fascinating the voter / voter interaction was) – though they’ll still have the candidates to look over. And people who are infirmed or in the military will be able to vote as absentee, but do we all think that voters in New Hampshire have different priorities than voters in Iowa? They may, but based on my anecdotal survey of mostly women, who we agree are varied and complex, women have similar priorities that usually revolve around issues that concern their families—including economic opportunity, health, education, and safety. This last category is especially important because here we not only deal with international concerns like the war and non-state terrorism, we talk about internet predators, abusive spouses, and safe toys and food. As a matter of fact, I could make a pretty good case for all issues revolving around safety and I might suggest that this is not a bad place for a candidate to start if they are looking to be seen as real or valid with a skeptical voting public.

Interest in the election is at an all time high. This is a very positive turn of events. It is always better when more people feel that voting is their civic duty and can help to make for a better country. The caveat is that Iowa and New Hampshire are small states where the vote is often based on personal contact with the candidates. Because of the number (that National Primary was a terrible mistake), and size of the states participating in the electoral process after the 29th (when Guiliani rears his ugly face --and I mean that in the kindest possible way), people may lose interest and once again, a total of 73 people will elect the ‘leader’ (oh if only it were true), of this great nation. We’re just sayin… Iris

Sitting One Out, Briefly

Having been chasing American politicians for the better part of 35 years (and not always catching them, I might add) it was quite unsettling to spend the day flying OVER Iowa, instead of trudging through the snow, ice and wind, to find 48 people at a grade school, playing that grown up version of Twister known as the Caucus.

We had New Years in wine country with good friends, and helped my mom celebrate (ever so early) her 90th birthday, and couldn't get back to the middle of America quite fast enough, given all the family commitments. So there I was, in a nicely upgraded American't Air seat, looking out the windows at frosty landscapes, many of them flat, and softly hilly, and some of which had caucus events tonight. We got home just about when C Span went live from the Roosevelt High School, Des Moines, to share the actual process with the rest of America. It was fascinating. Each group was on camera while they made their attempts to see what their turn out was: for Biden and Richardson, they weren't 'viable' so they had to make a leap to another candidate, but watching the process was extremely interesting. Here, for once, Americans really were voting with their feet. Four years ago, already assigned to Kerry, we did one of those storm trooper hits at a high school around 6 p.m., the candidate entered the chamber, with a cloud of pressies around him, probably knocking over a few marginally steadfast grandmas, entering and leaving the room without having actually seen, spoken to, or interacted with a single voter. That night I ended up running back to the Gephardt HQ for his erstwhile 'victory' speech: the geniuses at the magazine who'd sent me had come to the conclusion: Gephardt was the ONLY guy who would get in the way of Howard Dean who would obviously run off with the lead. (As usual, geniuses are smart about everything except what counts... Dean finished 3rd – and gave us the Scream, and Gephardt was 4th, and headed straight back to St. Louis). In the end, I made it back again to the Kerry hotel, and bullshat my way into the TV pool room once it was clear he'd won, and make a swell picture with my Burnett Combo (a Speed Graphic with a 1943 Aero Ektar recon camera lens). I was totally into it that year. As much as the world of the Fourth Estate has morphed since '04, and the way the candidates began so early to court votes, it changed my feeling about the campaign. This year I have spent time with Thompson, McCain, Hillary, Obama & his wife (separately), and Mitt. I have spent quality time in New Hampshire and Iowa. But this week, mom's 90th ranked a little higher on the charts. Of course I can assure you that I will be in New Hampshire by Saturday, chasing said front-runners, and perhaps back runners. Because after New Hampshire, it changes from vans and buses to planes. That translates as hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars. The distances are greater, and the events tend to become more rote.

So, off we go Saturday for a few days of serious Primary life. It's a life often punctuated by liquor, nosy writers, and cold weather. Sounds like a ton of fun, right? The scary thing is, it IS fun. Don't ask me to quantify how or why but there it is. And the best thing of the last couple of years is that like the rest of the country, you can for sure get great beer, coffee, and grub, in all corners of the state. So, don't wait. Think about it... 2012 is a long ways off. Hop in your car, head north and breath it in. Once you have it in your blood, it just won't go away. There may be a vaccination against political junkiness, but nobody I know has the right syringe. We're just sayin... David