Thursday, December 26, 2013


There are inherent incongruities about Christmas that border on a double standard. We sometimes forget that Christmas celebrates the entrance of a Savior and that the entire story begins with a manger in a barn. 

It’s the tale of alternate Christmases. There is the story of the birth of Jesus, not as a king, but as beggar and worker, entering this existence amongst animals, poop, and feed. Eventually, it’s a story of Christ’s triumph over death, and his transcendent proclamations of love, life, peace, and joy. 

Then there are the other Holidays, both the Commercial spectacle, and given the ”Christmas Messages” from figures ranging from the Pope, The Queen, the President, and even Edward Snowden, a media opportunity. Each year it gets worse, with talking heads of all flavors leveraging Christmas in order to further their politics, ideology, and theology. 

Amid yet another instance of implosion among reality TV figures over bigoted remarks, we have seen the endless lunacy of data being stolen from Target, the NSA spying on everybody, and this year’s whopper, the declaration by Megyn Kelly of Fox News that Christ just had to have been a Caucasian. 

With that moment, went my dwindling hopes that Social Media and the Blogosphere and Cable News and Talk Radio would give us a brief respite from the “Nattering nabobs of negativism”, that Spiro T. Agnew once spoke of.

Americans are raised to believe there is “Separation of Church and State”. Since the mid-1970’s we have not that when it came to politics. In fact, it’s the opposite. We have a classic “pox on both houses” scenario dominating cyberspace and popular culture. Those of us most invested in politics are actually the most extreme cases of why politics and religion should not be mixed. For starters, we can all be hypocrites. Our inconsistency is unavoidable and so very human. All of us have double standards. Failing to practice what we preach, while looking down on those doing the same exact thing is amongst the most human of traits. 

On the left, we wallow in “political correctness” while congratulating ourselves on open-mindedness. There is a line between being politically correct and respecting all people regardless of race, age, gender, sex, or religion. Open-mindedness is another story. The Duck Dynasty drama was partially a story of a man speaking about his religious beliefs. Phil Robertson’s comments certainly were disrespectful, and an example of racist homophobia to many. The truth lies between the extremes. Palin’s quote that she loves the “commercialization” of Christmas, Megan Kelley’s claim Jesus was white, or the use of “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” are just a few examples from the conservative side. 

We too often forget the true reason for the season of Christmas. It’s a time that is wonderful for Christians, that does not have to be imposed upon the rest of America. Citing the alleged “fact” that this is a “Christian” nation and “always has been”, we as a society have too long been swept up in a culture war against certain sins, while others get a pass. 

A sin is a sin. The materialism and greed that takes over this most sacred holiday is as big of a concern as sexual conduct. Many assert America is in decline. If it is, it’s more about our national preoccupation with wealth and power than any social agenda, with our lack of concern for the poor and the suffering more than “gay marriage.” 

Jesus most likely would be a “selectee” at a TSA checkpoint. As a matter of geographical origin, his parents were of Middle Eastern descent. In his ministry, Jesus consistently hung around with the afflicted and outcasts such as Samaritans, and Gentiles. He consistently criticized his society’s sins of greed but the way we celebrate his birthday loses sight of this. Jesus came to bring peace and reconcile nations and people. What does it mean? I have no idea. But we do know that we are at the minimum called to respect and care for those with whom we disagree. It means perhaps quieting ourselves and living out this life in daily humility and service to others.

There are more people doing wonderful things for others over Christmas than we realize. More people than not chose to be are non- combatants in the “culture wars” and “hate speech.” Each and every one of them will never get recognized enough because, at the end of the day, the media portrayed conflict right up to the “Yule Log” and the “Christmas mass from St. Peters.” Whether pro-right or pro-left, it’s about inciting chaos and leveraging the hot topic of the day. Ultimately Christmas can be too easily lost. If it means anything today, then let it be a day when we all calm down and celebrate the entrance of that miracle that started in a barn.



Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I have spent my life in very public kinds of jobs, in a very public trade. In the course of my career, and while growing up my father's, I have lived all across the United States. In hospitality, we learn to communicate with people from all sorts of backgrounds and from all sorts of places. 

Even so, I have occasionally hit situations where I have felt "socially awkward."  We all want desparately to connect with others. But we all have had socially awkward times in our life. They happen to everyone.  Most are greeted with compassion.  Recovering and moving beyond such moments makes the difference between a life sentence and a passing instant.  If it’s a social situation, the damage is usually minimal. The troubles begin, when we are forced into a dynamic where there is no easy escape. 

Social awkwardness begins with that gnawing sense of not appearing "normal" or "socially clued in" under the domain of others. Generated by our own fears and worries of what others think of us, coupled with their social expectations and our interpretations of them, social awkwardness prevents us from interacting with others out of fear of ridicule or even outright ostracism.  Fear can be paralyzing. 

We all deal with social embarrassment at times.  Even for those more socially awkward than the norm, there are proven strategies to overcome feeling socially awkward. For one thing, we are not alone.  Most worry about the same things when in public.  We worry about whether people like us, we're making a good impression, or if others are bored.  So many of our worries are so common, they each cancel each other out. For it’s a given most are on similar wavelengths, when in a different social or professional dynamic. 

One time or the next, most experience moments of shyness, slips of the tongue, awkward body language, screwing up a conversation or simply struggling to connect with another person. Often those feeling like this all of the time are over-analyzing any social situation. An inability to feel at ease makes each new dynamic seem more frightening and increases the fear each succeeding time. 

Feelings of social awkwardness have an origin. For many people who experience intense social anxiety, it’s fear driven insecurity or low self-confidence. Each source can be addressed by pushing and finding ways to build confidence. 

There are other reasons for feeling insecure, such as bad past experiences, or feeling that we're not with people who are enough like us or who understand us.  Feeling compelled to interact in situations because of work, or other external factors one would normally avoid, easily leads to feeling confused about the motivations and actions of those around us. In each case, we must try to identify the root cause of what's driving our emotions, in order to address each directly.

Being truly shy really inhibits social interactions, masking it crucial to seek ways to overcome shyness.  Whether treated through learning or professional intervention, shyness is (happily) perfectly treatable. Being an introvert is different from being shy,  though  both traits can be found in the same person. Introverts “shun the spotlight” and choose, to avoid social situations because they're draining. An introvert is fulfilled through more internal interaction than an extrovert would enjoy.

Shy people want to participate in social events but is afraid of being embarrassed or left out. Social anxiety is a severely limiting condition or anxiety-based disorder in which a person is not able to function in daily life, including at school, work or social events. A person suffering from social anxiety tends to keep close to family and trusted friends and avoid all public interpersonal relationships. Social anxiety stems from the constant fear that other people are scrutinizing the sufferer in order to humiliate or embarrass them. For those who suffer from social anxiety, it is important to get proper professional help.  As with shyness, social anxiety has an excellent prognosis for treatment.

For all of us the lesson is to be less concerned about what other people think of us. Most people are worrying what others think of them, which is something worth reminding ourselves when worrying about what other people think. 

Some people will be nasty, petty and sarcastic as a matter of course. For such people, such negative behavior is often a defense mechanism they use to get over their own feelings of insecurity, awkwardness and discomfort. As such, it's not actually about us at all but is an sign of internal turmoil. Don't take it to heart; do continue to share the best of yourself without worrying what others think.  

Some simply have negative thoughts about other people as a means to avoid introspection. It’s impossible to alter the way this kind of person thinks. Instead, simply realize that they're too hooked on blaming others to see how their negative comments probably reveal most about their own weaknesses.

Random unpleasant and downright embarrassing things happen. In our imperfect world, the odds of some things making us look or feel foolish are just as much in existence as those things we choose to see as showing ourselves in a more dignified, graceful, or appropriate light. They are another reason to accept our humanness and the fact that life is random and at times imperfect.




As Christmas approached, I remembered and found a seldom-told folk tale. If there is a place we go after we leave this earth, it seems increasingly possible that there must be a place for all God’s creatures. For in my heart I am certain my four-legged friends absolutely do have souls. 

I want to share this with all of you as we think of all the animal friends that have been part of our lives this holiday. 

Once there was a burro with a cruel master, who fed him only stale food and water, and overworked and beat him every day. He never was able to rest, he was forever hungry,  thirsty,  and tired.

One Christmas Eve his master rode him for miles to a party, though he was sick, beating him and forcing him to stagger on until their arrival. 

He tied the burro to the hitching rail and went inside. The burro stood still in the cold, trying to rest for the journey home by not moving a muscle, but only grew more and more tired.

Suddenly he heard a loud and musical bray, as a burro appeared from the darkness, his coat the color of a shiny silver dollar. 

His bray was the sound of children playing, his hoofs sounded a musical tinkle each time they touched the ground.

"Come with me”, the silver burro brayed.

"I must wait to take my master home," the sick burro said.

"Come with me”, urged the silver burro.

"I cannot, I am too tired, and besides I am tied to this rail."

"Come with me” the silver burro insisted, and as the weary burro finally began to follow, the rope just slipped away, the saddle fell from his back, and he felt as did when he was a foal, and the weariness began to fade.

He bounded across the country with the silver burro, and there more stars than he ever had seen, in the sky and even on the ground. Suddenly it was light, and he was in a field of green grass, belly deep as far as he could see, with countless springs of cold, clear, and water. Thousands of burros were there, with no sun but light coming from everywhere. It was a heavenly place.

But why was the silver burro so different from the rest, who all were wearing coats of a common color. Why was his coat, glossier than the finest racehorse? The burro finally asked him, who was he, where was he from? 

The silver burro brayed like the laughter of children and said….”I am the Burro of Bethlehem, who went there with Joseph and Mary, carrying the Virgin on my back. I was there when the baby Jesus was born."

The Christmas party lasted late into the night. The burro’s cruel master sang and danced, ate too much food, and drank more than he should. He came outside and found his sick and tired burro; his starved worn out body cold, stiff, and lying there where he had been tied. 

For the silver burro of Bethlehem had taken him to burro heaven. 


Friday, December 13, 2013


Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter were the husband-and-wife duo that started Campaigns, Inc., the first political consulting firm in the United States. Based in California, the firm worked on a variety of political issues, mainly for Republican candidates. Together, they developed strategies and tactics - such as broadcast media buys and direct mail - still widely used in today's campaigns. Their work would not only revolutionize politics in the modern era but also deeply impact political issues that resonate today.  

No single factor has altered the workings of American democracy so much as political consulting,  unknown before Campaigns, Inc. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, consultants replaced party bosses as the masters of political power driven by money. Whitaker and Baxter were the first to make politics a business. They virtually created the billion-dollar industry of managers, speechwriters, pollsters, and advertisers who play a role in everything from Presidential campaigns to the candidates for city council.  Between 1933 and 1955, Whitaker and Baxter had no competition, winning seventy out of seventy-five campaigns. The campaigns they ran, shaped the history of California, and of the country. Campaigns, Inc., shapes American politics even today.


Upton Sinclair's, I, Governor of California, is among the best campaign literature ever written. Sinclair, the author of forty-seven books, including, “The Jungle,” wrote a novel announcing a gubernatorial bid in the form of an alternate history of the future, in which Sinclair is elected governor in 1934, and by 1938 has eradicated poverty. “So far as I know,” the author remarked, “this is the first time a historian has set out to make his history true.” Only sixty-four pages, it sold a hundred and fifty thousand copies in four months.

At the time of the 1932 Presidential election, California was a one-party state. Almost all of the seats in the state legislature were held by Republicans; not a single Democrat-held statewide office. The unemployment rate in the state was twenty-nine percent.  The premise of the book was soon to become reality,   What if Upton Sinclair, a lifelong socialist, ran as a Democrat for governor in 1934?

Sinclair adopted the acronymic campaign slogan, “END POVERTY IN CALIFORNIA” (“It was pointed out that the initials of these words spell ‘EPIC’ ”); picked a campaign emblem - the busy bee (“she not only works hard but has means to defend herself”); detailed a program of co√∂perative factories and farms that would implement his philosophy of “production for use” rather than for profit; and advocated  ending the sales tax while levying a thirty-per-cent income tax on anyone earning more than fifty thousand dollars a year. It seemed for a time, Sinclair was going to win. In August of 1934, Sinclair won the Democratic nomination, with more votes than any primary candidate in California had ever won before.  

By November Sinclair was writing  a nonfiction sequel called “I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked.”  Sinclair began. “Here is set forth how a scholar went into politics, and what happened to him.” “How I Got Licked” was published in daily installments in fifty newspapers. In it, Sinclair described how, immediately after the Democratic Convention, the Los Angeles Times began running on its front page a box with an Upton Sinclair quotation in it, a practice that the paper continued, every day, for six weeks, until the opening of the polls. “Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.”

Sinclair's defeat was because of what he called the "Lie Factory". It was the true beginning of opposition research,  They discovered lines Sinclair had written, speeches of characters in novels, and stick them in the paper as if Sinclair had said them. “They had a staff of political chemists at work, preparing poisons to be let loose in the California atmosphere on every one of a hundred mornings.” Actually, it was a staff of only two, and the company wasn’t called the Lie Factory. It was called Campaigns, Inc.

The first political-consulting firm was founded, in 1933, by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter. Whitaker, thirty-four, had started out as a newspaperman,  was working as a reporter at the age of thirteen. At nineteen, he was city editor for the Sacramento Union and, a couple of years later, the political writer for the San Francisco Examiner. Friendly and gangly, he had big ears,  smoked,  never stopped talking, and typed with two fingers. He started and sold a newspaper wire service, the Capitol News Bureau, distributing stories to eighty papers. which he sold to the United Press. 

Three years on, he was hired by Sheridan Downey, a prominent Democrat, to help defeat a referendum sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric. Downey had also hired Baxter, a twenty-six-year-old widow who had been a writer for the Portland Oregonian, and suggested that she and Whitaker become partners, and they started doing business as Campaigns, Inc. The referendum was defeated. Whitaker separated from his wife. In 1938, he and Baxter married. 

They lived in Marin County, in a house with a heated swimming pool. They began every day with a two-hour breakfast to plan the day. She sometimes called him Clem; he only ever called her Baxter. Campaigns, Inc., specialized in running political campaigns for businesses, especially monopolies like Standard Oil and Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. Their Big Business client base was so impressed that they began to put Campaigns, Inc., on retainer.

The advertising industry began as an offshoot of political consulting. When modern advertising began, the big clients were more interested in advancing a political agenda as a commercial one. Monopolies looked greedy and ruthless if not sinister.  They hired advertising firms to sell the public on the idea of large corporations and to advance the pro-business legislation they needed to prosper.  Sinclair once said that American history was a battle between business and democracy, and, “So far,  Big Business has won every skirmish.”

California Republicans were horrified at the prospect of Sinclair in the governor’s office. They had to work fast. Whitaker and Baxter were hired only two months before the election by George Hatfield, the candidate for lieutenant governor. They were hired to destroy Sinclair. They began by locking themselves in a room for three days with everything he had ever written. “Upton was beaten,” Whitaker later said, “because he had written books.”  

One quote stood out. "The sanctity of marriage. . . . I have had such a belief . . . I have it no longer," was taken from a passage in his 1911 novel, “Love’s Pilgrimage,” in which one character writes a heartbroken letter to a man having an affair with his wife.  “Sure, those quotations were irrelevant,” Baxter later said. “But we had one objective: to keep him from becoming Governor.”

In the years after defeating Sinclair, Whitaker and Baxter had added a few more items to their repertoire. Harper’s later reported, “In a typical campaign they employed ten million pamphlets and leaflets; 50,000 letters to ‘key individuals and officers of organizations’; 70,000 inches of advertising in 700 newspapers; 3,000 spot announcements on 109 radio stations; theater slides and trailers in 160 theaters; 1,000 large billboards and 18,000 or 20,000 smaller posters.”) In 1940, they produced materials for the  Wendell Willkie’s Presidential campaign, including a speaker’s manual that offered advice about how to handle Democrats in the audience: “rather than refer to the opponent as the ‘Democratic Party’ or ‘New Deal Administration’ refer to the Candidate by name only.”

The film grossed about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year.  For a referendum campaign, Whitaker and Baxter charged between twenty-five thousand and seventy-five thousand dollars, with complete control of the budget for the campaign. Clem and Leone also ran the Clem Whitaker Advertising Agency, which charged a fifteen-per-cent commission from clients for every ad. 

They added a newspaper wire service, the California Feature Service, and sent both a political clip sheet every week, to fifteen hundred “thought leaders,” and cartoons, editorials, and articles to three hundred newspapers. Rural newspapers, desperate for copy,  often printed whatever the California Feature Service sent them.  These included press releases disguised as editorials endorsing whatever political positions Campaigns, Inc. was being paid to advance. The trick was to send out clippings so sly that a tired editor might not notice that they were written by an advertising outfit. 

Whitaker and Baxter wrote the rule book that defines campaigns even today.
  • Never lobby; woo voters instead.  
  • Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. 
  • If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one.  
  • Attack, attack, attack. Whitaker said, “You can’t wage a defensive campaign and win!”
  • Never underestimate the opposition. 
  • Every campaign needs a theme. Keep it simple. 
  • Rhyming’s good. (“For Jimmy and me, vote ‘yes’ on 3.”) 
  • Never explain anything. “The more you have to explain,” Whitaker said, “the more difficult it is to win support.” 
  • Say the same thing over and over again. “We assume we have to get a voter’s attention seven times to make a sale,” Whitaker said. 
  • Subtlety is your enemy. “Words that lean on the mind are no good,” according to Baxter. “They must dent it.” 
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. “A wall goes up,” Whitaker warned, “when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think.”
  • Fan flames. “We need more partisanship in this country,” Whitaker said. 
  • Never shy from controversy; instead, win the controversy. 
  • “The average American doesn’t want to be educated; he doesn’t want to improve his mind; he doesn’t even want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen,” Whitaker advised. “But there are two ways you can interest him in a campaign and only two that we have ever found successful.” You can put on a fight (“he likes a good hot battle, with no punches, pulled”), or you can put on a show (“he likes the movies; he likes mysteries; he likes fireworks and parades”): “So if you can’t fight, PUT ON A SHOW! And if you put on a good show, Mr. and Mrs. America will turn out to see it.”
  • Winner takes all. “If you launch a campaign for a new car, your client doesn’t expect you to lead the field necessarily in the first year, or even the tenth year,” Whitaker once said. “But in politics, they don’t pay off for PLACE OR SHOW! You have to win, if you want to stay in business.”

In 1944, Earl Warren was elected Governor of California. Troubled by the way he had won after Whitaker and Baxter issued an election-eve press release without his approval, he fired them. They never forgave him.  Earl Warren began his political career as a conservative and ended it as one of the most hated liberals in American history. What happened to him? One answer is Whitaker and Baxter.

Retained by the California Medical Association for an annual fee of twenty-five thousand dollars to campaign against the Warren'sr’s plan for health care reform, Whitaker and Baxter took a piece of legislation that most liked and taught them to revile it. “You can’t beat something with nothing,” they liked to say. They launched a drive for Californians to buy their own insurance, privately. Voluntary Health Insurance Week, driven by forty thousand inches of advertising in more than four hundred newspapers, was observed in fifty-three of the state’s fifty-eight counties. Whitaker and Baxter sent more than nine thousand doctors out with prepared speeches. They coined a slogan: “Political medicine is bad medicine.” 

During the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt called for major healthcare reform in the form of government-subsidized medicine. In 1945, Harry Truman took up the fight, calling on Congress to overhaul the country's healthcare system. The American Medical Association began to lobby against the president's proposal, in 1949, retaining Whitaker & Baxter to help them with their efforts. The AMA paid Whitaker & Baxter $350,000 to defeat Truman's healthcare plan. In their usual style, Whitaker & Baxter began an all-out media war against the legislation,  distributing over 100 million pieces of literature. In just two weeks of the campaign, they spent $1.1 million in advertising on behalf of the AMA. As part of their messaging, they began calling the president's healthcare plan socialized medicine" leveraging the same allusions to communism that brought down Sinclair. 

Whitaker and Baxter’s campaign against Harry Truman’s national-health-insurance proposal cost the A.M.A. nearly five million dollars, and it took more than three years. But they turned the President’s sensible, popular, and urgently needed legislative reform into a bogeyman so scary that, even today, millions of Americans are still scared. Truman was furious. As to what in his plan could possibly be construed as “socialized medicine,” he told the press in 1952,  he didn’t know.   That fall, the A.M.A. let Whitaker and Baxter go, explaining that it had decided that keeping the agency on retainer would compromise its nonpartisan status. Whitaker and Baxter were untroubled. They went to work for Eisenhower-Nixon.


In 1952, television was used, for the first time, in a Presidential campaign. In 1948, less than three percent of American homes had a television; by 1952, penetration was fast approaching fifty per cent. That year, Republicans spent $1.5 million on television advertising; Democrats spent seventy-seven thousand dollars. On television, spots for Eisenhower—“I Like Ike” and “The Man from Abilene”—whose themes were based on George Gallup’s polling, masqueraded as documentaries; they looked like newsreels.

Like everyone running for office after him, he was coached and groomed,  and polished. And made up. In a TV spot called “Eisenhower Answers America,” a young  man asks, “General, the Democrats are telling me I never had it so good.” Eisenhower replies, “Can that be true, when America is billions in debt when prices have doubled, when taxes break our backs, and we are still fighting in Korea? It’s tragic.” Then he looked, straight into the camera. “It’s time for a change.”


In the late 1950s, Whitaker and Baxter had a falling out with then client Governor Knight. While Knight had hired the duo for several of his earlier campaigns, he did not bring them back on for his run for the Senate in 1958. Because of this and Whitaker's failing health, the company began to fade from the political scene. Later in 1958, Whitaker and Baxter sold their company to Clem Whitaker Jr., who would later redirect the focus of their business operations into corporate public relations. The duo formed Whitaker and Baxter International, a smaller public relations consulting firm, which they would run from a San Francisco hotel room. 

In 1961, Whitaker died of emphysema. Leone Baxter continued running Whitaker and Baxter International after her husband's death. In 2001, she died in Sacramento at the age of 96. She liked to work behind the scenes. In all her long life—she died in 2001, at the age of ninety-five—she rarely gave interviews. She made an exception in the nineteen-sixties. She was asked, “Do the procedures you designed early in the game and utilized so successfully over the years, Leone, still work today, or have you found it necessary to change them?”

“The basic rules I would say are wholly unchanged,” she said. “The strategies are unchanged.” There was television, of course. “But I would say that the philosophy of political campaigning hasn’t changed a whit. The tools have changed, the philosophy has not.”

She was also asked, “Does political public relations actually transfer political power into the hands of those who exercise it?”

“It certainly could and has in some instances,” she said, carefully. “In this profession of leading men’s minds, this is the reason I feel it must be in the hands of the most ethical, principled people—people with real concern for the world around them, for people around them—or else it will erode into the hands of people who have no regard for the world around them. It could be a very, very destructive thing.”