If I Were Roman Polanski's Media Advisor

Welcome back!

Finally, thirty years after fleeing America, Roman Polanski was arrested in Zurich. Much has been written about his drugging and raping a thirteen year oldIt begs several questions:
1. What was he thinking? By announcing in advance that he was coming to Zurich (to accept a lifetime achievement award), was it hubris that finally did him in? He had to have known that the warrant on him was outstanding. He gambled and lost.
2. Did his reaction help his case? All we heard was that Roman was "fightin' mad". I didn't hear "sorrow", "regret", "willing to face up to what I did", or anything to indicate that he gets it.
3. Did his Hollywood friends, French politicians or other elites help his case? Uh....no. They hurt his case. I mean, a character reference from Woody Allen? Gimme a break! It served to make him a caricature of the spoiled "law doesn't apply to me" ethically-challenged person that he obviously is.
4. What should he have done? The moment he was carted off to a Swiss jail, he should have issued a statement that he would voluntarily return to Los Angeles and ask the Court for mercy. His statement would make it clear that what he had done was wrong, and that he realized that there should be consequences.
5. What would the judge do? I believe that he would have got a light sentence in recognition of his apology and his willingness to recognize how wrong his actions were. (I'm not sure if he had been involved in any charitable work during his thirty years on the lam, but it sure might have helped too.)

However, remember "arrogance is its own reward!"

Is Canada Going to Have an Election or Not?
Now that the NDP has voted with the government on a major money bill (Employment Insurance reform) and has said it will not support the Liberal's non-confidence motion, there won't likely be a Fall election.

Who wins and who loses?

The Conservatives win by looking strong and sure-footed (neither weak nor devious). The Liberals have been saved from certain defeat; yet are empowered to continue voting every time against the government, with impunity. Given the recent in-fighting in Quebec Liberal ranks, however, that delay can only help the Liberals. the Liberals, however, have entered into a narrow channel - of all or nothing. That is high stakes poker with a weak hand. The NDP have survived to live another day but will have to avoid voting for legislation that they cannot stomach. That could be increasingly problematic as Stephen Harper - with one eye on the polls - might decide to feed Mr. Layton just such a 'meal'.

Until next time, remember the old Russian proverb:"the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits."


Celebrities Selling Health Care Reform

Tips on Creating Viral Videos

A new viral video [produced by Will Ferrell, with Mad Men's John Hamm and other Hollywood celebs] uses satire quite effectively to skewer the health insurance companies. All for the cost of the video! I'm surprised more organizations aren't using viral videos online to support their campaigns. You can see this by googling it and search it on MSN and YouTube, among other sites.

If you're thinking of creating a viral video, here are some tips:
1. Satire and humor are the best ways to ensure the video goes 'viral'. Not too heavy, but people have to laugh.
2. Make sure the target is clear and the message flows naturally. If it's too obscure, it won't work.
3. Give the viewer a website or a clear 'action' to take. Otherwise, it's fun, but no real measurable output.
4. Using a celebrity can enormously increase the initial impact, but it's not essential. If the characters are well-honed and it's well-scripted, it can take off on its own merits.
5. Don't be too heavy-handed. You're evoking a visceral response. This isn't the time for hectoring or lecturing.
6. Limit it to 3 minutes. If you can't make the point in that time, you probably don't have a clear point to make!

Until next time.....


Live-Blogging the President on Letterman

Welcome back.
Before I get to my comments on President Obama's Letterman appearance,I was on Tom Clark's Powerplay on the CTV News Channel Monday evening to discuss the Canadian Government's advertising and whether or not it's appropriate.

"Ladies and gentlemen, live from the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, it's the David Letterman Show Starring...Barack Obama!"

In a first for David Letterman, President Obama dropped in tonight, following a whirlwind round of the Sunday Morning talk shows, and he looked as relaxed as George Clooney schmoozing Dave about Brad Pitt and his pals.

He immediately keyed in on the audience member with a heart-shaped potato and played it for all it was worth. He already had the audience from the get-go with a standing ovation. Even Clooney doesn't get that.

Dave's series of photos of the President at the White House with family, Bo and Hillary (!) kept the warmth going. [And having sat in the Ed Sullivan Theater during a Letterman taping, that is quite an accomplishment, I assure you! Although even the President asked the audience if they were cold!]

Dave's questions about the pace of the President's life moves into the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh later this week, and an easy slide into talk of families struggling during the economy; clean energy, the Lehman Brothers' crash last year; and bridging to making 'ordinary folks' and helping them.

The President claims that his stimulus spending was a "tourniquet to stop the bleeding" and saved 1.5 to 2 million jobs, and from there he moves into the theme of 'long-term sustainability'. He manages the expectations of no overnight solution, having lost $5 trillion in wealth, and then ends that sequence with 'we're going to come back stronger than ever'. [I sense a targeted email campaign coming on! So get your Blackberries ready folks!]

The 'Racist' Issue

After a commercial break, Dave leads him into Jimmy Carter's comments about the racism issue, triggered by the "you lie" shout-out by Rep. Joe Wilson R (SC). Obama hits it out of the park with "I think it's important to realize I was actually black before the election." Letterman tops him with "oh really, how long have you been black?"

The President connects back to the 'commie' labels and other epithets that previous Presidents like Kennedy and Reagan had to endure. He links back to "common sense and integrity" and how the public expects more from their elected officials.

Dave doesn't let go and the Prez allows that "you can have differences with me...health care...but suggesting that some of the anger is mis-placed" He shifts from there into feeling the taxpayers' pain over the lack of regulation allowing billions of dollars to line the balance sheet of banks (although he doesn't mention that the former Treasury Secretary put a gun to their heads to take the money. "The last thing I signed up for was bailing out banks and big auto companies."

High road, empathy path all the way...

On health care, Dave leads him into it by asking "what is it about health care that I don't understand?"
The President says that health care premiums have gone up about 125% in the past ten years, and the 'big insurance companies' have been dropping people from coverage....In five or ten years, employers won't be able to cover you...and people are going to go bankrupt. If you do have it he wants to make sure the insurance companies can't drop you, moving to electronic forms, and ends up with hitting back at the status quo thinking.

Dave breaks up the heavy going by observing that the President's job is "tougher than mine" but he doesn't get all this labeling of the British and Canadian systems as 'socialism' when it sounds pretty good to me!"
Dave does a shout out to Britain and Canada.. The Prez says that the Canadians like their system (big applause from Canadians from Canadians in the audience. I can't tell if Paul Schaeffer applauded.]

Mr. Obama refers to fear over 'the devil they don't know.' He admits that's why he's on the Letterman show - to reach regular folks about the issue.

Dave pokes fun at the 'death panels... "if only we could get those going right away." The President smiles but wisely chooses not to say anything as he would be instantly YouTubed no matter what he would say.

During the commercial break, the paparazzi are allowed to move up to the set for their photos - not an everyday thing on the Letterman Show for sure - all the while Paul Schaeffer and the CBS Orchestra are playing some great Chicago blues in honor of the special guest.

After the second last commercial break....

Dave moves into the moving out of Iraq and moving into Afghanistan. The Prez reaffirms the pull-out of combat troops by 2011 [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE] although admits Iraq won't be 'perfect". He distinguishes Iraq from Afghanistan and links the US interests from the 3000 Americans who lsot their lives in 9/11 [APPLAUSE].

He recognizes frustration with the progress in the war...and emphasizes military, diplomatic and humanitarian help. Hits an emotional chord when he says before he writes a letter to a military family that their child wasn't going home, he wants to clearly have the strategy to justify those steps, and he will be asking some very tough questions." [It works on an emotional level with the audience much better than on a literal one.]

Obama says that 'given the stakes in Afghanistan we should have finished the job there." "Iraq is better off without Saddam." He notes the enormous risks of 'doubling down' on Afghanistan. If there were easy answers, they wouldn't have fallen onto his desk. He ends with the assertion that the number one issue in A'ghan is that there are a number of extremists determined to kill innocent people and he keeps that firmly in mind.

Pretty masterful footwork through a tricky juxtaposition of two theaters of war. [With Democrats in Congress becoming more vocal in their opposition. Although Dave did not bring up the leaked document from the U.S. military commander on the ground whose criticisms of the effort made all the news earlier today. [One of the advantages of going on a talk show.]

After the last commercial break...

Dave sucks up somewhat with mentioning that as he goes on to address the UN tomorrow, 'how fascinating it is to watch you work". But then saves it with congratulating him for being in possession of a heart-shaped potato."

Nice tie-in to the opener and the President reaches out with a handshake, a big grin and it's all over for his debut on Letterman.

Barack, if the political thing doesn't work out, Dave's renewed contract ends in 2012...just in time for.....a new gig!

Until next time...


No election....for now!

Welcome back!

Well Jack and Gilles saved Iggy....at least for now. I know I have been predicting a fall election since June, but now that Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe voted for the Conservatives last Friday on a major money bill (Employment Insurance reform),what;'s going to happen?

An election may only have been delayed - for several reasons:
1.Jack Layton and the NDP will not be able to continue propping up the Conservatives.
2. Stephen Harper is aware of this and may give him increasingly unpalatable legislation to endorse, forcing him to choose between an election reprieve and the NDP's credibility with its own base.
3. Stephen Harper is now consistently over 35% in the polls - within striking range of a majority government. It's either go now or wait until next spring, giving Ignatieff more time to define himself, his policies and build fundraising efforts.

So what's the likelihood of a fall election? Still a major chance to be called some time in October. It's doubtful that the NDP and Bloc will give the Liberals credibility in their early October no-confidence motion. So watch for the poison pill by the Conservatives within a few weeks.

"Racism' and Rep. Joe Wilson, R (SC)

I don't agree with Obama supporters that Rep. Joe Wilson, R (SC) in his 'you lie' call out to President Obama indulged in an act of racism. First, it cheapens racism when it's thrown around to cover virtually every criticism or yobbish behavior aimed at Obama. Save that allegation until there is some direct connection to that odious trait. Second, there is little evidence that critics have unearthed that Wilson indulged in racist comments in the past. Usually, racist comments are not 'one-off' experiences.

So my advice would be stay cool, stay focused, stay high-road and such boorish behavior will be seen in such a light that makes the President seem even more Presidential, the more he forgives people like Mr. Wilson.

Just Imagine if We Were Better Storytellers

Which brings me to my final note for this post, and that is the stories that politicians such as Barack Obama use to create a narrative or drive home a message. Check out this article, Just Imagine if we Were Better Storytellers, by Colleen Ross on CBC.ca and see how executives and politicians are using stories in their presentations and speeches:

By Colleen Ross
Just imagine if we were better storytellers

"When I was young, my family went downhill skiing almost every weekend. It was fun and great exercise, but truth be told, some days were long. And cold. So to entertain myself, I made up a soap opera called On the Slopes.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton: A natural storyteller. (Mike Wintroath/Associated Press)Former U.S. president Bill Clinton: A natural storyteller. (Mike Wintroath/Associated Press)

I created several plot lines with different characters, even different accents, and told the stories aloud to my imaginary audience as I barrelled down the ski run. I recall many dramatic scenes in the emergency room involving doctors with gratuitous British accents. The soap opera format was perfect, because I could just pick up the plot when next on the slopes.

Perhaps this imaginative storytelling propelled me toward a career in broadcasting, in which oral stories are so central. As a journalist, I've listened to many people speak — at all levels of government, at conferences, in churches, at rallies, at funerals. I've laughed. I've cried. But often, I've sighed. I wish more people knew how to tell good stories.

It turns out that good storytellers may be made in childhood. The key? Imaginary friends. Research shows that anywhere from a quarter to half of young children have played with them. Now, a study has found that imaginary friends — whether they're named Emily or Giant Strongman, whether young or old, male or female — help children become better storytellers. And that in turn, helps boost their reading comprehension and overall language skills.
Storytelling starts young

In the July/August issue of the journal Child Development, researchers investigated the language skills of 48 boys and girls aged 5½, about half of whom had imaginary friends. Associate professor Elaine Reese of the University of Otago in New Zealand and her former student Gabriel Trionfi first assessed the children's language skills by measuring their vocabulary. Then they asked the children to tell two types of stories: fictional and realistic. In the fictional storytelling activity, the children were read a story rich with dialogue and then asked to retell the story to a puppet. In the realistic storytelling activity, they were asked to tell a story about a real-life event such as a trip to the beach.

While the children didn't differ in their vocabulary skills, the children with imaginary friends used more dialogue and characters in retelling the fictional story, and gave more information about time and place in the realistic story. One child described going to an A&P show — an agricultural exhibition — with heaps of horses jumping and winning ribbons, and cows going around in a big circle in a paddock. Not bad for a five-year-old.

The researchers say the children with imaginary friends told higher-quality stories than the others; they simply get more practice telling stories both to their friend and to other interested folks. Trionfi says it's a gift: "Understanding how to tell a story to someone who wasn't there, or doesn't know what you know, all takes abstract thinking skills."
We don't develop our storytelling skills

So if that many children are telling stories — and telling them well — why are so many of us so bad at it later in life? As I see it, we don't carry storytelling with us into our professional lives, unless we actually work in a story-reliant industry such as journalism.

Ottawa-based communications expert Barry McLoughlin says many of us don't exercise the storytelling muscle enough, so it atrophies. And somewhere along the line, it becomes more difficult to talk about emotions in public. To be a good storyteller, you need to put yourself on the line.

"With the oral storytelling tradition, you're telling an anecdote, you're revealing something of yourself," says McLoughlin. "Revealing yourself is highly uncomfortable. It's off script. It means taking a risk."

The other reason for diminished story telling, according to McLoughlin, is technology: "Oral storytelling is a lost art that has been superseded by the screen. Now it's the visual tradition. Now it's show me."
More important than ever

But show me doesn't guarantee we're getting information that helps us actually make sense of the world.

"We need someone to tell us a story to make sense of it all. There's so many competing claims out there. The recession for example; the economy is up, it's down," says McLoughlin. "We have information overload. What we want is knowledge."

The finest stories combine information with colourful images. That's the best way to ensure that people remember our message.

It's rare to see in person a former U.S. president known for his compelling speaking style. Several years ago, I had the fortune of seeing Bill Clinton when he was in Winnipeg. One of his points was that giving poorer countries more economic help encourages peace and prosperity. He wove a tale about a Ghanaian woman who ran after him on the airport tarmac to give him a shirt made possible through the Africa trade bill. It was one of many stories filled with both vivid images and relevant statistics.

About 1,600 people sat in the theatre that night, but you could have heard a pin drop. And last week in Toronto, he wooed audiences once again.

A good, focused story can relay information so much more effectively and memorably than dry statistics and gobbledygook. We need to drop the paradigms and consultative processes, the passive constructions, the subjunctive clauses. When we tell a story, we're more conversational. Our message is clearer. More interesting. More emotional. More powerful.

I say tell stories and tell them often, even if it means getting yourself an imaginary friend. In the meantime, I'm going to work on a summer version of On the Slopes."

Until next time!


Selling Health Care & an Election

Welcome back...
Well the 'death panels' are now a thing of the past (whew!) as President Obama sought to reassure the American people Wednesday night, that 'change' is not scary. Did it work? That depends on who he is targeting with his message.

First, he had to shore up the Democrats' base - which has been splitting at the seams of late over the 'public option'. I interpreted his message as "a public option if necessary but not necessarily a public option." Okay that will help.

Secondly, he tried to swing the independent vote by reassuring them that if they like their health insurance plan, then they can keep it - no problemo! Then he promised that he would not run a deficit - not even a penny! Ever! Wow! And he won't raise taxes to do it. Double wow! And half the $900 billion cost will come from cutting waste and mismanagement in medicaid. Triple wow! Incidentally, nearly all politicians claim that they can do that, but that's the first time I ever heard that there was that much waste. If all that doesn't get the independents' vote then nothing will.

Thirdly, he sought to reassure seniors who had been frightened by scare tactics about 'death panels' managed by bureaucrats to decide whether grandma or grandad will get treatment or not. Take that Sarah Palin!

As expected he connected emotionally with the Senators and Congressmen in the room by sharing a letter that Sen. Ted Kennedy had written him, but only delivered to him by Vicky Kennedy after his death.

So was it an effective speech? In a word, yes! He hit the mark and he did it with that combination of cool and passionate that very few can do. He continually positioned himself as the moderate between the 'extremes' of the left and right. [Canada's single payer system being on the left, and the big bad mean health insurance companies and their fellow ideologues of the status quo on the right.]

However, it was far from being a perfect speech. He seemed to go out of his way in places to be partisan when a number of lawmakers were seeking the spirit of bipartisanship. So in my view, some of that was superfluous to his central message - that the status quo is no longer acceptable and he is determined to get the job done.

With regard to Canada's health care system, it is not perfect of course. In fact, many Canadians have a lot of frustration with aspects of it. However, one of the few things that unites Canadians is criticism of it from another country. A former Prime Minister (one Jean Chretien)famously said, 'Canada has the best mediocre health care system in the world." Another time he said, "It's not a Cadillac..it's a Chevrolet." [That was of course before GM was taken over by the government, but I digress...]

In terms of the battle for media coverage, the President's speech was quickly taken off the front page and replaced by the 'you lie' call-out from South Carolina's Rep. Joe Wilson (R).

It gave the President a chance to sound both conciliatory and Presidential the next day, but it did divert the water-cooler talk the next day. The Republican leadership wisely moved quickly to make him apologize and distance themselves from him. But the Republican brand took a hit last night. As you can see here, Mr. Obama took full advantage of the opportunity it presented him, to call for a civil debate. Hey take the gifts when they come your way, right?

Meanwhile in Canada...the election call gets closer and closer...

Prime Minister Harper gave Michael Ignatieff a golden opportunity to gain some political traction when this video was handed to the Liberals, and then to the media, by a student at a Tory gathering [closed to the media]. The talk of a 'majority' had been avoided scrupulously in previous elections, but it will now have to be front and centre. So the PM ought to take these eggs and make an omelette! Selling more uncertainty has probably lived out its usefulness on the political landscape anyway.

Gentle American readers, in Canada it's usually politically damaging to suggest that (gasp) you might want or need a majority government. Even if the country has had the instability of three elections in four years due to the instability of minority governments...

The rule there of course is that 'there's no such thing as off the record' and the earlier that lesson is reinforced for the Conservatives the better for their chances in the seemingly inevitable election to be called within a few weeks. [PREDICTION]

In the scheme of things, it's probably not too significant, except that it will perhaps embolden Mr. Ignatieff even further towards the point of no return!

Finally, Remembering 9/11 Eight Years Later

September 11, 2009 marks the 8th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy and hopefully we mark it with thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families. You have not been forgotten. I vividly remember where I was on 9/11. Laura and I were about to do a seminar for about a dozen senior judges from the Federal Courts across the country. We were stunned by the television pictures and, even though we didn't want to stop watching, I suggested that we begin our seminar and then later we would come back to it to see what happened. That took every ounce of effort on everyone's part, but it was instinctively trying to find some semblance of sanity when you knew suddenly that the world had gone completely mad.

A few days later, Ambassador Paul Cellucci and Prime Minister Chretien, along with 100,000 Canadians with tears in their eyes went to Parliament Hill to express their deepest sorrow for the victims and for the solidarity that Canada felt for the United States in its time of shock and devastation. It was a profoundly powerful experience.

So how do you put to words what that day meant? Here are the lyrics to the Alan Jackson song, Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) that have always got to me when I think of that day. How about you?

"Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)" Words and music by Alan Jackson

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Out in the yard with your wife and children
Working on some stage in LA
Did you stand there in shock at the site of
That black smoke rising against that blue sky
Did you shout out in anger
In fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry

Did you weep for the children
Who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don't know
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below

Did you burst out in pride
For the red white and blue
The heroes who died just doing what they do
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself to what really matters

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Teaching a class full of innocent children
Driving down some cold interstate
Did you feel guilty cause you're a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone
Did you call up your mother and tell her you love her
Did you dust off that bible at home
Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Speak with some stranger on the street
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watching
And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some stranger
Stand in line and give your own blood
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

The greatest is love
The greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?

Let's pause and remember, and keep a little perspective. Life is to be cherished.


Comments and Predictions

Welcome back
Well it was a beautifully done funeral for Ted Kennedy. A time for remembrances, some laughs and some tears. I shed a tear when Teddy Junior spoke of his struggle to get up the driveway in the winter with his artificial leg and his father's encouragement. Of course, I'm pretty emotional about father-son relationships, as they resonate with so much with me.

Unlike some critics, I thought President Obama's eulogy was just right. Some commentators and columnists felt he should have turned it into a Health Care Reform call to arms. Give me a break! Bad taste, and totally counter to the bipartisan theme that had been an integral undercurrent of the ceremonies.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has set Jan. 19th at the date of the special election to fill Sen. Kennedy's seat, with the primaries on Dec. 8th. The Legislature will no doubt accede to the late Senator's request for an interim appointment. [Interestingly, back in 2004 the Democrat-controlled Legislature took the power away from the Governor's office to deny Gov. Mitt Romney the opportunity to fill it, if John Kerry had won the Presidency.] What goes around comes around, right?

If Joe Kennedy announces, he'll be tough to beat. However, he didn't prove to be a particularly effective Congressman, but he may have matured and will no doubt have a different perspective on the opportunity that the Senate would present him to continue his uncle's legacy. Although, based on what I saw, Teddy Jr. would be a better candidate. I'm just sayin'.....

Canadian Election Countdown

I hate it when I'm right (and so un-used to it..) but as I predicted in my June blog, Canada is heading for a federal election that nobody (except certain politicians) really want. Michael Ignatieff set the groundwork in June by drawing another line in the sand for a no-confidence motion at the end of September. Politically, he can't draw another line later on without looking Stephane Dion-ish. His credibility would suffer irreparable harm.

Look for Prime Minister Harper to introduce a Ways and Means motion that may well be defeated once the House reconvenes in mid-September. In that way he will try to control the election call.

But is this a good idea for the Liberals?

In my view, no it isn't. The Harper government wants the campaign to be about economic issues - not social issues or the environment. When people are worried about their jobs, they tend to look to a leader who appears strong and fairly tough. With the Liberals call for billions more on Employment Insurance and more program spending, it will be hard to make the case credibly that he would manage the deficit better. Besides the political zeitgeist in Canada and the United States has shifted in the past few months from "who can spend more, fast enough, to kick-start the economy?" to "who has the plan to get us out of this debt we're piling up?"

That may explain why Mr. Ignatieff has pulled the plug on one of his own demands, to work on reforming the Employment Insurance program. The less association with that, the better. He needs to find a platform and a message that resonates with the voter. It's definitely possible, but he has a very short time for Canadians to get to know him while at the same time setting out his platform.

Until next time....