Understanding “Back channels”

The news broke last week. The FBI is apparently interested in learning more aboutJared Kushner’s  surörisingly extensive contacts with Russian officials before the inauguration. Most interesting is his desire to explore setting up a so-called “back channel” to enable Trump people to chat with people in the Kremlin without US intelligence knowing about it.

Hmmm … the question that hits me is why would this be needed? What would the US gain by setting up such a channel that it cannot get already when presidents go through normal channels?

There is no obvious reason. At the same time, there are obvious concerns. Trump’s desire to deal with Putin secretly may be in Trump’s interest rather than the country’s interest.  And Kushner and Trump are puppies in the long grass. They were asking for something that could explode in our faces.

So as we approach the week, this is the question I am interested in learning more about —- WHY would a back channel be needed at this time? If no obvious reason presents itself, we have yet one more reason to suspect that Trump has something going on with Putin that he wants no one to know about.

Perhaps they share an interest in pop music or comic books?

Understanding Tesla’s Great Story

Tesla is one of those companies that defies expectations. Its stock appears to be wildly overpriced. Indeed, because of the inflated price, Tesla — and company that makes and sells very few cars — has a market cap that is bigger than Ford.  Huh?

Ford, btw, is a well-run company.  Starting around a decade ago, Ford has made very smart investments in quality products. So it is hard to figure out why Ford’s stock performed so badly while Tesla’s stock is soaring.

Except when you think about the future. Tesla is all about the future. Tesla promises a better future. It promises a future that many folks want to be part of. Ford is all about the present. Nice cars, no big deal.  And when given a choice, people are showing that they want to bet on the future.

Ironically, there was a time when Ford’s story WAS about the future. Henry Ford woke up America to the idea of affordable cars. But the auto industry is now the victim of its own successes in bringing that future to us.

Will Tesla deliver on its promise? Maybe it will. And maybe it will not. But only a fool would ignore that power of the story that Elon Musk is telling.

Trumpistan: Getting Angry about Getting Angry

So the Donald is back from his trip. He produced no huge surprises. Though, as usual, he ruffled feathers by saying and doing embarrassing things, especially in Europe.

There is an interesting word that characterizes what Trump does. He “goads” people on.  A goad is, in fact, a spiked stick that cowboys used to poke cattle, causing enough pain to keep them moving.

Image result for goad

The word has taken on a broader meaning. To goad is to provoke a reaction by doing annoying things. And whether you like Donald Trump or not, he is an expert goader.  He is good at getting under people’s skins. Indeed, he seems to thrive on it.

The question arises why some might think that this might be attractive behavior in a world leader these days. What value added do we get from Trump’s incessant goading?

The answer is more complex than you might think. Goading does not appear to serve any immediate purpose. It is easy to spot it as anti-social and irrational. But goading has other effects. It stimulates the amygdala. It creates a fight or flight response that can be manipulated.  And Trump is having that effect on lots of people.

Not too surprisingly, this is what media barons did before the first war. They goaded people on to take seriously prejudices against national rivals. And one should not be overly surprised that an arms merchant like Basil Zaharov even bought newspapers to do this more so that he could goad governments into buying more weapons from him. One of the richest men in the world in his day,  Zaharaov died of old age in 1936.

My point —- we may or many not succumb to Trump’s goading tactics. But whatever happens, I do hope that we will see it for what it is. The emotional ploys that he uses have little to no connection to any coherent policy idea. We need to keep repeating that to ourselves and our loved ones. Sort of like “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie. ” Now “It’s only Trump. it’s only Trump. ”

Got that?

Yesterday, I Took a Stroll in the Future

From William Gibson (December 2003)

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed

‘Every now and then, I don’t post during the day. It is rare, but it does happen. And yesterday was one of those days. I couldn’t post because something important was happening here in Tartu. It took all day and evening.

The story starts a while back when my friend and partner told me about something that a young lady was trying to do. This young lady is a teacher and as a teacher, she spends a lot of time with young folks trying to help them get ready for the future. And she was a bit frustrated that school was not enough for them. So she wanted to do something more. Something that would inspire young folks. Something that would give them new ideas. Something that would connect them to the best that our community can offer.

It sounds ambitious and it is. What could do all of that? It would have to be an event that young people prepared for by thinking through ideas and writing them down. At the event, the community would gather and make the group of young folks the center of attention. And we would share with them our ideas about what is important for the future. Then we would have a party.

That all happened yesterday here in Tartu. Here is a picture from the day

The folks sitting on the couches are various groups of young folks who came to the event. Each person had submitted an essay about the past and the future.

The day started with a rock concert. BTW, before playing, the musician walked around saying hi to the young folks and then talked to them about his hopes for their future. After the music, which was pretty cool, there were a few presentations from well-known persons, who shared what they thought young folks needed to know about success in life. After each short talk, the young folks had a chance to discuss what was said among themselves and ask questions to the presenters BTW, because they had a chance to discuss what was said, the questions they asked were interesting. Then came the jury who selected the best essays and the awards. Last but not least, a party in a beautiful garden.

And finally, it was time to head home.

It looks like daytime, but in fact, it was getting late in the evening. We are in that time of the year when the days here are very long.

You might say that it was just an essay contest. And if you did, I could not say that you would be wrong. I would add that it was much more than that. Folks gathered to share their dedication to the future. Everyone felt part of a group. Everyone was honored to be part of that group.

Especially touching for me was how prominent members of the community came — not to show off how important they are, but to show the young folks that the young folks are more important to us than our past and current successes. Who we are now means nothing if there is no path to a future that goes beyond us. And that path is more than just knowledge, or wealth, or ideology or ethnicity or transactions, or a set of beliefs. The path is built through personal relationships that are remembered fondly over time.

And ao we had a lot of fun at an essay contest!

It all started with an idea that a lady had who wanted to go beyond what she was doing at work. That young lady was able to form a group who worked with her. And they formed various larger groups of folks — me included — who contributed what we could in order to support the idea.  That built a network and out of that network came an event. And out of the event comes confidence that the relationships that started and changed because of the event will grow. That makes me optimistic and happy to be part of something that I believe in. It makes me a better person.

I look forward to sitting down with the young folks who organized the event to ask them what they learned by doing it. Could they do it better? That should be interesting.

Thinking about the 2018 Elections

If you are like me, you are concerned about the direction the US is headed.  Trump is part of the problem. But equally concerning is the attitude of Republicans about politics. That attitude shouts out, “We really don’t care if what we say makes sense. We can win anyway.”

And they are indeed in control of Congress and the White House. That control has given them a potential conservative majority on the Supreme Court. They are sitting in the catbird seat.

But there are signs that all is not well in paradise.  Trump won, but he has been astoundingly ineffective as a leader, not to mention embroiled in endless controversy.  And Republicans have been unable to move any significant legislation through both houses of Congress. The disaster that is their health care proposal speaks loudly that they will have difficulty governing the way they have promised that they would. And folks may start waking up to the reality that while Republicans say they are for the middle class, their policies are not grounded in protecting or building the middle class. They have been and remain the trickle down party.

Which is why the 2018 election is important. If Democrats can take back the House, the power game in Washington fundamentally changes. Trump would no longer have a republican wall to protect him from House investigation. And a democratically controlled House could prevent truly stupid legislative proposals from dominating the agenda. And perhaps most important, Democrats would have a pulpit to get their message across to the broader electorate. They could start telling a new story.

The conventional wisdom was that this is a pipe dream. But consider what just happened in Montana – a very, very red state.

To win by only 7 in Montana, a state that Trump won by 20 points, is a clear sign that seats Trump won by 4 or 5 points or more aren’t truly safe.

This is part of a larger trend where dems have been pulling in pretty good polling figures. So yes, the dems have a shot. And it is a big deal.

So … are you engaged in this? Are you engaged locally to help push the dems over the top? If not, why not? Now is the time.

Think about it.

Jetting Off to Sweden’s Islands

The article starts off this way

A beach getaway might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a trip to Sweden, but once the long-awaited warmth of summer reemerges, Swedes wake from hibernation and celebrate by escaping to the coasts to catch some rays. Many of the most popular summer destinations are amongst the more than 200,000 islands (yes, more than 200,000) that dot the water off the mainland.

And it offers an amazing l8ist of places to visit., I will be consulting it this summer!