An idea for taking back the Republican Party

I just got around to reading Bruce Bartlett’s great essay “Revenge of the Reality-Based Community” about his criticism of and subsequent ostracism from the Republic Party. It’s an excellent read on the state of conservatism and it’s self-imposed echo chamber.

It got me thinking that as a Democrat and Obama-supporter, part of me has always worried that there is a powerful swell of momentum sitting latent beneath all the radicalism and Fox News scare-mongering. If there existed a moderate Republican with conservative, yet enlightened and forward-thinking views on spending, education, effective government, social and environmental problems, and civil rights, and who was willing to forsake the likes of Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, Democrats would be in trouble. I, for one, would welcome the new competition and likely lifting of all boats.

Since Aaron Sorkin already missed this boat with his shameless and self-righteous portrayal of politicized cable news, if I were CNN, I would shave back Wolf Blitzer’s on-air time and create a slot for a Republican moderate-hosted cable news show. This show could easily float above the fray of MSNBC and Fox while still presenting a blatant and much more respected alternative.

Get a legitimate host without a slant for editorializing and regularly book guests such as Bruce Bartlett, and perhaps center-leaning Democrats. I think it’s an idea worth mapping out. A good show backed by strong marketing spend could really do wonders for changing the overly partisan nature of our dialogue and help bring the Republicans out of the woods for the betterment of everyone.

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Building Great Brands

Three insightful lessons from Fast Company on how to build a sustainable brand:

  1. Move beyond the buzz of innovation and build equity with a strong emotional connection
  2. Deliver outstanding product experience and ensure that your customers are happy coming back
  3. Create a second act by giving your customers something to trade up to

#longreads Military ventures in the Middle East

Here are three very intense as well as informative #longreads about U.S. CIA and military expeditions in the Middle East:

  • The Great Escape — If you haven’t seen Argo, see the movie before you read this article based on CIA intelligence declassified during the Clinton Administration. It’s a gripping true tale about how a CIA operative drummed up an astonishing escape plot for six U.S. Embassy workers that averted the initial embassy takeover in Tehran and stowed themselves away under the protection of the Canadian Ambassador. It’s remarkable how true to the story the movie keeps, aside from your typical Hollywood-manufactured tension scenes.
  • The Desert One Debacle — Mark Bowden covers the failed rescue attempt of the U.S. hostages in Iran that ultimately served as one of the major causes of Carter’s losing the 1980 election. It also serves as what must has been a cautionary tale for Obama when considering whether or not to go into Abbottobad.
  • The Hunt for “Geronimo” — Another Mark Bowden piece that depicts Obama’s decision to go after and ultimately kill Osama bin Laden. With great detail, the article describes the deliberation among Obama and his key staff (including Clinton and Biden) as well as raid itself, which includes a helicopter malfunction that must have conjured images of Desert One and Carter. This time, however, Obama and his team were watching with horror on live satellite feed.

Generating Ideas at YC

Fun excerpt in Vanity Fair from Randall Stross’s new book, The Launch Pad, about Paul Graham and Y Combinator.

The VF piece follows one of 64 teams invited to participate in YC’s accelerator from their initial meeting with Graham and other founders to their first pitch in front of a large room of Silicon Valley investors.

At one point, the team in question is struggling to find the next big thing. Graham gives them advice on how to generate new ideas:

“Three things. One: founders are target users. Two: not many people could build it, but founders are among them. Three: few people realize it is a big deal…What will people say in the future is an unmet need today?”

Pretty basic stuff, but informative and helpful for focusing a team’s energy.

That particular team later pitched and launched Ridejoy, a service that matches people with cars with folks who need rides.

Breaking the Digital Divide

Kansas City and Washington DC are interesting test cases right now for how to bring high-speed fiber networks to communities. There are concerns, however, that the efforts are exacerbating, rather than bridging, the digital divide in communities.

Google Fiber announced this summer that it would bring an ultra-fast one-gigabyte (100x faster than current residential broadband networks) network to all of Kansas City. If neighborhoods reached a threshold of early signups then the entire neighborhood would have individual $300 installation fees waived. As they neared the deadline though it became clear that access to the network would likely break along the racial and income divide in KC — with lower income African-American neighborhoods not making the cut.

In the case of Google Fiber, one way to help break the divide is for Google to work closely with neighborhood associations and community organizers to ensure that the lower income areas are aware and assisted. Kansas City civic organizations took the lead in making this happen…something Google should have anticipated and been on top of from the beginning.

Another way to help is for the local government to work with nonprofits on how to provide “middle mile” and “last mile” service to ensure full access. In Washington DC, Broadband Bridge and DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) are two such organizations. DC-CAN is expected to ensure broadband access for 291 anchor institutions — schools, hospitals, libraries — that will then better reach low-income residents.

iPhone > Microsoft

The last post on Microsoft’s poor behavior in Quincy, WA, reminded me of last month’s scathing Vanity Fair article titled “Microsoft’s Lost Decade” detailing how far Microsoft has fallen since being the most valuable company in the world. Great read overall and this excerpt says it all:

“I see Microsoft as technology’s answer to Sears,” said Kurt Massey, a former senior marketing manager. “In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Sears had it nailed. It was top-notch, but now it’s just a barren wasteland. And that’s Microsoft. The company just isn’t cool anymore.”

Cool is what tech consumers want. Exhibit A: today the iPhone brings in more revenue than the entirety of Microsoft.

No, really.

One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer. More than Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, and every other product that Microsoft has created since 1975. In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion.

Wow.

What does a corporation owe its community?

That was the question posed in a recent Atlantic Cities article reacting to Microsoft’s uneven relationship with the small town of Quincy, WA, where Microsoft runs some of its largest and most important data centers. In exchange for tax incentives and cheap electricity rates, Microsoft brought its server farms to the small farming community and, according to the NYT, has not been the best of partners. One anecdote in particular points out just how uneven that relationship between corporation and community can be:

Near the end of last year, Microsoft received a notice from the county utility that it would be fined $210,000 for over-estimating its power needs, a mistake that prevented the county from re-selling the power. Yahoo, which also runs a server farm in the town, similarly over-estimated and quietly paid its $94,608 penalty. But Microsoft instead began to burn power furiously in what it admitted was a “commercially unproductive” manner, and warned that it would continue doing so unless the county lowered the fine.  The utility board caved in during a special weekend session and agreed to lower the fine to $60,000.

In an attempt to answer the broader question, Harvard Business School’s Competitiveness Project highlighted six actions that companies can take make the relationship more symbiotic and ensure mutual long-term value:

  1. Create and expand worker training programs
  2. Upgrade local industries by sourcing from local suppliers and helping improve their capacities
  3. Moving business activities back to the U.S.
  4. Adopting management practices that bolster U.S. operations
  5. Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship via research engagements or backing local start-ups
  6. Transforming lobbying practices from special interests to business-wide improvements

Supplier Connection is one example of how to make it all work.