Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: June 2017

C6lsGaBUwAEYgN9.jpgA CHARGING BULL

.

http://nationalpost.com/news/world/jonathan-kay-on-the-tyranny-of-twitter-how-mob-censure-is-changing-the-intellectual-landscape via @nationalpost

Advertisements

 ………….is not included for the conditions that exist in our final years.

.

We are living to 95 generally with no plan for the costly services required from 75 – 95

.

 picgoogle432thinkinghenryford.

.

Give some thought to what it costs for assisted

living for those who are physically unable to look after themselves

up to age 95.

.

Over the past 3 decades we have increased mortality from age 75 to age 95.

.

Most financial plans do not include the capital required to fund he last 20 years.

C6lsGaBUwAEYgN9.jpgA CHARGING BULL

.

BRAND/OPTICS: THE AMERICAN CULTURAL SYMBOL THAT COMPANIES USE TO SEDUCE THEIR MARKET

https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2017/06/10/trump-the-human-megabrand-that-swallowed-the-world.html

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Trump presidency so far is the emergence of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s personal resort in Palm Beach, as a carnivalesque, members-only, all-for-profit “Winter White House.” (It was even briefly advertised as such on state department websites.) One club member told the New York Times that going to Mar-a-Lago was like “going to Disneyland and knowing Mickey Mouse will be there all day long”— only in this exercise in full-contact branding, it’s not Disneyland but Americaland, and the president of the United States is Mickey Mouse.

.

When I read that quote, I realized that if I was going to try to understand this presidency, I’d have to do something I’d resisted for a long time: delve back into the world of corporate marketing and branding that was the subject of my first book, No Logo.

.

The book focused on a key moment in corporate history — when behemoths such as Nike and Apple stopped thinking of themselves primarily as companies that make physical products, and started thinking of themselves first and foremost as manufacturers of brands. It was in the branding — which manufactured a sense of tribal identity — that they believed their fortunes lay.

.

Forget factories. Forget needing to maintain a huge workforce. Once they realized that their biggest profits flowed from manufacturing an image, these “hollow brands” came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter who made their products or how little they were paid. They left that to the contractors — a development with devastating repercussions for workers at home and abroad, and one that was also fuelling a new wave of anti-corporate resistance.

.

.

Naomi Klein returns to delve back into marketing and branding in "No is Not Enough."
Naomi Klein returns to delve back into marketing and branding in “No is Not Enough.”
.

To understand Trump you really have to understand the world that made him what he is, and that, to a very large extent, is the world of branding. He reflects all the worst trends I wrote about in No Logo, from shrugging off responsibility for the workers who make your products via a web of often abusive contractors to the insatiable colonial need to mark every available space with your name.

.

The rise of the Superbrands, like the one Trump built around his brash persona, has its roots in a single, seemingly innocuous idea developed by management theorists in the mid-1980s: that to be successful, corporations must primarily produce brands as opposed to products.

.

A new kind of corporation began to rival the traditional all-American manufacturers for market share. These were the Nikes and Apples and, later, the Tommy Hilfigers and Starbucks and so on. These pioneers had a different model: create a transcendent idea or brand surrounding your company. Use it to connect with consumers who share its values. Then charge a steep premium for products that are less about the objects themselves than about the profound human desire to be part of a tribe, a circle of belonging.

.

Many of these highly branded companies made the (then) bold claim that producing goods was only an incidental part of their operations, and that, thanks to recent victories in trade liberalization and labour law reform, they could have their products produced for them at bargain-basement prices by contractors and subcontractors, many of them overseas. It didn’t really matter who did the physical work, because the real value lay not in manufacturing but in design, innovation, and of course marketing.

.

It’s no secret why this model took off. If you did it right — if you made beautiful commercials, invested heavily in design, and tried to embody your brand identity through countless sponsorship arrangements and cross-promotions — many people were willing to pay almost anything for your products.

.

So what does all this history have to do with Donald Trump? A great deal. Trump built an empire by following this formula precisely. And then, as a candidate, he figured out how to profit from the rage and despair it left behind in communities that used to do the kind of well-paid manufacturing that companies like his long ago abandoned. It’s quite a con.

.

In the ’80s, when Trump first became a national figure, he was still a fairly traditional real estate developer who happened to have a bottomless desire to see his own name in print and pretty much everywhere else. He splashed his name on buildings around New York and Atlantic City; he worked the press relentlessly; and he turned his relationship with his wife and mistress into a live-action soap opera

.

As he told Playboy: “The show is Trump, and it is sold-out performances everywhere.” Even so, the core of his business remained conventional: acquiring real estate and running those buildings, whether hotels or condo towers or casinos.

.

The real breakthrough came when Mark Burnett, head of a reality TV empire, pitched Trump on the idea of The Apprentice.

.

Out of the blue, he was being offered a chance to leap into the stratosphere of Superbrands, those rarefied companies earning their enormous profits primarily by building up their brand meaning and then projecting it hither and yon, liberated from the burden of having to make their own products — or, in Trump’s case, build his own buildings.

.

He understood the potential immediately.

Shoes from the Ivanka Trump collection. Campaign rhetoric aside, her company has taken advantage of the outsourcing economy.

 

.

Before the first episode even aired, he was already lining up deals to license his name for a menswear line. He told the network’s publicist that, even if The Apprentice “doesn’t get ratings, it’s still going to be great for my brand.”

.

But it did get ratings — impressive ones. And pretty soon he had launched a complete menu of spinoff brands — from Trump cologne to Trump water to Trump eyewear to Trump mattresses to Trump University. As far as the current president of the United States was concerned, there was no category of product that couldn’t be brought into the Trump-branded bubble.

.

Most importantly, with The Apprentice, Trump wasn’t paying, as other brands do, to have his brand featured in a hit network TV show; he was getting paid a fortune for priceless free advertising. More than that, his shows collected millions by promoting other brands. In April 2011, for example, The Celebrity Apprentice was paid to promote more products on the air than any other show, 120 product placements in all. This is the mark of a true Superbrand: Trump built a brand that contains brand multitudes. (And in bringing his children into the show, he even began to breed brands.)

.

After you have pulled off a feat like that, what’s your next trick? Merge your brand with the ultimate symbol of power and authority: the White House.

.

But before that could happen, Trump needed one more thingto complete his transformation. He radically changed the core of his business: real estate. Rather than building and owning the structures himself, as he had earlier in his career, Trump realized that he could make far easier money simply by selling his name to developers around the world, who would use his celebrity to attract buyers and customers for their office buildings, condos, and hotels. The outside developers would do the construction and carry all the liabilities. If the projects failed (as they frequently did), Trump still collected his licensing fee. And the fees were enormous. According to the Washington Post, on a single hotel-condo project in Panama, “Trump has earned at least $50 million on the project on virtually zero investment.”

.

He still owns a few flagship properties, including Trump Tower in New York and Mar-a-Lago in Florida. But if you look at the broader network of a great many Trump-branded properties — from the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai to the many other Trump properties in India, Canada, Brazil, South Korea and New York City — what you see is that Trump either doesn’t own them himself or owns just a piece of them. His revenue comes from leasing his name.

.

His Apprentice-era brand empire allowed him to appeal to wealthy and middle income consumers simultaneously. For the well-heeled and flashy, there was membership at his beach and golf clubs, or a unit in a Trump-branded tower, with furnishings from the Trump homeware collection. For the masses who don’t have that kind of cash, Trump auctioned off little pieces of the dream — a glossy red Trump tie, a Trump steak, a Trump book.

.

Trump won the White House on a campaign that railed ceaselessly against the loss of manufacturing jobs — the same kind of jobs he has outsourced at virtually every opportunity. As a businessman, he took full advantage of the outsourcing economy, as does Ivanka’s company. And, unsurprisingly, there have been major investigative reports detailing the appalling conditions under which Trump’s ties are made in Shengzhou, China, for instance, and the even worse conditions in the Chinese factories producing Ivanka’s line of footwear.

.

 The new Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver.
The new Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver.  (Darryl Dyck)  

.

In April 2017, the Fair Labor Association, a watchdog that grew out of the sweatshop scandals in the ’90s, issued a report disclosing that workers in a factory in China producing for a major supplier of Ivanka’s dresses and blouses put in close to 60 hours a week, and earned what works out to a little over $1 an hour (well below the average wage for urban Chinese manufacturing workers). Most employees also lacked health and maternity benefits — not a good look for an advocate of women in the workforce.

.

The construction of many Trump-branded hotels and towers has been plagued with similar controversies, in the U.S. and abroad. An investigation by Vice, for instance, revealed that the treatment of migrant workers constructing a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai stood out even in a city notorious for slave-like labour conditions. Ben Anderson, who produced the report, describes worker dorms in which “guys live 21 to a room with rats running around above them” and bathrooms that “didn’t look fit for human beings.”

.

The Trump Organization issued a statement about its “zero tolerance policy for unlawful labour practices at any project bearing the ‘Trump’ name.” Needless to say, this particular project was being built by an outside company; Trump had just leased his name.

.

Trump publicly defines his brand identity as quality and luxury. But that’s a sleight of hand: Trump hotels and resorts don’t even make it into the Top 10 luxury accommodation brands in the world, lists that reliably include names such as Four Seasons and Oberoi. (As if to underline the point, Mar-a-Lago was cited for nearly a dozen food safety violations in January 2017.) The truth, which doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous, is that the Trump brand stands for wealth itself — or, to put it more crassly, money. It’s why Trump’s relationship to gold is the inverse of Superman’s relationship to kryptonite: Trump crumples when he is more than three feet away from something big and shiny.

.

Donald Trump’s personal brand is slightly different but intimately related. His brand is being the ultimate boss, the guy who is so rich he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and to whomever he wants (including grabbing whichever woman he wants, by whichever body part he wants).

.

No labour scandal is ever going to stick to him. In the world he has created, he’s just acting like a “winner”; if someone gets stepped on, they are obviously a loser. And this doesn’t only apply to labour scandals — virtually every traditional political scandal bounces off Trump. That’s because Trump didn’t just enter politics as a so-called outsider, somebody who doesn’t play by the rules. He entered politics playing by a completely different set of rules — the rules of branding.

.

According to those rules, you don’t need to be objectively good or decent; you only need to be true and consistent to the brand you have created. That’s why brand managers are so obsessed with discipline and repetition: once you have identified what your core brand is, your only job is to embody that brand, project that brand, and repeat its message. If you stay focused, very little can touch you.

.

That’s a problem when applied to a sitting U.S. president, especially because over many, many years, and with a startling level of consistency, Donald Trump created a brand that is entirely amoral. On the campaign trail, Trump was able to shrug off almost every conventional “gotcha.” Caught dodging federal taxes? That’s just being “smart.” Wouldn’t reveal his tax returns? Who’s going to make him? He was only half joking on the campaign trail when he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” In Trump’s world, impunity, even more than lots of gold, is the ultimate signifier of success.

.

This has grave implications for any hope of preventing this administration from acting as an open kleptocracy.

.

We are in entirely uncharted territory, because let’s face it: human megabrands are a relatively new phenomenon. There’s no rulebook that foresaw any of this. People keep asking — is he going to divest? Is he going to sell his businesses? Is Ivanka going to? But it’s not at all clear what these questions even mean, because their primary businesses are their names. You can’t disentangle Trump the man from Trump the brand; those two entities merged long ago. Every time he sets foot in one of his properties — a golf club, a hotel, a beach club — White House press corps in tow, he is increasing his overall brand value, which allows his company to sell more memberships, rent more rooms, and increase fees.

.

We can also see this with Ivanka, whose products have notoriously been hawked by taxpayer-funded public employees, including her father via Twitter, and his adviser Kellyanne Conway, who went on national television to do what she described as a “commercial,” telling viewers to “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff!” The conflicts tipped into self-parody on April 6, 2017, when, the Associated Press reported, “Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy.”

.

 Trump brand housewares at a store in Lima, Peru, where they have sold well.

Trump brand housewares at a store in Lima, Peru, where they have sold well.   (SANTIAGO BARCO LUNA) 

But that’s not the only thing that happened that day. “That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago.” A political summit whose details had been arranged by none other than Jared Kushner. Asked about these kinds of conflicts, Ivanka invariably stresses that just as her father has supposedly distanced himself from the Trump Organization by putting it in the hands of his sons (while he still collects the profits), Ivanka has put her company in the hands of “independent trustees” — her husband’s brother and sister (while she still collects the profits). This goes well beyond nepotism; it’s the U.S. government as a for-profit family business.

.

We know that Trump’s presidency has made the family of brands more valuable because Ivanka’s business reported record sales after Kellyanne Conway made her televised pitch. Mar-a-Lago has already increased its membership fees, to $200,000 a year from $100,000. And why not? Now, for your fee, you might find yourself witnessing a high-stakes conversation about national security over dinner. You might get to hobnob with a visiting head of state. You might even get to witness Trump announcing that he has just launched an air assault on a foreign country.

.

And, of course, you might even get to meet the president himself, and have the chance to quietly influence him. (No public records are kept of who comes and goes from the club, so who knows?) For decades, Trump has been selling the allure of proximity to wealth and power — it is the meaning of his brand. But now he’s able to offer, to his paying customers, the real deal.

.

Any president who refused to sell his business would face potential conflicts of interest, since the actions of the U.S. government can impact everything from stock prices to the price of oil. But brand-based companies like Trump’s are different beasts entirely. The conflicts of interest are not only tied to specific policies or actions. Rather, the conflicts are omnipresent and continuous, embedded in the mere fact of Trump being president. That’s because the value of lifestyle brands fluctuates wildly depending on the space they occupy in the culture. So anything that increases Donald Trump’s visibility, and the perception of him as all-powerful, actively increases the value of the Trump brand, and therefore increases how much clients will pay to be associated with it — to slap it on their new condo development, say, or, on a smaller scale, to play on his golf courses or buy one of his ties.

.

And there is no sign that Trump is backing off exploiting that fact to its fullest advantage. According to a New York Times report in April 2017, “Mr. Trump’s enterprise, now run by his two adult sons, has 157 trademark applications pending in 36 countries.”

.

In January 2017, Donald Trump’s son Eric went on a trip to Uruguay to meet with a developer who is buying the right to use the Trump name on his new tower. At the time, the public scandal was how much U.S. taxpayers’ money went to pay for the Secret Service and other government staff who travelled with Eric on that trip: around $100,000 in hotel costs, a direct public subsidy to Trump’s private dealings. But the deeper scandal is what they were in Uruguay to promote: the Trump brand, which had just been made so much more valuable by the fact that its owner was about to be sworn in as U.S. president.

.

And this says nothing about the potential for corruption, which is dizzying. Given that what the Trump sons — Eric and Donald Jr. — are selling is ephemeral (a name), a buyer could pay $6 million for it or could pay $60 million. Who’s to judge what constitutes a fair market-value price? More worryingly, who’s to say what services are being purchased when a private company pays millions to lease the Trump brand? Do they really think it’s that valuable to their condo tower, or do they think that by throwing in an extra $5 million, they might be looked on more favourably in other dealings that require a friendly relationship with the White House? It’s very difficult to see how any of this can be untangled. A brand is worth whatever buyers are willing to pay for it. That’s always been the appeal of building a business on this model — that something as ephemeral as a name could be vested with such real-world monetary value.’.

.

.

Ties for sale, for $60 (U.S.) each, at the Trump Store in Trump Tower in New York last fall.
Ties for sale, for $60 (U.S.) each, at the Trump Store in Trump Tower in New York last fall.   (JOSHUA BRIGHT)  

.

The Trump Organization has said it will not make any new deals for foreign properties, to prevent an appearance of impropriety. But this isn’t just an international question. If a U.S. city or state government grants a Trump development a break on taxes or regulations, are they really doing it because they think this particular business will help their community — or because they want something from the White House? Same goes for any government or business — foreign or domestic — that chooses a Trump property for an event or as a place for employees to stay. Do they really think it’s the best option, or are they trying to curry favour?

.

What’s fascinating about these ethics questions is that they are so similar to the scandals surrounding the Clinton Foundation, which may well have contributed to Hillary’s electoral loss. There were many thorny questions about what a private company or foreign government thought they were getting when they made a hefty donation to the Clinton Foundation. Were they being purely philanthropic, moved by the scourge of infectious diseases and childhood obesity? Or were they also making a calculation that their donation would pay some dividends because Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and looked likely to become the next U.S. president?

.

Those were valid concerns, and Trump didn’t hesitate to raise them about his rival. But with the money the Trump sons are collecting from leasing their father’s name, and the favours they are negotiating, the potential for influence peddling is of a different order: we now have money flowing to the family of a sitting president, not a projected president, and with not even the pretext of philanthropy, which the Clinton Foundation at least had. This is not to exonerate the Clintons — far from it. The decades Bill and Hillary spent blurring ethical lines at the Foundation are part of what set the stage for Trump to annihilate those lines altogether.

.

I didn’t foresee branding culture going this far when I started writing about it 20 years ago. But I’m also not surprised. Back then, I saw branding as a colonial process: it seeks to absorb ever more space and real estate and create a self-enclosed bubble. What’s extraordinary about Donald Trump’s presidency is that now we are all inside the Trump branded world, whether we want to be or not. We have all become extras in his for-profit reality TV show, which has expanded to swallow the most powerful government in the world.

.

Excerpted from No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein. Copyright © 2017 Naomi Klein. Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Andrew Coyne: Meech Lake, again? How about we just don’t

.

Andrew Coyne | June 2, 2017

.

Waves of nostalgia, waves of dread, waves of ennui: to read the government of Quebec’s new list of old demands for constitutional change is to return to a world I had thought we left behind. I lost a good part of my youth to the Twenty Years War over the constitution, 1980-2000; the thought of wasting the rest of my career in the same way is too horrible to contemplate.

.

What is astonishing — beyond the suicidal madness of the whole exercise — is how little has changed. It’s all there in the document (“Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadian”), much of it written in that familiar, exalted style known as Nationalist Baroque, in which Quebec is forever serenely marching towards its rendez-vous with destiny and whatnot.

.

There is the same tendentious history, the same omission of inconvenient facts or contrary interpretations. Thus for example the “compact theory” of Confederation is treated as if it had some significance to the people who actually negotiated it, instead of being dreamt up in subsequent decades to rationalize the ambitions of the premiers of Ontario and Quebec. Thus George-Etienne Cartier is quoted reassuring his compatriots that Confederation offered protections for the “French Canadian nationality,” without also mentioning his belief, proclaimed on more than one occasion, that it would give rise to a new “political nationality,” singular, that would transcend, without diminishing, our cultural and linguistic differences.

.

There is the same constant, unstated assumption that whatever is in the interests of the government of Quebec is in the interests of Quebecers, and its corollary, that only the government of Quebec can speak for Quebecers: the sole basis for the specious complaint that Quebec has not “signed” the 1982 constitution, as if that were necessary. Thus the story is recounted yet again of the Great Betrayal of patriation, wherein an alien constitutional vision was imposed on Quebecers by … a federal government headed by a Quebecer, with the support of 72 of the province’s 75 members of Parliament. Oh, right: them.

.

There is the usual heads-we-win, tails-the-federation-loses approach to the division of powers: any exercise of federal jurisdiction that gets up the government of Quebec’s nose, as through the federal spending power, is an unconscionable violation of the Confederation bargain, whereas Quebec may blithely expand into any jurisdiction it likes, even those — foreign affairs, say — that are explicitly federal. And there is the same endless moving of the goal posts, every new concession simply becoming the platform on which to build demands for the next.

.

When the Harper government passed a motion in the House of Commons a decade ago recognizing “the Québécois” as “a nation,” those of who us who warned it would not end there — including Michael Chong, who resigned his cabinet seat in protest — were treated as antiquarians and nitpickers. This was surely — the phrases are always the same — pure symbolism, mere recognition of a sociological fact. If it made people happy, where was the harm? And with the decline of separatism, it seemed there might be something to it.

.

But it is always when separatist fortunes are at their lowest that federalists throw them a lifeline. When Meech Lake was first sprung upon the public, support for sovereignty was at historic lows. By the time it and its successor, the Charlottetown Accord, had come and gone, the separatists were within a half a percentage point of winning the referendum.

.

And so, having learned exactly nothing from the experience, the Quebec Liberals are back with almost exactly the same demands as those that nearly tore apart the country 30 years ago: a constitutional veto, effective control over appointments to the Supreme Court, constitutional limits on the federal spending power, constitutionalization of its current role in immigration, and … why no, it’s no longer the “distinct society” clause, through which lens the courts are to interpret the entire constitution. The phrase now is “the Quebec nation.” After all, hasn’t Parliament already voted to recognize it?

.

Aside from the slippery rewriting of the province’s “historic demands,” there is also the slippery rewriting of the phrase itself. The Harper-era resolution was specifically worded to say, not Quebec, but “the Québécois,” meaning the province’s French-speaking majority. The new demand is for constitutional recognition of Quebec as a nation — less sociological fact, more nation-state. Lest there be any doubt as to what kind of interpretive weight this would have, the document goes on at some length in praise of the principle of “asymmetry,” wherein some provinces exercise powers not given to others.

.

What’s wrong with that? Don’t we already have examples of asymmetry in our governing arrangements? Yes, we do, most of them ill-advised. But there’s a limit to how far you can stretch that elastic. The objection to asymmetry isn’t a mulish insistence that every province is like every other. It’s that, past a certain point, it is unsustainable. People in the rest of Canada would not stand for members of Parliament from Quebec legislating for them — raising taxes, say — in matters over which Parliament has no jurisdiction in Quebec. Federalism is about diversity, yes: that’s an argument for leaving certain matters to provincial jurisdiction, not for recognizing federal authority in some parts of the country but not others.

.

Oh God. I’m doing it again, aren’t I? I’ve gone back 30 years myself. The same debates, the same fallacies, the same doubletalk, and all of it just as pointless and unnecessary as ever. There is no problem these proposals would solve, no power Quebec needs it does not already have. There is only the inexhaustible self-importance of its political class.

.

How about we just don’t?