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"See Something, Say Something" Goes Both Ways

When I started working as a public affairs specialist at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, our message was nonstop "stop terrorism."

It was 2005 and people were still very shaken up after 9/11. I remember we spent a great deal of time trying to reassure people that we had robust security measures in place. We had a system, and so we were able to avoid the economic disaster of literally having to open up every single commercial cargo container as it arrived here.

Even the CBP officers were terrified. They feared being "the weakest link." They would say things like: "I have nightmares of being the one who didn't catch the next 9/11."

Every outreach campaign I worked on felt hugely important. I worked on the effort to end human trafficking at the southern border. A brilliant colleague made up the tagline: "Death Is Not The Way To Save Your Life." Together we made the posters.

The effort quickly caught fire among all the different agencies who touched this problem. Today you can find the DHS' current incarnation on their website; it's called the "Blue" campaign.

The State Department also issues its important Trafficking in Persons report annually, and hopefully the government does more; I don't pretend to be aware of everything.

But one thing I did learn from working on the campaign, and later on as an activist against sexual abuse in religious communities, is that there is no "bogeyman" in the closet you can blame for such crimes. Meaning, it is often the very people you wouldn't suspect--the educated, wealthy, and influential--who are actively involved.

Which brings me to the second DHS campaign that changed my life. I didn't think of the tagline, but to this day I think it is the best social marketing campaign in history: "See Something, Say Something."

The concept is that we must all share in the responsibility of protecting our Nation against terrorism. We've all seen or heard language to the effect: "if you see an unattended item, report it."

And I've done that.

But "See Something, Say Something" is a much larger concept than simply calling in strange packages. And that is what makes it so powerful.

It is the idea that fighting terrorism--fighting crime, generally--is not only the responsibility of "other people." It's actually our job, as citizens, to partner with law enforcement and be their eyes and ears.

Community watch is a very old concept, and it's lasted because it works. We need law and order, not vigilante justice, but the police rely on us as well.

  • It is the community that teaches its children respect for the law. 
  • It is the community that identifies individuals who are engaged in behavior that seems odd, suspicious, that might be putting other people at risk.
  • It is the community that hears things which might make the difference between criminals--and gangs--operating unchecked, and putting them behind bars where they belong.

The reality is, without the community it's almost impossible for law enforcement to do an effective job. We've seen that over and over and over again. With the ubiquity of social media, the tools of reporting are accessible to most, incredibly efficient and free.

So law enforcement is a partnership. That's what "See Something, Say Something" means.

But there is a flip side.

When law enforcement is provided evidence of a crime--particularly a crime as heinous as child sex trafficking, as in the case of "Pizzagate," it is their responsibility to communicate openly back with the community.

It is the responsibility of law enforcement to say: "Send us your tips."

To say: "We have received your tips on this issue and we're working on it."

To say: "Here's an update on the situation."

It is not okay to operate in total silence, to leave the community guessing as to what is going on or worse, to label decent people in a negative way for trying to do their part as citizens.

All opinions my own.

The Astonishing Hypocrisy of “Fake News”

President Obama lied, openly, intentionally, and repeatedly, to the American public and to Congress in order to make sure that a nuclear deal with Iran was struck.
His speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, called this “the narrative.” Rhodes explained that most reporters are twenty-somethings who will basically believe anything released through the D.C. “echo chamber.”
So it was the White House itself that pushed “fake news.”
They ran the story that gun shops were selling firearms too loosely, that guns were then used to commit crimes, and so stricter gun control was a must. This was Operation Fast & Furious, and it was promulgated through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
By virtue of the fact that he was murdered and two F&F guns were found at the scene, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry effectively ended the scheme. Many months of investigation ensued, but in the end President Obama invoked executive privilege. We will never have the full truth.
In 2012, Ambassador Christopher Stevens was murdered in Benghazi. We don’t really know why. According to researcher Ed Klein, in his book Guilty As Sin, it was the President’s idea to blame a YouTube video for the fury of the crowd, which Secretary Clinton objected to but supported anyway.
The fake news manufactured by our President was so transparent, so laughable, that even today it is literally impossible to repeat it with a straight face.
During the election campaign, we had the lie that Hillary Clinton was ahead in the polls. Which, research showed, was the result of pollsters intentionally skewing the methodology by including more Democrats.
We had the lie that Trump was a racist, Jew-hating Nazi who raped 13 year old girls and grown women alike, peeped on beauty queens, and bragged about grabbing women’s vaginas. It emerged that the Democrats had tried to ensnare Trump in just such a scenario.
As someone who grew up in the New York City area, I was of course well aware that Trump fancied himself a collector of beautiful women and was a big talker. He was a regular guest on the Howard Stern show, which is about as politically incorrect as it gets. But the rest of it was absolutely insane — and yet many people absolutely believed it.
Total fake news.
We had the manufactured reality of CNN and other mainstream news outlets “reporting” on the election while simultaneously admitting that they would abandon all pretense of journalistic objectivity to make sure that Trump never got elected. The coverage was wall-to-wall Hillary cheerleading and similarly nonstop Trump hate.
As far as the debates went, there was Donna Brazile, feeding the candidate the questions, a shocking corruption of the election process that went virtually un-remarked upon.
There was the Democratic National Committee, which staged violence at Trump rallies and then got caught doing it.
And of course, they stole the primaries from Bernie Sanders — more or less openly.
There were allegations that voting machines, even on election day, were literally flipping Republican votes back to the Democratic side.
As a public I think it is fair to say that we have suffered through so many lies, for so long, all the way around, that trust is a rare commodity.
Much of the concern people had focused on Hillary Clinton’s email shenanigans. Others said her doings were more or less matched by George Bush.
This week we heard that President-elect Trump had a “meeting” with the press to more or less kick ass and take names. We heard him “announce” that he will not pursue prosecution of Hillary Clinton.
None of us know exactly what this means. We don’t know. Because there is no transparency.
Just yesterday, two of his biggest supporters, Breitbart News and the pundit Ann Coulter, called him out on the comment regarding Hillary Clinton. Not only had he backtracked on a core campaign promise, but he had also hinted at just the kind of political over-reach President Obama is notorious for.
But then again, maybe the announcement was a tactic?
The election saw a degradation in the value we should place on classified information, sensitive information, and information that is simply confidential. It is not okay to “set it all free.” And we should treat violations with the seriousness they deserve no matter who commits an infraction.
Clearly, though, it was the massive release of leaked emails that provided the public with critical information they needed to vote.
I actually share the President’s concerns about people relying on this kind of data. For one thing, it might not always be real — it’s kind of like buying prescription drugs from Canada, right? Could be cheaper, could be a capsule of shredded talcum power.
For another thing, when you only get the bits and pieces, you don’t see the full picture. We should have had a full accounting of the Clinton Foundation from official sources, what they were doing, who they were meeting with and why, and how decisions were being made when State Department business was involved.
When you only have partial information, and you are only talking to your small circles of self-reinforcing believers, what you get are very strong opinions based on a lack of facts.
But the government did not make enough information available.
And I disagree with Rudy Giuliani. This isn’t about opening up old wounds. It is precisely about avoiding the very real problem of people making shit up and sending it around as though it were true. While I dislike the term “fake news,” there is a valid concern about “hysterical news,” the rule of the mob— rather than facts and reasoned analysis.
It is very hard to get the facts if the Administration itself — an Administration which promised unparalleled transparency, but which was scolded by the Society of Professional Journalists for being just the opposite — literally makes stuff up to promote its own agenda.
I am a Libertarian, not a Republican or a Democrat, because I believe that we need far fewer regulations and far more respect for freedom. Since my party has never been in control of anything, I can stand back and opine rather freely that Republicans and Democrats alike are guilty of the same desire to control the news and thereby public opinion.
In fact the modern founder of public relations, Edward Bernays, was specifically recruited by the American government to manipulate the public into supporting World War I.
If you know me you know I am a government communicator (and as always all opinions are my own.) Having gained some experience here, I have pretty strong opinions about the duty of the government to affirmatively protect freedom of speech and the flow of information, and to provide easily understandable, reliable information that is not at all partisan in nature.
Nobody in America believes that the government should spill all its secrets. This is militarily indefensible, and on the domestic front makes it impossible for law enforcement to do its job.
But there are also too many people who think that the government is not only untrustworthy, but is actively working against their interest.
It is more accurate to say, I think, that the overwhelming majority of political and civil servants are there for positive and productive reasons. But when corruption takes root, as it sometimes unfortunately does, it needs to be rooted out — especially before it becomes part and parcel of institutional operations, and prevents good people from responding.
In the case of “pizzagate,” which was rapidly dismissed by the august New York Times as a crazy conspiracy theory, I think it is absolutely critical that we see a proper investigation. What is the story with kids in Haiti? Why is there a pizzeria where the President hangs out, which gets money from George Soros, and whose owner has an Instagram photo of a toddler’s hand taped to a ping-pong table, among others? Why do John Podesta and his brother Tony look so much like the police sketch of Madeline McCann’s abductors?
There is a saying among communicators that gossip will fill the vacuum when information is not forthcoming from the proper channels. Indeed, what we are getting right now is silence and stalling.
Why did we hear, in a video from a former State Department official, that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was an attempted “coup,” and that elements of the government staged a “counter-coup,” and that this is how Wikileaks got all its emails?
What was with the focus on Russia during the campaign, anyway? Does anybody really believe that Donald Trump is a Russian agent?
Notice how that narrative is gone.
There is a sea change afoot that the powers that be don’t seem to understand. We in the public may be gullible, we may want to believe, we may find this leader or that leader affable and inspiring and even visionary.
But we have been through a lot in our personal lives and our professional ones. We have been lied to, and lied to a lot. We know what deception looks like and we truly lack the patience for it.
The issue with fake news is not communication. We are a very sophisticated world now, with constant exposure to both news and opinion and advertising. We know how to say things and we know how to discern what is said.
No. The issue we face is the imminent outing of corruption.
It has always been true that certain people, groups of people, and/or networks of groups, have operated outside the law.
But what is new today is the unprecedented power of people + technology to find, share, analyze and make public information that the criminals would rather keep to themselves.
If in the past you could poison a researcher to shut them up, in the future this will not be possible. Too many people are armed with computers and suspicious of the powers that be.
Oddly enough, it is often true that failure yields opportunity.
By working so hard to make falsehood true, the President has sensitized millions of people to the importance of discrediting falsehood.
That can only be good for democracy. As Pat Buchanan said about Donald Trump’s presidency, we who want the truth must “prepare for the long war.”
There will always be people who try to brainwash us into following their way.
It is our job, as good followers of the people we’ve entrusted to lead, to resist any effort to do so.
May God bless our wonderful Nation and help us to be free, and strong, and proud, and courageous in the defense of our ideals and laws.
All opinions my own.

Engage Employees In The Weeds, Not The Clouds

Typically organizations measure employee engagement rates to find out "how well we're doing."
Also typically most employees are nearly or totally checked out of the job, with reputable polling companies like Gallup putting the proportion at 70%.
Think about that: In an economy powered by emotional and intellectual capital, fully seven out of every ten people would rather be somewhere else.
The fact that most workers are disengaged from their jobs is mirrored by the level of actual or contemplated disengagement from marriage. We know that almost 50% of first marriages in the United States (and more than 60% of second marriages) end in divorce, but how many spouses are "checked out" of their relationships well before the marriage ends?
In November 2015 the Institute for Family Studies found that more than 50% of currently married respondents to their national survey (3,000 respondents aged 25-50) have "thought about divorce at some point" and 25% had done so in the past 6 months.
Marriage expert Dr. Terri Orbuch, interviewed in the Wall Street Journal, researches the hard lessons learned by people who went through divorce. Her advice for married people is 100% about communication. Not communication that is "pie in the sky," but rather communication on a moment-by-moment, in-the-moment basis:
  • Be loving and supportive
  • Talk about money openly
  • Stop thinking about the past
  • Focus on fixing the relationship right now, not on blaming the other person
  • Be open with the other person - help them understand your feelings
So to put it in a nutshell: Marriages begin to end when the partners emotionally disconnect from one another.
In just the same way, says work expert Victor Lipman, your job is really reducible to your relationship with the boss: "People leave managers, not companies."
If you want to bring your employees back into the fold, you have to connect with them emotionally. You aren't in a personal marriage with them, of course, but you are in a kind of professional one.
Instead of focusing on complicated, fancy, expensive ways to get them to "check back in," start with things like stopping to say hello, sincerely, in the morning.

All opinions my own.

On The Handwritten Notes That Won An Election

Can it be only a few short years ago that my bosses talked about "Twittering?"

That it took 5 hours to approve a single Tweet, which had to go through a "workflow?"

Shaking my head.

The "business case" required.

Agony and hand-wringing.

Confusion about metrics - is it "reach" or is it "impressions" or "total exposures" or what?

I know, let's make ourselves look good - by only sharing good news! In a peppy voice?

Or, let's talk to ourselves a bit...with "grip-and-grin" handshake photos taken at our latest event.


Call me controversial but I think it's safe to say that this is the first presidential election won on the basis of...Tweets.

What made those Tweets compelling?

It wasn't the fact that the candidate quoted himself a lot.

It wasn't the whirring blades of the helicopter overhead.

It wasn't that he landed in some remote part of the world, and gave us moment-by-moment updates about the fascinating people and cuisine.


The reason we loved those Tweets, was because they were so very real.

These were the thoughts of a man who spoke directly to us.

Who literally took a pen to paper.

Who confided in us his vision, his dreams, his soaring aspirations - and yes, also raw emotions that many of us keep to ourselves.





I think it's safe to say that nobody, not even the experts, saw such a successful Twitter account coming.

Nobody dared to breathe the words that were the truth - the truth - which is that Donald J. Trump knocked it out of the park, because he used a free social media tool.

In the way it was perhaps not intended.

For a serious man, a significant leader, to simply be himself.

All opinions my own. Public domain photo by geralt via Pixabay.