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February 12, 2016

What a long strange trip it’s been….

Filed under: Asides,Technology,White House — Peter Arnold

A remarkable event happened in DC this week: Something was actually accomplished with a minimum of bluster. On Thursday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a permanent ban on state authority to tax Internet access.  The House already passed the bill, titled The Internet Tax Freedom Act. The bill now heads to the President, whose aides have signaled his support.

I’ve been involved with this issue for more than 15 years and since it’s Thursday, perhaps a “TBT” is in order — namely, my first MSNBC appearance. It was back in 2001; Sen Ron Wyden (OR) and I discussed taxes and broadband regulation:

 

December 11, 2015

Killing O’Reilly

Filed under: Ronald Reagan — Peter Arnold

(Note: This blog originally appeared on the Dawson & Associates website.)

A storm of controversy has erupted over Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Reagan. The controversy has engulfed almost every aspect of O’Reilly’s book – the lack of research, dubious use of unnamed sources, and a thesis at odds with extensive eyewitness documentation.

In November, George Will used his syndicated column twice to eviscerate O’Reilly – see here and here.

The book’s theme is that Reagan’s injuries from the March 1981 assassination attempt hastened his mental degradation. Those injuries led to a situation in which, O’Reilly claims, Reagan was increasingly befuddled and detached from reality.

O’Reilly’s thesis about Ronald Reagan simply isn’t supported by the facts. Neither O’Reilly nor his coauthor ever went to The Reagan Library to conduct their research. However, they did use material from Kitty Kelley’s 1991 Nancy Reagan biography. As Jay Leno might put it, “Well, what are the odds of that?”

For anyone not convinced that this book is seriously flawed, I offer the following: From 1986 to 1989, I worked in the White House as a speechwriter to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Peter Robinson, the speechwriter who wrote Reagan’s 1987 Berlin Wall speech (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”) helped me land this position as he was a former Bush speechwriter who had recently been promoted to the President’s team.

My office was in 2013 OEOB and throughout those years, I often went downstairs to Robinson’s first-floor OEOB office. Invariably, he would show me the latest examples of Reagan’s edits to proposed speeches. The edits were in the President’s distinctive handwriting style. Some drafts contained only mild edits; but frequently, the President’s handwritten changes were extensive and detailed.

When I emailed Peter recently, he confirmed the former President’s intent focus on his speeches as a medium through which to wield influence:

Reagan edited his speeches all the time! And he was the best editor I’ve ever had – superb edits. Take a look at Reagan in His Own Hand, the book by Martin and Annelise Anderson…. There are examples of Reagan’s markups on speeches all over the place.

In short, O’Reilly’s book is flat wrong in his contention. The disengaged, confused President that O’Reilly disparages could not have produced the continuous stream of detailed, handwritten edits and improvements that I saw constantly during my White House years.

June 3, 2013

“Get in. I’ll give you a ride.”

Filed under: Frank Lautenberg — Peter Arnold

LAUTENBERGWith the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, the U.S. Senate is a poorer place and not in the financial sense.  In a city where ego is rarely in short supply, Mr. Lautenberg stood out as truly gracious and a real gentlemen.  He was also the last member of the “Greatest Generation” to walk the halls as a Member of the Senate.

If you spend enough time in Washington, you typically have some good stories about well-known people.  Senator Lautenberg’s passing brings back a memorable anecdote from the winter of 1987-88.  It was early evening — probably around 7 or 7:30 pm — when a young speechwriter to George H.W. Bush walked out of the Old Executive Office Building and began the walk up 17th Street to the Farragut North metro station.  It was raining and the hapless speechwriter had naturally forgotten his umbrella.

As he was walking past the front door of the New Executive Office Building, a car pulled alongside.  The front, passenger side window went down and the 60-something driver inside called out, “Is this how you get to The Mayflower?”  It was and a short back-and-forth ensued about the best way to the hotel since road construction had made 17th Street a nightmare.

Finally, the driver asked, “Are you going that way?”  Yes, sir, replied the twentysomething government worker in the dark (and increasingly wet) wool suit who still didn’t have any idea to whom he was talking.  “Get in.  I’ll give you a ride,” the driver snapped.

When we got to the hotel, I hopped out and thanked the driver for the lift.  His reply: “You can tell your friends you got a ride from the Senator from New Jersey.”

In different circumstances, the logical rejoinder would involve a Soprano-esque snark about New Jersey and “going for a ride.”  But not today. R.I.P., Mr. Lautenberg.

January 20, 2013

Recalling “Dictatorships & Double Standards”

Filed under: Jeane Kirkpatrick,Ronald Reagan,White House — Peter Arnold

Jeane KirkpatrickSorry for the long drought in blogs.  Chalk it up to global warming.

Former Slate and New Republic editor Michael Kinsley has this delightful review of Lawrence Wright’s new book on Scientology in Sunday’s New York Times.  Describing Scientology, Kinsley writes:

The closest institutional parallel would be the Communist Party in its heyday [including] the determination to control its members’ lives completely (the key difference, you will recall, between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, according to the onetime American ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick)….

As the Scientologists have a legal budget on par with the GDP of a developing country, they can respond to Kinsley and The Times.  But Kinsley’s remark about Kirkpatrick deserves a comment since the sway of history during the past few decades puts her once-derided thesis in an increasingly vindicated light.

First a disclosure: During much of 1985, I worked with Amb. Kirkpatrick, helping her prepare her UN speeches and papers into a book, Legitimacy & Force.

Kirkpatrick’s distinction about authoritarian and communist dictatorships came to public attention in a November 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships & Double Standards.”  It was a critique of American policies that sought to undercut authoritarian pro-Western regimes (Somoza, the Shah, Lon Nol) while minimizing the destruction of human freedom in totalitarian regimes and movements (Soviet satellites and funded insurgencies).

Her article was often called a criticism of a “human rights” foreign policy – ironic because the phrase “human rights” never appears in the text.

What she did posit was that America’s foreign policy would be better focused on undercutting through trade, food aid, and yes, even foreign aid those governments that were trying to shut down all aspects of unsanctioned behavior (read: Jaruzelski’s Poland, other Soviet satellites).

With 30 years of hindsight, the insight of Amb. Kirkpatrick’s distinction has become blindingly obvious. Precisely as she and like-minded Reagan Administration colleagues (especially CIA director William Casey) predicted, once the aura of “invincibility” came off the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s due in no small part to aggressive American efforts, its empire crumbled with stunning swiftness.  In turn, once the Kremlin was no longer able to maintain an empire, those “wars of liberation” in El Salvador, Colombia, and Africa suddenly came to ignominious (for the rebels) conclusions.

A blog is not nearly long enough for a full discussion of issues that could easily consume tomes.  But suffice it to say from this member of a group occasionally labeled “the Kirkpatrick Mafia,” it is pleasing beyond belief to know that Amb. Kirkpatrick was able to see her views vindicated prior to her passing in 2006.

Incidentally, for the trivia minded, Prof. Kirkpatrick also holds the distinction of being the first Cabinet-level female appointee whose duties focused on international policy.

May 28, 2012

Microsoft: “with hollow eye and wrinkled brow”

Filed under: Microsoft,Randall Stross — Peter Arnold

The slow erosion of Microsoft’s brand continues.  New York Times columnist Randall Stross has a wonderful essay this morning on how the salons in Redmond are using Microsoft 8 as an excuse to phase out the eye-rolling “Live” appendage to  its desktop software:

After so many years of pushing the Windows Live brand in so many products, the company couldn’t easily drop the branding, even if executives had come around to the idea that it was misbegotten. But the imminent arrival of a new version of its flagship PC operating system, Windows 8, seems to provide cover for the change.

While schadenfreude at Microsoft’s expense is a frequent occurrence these days, the import of this is larger than a misbegotten marketing strategy.  Stross covers one key point and passes over another.  First, as Stross rightly notes, the emphasis on “Live” was Microsoft’s attempt to capitalize on real-time integration of software programs and users across the web.  This worked fine for Xbox where the addition of real-time gaming actually lent itself to the “Live” moniker.  But as PC users gravitated toward the web, particularly on mobile phones when 3G became ubiquitous, something else happened: The central focus on the PC and all its attendant software began to fragment. Microsoft couldn’t respond as Apple and Google effectively grabbed the smartphone OS market.

The second point, which derives from this, is that the web (especially the mobile web) put the public’s focus on third-party software developers. This is another big Microsoft weak point since the company has spent nearly 20 years expanding its bundled software in an effort to stamp out third-party competition.  This strategy worked fine when dial-up ruled but as mobile broadband expanded, this was doomed.

Memo to former AG Reno: You could’ve saved a lot of time and trouble.  The marketplace worked.

February 17, 2012

“A sort of homecoming”

Filed under: Jody Powell — Peter Arnold

Robert DawsonWashington’s salons have long known that on matters of environmental regulation, the gentleman at left is without peer. Robert K. Dawson, former Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works during the Reagan Administration, founded the eponymous Dawson & Associates in 1998 and during the past decade, the firm has established a reputation as Washington’s premier experts in natural resources regulation, environmental permitting, energy, defense, infrastructure, and government contracting..

With ten former Flag Officers, mostly drawn from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Dawson team offers a wealth of expertise that no other firm in Washington can match.  That is why I am proud to offer the following announcement today in concert with Mr. Dawson and the top-notch team at his company:

Dawson & Associates Welcomes
Peter Arnold as Senior Advisor

(Washington, D.C.) – Peter Arnold, a former White House and Capitol Hill staffer who has run several major lobbying coalitions for the telecommunications and high-tech industries during the past decade, has joined Dawson & Associates as a Senior Advisor, the firm announced today.

You can read more here.

I will continue to lead Arnold Consulting Group, as I have since 1998.  But I will now also be responsible for overseeing Dawson & Associates’ public affairs and crisis communications efforts on behalf of its clients.  In a sense, this is (apologies to Bono) a “sort of homecoming” since I first worked with Mr. Dawson in the early 1990s during my time with Jody Powell and Sheila Tate.  Twenty years later, things have come full circle and for that, I extend a tremendous feeling of gratitude to this gentleman for his faith in me.

— Peter Arnold

January 2, 2012

A class act

Filed under: Jody Powell,White House — Peter Arnold

Sheila TateAnyone wondering if remarkable people still rise to the top in Washington, D.C. should take a moment and read the email below. Sheila Tate, former press secretary to Nancy Reagan and spokesman for the 1988 George Bush Presidential campaign, is retiring after a remarkable career proving that Alan Alda was half-right when he said, “It’s better to be wise than smart.”  In Sheila’s case, she was both.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Washington intelligensia was rocked with the news that Sheila and former White House press secretary Jody Powell had created an eponymous firm, Powell Tate.  It was the summer of 1991 and the firm quickly established itself as “the” place for corporations in need of crisis help.

Sheila brought me into Powell Tate about six weeks after the company started which only goes to show that her judgment even in those glory years was remarkably fallible.  I had had the privilege of working with her on the 1988 Bush campaign, where she was chief spokesman though it should be noted that I did not write a certain line about the California raisins.

Everyone who ever worked with Sheila has favorite anecdotes and this writer is no exception:

  • At a surprise birthday party for Sheila in 1991, a senior Powell Tate consultant gently ribbed her during a toast about a client problem that happened when the two worked at a different PR shop.  When the toast was over, Sheila smilingly replied, “Michelle, we always hated you back then.”
  • After the first President Bush had an unfortunate stomach incident during a state visit to Japan, Sheila went on CNN and was asked if this represented a “burp” on the Bush Presidency.  Not missing a beat, she replied that “I think it’s more of a ‘yurp’ than a ‘burp.'”
  • My favorite: a photo taken shortly after the rather bitter 1988 Presidential election showing Sheila standing between George H.W. Bush and Mike Dukakis.  As I recall, the incoming Prez wrote underneath it, “To Sheila, Only you could referee this one.”

Sheila, if you’re reading this, there are two things you should know.  First, you and Jody were a remarkable influence on me that I will never forget.  Second, I was underpaid.

As I sit at my computer on a very cold Christmas Eve day, I can’t help think about the fact that when Jody and I started Powell Tate in 1991 we didn’t have computers.  Nor did we have cell phones or blackberries; social media would have sounded like a disease.  Hmm.  Maybe not a bad definition.

Powell Tate started with about 10 employees and far fewer clients.  We were in very cramped quarters in the Metropolitan Square Building.  The great part was we got to design our new space at 700 Thirteenth Street from scratch.  And now, a mere 20 years later, you’re leaving it!

Back in the “early days”, I was an early bird, usually at work about 7:30am.  Jody showed up about 10am.  I left by 6pm and he worked into the evening hours which was great for West Coast clients and a few European clients as well.  We grew rapidly and we all worked as hard as we needed to, even overnight on occasion, and created great memories while doing great work for our clients.

On January 1st I will be erased from the IPG systems and my new address will be: ______.  The company has allowed me to slide slowly into retirement and I now embrace it with enthusiasm!  Before that happens, I need to wish each of you a wonderful Powell Tate experience, a long and rewarding career and great memories.  Don’t lose the essence of our culture where the individual and hard work is valued and the team is valued more; and above all, stay loyal to your clients and give them your very best.  I hope each of you can look back when you are about to retire and know you did your best, you loved your work and you truly admire your colleagues.  And, if you want me to be really happy, vote Republican.

Sheila Tate

January 8, 2010

Three Cheers for the Longhorns

Filed under: Texas football — Peter Arnold

royflagWith everyone gushing ‘Bama crimson today, someone needs to stand athwart history and yell, “Stop.” At the risk of infuriating any clients partial to the SEC, Texas was still the better team last night.

First, Texas’ defense was amazing, especially when you consider that 21 of Alabama’s 37 points were either scored by the Tide’s defense or when the offense took over deep, deep inside Texas territory. No question, the Texas defense outshone Alabama’s. Second, it took Garrett Gilbert half the game to find his legs. But once he did, this freshman (!) showed how easy it was to shred Alabama’s defense.

Third, if you take away Gilbert’s most obvious mistake – the shovel pass to D.J. Monroe – then Texas would’ve been ahead by four points in the fourth quarter after Shipley’s second touchdown. At that point, the Longhorn ground game would have taken over and Gilbert never would have had the fumble-causing sack that resulted in Alabama’s penultimate touchdown.

So sorry, Nick Saban. You’re an amazing coach with a great team but you guys aren’t Number 1.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming….

January 5, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies and…

(New York) Two articles this morning show the fun to be had with number-tossing.

First, there’s a new mobile phone survey from ChangeWave Research that touts a “250 percent increase” in mobile users’ opting for Google’s Android OS. Of those planning on buying a smartphone, 21 percent said they expected to purchase one using Android compared with 6 percent in September. It’s a solid gain but not nearly as impressive as ChangeWave hype:

“Monstrous… [The] change rivals anything that we’ve seen in the last three years of the smartphone market,” said Paul Carton, ChangeWave’s director of research, adding that the sudden surge in consumer interest in Android had “roiled” the market.

By “last three years,” Carton presumably means “since the iPhone.” Anyway, what’s so amusing – coming from a “director of research,” no less – is the way he spins a decent-but-expected growth rate. The company’s survey comes on the heels of the estimated $100 million that Verizon and Motorola spent promoting the Droid. So going from a small base of 6 percent to 21 percent hardly seems “monstrous.” Moreover, the “250 percent” figure is what happens when you begin with such a small number.

And “roiled” the market? Note to ChangeWave’s PR Department: Stop the hyperventilating. No one who understands the industry believes you.

This brings back memories of the Internet’s biggest sham from the late 1990s – that data traffic was supposedly doubling every quarter. It happened once or twice around 1996 when AOL had 1+M subscribers and was ramping up quickly. But after that, the ability to doubling off of a large base became a fantasy.

Next up is Suzanne Vranica’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Dr Pepper Buys Its First Super Bowl Spot,” which begins, “In an effort to drum up more interest in its recently launched Dr Pepper Cherry, Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. has bought advertising time during Super Bowl XLIV.” The purchase marks the first time in the company’s 125-year history that Dr Pepper will advertise during the National Football League championship, which will be broadcast by CBS Corp. on Feb 7.

First time in 125 years? Nice, except that the NFL didn’t come into existence until about 1920. Anyway, here’s the commercial, which is pretty funny.

December 27, 2009

Farewell & Adieu, MMIX

Before bidding 2009 a bon voyage, it’s worth noting two recent media commentaries. First, Francis Wilkinson has a warm and wonderful portrayal of the great Jody Powell in today’s New York Times. His portrayal brought back the usual flood of Powell memories (for more, click here and here) as well as reconfirming that while Washington hosts more than its share of phonies, it also catapults to success some truly outstanding, wonderful people.

Next up is Andy Kessler’s oped in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. Kessler’s usually pretty sharp on technology and telecom which is why this column is so disappointing. For starters, his idea of setting up a nationwide wireless system by linking transmitters to street lights is fanciful. AT&T tried it in St. Louis and backed out in 2007 because the technology just didn’t work.

Moreover, Kessler’s comment about the telecos and employment is just plain absurd. AT&T is the nation’s largest private sector employer of union workers. While Google has a larger market cap than AT&T it employs 10 times fewer people and has a capex budget less than one-eighth as large. So which one seems more likely to start hiring?

That’s it for 2009. Thanks for reading and feel free to sign up for my RSS feed. See you in 2010!