Monday, June 25, 2007


It’s a rare event here in Massachusetts that we get to choose a new Congressman. Once elected most congressmen run more or less unopposed and the general public spends years grumbling about the lack of choices. This year there are five Democrats and two Republicans running for congress from the fifth district, an embarrassment of political riches. Yet few people are excited, few people show up at political events and fewer still participate in the local political process at any level.

Politicians are not sprung fully formed from fissures opened from Hades for the sole purpose of delivering tormentors and oppressors to the ballot box, as many would seem to believe. All politicians start out as concerned citizens who run for local office with a sincere desire to help fix things. If they are successful they may run for higher office and eventually they show up on a ballot that really counts. This is the point where most of the electorate discovers the candidates and pronounce them all wanting and wish for additional choices.

The new majority of the “un-enrolled” electorate has deliberately, if unintentionally, disenfranchised themselves by placing the two major political parties at arms length. Almost all political opinions fall into the camps traditionally called “Liberal” or “Conservative” and the two major political parties do, for the most part, represent those two views. If the Republicans have become the party of the lunatic right or the Democrats, the lunatic left it’s because the “un-enrolled” center have chosen to abrogate their responsibilities to participate in the political process. You have no one to blame but yourselves.

As Tip O’Neil said, “all politics is local,” and between the races for Selectman the races for Congress is an entire spectrum of political action denied to those who remain un-enrolled, un-engaged and un-aware. Every town in the Commonwealth has a Democratic and a Republican town committee. It’s at the Town Committee level that candidates for state office first make themselves known. By the time someone runs for State Representative or State Senator it’s likely that they have been active in a Town Committee for years, it’s likely that they have worked for some other politician of their political persuasion and it’s likely that they know or have personally met most of the political leadership of their party from the town committee chairman up through Governor, Congressman, Senator or beyond.

The sad truth is that most Town Committees (both Republican and Democratic) find it hard to recruit active members. The result is that a small group of political activists of one extreme or the other determine who will be viable candidates for state government and as a result who will supply the feedstock for higher office.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Seven Years to Seven Figures

Seven Years to Seven Figures,
the fast-track plan to becoming a millionaire
© 2007 Michael Masterson; $24.95;
John Wyley & Sons, Hoboken NJ

Review by Steve Glines

I’ve been doing everything right so how come I’m not rich. I’m a perpetual entrepreneur, I love to write and I have a million good ideas. That’s the gist of this book. There are dozens of great rags to riches stories in this little inspirational volume. There is the guy that was a fantastic salesman who quit his job, went into the import/export business only to fail, declare bankruptcy and resurrect himself as a copywriter and is, of course, now a multi-millionaire. There is also the tireless want-a-be writer-housewife who eventually buys a mail-order copywriting course (conveniently written by the same author) and ends up a millionaire.

What is never mentioned is the luck, blind ability to sell anything and friends with lots of cash that always accompanies the successful stories. There are people who can sell sand to the Saudis or ice to the Eskimos. Occasionally those people fail for one reason or another but if they do they pick themselves up and sell something else. There is such a thing as a natural talent in sales just as there is such a thing as a natural talent in sports, writing and every other occupation. It’s not news that a natural salesman succeeds nor is it news when someone succeeds by being in the right place at the right time. As Woody Allen once said, “90% of life is just showing up.”

An acquaintance of mine was a computer salesman in the early 1980’s. There were lots of small computer companies around then most of which went broke. He had been working for one small computer company that was faltering so he looked for another, similar job. As luck would have it the only job that was offered to him was as the second salesman for a startup that went on to become the third largest computer manufacturer, a name brand and a darling on Wall St. He retired when his sales commissions exceeded $10 million dollars and the company decided that the customers should be house accounts. We all wish we were that lucky but most of us are not.

Most entrepreneurs fail, not because they don’t have a good idea, not because they aren’t willing to work hard enough but usually because it takes longer to sell whatever it is that they are selling than they thought or the items cost more to manufacturer, store, support and ship then they thought. You never see these stories in the “jack-em-up-and-gloss-em-over” style of success books. Success is more often than not a combination of persistence and luck.

I went to a lecture by the founder of a large supermarket chain. He was honest enough to admit that luck played an enormous part in his success. His first venture was a produce stand, which quickly went broke. His second venture was in a small “mom and pop” grocery store. It too went broke. Then he launched his mega-chain supermarket by accident. Someone in the audience asked what was the difference between venture #2 and the successful one was. His answer surprised everyone. He said he got so far in debt that his bank and his suppliers couldn’t afford to let him go broke and that as long as he kept opening up new stores both his bank and his suppliers thought, hoped, wished for his success. Eventually he was successful but he admitted that his suppliers and his bank were foolish to give him the credit and that his experience taught both his suppliers and his bank never to do that again. He was very lucky, and very rich.

I will confess that reading “Seven Years to Seven Figures” got me excited. After all most of the success stories were build around copywriting, which is what I do. Of course, to become a better copywriter I need to subscribe to a be-a-better-copywriter website which, how convenient, also happens to be owned by the author. The more I read the more I realized that this is one large advertisement for books, courses and counseling by Michael Masterson and his colleagues.

Much of the advice is useful though obvious while other advice interesting but “easier said than done.” For example in a chapter about becoming an expert the author lists how to become an expert:

1. Narrow down your field of expertise
2. Master your subject
3. Promote yourself

How you promote yourself is equally simple:
1. Develop your own newsletter
2. Get articles published in trade journals
3. Get invited to shows and seminars
4. Write books
5. Take advantage of Public Relations

There is nothing in this book I can argue with. All of the advice offered, the tips, tricks and techniques are all right on. The stories offered are insightful and inspirational and the fact that I’m a baby boomer without a retirement plan or income was not lost on this thick skull. What is missing, however, is the fact that for every 10 great ideas that should succeed, and would under the right circumstances nine will fail. If you have the tenacity to survive nine or more successive failures then there is hope and if you are one of them you don’t need this book.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The race for the 5th.

I love history. It’s what defines us, shapes our decisions and molds our future. I love politics because politics is the feedstock of history. You could say it’s history’s cutting edge. I’ve participated in every election since 1968, one-way or another. It’s been interesting and I can honestly say I’ve never met a politician I disliked.

I may despise their politics but I can’t bring myself to dislike anyone who is willing to strip naked before us in public and offer to do what most of us just want taken care of. Some of the politicians I’ve met may be corrupt, I don’t know, but they sure aren’t getting rich. If we complain about the quality of the candidates then just look at what we are willing to pay them. A state representative in Massachusetts only gets $48,000 a year so don’t expect many people to run for that job. Any kid out of law school is going to make more.

If politicians have large egos so what? If you aren’t going to pay your politicians a decent wage but expect them to be Mormon clean then ego is about the only motivation besides doing-good (which I always find suspect – I don’t think I would have liked Gandhi) and martyrdom (equally suspect) that’s available besides corruption. I never met the Mayor of Providence RI.

This quiet rant brings me to the current race for Congressman in the 5th district here in Massachusetts. Congressman Marty Meehan got tired of waiting for Ted Kennedy to retire or John Kerry to win the Presidency so he could run for the U.S. Senate so he quit his job in mid term to take the job of the President of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, which gave him a significant pay raise over his congressional salary. This is the first “big” political opening in years so there is a lot of interest among local ambitious politicians.

I have a personal interest in this race. Paul Tsongas was a genuine good guy. I like to think I talked him into running for President of the U.S. when no other Democrats had the courage to run – we had an hour-long chat on Easter Sunday 1991. His widow is one of the candidates running for congressman. On an appeal to emotion she should be a shoe in but she doesn’t even live in the district not that it’s ever stopped a Kennedy but she’s not a Kennedy. Hillary Clinton aside I don’t count being married to a politician the same thing as political experience; riding in a car is not the same thing as driving a car.

My personal favorite in this race is Jamie Eldridge. He’s a live at home, 30 something, state representative from the town next door, Acton Massachusetts. He too is a genuine good guy if I am any judge of character. His politics is about as far left as you can get in a very left leaning state without falling out of the local mainstream. It’s easy to guess where he stands on every issue. He’s still idealistic which is charming. If he wins I hope he doesn’t become too cynical to soon.

What sparked this outburst is a new technology. We have all seen polls taken every day and published in the local newspapers. These are just abstract numbers that often don’t mean much to us; we have no vested interest in the results. Of course we are thrilled when our boy (or girl) is on top and we deride polls when our favorite is out of favor but still a poll is an abstract concept. Enter When you sign up on you are given a virtual bank account of $5000 to bet on “stocks” anyway you want. You get a daily account of how much you have earned or lost. In the case of a political race the dollar value of your candidate is equal to the percent of the vote he will get on Election Day, the total value of the race is $100. You can buy puts and calls; bet that a particular “stock” will go up or down.

Here is the current “market” for the Congressional race for the Massachusetts 5th district: