Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Was WRONG About the WWE Business Model! But What About McMahon's China Connection?

Earlier this month I wrote a post noting that Linda McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment operation was coming under sustained media fire for a long history of "skits" that include violence to women, simulated sexual acts inside the ring, and mockery of people with mental disadvantages.

McMahon, co-owner of the WWE, is running as a Republican for the US Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd. To overcome her myriad political deficiencies - including supporting Barack Obama's chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel with cash donations last year, and working against Republicans to keep them out of office - she is pouring up to 50 million dollars of her vast wrestling fortune into the campaign.

Nonetheless, McMahon is running behind former US Congressman Rob Simmons for the GOP nomination, who has nowhere near her money but still is considered to be far more likely to beat Dodd's replacement, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Anyway, the focus of my Feb. 10 article was a You Tube video of a WWE production, showing two very lovely women stripping down to their very skimpy underthings and proceeding to fondle and kiss each other until two very ugly male wrestlers beat the crap out of them. I used a headline that came from the video, wherein the WWE boasted that "sex and violence always sell."

Wrong! Really wrong. At the end of my article I noted - with a wink and a nudge - that the video and headline probably would generate tons of hits on my website, maybe more than ever before. That is where I was wrong, and presumably so is the WWE. I got a bit of a spike, but frankly, it was more like a blip.

I check my website analytics every day to see what readers are interested in, and where they come from, and I have had many, many far more active days. Which, as I think about it is a tribute to my readers, because they obviously didn't forward the link on to very many other readers.

But what, we must now ask ourselves, should we think about the WWE business model? Do sex, and violence and bullying the weak always sell? Is that really what most people want to see?

Linda McMahon told MSNBC recently that 16 million people tune in to the WWE's productions every week. That accounts for only about five percent of the American public, which isn't really all that much. Many other forms of entertainment have far more regular viewers. So, is the WWE correct in exploiting women and the disadvantaged?

There is a bigger reason for asking this question, that being China and the WWE's presence there.

As astute observers of the international scene you probably are aware that China holds about 1.4 trillion dollars in US debt, more than any other country, and could shut us down in a heartbeat.

You also are probably aware that in the past three years China hit one of our weather satellites with a laser beam, just to show that they could do it; that China was given access to banned electronic software during the Clinton administration that provided it with a massive leap in missile guidance technology; and that it stole our sonar and stealth aircraft technology. You probably know that two years ago a Chinese submarine surfaced in the Pacific Ocean not just within torpedo range of one of our aircraft carriers, but actually within sight! And the US Navy didn't know the submarine was there!

Late last year another American ship, towing a sonar "sled" crammed with our most advanced underwater locator technology, pulled it right across the bow of a Chinese submarine north of the Philippines and again didn't know the sub was there.

Then when President Obama announced that the US was going ahead with a sale of defensive weaponry to Taiwan (the "other" Chinese who are allies of the US,) Red China's military started openly discussing calling in the US debt and bankrupting us.

So what does this have to do with McMahon?

On February 6, the Vernon, Connecticut Republican Town Committee sponsored a Lincoln Day breakfast and invited both McMahon and Rob Simmons to speak. McMahon, with zero foreign relations experience, tried to pull a "gotcha" on Simmons by telling the audience that she personally opened the WWE Shanghai China office in 2007, and therefore she has an inside knowledge of the communist Chinese culture.

Bad move. Because when Simmons got up to speak he noted that as a CIA operative for a decade after he served in Vietnam, he was sent on many difficult and dangerous missions, including in China! Then he thanked McMahon for bringing up the subject - in fluent Mandarin Chinese! Here, take a look for yourself.

This raises several issues for me, the first of which is that McMahon and/or her staff presumably did a lousy job of reviewing Simmons' background or she never would have challenged him on China expertise in an open forum. Are they that sloppy on other issues too?

But more troubling is the position McMahon would put us in if she is elected to the US Senate while her family corporation is trying to expand its business inside Red China.

Remember, regardless of the Chinese government's edging toward Democracy, it still is a totalitarian country with a state-controlled media. Obviously, the McMahon family corporation, WWE, wants access to the vast markets available in that country. Consider this: the WWE reaches 16 million people each week in the United States, but with only 25 percent penetration in China it would reach the equivalent of the entire US population with each broadcast!

The WWE sponsors a monthly pay-per-view show that costs approximately $50 for those willing to tune in and part with their hard-earned money. If every single one of the 16 million weekly viewers bought the monthly pay-per-view package the WWE would gross about $800 million each month. Trust me, they don't get anywhere near that many viewers - but they still do very well, considering that McMahon and her husband Vincent are supposed to be worth a half-billion dollars or more.

But in China, using reruns of old US pay-per-view events to save on production costs, the WWE could do a pay-per-view event each week, charge as little as the equivalent of $4 US, and with only 25 percent penetration, gross more than a billion dollars with each show!

Think of the implications of making that much money that quickly without incurring any extra costs for equipment, locations and talent. Think of the possibilities if the WWE was given the go-ahead to develop Chinese "talent" and put on shows that are produced there!

But how do you acquire that access? Remember, this is a totalitarian country with a state-controlled media, where access is not a factor of free enterprise, but rather of the government granting permission.

Now think about the leverage the Chinese government would have over Linda McMahon, her family and her corporation if she was a US Senator. This would be a national security risk - no, it would be a national security nightmare.

Considering that McMahon is throwing money around the state to buy delegate votes in the Republican Town Committees - oh, sorry, it's to help the RTCs get Republican candidates elected, wink, wink, nudge, nudge - I don't think she would be averse to taking some direction from the Chinese Communists if she stood to reap billions from the WWE's Chinese operations.

Even if you are a Linda McMahon backer you have to admit she would have far more than the appearance of a conflict of interest. She would have to recuse herself on any vote that had even the slightest impact on China.

She wouldn't even have to serve on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, or make an overt vote, to both have influence and to be influenced. Remember the words of the late Deng Xiaoping, one of China's most influential Communist Party leaders who helped moved the country toward a market economy in the years after Mao's murderous purges, when he said that China should "disguise its ambition and hide its claws."

It would be very easy to influence important legislation if a member of the United States Senate was under the control, overtly or tacitly, of the Chinese government. Linda McMahon may think that taking an occasional trip to the Orient and watching the Chinese culture streaming past her office window gives her unparalleled insight on foreign relations matters.

I disagree and I'll repeat what I said above. This would be a disaster, a national security nightmare.
Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Don't Want To Start An International Incident ... But

This is making the rounds on the Internet and I certainly think it's worth putting up for comment, what with numerous lawsuits having been filed claiming that our president isn't OUR president at all.

Now, maybe it is photo shopped or maybe those words in another language don't say what the English letters say - how would I know after all. What with a "transparent" summit currently taking place on the government's grab for the health care insurance business, and everyone's eyes otherwise on the Olympics, why shouldn't we have an opportunity to get some relief from the day to day, run of the mill grist out of the media, Congress and the White House?

Well, anyway, take a look for yourself.

Tell me now, do you think the White House is going to get someone on this right away? Is the sign really posted outside Nairobi? Can the State Department get authorization to redirect some of the Central Intelligence Agency's satellites from watching for signs of Global (b.s.) Warming to home in on Kenya and find out if this really exists?

Can the military dispatch a highly trained team of Special Forces Operatives to wrap explosives around the signposts and send it into oblivion? Can they do it without collateral damage to the indigenous civilian population? (My bet is on the military.)

These are major issues and these questions should be answered. Oh, and what are we doing about our crushing debt with China, what is Russia up to - Russia is always up to something when we aren't hearing anything out of Russia, which we haven't for a couple of months now, so watch out - and is Mr. Obama, President of the World going to do anything about Iran getting ready to launch a nuclear strike against everyone else?

I don't have the answers, but I certainly have the questions!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sex and Violence, Near Naked Ladies Hugging and Kissing, Always Sell

The Republican US Senate campaign war between former Connecticut Congressman Rob Simmons and World Wrestling Entertainment founder Linda McMahon has gone around the corner in the mainstream media.

Simmons first nailed McMahon last week during the uproar over White House chief of staff Rham Emanuel calling some of his fellow liberal Democrats "F'ing retards." He actually filled in the letters where I put the apostrophe. McMahon also made direct donations to Rham Emanuel's efforts to defeat Republican candidates in the last few years but no one seems to care about that.

Sarah Palin who has a son with Downs Syndrome called for Emanuel to step down or be fired. President Obama was satisfied with apologies all around.

Simmons then produced a series campaign news releases with links to videos produced by WWE of its character "Eugene" who played a person with Downs Syndrome regularly getting demeaned and brutalized by the McMahon family and other wrestlers. McMahon responded that the character was actually "inspirational and heroic" as her husband and son poured paint over him, stuck his head into a toilet bowl, and repeatedly showed him being beaten or described as possessing "retard strength."

Now the Hartford Courant/Fox 61 News notes that a new McMahon campaign flier is obviously aimed at the women's vote. But the Courant also is questioning whether the flier might just be hypocritical when you see how women are treated around the WWE or at least were until McMahon decided to run for public office.

Simmons pounced on this one in a heartbeat, as a good candidate should, because the Courant is now questioning McMahon's judgment and whether she would be any different in Washington than outgoing Senator Christopher Dodd whom they are seeking to replace.

The unspoken question is whether McMahon, should she get the Republican nomination, could survive the expected onslaught from presumptive Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal. There is far more in the WWE closet than has emerged thus far, and it is a certain bet that Blumenthal or his supporters won't ignore it.

I will leave you to form your own opinions as to whether this video glorifies violence to women and forces them to commit demeaning acts to keep their jobs - that is, if you consider beautiful women kissing and fondling each other demeaning. And from there you can form your own opinions as to whether it matters in the race for US Senate.

Either way, I bet this is one of the best read columns I have ever posted! ;-)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Bad News For McMahon Senate Campaign Keeps Getting Worse! Rham Emanuel, TARP Haunting Her

It has been a bad week for the Linda McMahon US Senate campaign and things appear to be going downhill fast, with more media disclosures on her company's finances, questions arising about her stance on the plight of mentally disabled, and dissention in the ranks over the state GOP chairman's personal interest in her campaign.

First it was disclosed that some of McMahon's "hard-earned money" that is funding her $50 million campaign for the Republican nomination is available due to generous state tax breaks and federal bailout funds for her firm, World Wrestling Entertainment. McMahon and her husband Vince own the WWE and until last September she was the CEO. She stepped aside from that position when she declared her candidacy but still is involved in the WWE in other capacities.

Then, in the middle of the media uproar over President Obama's chief of staff Rham Emanuel calling other liberal Democrats "retards," numerous videos surfaced of the WWE showcasing the beating and otherwise demeaning of a character who plays the part of a Downs Syndrome afflicted wrestler. (The media seems to be overlooking that McMahon made financial donations to Emanuel prior to Obama being elected.)

But worse, once the videos surfaced, the McMahon camp issued a news release saying the character named Eugene - played by the nephew of a former WWE executive - who wears a costume with a backwards E on the front - was actually "heroic and inspirational." No contrition, no apology, but rather an in-your-face response. This as videos show members of the McMahon family pouring paint on him, sticking his head in a toilet bowl and other wrestlers repeatedly beating the living daylights out of him both in and out of the ring.

When McMahon's Republican opponent, former Congressman Rob Simmons blasted McMahon for the WWE's choice of characters, she retorted that Simmons doesn't understand the difference between soap operas and reality. I see. In the following video there are repeated references to "retard strength," and "a mental deficient's elbow." I fail to see how such commentary enhances the lives of people with developmental disabilities whether in real life or a script.

On the financial front the Journal Inquirer newspaper disclosed in November that the WWE was eligible for millions in film tax credits to offset the cost of its lucrative film production activities. It further reported this week that World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., the company controlled by Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Linda McMahon and her husband, expects to benefit from changes in federal tax law inserted into the government’s massive bank bailout program by the Democrat she sought to unseat, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd ....

McMahon, who has taken a hard line against government bailouts and made much of her experience of building a company "without the help of big government," was pilloried by her opponents after the Journal Inquirer reported in October that the company had been handed nearly $3 million in state tax credits.

The incentives were awarded eight weeks after she stepped down as WWE's chief executive officer in September to challenge Dodd, a five-term Democrat who has since said he won't seek re-election.

State records later released to Journal Inquirer showed that WWE actually was in line to receive $7 million more of the tax credits, and the company's spokesman, Robert Zimmerman, said WWE would apply for more of the incentives based on its production costs in Connecticut over the last year.

Zimmerman, moreover, last week confirmed that WWE also plans to benefit from an amendment Dodd - the chairman of the Senate banking committee - attached in October 2008 to a tax extension bill that was folded into the federal government's $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

But what I found especially troubling in the report was a comment from Zimmerman that even though the WWE has laid off workers in the past year, the corporation was eligible for this tax credit because it supposedly is creating jobs. "We shoot a lot down in New Orleans now," he said. "So we're actually doing what this is supposed to do, creating jobs."

Zimmerman initially dismissed questions about how WWE might benefit from the controversial government bailout, saying its state film credits had nothing do with TARP and suggesting that McMahon's political opponents were attempting to stoke a bogus news story. But the spokesman later said that after checking with the company’s accountants he had learned that the company could benefit from the tax breaks Dodd had inserted in the bailout package.

Exactly how are unemployed workers in the state of Connecticut benefitting from the WWE, based in Stamford, getting tax breaks and TARP funding, and then hiring people in New Orleans? No slam to New Orleans intended here, but frankly, we need the jobs in Connecticut.

McMahon has hired some people here, at high rates, including her campaign communications manager, Suzan Bibisi, wife of Connecticut's Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy. The JI reported that Bibisi, a competent and experienced journalist and communications professional, is paid $125,000 per year by McMahon - good for her - but Healy has been accused of helping his wife's employer to the detriment of the Simmons campaign, a disclosure that is causing substantial criticism within the GOP rank and file.

Healy denied to the JI that he has helped McMahon, and said he has not participated in a whisper campaign inside and outside the party that seeks to undermine Simmons. But it sure doesn't look good for the party chairman's wife to be the communications manager for McMahon when there is a battle for the seat about to vacated by Chris Dodd - even though she has the absolute right to select where and for whom she wants to work. And there has been plenty of commentary between party members that Healy will benefit at least indirectly, as long as McMahon is in the race and his wife continues to be paid by her.

There is plenty for Republicans to worry about regarding a potential matchup between Linda McMahon and Democrat Richard Blumenthal, the designated replacement for Dodd. Much of the media is giving her a pass on this controversy, and it could be argued that this is because the media is left-leaning, pro-Democrat and she would be a far easier opponent for Blumenthal than Simmons.

McMahon has a compelling history, and by all accounts is a very nice person who presents herself well. But before November this race is going to be about the economy, national security and foreign relations - especially our debt to and trade deficit with China. Simmons, the former Connecticut Business Advocate, decorated Vietnam veteran, retired US Army intelligence officer, and CIA operative who speaks fluent Chinese, has far more experience on all three of those issues than anyone else in the race, regardless of their party.

And should McMahon become the GOP candidate, the media will suddenly grow fangs in an effort to help Blumenthal. You can take that to the bank. The murmurs heard about the WWE finances, handicapped "talent" and other, more egregious issues within the professional wrestling business will become a deafening roar, and it will continue throughout the fall, right to election day.

McMahon might have had a chance against Dodd, but with what is going on now and what will arise in the future, she has little to no chance of beating Blumenthal. I say that objectively and with no rancor. That's just the way it is.

McMahon has spent more than $6 million of her own money on this campaign, and raised only about $10,000. That speaks volumes because if people aren't willing to donate even a token amount for the cause, then they aren't going to vote for her either. And she hasn't been able to overcome Simmons' lead in the polls. Convention delegates should take a close look at that issue.

Meanwhile, members of the party hierarchy are supposed to at least give the appearance of objectivity and neutrality, regardless of how they may feel personally. The decision on who will represent the Republican party in the November election is supposed to be made by the delegates to the party convention or, if there is a primary, by a majority of Republican voters.

It would be naive to think that the GOP State Central Committee or for that matter, even the party leadership, is really neutral. But there is at least supposed to be an appearance of neutrality. Unfortunately, that no longer exists in this race.


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