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What Does It Take to Get the US Congress to Do the Right Thing?

 Dogged Persistence & a Late-Night Celeb

 By   Shlomo Maital   

John Feal hugging Jon Stewart

     After 9/11, many many of the responders and site-workers fell ill, as the toxic materials of the wreckage destroyed their lungs, livers and other organs. It’s hard to believe, but the Federal Government has been criminally slow to replenish the fund that helped pay for their medicine and care.

       On July 23, the Senate passed the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund reauthorization bill. It will help first responders pay for health care through 2092. President Trump signed the bill.  

   Republican Senator Rand Paul, who voted for Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, creating a $1 trillion deficit, voted against the bill, citing fiscal irresponsibility.

Well done, Senator. Make us proud. Make America great again.

       Here is what it takes to get the US Congress to do the obvious right thing.

         It takes John Feal. For the past 15 years, he has organized trips to Washington, hundreds of them, by ill, injured and dying responders, through his FealGood foundation. Feal is a demolition construction worker, who was injured while clearing rubble at Ground Zero and had part of his foot amputated. He has tried to persuade Congress to do the right thing since 2004.

         And it takes Jon Stewart. Born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, Stewart’s The Daily Show was for my money the funniest, most biting satire on television, for almost 20 years, since it began in 1999.  

           Here is how The Daily Beast’s Michael McAuliff describes how one dogged persistent citizen, Feal, enlisted a celeb, Stewart, and against all the odds – everyone said there was no chance to pass the bill before Congress went on vacation – got it done. Feal knew Stewart, because Feal had been on The Daily Show.

   “….when it came time to talk to lawmakers about the next bill reauthorization, [Feal] didn’t want Stewart to just read a statement he’d prepared with guidance from Hill staffers.     He wanted Stewart to speak purely from the heart, so he primed him.    He gave him a note in the morning about how much Pfeifer [a 9/11 first-responding firefighter who died as a result of the toxicity] and Stewart’s friendship meant to him. Just before going into the hearing room, Feal and former FDNY firefighter Kenny Specht presented the comedian with the fire coat Pfeifer had worn on his first job. Feal had bought it at a charity fundraiser the night before. He had dozens of responders sign it as a sign of thanks.  

   “I knew I was getting to him. I knew he was just a bowl of Jello,” Feal said.   In the hearing, Stewart was scheduled to go last. And as the proceedings progressed, Feal kept working on Stewart, pointing to the packed audience and empty chairs of representatives.    “He was just festering. I said, ‘Put the piece of paper away, and do what you do best,’” Feal recalled. “I think that moment was where we changed course. I think that’s where we took matters into our own hands. And I saw a window where we could get this done before the August recess, and I knew we didn’t have to wait until November, December like everyone else wanted.”

   Stewart’s talk went viral. He tore a strip off the Congressional representatives, chastising their utter indifference. “Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of”.   He was visibly emotional, and close to tears of rage.

   So what does it take today to get the US Congress to do the right thing? It takes one dogged, determined citizen, who somehow can enlist a celeb, who explodes spontaneously in righteous anger, at an outrageous display of indifference, by members of Congress who simply were not there. And media who helped the celeb’s talk go viral, playing it hundreds of times.

       Even stone-age fossil Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could not resist it.

       So, how often will Congress do the right thing in future?  

       It seems to me the Babylonians invented the zero for us, so we could answer that question precisely.   Because, how often will the Feal-Stewart duo recur?





Innovation: Lessons from Stephen Colbert –

You Can’t Discover the Product Until You’re Making It

By Shlomo Maital


Stephen Colbert

   Some readers may recognize Stephen Colbert as the host of the Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report”, which in its last season drew 1.7 million viewers, amusing them with Colbert’s skill at deflating hypocrites and finding enormous irony in our daily political lives.   CBS chose him to succeed David Letterman, in its “The Late Show”, which launches soon.

   We can learn two major innovation lessons from Colbert and his new venture.

   First, Colbert’s persona for his “Colbert Report” show was entirely different from the one that he must embrace for The Late Show. For Comedy Central’s savvy viewers, mostly young, “wonkish” according to the New York Times, he was perfect. Now, for The Late Show, he has to reinvent himself, to become more genial, softer, kinder, gentler, because who wants prickles at 11:35 p.m., when you’re drowsy and just want to relax, chuckle and doze off in front of the TV?   Jon Stewart, who until recently hosted The Daily Show, has said, “what made [Colbert’s character] work was the thing that Stephen had to hide – which is his humanity”.    Adapting to your clients, when they change, is crucial for any innovator. And above all, it means being highly sensitive and attuned to who they are and what they really want.  This is especially hard when the product is the show host himself.

   So, that brings us to the second lesson, an important one.

   “You can’t discover the product until you’re making it”.  Colbert said this.   I would turn that saying into a sign and post it on the walls of every startup.   Until you make the product, and deliver it to clients, and hear their reaction, you have not yet really discovered the product. Discovery begins not with the idea, but with the first person who actually uses the product.

   So how did Colbert test his Late Show formula? He and his team spent the whole summer producing original content, and then uploaded it, even though they did not yet have a TV program to try it on.   According to The New York Times, Colbert will have to “take command of his work and assert his tastes confidently and unapologetically” – this, at a time when there is an army of producers, directors, joke writers and CBS executives messing around with The Late Show (a machine that prints money) and giving advice.

     So, innovator – discover your product – by making it. It’s so simple. And it’s why many startups fail, when they think they are taking time to perfect their product, without really knowing whether anybody will like it and buy it.

   Be like Colbert. Get serious.   Get your product out there and see the reaction. Before you do that, you won’t have a clue.


Bye, Jon Stewart!

By Shlomo Maital    


    Jon Stewart announced this week that he is retiring from The Daily Show on Comedy Central, after 16 years.  His motive?   “I heard from multiple sources that my family is …really nice people”….  And indeed, that may well be the reason. 

     I personally learned a powerful lesson from Jon Stewart,  born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz on Nov. 28, 1962.    To make a point, you can yell, scream, protest.  You can write articles and blogs, with massive data, tables and numbers. 

    Or, you can use humor, satire, a sardonic smile, and make a point to get a laugh.

    Which is most effective?  Humor, by far.  Why?    Because, people are never more serious than when they are joking.  I learn far more about what people are thinking from their jokes than from what they say.  Why?  Because some things are hard to say, and if you couch them in humor, satire or a joke,  somehow it’s easier to be frank. 

     Listen carefully to how people kid you. You will learn a great deal about yourself, and about what others think of you.  Even your spouse or significant other.

      Jon Stewart tore strips off Israel, off Israel, off Obama.  He especially loved to expose hypocrisy, which alone can account for the 98 per cent of missing ‘dark matter’ in the universe.  He especially spoke to young people, who hate conventional news but loved the way he presented it. 

     He was great at discovering talent.  And above all, as Senator Tim Kaine (Virginia) says, “even as he cracked jokes, ultimately he was making a serious point.”  Like when he had the Secretary of Health Kathleen Sibelius on his program, and tried to see which was longer, downloading every movie ever made onto his laptop or signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

      Bye, Jon Stewart. Enjoy your family.  Rest well.   We’ll miss you.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
September 2019
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