Saturday, December 13, 2014

Motivated!: George W. Bush and the Hucksters

by Nomad

Last month, I saw an article that I have been meaning to pass along to you. 
First, here's some information about what it means, financially speaking, to be an ex-president.  

The Financial Joys of Being an Ex-President
According to CNN, when a president leaves the White House he remains on the government payroll, receiving an annual pension of about $200,000, health care, paid official travel and an office. The rent on a office fit for an ex-president has to impress and therefore tends to be both swanky and pricey. (The rent on Clinton's New York City offices reportedly run at half a million.) 
All of these it's probably needless to say are taxpayer-funded benefits.

Even for a person as illiterate and as bumbling as George W. Bush, apparently there are plenty of people out there that still can't get enough of the man. His last book, (in which he boasted-among other things- of authorizing torture) reportedly earned him $7 million for the first 1.5 million copies of "Decision Points." (Without the benefit of the conservative book selling tricks, Clinton bested Bush with his own memoirs which netted him $15 million advance.)

Then there is the speech-making circuit. It's not exactly hard work but it is an easy way to earn a year's salary in a day. George Bush, since leaving office has made a tidy fortune.

Getting Motivated!
Ok, now for the story I was telling you about.
Joseph L. Flatley, writing for, learned how former president George W. Bush found another way to supplement his income since he  moved out of the White House. (Although it is not particularly new news, I thought you'd find it interesting.)

Back in October 2009, Bush kicked off his new life/career, as a special guest speaking at a "star-studded affair" held at Ft. Worth Convention Center. It was sponsored by an enterprise named Get Motivated!
The stars that studded included Terry Bradshaw, televangelist Dr. Robert Schuller, Former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, Former Secretary of State Colin "In this little bottle" Powell and Christian motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. (See comment section.)
Flatley provides some details about the Tampa, Fla.-based company, Get Motivated! from a Bush-friendly source, Dallas Morning News The Get Motivated! seminars are described by the paper as 
“glossy affairs—sort of Babbitt meets the Super Bowl, part pep rally, part Christian revival meeting for salespeople who want to up their game. Bush apparently feels comfortable headlining a day-long bacchanalia of patriotism, inspiration, success stories and sales tips.”
Founded in 2002 by Peter and Tamara Lowe, The Get Motivated! Seminars drew as many as 400,000 people a year. They featured fireworks and confetti and suspiciously low-priced ticket starting at $1.95. 

The mainstream media regaled the organization. (This comes from Tamara Lowe's website and one suspects that the praise might be somewhat carefully selected.) The New York Times says the motivational seminars “rouse sales reps, entrepreneurs and executives to higher levels of performance.” The Wall Street Journal calls the meetings “a barnstorming feel-good tour de force.” The Washington Post reportedly called the seminars, “the Superbowl of Success."

Beyond the Razzle Dazzle
Like the Superbowl, there were rumors that that things behind the razzle-dazzle were a bit on the shady side. Some folks said there was a little more to the organization than just a pep club for ambitious types.
The Seattle Times reported:
The seminars were actually vehicles for investment firms to sell courses in stock options and other trading tactics from the same stage where luminaries held forth.
One source points out that all those "stars" serve as bait to draw the unsuspecting into the arena. (Hence the cheap tickets.) 
Additionally, the celebrities were not of the rock star variety. They usually carried with them an air of conservative respectability. Names that added an indispensable air of legitimacy. 
That was a key ingredient. Trust and confidence. 

Once inside the tent, they were subjected to:
three-plus hours of sales pitches designed to sell you on the idea that you can make a zillion on the Internet by selling stuff you don’t actually own. Or snapping up foreclosures. Or buying a set of online personal-investment tools.
Another article details the blight of one Michigan pastor who claimed he lost $11,500 trading options after paying for $12,000 of classes advertised at a Get Motivated! seminar.

Although the crowd may have been entranced by the appearance of celebrities like Bush, many of them soon learned what every con-game victim learns.
Not one of the speakers counseled you to think before giving your credit-card number to any outfit that, buried in the fine print, advises that it will begin charging a $39 monthly fee unless you sent a cancellation notice to Tampa, Florida, by midnight Saturday. In writing.
Imagine that. The ex-president is the star of a shady “get rich quick” scheme peddling tour. Live and in-person! In fairness, George W. Bush was by no means the only former president to participate.

He just happened to be the last one. 

Must Make You Mad
Clearly money was the thing that got Bush motivated. According to the article he pulled in six-figures for his day's toil. 

An article in the UK Independent gives us a general idea what listening to George W. Bush's twenty-minute speech is like. As he struts from one side of the stage to the other, in a sharp grey suit, Bush shares a story about his dog, Barney, and how Bush trying to shake hands with his neighbor with a poop-scoop mitt on his hand.
A crowd-pleasing knee-slapper, no doubt. How humble this man is! The very idea that he would walk his own dog and shake his own hand with his own neighborhood.

But then, for a small number in the crowd it might hit them: this is exactly the same careless attitude Bush thought was so amusing when he was president. The inappropriate remark, the clumsy phrasing and lack of any kind of social skill. (Merkel still hasn't forgotten her unwanted shoulder massage, I am sure.)
One of Bush's favorite stories for the stage:
Then he launches into another anecdote – an old favorite about the time Laura asked him to go out and buy a battery from the local hardware store and someone asked whether anyone had ever told him he looked just like the former President. It happens all the time, he'd replied. "The guy then takes a couple of steps away then turns round and says, 'That must make you mad'."
It's as if Bush doesn't understand how so much of America, so much of the world, simply cannot stand the sight of him. For him, his miserable record as president just a big joke.
Bush still hasn't a clue that for many Americans, the ideal retirement home for George would have a long list of "Do not" rules, very high, very blank walls, and lots of iron bars. For many Americans, they would just prefer never to see or think of George Bush ever again.
Unfortunately, wishes are not horses.   

Whether Bush recognizes it or not, for many people, he is an unwelcome reminder of America's fall from grace. Of course, why should he care when there are still enough people out there who will pay to hear him talk about beloved Barney and other treats like that..
(Keep in mind that for that one appearance, Bush more than likely earns as much as his entire annual ex-presidential salary.)   

Got Screwed! 
Eventually, Get Motivated! got closed up! in 2012, when the traveling show shuffled off to Buffalo and dropped dead. Bloomberg reported:
After a sparsely attended event in June in Buffalo, New York, starring former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes, comedian Bill Cosby and Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak, Get Motivated! canceled seminars scheduled for Michigan and Kentucky.
Cosby was one of the last of the motivational speakers and i f the Bloomberg article is anything to go by, the quality of inspiration provided by accused rape drugger, Bill Cosby consisted of telling the audience to "listen to the millionaires." He told his audience “Come on, understand what they’re saying. Get up.” 
Who wouldn't be raring to go after that?

Another sign of the lowering standards: Perpetual Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney also participated in the seminars- in a fashion. In 2010,  he refined the system even further. He was apparently willing to take a cut in pay in order to be a an Orwellian, 1984-Esque big face on a screen. 
According to one source, he was paid $30,000 for speaking to a Salt Lake City crowd.. by satellite.
*   *   *
After Buffalo, all that was left behind was a series of lawsuits seeking compensation for unpaid bills, along with a messy divorce of the owners, Peter and Tamara Lowe, of Tampa, Florida. Before their War of Roses style divorce, they were a power couple. 
Peter Lowe is the son of a missionary and his wife Tamara was a self-help book author "who performed a rap about Jesus at the events. Tamara has her own drugs to riches story to motivate the crowd. The stories that the 700 Club viewers love to hear.

Get Divorced!
The details of the collapse rivaled the ugliness of the Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker meltdown. To those who lost their nest eggs, there must have been a satisfying sensation that comes with karmic justice.
Tamara accuses Peter of selling Get Motivated Seminars out from under her to an Apollo Beach man. Peter counters that Tamara's company ransacked his offices, carting off cubicles and chairs, stealing computer files and leaving a web of phone lines dangling from walls — all so she could carry on the business without him.
But the gossip about what led up to the divorce was even more brutal, and by brutal, I mean, juicy. Life behind the walls of their $ 28 million home in Palm Beach, said the gossips, was anything but happy. 

Despite the fact the money flowed in like a Texas gusher, their marriage of 24 years was neatly described as the husband "spending all his time watching porn" and the wife spending her time "practicing her rap music and looking for a boyfriend." 
(And brother, when she cleaned house, if the trash talk is true, she cleaned out everything she could carry. including her husband's cache of porn.)

Oh but it's sad when a love affair dies, as the song says. How much of that is true is, naturally, will never be known. What is known that when the big candy-colored balloon popped, the couple's relationship turned into a sizzling vat of carbolic acid and the first thing to be thrown in was Get Motivated! 
Court filings suggested that when the company collapsed, former First Lady, Laura Bush (and a few other speakers) were left unpaid for their hard work. The company represents well-known people, who spoke at the events, Washington Speakers Bureau, was owed $1.7 million.

But the party was not quite over.

The new owner and director, Joseph Johnson of ... you guessed it... Apollo Beach, Fla. bought the company in January 2012. In a press release, Johnson's desire to restart the circus with the same troupe.  (Some said it was merely a tactic by Peter Lowe.)
"We are focusing our efforts with the veteran Get Motivated staff on how to continue the success of these valuable seminars, which have impacted millions of lives for more than a quarter-century,"
Sadly, for Johnson, problems immediately arose. He ended up being sued for allegedly defaulting on a $12 million loan from an investor that he used to buy and operate Get Motivated! 
The present situation is unknown. Last we heard Johnson and Peter Lowe were attempting  to find funding to relaunch the seminars, with promises to pay back the debts. 

A Hard Business
Business professionals were quick to make excuses for the Get Motivated! failure.
In fact, the former owner, Lowe had already experienced problems with his business model prior to the collapse of Get Motivated! 
Records show that 11 years ago before, Lowe's motivational company Success Events International collapsed amid millions of dollars in debt.    

In that Bloomberg article, one insider explained that it was "a hard business to make a profit." That's not quite true: it just depended on who you were. The Lowes didn't seem to be suffering any hardship. 

In fact, a lot of people got very rich for doing very little but jabbering about themselves for 20 minutes.Said one business manager:
“We really haven’t seen anybody else doing this kind of format, where you have six or more big-name people that require large speaking fees.”
We all know who the "big name people" that he was probably referring to. 
*   *   *
It's hard not to see the Get Motivated! collapse as a representation of something larger. As if it symbolized perfectly the truth about what has become of the American dream and American politics. That it has devolved into an extremely flashy kind of hucksterism and elaborate confidence game.
The truth is pretty hard to admit no matter how obvious it is.

The America Dream has become a get-rich-quick scheme for the permanently naive (but extremely greedy) suckers, who are unknowingly providing the means for the already- fabulously wealthy  "big names" to get a little richer and a lot quicker.

In this case, the big name just happens also to be "the worst president in American history" and the superpower leader who found a way to rationalize torture and not get punished for it.