Tech'ed Up

2023 Wrap-Up: Tech in DC • Bruce Mehlman

December 14, 2023 bWitched Media
Tech'ed Up
2023 Wrap-Up: Tech in DC • Bruce Mehlman
Show Notes Transcript

Bruce Mehlman, founder of Mehlman Consulting, a bi-partisan lobbying juggernaut in Washington, DC, joins Niki in the studio to share his thoughts on 2023 and tech. They have a spirited conversation about politics, progress, and the state of play for tech regulation that touches on AI, tech’s impact on polling, and social media. 

“AI's existence doesn't mean, okay, now we're all going to settle all those old hard things…it's not endemic to some kind of Washington dysfunction that we haven't solved it. It's that hard things are hard.” -Bruce Mehlman

[music plays]

Niki: I'm Niki Chistoff and welcome to Tech'ed Up. 

Today's guest is Bruce Mehlman, founder and partner of a bipartisan lobbying shop here in Washington. He's a tech expert, perhaps best known for his infographic summarizing the state of play in Washington. We're going to talk about his top takeaways from 2023 and then handicap what might happen during the bananas election year we're all about to endure.

Bruce, welcome! Thank you so much for coming into the studio today. 

Bruce: Thanks for having me. This is a real studio! 

Niki: Yeah. It's cool, too. It's like, people don't see it, but it's got, it's got a good vibe, I think.

Bruce: Our podcast is literally in a windowless, [Niki: laughs] closet in our office, so this is quite fancy. 

Niki: So we can describe it. It's, like, exposed brick, lots of plants, Godzilla posters, it's cool. 

Bruce: It's very cool.  

Niki: Thank you

Bruce: As, as befits Tech’ed Up. 

Niki: [laughs] Thank you, I appreciate it.  You and I bumped into each other recently, and I was talking through your takeaways 

Bruce: [interrupts] At the Tech Prom!

Niki: At Tech Prom, Nerd Prom, that's exactly right. So, for people who don't know, that's where long-time industry people and new people just circle up and support the Center for Democracy and Technology, and it's, it's like a fun way to catch up on what people are doing. I said,“You have to come on the pod,” because you had a lot of takeaways.

Bruce: It's a great NGO, for sure. I'm lucky enough to be on their board, so I have to buy a table, but I also want to buy a table. They're great. 

Niki: Yeah, they are great. 

If we look back at 2023 and tech specifically, what do you think the big takeaways were for the year? 

Bruce: Yeah, so maybe start at the most macro and include some tech. My big four takeaways from 2023 are, first, there's always a reversion to the mean. For people who think Washington is a “you know what show” and “look how ridiculous the first year of the 118th Congress was”, I'm not going to debate it, but if you look at it in the context of the 117th and 118th, we came last Congress through one of the most, bipartisan, productive, and high impact Congresses, home runs, triples, doubles. 

When you think about things, y’know, there was the infrastructure bill, 1. 2 trillion. There was the Chips and Science Act, 280 billion dollars to try to get stronger in semiconductors, Respect for Marriage Act, the Major Gun reform, the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a ridiculous name for what really is a Green New Deal.

Niki: I  know. I love it, though. That's how they had to get it, y’know, through [laughs] 

Bruce: And you do what, y’know, remember Trump wanted to call his tax legislation the “Cuts, Cuts, Cuts Act?” [Niki: laughs] So, I get people are marketing through these things, but, but big takeaway number one is I would have expected the 118th to be a catch your breath, put your hands on your knees, particularly once the House flipped.

As it turned out, who knew?!, the 117th was insanely productive.

Niki: I want to pause for a second and double down on that because it's so true, and it's really lost. There's no or very little clear messaging on the winds. There's, like, a, such a, PR problem for Congress [chuckles].

I think there's a communications problem of explaining to our clients, your clients, like, the sand is coming out of the gears, the wheels are turning. So, does that lead to your next kind of takeaway? 

Bruce: Well, just because the legislative theater is taking a pause doesn't mean there's not a ton of activity. 

My macro number two: we're also seeing a lot of blowback on business engagement in social, cultural, and political issues. More and more businesses weighing in on more and more topics, whether they were an area where the business had knowledge and expertise or not and a backlash began. 

And the backlash we saw with the Disney/DeSantis silliness, we saw the backlash that seemed to actually have an actual business impact on Bud Light. The backlash has really now a lot of energy, and a lot of fuel, and businesses are realizing these are not free ways to, y’know, to be voted president of Davos. [Niki: laughs] 

You need to be thoughtful about if you engage, when you engage, how you engage. And if you engage on issue A, there's going to be pressure on B, C, and D.

And so, businesses, rather than engaging on everything, everywhere, all the time, they're now realizing, “We need to be thoughtful.” 

Niki: I can use, I think, Salesforce as a good example of this. Salesforce was incredibly outspoken on the Equality Act, which was great for the brand and almost every employee agreed with it and supported it. But as soon as we started having to move into other topics - especially in the tech industry, there's an assumption that everyone who works in tech is a liberal, progressive, and in agreement on big social issues. And that is not true! So, having been on the inside of it, companies are, in some ways, speaking on behalf of their employee base, too.

And there's no winning, in my opinion. There's just no winning on getting involved if it doesn't touch your business. A lot of tech companies weigh in on things that are so far fetched from being, y’know, a CRM or a [chuckling] cloud-based enterprise service.

I'm like, why are we talking about this? 

Bruce:  People are realizing it's a mistake that you should always weigh in. I think, just like you said, there's no silver bullet, but there are best practices, and companies are starting to get their heads around what they are and how to execute them.

Niki: It's funny you say that, so I'm sort of, when I'm advising people, I'm like, “There are no silver bullets. There are only lead bullets. Do not do this.” But there are best practices, and I think you're right, there's an expectation now that companies weigh in, both from their employees, who get incredibly frustrated when they don't, but also, there's this additional - does it boost the bottom line if the CEO does seem like they're very thoughtful about these things? 

I love this topic, by the way, because it's so hard. It's every boardroom. It's every major executive group I've been with, especially big companies who are sometimes not intellectually honest. They might get mad about what's happening in a state in the United States, but they're operating in Saudi Arabia! 

Bruce: Look, yes!  And it's hard to be vocal about civil rights and silent about human rights, and it just depends on, y’know, where the humans are. And that's one of the reasons that we've seen people realizing we've got to be more thoughtful so we can be more consistent about this. 

Niki: I love that quote!

Bruce: In the macro trends, though, y’know, I promised you four. [Niki: Oh, yes]

Number three, big takeaway is: hard things are hard. And I think too many people forget that, particularly, suddenly everybody's focusing on AI. But what were the tech issues before ChatGPT 3? 

Well, they fell in four categories. There was competition policy. Antitrust is hard. There was consumer protection. Privacy is hard, as is section 230 and, y’know, and, and where and how to have free speech versus protecting, y’know, people from disinformation and misinformation. China, U. S. integration is hard. National security is big topic number three. And, y’know, in some of the some of the sort of the social compact, gig economy, automation, labor. questions. They're really hard. 

Okay. Suddenly ChatGPT happens. AI is all people could talk about. Senator Schumer and Senator Young, to their credit, had, I don't know how many, bipartisan think sessions learning sessions. That's great. But all those issues are still there. They're all still hard. AI hasn't clarified any of them, and AI is not a discrete thing. 

Ultimately, we're talking, when we, the fight over, “Shouldn't we allow open source?” is so that Microsoft and one and Google and maybe one or two others don't dominate. Well, that's the antitrust question. It's been hard for 20 years. 

AI's existence doesn't mean, okay, now we're all going to settle all those old hard things. Everybody's convinced their answer is right, but any honest person would say these are really hard questions they've been wrestling with for years. And it's not endemic to some kind of Washington dysfunction that we haven't solved it. It's that hard things are hard. 

Niki: Hard things are hard. 

You just mentioned antitrust and competition. We're seeing a lot of agency movement on that, but it gets stuck in Congress. Privacy is hard. Section 230: we did a podcast on the Google case that really dove into this which I think explains it very well. And then national security, I'd add, y’know, TikTok, which to me did not seem hard because it has so much bipartisan support in Congress, but it doesn't have voter support of doing something about TikTok. Voters don't want their TikTok taken away, and they don't care. 

These are, sort of, root scaffolding issues that will underlie what is essentially just a tech layer on top of it. I often think: Okay, so we're looking at bias. We already have laws about discrimination. We've even got a constitutional amendment about discrimination. We're looking at privacy and how you might use health data or how you have a financial outcome. We've already got laws on the books that essentially deal with that. AI is just a new iteration of technology, but I sort of feel like do we need to regulate on AI?

Are we like a hammer looking for a nail? 

Bruce: Well, [pause]  I think most members of Congress start from the supposition that by never really regulating social media, there's a lot of undesirable things on social media, and there's a lot of downstream impact, whether it's on our politics or whether it's on our, our children and our ability to parent.

I tend to think my macro theory, and I've always wanted to do a slide deck on this, and I haven't been able to put the time in, is the internet broke politics. Politics were designed for the 20th century. The internet forces you to figure things out for the 21st. And we haven't figured out the reforms to re-architect it to allow people to be trustful again.

But on Section 230, is the problem, as the Democrats say, “Too much misinformation, so we need more censorship?” Or is the problem, as the Republicans say, “Too much censorship, and therefore, we need more voices, even honest, accurate voices?” 

Niki: It's not an easy issue. And I think you're right that definitely a motivation is that Washington feels like they missed the harms of social media.

We thought it was great to connect people [chuckling]- 

Bruce: [interrupts] And it is in many, many ways! 

Niki: In many ways! And it turns the dial on extremism- 

Bruce: Which it does, right? 

Niki: I also think they're trying to pull these huge, powerful multinational companies and their billionaire founders and CEOs to heel because there is so much power in the private sector. It seems like both the Republicans and Democrats see that as a problem. 

So, I think there's also a billionaire backlash. Well, we know there's a billionaire backlash. It's like a bad word to be a billionaire. And so, I think that's the other thing is: they're trying to pull them to heel.

Bruce: The internet didn't create populism. Arguably, though, the internet is in many ways upstream of accelerating inequality where those with more skills, those with more access to capital, those who, who are better educated, command more of the spoils of a globally integrated economic system because of what the internet has enabled. So, that cue the anti-inequality backlash. 

Globalization. You know, particularly in a post-Cold War environment where now it's just about who can integrate technology-enabled outsourcing. Technology enables you to run global supply chains that are just in time. A lot of people won and benefited as consumers.

Certainly, anybody who goes to Davos won thanks to globalization. 

Niki: I love that you're trashing Davos. Just drag them! [laughs] 

Bruce: [laughing] Well, but they've never invited me, damn it! 

Niki: They've never invited me either. Do you think we're just salty? 

[both laugh]

Bruce: Well, probably. Y’know, it's, what these guys have to understand, what we all should understand though is, the internet accelerated the difference between being great with tech, and you're a rock star, and feeling like you're falling behind.

Culturally it, one of the things it does is, it causes the lifestyles of the rich and famous, which used to be watched on one show - everybody all the time sees everything online. So first, I was happy with my life until I realized how much better your life is because it's right there in front of me that I can access on my phone, literally 24, 7, 365, wherever I am. Suddenly, y’know, I'm upset about that I, like my friends, and I was happy until FOMO: I see them partying at an event that nobody invited me to, and now I'm feeling bad.

Or even just, y’know, you've got a great social media feed. Your life is amazing on social media. 

Niki: Oh, my life looks, I have to say, when you Google me and then you look at the images, I look like Olivia Pope [Bruce: laughs], and then my friends see me, and I’m like the [laughing] Wicked Witch melting into the ground. 

Bruce: Well, right, you know, because none of us put that on, on Instagram. It's like, “Well, here I am in sweatpants eating ice cream with a spoon [Niki: laughing] out of the pint thing.” 

Niki: Literally, Entenmann's with a fork. 

Bruce: Right, and just taking, “Spoon for me, spoon for the dog.” [Niki: laughs] And it's like that, y’know, although my puppy is so cute that would make good Instagram stuff. But, y’know, we all put, we all compare our ups and downs against the absolute fictionalized best lives of everybody else we see. 

Niki: Which is incredibly harmful to kids and something you and I didn't grow up with. But it also, I think, to repeat what you said, conspicuous consumption is so conspicuous because it's on your phone. It's not just that you see someone in a G-wagon who lives in, [chuckling] y’know, Georgetown. You see this conspicuous income inequality every single day in your feed, even the things that are fake, it reinforces, like, “I'm not winning in this moment in time.” 

Bruce: Yeah. Although, look, you and I are both not technophobes!

I'm a massive technophile. And, on the one hand, it's bad for kids. On the other hand, if you grew up in a small town and you were gay, you thought something was wrong with you before the internet now, you know something's wrong with your town and you're A-OK. 

If when you were, y’know, you were a kid in school and you were way smarter than the teachers, maybe you'd go to the library to do some outside stuff. But for the most part, you were bored. Now you can capture your imagination. You can learn on your own. You can take, y’know, a Stanford or MIT course. It's an extraordinary benefit that didn't exist when we were kids. So that's awesome. You can see the whole world. Maybe, y’know, maybe you got a working mom. You can't afford to travel anywhere. You can go to any museum. You can go to see the, y’know, any city. 

The thing that makes it so hard is the upsides are off the charts. It's amazing. All the things enabled by media and even social media - when it's working-  

Niki: [interrupts excitedly] When it's working, you're right!

We do sometimes, and by we, I mean me, get really down on social media because I think I can see the harm, but we forget the magical things about tech the things that are really, really positive. 

When I started at Google, we did not have, we didn't have, y’know, I was still using MapQuest like the year before, we didn't have smartphones. I had a, a Motorola Razr flip phone, which I loved by the way, but we didn't have Uber, we didn't have- So these are magical things, even when we're down on those brands, we forget and take for granted many of the extraordinary efficiencies and, and color that they bring into our life.

Bruce: No, you're a thousand percent right. The right answer isn't banning any of this stuff. The right answer is trying to find the right balance. Y’know, 20 years ago, if you had asked me, I'd have said, “Well, it's about parents being, y’know, parents need to be aware of what their kids are doing.” And then I had three kids [chuckles]! 

Niki: I know! I just found this out because I don't have kids. That kids don't take textbooks back and forth anywhere. They don't have books. Everything's online for them, or many of them. I'm sure that's not true in every situation in every school. I was stunned when I was in law school. I had about seven massive books. I was carrying, y’know, my mile walk and it's so different. So, saying that we need to construct 

Bruce: Uphill both ways, right?

Niki: Uphill both ways in the snow. [Bruce: chuckles]  I'm Gen X. So, I'm just constantly aggrieved about what I had to put up with. But it's true, that you can't just restrict them and you can't put all that onus on parents because you're fighting an uphill battle. It's impossible. 

Bruce: You're right. What makes tech policy maddening but also fascinating is: God forbid we kill the golden geese, but you gotta stop letting them poop all over the house.

Niki: Yeah. Well, and also, the economic juggernaut of these companies and how it's driven our, the American economy, I worry that we're sort of tying one hand behind our back. 

Do you agree with that? 

Bruce: Well, y’know, also said John Rockefeller, also said [Niki: laughs], I mean, every, when they were inventing antitrust law in the, at the end of the Gilded Age,”You're going to kill the economy.” We did okay after antitrust law was, was created [Niki: laughs], but it's also fair to say that, y’know, and sorry if I'm picking on friends of yours here, but, y’know, AWS has a dominant position, and they can leverage it to swallow competitors.

Y’know, Google can get away with, with efficient infringement of patents, because you want to litigate against Google? They send, like, the y’know, Mr. Burns from the Simpsons team of 500 lawyers with briefcases to fight you.

Niki:  I used to be, I used to work for the Chief Legal Officer at Google, but yes, it's, they have a larger in-house legal team than most law firms.

Bruce: As they need. [Niki: They do!] And they, y’know, it's a search engine I, I love and value. 

But Microsoft ,similarly now where, y’know, and, and, full disclosure, one of our clients is Zoom. But if you have the better product, the better video platform but you're up against somebody who has an installed base of office customers, which is very dominant as the EU is litigating against, Microsoft right now, that sort of tying is unfair. 

And, you know, ‘member Netscape Navigator, where'd that go? [Niki: Right] It's like, well, they were up against a tied Internet Explorer, which was a much crappier produc but, y’know, had the unfair advantage that ultimately forced Netscape to whoever's arms it ended up in, like, six ways from Sunday.

Niki: Yeah, I mean, the entire federal government is using Microsoft Teams. 

Bruce: Which creates both cybersecurity challenges because when there is a vulnerability there, y’know, they're reading Gina Raimondo's emails, as it turns out. [Niki: Yep] But it also it runs the risk of squelching competition. 

So the point you made, which is right, is because people are big and successful, we should celebrate them but we probably need to add a level of scrutiny to make sure that their size and success don't prevent the next Microsoft, the next Google, or the next whomever from coming forward. 

We may be at a point where some of those really, really big guys do need to have certain functions separated so that there's not an unfair advantage. And so the next even smarter people can come along and actually succeed. 

Niki: Well, and one thing I think people get maybe not wrong, but forget, is a lot of acquisitions happened under the Obama administration that led to Facebook acquiring Instagram, right? They allowed these huge M&A deals to go through, and now you've, sort of, created these big, big companies. 

I wish I could just have Instagram. That is my preference, but I can't. 

Bruce: Yeah, y’know, I agree, although I'm sure you're a fan of Ben Thompson's Stratechery. 

Niki: Yes! 

Bruce: That's, that guy is 

Niki: We should put a link to that. It's really good!  

Bruce: He's brilliant. Y’know, it's a subscription thing, but it's among the most worthwhile things I pay for anywhere. He is the best big tech analyst in every way, shape, and form that I've, I read and I love reading his stuff. Y’know, he makes the point that knowing everything we know now, absolutely, “You can't buy WhatsApp and you can't buy Instagram.” But if you look, sort of, at the facts on the ground, remember everybody was like, y’know, “My god! Can you believe he paid this much money for WhatsApp? They've got like 11 employees.”  It didn't feel as, as potentially antitrust violative then as it does now. It's really easy to Monday morning quarterback all the things that we don't like.

Niki: It's a, it's a completely fair point. And I, so, I do work with StubHub. And one of the things I look back on is the idea that, that the government would have allowed a LiveNation ticket master merger, which [chuckling] has led to all of us being held completely hostage by this one company.

But at the time, you wanted to boost that economic driver, so you're totally right. At the moment it made sense, but to your point of the reversion to the mean:  antitrust and agencies are picking up steam on all of this work, as they should. That's their job.

Bruce: Right, yep. 

Niki: Okay, we're almost to point four. [laughing] 

Bruce:  I thought you lost the thread, wow! 

Niki: No, I've got the thread!

Bruce: So,so, my macro trend four from when you guys said, y’know, “Think about your lookbacks for the year,” is just, y’know, we can't quit Trump. The election of 2024 would appear to me to be the sequel that nobody wants, the least desired sequel since Caddyshack Two. [Niki: laughs]

And I think there are reasons ultimately why, I mean, I've, I've published on this, but I, y’know, I think the Democrat’s establishment is worried that if you took Biden out, you don't know who you get. I think the establishment realizes you got to stick with this guy because if you open the patient up, you may not get Gavin Newsom and that beautiful hair. You may get somebody who's less likely to be able to compete for swing voters in the states that matter. 

And the Republican establishment, I think, believes that Trump is the reason that we lost the House in 2018, the White House in 2020, lost both Senate seats in Georgia in 2021, and instead of picking up the Senate in 2022 with smart people like Dave McCormick, we ran Dr.Oz and Herschel Walker [Niki: laughs] and didn't pick up the Senate. 

Niki: I, I had, like, “Men in Blacked” the Dr. Oz thing. It was removed from my brain. Thank you for reminding me. 

Bruce: Sorry! I think the establishment thought, hey, can we have somebody who, who's, who's picks up a lot of the Trump themes but doesn't have all of the baggage and all of their own goals but the base runs the Republican Party, and they like a fighter. Far more than they want to think about. But is the fighter a winner? And so, here we are with the rematch and Trump's capacity to just suck all the air out of every other conversation.

Although, as you and I know, and the media is crying all the way to the bank, because when he was front and center, the media had golden years. [Niki: right] It reminds me of that old Les Moonves quote, “Y’know, he may be bad for America, but he's great for CBS. Go, Donald, go!” 

That's a quote!  From- 

Niki: Unbelievable! But yes, he, so President Trump always talked about his ratings, how he pushed the ratings actually, which he did. 

Bruce: I mean, y’know, he did. He did. It's [NIki: he does] And he, he did, and he does, and he will! And so, we are looking at a rematch and, and his existence will, will, is, has this kind of black hole gravitational pull to every other conversation.

Niki: I worry about people showing up to the polls. I think that nobody wants this matchup, and it just is sort of like, nobody wants the chicken or fish.

When I was in college, I did Gallup polling, which included-  

Bruce: [interrupts incredulously] You’ve done a lot of things!

Niki: Oh my God. I've lived a thousand lives. [Bruce: Yeah] Yeah, I have done a lot of things! And so I would stand outside, polling places in New Hampshire, and I would take, by hand, the polls, and then I would call on a pay phone, and report them to Gallup. And what I noticed is anyone with little kids did not stop. Senior citizens would stop and talk to me all day. And so, even though there was a process I was supposed to follow, I could not get accurate results. [Bruce: yep] And that was back then!

 Now, I think people just don't want to take a pollster's phone call. They don't feel like telling people how they're going to vote. So, I think we're really not going to have a good idea of what's happening until we get to election day. 

Bruce: Well, and, and the internet has broken politics: point number six is polling. Y’know, so I'm with you. You have your, I mean you have your shy Trump voters. You have the, there's some number of people I think who, who have concluded that pollsters are the establishment and they intentionally want to mess with them and want to not necessarily give them the right answers.

Our firm has a podcast. [Niki: yes!] Dean Hinkson is our golden-voiced host of that. But I, I used to do book events, nerd events on the 11th floor conference room with, like, wine and plastic cups and cubes of cheese with, with, with toothpicks.

And when the pandemic happened, I had Pete Singer, [Niki: mmh] on  his book about AI and robotics and  I couldn't do the event. Y’know, we had all these blocks of cheese. So, I'm like, let's just go on Zoom and the light bulb went off: I can invite the people who receive my slide decks who aren't just in Washington, who are all around the country, and around the world to listen in.

I've started doing, y’know, so many authors to talk about a lot of these topics that you and I are talking about right here. The last one I had was a guy named Patrick Ruffini, who's written a great book. He's a pollster. If you want to talk about ”Is polling broken? What are the lessons? How are the parties changing?,” he'd be a good person to have on Teched Up. He's not a tech policy wonk per se, and you probably know Kristen Soltis Anderson, his partner.

Niki: I totally do! 

Bruce: Who everybody loves!

Niki: She's a star. Everybody loves her. She's a star. 

Bruce: Yes, and I teased him. I said, “He's the Travis Kelce of their arrangement.” [Niki: laughs] But his book, if you're looking for, if -you gotta be, you gotta like politics. His recent book, “Party of the People”, It's a brilliant book.

Niki: The last thing I'll say about polling, I, so, I also worked in a proper polling firm for a while, not just Gallup polling in college. And, y’know, I used to think of liars- 

Bruce: [teasing] Can you hold a job?]

Niki: You know what? I've had these jobs. I'm, I'm older than I look. That's what I would say.

Bruce: No, you, you wear it very well! I would, it'd be interesting to go back and count. I'll show you something I have in my office, but something, I found every business card from every job I ever had and, and have a little framed thing where it's got, it's, it's got slots for 12 business cards. Now, admittedly, the bottom four maybe, are all my current job. [Niki: Right] You may not be a pack rat like me. You may not have kept every business card ever, but that would be an awesome wall decoration for you.

Niki: I've had some inter- I was a bingo investigator. I have had so many. 

Bruce: Wait. What?

Niki: Yeah, I've had a lot! 

Bruce: That's a thing?

Niki: Yeah. My phone number was two four B I N G O. That was my phone number. 

Bruce: A bingo investigator?!

Niki: Yeah. I’d drive around Indiana and look for expired licenses and raffles, and then for the State of Indiana, for the Tax Department, for the Revenue Department, I'd enforce a fine.

Bruce: How often were you chased out of town? 

Niki: Well, I became really good friends with the, you know, guys at the VFW who told me where their fax machine was - I was, actually, really well suited to be a bingo investigator. I just did it for a summer. 

Bruce: Were you voted in high school most likely to be a bingo investigator? 

Niki: [laughs] I don't think I was voted- 


Bruce: That'd be a big high school to have that. 

Niki: That would be, but so, I think when I was a pollster we used to say, “Liars, damn liars, and statisticians.”  [Bruce: HA!] So, we'll see. I might have Patrick Ruffini on. 

So, we've covered the four topics. We got to the end. 

I love that you finished with your slide deck because it really is a robust analysis of what happened during the year, what your thoughts are, how the EU compares to China, compares to the United States, how these regulatory regimes are evolving specifically with tech. You're paying a lot of attention to AI. So, how can people sign up to get it? 

Bruce: Well, so I'll start with, I have at all times, my pinned tweet it's @ B P M E H L M A N is the Twitter handle. Go look at the pinned tweet. Wade through the most recent deck, which will either convince you, “Hey, this stuff is cool” and I've got my email at the end., shoot me an email. If you hate it, don't send me an email because it's more of the same, y’know, in theory, every quarter.

Although I love doing them. They're really fun. I think they're incredibly complimentary for the actual business and the work that we do. But man, do they take a lot of time. It's, I'm sure, it’s, like, people, I mean, I have a lot of sympathy for authors because it's not like you can say, “I want to write a book,” and then you wrote a book. [Niki: Right] You gotta try to not have it suck. And it takes all this time. 

Niki: Well, and if you're going to be a thought leader, you also have to have a thought. 

Bruce: You need to have a thought, and if you set the goal of every quarter, what's your new thought? What's your new thought? [Niki: Right] 

What's horrible is it leads to this environment where crazy, disastrous things or, or shocking things have made for some of my most successful publications.

So, the one I put out after the surprise Trump election - it was election night. David Castagnetti calls me. He's like, “Are you watching?” I'm like, “No, I've turned off the TV. I'm heads down. I'm on slide 35 out of 50, how Hillary Clinton won the White House.” [Niki: laughs] He's like, “Do me a favor. Stop. Go turn on the television.” 

So, I turn on the television and like the rest of the country, I'm agape. Y’know, wake up at five in the morning the next day, go downtown, sit at my desk until midnight, totally redoing it, and put out my explainer by Thursday. The next day, it got 250,000 downloads. It was the one day that year I didn't get 10,000 steps on my, on my Fitbit, because it was just all crank and grind.

The unremitting pressure to say something new, and different, and to not reuse stuff that remains in your mind true is hard.

Niki:  It is hard! We'll put a link to your Twitter slash X handle [Bruce: Great!] so people can, can check it out and look at that pinned deck.

Bruce: And my website page has them all in one, so I'll give you the infographics link, and that's even easier.

Niki: Yeah, we'll put that in, too, but I think that you're right. In our world, up is down, right? When you do crisis and advocacy and public affairs. 

Bruce: The media! If it bleeds, it leads. 

Niki: If it bleeds, it leads. I mean, I hate to say it, but the worst things get- 

Bruce: Why is social media drive so much despair and anger? Because outrage. It's optimized for outrage. 

Niki: Well, I am glad that you are in this business because you are a radical, common-sense person. [Bruce: Thank you!]  It's true. And I think that you give good counsel. 

This is actually, I think, our next to last episode of the year. So, it's a nice wrap-up. 

Bruce: Happy to be your penultimate guest for 2023. Thanks for having me.

[music plays]

Niki: And that’s a wrap! 

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