Monday, February 22, 2010

Week of 02/22/2010

The Futility of Boycotts
– by David Matthews 2

The premise is simple: stop doing business and the business will change to adapt.

If you have bad service at a restaurant, then you stop going there. If enough people do that, then the restaurant will figure out what’s wrong and will strive to fix it. If a store doesn’t have a certain product, you go to the store that does, and eventually the store you used to go to will find a way to sell that product to you.

It’s a simple premise. Unfortunately it’s too simple.

Everyone likes to talk about boycotts. If they don’t like a business, they want it shut down. If they don’t like a TV show, they want it off the air. And they feel that the best way to do that is to starve it of money.

So these special interest groups put on a big display about wanting to BOYCOTT the business in question. They hope that the business will relent quickly to avoid the publicity; otherwise they hope they have the manpower and the determination to make that business suffer.

It works if the business is small enough to be affected and they rely on your patronage… and if you have enough people on your side willing to do the same. But what if you don’t?

Let’s say you stage a boycott of a mom-and-pop grocery store. If you think that a hundred people will join you then you might do some damage to its business. But what if you don’t even have ten? What if most people continue to show up at that grocery store? Then you look like a pretentious and somewhat impotent fool.

Unfortunately the threat of a boycott really has no effect on large businesses, especially big multinational multi-conglomerate corporations that have tendrils everywhere. Have a hundred people on your side? Better make it a thousand. Or ten thousand. Or even a million. And even then that wouldn’t be enough.

Pick on a big-name corporate-owned store, and you MAY hurt the store itself. If you’re lucky. But you certainly won’t hurt the corporation. The corporation will simply shut down the store, lay off the people working there, and move on. It wouldn’t be their only source of revenue. They would have plenty of other businesses to rely on.

That’s why I had to laugh when the Southern Baptists decided to announce a boycott of the Disney Empire in 2005. Go after the WHOLE empire? The corporation that owns several movie production companies, several major TV networks, stores, and even several radio stations featuring major conservative media personalities? Madness! And over what? A management decision for one of their traditional franchises that had nothing to do with the Baptists in the first place! Madness combined with pompous presumptive arrogance!

Of course it wouldn’t work! That’s like fighting a fifty-foot dragon with a plastic spoon.

Sure SOME corporations make the mistake of kowtowing to the threat of boycotts. But that’s usually because they fear the short-term negative publicity. More often than naught, though, they will choose to weather the short-term loss and win through attrition.

Case in point is the recent attempt to shut down “The Glenn Beck” Show on Fox News. After Beck accused President Barack Obama of being a racist, several groups called for a complete boycott of Beck’s sponsors. To their surprise, over one hundred sponsors have reportedly backed out.

And yet Beck is still on the air. He is still on the radio and still on Fox News. In fact the executives at Fox News are laughing all the way to the bank with Back.

Why? Because boycotts don’t have the same kind of impact that they used to.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the true strength of a boycott is in the initial FEAR of negative publicity. But if the company decides that it can weather that negative publicity, then it becomes a game of attrition, and let’s face it… most special interest groups don’t have either the willpower or the sheer numbers to go up against the big corporations!

Do you know how conservative talk radio became so prevalent on the dial? Because the syndicators were willing to offer the shows to the stations FOR FREE for a limited period of time.

Think about that for a moment. The syndicators were willing to let local radio stations air their money-making shows FOR FREE until they can generate enough local buzz to bring in the local sponsors. Does that sound like they’re afraid of a short-term loss of sponsorship?

Now, going back to TV… how about those 100+ sponsors that have pulled out of Beck’s broadcast? Have they pulled out of Fox News in and of itself? Or have they just pulled out of Beck’s show?

Because, you see, that’s where the versatility of the huge media corporation that Fox News is a part of comes in. As long as the money continues to come in from sponsors of Fox News, their management people can continue to keep Beck on the air until the outrage dies down and the sponsors come back. In fact in England, Beck’s show continues to air without ANY kind of sponsors whatsoever! Instead of sponsors, the UK viewers see in-house Fox News ads during the breaks.

Does that sound like the special interest groups are really winning? He’s still on the air. He’s still on TV and the radio. He’s still running his mouth, making even more absurd statements and even barking like a dog. No, seriously. He’s really barking… like a dog.

If anything, his lack of sponsors and the ongoing boycott - as pathetic as it is - can actually be used to generate sympathy for him. He can claim he’s the victim of “persecution”, which is standard operating procedure for the conservative and neo-conservative personalities. That always seems to work wonders for his fans because they LOVE to claim persecution when they’re not allowed to have their way.

The sad truth is that boycotts don’t work when taking on big corporations. The ones that call for it usually declare “victory” and officially end the boycott without their stated goals being met. Rather than to admit defeat, they erroneously claim that they made some sort of “impact”, which they consider to be just as good as a victory. In reality all that they do is they erode their own credibility and bolster the credibility of their opponent.

A boycott against a corporate leviathan may sound nice in a “David versus Goliath” sense, but in truth it really is nothing more than trying to play a game of chicken with a brick wall. The brick wall will win every time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Week of 02/15/2010

Where Have I Heard All This Before?
– by David Matthews 2

This is an open letter to the Tea Party crowd… a friendly word of advice from an actual Independent/Third Party supporter who has been in the political desert a LOT longer than many of you have.

But in order to give this friendly piece of advice, I’m going to have to first engage in a little bit of imagination. I’m going to have to PRETEND.

I’m going to have to PRETEND that you ARE serious about being independent voters. That you really HAVE burned your GOP membership cards and returned that GOP contribution envelope back with a terse request that they do something to themselves that would be anatomically impossible.

I’m going to have to PRETEND that you truly ARE disgusted enough with both the DNC and the GOP and that you HAVE accepted that there REALLY NEED TO BE a third-party solution!

I’m going to have to PRETEND that you’re NOT a bunch of political posers that are using the banner of “independent voters” as a cover to support the GOP. That you’re NOT being funded by career insiders for the GOP to tap into that overall political resentment over Washington in general and to use it for that outdated party’s political games this coming November.

I’m going to have to PRETEND that you guys are who you politically claim to be, without subterfuge or deception… that you really WANT to fix things in a way that the career politicians would NEVER consider.

In fact I’ll even go so far as to PRETEND that you DID NOT just waste $100,000 on the latest FoxNews media personality… otherwise known as the former Governor of Alaska. The show model for the GOP; their perfect spokesperson.

I have to PRETEND that you’re genuine about this… or else the advice that I give will essentially be WASTED.

If you ARE legitimate about this, then these next few months will be troubling times for you and your movement. Right now you’re basking in the limelight of the media. You’re the New Coke of politics. Everyone wants to know who you are and how vast your influence really is and what you REALLY stand for.

But THIS IS an election year, and pretty soon it’ll be PRIMARY time for the various federal, state, and local offices. The time when those two bloated outdated dominant parties will parade their cast of wannabes and wishful dreamers in front of the voters to see who will stick in their minds. And that’s when the media will turn to you guys and ask you where YOUR horses are in this derby.

Who are YOU backing? Who is getting YOUR group’s support? Is it a member of the DNC, or is it the GOP? Or are you backing a dark horse candidate? Are you supporting someone who truly IS an independent candidate? Maybe someone who thought about running but didn’t live up to the standards of those outdated dominant political parties, or perhaps was concerned about whether or not they would have adequate support?

It’s okay if you don’t have an answer right at that moment. After all, it’ll still be several MONTHS before the November Elections and there would be plenty of time to come up with an answer.

But if you don’t have an answer, then that’s when “IT” will begin.

“IT” will be the visit from friends, colleagues, associates, commentators, columnists, and pundits one and all. And they will all have the same request. They will ask if you don’t have a favorite horse yet for this derby that you back the GOP horse.

Sure, they’ll tell you, the GOP horse doesn’t really represent everything that you guys believe in. Sure the GOP horse is a career politician that has been so firmly entrenched in the system that it wouldn’t know how to function outside of the system. Sure the GOP horse has flip-flopped on issues more times than a flapjack cook, and has the ethics of a streetwalker.

BUT they will tell you that there is a FAR GREATER EVIL lurking in the wings. It’s the evil of allowing a DEMOCRAT to win that election and take that seat!

You see, Tea Party leaders, you and your friends have been hitting the anti-Obama and anti-Democrat rhetoric pretty heavy of late, and it gives people the impression that you hate THEM far more than you hate the stagnation in Washington. And you know what they say about the enemy of your enemy, right?

Don’t worry, though, because your friends, colleagues, associates, commentators, columnists, and pundits one and all WILL come bearing gifts. They won’t just be cajoling you to side with that GOP horse for no reason. They’ll first FLATTER you and compliment you on your willingness to stand true to what you believe in. They’ll tell you that it’s GOOD that you’re making your feelings known about the gridlock in Washington, and that they AGREE with everything that you say about it. But if you’ll just back their GOP horse, that career insider, that failed excuse of a human being, that YOU WILL be rewarded for it. They promise that if you are willing to give that one-trick GOP pony one more time, your grievances WILL be heard. Heck, the GOP horse might even be willing to sign his or her name to some bill that would address some of your issues. That sounds like a good deal, right? I mean, that’s far more than what you’d get from the Democrats, right?

Of course if you DO already have a candidate in mind by the time they come a-calling, then they may not be so complimentary. In fact they may even be downright RUDE towards your choice. They’ll insult your intelligence. They’ll question your motivations. They’ll even go so far as to accuse you of THEFT! YES, THEFT! Because if you’re not backing their GOP horse, then they will actually accuse of STEALING VOTES!

Oh, and if you DO have a candidate in mind that is NOT a member of those two dominant parties, then you better hurry to get them on the ballot, because the bar is set infinitely higher for an actual independent candidate, and it is done so ON PURPOSE.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering just HOW would I know all this would happen, right? Well let’s get brutally honest here… this is standard operating procedure for ANYONE who considers themselves to be a TRUE political independent or a third-party supporter. This is precisely how the political system that you claim to despise continues to carry on, no matter who wins the elections. If you’re not committed to anyone, then you’re ripe for seduction. If you’re not committed to them, then you’re treated as a thief… or worse.

And bear in mind that this would not come from the career politicians themselves… because they know that you don’t trust them, never mind like them. This will instead come from your friends, your associates, your colleagues, the people that you respect. You’ll hear it on FoxNews, from those media personalities that you love to watch. They’ll cajole you; ask you why you won’t go with the flow. They’ll ask why you can’t get with the program. You’ll hear about it from the columnists that will wonder what more that you’re holding out for. What sort of deal will they need to broker to get your support? You’ll hear it day in and day out on talk radio, with personalities like Rush Limbaugh continually telling you to “get off the fence”.

You see… if you stay out in the political desert long enough, then you’ll hear all of the rhetoric and propaganda that is cleverly disguised as logic. You get to see the siren’s call for what it really is. And it all gets repetitive and loses its sting after a while.

And here is the trap, Tea Party leaders… if you truly are the independent forces that you claim to be. You can go with the status quo; betray your own principles on the mere PROMISE that you’ll have a political bone thrown your way in return. Or you can stay true and be isolated, hoping that others would see your example and follow suit. If you succumb to the former, then you’ll be seen as political prostitutes, and given the same kind of respect as you would a streetwalker. If you hold out for the latter, then you’ll be vilified by your friends who are still a part of that system that you claim to want to change.

Now you know why I refer to this as the political desert.

But then again, that is all on the premise that you ARE serious about wanting REAL political change; that your grass roots are not really political Astroturf being propped up by a special interest organization simply to keep the status quo going. Only time will tell if you’re truly serious about change… or if you’re just another in a long string of political mirages.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Week of 02/08/2010

The Repeated Meme and the Echo Chamber
– by David Matthews 2

In the satirical animated series “Family Guy”, shrill housewife Lois Griffin decides to run for mayor. During her first (and only) debate, she finds that the audience doesn’t respond to complicated explanations of how one would be a better steward of the public trust. Instead, they start cheering when she uses quick sound bites, including a lot of references to “9/11”. Eventually she just answers everything with “9/11”.

I can’t help but have that image come up when it came to the so-called “Tea Party Convention” this past weekend in Tennessee, especially given its keynote speaker, the former governor of Alaska.

I’m sorry, but I’m not one that buys into political hype on first blush. And the more someone says that a candidate or a speaker is the most wonderful person on the world without any concrete reason why, the more I will conclude that the acolyte is full of something that comes out of the OTHER end of the bull.

Even worse is when you ASK them to give a specific reason why they think this person is so great and they can’t! They just regurgitate talking points.

I’ve never been a fan of President Barack Obama, but at least I can understand why his supporters love him. He is intelligent, well-spoken, and he carries himself as a leader. I may not like his policies, I may not like how he governs, but at least I can SEE where the adulation of his supporters is warranted.

I CANNOT, however, see that in either Sarah Palin or the Tea Party crowd, and yet they were made for each other. The best way to describe them is to think of them as a repeated meme inside an echo chamber.

A meme, for those who do not know, is an idea. It’s a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols, or practices. The Internet is FULL of memes. Cute videos about keyboard cats and dancing babies, emoticons, acronyms, chain-mail messages, brain-twisters, and Photoshopped images. And about 99% of it is recycled and regurgitated from other people. Someone picks it up and passes it on to their friends, and then they do the same, and so on and so forth. It has no real value to it, and in fact the people who actually came up with most of these memes will never get the credit for their creations, never mind see a penny for their work.

A repeated meme, therefore, is nothing more than the repeating of someone else’s ideas. Take all the sound bites and conservative/neo-conservative chain mail messages, talking point memos, jargons, jingles, buzzwords, put them all together and you too can be either a FoxNews media personality, or the perfect running mate for a presidential candidate in desperate need of job security.

If you think about it… and I know that the word “think” is an obscenity to the conservatives and neo-conservatives… Sarah Palin would have guaranteed job security for John McCain, had he won, in the same way that Dan Quayle did for George H.W. Bush. Nobody was going to do anything to unseat the president knowing full well who would replace him. Quayle was a political meme, just like Palin is today.

But let’s get brutally honest here… one should not confuse a meme with actual leadership. All the Jiffy-Pop talking points and sound bites dressed up in red-white-and-blue and presented by a former beauty pageant contestant coming out of a late-night Cinemax movie doesn’t make the presenter a credible leader. It just means that the presenter a well-trained featherless parrot. Pleasing to the eye, certainly, but a parrot nonetheless.

Likewise, a mutual revulsion society using Obama as the symbol of everything that they hate neither addresses the problems we face today, or the reality that their own champions had more than just a passive hand in CREATING those problems. In fact all this over-hyped pseudo-independent echo chamber seemed to be was nothing more than a way to get support for the GOP in the same way that Scott Brown was elected to the US Senate in Massachusetts… by pretending to NOT be with the GOP.

In truth, the “Tea Party” people are nothing more than a group of fragmented special interests living in continual denial about the world around them. They don’t like what their “icons” and “champions” did in their name, but they don’t want to admit it happened. Even when the problem is staring at them square in the face, they don’t want to take ownership of their actions.

Sadly, this kind of sentiment is nothing new. In fact all you have to do is go back in history and see the “tea party” mentality as the group that served as the limited substitute for one dying political party before being replaced by another political party. The party they replaced were the Whigs… the party that replaced them, ironically enough, was the ORIGINAL Republican Party. The members of this limited substitute movement called themselves the “Know Nothings”.

But at least THEY were honest about themselves, unlike today’s bunch of “admit nothings”.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Week of 02/01/2010

Of Bayou-Gate and Gotchas
– by David Matthews 2

It was likened to a “prank”, according to the person caught trying to pull it.

He said he wanted to “catch” the person in question of doing something they denied.

Except that he was the one that got caught, along with his associates.

James O’Keefe III is supposedly compared to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore. He is best known for showing up at certain offices of the liberal community organization called ACORN dressed up as a pimp and asking how he could “legally” set up a brothel using government resources. It embarrassed ACORN officials, it embarrassed liberals, and it made O’Keefe a rising star in conservative and neo-conservative circles.

For his next trick, O’Keefe decided to bring down a member of the US Senate. Specifically Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, whose backroom dealing concerning her support of healthcare reform was already condemned and castigated by conservatives and neo-conservatives.

According to O’Keefe, he just wanted to catch the senator in a lie. Conservative critics claimed Landrieu’s office refused to hear the complaints of her constituents. Her office said that the phone lines were jammed.

But that didn’t explain why O’Keefe’s associates arrived at the Senator’s district office several weeks after-the-fact dressed as telephone repair people to “fix” the phone lines, with O’Keefe recording the whole incident on his cellphone camera. It certainly did little to help his own credibility when he along with the two phony technicians and a fourth member serving as a “getaway” driver were all caught and arrested when someone asked the “technicians” for ID.

What did they expect? Did they honestly expect to simply show up, mess with the phones to pretend to “fix” them, and somehow find “the proof” through a mess of wires that the lines really weren’t busy?

Even O’Keefe himself said after his arraignment that he could have used a “different approach”.

No kidding.

Perhaps Mr. O’Keefe just didn’t realize that people might be just a little bit suspicious and a little extra-cautious when it comes to security, seeing how his conservative and neo-conservatives supporters have spent years getting people all riled up about terrorism and keeping them afraid of their own shadows. Maybe he didn’t realize that he and his four-man crew, complete with a getaway driver, could be mistaken for one of those “bad guys”. Hey, did you know that there ARE Muslims that have blond hair and blue eyes? Not all of the radicals come from the Middle East.

Maybe O’Keefe just doesn’t know political history. Maybe he forgot how a team of men dressed as “plumbers” were caught breaking into a political supporter’s office almost forty years ago and how that scandal ended up with the resignation of a Republican president. Maybe the word “Watergate” didn’t register in his conservative mentality. It could happen. After all, it was long before he was even born. Forty years is almost ancient history to the young generation.

Or maybe he was so caught up in his next big “gotcha” that it didn’t even occur to him just how utterly pointless it really is in the ultimate scheme of things.

Okay, let’s suppose that these “repairmen” did somehow manage to find what they claimed they were looking for. Suppose they DID catch the senator’s staff in a lie about the phone lines. So what? How does this ultimately play out? Congressmen and Senators and even Presidents have been accused of not listening to their constituents for decades. Embarrassing, perhaps, but is it REALLY worth risking prison to prove?

There are a lot of things missing from this pathetic tale of political intrigue that probably will never come out. Even if there were no wiretapping devices on the “technicians”, that doesn’t mean that the visit wasn’t a prelude to that happening. For all of O’Keefe’s boyish “aw shucks we wuz just foolin’ around” explanations, I seriously doubt that he was just there for a one-time visit, nor that he there just to watch his “crew” play dress-up.

Let’s get brutally honest here… it is extremely polite and optimistic to say that James O’Keefe was involved in nothing more than a political prank gone wrong. Even without anything concrete, this whole story reeks of dirty political tricks.

Even more despicable and disgusting is the new claim being made that O’Keefe is a “victim” in all of this. A victim? His supporters and sponsors would have a better chance trying to convince people that John Edwards never fathered an illegitimate child than to paint O’Keefe as a “victim”.

The only thing that Mr. O’Keefe is a “victim” of is his own hype and the hype generated by his sponsors. He is painted as an avant-garde “new media” investigator, in the same way that certain talk show hosts consider themselves to be “broadcast journalists”. But in truth, he is just an old-school political hack; an agent provocateur caught in a plan before it could cause harm. To assess that he is anything more, based on his current contributions to the national arena, is not only an absurd over-exaggeration, but an indictment on just how depressingly low one would value the role and purpose of legitimate journalistic investigation.

O’Keefe does deserve his day in court, along with his political “plumbers”, to address and account for his actions in this matter. Perhaps doing so now will prevent him from becoming the next G Gordon Liddy, and perhaps prevent a future politician from disgracing themselves as they repeat history.