Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Republicans *Finally* Denounce Racist Anti-Obama Strategies

GOP now says using “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” is a “distraction” and should be stopped. Took them long enough!

I noted that this racist tactic was backfiring back on January 30.

Good morning, GOP. It’s nice to know that 145 years after Lincoln (the first Republican president) freed the slaves, that you still care at least a little bit about black folks. At least when it seems expedient.

The Real, Scandal-Ridden McCain–Mainstream Media, Wake Up!

Whole bunch of links in the Citizens for Legitimate Government e-bulletins this week, all pointing to different aspects of the real, not-in-the-spotlight John McCain. And it’s not a pretty picture, especially since this is the “straight shooter” who claims to be focused on ethics. Mainstream media is not doing a good job of looking at these stories, even when they’re published on big wire services like Reuters.
A few of the news bites:
McCain retracted his statement that he has to convince the public that the Iraq war is going well, in order to win (Reuters)
McCain is implicated in an influence-peddling scandal involving a broadcaster in violation of ownership-concentration rules. His formerly unheard plea for assistance suddenly went to the top of the pile after he became a $40,000 client of McCain’s lobbyist friend Vicki Iseman and made a $4000 contribution directly to McCain (WorldNetNews)
As I noted earlier this week, McCain has been sued by the Democratic Party over his lack of compliance with a federal campaign finance program. It appears that McCain is using public financing as collateral, yet he wants to withdraw from the program in order to spend money faster than the law allows
McCain’s personal wealth may have a lot to do with his father-in-law’s involvement in organized crime (for which the in-law was convicted in 1948) (WorldNetNews)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ethnic Fashions and the Presidential Race

I’ve already commented about the smear campaign of right-wing blabbermouths like Ann Coulter emphasizing Barack Obama’s middle name. Now he’s been shown wearing the robes and turban of a Kenyan tribesman, on a visit there.

Once again, the subtext is anti-Arab/anti-Muslim racism.The racists seem to be playing that card rather than worrying about anti-black racism.

And I found the best rebuttal to this despicable racism on a blog with the unlikely title, “Chapati Mystery.” Click on this link for pictures of George W. Bush in a Chinese jacket, Bill Clinton in a turban and lei, holding some kind of ceremonial object–and Hillary and Chelsea, all decked out in Chinese or Vietnamese pointed straw hats.. The Obama picture is there as well. You may even want to bookmark it; no doubt, we’ll need it during the fall campaign. If you want to see Laura Bush in Islamic dress–black overgarment and headscarf–click here.

Sure.y, in the year 2008, it’s time to say no to this petty racism! We’re better than that.

Faked Chinese Photo: Propaganda or Personal?

This is a doozy, from China.

The photographer of an award-winning photo that advanced the Chinese government’s aims and allayed fears of environmentalists who had protested a high-speed China-Tibet rail link has admitted faking his widely published photo of a herd of rare-species chiru antelope placidly grazing underneath the train tracks, while a train zooms by.

It is two photos spliced together. Liu Weiqing, a man who claimed on his blog, “One man, one car, one year…and a campaign to protect Tibetan antelope,” has now resigned in disgrace along with his editor, his reward revoked.

But…as the Wall Street Journal notes,

Other photographs that took home awards that night included “Facing a harmonious future,” a picture of Chinese President Hu posing with world leaders, and a “A trip to apologize,” a picture of a Japanese monk apologizing to China for Japanese atrocities in World War II. CCTV didn’t reply to inquiries about its criteria for photo awards.

In other words, this award seems to follow a trail that dovetail’s nicely with Chinese government policies and propaganda.

Which makes me–and the Journal’s writers Jane Spencer and Juliet Ye–wonder if Liu was merely the fall guy, if he was asked or ordered to come up with a photo like this:

His friends say he was dedicated to his job and determined to raise the profile of the embattled antelope. “He was a good guy,” says Zhou Zhuogang, an environmental activist from Shenzhen in southern China who met Mr. Liu in the summer of 2006 when the two men were at a volunteer station on the Tibetan plateau. “He loved photography, and he loved the antelope. I don’t know what pushed him to do this.”

Some suspect pressure to create the photo came from above. “When everybody points a finger to the photographer, we actually missed the real core problem here,” says Wang Yangbo, editor of Wen Wei Pao, a Hong Kong Daily. The photographers “are nobodies in the scheme of things here,” she adds.

• China invaded Tibet in the 1950s, has behaved with the worst kind of imperialistic colonialism since then, and continues to repress Tibetans and their independence movement
• China has been roundly criticized on a number of environmental grounds, from flooding a huge and magnificent area with the Three Gorges Dam to contributing to rapid climate change through its unbridled (and largely un-pollution controlled) consumption of fossil fuels
• Environmentalists tried to block this train’s construction precisely because of worries about this antelope species


Democrats File FEC Complaint: Possible McCain Campaign Finance Violation

Straight from the horse’s mouth:

“The crucial issue here is John McCain’s integrity. John McCain poses as a reformer but seems to think reforms apply to everyone but him,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. “He used taxpayer money to guarantee a loan so he could raise money from lobbyists and special interests - it’s the height of hypocrisy. This is just the latest example of his do as I say, not as I do double standard, and it’s unlikely to be the last. McCain financially benefited from this legally binding contract - he got free ballot access, saving him millions of dollars, and he secured a $4 million line of credit to keep his campaign afloat by using public financing as collateral. He should follow the law.”

This is from a Democratic National Committee press release sent today.

Ironic, isn’t it. “Straight shooter” McCain doesn’t seem to be shooting very straight these days. This is the lead sponsor of the rather mild McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Added to the questions the New York Times raised last week (see my previous blog post)…it does make you wonder. This is their ethics guy???

Friday, February 22, 2008

“Straight Shooter” McCain’s Crooked Path

To me, the biggest news of the highly critical New York Times story on John McCain is that a man whose entire campaign for the presidency is based on being “Mr. Straight Shooter” is caught in an obvious, blatant, easy-to-check, and dare-I-say spectacular lie. And it’s not about whether or not he slept with this lobbyist (he and she both deny it, and from what I’ve read it appears that staff were getting nervous that the affair might happen not that it was happening.

Anyway, the New York Times ran a long profile about a number of instances of questionable judgment on John McCain’s part–and McCain’s office issued this rebuttal:

It is a shame that The New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit-and-run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

(emphasis added).

And that is the lie. McCain was one of the infamous Keating Five. Here’s the Keating Five section of his hometown newspaper the Arizona Republic’s bio of McCain.

In fact it was his brush with ethics censure over Keating that led McCain into campaign finance reform, a place where he’s had a bipartisan leadership role. Yet it seems like

Meanwhile, Kelly McBride and others at the journalism/ethics think tank Poynter Institute took the Times to task both for the timing of the article, and for leading with the allegations about the inappropriately close relationship with this lobbyist, Vicki Iseman (an attractive blonde over 30 years his junior).

Says the Times,

Mr. McCain promised, for example, never to fly directly from Washington to Phoenix, his hometown, to avoid the impression of self-interest because he sponsored a law that opened the route nearly a decade ago. But like other lawmakers, he often flew on the corporate jets of business executives seeking his support, including the media moguls Rupert Murdoch, Michael R. Bloomberg and Lowell W. Paxson, Ms. Iseman’s client. (Last year he voted to end the practice.)

Says Bob Steele of Poynter:

The New York Times had the obligation to apply rigorous, exacting, substantive standards of reporting, editing and ethics on the McCain story. Times’ editors clearly believed this story was important, given its strong play and length. The Times could have and should have given readers more information about why and how they developed, reported, vetted and edited this story. They should have revealed proactively the story behind the story. They should have better explained the decision to use some unnamed sources, better explained the timing of the publication.

Says I, however,

Actually, to me the timing makes a lot of sense. It’s part of a series by the Times profiling the major presidential candidates still left standing. And it’s early enough that if McCain becomes an untouchable from the fallout, there’s plenty of time for someone else to ride in on a white horse. Though it would be ironic indeed if it turned out to be the smarmy flip-flopper Mitt Romney, who seems to focus on the politics of expedience.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why Hillary Is Losing: Huffington Post

Dylan Loewe argues persuasively in Huffington Post that Hillary Clinton’s series of strategic errors have cost her the nomination.

I agree with his analysis, but it misses a crucial point: Hillary’s slide started long before the Iowa caucuses. With a record of not just support but cheerleading for the Iraq war, support for the Patriot Act, and even some enthusiasm about the possibility of spreading the war cancer into Iran–Hillary does not inspire support, let alone warm fuzzy feelings, among progressives.

Meanwhile, the Right has a special passion for hating and vilifying her. I’ve never understood why they are so ardent in their hatred–but they are. So if she were the nominee, she’d be at a serious disadvantage: the right will come out in droves and vote against her, and the Left will stay home or vote 3rd party.

Even as far back as March, 2006–when she was the undisputed frontrunner–an ABC News poll showed her very weak against McCain. Now that he’s been tested in real elections, Obama of course is much stronger. Latest polls from Zogby/Reuters, AP, Time, ABC, CNN, USA Today, Cook, Rasmussen, Fox all show Obama beating McCain handily in the general election, in some cases by up to 8 points; only NPR shows McCain narrowly winning. But in a McCain-Clinton matchup, Clinton only wins in the AP and CNN polls, ties in Time’s poll, and loses in the other six–by as much as 12 points in the Zogby poll!

Will the US Mass-Roundup Dissidents? SF Chronicle Says It Could Happen

For many months, I’ve seen articles in alternative media sources about the construction of large detention camps, even about boxcars outfitted with shackles for transporting prisoners.

And my response has always been that I want to see coverage in mainstream media, that it’s too easy to buy into the hysteria and paranoia that can afflict movements of both the left and right.

Well, here it is: a large and detailed op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle outlining the detention camps, the no-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root, the involvement of at least one member of Congress–and the series of post-9/11 laws that give life to this grim scenario. Yes the article entions boxcars with shackles.

On the other hand, the article notes that this project began in 1999–when Bill Clinton was president. And long before all that enabling legislation.

Civil libertarians: we need to keep our eyes on this. Be afraid–but don’t be paralyzed by fear.

If You Want My Endorsement…Let Me See the Product

Yeah, I know–viral marketing and all that. And I actually love referral marketing, but not like this.

But am I the only one offended when someone gives me a tell-your-friends page before I even see the product? It’s happening more and more lately. These unfortunates happened to be the ones to push me into ranting about this trend, but it could have been any number of others.

At least these guys were smart enough to do a “no, thank you” link where I could still get the download. But I value my reputation and I’m not in the habit of sharing e-mails of my friends with strangers who send bulk mail. Had the only way to get the report been to fill in e-mails, I’d have either given phony names or bailed out.

Maybe this is one of the factors contributing to the growth of social media at the expense of e-mail. Successful marketers can still be clueless when it comes to human relationships.

In fact, when I get to all those petition sites (and I confess, I sign a lot of political petitions), the thank-you page invariably asks for addresses of my friends. I never give them. Instead, if I find the petition worthy enough to send, I’ll forward the e-mail, bcc, to my politics list.

And at least there, I’ve had a chance to see the text, decide if it’s something I want, and pass it on. Why marketers think I’m going to feed their mailing-list fish tank before even seeing the fish… Yuck!

If you like this rant and want more about how to run and market an ethical, successful business, you may have a look at my award-winning sixth book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First. You can get the first few chapters as a no-charge download, and you don’t have to fill in a squeeze page OR a tell-a-friend page to get it. So there.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Government-Corporate Nuclear Chicanery in Canada

Lest you think collusion between corrupt government and dubious business interests happens only in the US–read this article on the firing of Linda Keen, until recently the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Keen was fired for having the temerity to insist that the 50-year-old Chalk river nuke in Ontario stay closed until safety concerns were fully addressed.

Now, let me disclose my biases. I’ve been studying about nuclear power going back to a college report I did in 1974–and my first book, in 1980, was an expose of the nuclear power industry. In my mind,

• there is no such thing as a safe nuke (and a wide swatch of the Ukraine is still uninhabitable, more than two decades after the accident at Chernobyl)
• waste storage will cause problems for thousands of years
• counting the entire fuel cycle, nukes are a net consumer of energy–so we’re not actually gaining anything by using them
• solar, wind, and other nonpolluting, renewable technologies make a lot more sense

Why was the plant ordered to stay shut?

In the inspection process, the CPSC regulators found something at the 50-year-old reactor that was terrifying:

…the reactor had been operating for 17 months without two cooling pumps hooked up to an additional emergency back-up power system capable of withstanding a severe earthquake.

And yes, there have been earthquakes in the vicinity. And this plant is only two hours from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.

But still…here is a woman who was fired because she didn’t want this ancient and probably crumbling nuke to have an accident! Best of luck, Linda in your wrongful termination court case. And thanks for doing what’s right.

(my thanks to The Weekly Spin for alerting me to this story).
Business and government ethics violations that directly put life and property at risk are more than just crooked collusion. They are criminal acts.

Arianna Huffington: Media, Voters Must Divorce McCain

Arianna Huffington is consistently a pleasure to read. she’s smart, well-informed, and a wonderful writer.

Arianna was once a fan of John McCain–in years past, when he still remembered he had a spine. The “new, improved” pander-to-the-far-right candidate, however, brings out the full thrust of her sharp wit as she calls for the media and independent voters to break off the love affair with McCain.

If any of your friends still think McCain is the moderate he once claimed to be, send them this link, where they can read such comments as

The old John McCain once stood tall as a fearless leader on immigration, co-sponsoring a humane, bipartisan reform bill with Ted Kennedy. The new John McCain, when asked during a recent GOP debate whether he would support his own proposal, replied: “No, I would not.” In other words, he was for his core beliefs before he was against them.

What’s the opposite of a “maverick?”

So McCain has backed an amendment that would limit the right to habeas corpus, has endorsed an Arizona constitutional amendment that would not only ban gay marriage but deny benefits to unmarried couples of any kind (lest those pesky gay people find some kind of loophole), and has discovered a newfound support for teaching “intelligent design” in schools.

The old John McCain once tried to take the mantle of true conservatism away from George W. Bush. The new John McCain is now essentially running to give America a third Bush term - and, indeed, will even out-Bush Bush when it comes to staying the disastrous course we’re on in Iraq.

And you should hear what she has to say about McCain’s cozy relationships with GWB and Karl Rove, and a wonderful comparison with a certain scene in “The Godfather.” Click on over and have a look.

And then, later in the week, she says McCain’s vote in favor of waterboarding torture“should drive a stake through the heart of the McCain-as-straight-talker meme once and for all.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Strip-Poker and Pelosi’s Challenger

Copywriter Drayton Bird recently talked about the element of surprise. Here are two brilliant ads that harness that principle.

First, Shirley Golub, who is a progressive candidate challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democratic Party nomination for Congress. Watch her video here (scroll down about half a screen).

This is an example of how to be extremely effective on basically zero budget. One camera, one talking head, no special effects, I’m guessing a single take–and twisting a metaphor of Pelosi’s in an unforgettable way. And then spreading it through the power of social networks like the People’s Email Network, which put up that page and notified its thousands of activists.

If I were directing the shoot, the only advice I’d give Golub is to not look down so much–put the script somewhere you can see it while appearing to look at the camera.

On to the other ad: a slick, commercially produced, expensive (large cast), quite salacious and extremely funny bit that’s rapidly making its way around the Net.And boy does it ever harness the element of surprise (Yes, I have some issues with the politics of the surprise but to say more would spoil it–suffice it to say I recognize and criticize the issue). Don’t watch this one if you wouldn’t see an R-rated movie.

The surprise is there, all right, and it will get tons of viral exposure–I got the whole huge Youtube video e-mailed to me, and I’m betting it’s making the rounds on MySpace, Facebook, etc. But I wonder how many people will remember the product 24 hours later. In other words, was it a good investment for the manufacturer?

Bet someone does some research on this, eventually.

It’s Starting: The L-Word Backlash Against Obama

I’ve been waiting for people to start tossing around the word “liberal” as if it’s some kind of curse, and applying it to one or both of the Democratic front-runners.

Today for the first time, I saw hint of it, directed against Obama–by someone who seems to be a supporter, Joan Vennnochi, writing in the Boston Globe:

Other questions, just for the sake of political argument: Do endorsements from the liberal Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and from the ultra-liberal political action organization,, come with a downside in the general election? The National Journal just released a listing that ranked Obama as the most liberal senator in 2007. Have the old labels truly lost their ability to zing?

And why, you ask, have I been so eagerly waiting for this? Very simple: it gives me the excuse to give Barack Obama my very best advice:

Barack, stand strong, don’t back down, and don’t be ashamed to be liberal. You were voted the most liberal Senator; make the most of it, and wear it as a badge of honor.

I want to hear you say these words, or something similar:

You say I’m a liberal as if it’s some sort of dirty word. Liberals shortened the work day from 12 hours to 8. Liberals made it possible for all of us to still breathe the air and drink the water, by passing the Clean Air an Clean Water Acts. Liberals brought us universal public education, the civil rights movement the idea that discrimination is wrong no matter who its target. I’m proud to be a liberal, John. In the next four years, liberals will bring us universal health care, will get us out of a war we had no business entering in the first place, will reverse the Bush Administration assault on civil liberties, and will restore our standing as a leader among nations that it had before the very unliberal Bush administration took over. John McCain, aren’t you ashamed that you’re so adamantly not a liberal?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dave Barry on the US Primary System

Written before the Florida primary,Dave Barry’s comments are still worth reading. Without doing much of his usual Barryisms, he uses the painful reality to absolutely skewer the US system of nominating presidents. Heres a little taste:

Most of the candidates ignored Wyoming and focused on the New Hampshire primary, except Rudy Giuliani, who’s following a shrewd strategy, originally developed by the Miami Dolphins, of not entering the race until he has been mathematically eliminated. After New Hampshire came Michigan, where the ballot listed all the Republicans, but only certain Democrats — including Chris Dodd, who had already dropped out if the race — but not including Barack Obama or John Edwards.

After Michigan came the Nevada caucuses, in which Hillary Clinton got more votes but Barack Obama got more delegates. (If you don’t understand how that could happen, then you have never been to a casino.)

Of course, there’s much more that could be said–like the way the media colludes with the party brass to force out intelligent candidates they deem “marginal.” Or the way most democracies have a system that incorporates the wisdom of smaller parties, in parliamentary coalitions–rather than our all-our-nothing two-party system.

I’ve written about this before; here’s my seven-point plan for US electoral reform, published in this space on December 17, 2007.

But read it and have a good laugh–and then a good cry.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Spam “Cures” Are Worse than the Disease: A Rant

Grrrr! If you think e-mail is reliable, you’ve just been lucky so far. The only way you can know for sure that e-mail has reached its destination is if you get a response. Nothing else is sure–and people don’t realize this!

For several years now, I’ve encountered increasing difficulties in getting mail through. For a while, I couldn’t even e-mail my own mother! More of a problem–I had a client in Poland where e-mail between us was so unreliable it ended up causing them not to work with me anymore.

Far too much legitimate mail is undelivered, filtered to trash, or simply lost forever. And I, for one, am totally sick of it.

Today, I tried to respond to someone who had answered my note about a possible speaking gig. It was blocked, with a 550–we-think-this-is-spam-so-we’re-not-going-to-send-it message. And yes, I plugged it into one of the popular spamcheckers and got a clean rating. At least this time, I actually got notified that my mail wasn’t going to leave my server (this doesn’t always happen). Then I copied the entire contents into an attachment, deleted the text, and added one line about why I was sending an attachment–and that was blocked! I will have to call my recipient on Monday

Yet somehow, even though probably at least 5 percent of my totally legitimate inbound and outbound mail never arrives, I get at least 20 up to 100 or more total crap junk spam jobs every day: “Nigerian scam” letters offering to pay me a percentage of some huge transaction…messages about account security from banks I’ve never done business with….offers to extend the size of various body parts I may or may not happen to have…procurers of various mind- or body-altering chemicals, legal or not.

Why in heck can this total crap clog up my mailbox while the real stuff is blocked?

It’s time for a movement of resistance. E-mail is extremely broken and it needs to be fixed. It was at one time the most effective means of communication ever devised, and it’s dying a long slow death.

Let’s take it back! If we can send astronauts to the moon, surely we can figure out a way to block the real junk and let through the real mail. The automated tools don’t work. I’m tired of having my business interfered with by floods of junk mail and blocked real mail. I’m tired of spending huge amounts of time and effort trying to get blocked e-mail to go through, and more time deleting all those spams. I’m tired of my ISP deciding what I can and can’t read, and guessing wrong all the time. I’m tired of challenge-response systems that put undue burden on their correspondents. I’m tired of spam-filter solutions that work for a year or two and then get completely bollixed up. I’m tired of having to send only a teaser about my newsletters and forcing my readers to click to the web. I’m tired of missing important mail that does get to my inbox, but doesn’t get seen because too much garbage piles in on top of it.

And I’m wondering if it’s time for some kind of mass movement or campaign to members of Congress (or the national legislature that governs you)–or SOMETHING!

P.S. In my fifth book, Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, I have a section called “Spam: The Newbies’ natural Mistake,” in which I demonstrate mathematically that spam is a really bad idea from the spammer point of view as well as from the user.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Endorsements, Sports, and Misleading Advertising

Patrick Byers’ Responsible Marketing blog quite correctly calls attention to Pfizer’s Lipitor ads featuring artificial heart inventor Robert Jarvik–only, it turns out, in the ads featuring “Jarvik” rowing or doing other highly physical activities, it’s a professional athlete, a body double.

There are times you could make a case that using an endorser’s double is legitimate–but not, IMHO, when you’re advertising a product for the greater physical endurance it supposedly provides, having an internationally known cardiologist endorsing it, and you replace a man who is “about as much an outdoorsman as Woody Allen. He can’t row” with an undisclosed professional athlete.

Byers implies that this is not ethical–and I agree with his assessment.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Unmet Expectation = Lost Opportunity

Yesterday, I was listening to an interview with a very smart-sounding marketing copywriter. It was all about trust, integrity–the stuff I talk about in this blog, in my award-winning book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, and in my ethics newsletter.

Thinking that this was someone I needed to know, and thinking about all sorts of mutual-benefit ventures we could do, I went to the writer’s site.

And boy, was I shocked!

It was a hard-sell, blowhard, I-know-so-much-more-than-you snow job, and the only credibility builder was the very generous use of testimonials. Let’s just say I did NOT feel ready to trust him.

Well, guess who I *won’t* be approaching with any partnership offers. We’ll never know what might have been, because he led me in expecting one sort of thing, and delivered something entirely different.

Marshall: “40 of the Last 2″

As a copywriter, I love a good turn of phrase that makes you rethink your reality. It’s why I’m a fan of people like Sam Horn, author of books like ConZentrate, Tongue Fu!®, and Take the Bully by the Horns. It’s why I’ve written press releases with headlines like “It’s 10 O’Clock–Do You Know Where Your Credit History Is?” and “The One who Dies With the Most Toys–Is Just As Dead.”

And it’s why I was utterly captivated to read this on Perry Marshall’s site:

This whole “recession” thing everyone’s blathering about was merely fabricated by the media (you know, the people we trust to deliver the “news” to us) so they’ll have more to, uh, g-r-i-p-e about while they assault us with election propaganda.

Did you know that ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN have predicted 40 out of the last 2 recessions?

I love that: “predicted 40 out of the last 2 recessions.” It’s a completely fresh and interesting way to state that he thinks the media are lousy at economic predictions.

Do I agree with him? Well…my own business is doing pretty well, but I choose to live in an abundant world, and the world tends to reaffirm that conviction. However, I definitely see some areas of concern about the economy–in housing, in job creation, and other factors, most of which I can easily blame on the Bush administration.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

After Super-Tuesday–Media Reforms Needed

Well, it looks like McCain will be carrying the banner for the Republicans this fall, after so many previous tries, and after being essentially written off by the pundits just a few short months ago. That was when Giuliani was considered the front-runner.

This is one among many reasons why we shouldn’t rely on pundits. Once the voters started speaking, it was clear that Giuliani was a non-starter. I heard one commentator say this week that he had the worst dollars-to-delegates ratio in the history of politics: $50 million to get one lone delegate. Ouch!

McCain is much, much better than his competitors on some issues, notably torture and campaign finance reform. But on war (for me, the dealbreaker issue), he’s the worst of the lot–even more hawkish than GWB. Yikes! And his own shady past on ethics issues–he was one of the infamous Keating 5, after all–makes me wonder how sincere the reform really is.

Still, he’s certainly less of a flip-flopper than Romney, who would have made a great used car salesman. And far less scary than our American Ayatollah Huckabee, whose election would make me seriously consider leaving the country; as a non-Christian with progressive politics, I’m not sure there would be room for me in a country governed by someone who equates homosexuality with necrophilia.

Much less clarity on the Democrat side. For me, the real question now becomes who could beat McCain. For reasons I stated here, I believe that in a McCain-Clinton contest, McCain would win, although I think she might beat Romney. But some of my friends believe that Obama hasn’t yet shown he can attract enough white voters to prevail against any opponent in November.

I know that I personally would not vote for Hilary Clinton–but I have the luxury of living in a state where my vote doesn’t count anyway: no matter what I do no matter who the candidate, Massachusetts will go for the Democrat.

The real shame for me, yesterday, was standing with my ballot and looking at Dennis Kucinich’s name right next to Barack Obama’s, thinking about what might have been. Kucinich has withdrawn, of course, and I’m not going to waste my vote on a candidate who’s no longer interested. But I think it’s a crime that the media–the same media that annointed Giuliani–decided for itself that it would not let us hear the voices of any of the candidates whose positions actually represented progressive change, and gave us a media blackout on the candidates who should matter most. They refused to cover Kucinich, Gravel, Dodd, and Ron Paul, among others–all of those bringing forward substantive reforms on a host of issues. This, to me, is a serious ethical breach and somehow we need a mechanism to address this that doesn’t interfere with the First Amendment.

For broadcast media, at least, the solution may lie with their licenses to use the public’s own airwaves for profit. For print media, the solution is probably intense public pressure in the form of letter-to-the-editor campaigns, pickets in front of their stockholder meetings, and so forth.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Why an Edwards Supporter Switched to Obama

Note from Shel: This guest column by Paul Rogat Loeb, a writer whose work I like quite a bit, outlines many of the reasons why I chose Obama when Kucinich left the race.

A Dozen Reasons Why This Edwards Voter Is Now Backing Obama

Guest Column By Paul Rogat Loeb

I gave John Edwards more money than I’ve given to any candidate in my life, and I’m glad I did. He raised critical issues about America’s economic divides, and got them on the Democratic agenda. He was the first major candidate to stake out strong comprehensive platforms on global warming and health care. He hammered away on the Iraq war, even using scarce campaign resources to run ads during recent key Senate votes. He’d have made a powerful nominee˜and president.

I’ve been going through my mourning for a while for his campaign not getting more traction, so his withdrawal announcement didn’t shock me. But sad as I am about his departure, I feel good about being able to switch my support to Barack Obama, and will do all I can to help him win.

I’ve actually been giving small donations to both since Iowa, while hoping that the Edwards campaign would belatedly catch fire, and e.html>exploring ways the two campaigns could work together. With Edwards gone, I think Obama is the natural choice for his supporters, and that Edwards should step up and endorse him as his preferred nominee. All three major Democratic candidates have their flaws and strengths˜they all have excellent global warming plans, for instance. But Edwards wasn’t just being rhetorical when he said that both he and Obama represent voices for change, versus Clinton’s embodiment of a Washington status quo joining money and power.

Here are a dozen reasons why I feel proud to have my energy, dollars and vote now go to Obama:

1. The Iraq war: Obviously, invading Iraq remains the most damaging single action of the Bush era. Obama spoke out against it at a public rally while Clinton was echoing Bush’s talking points and voting for it. Obama’s current advisors also consistently opposed the war, while Clinton’s consistently supported it. It’s appropriate that Clinton jumped to her feet to clap when Bush said in his recent State of the Union address that there was “no doubt” that “the surge is working.”

2. Clinton’s Iran vote: The Kyl-Lieberman bill gave the Bush administration so wide an opening for war that Jim Webb called it “Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream.” Hillary voted for it. Obama and Edwards opposed it.

3. The youth vote: If a Party attracts new voters for their first few elections, they tend to stick for the rest of their lives. Obama is doing this on a level unseen in decades. By tearing down the candidate who inspires them, Clinton will so embitter many young voters they’ll stay home.

4. Hope matters: When people join movements to realize raised hopes, our nation has a chance of changing. When they damp their hopes, as Clinton suggests, it doesn’t. Like Edwards, Obama has helped people feel they can participate in a powerful transformative narrative. That’s something to embrace, not mock.

5. Follow the money: All the candidates have some problematic donors˜it’s the system–but Hillary’s the only one with money from Rupert Murdoch. Edwards and Obama refused money from lobbyists. Clinton claimed they were just citizens speaking out, and held a massive fundraising dinner with homeland security lobbyists. Obama spearheaded a public financing bill in the Illinois legislature, while Clinton had to be shamed by a full-page Common Cause ad in the Des Moines Register to join Obama and Edwards in taking that stand.

6. John McCain: If McCain is indeed the Republican nominee, than as Frank Rich brilliantly points out, he’s perfectly primed to run as the war hero with independence, maturity and integrity, against the reckless, corrupt and utterly polarizing Clintons. Never mind that McCain’s integrity and independence is largely a media myth (think the Charles Keating scandal and his craven embrace of Bush in 2004), but Bill and Hillary heralding their two-for-one White House return will energize and unite an otherwise ambivalent and fractured Republican base.

7. Mark Penn: Clinton’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, runs a PR firm that prepped the Blackwater CEO for his recent congressional testimony, is aggressively involved in anti-union efforts, and has represented villains from the Argentine military junta and Philip Morris to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster.

8. Sleazy campaigning: Hillary stayed on the ballot in Michigan after Edwards and Obama pulled their names, then audaciously said the delegates she won unopposed should count retroactively. She, Bill and their surrogates have conducted a politics of personal attack that begins to echo Karl Rove, from distorting Obama’s position on Iraq and abortion choice, to dancing out surrogates to imply that the Republicans will tar him as a drug user.

9. NAFTA: Hillary can’t have it both ways in stoking nostalgia for Bill. NAFTA damaged lives and communities and widened America’s economic divides. Edwards spoke out powerfully against it. Clinton now claims the agreement needs to be modified, but her husband staked all his political capital in ramming it through, helping to hollow out America’s economy and split the Democratic Party for the 1994 Gingrich sweep.

10. Widening the circle: Obviously Obama spurs massive enthusiasm in the young and in the African-American community. I’m also impressed at the range of people turning out to support his campaign. At a Seattle rally I attended, the volunteer state campaign chair had started as Perot activist. The founding coordinator in the state’s second-largest county, a white female Iraq war vet, voted for Bush in 2000 and written in Colin Powell in 2004 before becoming outraged about Iraq “I’ve always leaned conservative,” she said, “but Obama’s announcement speech moved me to tears. The Audacity of Hope made me rethink my beliefs. He inspires me with his honesty and integrity.” As well as inspiring plenty of progressive activists, Obama is engaging people who haven’t come near progressive electoral politics in years.

11. The story we tell: Obama captures people with a narrative about where he wants to take America. His personal story is powerful, but he keeps the emphasis on the ordinary citizens who need to take action to make change. Clinton, in contrast, focuses largely on her personal story, her presumed strengths and travails. Except for the symbolism of having a woman president, it’s a recipe that downplays the possibility of common action for change.

12. Citizen movements matter: Edwards not only ran for president, but worked to build a citizen movement capable of working for change whatever his candidacy’s outcome. Obama has taken a similar approach, beginning when he first organized low-income Chicago communities and coordinated a still-legendary voter registration drive. His speeches consciously encourage his supporters to join together and constitute a force equivalent to the abolitionist, union, suffrage, and civil rights movements. Like Edwards, he’s working to build a movement capable of pushing his policies through the political resistance he will face (and probably of pushing him too if he fails to lead with enough courage). In this context, Clinton’s LBJ/Martin Luther King comparison, and her dismissal of the power of words to inspire people, is all too revealing. She really does believe change comes from knowing how to work the insider levers of power. Edwards and Obama know it takes more.

That’s why this Edwards supporter is proud to do all I can to make Barack Obama the Democratic nominee and president.

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See To receive his articles directly email with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Microsoft + Yahoo–Will It Matter?

Scott Karp’s Publishing 2.0 blog has a very very interesting analysis of the proposed Microsoft/Yahoo merger:

The main problem with Microsoft and Yahoo, looking forward, is that they are not web-native companies — they rely on centralized control models, rather than distributed network models — thus they are not aligned with the grain of the web, which is a fundamentally a distributed network.

Microsoft and Yahoo rely on software lock-ins (Windows, Office, IM clients, web mail) to maintain their user bases — but without distributing any of that value to the network or harnessing the value that the network would give back if they did. As such, they do not benefit from network effects, which is precisely what powers Google — and why Google will likely still beat a combined Microsoft/Yahoo.

Jeff Jarvis, in Buzz Machine, also sees a similarity of operational strategies in these two giants:

Yahoo, I’ve long argued, is the last old media company, for it operates on the old-media model: It owns or controls content, markets to bring audience in, then bombards us with ads until we leave. Contrast that with Google, which comes to us with its ads and content and tools, all of which I can distribute on my blog. Yahoo, like media before it, is centralized. Google is distributed.

Maybe I’m thick, but I don’t really see the similarity. I see Yahoo as in many ways much more like Google than like Microsoft–and in many ways, as the precursor to all these Web 2.0 social networks springing up:

• Yahoo spread virally because it created a much better search experience–as Google did later to overcome it
• Yahoo has tried over and over again to broaden its offerings and provide one-stop shopping for free, a model which Google emulated
• Yahoo’s corporate culture is much more Silicon Valley-loosey goosey, while MS is much more of an old-line massive and rigidly structured corporation–more like its original partner IBM (read yahoo exec Tim Sanders’ book, Love is the Killer App, which I reviewed here–scroll down–for a look into Yahoo’s culture)

I would in fact argue that at least some Yahoo tools offer exactly the same kind of distributed power that Google does. For instance, Yahoo acquired, years ago, the first e-mail discussion group tools that really allowed anyone to set up and run a discussion list or newsletter (egroups, which had recently bought onelist) and rolled them into its own Yahoogroups–one of the few instances in which I find a Yahoo tool superior to Google’s version. How many hundreds of thousands of people are operating–for free–this very powerful and completely decentralized information creation and distribution method that once required a programmer and a pile of money?

In fact, other than placing ads, I can’t think of anything that Yahoo charges for–whereas MS’s whole model is based on expensive software and forced upgrades.

One thing all three companies, Microsoft, Yahoo, AND Google, have in common is their desire to aggregate massive amounts of information about their users–which makes me, personally, very nervous.

Overall, I agree that Google will be the victor–but not for the reasons Karp and Jarvis posit. Google will win because it just provides a much better user experience. Which would you rather search with: Google’s clean, pleasant interface, instant results, and much better ability to return the right pages on the first results page, or Yahoo’s visual bombardment, slower and less accurate results? Most people have chosen Google.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Coulter: “I’d Campaign for Hillary” vs. McCain

Well, I never thought I’d see ultra-right and often-bizarre commentator Ann Coulter endorse Hillary Clinton. But Coulter said that if McCain is the GOP nominee, not only would she vote for Hillary, she’d actually go out and campaign for her!

Apparently the very conservative McCain is not conservative enough for the woman who called John Edwards a faggot–and she sees Clinton as more likely to continue the war, the repressive policies, etc. McCain is no liberal, and he was the one who sang “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran””. But Coulter may be right I have no confidence that Hillary will end the war, and that’s a lot of why I’m voting for Obama Tuesday.

Wonder what Hillary thinks of Coulter’s ‘endorsement.”

Meanwhile, George Lakoff has a very perceptive column on the real differences between Hillary and Obama–not about issues, on which they’re largely in agreement, but about personality and style. This goes a long way to explain why Hillary, cut off from emotional rapport and drowning in her policy-wonk bathtub, is such a divisive figure–and why Obama has been a much better coalition-builder. Strongly recommended.