GEICO and the Purpose of Advertising

GEICO Free Range Chick CommercialGEICO has been responsible for many of the best commercials that I’ve seen in recent years. Even when I don’t like them, I see that they are effective. Most of my friends hate them. This is probably because most of my friends are miserable bastards who insist upon being dissatisfied. I try not to take it as a personal slight — as effective as I may be at displeasing people. Anyway, I wanted to share two recent commercials that I admire.

In 2012, GEICO spent $1.1 billion on advertising. Most of that money no doubt goes to broadcasting. But they’ve got to pay a lot for the creation of content. I generally think there is a whole lot more creativity in the advertising community than in Hollywood. Not that there is much difference. See, for example, any superhero film.

The recent “What’s Your Reason” ads were created (apparently from concept to completion) by DCP Productions. I really like these ads. My friends hate them. But really, what’s not to like? The song is catchy as hell and the animation is simple and compelling:

Some of their biggest campaigns in the past were done by The Martin Agency. This includes the gecko and caveman ads, which (again), I like. My friends (again): not so much. I think there is a special hatred for the caveman commercials, but I’m not sure why. Recently, I’ve discovered another Martin Agency ad that I think is fabulous, “Free Range Chicken.” I haven’t talked to any of my friends about it, but it will speak ill of them if they don’t like this charming story:

I’ll admit: I just like chickens — especially when anthropomorphized to one extent or another. This commercial reminds me of Chicken Run when Rocky says, “You see, I’m a traveller by nature. I did that whole barnyard thing for a while but I couldn’t really get into it… The open road, that’s more my style. Yep, just give me a pack on my back and point me where the wind blows. In fact, you know what they call me back home? You’re gonna love this: The Lone Free Ranger.” Ah, chicken humor! You gotta love it, right? Right?

There was something that I ran into while researching this article. People have the wrong idea about how advertising works. They seem to be stuck in the early 19th century when advertisements were very straightforward: “I have something I would like to sell to you if you are looking for this something.” GEICO doesn’t spend a billion dollars per year to convince people that they are the best or cheapest insurance. They do it so that when you go shopping for insurance, you will think of the company. It is not surprising that the last time I bought auto insurance, I bought it from Esurance. I had no recollection of ever seeing an ad, but I now know that Esurance is one of the most advertised insurance companies in the world — although not nearly as advertised as GEICO.

So given that we are not very rational creatures and the corporate world totally manipulates us, the least we can do is to have entertaining commercials. Of course, GEICO spends 6.8% of its premiums on advertising — over twice that of the next biggest advertiser, Progressive. You might take that into account even while noticing that that’s a mighty fetching chicken. Just because we aren’t very rational doesn’t mean we can’t be more rational. Regardless, no one will buy GEICO insurance specifically because of the chicken. Or the rattlesnake.

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Mike Pence 14 Years Ago: “Smoking Doesn’t Kill”

Mike PenceIn the coming weeks, Americans are going to be treated with the worst kind of Washington-speak regarding the tobacco legislation currently being considered by the Congress and Attorney Generals from forty different states. We will hear about the scourge of tobacco and the resultant premature deaths. We will hear about how this phalanx of government elates has suddenly grown a conscience after decades of subsidizing the product which, we are now told, “kills millions of Americans each year.”

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you… news flash: smoking is not good for you. If you are reading this article through the blue haze of cigarette smoke you should quit. The relevant question is, what is more harmful to the nation, second hand smoke or back handed big government disguised in do-gooder healthcare rhetoric.

The tobacco settlement is not only about big taxes it’s about big government. Under the current Senate version, the deal would require the creation of 17 new government bureaucracies to manage the tax windfall described above. But it is also about big government on a much more profound scale, namely, government big enough to protect us from ourselves.

Even a conservative like me would support government big enough to protect us from foreign threats and threats to our domestic tranquility but the tobacco deal goes to the next level. Government big enough to protect us from our own stubborn wills. And a government of such plenary power, once conceived will hardly stop at tobacco. Surely the scourge of fatty foods and their attendant cost to the health care economy bears some consideration. How about the role of caffeine in fomenting greater stress in the lives of working Americans? Don’t get me started about the dangers of sports utility vehicles!

Those of you who find the tobacco deal acceptable should be warned as you sit, reading this magazine, sipping a cup of hot coffee with a hamburger on your mind for lunch. A government big enough to go after smokers is big enough to go after you.

—Mike Pence
The Great American Smoke Out

H/T: Andrew Kaczynski

Note: typos and grammar errors as the appeared in the original; formatting errors fixed.

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There Is No Freedom for the Poor

Days InnShanna Tippen was a minimum wage worker at the Days Inn and Suites in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In February, Chico Harlan wrote about her in The Washington Post, The 25-Cent Raise: What Life Is Like After a Minimum Wage Increase. It discussed how the recent increase in the Arkansas minimum wage from $7.25 to $7.50 was still a big deal for Tippen, even though she still lives below the poverty line as she did before. But Tippen doesn’t have that job anymore.

In that same article, Tippen’s boss — the general manager of the Days Inn, Herry Patel — had been quoted. He’s a real charmer. He said, “[The referendum] was bad. Bad for Arkansas. Everybody wants free money in Pine Bluff.” This is a pretty standard conservative mantra, “I have mine and all of you are a bunch of moochers!” Remember: this is a 3.4% raise — the first one that workers in Arkansas have received since 2009. Adjusted for inflation, employees have seen a 5.4% decrease in wages during this time. I would like to officially welcome Mr Patel into that esteemed group of people who make me wish there was a god so that he could burn for eternity in hell.

Chico Harlan wrote a followup article on Monday, After a Story Is Published, a Minimum Wage Worker Loses Her Job. It seems that Herry “John Galt” Patel was none too happy with how the first article was shaping up. Perhaps his wages should be lowered. You would think that a general manager at a hotel chain would know that if you talk to reporters, they will write about it. It has something to do with their job description, just like the description for “Days Inn General Manager” apparently includes key job elements like “keeping wages below the poverty rate” and “being a jerk to everyone” and “laughing maniacally while crushing small woodland creates with the heal of your boot.”

After the article came out, Patel called The Washington Post to complain about his being quoted in the paper. Then he tracked down Tippen and fired her. According to Tippen, “He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [The Post]. He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’ He said it was wrong for me to talk to you.” The whole story is tragicomic: tragic for Tippen and farce for Patel, who has shown himself to not only be a vile human being but an idiot as well.

For example, Patel was the one who recommended that Harlan interview Tippen in the first place. But he apparently had second thoughts later — calling Harlan and threatening to sue if the article was published. I assume his concern was not so much his own horrible comments but the fact that Tippen was so open about her checkered past. Of course, no one really would have noticed before; now it’s a much bigger story, “Hotel manager a total jerk: fires minimum wage employee for talking to the press.”

Digby pointed out the important point in all of this, “As ‘at will’ employees, [workers] only have freedom of speech in the abstract.” This is one of the most exasperating things about libertarians and more generally conservatives: they think that the only thing that limits freedom is the government. This is completely untrue, and in the United States the opposite is more often the case. For example, most people are far more likely to have their privacy invaded by a private company, not the government. But more specifically, it doesn’t matter if you have the “right” to say anything if that means you won’t be able to find a job. The economy is asymmetrical. The poor do not have equal political rights. That goes all the way down to the right to vote where it is far more cumbersome and costly for a poor person to vote.

We do not live in a democracy. And those who claim that they just want everyone to be equal (for example, those pushing the flat tax) are just pushing for the ossification of the status quo. People don’t start out equal. Our society does almost everything it can to make sure that those who start ahead are given every advantage along the way. And then once the rich have all the money and power, it is time for “equality of opportunity.” It’s disgusting.


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Zombie Reagan 2016

Zombie ReaganConservatives have been cheered by sightings of Ronald Reagan at small events in Iowa. The reanimated corpse of the 40th president has set up an exploratory committee to look into another presidential run. The reanimated corpses of Lee Atwater and William Casey have already signed onto the campaign in exchange for an undisclosed amount of living flesh. “Just like in the 1980 campaign,” Atwater said in an email.

The recent spate of reanimations was accomplished by Voodoo priest François Dutliquer in collaboration with his second cousin Pat Robertson. “I am not a terribly political person,” Dutliquer said. “But I do what I can to make cousin Pat happy these past 70 years — you know, since the brain injury.”

Critics question whether Reagan can run for president given that he has already served two terms. The reanimated corpse of Edwin Meese[1] explained that there are many ways around around this injunction. “For one thing,” the former Attorney General and flesh eating zombie said, “His dementia was so advanced in his second term that you can’t really say that he was president.” If all else fails, the festering meat sack and bright light of Republican judicial thought said, “Do you really think the Supreme Court wouldn’t just appoint him?”

There continue to be concerns that the zombie formerly known as Ronald Reagan will not be conservative enough for the modern Republican Party. “That could be a problem,” Atwater claimed. “But we feel that eating Rick Perry alive in a televised debate should quell any concerns.”

Zombie Reagan will be the featured speaker at the upcoming Story County GOP Pancake Breakfast.

See Also

Miracle Reagan Toast Discovered

[1] Contrary to popular belief, Meese died back in 1987. His corpse was quickly reanimated because no other attorney of Meese’s villainy could be found.

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Morning Music: The Zombies

She's Not There - The ZombiesThe Zombies are a good band. And I apparently mean that literally, because the band is still together. And unlike a lot of bands from that time, there is a good reason for it. They can really play. Other than producing catchy pop tunes, I’ve always been really impressed with the keyboard player Rod Argent. And only today I learned that he is also one of their main songwriters — writing all three of their big American hits.

One of those songs is “She’s Not There.” I actually find the lyrics kind of whiny. “How many people cried”? But what do you want? It’s a pop song. But the music is really good. I love the minor key. Here is the band back in 2007. It is mostly Argent and the lead singer Colin Blunstone. That might be Chris White on bass — I’m not sure. Paul Atkinson (guitar) died back in 2004. Hugh Grundy (drums) was around for the 50th anniversary show in 2011, but he’s not here.

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Anniversary Post: Cigarette Warning Labels

Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act

Forty-five years ago today, Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act into law. It mandated those warnings on cigarette packages. It was one of the results of, Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States, which found that cancer and other diseases were caused by cigarette smoking. This, of course, was a claim that the tobacco companies would dispute for decades. And as we know from Oreskes and Conway’s great book Merchants of Doubt, the same scientists who were claiming that cigarettes did not cause cancer are today claiming that global warming is not real. This, of course, is a fact that the mainstream press largely ignores and continues to “report the controversy.”

When the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was considered by the Senate in 1969, it passed with a vote of 71-8. Democrats voted for it 42-6 (88%) and Republicans voted for it 29-2 (94%). Can you image that happening today? I mean really: today. Not in some alternate universe where we knew only as much as they did in 1969. With everything we know today about cigarettes and the enormous harm that it does, there is hardly a Republican in the Senate who would vote for it. In fact, they would filibuster it and it wouldn’t even be given a vote. And when questioned, the Republicans would explain that they think cigarettes are terrible but, you know, “Freedom!”

In the end, the law didn’t have much effect on smoking. In 1984, the federal government passed another law they wouldn’t even vote on now, Comprehensive Smoking Education Act. But really, what we needed and still need are the kind of packaging that Australia has. Despite what libertarians and conservatives would tell you, companies are just fine with killing off their customers — especially if they are “free” to get kids addicted. Regardless, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was an important step in combating the plague of cigarette smoking on this nation. And it stands as an example of how much worse our politics have become.

Happy anniversary Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act!

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Atheism Is No More Relativist Than Christianity

Phil RobertsonI don’t actually care what Phil Robertson has to say on any subject at all. He is, however, useful in demonstrating that one can be educated and rich and still be ignorant and parochial. Of course, Robertson is fun in that he’s spent his whole life being the most educated guy in a very ignorant crowd. So he’s always got this ostentatious air to him that makes his pronouncements especially nutty. As a result, he is useful as a pedagogical object for teaching basic subjects about Shintoism and the like.

Most recently, Robertson stood before the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast and engaged in some very creepy fantasies about teaching an atheist father and husband a lesson about the existence of God through the use of rape, murder, and castration. It doesn’t really matter the details. Robertson is an extremely troubled man who is living proof of hell on earth. He’s also an excellent advertisement for atheism. The best advertisement for Christianity is a caring person who is a follower of the religion. Robertson shows that for most people, Christianity is really all about exclusivity and hatred. Other than people already in the tribe, he doesn’t win converts — and he clearly pushes people away.

But his example with the brutal violence perpetrated on an atheist family is based on a common misunderstanding of atheism. To him, atheism is a relativist philosophy. To such simple minds, there cannot be any morality unless it is imposed from without. That’s a curious notion given that atheists don’t act less morally than Christians. But it is deeper than that. Like most Americans, Robertson is a proponent of what I call “Santa Claus Christianity”: he is good because if he isn’t, God will be mean to him; and if he is, God will reward him.

Note how this is quite distinct from what more thoughtful Christians claim the religion is all about. Supposedly, the spirit of Jesus Christ comes into a person and makes them behave morally. This is largely what the earliest Christians believed. It was only later in the 2nd and 3rd centuries that the church developed the idea that we were all sinners and that we were only saved through Jesus. But American Christians have taken this to a whole new low where all they have to do is “believe” in Jesus and all their sins are washed away. Linus’ system for The Great Pumpkin makes more sense — at least The Great Pumpkin judges on the basis of sincerity.

What Christians don’t seem to have a handle on is that God’s laws are not an absolute when the God in question is slippery. The evidence for God is at best weak. And then there is the question that there are literally thousands of gods that people have posited. Different gods want humans to do different things. What is absolute about that? Wouldn’t a good and moral God just be clear? Why all this game playing? Why allow people in the hills of Afghanistan to go their whole lives without ever being exposed to the One True God that is whatever god you worship? Phil Robertson chose the God he was going to believe in. (Shockingly, it was the same God that everyone else in his tiny world believes in!) And then he followed those rules (maybe). Once he made the first choice, the rules were absolute. But first he had to make a choice of religion, which is no different than making a choice of which of God’s laws you are going to follow.

Consider something else. Morality evolves over time. Today, for example, slavery in its strict sense is universally considered wrong. The Bible is just fine on the issue of slavery. If God were really interested in micromanaging our morality, wouldn’t he have either (1) got it right in the first place or (2) occasionally provided updates the way that the Oxford English Dictionary does? Of course, we know why none of this happened: God (at least the micromanaging kind) doesn’t exist. Religion is a human invention, and — most tellingly — a later invention than morality. Morality existed before God — much less before Jesus.

There are sociological reasons why we have the morals we have. In a species that depends upon working together as a group, behaviors that harm the group badly enough are pushed out of the realm of acceptable behavior. This is why we are not a bunch of psychopaths killing everyone we see. But in Phil Robertson’s mind, raping children, murdering people, and castrating men would be “fun” if only God weren’t wagging a finger at us. Except such acts aren’t fun. That isn’t how morality works. I’m an atheist and yet I find each of those acts repugnant. Of course, Christians throughout the ages have gleefully done at least two of those three.

Relativism is not a useful concept when it comes to this debate. All Phil Robertson has done is create a straw man — and an incredibly common one at that. But he isn’t alone. Throughout the conservative blogosphere, people have defended Robertson on the grounds that atheists are relativists. In a sense we are — but only in the sense that Christians are too. But at least atheists are upfront about it. I kind of doubt that Phil Robertson never eats shellfish or never has sex with his wife during her period. And I don’t know of any atheists going around fantasizing about torturing Christians to prove to them that God doesn’t exist. But I guess because the Bible doesn’t say anything against it (In fact, it is kind of in favor of it!), it can’t be wrong.


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Personal Liberation and Political Enslavement

The Age of AcquiescenceThe ubiquity of market thinking has transformed combative political instincts into commercial or personalized ones or both. Environmental despoiling arouses righteous eating; cultural decay inspires charter schools; rebellion against work becomes work as a form of rebellion; old-form anticlericalism morphs into the piety of the secular; the break with convention ends up as the politics of style; the cri de coeur against alienation surrenders to the triumph of the solitary; the marriage of political and cultural radicalism ends in divorce. Like a deadly plague, irony spreads everywhere.

What lends this thinking and behavior such tensile strength is its subterranean connection to the sense of personal liberation. One of the great discoveries of the feminist movement was that “the personal is political.” This undermined axiomatic assumptions about female inferiority and subordination from which patriarchy will never recover.

However, personalizing of the political also carried with it unforeseen consequences as the aperçu migrated into the wider world, carried there by the tidal flows of consumer culture. Nowadays we live in a political universe preoccupied with gossip, rumor, insinuations, and innuendo. Personal transgressions, scandals, outré behavior, and secrets have become the pulp fiction of politics. Our times didn’t invent that. Grover Cleveland was regularly raked over the coals for having an illegitimate child. Warren Harding’s sexual adventures were notorious. This is to cite two of many possible examples. Nonetheless, this kind of inquisitorial and, let’s be frank, voyeuristic pursuit, of venial sins as the way of sizing up political life, has reached heights undreamed of. And this can be entertaining — indeed, it may be intended by the media to be so, as it is eye- and ear-catching. It displays a kinship with the inherent sensationalism of consumer culture more generally. It is also, often, if not always, stupendously trivial or only marginally relevant, but is treated in exactly the opposite way. We have grown accustomed to examine all sorts of personal foibles as if they were political MRIs lighting up the interior of the most sequestered political motivations.

Credit this hyperpersonalizing of political life with keeping interest alive, even if it’s a kind of morbid interest in the fall of the mighty or the wannabe mighty. Otherwise, for many millions of citizens, cynicism (and only cynicism) prevails. The system seems transparently to have become an arena for gaming the system. Cycles of corruption and insiderism repeat with numbing frequency and in a nonpartisan distribution, verging on kleptocracy.

—Steve Fraser
The Age of Acquiescence

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TSA’s Faux Objectivity

TSABack in the 1990s when I used to fly internationally a lot, US customs decided to change its procedures for searching people. (I can’t find information about this; it might have been a pilot program just at SFO.) What they had found was that they didn’t find any more contraband in the luggage of “suspicious” people than they did random people. So why bother? And more important: why risk the obvious problem of unfair stereotyping? People act strangely for a lot of reasons. Even though I’ve never tried to bring anything even slightly dodgy into or out of the country, I’m a nervous wreck going through customs. And this is despite the fact that I’ve never had any problem going through customs.

Last week, Jana Winter and Cora Currier at The Intercept reported, TSA’s Secret Behavior Checklist to Spot Terrorists. It describes the TSA’s controversial SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) program. This is the system of techniques that are supposed to turn an ordinary TSA agent into Dr Cal Lightman — the body language genius in Lie to Me. But just like the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used to extract false information from people in CIA and military custody, SPOT is not based on any science.

I am especially taken with two things on SPOT’s list of suspicious behavior. The first is, “Widely open staring eyes.” The second is, “Gazing down.” Given there are degrees to both of these, this sums up all possible eye related behavior. In other words: if the TSA agent decides that you are suspicious, you will get a point for one of these two. And this is how these things always work. We are all great at rationalizing our decisions. That does not mean that our decisions are based on rational thought. We are not nearly as rational as we think we are.

Of course, that is why these silly lists are created. The people designing this systems do not think they work for their stated purposes. They work as a way to justify what the agents are going to do regardless. You’ve lived a charmed life if you haven’t had this kind of reverse engineered oppression applied to you. The most common form this takes is a police officer pulling over a car. They can always justify it because there are so many ridiculous laws that we are all of us breaking the law all the time.

The Intercept article interviewed a former TSA agent about this:

One former Behavior Detection Officer manager, who asked not to be identified, said that SPOT indicators are used by law enforcement to justify pulling aside anyone officers find suspicious, rather than acting as an actual checklist for specific indicators. “The SPOT sheet was designed in such a way that virtually every passenger will exhibit multiple ‘behaviors’ that can be assigned a SPOT sheet value,” the former manager said.

The signs of deception and fear “are ridiculous,” the source continued. “These are just ‘catch all’ behaviors to justify [Behavior Detection Officer] interaction with a passenger. A license to harass.”

This is all part of a larger issue that I talk about a lot: in the United States, we don’t care so much about solving problems; it is more important to appear as though we are solving problems. The list of 92 suspicious behaviors is a way to make what are just gut reactions on the part of agents appear to be scientific and objective. But what they actually are was summed up well by a different former TSA agent The Intercept interviewed, “The SPOT program is bullshit — complete bullshit.”


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A Tale of Two Regulators

Andrew BowdenA year ago, it seemed that SEC examination chief Andrew Bowden was going to do his job. He had just finished a study of private equity firms and found that at more than half of them, the companies that were purchased were being inappropriately charged fees for things like services that they didn’t receive or similar shenanigans. This is the whole point of private equity: siphon off as much money as possible and then get rid of the company. In this case, the people who get screwed are the investors who put up the money to purchase the firm. If poor people did this kind of thing, they’d be thrown in jail. When rich people do it, they are deified.

So after the study was finished, Bowden gave a big fiery speech where he said:

When we have examined how fees and expenses are handled by advisers to private equity funds, we have identified what we believe are violations of law or material weaknesses in controls over 50 percent of the time.

Time for some prosecutions, right? But since then, the SEC has done what it normally does: nothing. As Matt Taibbi noted last week, “Last May, Bowden, a senior SEC official, described this problem as almost epidemic.” But now:

I reckon, it’s sort of interesting for me for private equity in terms of all we’ve seen, and what we have seen, where we have seen some misconduct and things like that, because I always think like, to my simple mind, that the people in private equity, they’re the greatest, they’re actually adding value to their clients, they’re getting paid really really well, you know, if I was in that position, the one thing I would think to myself as I skipped to work was like just “Let’s not mess it up. You know, this is the greatest thing there, I’m helping people, I’m doing OK myself.”

Ah yes! That’s the kind of person we want policing the private equity people: people who have simple minds and bow down before the greatness that are these masters of the universe who, after all, are just adding value to their clients. Bowden went on to joke about them giving his son a job, but I hardly think that was necessary to know exactly what Bowden (doubtless along with his peers) is all about. Needless to say, the Andrew Bowden of last year was far more in danger of losing his job than the Andrew Bowden of this year.

Two weeks ago, Michael Hiltzik discussed the issue in a broader context, Bankers Are Complaining — Again — About too Much Regulation. He perfectly described what is going on with Bowden and the thousands of bureaucrats like him:

The term “regulatory capture” refers to what happens when regulators swim so close to the companies they regulate that they get snared in those companies’ gravitational fields. What results is tolerant, indulgent regulation, or none at all.

He started with the story of corporate lawyer and pox on the world H Rodgin Cohen who claimed in a recent talk that there was no regulatory capture. He said “the regulatory environment today… the most tension-filled, confrontational, and skeptical of any time in my professional career.” But his professional career only really start in the 1970s and got going in the 1980s. These are the times when the government was turning its back on efforts to control the crooks that people like Cohen get rich representing. What does it really matter how today lines up with his career? Of course, there is little doubt that all he’s really saying is that at this point his privilege is so extreme that even the smallest push-back would seem “tension-filled, confrontational, and skeptical.”

Regardless of what Cohen thinks (or says, anyway), the example of Bowden kind of destroys it. But we have to wonder which Bowden is the one who goes to work each day: the fiery regulator or the private equity pawn? Hiltzik noted something interesting in this regard. Last year’s strong words were a major event and the speech at the conference earlier this month was not. So I’m guessing that Bowden is the obsequious one, not the Cohen skeptic of myth. Plus we have data: since Bowden’s big speech, there haven’t been big indictments. This country has a long way to go to fix its problems. And we haven’t even started.


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Morning Music: Tom Morello

One Man Revolution - The NightwatchmanGiven that it is Cesar Chavez’s birthday, I thought it might be a good time to do a little union music. And I think I’ve found the perfect song: Tom Morello’s “Union Song” off his album, One Man Revolution. It even refers to Chavez (and songwriter Joe Hill, writer of “There Is Power In A Union“).

This performance is in the Los Angeles Chinatown at a protest against Walmart that labor unions put together. Of course, the Walmart opened anyway. It’s important to remember that the United States is not a democracy. Being on the side of workers in the US is being a supporter of the ultimate under dogs. But the struggle continues. ¿Si nos quedemos, juntos vamos a ganar? ¡Si!

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Anniversary Post: Cesar Chavez

[Editor’s Note: Because I am now doing a lot things for the “birthday post” that are not birthdays, I’ve decided to change the name to the “anniversary post.” It’s also the case that I am using a lot of stuff that isn’t celebratory — like Yaoya Oshichi’s Sadistic Murder. If anyone has any ideas for a replacement for “Happy birthday whatever!” that I won’t have to change when marking something awful like Kristallnacht, please let me know. Also: this birthday post is a revision of an earlier post, Happy Cesar Chavez Day! Forgive my laziness. -FM]

Cesar ChavezOn this day in 1927, the great civil rights organizer Cesar Chavez was born. Here is California today, it is Cesar Chavez Day, which is tidy. But just like Martin Luther King Jr, we celebrate the mythic Chavez rather than the man. And that’s just fine. But the man deserves to be remembered. He was a curious fellow. For example, he was a vegan and he seems to have been against the notion of money. Although I don’t agree with him on either issue, I greatly respect the beliefs and I think it speaks well of any man to have principled beliefs that counter the social norms.

His life story is also right out of The Grapes of Wrath, too. His father lost the family farm during the Great Depression. He cleared 80 acres of land in exchange for the deed to the farm. But the deal was broken so the family moved to California and became migrant workers. Chavez quit school after the 7th grade to work in the fields. Other than two years in the Navy, he was a farm worker for ten years before getting into organizing. The rest, as they say, is literally history.

Time Magazine Cover: Cesar ChavezSome people find it ironic that Chavez and Dolores Huerta and their organization were very much for restricting immigration. But this is to misunderstand what the United Farm Workers (UFW) was doing. Unions are not like churches, going around trying to make the world a better place. Unions exist to represent their workers and balance the power of management. Then as today, the business community tacitly encourages illegal immigration. They want an over-supply of labor so they can pay as little as possible. Immigrants (Especially undocumented!) are in effect scabs that undermine the bargaining power of unions.

The following video is remarkable. Chavez is talking about how boycotts work. But at the beginning, he says an amazingly insightful thing: that voting doesn’t help the poor. That’s interesting because recent political science research finds that the opinions of the poor (and to a large extent the middle class too) simply have no effect on how politicians legislate. Just the same, Chavez was big on getting the poor to vote. He’s just making a point that if you want to make change happen, the best way is to make the rich suffer by depriving them of money. That is the most direct way to make positive change.

I’m very pleased that today in Cesar Chavez Day in California. I wish it were a national holiday. We have a holiday for one of our richest presidents who kept slaves. We have a holiday celebrating our independence that kept slavery in existence. We have a holiday celebrating how native people kept early settlers from starving so those settlers could go on to wage a genocide against the native people. Even though Martin Luther King Jr was deeply concerned about workers’ rights, that’s not why we celebrate him. May Day is long gone and most Americans don’t seem to know the difference between Labor Day and Memorial Day. We could use a holiday that celebrates the workers’ struggle in an unambiguous way. Cesar Chavez Day should be a bigger deal. And in another decade, it probably will be.

Happy birthday Cesar Chavez!

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