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Defending Bob Hope

BobHopeAirportAfter I read that the local government is considering removing Bob Hope’s name from Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, I wrote an op-ed for the local newspaper (read my article here). My theme is that Bob Hope Airport is a name that honors the city, the man and the airport. Citing history, I explain that each has similarly capitalist origins which ought to be properly named, recognized and revered. My article caught the attention of a local news producer for an L.A. NBC News affiliate, who wanted to interview me for the evening telecast, though I was unable to do so. But I’m glad the op-ed was noticed and I hope that my activism helps Bob Hope Airport retain its rightful name.

Taylor Swift’s Activism for Apple

TaylorSwift on TimeWhen an individual moneymaker takes a moral stand on principle, realizes it with action and wins, the activism ought to be studied as an example in success.

This week, recording artist Taylor Swift provides such an example. Swift, a pop country music star, recently took to Tumblr (a blogging platform) to write a letter of activism (read Swift’s letter here). Swift explains that Apple’s new Apple Music streaming service precludes payment to artists in the first three months. Swift argues that this is wrong. In a persuasive, simple letter implicitly based on egoism, not altruism, because she predicates the letter on achieving her own values in an explicit expression of magnanimity, Swift makes the case for what amounts to intellectual property rights. Swift advocates what Ayn Rand called the trader principle, the essence of capitalism. As Swift concludes her letter to Apple: “Please don’t ask [artists] to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Besides Swift’s fundamentally acknowledged fact that Apple’s terms are Apple’s to set, what distinguishes Swift’s activist letter from other forms of celebrity activism is her recognition of the good for being good. Swift does not malign Apple. In fact, she titles the post “To Apple, Love Taylor” and proceeds to express her “reverence” for Apple’s innovation and achievements. This demonstrates an understanding that acting in accordance with the company’s professed philosophy of human progress through new ideas is consistent with trading value for value. Harnessing the power of an artist that leftists and racists should regard as a beneficiary of “white privilege” or being among some inexplicably causeless “one percent” of wealthy millionaires, Swift, who has previously expressed support for Barack Obama, offers a perfectly rational example of selfish activism.

The letter is selfish, as against self-centered (as she points out when she writes that the issue of paying artists “is not about me”, which in this context is true), because in writing it she seeks to gain, keep and advance her values; in this case, the ability of artists to earn money to create. In a wider sense, the successful artist posting such a letter deepens the bond with fans and adds credibility to his brand. Swift’s letter succeeds on a number of levels in dispelling the myth that capitalism and benevolence are incompatible. Swift gains value as described, the struggling, unknown writer gains, her competitors also gain, and so do her patrons, employees and partners. The customer gains with greater funding for all artists which leads to more creation, variety and competition. Apple, too, gains from the compliments, publicity and Swift’s endorsement for the new platform and a better grasp of what top artists want and how they may communicate.

Capitalism is, in fact, win-win.

Taylor Swift’s letter displays an understanding of this principle. She does not seek the unearned. She also does not merely “kill them with kindness”, as a cynic might claim. The letter, praising Apple for allegiance to progress and innovation, is not structured for unearned guilt, vanity or opportunism. Swift’s letter ends with a thought which begins with the word ‘please’ extended as a courtesy, not with an arbitrary demand that Apple has a moral duty to serve others and sacrifice its profit. Swift backs her words with action, withholding her property on principle. This is the essence of good, selfish, rational activism (read my thoughts on activism here) in a dispute among good, selfish, rational men.

Those inclined to flame, troll or otherwise rant against anyone who deviates in the slightest degree from one’s values ought to look at Taylor Swift’s letter and learn from her example. This is activism that succeeds. As Apple executive Eddy Cue posted today on Twitter (and, as I teach in my social media course, social media is a crucial, legitimate tool for selfish communication), after granting Swift’s request: “We hear you, [Taylor Swift]…Love, Apple.” The exchange, namely that they are free to have it, is why I love capitalism.

Starbucks’ #RaceTogether

1017px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgAs usual, both leftists and conservatives proved their bankruptcy, this time in attacking Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s encouraging new campaign.

On the left, the reaction was predictable. Leftists say they want a conversation about race. But they don’t—not really. What they want are more controls, dictates and unearned guilt trips against capitalism, business and the individual based on race. The hatred heaped by the left upon this particular business, one of the most successful examples of capitalism in history, was an anti-capitalist diatribe against Starbucks, unleashed on social media and, of course, personally attacking private executives. The leftists’ objections to Starbucks’ partnership with a newspaper to foster discussion of thoughts about race, “Race Together” (#RaceTogether on Twitter) ranged from an assault on Starbucks for employing too many white people, itself an example of racism, to a generally dismissive approach to taking ideas seriously if the idea originates with a big business.

Today’s conservatives agree with leftists, as they so often, without realizing it, do, because they share the New Left’s hatred of taking ideas seriously and they share the New Left’s approach to acquiring knowledge: faith over reason. Conservatives, as I observed in this post years ago when I wrote about the pro-capitalist origins of the individualistic Tea Party movement when it was being hijacked, do not seek real, radical change from welfare state cronyism to capitalism and individual rights. Conservatives are not, as Ayn Rand spent most of her career pointing out, radicals for capitalism; they seek to conserve the status quo based on altruism and collectivism—the roots of racism, as Rand argued—and some modified form of government control. To the extent conservatives support capitalism, as some still claim to do with varying degrees of credibility, they are mixed because they also seek to dictate or control free speech, sex, trade, abortion and drugs. Conservatives, like leftists, oppose egoism, pure capitalism and individual rights.

Like today’s college-bred New Left descendants, today’s church-bred New Right descendants embrace today’s bankrupt, cynical culture with enthusiasm. Don’t take my word for it. Read their posts, forwarded e-mails and Tweets, joking about racial comments, insults and attacking an American company for trying to profit from fostering an exchange of ideas for the sake, in the words of Starbucks’ CEO, of a better company and country. Conservatives, and their Christian libertarian brethren, demonstrate the same disdain for capitalism in practice that leftists do, only conservatives pretend that they actively support the company’s right to choose its practices.

But they do not—not really. In practice, they defend any religious CEO, quarterback, cable TV celebrity or chicken food chain for making controversial actions or comments, and sometimes they have a point. But when a lone businessman seeks to start a voluntary discussion about a controversial topic, those who cry that they never get a fair hearing on controversial topics attack the forum and they do so with the same derision as the left. It’s a point radio host Rush Limbaugh has often made; conservatives try so hard to live through others, i.e., leftists, that they act like them. They don’t know how to take yes for an answer. It’s as though they haven’t got the strength of their convictions and they’d rather argue than use reason and persuade. Just because Mr. Schultz, who is clearly biased to the left, didn’t frame the issue exactly right—his comments are loaded with self-hating prejudice against whites—conservatives rant, crack racial jokes and ridicule and reject voluntarily talking politics in a cafe predicated on profit by social gathering.

This is the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of the Starbucks effort. Social, even intellectual, discourse in gatherings is central to the Starbucks business proposition. Not only does Starbucks stand to lose and go out of business if Americans remain divided, Starbucks stands to gain and prosper if Americans become united. Howard Schultz, as two business writers know and recently observed (see reference links), knows that voluntarily talking politics in a cafe predicated on profit by social gathering is precisely what America needs.

Starbucks, with 4,700 U.S. stores, published a full page ad in Sunday’s New York Times asking: “Shall We Overcome?” with the words “RaceTogether” and the company’s mermaid logo. The question is intended to stimulate conversation and debate about issues of race in America by encouraging employees to talk with customers after writing, and only of their own volition, the words “Race Together” on a coffee cup. Today’s edition of the company’s partner in the campaign, USA Today, will have the first of a series of inserts with a variety of perspectives on race relations. Starbucks says its baristas are under no obligation to generate debate—in my experience this week, no one did—and, according to Starbucks, the goal is simply to activate an exchange of ideas.

This might not be desirable, in demand or in a company’s interest in a purely laissez-faire capitalist economy, yet in today’s divisive, government-controlled society, made worse by a divisive president and me-too political parties, isn’t one more likely to find an honest exchange among traders in a coffee shop than on a college campus (remember when Brandeis disinvited an infidel?) or a political arena?

Is it possible that Starbucks is the perfect place to start?

Imagine people talking, listening and learning, becoming informed, and making better cases and arguments. The founders did this in pubs when they sought to create America, which ended up being debated and founded in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Debates about ideas are good for a business built on gathering—especially in an environment in which speech is stifled by political correctness, speech codes, disunity, mass government surveillance of private lives and censorship. Conservatives often complain about not having a forum in which to make their points and they incessantly gripe about mainstream media. Leftists often complain about the need to enfranchise and converse and they incessantly gripe about businesses for the smallest grievances. Both should find the good in Starbucks’ campaign and unite in support of Starbucks’ call for voluntary discussion of a controversial topic free from government coercion. Another more toxic type, the nihilist, festers in this blank, death-based culture. See the links for an example.

If Americans are not fully free to have rational arguments in halls of government, academia and the media, and apparently and increasingly Americans are suppressed and restricted, let Americans chat over coffee—and at least leave Starbucks alone to sponsor, prosper and profit from it. I think the initiative has the potential to advance a radical American future free from those who want to control people’s lives for God and tradition and from those who want to control people’s lives for the race, tribe or collective. Conservatives and leftists have been propping up the same false dichotomies and continuous loop of Clintons, Bushes and asinine wars, policies and schemes for decades. America needs better ideas and new forums for free expression. Let us embrace this new effort by Starbucks—or any other American business that dares to speak up when Americans desperately ought to speak up—and let’s get to the business of saving America by encouraging Americans to speak up in pursuit of reason.


Reference links

“Why Race Together” by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and USA Today Publisher Larry Kramer, Starbucks Collection 

“Starbucks CEO has a terrible idea to fix race relations”, by Alexandra Petri, Washington Post

“Starbucks ‘Race Together’ Initiative Is Brilliant”, by David B. Yoffie and Michael A. Cusumano, Time

App Review: Starbucks 
Product Review: Starbucks’ Verismo

The Producer Vs. the President

The company created by Steve Jobs (1955-2011), whose authorized biography is published in softcover today, is making news again. So is the president, Barack Obamamade possible by the New Left, who is to speak to the country tonight to preach faith in statism and altruism in foreign policy, this time pitching a military intervention in Syria.

Jobs and Obama are a contrast in two types of man.

On one hand, we have Obama, the son of an African, a president who was abandoned by his father, as he wrote in Dreams From My Father, who defines himself by his blood and stands for nothing but New Left ideals which ultimately redound to a distinctive death premise. On the other hand, we have the late Steve Jobs, the biological son of a Syrian, a producer who was abandoned by his father, as Walter Isaacson wrote in the biography, who defined himself by his actions and stands for everything self-made and American—ideals which ultimately amount to reverence for life.

81px-Apple_logo_black.svgWhat Jobs created, Apple, today announces more of the exquisite products and services the company creates, despite unceasing government persecution. In what remains the single most unregulated U.S. industry, technology, Apple, the byproduct of decades of failure, success, ridicule, effort and an ingenious integration of art and business, triumphs with exceptional production (at relatively low costs) that enhances our lives in immeasurable ways. What Obama created, a nation governed by dictates, on this date announces more of the depraved lies and ideas the government enacts. In the single most dangerous American presidency in history, Obama’s America, the byproduct of decades of infiltration, contamination, propaganda, initiation of the use of force and integration of faith and force, subverts America’s founding ideals with the unprecedented, systematic destruction that diminishes our lives in immeasurable ways.

September 10, 2013 is a good date to mark the contrast for what Ayn Rand once observed as a philosophical battle between Apollo, the god of reason, vs. Dionysus, the god of raw, unchecked emotion—which is ultimately a choice between life and death—in her brilliant essay on man’s first step on the moon and the savages at Woodstock because today, whatever the ultimate outcome, makes the choice unmistakably obvious to all but the most blanked, docile and compliant. If you love the man who creates, you must reject the man who dictates. Today—with tomorrow’s 9/11 ghosts haunting you to remember what’s at stake—offers no other choice. In the deepest sense, what Steve Jobs represents lives and what Barack Obama represents is totally devoid of life; it is, like Obama’s eyes, dead. While the president sacrifices the living, the producer acts to create, live and enjoy, sacrificing nothing and requiring no sacrifice, offering only a consensual, honest and voluntary trade. Take your pick of what’s offered today. Make it fast. At this rate, tomorrow may not come.

Bezos Buys the Washington Post

The news that Jeff Bezos, who created Amazon.com, bought the Washington Post from its owner for $250 million is not surprising; the businessman has always been interested in and favored by media, with which he has long, deep connections, and the newspaper industry has been self-destructing for decades. Whatever their respective merits, and I think both Bezos and the Post are generally competent, I think their shared commodity is in some sense narcissism. The self-centeredness, as against an ability to think in principles, characterizes an enterprise that should be based on a core principle, such as dedication to reporting and disseminating objective truth, and it may prevent the new company from achieving much beyond more of the same in a different incarnation.

I took an instant dislike to Bezos when he was overexposed upon his company Amazon’s heavily promoted launch, because I don’t usually trust people who smile all the time and he did back then. It struck me as simpering. I came to appreciate the value proposition of his retailing business, which owns the company that purchased a journalistic enterprise in which I was part owner. I chose not to continue as an editor and journalist there, partly because I was not convinced of the Amazon-owned company’s understanding of, or commitment to, what it takes to create outstanding stories let alone to protect individual rights, which is essential to editorial production. But Amazon was a good match for the operation and things turned out pretty much as I figured. In my experience, Amazon.com is run like a lot of tech firms by amazing men and women of ability who think they know more than they in fact do; tech people can be pretentious, self-important and utterly disconnected from reality.

Which brings me to journalists, who are much worse in this regard, especially at vaunted newspapers such as the Washington Post, which, in my experience, is also run like a lot of newspapers by amazing men and women of ability who think they know more than they in fact do.

The Post was catapulted in stature by Woodward and Bernstein, two reporters who famously spent years and barrels of ink tracking down relatively trivial information about a scandal that ultimately brought down an American president, Nixon, and left in their wake an entire generation of New Left type journalists who cumulatively proceeded to waste everyone’s time over relatively trivial issues, reporting stories that didn’t matter, distorting the truth, lying, plagiarizing and stealing and becoming part of, rather than being a bold challenge to, the establishment they insisted they were fighting – and they have been entrenched preaching subjective dogma and ruining journalism ever since.

That’s neither Woodward’s and Bernstein’s nor the Post‘s fault, really, but their complicity in aiding the impression that what they did about Watergate was essentially good journalism, even honorable, crusading journalism, is undeniable; The Washington Post‘s reports on Watergate mark the beginning of the end of any last shred of objective mainstream journalism and all we have left is the sickening residue of Fox News and MSNBC and a bunch of snooty newspapers that run wire copy, snooty editorials and celebrity trash that barely move the reader past the first paragraph much less move the reader to think, challenge, question, debate and change the world.

So, Jeff Bezos has an opportunity to doubt the modern faith in subjectivism, change that mentality, fire those deadbeat journalists and empty suits who are often as overpaid, overstaffed and corrupt as the priests and politicians with whom they cavort. The Seattle businessman can transform journalism starting with the Washington Post, unless he chooses, as I suspect he will given his past, to become a passive, compliant spectator in the pews of the church of modern subjectivism, smiling endlessly and accomplishing nothing. Jeff Bezos has created something of real value in his Amazon, with its innovative Prime, Instant Video, Gold Box, Wish List and reasonably priced choices available in convenient distribution. He is a producer, an intelligent capitalist whose patience paid off with one of the most exciting retailers on earth. Ultimately, and I say this as a writer who’s been inside both Amazon and the Washington Post, whether he can save the newspaper, revive the free press and enlighten those who choose to think depends on whether Jeff Bezos is ready to do what newspapers stopped doing decades ago: seek to make money with reasonably priced products, delivered in a convenient distribution, that report the facts of reality and challenge the status quo—from A to Z.