City Desk

Our Morning Roundup: Boycott City

Good morning, City Desk readers, and welcome to the last Creative-Loafing-in-bankruptcy Freedom Friday! This time next week, we very well might be under "new management," as health-code-violating restaurants like to say.

Today: Lefties will picket the Whole Foods at P Street. Tomorrow: Righties will respond by handing out Whole Food CEO John Mackey's Wall Street Journal editorial. In the near future: At least one person plans to boycott Wal-Mart to punish the mega retailer for pulling its ads from Glenn Beck's show.

To all of the above, a newsflash: Boycotting is a) wrong and b) doesn't work.

Let's start with the stock prices: Mackey's value has only gone up since the boycott threats. Why? Because people love his store so much that their response has been, "I disagree with what he wrote, but I don't want to shop anywhere else." To investors, this makes Whole Foods appear bullet proof. After all, it may have the most liberal clientele of any national chain in the country, and its owner is a card-carrying libertarian. Not enough people are willing to shop at an inferior grocery store just because they disagree with Mackey's politics–especially since Whole Foods is a model of corporate responsibility in every sense of the word.

Second, even if it were possible to stage a revenue-affecting protest at the P Street Whole Foods (and it's not in this day and age–my generation doesn't protest, we twitter), the people to feel the pinch first would be store employees. The same employees that Whole Foods critics have frequently touted as needing union representation (and who would, in all likelihood, probably lose money by unionizing). Assuming single payer fanatics could arrange an effective boycott, is a cashier's job worth their cause?

And Wal-Mart protesters, please, stop. If you keep this up you'll just be proving that you're as dumb as everyone says you are. (And you and I both know you're not dumb, you're actually really good at prioritizing your financial needs.)

Speaking of government-run programs: Cash for Clunkers ends Monday after putting almost half a million new cars on the road at a cost of $3 billion and hemorrhaging participating dealers due to untimely reimbursements. If my math is right, that comes out to around $6,564 in tax dollars per car. The cap was supposed to be $4,000. So what does that mean? It means that approximately $2,500 per car went to other stuff. Call it a transaction fee or call it bumblefucking, it still means one thing: The only entity that can get away with promising to spend one amount of money and then actually spending 55% more than promised is the U.S. Government.

Don't get scammed, y'all!

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  • Jim

    Boycotting is "wrong"? Are you fucking serious? Are you saying just in this case or across the board? It sounds like you're making a blanket statement, and I don't think you can be a good reporter if you believe all boycotting is wrong.

  • Mike Riggs

    I can't be a good reporter if I think boycotting is wrong? Please explain.

    And no, I don't think boycotting is wrong "across the board." I think punishing low level employees for something their CEO wrote is appalling. (And, in the case of Wal-Mart, a waste of time.)

  • Truth Hurts

    Boycotting is "right" and/or "works" when a boycotter stops patronizing a business entity that acts in a way offensive to the consumer's values. For example, I choose not to watch certain news programs (eg,Fox), or read some newspapers (eg, Washington Times. In short, I boycott them. When (or if) their practices change, I'll watch these stations and read these papers.

    This decision is "right" and "works" for me. If enough other folks follow similar approaches, great. If our collective actions spur changes in policies, even better.But I'll boycott merchants that offend my values regardless. It works for me.

  • Jim

    If, as a reporter, you go into every situation where there is a boycott involved (and there are many...take it from someone in the labor movement) believing that boycotts are wrong, you can't objectively report on the issue.

    Boycotts have been used as an effective form of nonviolent resistance for quite some time, including in my home state of Alabama during the bus boycotts.

    You wrote, "To all of the above, a newsflash: Boycotting is a) wrong and b) doesn’t work."

    That is wrong on both counts.

  • Reid

    I know, wtf were those protesters thinking? How dare they put the jobs of Montgomery bus drivers at stake like that?

  • Jamie

    Choosing not to watch Fox News or read the Washington Times isn't "boycotting." In both cases, they simply don't offer you a product that you like. If I don't eat at McDonald's because I think they sell crap, I'm not "boycotting" them, I just don't want their product.

    To boycott something, you need to have been a customer in the first place. If Fox News starts telling the truth, then maybe I'll like their product and start consuming it. If McDonald's starts selling stuff that doesn't suck, likewise.

    I rarely shop at Whole Foods because their stuff is ridiculously overpriced. It's not a boycott. I just don't shop there for the same reason I don't buy Ferraris.

  • dr. c

    someone please get riggs a history book or two. jeez.

  • Jim

    I'd also like to know how Riggs defines "hemmorhaging," considering his last item in this post. The story he links to says a few dozen NY dealers and at least one in MD have pulled out of Cash for Clunkers. How does that qualify as hemmorhaging, especially if thousands upon thousands of dealers are saying it was a great thing?

  • Truth Hurts

    Jamie, maybe you'll like this one more. When WAPO endorsed Gray over Patterson, I cancelled my subscription. I occasionally shop at WF, but likely will avoid doing so now b/c of its CEO's stance on health care reform. My broad point is that boycotting/not patronizing merchants is good when it's based on good reasons. So I take issue with Riggs' smug "news flash" to the contrary.

  • Mike Hersh

    John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on 8/12/2009 quoting Margaret Thatcher and suggesting that all we have to do to fix the health care crisis is eat healthy and let insurance companies do whatever they want. No health reform needed. From the beginning, Mr. Mackey's Op-Ed was insulting and over-simplistic. It led off with this quotation: "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money," attributed to Margaret Thatcher. see

    This is ironic, because Ms. Thatcher undermined the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom by slashing funding for it. She also sought to impose poll taxes--charging people to vote--to suppress voting by poor and working people! Her misguided rightwing policies were so unpopular, she was about to lose her job as Prime Minister when she stumbled into a conflict with Argentina over some tiny islands and rallied nationalistic fervor.

    Of course throwing around labels like "socialism" begs the question. If Mr. Mackey and like-minded opponents of health reform think modern government is socialism, then why aren't they fighting to abolish Medicare, or Social Security for that matter? They can't because it's political suicide, but Republican icon Ronald Reagan argued that Medicare would lead to tyranny. If successful, this boycott will mean Mr. Mackey cannot use "other people's money," namely our money to promote his extreme philosophy. Mr.Mackey also strongly opposes unions, and forced his employees into a high-deductible, low cost (to Whole Foods) health insurance plan. These actions reveal his real intentions for the rest of us. He's free to do that, but we're free to avoid enriching him and supporting his right wing ideology.

    It gets worse. Mr. Mackey contributed money (again, earned from our pockets) to Tom DeLay's campaigns and legal defense fund. DeLay--before he became a "Dancing with the Stars" dancer--waged war against progress, and resigned under indictment for several crimes. These days, DeLay regularly attacks health reform as government interference in families' health decisions. Sadly this principle didn't stop Mr. DeLay from overriding the final wishes of Terri Schiavo or her husband Michael, and involving the Congress directly in their family's health decisions. By backing Tom DeLay's hypocrisy with his money, Mr. Mackey has forfeited his chance to grab any more of my money. Whole Foods should fire Mr. Mackey, and respect their customers. Until then, we should stay away from Whole Foods.

    John Mr. Mackey is entitled to his libertarian views, but we're entitled not to support these views with our grocery dollars. Libertarianism is an extreme point of view that opposes any government role in protecting civil rights, ameliorating poverty, preventing disease, maintaining roads or bridges. No child labor laws. No pure food and drug laws. No public education. No workplace or environmental protection. Just prisons, police, and the military. I believe most people behave responsibly most of the time, but those who don't endanger the rest. That's why we have speed limits and traffic lights. To prevent chaos and mayhem. Before labor laws, bosses locked their employees into sweatshops and paid them pennies per day. We saw what happened before the EPA: rivers caught fire and big cities were shrouded in smog.

    If that's too long ago, consider the Bush Administration's bright idea of putting Wall Street swindlers on the honor system and watching as the whole economy collapsed. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan--another libertarian--admitted he "made a mistake" by putting too much faith in "free markets." Chagrined by the catastrophe on his watch, Mr. Greenspan admitted there is "a flaw in the model ... that defines how the world works" and "a critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down ... I still do not fully understand why it happened."

    Well I understand why it happened. You can't rely on the honor system. Apparently Mr. Mackey hasn't learned this lesson. He thinks we should put health insurance companies on the same honor system that Wall Street swindlers abused. The threadbare, minimalist government libertarians advocate worked while the U.S. was a rural, agricultural nation, but modern life requires modern government. To prevent swindlers and predators from exploiting the rest of us, and to facilitate basic survivable behavior. Almost everyone accepts this. Libertarians refuse to face these facts, Mr. Mackey among them.
    Once again, he's free to pontificate any way he wants, but not on my dime. If you care about progress, don't let him do it on your dime either.


    What happens to innocent employees injured by a boycott? People will shop elsewhere, and those places will hire more employees. A boycott isn't going to put Whole Foods out of business, but every boycott entails risks of economic consequences for employees. What happened to the employees of the Montgomery Bus system when Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat sparked a boycott? I'm not sure, but do we regret that boycott? In any case, we hope Whole Foods will fire Mr. Mackey, quickly and get a CEO who is more tolerant if not supportive of progress.

    What about freedom of speech and toleration? There's no threat to free speech here. No one is asking the government to muzzle anyone. No one is demanding the Wall Street Journal shut down, and no one is telling Mr. Mackey he cannot express himself--even express his own intolerance. As Mr. Mackey himself wrote in his Op-Ed, "every American adult is responsible for his or her own health." I don't believe that we're all islands, and should be left to fend for ourselves, but I am holding him responsible for his own words. As for tolerance, unlike Republican opponents of needed health reform, we're not showing up and screaming at people or disrupting discussions. We're just making our arguments. Mr. Mackey's fellow libertarian John Stossel of ABC News' "20/20" said, "Perhaps what the 'natural' food nuts really hate is that Mr. Mackey is rich. They don't like profit." Why should we support someone whose defender thinks we're "nuts?" Mr. Stossel's reductio ad ridiculum argument is typical of simplistic "debate," and in that regard not much different from the disingenuous Op-Ed Mr. Mackey wrote for the Wall Street Journal in the first place.

    Didn't Mr. Mackey actually try to offer constructive suggestions? Actually no. His suggestions range from self-serving (such as shop at his stores) to deceptive. I agree with eating healthy, but that's no answer for millions of Americans who can't get insurance or can't get their insurance to pay for needed care. The suggestion that "tort reform" will help lower health insurance costs is repudiated by every experience or study--pure propaganda like the rest of Mr. Mackey's "solutions." What is really bloating health care costs? Let's stick to the facts. For example, the CEOs of big insurance companies pay themselves nearly a million dollars a month! Rather than face up to this root cause of the health care crisis--greed and abuse of insurance executives--Mr. Mackey tries to mislead us. From his Op-Ed: "830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor's Business Daily." Wow! that sounds pretty scary! What he doesn't tell us is how long they have to wait. A day? A week? We can't tell from this Op-Ed. We do know that the situation in the U.S. is much worse. And that Canadians overwhelmingly support their health system. And that the "ObamaCare" under attack is not a clone of the Canadian system anyway.

    We also know that Investor's Business Daily is a far right publication, hardly an unbiased source. But for the sake of argument, let's accept that scary number, 830,000 and multiply it by 60. That would barely approach the nearly 50 million Americans who have no health coverage at all, and can't even get in line to wait for treatment! Then, add the nearly equal number of under-insured who also cannot get the care they need. And add the millions more who have insurance, but due to high deductibles and lifetime limits, end up bankrupt when they or their family-member gets sick. The American Journal of Medicine reported that 62% of bankruptcy in America was caused by medical bills--and 75% of those families had health insurance. Meanwhile, health insurance company profits are sky-rocketing. They're making more money year after year by increasing premiums, raising copays and deductibles, and denying coverage. How do they get away with it? We have no choice. Thanks to a federal law called ERISA they're exempt from laws that promote competition in other industries. No wonder they're pulling out all stops to prevent any meaningful healthcare reform. This is happening now, and puts the lie to Mr. Mackey's claims that letting insurance companies do whatever they want would make things better for the American people.

    To paraphrase Mr. Reagan, health insurance companies aren't the solution, they're the problem. We don't need libertarian Republican rhetoric about "empowering" individuals--which is just fancy talk for letting corporations do whatever they want including monopolize markets, exploit employees and bamboozle consumers. We need real health reform. Preferably single payer a.k.a expanded, improved Medicare for All. Anyone who opposes that should explain why they're not also opposing Medicare for our seniors--and if they're in Congress they should explain why "gubmint run healthcare" is good enough for them and their family. Back to Mr. Mackey and his efforts to trick people into accepting second-class health care or no care at all, his union-busting and arcane notions of what we need from government: Until Whole Foods fires him we should spend our money elsewhere. Boycott Whole Foods, and call or visit your local Whole Foods store to tell the manager about it. Also inform the Whole Foods's World HQ:

    Whole Foods Market, Inc.
    550 Bowie Street
    Austin, TX 78703-4644
    512.477.5566 voicemail
    512.482.7000 fax

  • Amanda Hess

    I'm surprised that Riggs thinks that boycotting is wrong. (For the record, I could not boycott Whole Foods because I'm not a delusional hippie with tons of cash who believes that"organic" actually means something). Anyway, back to boycotting: Boycotting is a consumer making her decisions about how to spend her money based on information. How is that wrong? And I can't see how a boycott (even if successful) could put people out of work. a) It's not a consumer's responsibility to continue to shop at a particular store just because they've shopped their before, and b) it's not like the boycotter is going to stop going grocery shopping. If we actually think that consumers have a direct effect on the jobs of cashiers, then it looks like workers at Safeway and Harris Teeter will be particularly flush this week. Perhaps Harris Teeter will be so successful it will open up a new store in D.C., employing dozens more workers.

  • Jim

    Amanda, as a CP staffer who has a lot of sense and historical perspective on the whole boycott issue, can you tell me why the City Paper is sending Riggs to cover this when he has clearly stated his beliefs are in opposition to everything these boycotters stand for?

    As far as I'm concerned, Riggs has no more credibility on this issue.

  • Fred

    Wow, Mike Hersh, your posting was terrific. You almost have me convinced. Best parts:

    "The threadbare, minimalist government libertarians advocate worked while the U.S. was a rural, agricultural nation, but modern life requires modern government. To prevent swindlers and predators from exploiting the rest of us, and to facilitate basic survivable behavior."

    Well, I could go on. This was a very very well-written, impassioned plea, and I congratulate you.

    As for me, like I said, you nearly convinced me. I will think twice about going there now. I never really thought about the founder's politics one way or another, so I never knew. (Then I looked him on on wikipedia.) The first I heard about the boycott came from the outraged right, so maybe that's why I wanted so badly to ignore it and just hope it'd go away. I hate to hear them complain so.

    What it comes down to for me, is, well, I don't know what the politics are of the founders of Harris Teeter, Safeway, my neighborhood market, or of my farmer's market for that matter. They could all well be Republican and favor squeezing the heck out of health care and restricting its access. But a person must eat, no? I mean, I'm not gonna go rushing to WF now, for sure, thanks in part to your piece. know??

    Also, I heard something on the radio that the profit margin for insurance companies is among the lowest of any major business/industry. True? I know, some are nastily overpaid.

    And, lastly I will say that this is not the finest moment for CP reporters, but fine moments from them are certainly not the reason we return to this site.

    At. All.

    PS: Is that you on the Facebook page? NPR? Really? No. Really?

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