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This year's moron awards PDF Print
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Written by Michael Finley   
Thursday, 28 December 2000 19:00
The data are in; 2000 set some sort of record for morons.

Every year the Why Things Don't Work Institute, of which I am proprietor, confers its highest honor, The Metamoron Awards (known informally as the Morons), to those institutions and individuals who best typified sickness in the face of change.

A Metamoron, according to "Why Change Doesn't Work," by Harvey Robbins and myself, is a leader who misleads. Metamoron winners are identifiable by their authoritarian, undemocratic, anti-customer behavior. Previous winners include Microsoft, General Motors, and France.

Time is short, so let's get right to it.

The year can't pass without allotting a corporate Moron to a multinational whose behavior outraged even other corporatists. When shareholder Kirk Kerkorian filed a $14 billion suit against DaimlerChrysler, it called attention to one of the seamier truths of the M&A world--there is no such thing as a merger, there are only acquisitions. It was not until the new company installed a German manager to run the Detroit-based Chrysler division that the pillaging of an American institution became clear. A second automotive Moron must be split between Ford Motor and Firestone, which spent much of the year debating which company was responsible for 148 deaths in the U.S. caused by tire tread separation.

Our international Moron for 2000 goes to Israel, which six months ago sat at peace talks that appeared to be on the brink of ending 50 years of war with its own Palestinian population. What prevented the peace from taking hold? Not politics, but religion. Possession of holy areas of Jerusalem proved an insurmountable stumbling block to parties pledged to observe the dictates of God himself. If Israel's religious right were correct to avoid compromise, God must be pleased with the bloodshed (300 deaths, mostly Palestinian, many of them children) that followed. As Bob Dylan once said, "We don't worry about being right, when God is on our side."

Lest we forget the value of a single thing done well, let us note the $250 million contract the Texas Rangers gave shortstop Alex Rodriguez. Does anyone believe the Texas Rangers, even with this acquisition, are about to become a first-class baseball operation? More likely, it will make them unable to ever afford another good player. Meanwhile, the excess quickened the drumbeat to put down sick (read: small) ball clubs like Montreal, Kansas City, and Minnesota. America's pastime takes another giant step away from everyday America.

The first techno Moron goes to all the venture capital funds that falsely built up the values of over a thousand dot-com startups, hoping to cash in on the Internet boom. When the bubble burst, it set off confidence deflation that has wiped three years of growth from the savings of hundreds of millions of people. Will we ever learn: fundamentals are fundamental, and helium is merely elemental.

The Recording Industry Association of America wins a techno Moron for imagining that hounding Napster out of business--which it tried but failed to do--would alter the reality that digitized information is unstoppable, and that the old system of intellectual property is ready for the dustheap. Faced with the choice of innovate or litigate, RIAA turned the lawyerly cheek. The technology underlying Napster makes every computer a server. We are poised for another major information revolution, presaged if not personified by Napster. The implications of that fact dwarf whether Metallica is getting its 30 cents per disc.

A communications Moron goes to America Online and Time Warner, for their pending and likely merger. The new company will be an octopus of publishing, broadcasting, and Internet businesses. Imagine the intra-corporate sweetheart deals that will proliferate as a result of this wedding. The big dog eats first, is the logic underpinning the $110 billion undertaking. The effective weight of an individual customer against such an entity will be that of a speck against a star. When one company controls so many outlets for information, what happens to the marketplace of ideas?

Finally, we have a proliferation of electoral Morons from the November elections. John McCain, the only interesting candidate in 2000, prophetically decried campaign-spending corruption back in March. By year's end, money, influence and power combined for one of the greatest political scandals, and the most mystical political stalemates, in a century--the buying of an election like bacon. So threatening was McCain's challenge that the Religious Right joined with the Bush campaign in South Carolina to tar him with the label of "dirty campaigner." In 2000, the non-dirty campaigner always lost--Bradley, McCain, and finally Gore.

The media commentariat--high-profile pundits/reporters such as Cokie Roberts, Richard Berke, Michael Kelly and Britt Hume--systematically slandered Al Gore as a liar through much of the fall, charges that did not stand up to scrutiny but erased his 17-point post-convention lead. George Bush experienced no comparable scrutiny.

McCain was right: soft campaign funds dominated the election, primarily from single-issue third parties and the political parties themselves. All told, $3 billion was raised and spent on campaigns nationwide. After the election, the Electoral College system would be defended as preventing candidates from running entirely media-based campaigns. Never mind that they are already doing that.

The broadcast media joked early on that if candidates wanted to appear on the air, they had better buy time, and sure enough, studies showed that candidate coverage dropped in both TV and print news. So the public had to decide between two centrist candidates based almost entirely on 30-second commercials. The same broadcast media, the night of the election, would three times falsely award the election to one of the two candidates--the worst performance ever. Dan Rather of CBS acted as a cheerleader for Bush all through the evening, despite the fact that Gore led in the popular vote. No apology has yet been issued to the American people, for three times tipping the election that evening, and for ultimately awarding Bush frontrunner status. Fox News gave Florida to Bush based on projections of John Ellis, a Bush cousin, who was on the phone simultaneously with Jeb Bush.

The state of Florida wins the local governmental jurisdiction Moron hands-down for its amazing sequence of efforts on George Bush's behalf--manually recounting for Bush but objecting to manual recounts for Gore; allowing special favors for absentee ballots in some counties for the GOP but not for Democrats; and fighting to the last dog the right of voters to vote and be counted.

Some credit must be given to the election boards of key Florida cities, which for years ignored calls for more accurate voting systems, and gave us the butterfly ballot and the hanging chad.

Finally, the supreme Moron goes to the U.S. Supreme Court's Sandra Day O'Connor, who complained the night of the election when Florida was awarded to Gore that it meant she could not retire as planned--and who sided with the rest of the right-wing team appointed by Republicans in a 5-4 judgment which will vie with the Dred Scott case for its spurning of the Constitutional concept of one man, one vote.

How catastrophic was this election? We elected, or selected, a president who lost the popular vote by 400,000 votes. We failed to count the votes of some 40,000 Florida voters, mostly in areas sympathetic to Al Gore. We disenfranchised African-Americans and elderly Jews, while giving a free pass to military votes that may or may not have been cast before the election. When the dust settled on an election in which Americans were remarkably undecided about which party should hold power, one party nonetheless dominated all three branches of government by the narrowest of margins. And we squandered the reputation of the nation's highest tribunal.

By December, the economy seemed to be headed south, and the Salvation Army was reporting giving was way down, owing to the excess of political giving during the previous 12 months. And President-Elect George W. Bush, true to his word to wealthy donors, maintained his promise of a $1.3 trillion tax cut despite a looming recession.

This year, let's listen to McCain.

Michael Finley also writes the monthly Diversions column in ComputerUser magazine.

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