Thursday, March 30, 2006

The STFU Campaign & the Joys of Paranoia

So the STFU Campaign is going full-blast, I see.

I refer, of course, to the "Shut the F--- Up" Campaign being waged by the cruddy pharmaceutical company Biovail and the cruddier Internet retailer against their respective critics. The cable-TV business channels are following every twist and turn of the campaign by these two companies, with the assistance of an obligingly dumb Securities and Exchange Commission, to silence their critics.

The hopes and dreams of money-losing companies everywhere are going with them! I am sure the STFU Campaign will spread across this great land of ours, silencing the few independent research firms and financial journalists who fail to fall in line with corporate dogma.

To me, the most interesting thing about the STFU Campaign is its use of a time-tested technique in American discourse -- paranoia.'s goofy CEO, Patrick Byrne, pioneered the use of Applied Paranoia in the multi-pronged short-seller-research firm-media-etc.-etc. conspiracy theory that he unleashed at a conference call last August. Biovail, while less goofy, is also alleging that the company's share price is in the toilet because of a conspiracy involving much the same characters.

As Max Boot observed in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, paranoia is a time-honored feature of American public discourse. Boot observed that in his 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," the late Richard Hofstadter noted:

"One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality that it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed."

As examples, Boot noted, Hofstadter "cited a 96-page pamphlet by Joseph McCarthy that contained 'no less than 313 footnote references' and a book by John Birch Society founder Robert Welch that employed 'one hundred pages of bibliography and notes' to show that President Eisenhower was a communist."

Boot was citing Hofstadter's essay to debunk a study on the Israel lobby, but I think his point extends to the STFU Campaign.

The paranoid "naked shorting" conspiracy cult embraced by Byrne is, of course, notable for amassing mountains of meaningless "evidence" -- mostly statistics concerning "fails to deliver" securities. The lawsuits, similarly, support their conspiracy charges with detailed allegations and sworn statements by objective, dispassionate fired former employees.

So onward with the STFU Campaign! And remember: If your company's stock falls in price, it's not your fault. It's them.


Wall Street Versus America will be published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site.

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