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Undercover Boss Is Typical Capitalism

Has anybody seen that show Undercover Boss? The show operates under the premise that a senior executive, curious of what company life is like for the employees at the other end of the spectrum, goes to the frontline to rub elbows with the commoners. I saw the premier episode featuring Larry O’Donnell, the CEO from Waste Management, Inc. He showed up at one of the landfill waste facilities and tried to hang with people who work with garbage every work day.

Mr. O’Donnell was given the assignment of catching all the trash that was flying away. The wind would catch some paper flying off of a truck during a dump and it would be Mr. O’Donnell’s job to nab that wayward trash. He gave it a good try. But the foreman was relentless. A camera would be in the foreman’s face as he shouted over to the incognito boss man running to collect trash, “You’re too slow, Larry!  Faster!” The old man from behind the desk at the top of the company couldn’t run fast enough to keep the area around the landfill clean. At the end of the shift, the foreman assigned to work with him told him flat out that he couldn’t cut it. The undercover boss simply didn’t have what it took to do the job.

At the end of the show, Mr. O’Donnell puts back on the tailored suit and goes back to the facility to let everybody in on the candid camera bit. Mr. O’Donnell has no hard feelings for anyone and has nothing but words of praise for his former coworkers, even the foreman that had his ass running all over the side of the landfill trying to collect trash. The boss man is so impressed that he starts doing a Wizard of Oz impersonation, where he gives all the hardworking employees that he met a financial reward or some kind of choice promotion. For the employees who are struggling to do their jobs day by day and eek out a living on their meager pay, it’s a blessing. And boss man walks away with a better understanding of the company and the people he’s got at the bottom rung of things. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.

After a little while, I started thinking about what I saw, or what I thought I had seen. I mean, if I was the employee at the bottom and some new guy shows up with manicured hands and a gang of camera men following his every move, I’m pretty sure I’m going to think something was up. So when the foreman was telling “Larry” that he was too slow, would he really want to do that with a camera in his face? And didn’t the foreman get just a little suspicious when the camera crew chased Mr. O’Donnell around that landfill recording his every move? I started to wonder what story could somebody have given to keep everybody from getting a bit dubious about what was going on.

Hey everybody listen up. We got a new guy starting today. He’s going to have a few camera people following him around to record our indoctrination process. He doesn’t know anything about what we do. But don’t let any of that effect the way you talk to him. If he can’t do the job, go ahead and tell him that he just can’t hack it because that’s how we do things with new people here at Waste Management. And whatever you do don’t think he’s anybody important.

But what really got my goat was the way the boss man wants to take care of the employees that he worked with. What about all the other employees who were doing similar jobs at Waste Management facilities in other areas. We heard about the sad struggles of the employees who made it on camera and how at the end of the show the boss man went out of his way to reward those hard workers.

What about all those other hard workers in the company he didn’t meet that had similar struggles of their own? Is the company going to do anything to change policy so that each and every employee benefits from what Larry uncovered in his publicized undercover investigation? Did Larry go back and raise everybody’s pay? Did everybody get a promotion? I seriously doubt it. In typical American capitalism fashion, only a lucky few who got the opportunity to explain their own situation and get some kind of compensation for it.

We don’t develop policies that are designed to help everyone. Our policies are designed to keep the majority of people struggling while we promote a select few who happen to get the attention of the boss or whatever or whoever passes as a gatekeeper. And then, the fortunate ones are held up as an example of what could happen for the rest of us if we keep our noses clean and work hard.

It wouldn’t matter if everyone in the company kept their noses as clean as possible and worked their little hearts out, more often than not there will be a limited number of opportunities in relation to the number of people trying to obtain them. Boss man wants to give away a promotion or some financial relief? Will he do anything to find out who in the company is the neediest or the most deserving? Nah. He’ll just take the most expedient route and give it to the people he already knows, like the guy that ran his ass all around that landfill with a camera in his face shouting, “Faster, Larry, Faster!”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 Posted by | Capitalism, Life, Thoughts | , , | 2 Comments

BP Could Mean “Bought Politician”

Texas Republican and House Representative Joe Barton apologized to British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward as a way of protesting the twenty billion dollar relief fund the company agreed to finance under political pressure by the White House in order to compensate the victims of the oil that continues to spew into the gulf from the well damaged by the Deepwater Horizon explosion.  Mr. Hayward was sitting front and center at the witness table for another round of high profile reprimands from Washington politicians.

With financial contributions totaling more than one-point-four million dollars since 1990, Mr. Barton is the House’s top recipient of oil industry campaign offerings.  Mr. Barton is paid handsomely to be a friend of big oil and he was more than happy to come to BP’s defense.  After the apology, Mr. Barton went on to say that he did not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something wrong it is then subject to some sort of political pressure that is little more than a shakedown.  British Petroleum with its history of cutting corners and risking the safety of the public and the environment for the sake of bigger profits is the poor victim and the White House with its black Democratic President trying to look like it wants to do what’s best for the public is the nasty tyrant.

I seriously doubt if the majority of the public sees things that way.  Right now there’s a lot of anger against British Petroleum.  Anything wearing the company’s green and yellow logo is subject to be vandalized these days.  People are protesting and picketing in front of BP branded gas stations not realizing that the business isn’t actually owned by the giant oil company but is actually a mom and pop shop simply trying to earn a living.  People are so incensed at BP that these gas stations are now being penalized for their unfortunate decision to market themselves with a BP affiliation.  There aren’t very many people with much sympathy for anything BP.

Mr. Barton is cut from a totally different cloth.  None of his constituents have been harmed by anything BP has done.  That, and BP has paid him very well.  Like a good little whore, Mr. Barton went to bat for his pimp.  Political conservative have a well earned reputation for protecting the interest of big corporations.  Mr. Barton simply kicked that sentiment into high gear with his apology to Mr. Hayward and the rest of BP on behalf of the American people.

But not all Republicans were onboard with Mr. Barton.  By apologizing to BP, Mr. Barton has put the Republican Party at another disadvantage.  Rumor has it that the GOP leadership demanded that Mr. Barton apologize for his apology or have the congressman stripped of his seniority as next in line to chair the oh so important Energy and Commerce Committee where big oil could really get payback for their investment in the Representative.  Democrats are more than happy to tie the Republicans to the oil industry in the middle of this crisis in the middle of this midterm election year.  It wasn’t enough that members of the GOP continue to insist that the spewing well was some kind of natural environmental disaster.  That pipe spewing all that crude happened naturally without any human intervention.  Mr. Barton simply added fuel to the fire and gave the Democrats the best political talking points until Election Day later this year.

Smarting from his trip to the woodshed, Mr. Barton was back with a half-assed apology for his apology.  Mr. Barton wanted to set the record straight and wanted to be perfectly clear that he thought BP was responsible for this accident.  He went on to say that if anything he said earlier that morning had been misconstrued, he wanted to apologize for that misconstruction.

Not quite the contrite statement GOP leadership was looking for, Mr. Barton then issued another statement.  He apologized for using the term “shakedown” with regard to the actions by the White House and retracted his apology to BP.  He went on to say that he regretted his statement implying that BP should not pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions in this incident.

But don’t feel bad about Mr. Barton.  Radical right tea partiers will embrace him with open arms and he’ll be the next darling of their take America back campaign.  Anybody with the cojones to make outrageous statements about the Obama administration always seems to do well with this group.  It wouldn’t matter if Mr. Barton is greasier than one of those pelicans soaked in oil along the gulf shore and just as clueless.  It seems that’s just how some people like their politicians.

Thursday, June 17, 2010 Posted by | Capitalism, Life, Oil, Thoughts | | Leave a comment

Wal-Mart Symbolizes America


According to a 60 Minutes-Vanity Fair Poll recently released, nearly half of the nearly eleven hundred randomly selected nationwide respondents that were contacted by telephone between August 27th and 31st chose Wal-Mart as the institution that best symbolizes America today.  Distant runners up were split between Google, Microsoft, the NFL, and the banking and financial securities firm Goldman Sachs.  That actually sounds pretty accurate.  Unfortunately, it also sounds pretty alarming as well.

When I think of Wal-Mart I think of an institution without an ounce of culture.  While Wal-Mart offers a variety of low priced products, the majority of those products are produced by foreign manufacturers.  Wal-Mart is notorious for underpaying its employees and for offering little in the way of employment benefits.  Wal-Mart has a reputation for coming into town getting concessions in the form of tax revenue concessions, then turning around and using the local government handout in the form of a tax advantage to give its customers discounts that its competitors can’t afford helping to put some of the other retailers, many mom and pop establishments that have been part of the local community for years if not decades, out of business.

Many Wal-Mart customers could not care less about the effect Wal-Mart has on the retailing landscape or on their neighbor’s employment prospects.  When retailers go out of business only so many of their employees will find employment with the big Wal-Mart store.  Too many people have the mentality that while it is true that Wal-Mart cuts people’s wages and keeps people’s hours low to keep from having to provide mandatory benefits for full time employment, that’s okay because those people can get what they need at the cheapest price possible.  Like Wal-Mart, the American public could not care less about the people who have to do without a livable wage and employment benefits in order to provide the rest of us with the low priced commodities we want.

I would imagine that most Americans would like to operate their business using the Wal-Mart model.  It has proven very lucrative in America.  However, in many foreign countries, the Wal-Mart model just doesn’t do that well in countries with government and economic systems that actually work to protect employee’s and citizen’s rights.  All too often the Wal-Mart way finds itself at odds with various foreign cultures.  Not too surprising considering the reputation of the ugly American.  And if Wal-Mart is the institution that best symbolizes America, Americans symbolize Wal-Mart as well.

Wal-Mart has that unapologetic, indomitable American spirit that must win at all cost.  Its profits must always be higher.  Its presence must always be greater.  Wal-Mart will always do the right thing by the community it serves and the people it deals with when it finds its back to the wall and comes to the understanding that it is in its own best interest to do so.  Otherwise, this corporation has access to some of the best lawyers in America and this corporation will see you in court before they’d do anything out of the goodness of their wallet.  Just like many Americans.

All one needs to do is take a look at the argument surround universal healthcare.  People would rather do without healthcare for everyone as long as they have healthcare for themselves.  When we have healthcare it’s good.  When other people have healthcare, it’s a socialist plot designed to undermine capitalism.  Capitalism is the never ending pursuit of profit and money.  Generating profit and money are the two things that Wal-Mart excels at.  The ironic thing is that Wal-Mart wants universal healthcare.  That way, it wouldn’t have to foot the bill to provide healthcare to its employees and can rely on another government handout.

Honestly, I really don’t think Wal-Mart is that much different from any of the other corporate entities named in the survey.  Microsoft and Google do their damnedest to put other tech companies out of business.  The NFL, just like any other major sports entity, would give players nine figure salaries at the expense off individual fans who can barely afford to go to the game.  And Goldman Sachs is a financial institution.  The first syllable in its name is “gold”, is it really necessary to say anything else.  The whole point of big business is big money.

Most any other corporation would love to be in Wal-Mart’s position.  Wal-Mart might be the best corporate symbol of America.  And it is a pretty good representation of us.  But in reality, there are a few words that are far more accurate in their portrayal of America.  Greedy and narcissistic quickly spring to mind.  Arrogant and pompous are a couple more.  All of these words are accurate symbols of many Americans.  It is no coincidence that they apply to Wal-Mart as well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Life, Thoughts | 7 Comments

Lex Luther Learns What’s Not Important


Lex Luthor is Superman’s number one nemesis. In most versions of the Superman / Lex Luthor saga Mr. Luthor hated Superman from the moment he knew he existed. Superman represents truth, justice, and the “American way” (whatever that means) while Lex Luthor represents narcissism, profit, capitalism, and every despicable component of corporate institutions. If anything Lex Luthor appears to be the epitome of the American way. But most versions of the Superman story has Lex Luthor making the assumption that in his pursuit of whatever he wants, Superman would be a hindrance to his plan.

As the chief executive officer of the high technology defense contracting conglomerate Lex Corporation (think Halliburton on steroids), Mr. Luthor is a seriously powerful individual in the comic book world. The scientist and engineers and communication specialist and mercenaries at his disposal can do nearly anything the boss wants. And they do it all without question or objection. Let’s say that Lex Luthor wants to develop an AK 47 that shoots kryptonite tipped shells. Such a weapon has only one application, to kill Superman. In the comic book world kryptonite is Superman’s Achilles heal. But the employees will put that weapon together in record time. And Lex Corp develops a lot of weapons. But somehow Superman and his associates who do what they do without payment are usually able to thwart Lex Luthor and his profit driven enterprise.

Nevertheless, Lex Luthor is powerful enough to have nearly anything he wants. He is the king of his domain. The problem is he wants to be the king of everyone else’s domain. Despite all his power Lex Luthor wants to be in total control. Superman represents a lack of total control. He thinks more socially.  He doesn’t rescue people because they are willing to buy rescue.  He does what he can because with great power comes great responsibility.  Thus, Superman is just one of very few thorns in Lex Luther’s side.

In the version of the Superman / Lex Luthor saga played out in the cartoon series Justice League Unlimited, Lex Luthor forms an alliance with another one of Superman’s nemesis, Brainiac. Brainiac is the supercomputer android built by Superman’s father Jor El. Brainiac played a significant role in the destruction of Superman’s home world Krypton. Brainiac was able to escape the destruction of the planet and used technology and knowledge to study and gain as much information as possible from other planets throughout the galaxy. Brainiac knows the significance of information and knowledge. And to make the knowledge more valuable it must be kept secret. Others must be prevented from gaining access to the knowledge. Therefore, once Brainiac has studied every aspect of a planet, it will destroy the planet in order to keep others from gaining the knowledge.

When Brainiac set his sights on Earth and discovered Jor-El’s son Kal-El, AKA Superman, AKA Clark Kent, Brainiac salivated with the idea of a twofer, destroying the sole survivor of Krypton and all of Earth in one fell swoop. Superman was able to stop Brainiac. But Brainiac was able to survive by embedding a copy of his intellect inside Lex Luthor’s brain.  The Luthor / Brainiac hybrid had the benefits of Brainiac’s access to information from across the galaxy combined with Lex Luthor’s imagination, cunning, and arrogance. The Justice League defeated the Luthor / Brainiac hybrid and in the process was able to separate Brainiac from Lex Luthor. This time, Brainiac was utterly destroyed.

Their merger was a brief one but Lex Luthor had a taste of power and knowledge beyond his wildest dreams. He no longer wanted to rule the world. He wanted to rule the galaxy. Brainiac had access to information that would make gods envious. It was as if the superintelligent android had given the man the ultimate form of cosmic crack leaving him instantly and hopelessly addicted.  Luther had to get Brainiac back. Luthor had remembered that Brainiac had an asteroid filled with technology that everyone assumed was destroyed by Superman with the help of other members from the Justice League. Luthor had surmised that his best chance to rebuild Brainiac was to find some remnant of Brainiac’s technology in the cloud of debris from the destruction of Brainiac’s asteroid. However, when he was able to implement his plan, all Lex Luthor did was resurrect a third Superman nemesis named Darkside, the ruler of Apokolips. Darkside was killed when Brainiac’s stronghold was destroyed by Superman and the Justice League. His consciousness floated through the debris cloud waiting to be reactivated.  The ressurrected Darkside was pissed and Earth was about to pay big time.

Luthor made it back to Earth to help the Justice League battle Darkside’s invasion. Luthor was pissed because Darkside destroyed his last chance to revive Brainiac. Lex Luther’s Legion of Doom and the Justice League were fighting side by side. But Earth was being destroyed in the battle. Metron, a benevolent godlike being, was fascinated by Darkside’s resurrection and Earth’s destruction. Earth would only be the first world to fall before the angry Darkside. Metron another super being who prefers not to interfere, stopped by to watch the battle, especially the toe-to-toe between Darkside and Superman. Lex Luthor caught sight of Metron and convinced the entity to tell him how he could stop Darkside. Out of some uncharacteristic sense of benevolence, Metron decided to grant Luthor’s wish. In a blink of an eye Metron and Luthor went to the edge of the universe in order to find the Anti Life Equation, the one thing that Darkside wants more than anything else. Metron takes Luthor as close as he dared to keep his humanity intact. However, Lex Luthor who had every desire to rise above his humanity, to improve himself more than his humanity was ever designed to do, rushed in where Metron feared to tread. And with an inhuman scream Lex Luthor gains understanding.

With the Anti Life Equation in hand Lex Luthor is instantly returned to Earth. After having his ass served to him on a silver platter by Superman, Darkside invokes an agony beam tuned to Superman’s physiology. Darkside is standing over Superman with a knife of light generated by the power of kryptonite. Darkside promises to be merciful when he cuts Superman’s heart out and puts him out of his agony. However, Lex Luthor interrupts Darkside’s soliloquy. Furious over the intrusion Darkside turns his full attention on Lex Luthor. But Lex Luthor is eerily calm. His costume as part of the Legion of Doom is replaced with his conservative but highly tailored business suit. He apologizes for the interruption but then shows Darkside the Anti Life Equation. Darkside is mesmerized. As he reaches for what is in Luthor’s hand the two men are embraced in a field of light and disappear together in a huge explosion. And Earth’s crisis is over.

Throughout the story it was interesting to see Lex Luthor’s character change. Although he had by far more than most people could imagine he always wanted more. Initially, when we meet him for the first time, all he wanted was more money. Already a billionaire he was looking around for his next billion. Money was the only measure that mattered. But when he meets Superman he sees an individual more powerful than him that eschews finances. Superman does what he does out of his social conscience. So money was no longer the ultimate form of power.

The power to destroy Superman, a symbol of power, replaced the need for to accumulate the power of money. In order to develop the ability to destroy Superman a variety of power had to be developed, financial, political, and technological. As a mere corporate mogul, Lex Luther had made a bid for political power and used the power of the press to promote his charitable donations and his change of heart to the public. But even with the power of politics and money Lex Luthor made a realization that he needed more. He became part of the Brainiac / Luthor hybrid and learned a taste of power on a galactic scale. No longer caring for the petty pursuit of money or global domination Lex Luthor now needed something bigger. Lex Luthor needed the ultimate. He needed godhood.

Godhood was virtually achieved when Lex Luthor found the Anti Life Equation. But instead of using his new found power to subjugate the galaxy he uses his power to save Superman, a planet, and the galaxy. I like to think that Lex Luthor actually learned that the petty pursuit of power and domination is just that, petty. Real power doesn’t come from the control of others. Power comes from the control of one’s self. It’s nice to be in a position to be financially secure. But financial security doesn’t come from having a number of bank accounts with a high number of zeroes in the balance. Power doesn’t come from ruling a planet or a galaxy. Sooner or later just having that financial and political and military and technological power is lost as soon as someone else comes along with anything that can threaten that power. The powerful will constantly consume more power in order to stay the powerful. The powerful will constantly subjugate the weak in order to remain powerful.

True power comes not from forcing people to your will. True power doesn’t come from manipulation or from deception. True power comes when others have gathered all the facts and have made the conscious decision to make the best decisions for the benefit of the community. True power isn’t about one’s self. True power is about the community and the future. There isn’t much of a future when it benefits a single individual. There is a world of possibilities when the future is for the welfare of an entire society. Individual power is petty.  Community power is enlightening.  At least that’s how I’d like to imagine it.

Monday, April 20, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Life, Superman, Thoughts | 2 Comments

Finding An Affordable Home Shouldn’t Be This Hard


My family and I have been looking for a house to buy for the last year.  With the economy in the shape it’s in, we assumed that more houses would come onto the market and we would have a better chance of finding something that fits our needs.  What would be ideal is to get one of these abandoned four family units that are peppered throughout the north side of the city.  And considering how many times our minivan has been tampered with since we purchased it, we need secure off street parking.

The four family flat next door was abandoned a few weeks ago.  We’ve been keeping an extra eye on the property so we can put a bid on it whenever it comes on the market.  Our realtor keeps us apprised of what is coming on the market.  And we make sure to search the real estate listings on realtor dot com virtually everyday.  We thought we had our bases covered.

Early this afternoon the realtor sent us an email of new properties.  The four family was in the list and it was going for a really good price.  It has been vandalized in the past few weeks.  No doubt pipes and water heaters are missing.  No doubt a lot of damage was done in the short time it’s been empty.  But we could easily pay cash for the house and repair whatever needed repairing with our cash.  We could stay where we were until the house was minimally ready.  Mom stays right across the street if we needed her for anything.  It was a match made in heaven.

We clicked on the link on the email to read the details.  But when we found the house on the real estate listing website, the building already had a contract pending.  In essence, it came on the market as already sold.

And then it dawned on me.  The reason that we can’t find any real bargains is because the only houses we can find are the houses that are already picked over by people with much better connections.  Yeah, we can find an abandoned four family in need of a lot of work for about forty grand.  But the person selling it for forty probably bought it for five grand and is simply sitting on it until they can find someone willing to pay a seriously handsome profit.

So did we have a fair shot at the house next door?  I don’t think so.  And I am beginning to realize we didn’t have a fair shot at any of the houses we’ve made offers on.  Every time we’ve made a bid the realtor would come back with the news that the house was no longer on the market.  We’ve done our homework.  We’ve gotten letters of credit, saved money in an account unaffected by the market slump.  We’ve gotten a realtor to help us with our search.  And the houses are sold from under us before we can even have a chance to step to the plate.  What’s the point?

Last week, I saw that this building was being vandalized by a couple of thugs and called the police.  Now, I feel like what was the point?  I should have helped those vandals load their truck.  All I was doing was saving this building for somebody else who was doing a deal behind doors.  I think I could understand if we were given a fair shot and simply didn’t have the capital to compete.  But like I said, the asking price for this piece of property was so low I know we could’ve been a contender.  And now all we can do is watch as other people are given pick of the litter to buy up our neighborhood.  Even in a down market people in this black community are getting screwed and are being left out of whatever is going on.

I will write my alderman and complain.  I will write this article and post it in my blog to help me vent my anger, frustration, and disappointment.  I will continue to look at other properties and do my best to put my family in a position where we can take advantage of some other opportunity that comes up.  We will continue to look harder and longer while other people use their connections to buy these houses and sit on them to make an easy yet impressive buck.  But who cares as long as people are in a position to make money?

The problem is that I care.  I would love nothing more than to buy the house and repair everything on it and in it.  I would continue to care about my neighborhood and would stay for years to come and not just put the house on the market for an inflated sale.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I’ll get the chance, at least not with that house. We just have to continue to look harder and longer and run around in circles while we do it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Capitalism, Life, The Economy, Thoughts | 1 Comment

Economics Can Destroy Entire Communities


I was listening to National Public Radio Super Bowl Sunday morning.  The topic of discussion was how economics actually destroy community.  The speaker, I forgot his name, gave the analogy of the Quaker family who lost their barn.  The Quaker community would get together and have a barn raising where everyone in the community would come together for the aid of the neighbor.  No muss and no fuss.  Everyone has the common goal of helping a neighbor raise a barn.  There is a socially common goal.

Now, compare that to the modern farmer family who loses their barn.  They call their insurance company.  The insurance company sends out an adjuster who makes sure to minimize the insurance company’s financial exposure in a mutually fair deal.  The farmer family then takes the check and finds a contractor.  The contractor and the farmer family have to negotiate price to assure a fair deal.  The contractor then hires subcontractors or employees and negotiates fair deals for all.  Everyone is negotiating a fair deal in an attempt to make sure they maximize their profits at the expense of their neighbor.  There is no real socially common goal.  The welfare of the community is lost to the welfare of the individual.

Indeed, so much of the community’s welfare simply doesn’t measure up to the welfare of individuals.  Even when there is a clear individual benefit to complement the community benefit, we have been programmed to think social consciousness is some nefarious plan to undermine our capitalistic system.  The moment someone mentions something like universal healthcare or a education financing system that is truly equitable and suddenly the fabric of America’s social system is under threat of unraveling.  But the only thing that is really unraveling is somebody’s opportunity to make profit and capitalize on economics.

Corporate America is notorious for putting the welfare of their profits ahead of the welfare of the community.  Bank of America gets part of the stimulus payout to help put America’s economy back on its feet and what does management do?  Management decides to make accelerated bonus payments to their executive officers to the tune of four billion dollars in order to keep talent.  Spending good money to retain the talent that drove the company into the ground seems awfully self defeating.  I know if I cost my company billions of dollars in value I would expect to be fired.  But these people will actually use money intended for the benefit of the community to enrich the personal economics of a relatively few.

This is just the latest malfeasance from corporate America.  The tobacco industry knew their products were responsible for the monster share of lung cancers.  Members of the pharmaceutical industry knew their products were causing more damage to people’s health than benefit.  King Nut Peanut Butter Company has a history of shipping peanut butter containers tainted with salmonella.  The cattle industry knew they were sending animals infected with mad cow disease to slaughter without a care in the world for the health of the public.  Ford would rather market the Pinto to the public knowing it had the potential to burst into flames killing and maiming people rather than spend the money to remove the design flaw.  Insurance companies can make far more money if they look for loopholes to deny coverage to clients.  In these instances and in many more, the opportunity to improve economics far outweighs any hint of social consciousness.

The love of money has become our sole driving purpose.  And perish the thought of distributing wealth in a way that makes more people able to do for themselves.  Economics for the sake of nothing more than to increase somebody’s bank account is not socially conscious.  Exxon/Mobile earning record breaking profits while people are unable to afford gasoline does not make for good communities.

Economics forces people into a system of haves and have nots.  It does not create unity.  It creates divisiveness and individuality.  It puts neighbor against neighbor.  Economics can drive a wedge between family members.  Economics can easily lead to a love of money and the love of money is the root of all evil, especially the types of evils that can create a rift between people who should have a common interest.

Getting back to the Quaker analogy, these people don’t even entertain the thought of insurance.  Quakers are careful not to introduce anything into their culture that might impact their communal environment.  And Quakers rarely exchange money amongst themselves and use it primarily as a way of dealing with people outside their circle.  More people can learn from this example.  Instead, we work feverishly to keep the status quo so we can advance our own economics at the expense of our community.

Monday, February 2, 2009 Posted by | Bailouts, Capitalism, Economy, Life, Socialism, The Economy, Thoughts | 5 Comments

The Chronicles Of Pfizer


The New York City-based pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer’s proposed acquisition of Wyeth is a deal valued at sixty eight billion dollars.  It is the biggest pharmaceuticals deal in almost a decade.  With the looming expiration of its blockbuster statin drug Lipitor, which is solely responsible for about a quarter of Pfizer’s revenue, and with no new drugs through the company’s own development pipeline, Pfizer had to do something big in order to stay relevant in the corporate America.

But while the Pfizer-Wyeth combination will bring biotech assets like Enbrel, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, to a company that predominately has marketed chemical based drugs, the acquisition of Wyeth is only a short term fix to a very deep problem within the company and within corporate America in general.

Pfizer hasn’t had a successful drug emerge from its own research and development department in several years and the company’s drought could be attributed to its history of merging to solve its profitability woes.  Pfizer became the world’s largest drug company primarily by buying up competitors like Warner-Lambert which gave it access to the drug Lipitor.  Without much doubt, one driving factor of this deal will be the immediate boost to Pfizer’s shareholder value.  And while Pfizer is preparing to gobble up another competitor, it is planning to reduce its workforce by ten percent.  The company has already announced that it will slash eight hundred research positions this year, theoretically cutting excess staff in order to focus on research that has the best chances of being most profitable.

But interestingly enough the fewer dollars devoted for research is more dollars to devote for takeovers or mergers.  The more companies like Pfizer cut back on research, the less chance the company has for developing the next Lipitor or Enbrel that could be the next money maker.  It is easier, and much more profitable, to sit back on laurels and wait for other companies to do the hard work and take the risk.  Money that could’ve gone into research will go into taking over companies with a profitable future.  After the company has been assimilated and its intellectual property has been obtained, workers can then be let go in order to keep the new hybrid company as profitable as possible, until the next time this corporate monster needs to feed on lesser companies.

An analogy for this behavior would be the insatiable Necromongers led by the holy half dead Lord Marshal in the movie Chronicles of Riddick, the science fiction sequel to Pitch Black.  In the story, the race of Necromongers traveled from star system to star system overrunning worlds and converting its inhabitants into new recruits because Necromongers could not reproduce.  And when a world and its resources have been completely consumed, the planet is utterly destroyed leaving nothing behind as evidence that the planet even existed.  Necromongers exist for one purpose and one purpose only; to consume.

There’s no benefit to anyone other than the shareholders with a company like Pfizer on the prowl.  The company has become virtually unable to produce anything of benefit to humanity other than money.  Like most wildly successful companies where petty cash denominations are in the billions, the primary focus is not in the development of a product or a service.  The primary focus for most companies these days is profit.  When Wyeth is consumed by Pfizer, its primary product will become profit.  And when people are on the prowl for nothing but profit for profit’s sake, people have a tendency to become as insatiable as the typical Necromonger, unable to produce anything of true value.

When companies focus on making profit for profits sake, they are subject to let their ability to provide a quality product or service to the public.  By going with cheaper materials or hiring cheaper labor a company can save more money to sweeten the compensation paid to shareholders.  Eventually, the company that went into business because it figured out a way to build a better mousetrap will turn into the company beholden to a horde of owners looking for nothing but profit.

Pfizer is nothing more than the latest corporate entity to stay afloat by gobbling up its competition.  Certain workers will be assimilated, others will be terminated.  The company will stay fat until the end of the profitability of its product line.  And then, in true Necromonger fashion, it will make a move to snap up smaller, nimbler companies who still believe in providing a service or a product or a better mousetrap to fill a need to somebody.  And then that company too will learn to forsake all for the sake of profit.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Economy, Life, The Economy, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Regulating Regulators


When I found out that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once ran the Office of Economic Opportunity, better known as the welfare office, I was shocked.  Mr. Rumsfeld is one of the best examples of neo conservative as they come.  These people reserve the bootstrap theory to individual finances for the majority of the public. But then these same conservatives work like hell and bend over backwards to cultivate corporate fascism in order to build wealth for a select few. The idea of a more equitable society where wealth and opportunity are much more evenly distributed is a philosophy that runs contrary to ideas of neo conservatism. So to put someone who does not believe in social welfare in charge of a social welfare program is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.  It is a recipe for disaster.

The past eight years of the Bush administration, especially when it was married to a complacent Congress controlled by the Republican Party, is a prime example of government being managed by people who believed that it is not government’s job to manage people.  People who believed in minimal or zero regulation were put in control of agencies meant to regulate specific areas of our society.  The agency in charge of regulating imports was asleep at the wheel as cheap Chinese imports were allowed to come into the United States and poisoned our children with lead laden toys and killed our dogs with contaminated pet food.  The Securities and Exchange Commission was caught off guard as the stock market responded as if it went over a cliff and the value of markets sank like a Russian submarine.  Bridges collapsed into the river in Minnesota.  Levies collapsed in lower Louisiana.  Energy prices are allowed to inflate exponentially.  Airlines are supposed to regulate themselves.  The entire system has reached a critical point of malaise.

The Environmental Protection Agency refuses to protect the environment.  Instead, it relaxes regulations to the point where there’s simply no point for the agency’s existence. What was the logic of hiring people who don’t believe in government to run our government?  No where else in our world do we exercise such illogic.  Nobody would hire a pilot who doesn’t believe in flying.  Nobody would send their children to a school where teachers don’t believe in education.  But only people in America would vote for people to run our government who don’t believe government is a key component for everyday people’s lives.  Consequently, people who don’t believe in government who are put in charge of government will lead a government and the people meant to be governed to ruin.

If I was a bastard and wanted to undermine an institution that I was totally against I would employ someone to run it that shared my sentiment and wanted to destabilize the institution as well.  Don’t believe people should depend on welfare from the government?  The best way to nip that in the bud is to put somebody in charge of the program who will grind its effectiveness to a screeching halt.  That or hire somebody who is so incompetent that the agency being managed becomes synonymous with ineptitude.  Does anybody need to be reminded of Michael Brown and his effectiveness with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Why would I vote for someone who actually says government is the problem to run my government?  Such people are more than likely apt to prove themselves correct, pointing to the mess they make in their wake, and then step back looking like a modern day Nostradamus.

Regulatory agencies that fail to regulate leave the prey to the whims of the predators.  Some will argue that American corporations would never do anything to harm or injure its customers.  I’m sure America’s cigarette manufacturing companies had nothing but the public’s health at heart as they marketed their cancer generating tobacco sticks.  I’m sure Ford Motor Company had the public’s welfare at heart when it was marketing it’s Pinto to the car buying public knowing that the car was fatally dangerous with a flaw that would make the car burst into flames in a rear end collision.  The idea that companies can regulate themselves is an idea rooted in fairy tales and never land replete with unicorns.

Regulators who fail to regulate are doing nothing but leaving the door wide open for people who want to abuse the system.  Many people firmly believe that the welfare office must be tightly regulated because there might be a cheat out there just waiting to manipulate the system to the point where he or she can make a good living off the public’s trust.  We need all kinds of rules to keep such people from benefiting from the system.  But the idea of regulating big corporations who see the American public as nothing more than suckers to be fleeced smacks of some kind of anti capitalistic plot or some plan to undermine free markets.  But these people never stop to think that something made the regulations necessary in the first place.  And a people who make the choice to forget their past also make the choice to repeat the mistakes of the past as well.

Monday, January 5, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Capitalism, George Bush, Life, Politics, Republicans, The Economy, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Modern Christmas Culture


One of the cars had to go back into the shop for a couple of days.  The misses had to pick me up from work.  It was late and rainy when she finally arrived.  The Missouri Department of Transportation has shut down a major route through the heart of the city for at least a year.  We decided to take a route home that cut through some residential neighborhoods.  And we saw some of the most beautiful Christmas lights on houses that I’ve seen in a long time.  Unfortunately, the houses dressed for the season were few and far between.  For whatever reason, people just don’t do this holiday like they used to.

Suddenly I started getting nostalgic for the holidays as I knew them as a kid.  I remember how my mom and dad used to work all year to prepare for Christmas.  Mom would start shopping for the next Christmas the day after Christmas.  They would buy things all year so we could have a wonderful Christmas morning.  The Christmas tree was relatively bare the night before with just a handful of gifts for decoration purposes.  But come Christmas morning the entire living room would be covered in colorful packages with a high toys to practical gifts ratio.

At night, when we were little we would hop in the car and ride through neighborhoods to see the colorful light displays.  We would laugh at the house displays with multiple Santa Claus figures in the mix.  I remember once we say as many as eight Santa clones in various poses on somebody’s lawn and roof.  All the memories of wonderful Christmases past started to well up inside me and I began to feel sad for my son.  My boy is never going to wake up to a sea of gifts like my siblings and I did.  He’s not going to see his entire neighborhood dressed up in colorful lights.

No one in my neighborhood dressed their house for the season.  No time to celebrate the season.  No money for gifts.  No money for electric bills from Ameren UE driven to exorbitant amounts bordering on extortion by Christmas light displays.  No holiday spirit for family let alone strangers.  No peace and definitely no harmony.  The most my son will know of this season is that retail sales are never what retailers hope for and there will always be some house far away featured in the news with a computerized light display with so many flashing bright lights that they’re bound to induce epileptic seizures in people who never had any sign of the condition before.  My son will be lucky to see one Santa let alone eight on a single lawn.

The traditions of Christmas have been railroaded into a corporate retail marketing tool that has little in common with the meaning of the original concept.  Christmas was intended to be spiritual counter to pagan rituals that celebrated the transition from fall to winter.  Instead of allowing the non believers to exercise their traditions in peace, they were melded into Christian rituals designed to celebrate the birth of the son of man.  Is it really just a coincidence that the birth of Jesus is celebrated with a Santa and an evergreen tree dressed up in lights and candy canes and such?  What in the world do any of those distractions have with the supposed birth of Christ?

The communal concepts like good will towards all men have given way to shootouts in Macy’s over the last Xbox 360.  A man loses his life making the mistake of standing in between a crowd of people and the low priced items at the Wal-Mart.  A man’s life isn’t worth a discounted dollar these days, at least not around the holiday season.  Any spiritual significance centered on social aspects pale in comparison to the secular characteristics that more closely resemble the what’s in it for me line of thinking that permeates every facet of our culture.

I thought about these things as I drove home with my son in the back seat of the car.  At twenty two months he really didn’t seem to pay all that much attention to the few houses that were lit up.  He just might be too young to focus.  When we passed one set of lights his attention was riveted on the brick wall on the other side of the street.  He has no clue as to what’s happening in this sarcastic season of joy.  To him, it’s just another day.  It saddens me that he won’t know the joy of Christmas like I do, or once did.

But then again, he will not suffer the disappointment of a time where Christmas meant a little more than shopping with credit and more pressure fueled human conflict.  Given a choice I would prefer that my son not know Christmas at all than to see it develop into a modern pagan ritual of consumption, narcissism, cynicism and chaos.  Christmas used to represent the best of us.  It now represents us at our very worst as a culture.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 Posted by | Capitalism, Life, Religion, Spirituality, The Economy, Thoughts | 7 Comments

Hail Mary Legislation Is No Substitute For Sound Strategy


It’s been a while since I’ve actually sat down and watched a football game in my living room.  Like most things I used to do once upon a time I don’t get the same thrill out of watching a televised football game that I used to.  Like most things the game of football is filled with some of the most blatant examples of disparity.  Young upstarts fresh out of school getting hundred million dollar contracts to play sixteen games out of the year and shoots him self in the foot with an unregistered pistol or runs a dog fighting business out of his basement on his days off.  I watch players dance a jig and showboat into the end zone only to lose the game.  If homey could only focus on playing the game with some kind of class instead of dancing like a five year old when something goes their way I might be a tad more willing to invest more of my limited time to watching the sport.  But ticket prices approaching triple digits and ten year old stadiums, condemned because of the relative obsolesces compared to the new platinum for stadium construction on the other side of the country with entire rows of escalating seats, has sapped away my love of the game.

One thing about football that really drove me crazy is how after four quarters of play from both teams, the whole game will come down to a single act of whether or not a kicker makes a field goal.  The kicker misses the three pointer and he lets his teammates down.  If only his foot was stronger or his aim was more accurate the team would have won the game.  Monday morning quarterbacks will complain bitterly that the unsuccessful kicker needs to go.  How the hell did he miss that fifty eight yarder?

But it takes an entire team to win a football game.  If the offensive line doesn’t protect the quarterback the quarterback won’t be able to do his job of searching for the best player to get the ball down the field.  If the receivers don’t do their best to get down the field the ball is less likely to go down the field.  If the defensive line doesn’t hold the opposing team will be able to score more easily.  Everybody helps to win and everybody helps to lose.  It is that plain and simple.  The entire team wins.  The entire team loses.

Last week, the United States Senate, driven by a very Republican effort, failed to pass legislation to help the domestic automobile industry because of the UAW’s refusal to go along with a stipulation that the pay of the domestic autoworkers must be in line with the pay of the foreign autoworkers.  The deal collapsed like a house of cards on an especially windy day.  And now, the Senators that kept the bill from being passed are given credit, or blame depending on perspective, for the eminent failure of the automobile industry.

Now from what I understand, the domestic automobile industry has been losing ground against its competition for more than three decades.  Ever since the first oil embargo of the seventies which led to the first major energy crisis this country had to face, our domestic car company has been losing ground to its foreign competition.  It was easy to dismiss the competition back in the day when the big three controlled more than seventy percent of automobile sales.  It was business as usual with half assed attempts to offer products that could meet foreign carmaker standards of quality and efficiency.  And while foreign carmakers pushed a relentless campaign to improve their products from the ground up with constant regularity whether they were selling well or not, domestic manufacturers sat fat on their laurels, happy to push old iron in new, colorful sheet metal.

But the real poison pill of the domestic car companies was its refusal to prepare for a future where energy costs becomes much more expensive and the profitability of selling inefficient automotive products.  While the foreign carmakers began to follow the domestics’ example of offering huge, lumbering trucks and sport utility vehicles, the foreign carmakers never stopped developing their products at the other end of the automobile spectrum.  Small cars are king right now and the traditional truck is a has been.  Even Hyundai, whose initial products were so dismal they conjured images of a slightly more modern Yugo has learned from its mistakes and is now competing head on with the best from Japan and Europe.  Everyone seems to have made significant steps towards improving their stakes in the small car market game.  It appears that everyone is taking steps to compete with the exception of Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.  And now that the market is flipped, the domestics are poor competitors in need of a near miracle Hail Mary field goal just to stay in the game.

Whatever their reason, enough Republican lawmakers refused to cooperate and give the domestics that miracle.  And now, we’re supposed to believe that these lawmakers are the reason that our automobile industry is about to bite the dust.  But the lawmakers, like the field goal kicker, should have never been put in the situation of being the only hope for the entire team.  Hail Mary’s seldom work in football.  It is the last gasp strategy of a desperate team incapable of winning the game with sound fundamentals.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 Posted by | Bailouts, Capitalism, Cars, Economy, Life, News, The Economy, Thoughts | Leave a comment