#133 The White Collar Crime Party

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

GeeWiz Bush's close friendship with "Kenny Boy" Lay (ENRON) and a large collection of recently convicted and accused corporate criminals is pretty good evidence that Republicans are closely linked with white collar crime.  Ronald Reagan hardly knew anyone who wasn't a corporate criminal and presented the nation to a close experience with several of those crooks in his cabinet and administration.  As a result, a record number of Reagan Presidential associates were accused, fined, or went to jail during that seriously flawed Presidency. 

The first edition of President George Bush smoothly slipped from hanging with oily white collar criminals to the Presidency and back to his high life with Fortune 500 mafia cronies.  Fahrenheit 9/11 showed us GB 1's close relationship with corporate oil criminals in a scene with a crowd of oil executives and Saudi royalty. 

Here in Minnesota, our current governor Pawlenty was "employed" doing nothing for a year, at $4500/month by his "advisor" and Access Anywhere pay telephone exec Elam Baer.  Pawlenty had this gig for a year running for the highest state office and "serving" in the state legislature. Pawlenty's big money backer asked absolutely nothing from his Republican pool boy for two years, while the candidate established his candidacy.  In exchange for nothing, Pawlenty received at least a $54k "consulting fee" and his backer received "future considerations" (as they say in Republican doublespeak).  Even before the election, the money guy was saying that he'd "received fair value" for his investment in Pawlenty.  We're still waiting to see the pictures of what Pawlenty did to earn $54k.  Access Anywhere and its subsidiaries have been fined for a variety of consumer fraud abuses by several states.

These fine examples of Republican amorality are nothing new for the GOP.  Since Grant, most Republican candidates have been crooks first, politicians second, and Americans behind every other entertainment.  Eisenhower was a slight departure from the norm, but he waited until his last moment as President to, uncharacteristically, lash out at the white collar criminals heading the "military-industrial complex."  Otherwise, his term of office was decorated with scandals and abuses of power and weeks of vacationing at the nation's finest golf courses.  Republicans are nothing if not expert at relaxing and ignoring they job they've been elected to perform.

This year, though, the Republicans are coming out of the closet with the kind of confidence that could only belong to a party that does not fear losing the next election.  They have a right to feel fearless, now that they have fixed national and local elections so that they can "win" any office they decide to fill.  Being unafraid of the whim of democracy, their first act is to provide the same kind of immunity to their white collar criminal buddies.  So, "tort reform" has risen to "the most important problem the nation faces," according to Republicans and their $4,000 suit cohorts. 

"Tort reform," if you haven't been paying attention, is directed at a specific, very narrow aspect of civil law; the part that allows the rest of us to strike back at the abuses of big business and other white collar criminals.  Real tort reform would embrace all aspects of legal time-wasting, including the overwhelming number of frivolous business-to-business lawsuits.  But Republicans, on the rare occasion they develop any practical skills, are occasionally corporate lawyers.  And business law is one of the few places where large companies can beat small companies.  So, this pretense of "tort reform" is only aimed at limiting the capability of class action lawsuits.  Because the last thing a Republican wants is for his gravy train to be taken to court, shown to be as criminal as we all know they are, and deprived of millions of dollars that could be better spent putting a well-connected Republican into political office. 

Forbid the thought that a poor or middle class person might find a way to strike back at a corporation that caused loss of life, limb, or means of survival.  Republicans believe that our courts are reserved for whatever purposes the really evil white collar criminals believe they are best served.  "Tort reform" is intended to protect big tobacco, bigger oil, drug manufacturers, polluters, inside traders, creative accounting executives, and the long list of incredibly rich and powerful white collar criminals. 

The arrogant bastards who are promoting this think you don't have the brains to know what they are doing.  So far, all of their decisions have been based on the assumption that the average US voter is too dumb to know what's good for him.  They're probably right.  The world is still waiting to hear about the first scumbag to go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

April 2005


#132 So Now that You Can't Vote, What Can You Do? (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I predict that the violence this country suffered during the 1960's will return.  In fact, I predict that political assassinations and kidnapping will begin to occur at a state level in Florida and Ohio.  Since Florida and Ohio suspended voter rights to further the neocon Republican agenda, it only seems logical that the violence would begin there.  I could be wrong, maybe people won't care which state politicians they attack, but I think it's inevitable that politicians and the government will come under attack. 

For all practical purposes, Republican power mongers have eliminated the right to vote in the United States.  In most states, Republican radicals have physically taken over the voting machinery and, now, the act of voting is an unnecessary and pointless exercise.  The outcome is predetermined and there is, politically, nothing individual citizens can do about it; nothing democratic. 
Voting is a non-violent, relatively painless way to affect political change.  When fair and honest elections are unavailable, the only method left to affect change is civil disobedience violence.  L.B.J. and Tricky Dick created a similar non-responsive political system in the late 1960s and their political ineptitude spawned the Weathermen, Black Panthers, and the Symbionese Revolutionary Army along with a generation of political activists who often considered violence along with traditional political action. 

The problem with non-democratic political systems is that they have to be totalitarian and viciously self-protective.  The mythical benevolent dictator is an impossible fantasy.  As Phillip Dick wrote, "Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane."  I suppose that explains suicide bombers.  When citizens have no way to change their political system other than through violence, violence becomes a valid and effective political option.  If you can't vote with a ballot, you can always voice your opinion with a bullet, a bomb, or by kidnapping the nearest politician's family members. 

Of course, whoever the powers that be, who are The Powers That Be, will call that response "terrorism."  Terrorism is defined as " the use of violence, or the threat of violence, to create a climate of fear in a given population."  When the "given population" is a group that wields a grossly disproportional amount of power and controls an overwhelming portion of the nation's assets and has worked hard to create a "climate of fear" in the general population, the definition still stands but it doesn't elicit anywhere near as much sympathy for the "terrorized" population. 

The response of many Americans to the Oklahoma City bombing was surprisingly neutral, until the media focused on the injured and murdered children of the federal employees who were attending the government-provided childcare in the federal building.  I was regularly surprised at middle-Americans who felt sympathy for "the kids" and apathy toward the adults who died in that act of terrorism.  These were not just right or left wing extremists, but unbelievably ordinary, middle-class working folks from all areas of life.  Americans, apparently, are incredibly disassociated from their government and the people who work for that government.  So isolated, in fact, that we have a hard time deciding who to root for, the bomber or the bombed, when a U.S. government is blown to bits. 
The current political system is creating an atmosphere ripe for revolution.  In forcing the middle class to carry the weight for the rich, our government is destroying the economic system that created the nation's wealth.  David Cay Johnston, the author of Perfectly Legal, The Covert Campaign to Rig Our tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and Cheat Everyone Else and a New York Times reporter, describes how we suffer under "the only government in the world that is pursuing a low wage strategy."  Our tax system is designed to export middle class jobs, to transfer wealth from the middle class to the rich, and to provide economic security only for the rich; especially the inherited rich. 

If there is a perfectly worthless, deadbeat class in America today, it's the inherited rich who believe they have a right to their sloth and destructive traditions.  You'd think that Americans would be repulsed by the existence of a class of citizens who are "royal" and powerful simply because of their parentage.  We aren't yet, but that doesn't mean we won't get there damn soon.

Without the bright lights and sparkly distraction of television and video games, I suspect that we'd be in the middle of a revolution today.  As it is, most Americans haven't noticed that their children are sliding into an international third-class status as uneducated, unskilled, minimum-wage laborers.  With the deadly combination of religious hallucinations and credit cards, they can distract themselves from the painful facts that should be faced, sooner or later.  But that doesn't mean those distractions will put food on the table or a table under a roof or a roof over a family. 

Society's usual canaries in the mine are already beginning to show the strain, though.  Revolutions are not carried out by the masses.  Only 1% of the population participated in the American Revolution.  Fewer than 1% of the 1960s kids fought against the Vietnam War and Nixon's corrupt administration.  The overwhelming majority of every population is cowardly and conservative, but change doesn't depend on the majority's participation.  Change is driven by a innovative, energized, creative few.  The rest of the human sheep simply follow the flow or hide and watch.  When one mechanism for change is removed (voting rights, for example), another will take its place.  If the United States' government no longer interested in guiding and protecting democracy and freedom, another entity will take its place.  This country's power comes from the middle class and the energy of the middle class won't be contained as easily as the Bushies hope.  Bush should be careful about dismantling the systems of democracy. The tools for change won't vanish, but they will change.  Sometimes, when the tide changes, more than just sandy beaches are washed away.

March 2005


#131 Fat People on Welfare (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

Nothing stripes my ass faster than getting stuck behind fat people in the grocery line, trying to pay their grocery bill with food stamps or a Minnesota EBT card.  I don't have a problem with welfare for people who need it, but it's obvious that fat people don't need help finding food.  I'm not buying the hormone excuse, you get fat because you eat too much crap and exercise too little.  Someone on welfare or food stamps should be working way too hard to get fat.  Usually, the cherry on top of the pissed-off donut is the newer-and-far-more-expensive-than-mine, over-sized, typically-American car that the welfare recipient stuffs his and/or her groceries into.

I'm equally incensed by pretty much anyone who abuses public assistance.  Smack on top of my list is every sort of corporate welfare.  Fat cat corporations who are not contributing anything exceptionally valuable to their communities do not deserve public funding.  Sports teams ought to be paying for the privilege of polluting the airways and local traffic with their meaningless "entertainment."  Even asking for concessions on the concessions at pro sports events ought to grounds for public humiliation for those fat cats.  Apparently, politicians are below any threshold of personal honor, since it's never hard to find a crooked pol to sponsor yet another publicly financed gladiator stadium.
Corporate welfare is the norm in this country.  Ethanol, for example, is a spectacular source of welfare in the US.  "Family farmers" are just corporate farms, so protecting that "national tradition" is as stupid as worrying about protecting the last of the slave plantations.  It takes somewhere between 1 and 1.5 btu's of energy to produce a single btu of ethanol, counting manufacturing, processing, and transportation.  My inability to pin down the range of inefficiency is mostly because the folks who create this corrupt pork barrel don't want the average taxpayer who receives absolutely no benefit from ethanol to know how bad they're being screwed.  However, if foreign oil independence is a national goal, wasting 1 barrel of Arab fuel to produce 3/4 barrel of mediocre corn gas isn't going to achieve that goal.  What it does produce is easy welfare money for unproductive Midwestern farmers. 

I think that anyone ought to have exhausted all possible sources of income and sold off all excess property before even considering asking for public assistance.  Welfare is for the poor, not the lazy, not folks who feel inconvenienced by normal business hours, and, especially, not for people who simply can't manage their lives competently.  

A few years back, an acquaintance who had managed to lose a half-dozen jobs in a two year period found himself out of work in the heart of the Bush II recession.  He was already inclined to be an uninformed "conservative," but his experience with the Minnesota public assistance system tipped the scales for him.  He'd been fired, with cause, from his last two jobs and had been in those positions for less than three months.  He wasn't qualified for Unemployment.  He applied for welfare.

In his mind, he "really needed" public assistance.  He was astounded to discover that the state was unconvinced.  Maybe it was the brand new, gas-guzzling double cab 3/4-ton pickup that he drove to the welfare office.  Maybe it was the fact that his wife earned a little above the poverty level at her job.  According to the welfare folks, his problem wasn't that he was poor.  His problem was that he managed money about as competently as George Bush manages the English language.  For some reason, they expected him to give up a little luxury and excess before they were willing to start tossing public money in his direction.

He's no different that corporations who want to tap into the public finance vein.  They're making buckets of money, but they can see that competition might, someday, put an end to their success.  So, they buy a politician, write a bill that provides them with a pile of tax money, and manipulate the system so that they get paid not to work.  It's the American Way. 

Our current tax system is wall-to-wall welfare for the rich.  The rich and crooked get rich on the backs of the middle class.  They elected a deadbeat dope addict to further their agenda and move the cost of maintaining an elite class to the working middle class.  They want to dip their crooked fingers into the national economy and be protected and subsidized while they do it. 

Fat people on the public dole are only slightly more irritating than fat people trying to get onto the public dole without even a half-reasonable cause. 

March 2005


#130 Looking for King George (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I've heard at least a zillion explanations for why executives are worth the humongous salaries they're paid for doing the mediocre work they usually avoid.  Not a one of those justifications makes a lick of sense. 

The dumbest is the comparison between professional athletes and executive salaries.  The story goes that if an uneducated street kid who happens to be able to run fast, throw a ball hard, jump high, and/or coordinate his hand and eye at a superhuman level is worth X-million-dollars a year, it should be obvious that the CEO of a Misfortune 500 Company deserves even more money for whatever the hell he does.  Sort of an if X=Y, then Z=$6,000,000 kind of logic. 

First, we have some standard of comparison for the athlete, even if it's totally irrational because some dumbass CEO is the fool who decides what the athlete is "worth."  At least the athlete has to be able to do his job well enough to produce points or prevent them from being produced before some silly executive will assign a value to that job.  Second, it's indirectly possible to pretend that there is a marginally direct link between an athlete's performance and the dollars spectators will spend to witness that performance.

No such logic exists for executive salaries.  An exec can completely suck at his job, providing no leadership, no technical skills, no Big Picture insight, and no useful reason for his or her existence and that exec can still drain big bucks from the corporate till.  Any half-competent corporate researcher can find examples of thousands of execs who have mismanaged their company into oblivion and walked away with a magnificent golden parachute.  Sometimes those parachutes can be directly attributed to the company's death and that doesn't seem to phase anyone. 

No, I think the reason American companies pay such ridiculous salaries for non-performing execs is because we're looking for King George. A paltry 1% of the original citizens of the United States participated in the American Revolution.  The overwhelming majority were perfectly happy with taxation without representation and a class system that stifled England into 3rd world status in the next 200 years.  A disgusting number of the elite who participated in the creation of the Constitution wanted a government similar to the one the country had just defeated, many of them urged George Washington to become King George Washington.  Today, most Americans are doing everything they can to return to the social structure and economic system that killed crushed the life out of Jolly Ole' England. 

We're happily and stupidly electing an inherited political system, setting ourselves up for years of inbred Bush family-screw-ups.  We've created a class system of upper crust, Ivy League morons who float to the top of almost every corporate institution, in spite of inability and lack of imagination and infected by the age-old ruling-class-total-absence-of-ethical-standards. 

Humans are an incredibly simple-minded animal, at the core.  We're desperately hoping that there is more to life than . . . life.  We want "meaning" to be applied to this painful and degrading existence, but we don't want to work for that significance.  We want someone to impart it upon us.  Since gods are notoriously absent during times of trial and turbulence, we hope that the gods will speak to "special people": the inherited ruling class.  As stupid as that theory is, it's as old as human society.  If you can find a single example of a king being anything but a drain on his culture or a queen being anything but a useless figurehead sucking the lifeblood away from the folks who do actual work, I'll be astounded.  But I won't be convinced that your one example establishes anything but an incredible example of dumb luck in a single moment in time. 

The best companies are more democratic than autocratic.  The most successful companies in modern history have a structure that is dramatically more flat that pyramidal, decision and salary-wise.  Not that anyone cares.  We're more interested in being comfortable than in being productive.  Apparently, most of us are more comfortable when we're being ruled by a royal class whose inheritance is decreed by non-existent gods.  P.T. Barnum must have been thinking of this trait when he said "there is a sucker born every minute."  The only thing wrong with this sentiment, in 2005, is that suckers are born at a much faster rate. 

February 2005