Thursday, June 3, 2010


I only worked a 9 to 5 job once in my life, and before two years had passed I had already quit.

The reason I quit was they wanted me to fire a subcontractor we used who I'd come to know well, an older, white-haired, Irish-American man with several children still at home. They wanted me to fire him to cut costs and raise profits.

I refused and questioned their reasoning. I pointed out that the company was profitable, that keeping things going the way they were wouldn't lose any money, and everyone was doing well so why cause hardship and heartbreak for this man and his family just to save a few dollars and probably have the job done less well.

They didn't seem to even understand what I was objecting to or what I was proposing. The point was GROWTH. Always GROWTH. MORE PROFITS—more money in the pockets of the stockholders and the bosses. This was in the late 1970s, before Reaganism ramped up that philosophy to an even higher level.

There's no question that government departments and agencies can become bloated—overgrown and sclerotic, unable to function efficiently or in a timely way. And that politics can obscure their mission and slow or stop or even reverse it.

This is what happened to a lot of government during the last administration's oversight. Goals and rules and methods were ignored or deliberately thwarted, as in the case of government energy policy, including oversight of energy industries, like oil, gas, etc.

But it is also radiantly clear that the only challenge to corporate greed is oversight by the government. The problem is when you have a political party whose basic principle is "the less government the better" and "the freer corporations are to chase profits the better." Then any attempt by government to reign in corporate greed is seen as fundamentally wrong, even evil and equal to the crimes of authoritarian governments like Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia and its satellites in the USSR. (Thus Beck and his ilk's comparisons of Obama's policies to Hitler's etc.).

The best answer to the dilemma so far is obviously a balance of freedom for businesses to operate without being so limited by government regulations that they can't function, and government oversight that prevents the lust for greater and greater profits to ignore the safety and well being of not just individuals but entire populations and even the whole earth itself.

What's transpiring in the Gulf of Mexico is the convergence of the last administration's eight years of political appointees and political pressure (including reducing manpower and money for oversight) on government agencies to limit if not entirely eliminate any power they might have to oversee corporate greed, the convergence of that with well, corporate greed.

Despite the fact that big oil corporations have seen profits GREATER THAN ANY IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD(!) in the years since the Bush Junior administration under the guidance of Dick Cheney let them write their own energy policy that the government would follow instead of vice verse, BP chose to ignore warnings about supposed "fail-safe" systems—like a remote trigger for disabling the underwater well in case the on-board one failed—in order to save some money, money that in comparison to their profits would be like a millionaire refusing to buy a helmet for his football playing son and risk a concussion or worse to save twenty bucks.

It's not just immoral, it's obviously been proven to be very stupid, over and over again (the Massey coalmine catastrophe etc.).

Some commentators want to blame this current crisis in the gulf on technology getting ahead in one area (digging wells in deeper water than ever before, i.e. in this case five miles beneath the surface of the water) while still far behind in another (ways of coping with a major "accident"). But unlike Rand Paul's assertion that "accidents happen," this "blowout" was not caused by an "act of God" or nature or etc.

It wasn't even the fault of an individual. From everything I've read and heard and seen it was caused by BP ignoring warnings from its own workers and their managers on that rig that BP's cutting corners to save a few bucks had endangered the whole project because the cement that their subcontractor poured was too thin, the remote trigger for the shutdown wasn't bought and the whole process of getting this well operational was rushed in order to start getting those even bigger profits rolling in (ON TOP OF THE MOST GIGANTIC PROFITS THE WORLD HAD EVER SEEN!).

Yes, it's obscene. And the only way to prevent it is to not drop out of our electoral system, through which our governments are created and carry out their mandates, and if they don't are unelected when the system works. But given the humongous amounts of money involved in giant corporate profit-making endeavors, it's too easy for our elected officials and those they then appoint to run agencies and departments that oversee corporate behavior to be bought off (obviously true for both parties).

One solution for both problems, the one that worked so well in the USA from WWII to Vietnam, is to have a progressive income tax rate that discourages the kind of greed that has turned this country into a "third world" disparity of a small percentage of the population owning most of the wealth and the rest of us scrambling for scraps from their tables. A truly progressive tax rate on individuals and corporations (with harsh penalties for any attempt at avoidance like "offshore" headquarters etc.) discourages that by taking a bigger and bigger chunk out of bigger and bigger paychecks and profits and dividends etc. which in turn pays for better government oversight (more manpower, more independence, etc.).

It's not the perfect solution, that would entail radical changes that would be impossible to pull off without a unified popular movement with the intelligence and information and leaders to focus on the real solution (rather than Tea Party style populism co-opted by the very corporations they might be railing against and with no support for stroger government regulations except in the few areas where they see their personal domain's threatened etc.). That's not going to happen anytime soon, nor is real campaign reform ala European style short campaigns and with no advertising etc. (ala Britain's recent elections). So for now this is the best solution.

But it too is a longshot because the rightwing media and politicians have convinced most citizens that somehow higher taxes on the rich and corporations hurts them! As in most of the electorate thinking Obama has raised taxes on them when the opposite is actually true, but the media has ignored that story and instead let the rightwing frame the terms of any taxation debate as us (taxpayers) vs. them (big government).

Too bad. Anyone old enough to remember the ways government was treated in the media, especially the most popular, like movies, in the 1940s and '50s, or earlier under FDR? Remember that scene in GRAPES OF WRATH where the only relief the Joads get in their desperation is when they enter the migrant farm worker camp run by the government and therefore with oversight on the corporate farms hiring them?


Miles said...

Haliburton poured the cement.

Butch in Waukegan said...

Growth for its own sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. — Edward Albee

I know I am a pain in the ass about this, but to me the only honest assessment of the last 30 years of US history has to recognize the bi-partisan nature of the growth in corporate power.

This is clearly happening now with Obama and the Democratic controlled congress. Here are a couple of issues that could prove me wrong.

• Obama appointed a bipartisan commission to examine the national debt, which the president stacked with corporate lackeys. If I am wrong these worthies will not recommend privatization and cuts in Social Security. Wall Street has been salivating over this pot of money for a long time and if I am correct the commission’s recommendations will put it within reach.

• Speaking directly to your recommendation, Bush’s massive 2001 tax cuts expire on January 1, 2011. Congress must vote to extend them. If I am wrong congress will let them lapse. If I am right congress will vote to extend them.

These two issues are real-world, real-time tests of our respective outlooks. I am skeptical that our corrupt political elite will do the right thing, but I could be wrong.

Butch in Waukegan said...

Haliburton poured the cement.

That would be the same Halliburton that moved its world headquarters to Dubai in 2007. What are the chances that tax avoidance had something to do with the move?

harryn said...

good assessment and practical proposals Michael ...

i wish i could be more optimistic about future developments, but i'm afraid twenty of the past thirty years has been spent digging trenches that might be beyond our ability to reconcile with money, national will, or intelligence ...

clearly, Obama and his advisors are on top of things as best they can be - but every unforeseen event adds to the imbalance inherited over decades of indecent behavior ... everything seems to be a crisis ...

and really, these mega corporations and banks have become like rogue nations beyond the influence of ethics or government - they've become the dealers of substance we depend on to survive ...

i'm glad you quit the day gig ...

Paul L. Martin said...

You mention Steinbeck and "The Grapes of Wrath." He approached the writing of that novel like a journalist, as Upton Sinclair did with "The Jungle" years before. Tell me where is that kind of journalism being practiced today? Fiction and nonfiction used to mean something; words could change people's perceptions, bring enlightenment to the masses. Now what passes for journalism is celebrity bullshit. I mean, too bad about Gary Coleman, but we have a disaster of epic proportions in the Gulf and his death leads the news broadcast? I am sick to my stomach. And where are the readers? Most people don't want to see the oil slick because it's too damn depressing. Give us more stories about poor Sandra Bullock and her neo-nazi husband! Or Larry King interviewing recent American Idol finalists on "what they learned on their journey." We need to wake up from our chronically obese, drug-induced stupor and realize what's going on. As Willy Loman says in "Death of a Salesman," the woods are burning.