Today’s Corporate CEO No One To Look Up To.

The CEO of a corporation is supposed to act as the rudder of the ship; a leader; someone that sets an example for the rest of the corporation’s employees. But, increasingly, CEOs set an example of greed and unethical, even criminal, behavior.

According to a recent study by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), in 2012 the CEOs of large corporations were paid approximately 354 times as much as the average American worker. Worse, about 40 percent of the CEOs were fired for cause, paid fines or settlements for fraud, or resorted to asking the government to bail out their companies.

Some leadership!

The IPS study also found that about 30 percent of corporations led by the highest-paid CEOs were subsidized with taxpayer money. By taking advantage of a variety of tax deductions and loopholes, CEOs have been able to increase corporate profits while reducing or eliminating corporate taxes. And since most of these corporations are multinational, many have created P.O. Box “headquarters” in offshore tax havens to shelter corporate profits. By “gaming” the tax codes, the CEOs are able to pocket the savings for themselves.

Moreover, most CEO compensation is based on share price. That may seem like a good idea that encourages CEOs to work for the benefit of stakeholders. But the real reason for such compensation plans is self-interest. It’s easy for a CEO to make decisions that will increase sales and share prices over the short term, yet mortgage the company’s future. Unfortunately, many CEOs simply don’t care about the future because they don’t plan to be with the company more than 2-3 years. That’s all the time they need to be set for life.

But many want even more.

Unwilling to settle for multi-million dollar salaries, stock options, perks and a long list of benefits, some corporate CEOs create what amount to elaborate Ponzi schemes and a variety of high stakes gambling schemes using investors’ money. When their schemes fail, they seldom face charges and, even when they’re indicted, they’re seldom subjected to jail time. On those rare occasions when they are, “jail” often looks more like a country club and their sentences are often reduced or commuted.

Worse, when unscrupulous CEOs are fired, resign or are forced out, they almost always receive “golden parachutes” consisting of full retirement benefits and large lump sum payments allowing them to walk away with tens of millions in ill-gotten gains subsidized by investors and middle class taxpayers.  Meanwhile a high school dropout from the inner city who steals $50 can serve years of hard time.

It makes one wonder whatever happened to the nation that once proudly proclaimed “all men are created equal.”

Beware The Pendulum.

As a creative director for ad agencies and as a part-time college instructor, I used to teach that social trends and fashions responded like a pendulum with a 360-degree axis. The pendulum freely swings, but never back to exactly the same place twice.

I was reminded of that description while watching the ceremonies marking the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington. In 1963, the US seemed hopelessly racist. In the Jim Crow South, blacks were segregated from whites. African-Americans were denied the right to vote. Peaceful civil rights demonstrators were met with fire hoses, police dogs, beatings and murder.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 began to change that.

In the last two presidential elections, African-Americans voted in record numbers helping to elect the first US president of African-American heritage. (I’ve always marveled that his Irish-American heritage is seldom mentioned because of the color of his skin.)

Obviously, the pendulum has swung a long way from 1963. But it seems to be swinging back.

Since the election of President Obama, numerous states in both the North and the South have passed restrictive voting laws to make it more difficult for minorities to vote. No other US president has been subjected to such angry derision. No other president has been repeatedly asked to show his papers to prove that he is a citizen. No other president has been interrupted during a State of the Union speech by a “Congressman” calling him a liar. No other president has been met by such congressional obstruction.

Racism did not disappear in the sixties. It is just more subtle. There are fewer racist killings, beatings and other hate crimes. Today, the racism is economic and institutionalized. Unemployment for African-Americans is roughly double that for whites. Many of those who do have jobs are not paid a living wage. Schools in African-American communities are grossly underfunded compared to those in white communities. African-Americans are not only three times more likely to be arrested as whites, they receive longer sentences for similar crimes.

Indeed, young African-American and Latino males are seen as a source of profit for the private prison industry. They are also disproportionately represented in our military and asked to fight wars to protect the economic interests of large corporations that are almost exclusively owned and managed by wealthy white Americans.

News organizations, once again, insert race into stories of crime. Media commentators feel comfortable talking about the disintegration of African-American families while ignoring the disintegration of white families. When minorities bring up discrimination and other issues of race, white political pundits refer to it as “playing the race card.” They would like us to believe that racism no longer exists. (Of course, it doesn’t for them.)

Most disturbing is the fact that the conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court has voted to weaken the Voting Rights Act and to undermine affirmative action.

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, we should all take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come. But only a moment. It’s time to get back to work to make sure the pendulum swings in the right direction again.

Rules Of War?

The assumed response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons raises an obvious question: Where do we draw the line in warfare?

Following World War I and World War II, the world came together at the Geneva Conventions which banned the use of chemical weapons and torture. They also provided for the humane treatment of prisoners of war. The Geneva Conventions did not, however, ban nuclear weapons (the US is still the only nation to use them). They did not ban carpet bombing of cities. They did not prohibit incendiaries that can level cities in a firestorm. They did not ban attacks on food supplies and infrastructure that can turn large populations of civilians into starving refugees. In fact, they did not control many weapons and techniques that are now routinely used in modern warfare.

Why draw the line on one type of weapon of mass destruction while ignoring others? Are unarmed civilians any more dead from a chemical attack than from a remote-controlled bomb? Is it more painful to die from a nerve gas attack than from explosives?

Long ago, many cultures romanticized warfare and bound it by rules of honor. But, with the development of weapons of mass destruction (including automatic weapons, artillery, bombs, chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear devices) today’s warfare has become a glorified video game in which those most at risk are unarmed, innocent civilians.

How absurd that it’s okay to kill masses of people in one way, but not another! How senseless that, although some forms of torture are banned, others are not! How idiotic that we can allow despots in Rwanda and Cambodia to murder tens of thousands, but draw the line in other countries.

Truth is, there has been no real honor between warriors for centuries. No country or culture that willingly participates in warfare has a corner on ethics and morality. The development of ever more lethal weapons has turned today’s warriors into breathing, bleeding killing machines. Is it any wonder, then, that these machines we create have such difficulty adapting to so-called polite society following their service?

What has happened in Syria is awful. But why is a red line drawn at the use of chemical weapons? If we level Damascus and its population with unseen missiles and bombs, is that better than allowing them to be killed by an unseen gas? What will be the outcome of our choosing to participate in this civil war? What will be the benefit?

Personally, I see none.

Do NSA Revelations Actually Surprise Anyone?

Ever since Edward Snowden announced that the National Security Agency is collecting phone and email records of US citizens before skipping the country, many in the media and in Congress have expressed surprise and outrage.

Really? How could anyone be surprised at this invasion of privacy?

Since the late nineties, there has been an explosion of surveillance cameras on city streets and in public buildings across the country. Large firms have been working on various forms of customer recognition since at least the mid-eighties. First, we saw the “smart” card – a credit card with a computer chip containing a wealth of personal information about the person carrying it. Then we saw efforts to “read” the magnetic strips on credit cards as you enter a store. And, following 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act giving the government sweeping powers to prevent terrorism.

Now, according to a story on CBS’ 60 Minutes, we are nearing an era of facial recognition which will allow governments, retail stores and other institutions to use security cameras to identify people from mug shots, driver’s licenses, passports and other forms of identification. Add to that the information already being collected by the three major credit agencies, along with the GPS feature in your cell phone and your car, and almost no aspect of your life will be private. Even your activities in the bedroom are potentially vulnerable to hackers through your computers, cell phones and smart TVs.

By comparison, that makes the activities of the NSA seem a lot less threatening doesn’t it?

Saber Rattling In Congress.

Following reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, some in Congress are demanding that President Obama intervene. Even though the use of chemical weapons have not yet been confirmed, some are calling the president “weak” for his failure to respond.

Such knee jerk reactions by the war hawks already have been responsible for far too many wars and far too many deaths.

In 1964, the war hawks used false reports of a North Vietnamese attack on US naval ships to ramp up the war leading to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands. In 1983, the Reagan administration not only turned a blind eye to Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Iran, there are indications the US actually supplied the weapons. And, in 2003, the Bush/Cheney war hawks were in such a hurry to invade Iraq, they used false information to convince Congress to vote for a war that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands Iraqis and 4,486 US soldiers.

One would think that, after such obvious and lethal mistakes, our congressional war hawks and media would be much more reluctant to engage in saber rattling. After all, there are far more questions in Syria than answers. Were chemical weapons actually used? Who used them? What are the goals of those opposing Assad? What will happen to Syria if Assad is defeated, especially since it has been reported that the opposition includes factions of al Qaeda? Will the opposition welcome our military assistance? Will the new Syria become an ally?

What will Russia, a long-time ally of Assad’s, do if we choose to intervene in Syria? What will be the impact on the already flammable Middle East since Syria shares a border with Israel?

Given all of these questions, exactly how is the US to respond? Do we provide more sophisticated arms to the rebels, including al Qaeda? Do we create a no-fly zone that may lead to a far more serious confrontation with Russia, and may not even accomplish the goal of overthrowing Assad? Do we bomb military targets in Syria that will almost certainly antagonize Russia? Do we insert US troops on the ground in what could be a more lethal and lengthy war than Iraq?

According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, about 60 percent of US citizens interviewed oppose intervention in Syria.  It would seem that ordinary Americans have far more common sense than their saber-rattling congressional representatives.

What Is Our Real Legacy For Future Generations?

Much has been written about the national debt that is being left to future generations; how that debt is the greatest threat to the future of our nation.

I beg to differ.

Not that the debt isn’t a serious issue, but our nation faces many more daunting problems. For example, our infrastructure is crumbling.  Roads and bridges are in disrepair. Our electric grid is woefully inefficient and unreliable – approximately half of all the electricity generated is lost in the grid. Our rail system is antiquated. Ports and canals need to be expanded and remodeled. And our computer systems are increasingly vulnerable to hackers.

In addition, the vast majority of the world’s scientists – real scientists – are sounding alarms about global climate change. Their computer models show that our dependence on burning fossil fuels will raise sea levels by as much as three feet by 2100, drowning some of the world’s largest cities, many of them in the US.

These scientists aren’t politically-motivated. They aren’t beholding to corporations. And they aren’t making unsubstantiated claims. They say that human-caused climate change is as proven as gravity.

Making the investments to address these issues now makes infinite sense. Not only are interest rates at all-time lows. Making changes would create an enormous number of high-paying jobs. And when more people make more money they purchase more and pay more taxes. All of which will help reduce the deficit and debt.

In fact, Nobel laureate economists tell us that such investments will do more to reduce our debt than austerity measures.

So what are we waiting for? Why do we listen to Wall Street-financed politicians instead of economists? Why do we listen to oil-soaked politicians instead of climate scientists? We have been shown a road map to the long-term health of the United States and the globe. These are not Democratic issues or Republican issues. They are human issues.

Isn’t it as important to leave future generations with a safe, efficient infrastructure as with a surplus? Isn’t it as important to bequeath them a sustainable planet as with a reduced debt?

The Government Of Me.

As the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party continues to express outrage at our federal government, it becomes increasingly clear that the Tea Party simply does not understand the concept of a democratic republic. Its members ignore the fact that the Articles of Confederation were replaced by a Constitution that created a strong, centralized federal government. They ignore the fact that the power of the federal government versus the power of the states was thoroughly debated by our Founding Fathers, and the Federalists won. They quote the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment while ignoring all of its original Articles that gave the federal government sweeping powers to “provide for the general Welfare of the United States.”

Indeed, they even seem to ignore the “United” in United States!

At the heart of the Tea Party anger seems to be a misunderstanding of what constitutes a democracy. By its very nature, a democracy is based on majority rule. That means a minority, sometimes a significant minority, is often unhappy with the direction of our government. And, as the result of a quirk in our Electoral College, following the 2000 presidential election, a significant majority of our citizens were unhappy with the outcome, having voted for another candidate.

The Tea Party members refuse to acknowledge that President Obama was elected and re-elected by significant majorities of voters. They ignore the fact that the 2012 election was, in essence, a referendum on support for the middle class; for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; for the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

They continue to claim that Obama was born in Kenya and should, therefore, be disqualified from holding the office of president. They continue to howl that financial and environmental regulations are “job killers.” They consider his signature accomplishment of making health care affordable to all Americans a socialist government “takeover.” And, instead of accepting majority rule, they seem determined to take away the voting rights of African-Americans, Latinos, students, women, and the poor – anyone who might vote against the Tea Party agenda.

In other words, as they wave the American flag and their pocket copies of the Constitution with only the Second and Tenth Amendments highlighted, they are attempting to cut out the very heart of our democracy…that of majority rule.

The Tea Party refuses to accept that our nation is evolving; that the minorities of brown and black are the majorities of the future. The “I’ve got mine, you can’t have yours” crowd can’t bear the idea of change; of giving power to others. I believe that is what’s behind their animosity toward President Obama.

They can’t accept forward-thinking ideas such as investing in our failing infrastructure while interest rates are at all-time lows. They can’t understand that a tax policy that punishes greed and rewards corporate investment in our nation benefits the vast majority of our citizens. They can’t grasp that jobs paying a living wage are necessary to the health of our nation and benefit us all. They can’t see that an environmental policy that conserves the health of our planet benefits everyone. As long as they have theirs, they refuse to accept the notion that affordable health care and a comfortable retirement are rights, not benefits.

Our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to create a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” – the majority of people.

If you want a government “of the people, by the people and for me” you’re in the wrong place. You should find a remote, uninhabited island where you can become supreme dictator. Otherwise, it’s time you learned to accept majority rule.

Betrayal Of Public Trust.

Now that Michigan’s GOP governor has forced the City of Detroit into bankruptcy, it’s expected that retired city workers will have to settle for a fraction of the pensions they were awarded under contract.

As a result of the expected bankruptcy settlement, many of the retirees may be forced to file bankruptcy themselves and find jobs to make up for their lost pensions. The governor and his supporters responded to that news by saying that’s what bankruptcy does. It forces all creditors to settle for the same percentage of their claims.

This is a complete reversal of the GOP position regarding the failure of the too-big-to-fail banks. Back then, many GOP leaders argued that the very executives whose decisions led to the banks’ failure should not be denied the multi-million dollar bonuses that were written into their six and seven-figure contracts.

But many of those same GOP leaders now argue that city workers who had been paid salaries as little as $19,000/year should agree to voiding their contracts as part of the bankruptcy. These contracts were the result of negotiations with city managers during which they agreed to give up short-term salary gains in lieu of a secure retirement.

Indeed, long-term retirement benefits have always been the incentive for taking government jobs over equivalent jobs in the private sector. Taking away or reducing the pension payments after the fact is not only a violation of the workers’ contract. It’s a complete betrayal of public trust. The natural outcome of such a violation will be to make government workers at every level demand higher salaries knowing that they will no longer be able to trust governments to live up to their obligations.

We have long known that we can’t count on corporations and private companies to live up to their promises. But we should be able to count on our governments to live up to theirs.

Detroit Is Merely The Canary In The Coal Mine.

It’s popular for conservatives to blame the bankruptcy of the City of Detroit on a history of Democratic leadership. Indeed, the conservative commentators seem to revel in the city’s troubles. And since Detroit has a high percentage of African-Americans, the problems also conveniently fit their racist narrative.

The wingnuts believe that this simply couldn’t happen to a government run by white conservatives.

Hmmm…What about California? Following a government led by Ronald Reagan and, more recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state was teetering on the abyss. But after a return to Democratic leadership, California is regaining economic health and running surpluses. The same can be said for Minnesota.

Detroit’s problems aren’t merely the fault of city leadership. The state of Michigan has failed to deliver the aid it promised. But the real problems are the result of national and international politics. As part of globalization, greedy corporations shipped Detroit’s manufacturing jobs out of state and out of country in order to avoid paying for employee health care and pensions. In addition, many of the city’s mostly white executives fled to the suburbs leaving the poor and the unemployed to pick up the tab for their excesses.

Given the many factors contributing to the city’s financial problems, it would have been virtually impossible for Detroit to overcome them by itself. Detroit didn’t create the problems on its own. It shouldn’t have to face them alone.

Moreover, Detroit may be just the first large city to declare bankruptcy. Other cities that were once home to large manufacturing plants are facing many of the same difficulties. And, depending on what happens in Detroit, they may follow its lead.

Sadly, the situation in Detroit reminds me of the aftermath of natural disasters. When the Midwest was devastated in the nineties by floods, many on the East Coast objected to paying for disaster relief. Many across the nation objected to paying to help New York City after 9/11. Many objected to the cost of rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina. And congressional representatives and senators from other states voted against funding to New Jersey and New York to pay for relief from Hurricane Sandy.

Far too many Americans lack compassion for their fellow Americans. Instead of looking for ways to help, they are more intent on affixing blame. They assume that they are so smart that such a disaster could never happen to them. Invariably, they are wrong.

Arizona’s Religious Boat People.

For those of you who live outside the state, here’s a story that will give you some idea of the lunacy that is Arizona. Sure, you may know about our famous “dry heat” (like living in a sauna for 5 months out of the year), our Grand Canyon, our version of the Iron Curtain, our racist anti-immigrant law SB 1070, our finger-wagging governor and our famously right-wing politics.

But how much do you know about our anti-UN, anti-federal government, anti-science, anti-education, anti-evolution religious nuts?

As an example, I give you the family who attempted to relocate from the US to a tiny island in the island nation of Kiribati because of the parents’ belief that the US was interfering with their religious freedoms. Prior to loading their small children in a boat and setting sail, the father filed numerous documents in Yavapai County rejecting federal authority. In 2006, he signed a “Declaration of Citizenship” swearing allegiance to the Arizona Republic, claiming status as a “natural-born state citizen” and stating that he is “not a federal citizen of the United States.”

He described himself as a “non-resident alien of the White Race.” He renounced his Social Security number and failed to pay federal income taxes, owing the IRS $9,963 in back taxes.

When the family’s boat began to break apart in a storm, the family was rescued by a Chilean fishing vessel, transferred to a cargo ship and taken to Chile. They then asked the government that they had previously renounced to loan them $10,000 to transport them back to Arizona.

How nice! You denounce and renounce the US. You refuse to pay your taxes. Then when you need help, you come to the US with your hand out. Actually, you fit right in to Arizona. After all, many in the state hate the federal government and have tried to claim sovereignty over all federal lands within its borders, including the Grand Canyon. Yet Arizona gets far more in federal funding than it pays in federal income taxes.

So welcome back to Arizona. The other idiots have probably missed you.