Thursday, November 09, 2006

K-Fed, Japanese Pronunciations, Ethel Merman, and "Evil Corporations"

¡Hola! ¿Cómo están, amigos? I'm super, thanks for asking!

Actually, for some reason I've had a bit of a spring in my step lately. Maybe it's this lovely Oregon November weather or something, I don't know.

Wait, I know why I've been so jovial lately. Britney and K-Fed are getting a divorce!

Seriously, can someone explain why so many Americans get hung up on idolizing these "marginally talented celebrities"? Okay, maybe "marginally talented" is too generous, especially in the case of Kevin Federline. I guess Britney Spears is incredibly talented when it comes to choosing a publicist. And K-Fed is pretty talented at convincing a wealthy celebrity to marry someone who otherwise has no talent whatsoever. He also reminds me of some of the men boys I used to work with when I did inventory service, but that's another story.

So the announcement of their divorce was, in many cases, front page news. In fact, it almost overshadowed the election.

Oh yeah, the election.

Q: What does a Japanese man do when he has an erection?

A: He votes.

You might have to say that one out loud. See, they pronounce their 'l's like 'r's and...


I have to admit, I was pretty excited when the results started coming in and they were overwhelmingly blue. I was also glad that some of the bad, bad, horrible local measures failed. A couple of them would've probably put me and many others out of a job had they passed. But they didn't and the "good guys" won, and there was much rejoicing, and now everything's coming up roses, right?


Here's the thing: I hated the direction this country was heading. The government had been exerting more and more influence over our personal lives and less and less influence over corporations for a while now. The influence over our personal lives is especially ironic since it mainly comes from so-called "conservatives" who champion "personal responsibility", but I'll leave that for another blog posting. Right now, I want to talk about corporations.

Now, I'm not a part of the "all corporations are evil" camp, mainly because I think absolutist statements like these are intellectually dishonest. I don't buy it primarily for two reasons: 1) because there is a huge variety of the types of corporations and the people who control them, and 2) because a corporation, by its very nature, cannot be evil. In fact, I don't even think the people who run them are necessarily evil, or even greedy. They may be that way in their personal lives, but that doesn't change the fact that concepts like "good" and "evil" have no meaning in the corporate world. It's not like the CEOs wake up and say, "Gee, I think I'll destroy someone's life today, even though I won't make any money off it."

Corporations exist solely to earn as much profit as possible, period. And that's what the people running the corporations are concerned about, period. Morality doesn't enter into the equation. You could call them amoral. This is true from the CEOs all the way down to the people in the entry-level positions. Sure, they'll say things like "the most important thing to us is customer satisfaction", but they do so because it just sounds more palatable than "the most important thing is making money". If they were completely honest, it would burst the customer's "this company gives a rat's ass about me" bubble.

There have been, however, plenty of instances of corporations being unethical, and that's not the same as being evil. Being unethical is the result of heavy, heavy competition in a darwinistic free-market-based system in which the only thing that matters is the bottom line.

Basically, if the guy in charge of a corporation (lets be honest, there ain't too many women- maybe there should be) doesn't turn a profit, he gets replaced or the company goes out of business. That's how our system is set up. It's called capitalism.

You're probably asking: "What the hell does this have to do with the elections?" In due time, I promise.

Anyhoo, one of the main problems is that the influence of the corporations extend way beyond the people who work for or patronize them. And no, when I say "patronize", I don't mean people who say things like "you're a really good corporation, really you are", but don't mean it. I'm talking about customers.

Ask anyone whose business had to close because Wal-Mart came to town, the grocery store cashier with a union job that paid $12 per hour plus benefits until the big chain supermarket moved into town, or even the waitress at the local diner downtown whose tips have been cut in half because now everybody eats and shops at the new strip mall near the interstate. And don't forget the computer programmer who was making six figures until they decided to ship his job to India where people will do it for one tenth of the salary. But hey, at least they let the guy train his Indian replacement. "What's that, you want a job here at Circuit City? And you have a GED and an Associate's degree in Computer technology? Well, this other guy here was a computer programmer for twelve years and has a Master's degree in Computer and Information Science, so he gets the job. Maybe you should try Radio Shack."

The point is that corporations do what's best for them- and that's often at odds with what's best for us. And it doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon.

The only way We the People get any sort of say in how corporations are run is through the government. The problem is that the politicians are listening to the corporations. Why? Because it takes tons of money to get elected. And who has tons of money? I don't, do you? Corporations sure do. And why would they donate to a candidate? To get favors in return. They consider it an investment. And what do they get for their investment? Tax cuts, easing of restrictions, hell some even get subsidies. Think of subsidies as a way for you and me to partially pay for a product before we actually buy it- even if we never buy it (I'm looking at you, beef industry).

I wish the government would subsidize my rent, although I did get a Pell Grant this year, so there's some indirect subsidizing going on. Still, I'd gladly settle for somebody directly subsidizing my beer, provided it doesn't have to be Budweiser, Coors, Miller or any similar crappy domestic non-micro brand.

But I digress. What I'm saying is money talks. The more money you have, the more you get to talk. I have no money so I only get to talk on one Tuesday every other November. Do you think the powers that be can hear each of our individual voices when millions of us are all talking at once, each saying something different?

Last March, I got another chance to talk. I participated in a war protest downtown. I guess you could say I was talking out of turn. It felt great.

These people who won last Tuesday had to raise a hell of lot of money. The next two years are going to be payback time- they're going to pay back the people and corporations that got them elected. Many of the decisions they'll make are likely to be at odds with what's good for us. We need to make sure they stay on the right track, and if they screw up, we can't make excuses for them like the other side has been doing.

The only thing we won on Tuesday is a chance to join in on the fight. Now the real work begins.

Let's take back control of our leaders and constantly remind them that they're supposed to work for us.

Let's make an effort to educate ourselves, pay attention to what our leaders are doing, and hold them accountable, because if we don't, nobody else will.

Let's try to have honest, open debates about the issues that really matter, and try to avoid knee-jerk reactions to dissenting views.

Let's fight for "Fair Trade" instead of "Free Trade" because free trade can never be free without democracy.

Let's realize that corporations don't "provide jobs", but workers earn them, and that corporations wouldn't exist without workers (and customers for that matter).

Let's agree that running a corporation is a privilege, not a right, and that corporations have obligations to the communities they do business in.

Let's not be afraid to support our local businesses.

Let's not be afraid of our neighbors.

Hell, let's stop being afraid, period.


Well, this posting took a turn that I wasn't expecting. I better add some silliness to get things back to normal:

Ahh, that's better.



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