Thursday, May 31, 2012

Does the Legal Responsibility of Business Outweigh the Ethical Responsibility?

I’m really tired of hearing two particular phrases.

The first is that “government should be run like a business”.

The second phrase is that CEOs send jobs to “developing” countries because business is admittedly all about making money.  After all, they have a legal fiduciary responsibility to their share holders to do all that they can to turn a profit.  It’s as if there was a law forcing CEOs to make a profit which turns meanings of words like “community”, “patriotism”, “society”, “humility” and, in some ways, “reality”, around 180°. 

I challenge both of those arguments.

First of all, I’ll see their “government should be run like a business” and raise them one “business ought to be run like a society.” 

Secondly, is ensuring the riches of shareholders the only law that CEOs have to follow?  Are they the only people to whom they have a responsibility?  If CEOs and their sycophants get their way, it may end up the only law they have to follow.  However, as of this moment, they do have other legal responsibilities. 

It starts with “small business”

When asked, “So, what are you going to do with your life?”, a recent graduate might say, “I’m thinking of going into business for myself.”  How many people who make that statement know that the “for myself” part only lasts a short time?  Once that graduate turned entrepreneur hires someone, he or she has significantly affected the life of another human being.  The employer hasn’t affected that person’s life only in ways that pertain to work procedures, but in very personal ways as well.  The employer has asked the employee to leave her family and home for eight hours or longer. The employer asks the employee to trust him when he says he’s done everything in his power to ensure that the employee doesn’t get hurt on the job.  The employer asks the employee to put aside any chances she may have of pursuing her own interests so that she can pursue his interests - the employer’s interests actually become the employee’s interests.  Most of the time, in far too many cases, employers ask employees to refrain from enjoying certain personal pleasures.  Employers indirectly ask employees to go to bed at certain times so they can get enough rest to effectively and efficiently pursue their (the employers’) interests.  Employers can directly affect their employees’ relationships with family and friends by asking them to work during certain hours and on certain days.  They, in fact, may very well interfere with an employee’s religious beliefs by asking that employee to work on certain days.  It would be in this case that right wing business shills would insist upon strict adherence to the “American idea” of separation of church and state.

Many would say that’s why employees get a paycheck.  I would partly agree with that. 

As the business grows and the employer has to hire more workers, the employees are around their workmates more than they’re with their families in many cases.  They’re in the presence of their fellow workers longer than they’re with their extended families and their friends, for sure.  Some may be as close to workmates as they should be to their spouses.

Some owners of small businesses may not be interested in growing their businesses.  They may own one retail store or one music store or one restaurant.  They stay in business, even if they don’t expand, if they’re successful.  As those who own only one place of business are not usually publically traded, success is measured by how much profit their business makes and how much of the profit that owner uses to progress towards “the good life”.

This is wrong headed and is not success, even for small businesses.  We hear people in Congress fight regulations because regulations cause “small business owners” to fail.  We hear members of Congress fight against the minimum wage because a “small business owner” can’t afford to pay what large, publicly traded companies can pay.

One, members of Congress fight regulations and labor friendly legislation because large corporations pay them to do so.  If small business owners can’t pay their workers a living wage, how can they possibly find the money to lobby Congress?

The second lie is that small business owners can’t pay a living wage.  If one is to open a small business with no plan to expand, one should factor into success the satisfaction of one’s employees as well as the satisfaction of the customer.  There is no “legal fiduciary responsibility” to share holders for small businesses that are not publicly traded.  If one plans on starting a small business, one should not use the excuse that the business is too small to pollute the environment or too small to pay employees a living wage.  If one is researching the possibility of opening a small business, these questions should be addressed before one launches the business.  If one is going into business “for himself” and means that literally, he’s failed already.  If the only reason one goes into business is to collect large sums of money for himself or herself, the business is bound for failure.

This, of course, is an ethical failure, a failure as a productive and contributing member of society.  It’s certainly true that, if one owns a restaurant for ten years, goes through a multitude of wait staff, cooking staff, even dishwasher staff in those ten years, he could sell the business and may even be significantly wealthier than he was before he started the business.  However, if a person is serious about having a top quality restaurant, he must hire people who he can encourage to care about their jobs; actually own their jobs.  If he can instill pride in his workers and make it worth their while to stay with him for as long as he owns the restaurant, he may be even wealthier when he finally retires.  Customers can tell when people who wait on them are happy.  Customers can tell when there is never any complaint about the cleanliness of the business.  Customers tend to revisit places that have friendly atmospheres, good service and quality products. 

Nothing says quality to workers better than being appreciated for what they do to further the cause of their boss’s business.  However, if they’re paid what people in those positions are normally paid, they’re constantly looking for something better or they’re working second or third jobs, which takes energy and may very well adversely affect their performance at any one job or all of their jobs.  When people go home to the very basics while they know their boss is driving his Mercedes to his large, beautiful home, they may lose any interest in making life better for their boss.

Multinationals care even less

I am going to use The Dow Chemical Company as an example of how and why multinationals care even less.  I am going to use Dow because first, I worked for Dow for 25 years and, secondly, I know people who still work for Dow.  My intention is not to imply that Dow is any worse or any better than other multinational corporations.  It’s just that I can give examples based on what I know.

I began working for The Dow Chemical Company in 1972.  Obviously, communication technology wasn’t what it is today.  Consequently, although Dow had/has sites all over the world, it was broken down into divisions.  For example, I worked for Dow Chemical’s Eastern Division site in Connecticut.  I’m not certain whether the CEO ever visited our modest Connecticut site, but I do know that the Eastern Division Manager visited our site quite frequently.  It was an honor for us to see this manager up close and personal during those visits and we got to ask him questions, face to face.  Not only did we get the idea that he was listening to us, but it was obvious that he was.  We met with him and we brainstormed ideas to improve our plants and our work processes.  Some of those ideas were implemented either on a local plant/site level or on a division level.

Two facts should be kept in mind about this period of time.

First, Dow was working hard at shedding unions.  The site at which I was hired in 1972 was still litigating with the union which had called a wildcat strike in 1971.  The union ultimately lost - in the 1980s - but we employees had settled into the processes that Dow had put into place following the strike.  Many of these processes were actually employee friendly and many of us workers were naive enough to question what it was about Dow that the unions didn’t like.

Also, the income ratio between the CEO and those of us who actually made the products which made the profits was about 42-1.  We didn’t even give that ratio a second thought.  After all, the CEO had the responsibility to make profits, keep all of the production facilities in top running condition and to ensure that the employees were paid well for their efforts.  At that time the CEO and his staffs did a fine job of meeting those responsibilities.

Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980.  Very shortly after that election, Reagan sent a message to the workers of America. The message was that our jobs were incidental to the main goal of making money for shareholders - the top shareholders.  He manifested this message by unilaterally firing the striking Air Traffic Controllers and their union.  Dow, like most large multinational “American based” corporations, started to see how far that “brave” move by Reagan diminished the importance of the worker and the workers’ surroundings.  

It was at that time that workers’ compensation began to flat line while income for the CEO and his or her top staff began to skyrocket.  By the time Dow “delayered” me (Orwell was a genius) in 1997, the site at which I worked, which had 500 employees when I began working there, had 130.  The CEO to worker ratio had gone from 42-1 to over 400-1.  Many of the products that Dow produced began to be produced in nations in which people were paid anywhere from $.50 per hour to $2 an hour.  Dow had never promised these people living wages or benefits and felt no need to open that can of compensation.  However, Dow, like many “American” companies, was beginning to find “success” in mergers and acquisitions.

In ’72, the year I began at Dow, not only did we hear from our CEO and other people at the top of the Dow food chain, but the message was that we existed for the customer.  The message was, if we were falling behind a competitor, we needed to put more effort into improving the quality of our product.  Hard as it is to believe, Dow even lowered the price of some of those products, even after the quality was improved.  We were told that this was how Dow was going to become more successful.

Today, by way of mergers and acquisitions, Dow’s philosophy seems to be similar to that of other companies.  It’s a sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” philosophy.  And, in truth, this is one way to stay “competitive”.  On the one hand, Dow has bought up competitors while, on the other hand, it has sold most of the businesses it owned in 1972.  It owns very few businesses in The FUSA which still produce products and which pay workers a living wage.  Most of the jobs once done by Dow Chemical employees at these sites are now negotiated out to contractors.

The day to day production technicians that work at these sites still make what would be considered a living wage, in spite of the fact that their wages have remained flat for thirty or so years.  They’ve continued to receive raises, but many of the raises aren’t even cost of living raises.

Meanwhile, Andrew Liveris, CEO of what’s left of Dow Chemical, pulled in $19,274,624 in 2011.  While the few American workers’ wages have remained flat and while Liveris, who, by the way, is an Australian, and other CEOs, have attended to the rest of their “labor situations” by sending that labor to slave labor nations, Liveris has pulled in over $19 million.

We have been told that, when a company’s profits are in the billions of dollars, $19 million is but a drop in the bucket.  If that is the case, what “American” global corporations were paying American workers before sending those workers’ jobs to slave labor nations must have been a drop in the ocean.  How could $30.00 an hour times however many workers these corporations had in The FUSA hurt competition if $9,134.62 per hour doesn’t hurt competition.  That’s $19 million divided by 52 divided by 40.  That’s assuming that the CEO works a forty hour week.  I would be surprised if the CEO worked a forty hour month.

Of course, with all global corporations, we concentrate on the CEOs compensations.  So, of the billions of dollars the company makes, $19 million doesn’t seem like a lot, I guess.  I see it differently.

However, the CEO of the corporation isn’t the only absurdly compensated officer.   

William Weideman, Dow’s CFO, pulled in $7,356,087 in total compensation.

Executive vice presidents Joe Harlan, Charles Kalil and Geoffrey Merszei received $7,461,526, $7,179,372 and $6,739,824, respectively (but, hardly respectfully).  How does that kind of compensation figure into a competitive business model?

Additionally, Dow Chemical, a company that doesn’t sell retail products to the general public, spent $25 million for their so-called, and oh, so ironic, “Human Element” ads.  Why does a company, who is putting American workers out of work, sending jobs to slave labor nations and putting almost no money back into its few remaining American sites, have to spend one red penny on television advertising, especially if the reason they’re hurting so many American “human elements” is to remain “competitive”?

Next time one of your Teabagger friends who just love politicians who are fighting for the “job creators”, despite the fact that he or she was, at one time, thrown out onto the street like a ripped up old rag by these very same “job creators”, says that she or he understands that CEOs have a legal fiduciary obligation to their stockholders and can’t play nurse-maid to American workers anymore; or says that liberals’ “taxes” are making them move their jobs to slave labor nations; or says that unions, none of which most of these companies had to deal with before sending their jobs to those slave labor nations, were making them non-competitive; or says that regulations are the reason these greed heads are hurting what should be their fellow American citizens, tell them that it’s time they started to think again or, possible, for the first time. 

When we look at the incomes of small business owners as compared to the incomes of the people who work for them or when we look at the incomes of the top officers of large, global corporations, we can see plenty of room for them to be more ethical with their profits, help save the American economy and still be exceedingly wealthier than their lowest tier employees.

To friendship,
Michael

“Change starts when someone sees the next step.” - William Drayton

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Friday, May 25, 2012

If we Turn Our Backs on god, god (and war) Will be in big Trouble


(originally published by OpEdNews)

A few weeks ago, a former colleague phoned me.  He retired a few years ago and decided to move from Connecticut to Texas, where no income tax is paid.

When we worked together, we didn’t speak much about politics or religion.  I suspected that he and I didn’t see eye to eye in those arenas and, while we worked together, I merely assumed we respected the fact that those subjects could interfere with our amiable working relationship.

Even though I picked up on our potential different world views, it seems that he did not.  When he phoned me, after we hadn’t spoken for about four or five years, he informed me that he had joined the Tea Party.  I wasn’t shocked that he joined one of the Tea Party organizations.  However, I was shocked that he hadn’t picked up on the fact that I would not be a person for whom that information would be “good news” or even impressive.  I just thought that there was an obvious undertone that, although we each loved our jobs and gave 110%, as they say in sports, we realized we didn’t agree on politics, at the very least.  I guess he didn’t know much about my “faith” because I really never talked about it.

When he said he’d joined the Tea Party, I said, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree.  You see, I’m a member of the Socialist Party of the United States.”  He mentioned something about this being America and how we’re entitled to support whatever political ideology we choose to support.

He then said, “This country is losing its faith in god.  If this country completely turns away from god, we’ll be in a lot of trouble.”

I told him that I am an atheist and, again, he spoke about America being the land of the free.  I do, however, believe that my responses to his two announcements came as somewhat of a shock to him.  He said those things in such a tone as to lead me to believe he expected supportive answers.

I told him that I sometimes write for OpEdNews and that I have a mailing list.  I asked him if he’d want to join the list and he said, “Sure.  It’s good to hear both sides of the story.”

Since he’s joined the list, I’ve only written two articles and have sent them to my mailing list.  One is entitled “Teabaggers; Children of the Sixties” and the other, “Here’s Tea in Your Eye”.  I suspect that the articles led him to do some introspection.  Maybe the introspection brought him to the conclusion that I wasn’t really born in The FUSA or that I am possibly a secret Muslim.  Although he never commented on my articles, I’m sure he harbored some thoughts.

The fact that he’s a Tea Party member - I’ll be respectful to him because he’s been nothing but respectful to me - isn’t what bothers me the most about what he said.  It’s when he said that Americans were losing their faith in god that I almost said something disrespectful.  However, I thought about it and decided to answer him and anyone else who thinks our problems stem from our turning our backs on god.  Ultimately, and I will ultimately get to it, I’m afraid that he doesn’t realize that this secular nation has actually ratcheted up its promotion of religion and it’s done nothing but divide us.  This is just one reason I refer to this nation as The Formerly United States of America.  We aren’t united anymore.  In fact, with the exception of when several states actually seceded from the Union, we may be more divided today than at any other time in our history and I believe that the misguided idea that we are a Christian nation has exacerbated the division.

It’s true that there were many debates before the final draft of The Constitution was ratified and there were delegates to that convention who believed that we should have said more in The Constitution about god and even mention the mythical Jesus.  I don’t know how close we came to being a theocracy, as is Iran and several other “model nations”, but I feel fortunate that people like Jefferson, Madison and Paine won out.

It’s true that about 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christians.  This is obviously a large majority of Americans. However, 75% does not equal 100%. Everyone who is a citizen of The FUSA is not a Christian.

So, my answer to my ex-colleague would have been, “About which god is it that you’re referring?  On which god have Americans turned their backs?  Is it the god of the Jewish Torah, the god of the Judeo/Christian Bible, the god of Islam?  Which god are we disrespecting?”

I believe my colleague is Catholic.  Consequently, he probably would have pointed out that there’s only one true god and that’s the god that sent part and parcel of himself in the incarnation of what he calls his son to this planet to be brutalized because human beings the world over had been sinning.  How would our fellow Americans of the Jewish faith feel about that?  How would Muslims feel about that?  All three religions sprung from the same Abrahamic myth.  If you’ve forgotten, that myth has it that the particular god in which my colleague believes asked a man to kill his son as proof that he was faithful to, well, to the god who requested the execution.  Abraham did all of the prep work to burn his only son because he heard voices telling him to do so.


Imagine the pain, suffering and anguish this man had to endure in preparing to sacrifice his son to god.  This, of course, doesn’t even touch upon the fear the son must have felt when he saw what was up.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t talked about much at that time, but I bet dollars to burnt flesh that this test of Abraham’s fear of god hung around both Abe’s and Isaac’s minds for the rest of their lives.  For centuries, free thinkers have asked what kind of being would go that far to find out if a human being was really afraid of it.  I think they call that being a psychopath today.  If it’s this god that we are turning away from, then we’re doing the right thing.

Infanticide not only done in the name of god or at the behest of god, but by god itself, is written into the "good books". Here’s one of many instances of that sick ritual. Maybe sociopath fits better, I don’t know.
Of course, there was the flood. God obviously based this action upon a poll he had ordered of all of humanity, even those who lived in places that those in today’s Middle East wouldn’t hear about for millennia.
Of all of the people living upon the earth, god’s poll must have shown that fewer than 50% of all human beings weren’t behaving themselves.  So, instead of saving the 49% that were, god ordered a great rain which turned into a great flood which wiped out all but one family and, supposedly, two of every kind of creature which inhabited the earth.  Noah, his family and some animals got to float atop god’s great flood while innocent men, women and children, even infants, and helpless animals, were drowned to death, one of the slowest and most frightening forms of death.

There’s no amount of good in the rest of the entire Judeo/Christian Bible that can make up for the very few instances to which I’ve referenced here.  No sermon on a mount, no helping his favorites, The Israelites, no amount of good resides in that wicked book that should make those who are enamored of the death penalty feel that god shouldn’t be injected with the most hideous of fatal drugs or hung from the neck until dead.

So, the question, again, is this the god on whom we’ve turned our backs?  Is this what’s going to get America into trouble?  I might believe it if I believed that this particular being, as anthropomorphized in those sick publications, really existed.  I would believe it because this sick mother can cause some trouble, even for those who don’t deserve it.

I don’t believe my colleague was referring to Allah, the Muslim god, birthed, by the way, from the same Abrahamic rubbish.

Here’s the catch 22 as I see it.

No one in his or her right mind would prefer to be in a state of war as opposed to a state of peace.

However, most of us in our right minds are, like it or not, in a state of war.  Those who are playing with this state are perpetuating it as part of their games.

The leaders of The FUSA lie and rile up people who, subsequently, revert to pre-civilized instinctive behavior.  However, the so called holy books were written after the dawn of civilization and they contain descriptions of acts which today’s human beings should look upon as pre-civilized acts.  Not only are these acts supported by the various gods of the books, but, in many cases, they’re committed by the so called creator(s) of civilization him (them) selves.

Religion is looked upon as very civilized.  In order to belong to the leadership of the most populous organized religions, one has to attend many years of university and seminary study.  Yet, once the leadership of many of these religions graduate and become ordained leaders, they begin to support some of the most horrendous and horrific acts visited upon the human race.

They also support the books’ content that those who do not believe in the books’ messages aren’t worthy of life.  Some of it is in reference to some kind of afterlife, but much of it deals directly with our earthly existence.  The words “heathen” and “infidel” thread their way through these books of faith and people who have spent life times studying and learning exhort their followers to believe that these books hold the reality of a successful existence.  The existence, again, will not only successfully bring you eternal happiness after death, but guidelines tell the followers what is and is not a successful earthly existence.

In The Torah, The Christian Bible and The Quran, having enemies is as natural as breathing.  Warnings against those who don’t believe are constantly issued.  Mass murder or genocide is shown to be a legitimate way to solve problems.

Governments tell lies and not only rile up people who revert to pre-civilized instinctive behavior, but rile up people who use these horrible, hate and violence filled books to justify tossing away civilized behavior, allowing pre-civilized instinct to motivate them.

Supporters of the holy books say that they can be interpreted however one wishes to interpret them.  They all point to sections of their books which call for love and tolerance.  They don’t deny that the books encourage their followers to destroy those with whom they disagree; they merely say that, along with the unthinkable, there is good.

Let’s see what happens if we use this logic in the case of an abused wife.  Say to her, “Sure, he becomes violent at times and beats you.  Yes, he’s broken your limbs as well as your spirit.  But let’s not forget who drives you to the emergency room and kisses your forehead, telling you that everything will be all right.  It’s he, for he is a kind and loving husband.”

We’re at war now.  We were in a state of war for the greater part of the twentieth century and we’re not starting the twenty-first century much better.

Although they didn’t get the attention that antiwar protestors received during the Vietnam War or are receiving today, people did march against World War I, World War II and Korea.  There were marches and arrests.  Protestors didn’t join the violence.  They protested peacefully and the wars ended when the game players were damn well ready to end them.

It’s said that protests became too intense in the late sixties and early seventies to ignore and this played a large role in ending the Vietnam conflict.  But the Vietnam conflict didn’t begin in the late sixties and the early seventies.  It began, really, in the late fifties and early sixties and was going on even before that.  58,000 US military personnel died during what we call The Vietnam War.

Do we not believe that there are people in The FUSA who want peace and freedom in much the same way as Mahatma Gandhi wanted it?  Are there not people who’ve starved themselves in an attempt to end the occupations in Iraq or Afghanistan?

I submit that, if Mahatma Gandhi was an American here today, protesting our involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan, no one in the world would have even heard of him.  Those in control during his imprisonment allowed his name and actions to leak to the public.

What would the so called governments in Washington have done with a Mahatma Gandhi or a Martin Luther King Jr. during the past twenty years or so?  Those governments would have kept them very quiet and there’d be Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, etc. attempting to make them look like fools and the pre-civilized book readers would be sending them hate mail - hate emails.

If there are people like Gandhi in the FUSA today, most Americans don’t know them.  Even when people like Cindy Sheehan or David Swanson try to lead peaceful protests and get an “audience” with even the least important member of The FUSA’s government, the public is non-supportive.

We have to forget about Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer today.  They are no longer with us and, if they were, their actions would not be made public.  Not only would the government of The FUSA make sure they remained unknown, they could never gather a following in today’s world.  There are too many people who see wanting peace as being too “liberal” or as appeasing our enemies.

So, to come full circle in this article, Americans aren't getting into trouble nor will they get into trouble for turning their backs on “the spirit in the sky”.  Americans are getting into trouble for turning their backs on America.

To friendship,
Michael

“Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him?” -  Blaise Pascal