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Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

THE CEO AS SAVIOR

In Bureaucracy, Politics, Social commentary on March 22, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Americans keep falling in love with CEOs and expecting them to deliver salvation as well as effective government.

In 1992, Ross Perot, former CEO of Electronic Data Systems (EDS), propelled hmself toward the Presidency. Although armed with a $3 billion campaign chest, he didn’t win.

But he got 10 million votes—and that was enough to endear him to Congress. In early 1993, just before Bill Clinton—the winner of the election—was inaugurated, Perot visited Washington, D.C. Congressmen couldn’t swoon enough over him. Clearly, many of these vote-hungry politicians hoped to cash in on Perot’s magic with a certain segment of voters.

In 2008, another former CEO set his sights on the White House: Mitt Romney. Romney. who had headed Bain & Company, tried to buy his way to the White House but lost out to John McCain (who, in turn, lost out to Barack Obama).

And now, running for Governor of California, there’s yet another CEO who’s “ready to lead”: Meg Whitman, former president of eBay.

What’s going on here?

For starters: Far too many Americans equate the amassing of large sums of money with Heavenly blessings: “If Ross Perot has amassed a $3 billion fortune for himself, surely that means he’s God’s favorite.” This is a throwback to the early Puritan heritage that still dominates so much of the thinking of this country.

By that standard, we should be canonizing the heads of the five most powerful Mafia “families” in the country.

Another reason so many Americans embrace CEOs is that they don’t understand why so many men (and a smattering of women) strive to reach that position. For many—if not most—of these people, “CEO” means something more than Chief Executive Officer. What it really means is: Corrupt Egotistical Oligarch.

Millions of Americans actually believe that people lie and slash their way to the top of mega-corporations so they can spend the rest of their lives as Mother Theresa. Some CEOs do, in fact, have an idealistic agenda for doing right. But, for the vast majority of them, the struggle for power and wealth is what it has always been: The struggle for power and wealth.

That’s why so many millions of Americans were actually surprised to find, when the economy collapsed in September, 2008, that what lay behind it was the unchecked arrogance of so many CEOs, whose offficial motto should have been: “Greed is not enough.”

And now Mitt Romney’s gearing up for another run at the White House. He’s just launched (that is, had ghostwritten) his latest effort to keep him in the limelight until 2012: No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.

Americans take a schizophrenic view of their politicians. On one hand, they fiercely attack those whom they believe are on the payroll of “special interests.” On the other hand, they have filled Congress and even the White House with millionaires who come from those same privileged centers.

This is one of the reasons why American politics remain so dangerously gridlocked.

THE STAKES FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA

In History, Politics on March 22, 2010 at 6:42 am

As usual, Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science, said it best–and first. You cannot truly understand the challenges facing President Obama without a solid knowledge of Machiavelli.

Consider what he has to say about how the President should regard and treat his political opposition:

..…One attains [the position of a ruler] by help of popular favor or by the favor of the aristocracy [wealthy special interests]. For in every [country] these two opposite parties are to be found, arising from the desire of the populace to avoid the oppression of the great, and the desire of the great to command and oppress the people.

..…He who becomes [ruler] by help of the nobility [wealthy interests] has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace. He is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is thus unable to direct or command as he pleases.

But one who is raised to leadership by popular favor finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him. Besides which, it is impossible to satisfy the nobility [wealthy special interests] by fair dealing and without inflicting injury upon others, whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way.

For the aim of the people is more honest than that of the nobility [wealthy special interests], the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid oppression.

It must be added that the [ruler] can never insure himself against a hostile population on account of their numbers, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few. The worst that a [ruler] has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles [wealthy special interests] he has to fear not only desertion but their active opposition. And as they are more far seeing and more cunning, they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer.

The [ruler] is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without the same nobility [wealthy interests], being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or deprive them of it as he pleases.
The Prince, Chapter IX, “Of the Civic Principality”

BOLD OR CAUTIOUS?

In Bureaucracy, Self-Help on March 20, 2010 at 6:21 pm

A prince…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those who wish to be only lions do not realize this.
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

All-too-often in life we face difficult, even dangerous, problems that force us to wonder: “How should I handle this?” For some, there is always the temptation to do nothing: “Let’s just watch and see what happens.” Others immediately want to rush into battle. And still others are inclined to carefully examine the problem before taking action.

There is, in short, simply no one right way to handle any given problem. What works in one situation may not work in another. Life is a risky business, and we are all forced to make choices whose outcome may well not be clear at the time we make them.

So here is what I have found that works best for me: I believe that Machiavelli was right–we must be a combination of the fox and the lion.

There are times when caution should be the order of the day. You need to take a low profile, learn all you can about your problem/enemy, and then take the action needed to deal with it. At other times, you need to charge into battle and directly confront your enemies, whatever the outcome.

So how do we decide which to use–and when?

My own approach: First, like a good commando, scout out the situation as best you can. Even Navy SEALS don’t charge blindly into an enemy camp without first knowing where all the sentries are stationed.

Second, once you’ve done your homework as best you can, then make your move. And when you make it, go all-out. Again, SEALS don’t stop charging just because some of their enemies start to retreat.

But realize that once you commit yourself to something, it’s too late to back out and say, “I didn’t mean it.” Even if you don’t win all that you hope for, chances are, you’ll gain more than you had before you took a stand on your own behalf.

HOW TO RESTORE FULL EMPLOYMENT – PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Politics, Social commentary on March 19, 2010 at 3:18 am

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself. But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

An Employers Responsibility Act would address the terrible economic waste and moral unfairness of the current job-search climate.

In this, job-seekers are legally obligated to acquire the education and experience, and demonstrate the ability and integrity that employers demand.

Yet employers are under no legal or even moral obligation to demonstrate any respect for such achievements—such as the respect shown by offering worthwhile jobs instead of worthless excuses for refusing to hire.

The result? Countless highly-qualified and highly-motivated job-seekers daily face an “I win/You lose” situation—where the winner is always the employer.

Summing up this employer-as-God attitude, Calvin Coolidge still speaks for the overwhelming majority of employers and their paid lackeys in government: “The man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.”

We, as a Nation, can finally put an end to this arrogant and wasteful attitude. And an Employers Responsibility Act can be the catalyst for this long-overdue change.

EMPLOYERS RESPONSIBILITY ACT

A nationwide Employers Responsibility Act would ensure full-time, productive employment for millions of capable, job-seeking American. And it would achieve this goal without raising taxes or creating controversial government “make work” programs.

If passed by Congress and vigorously enforced by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor, such legislation would legally require employers to demonstrate as much initiative for hiring as job-seekers are now expected to show in searching for work. Its provisions would include—but not be limited to—the following:

(1) American companies that close plants in the United States and open others abroad would be forbidden to sell products made in those foreign plants within the United States.

This would protect both American and foreign workers from employers seeking to profit at their expense. American workers would be ensured of continued employment. And foreign laborers would be protected against substandard wages and working conditions.

Companies found violating this provision would be subject to Federal criminal prosecution. Guilty verdicts would result in heavy fines and lengthy imprisonment for their owners and top managers.

(2) Large companies (those employing more than 100 persons) would be required to create entry-level training programs for new, future employees.

These would be modeled on programs now existing for public employees, such as firefighters, police officers and members of the armed services. Such programs would remove the employer excuse, “I’m sorry, but we can’t hire you because you’ve never had any experience in this line of work.” After all, the Air Force has never rejected an applicant because, “I’m sorry, but you’ve never flown a plane before.”

This Nation has greatly benefited from the humane and professional efforts of the men and women who have graduated from public-sector training programs. There is no reason for the private sector to shun programs that have succeeded so brilliantly for the public sector.

(3) Employers would receive tax credits for creating professional, well-paying, full-time jobs.

This would encourage the creation of better than the menial, dead-end, low-paying and often part-time jobs which exist in the service industry. Employers found using such tax credits for any other purpose would be prosecuted for tax fraud.

(4) A company that acquired another—through a merger or buyout—would be forbidden to fire en masse the career employees of that acquired company.

This would be comparable to the protection existing for career civil service employees. Such a ban would prevent a return to the predatory “corporate raiding” practices of the 1980s, which left so much human and economic wreckage in their wake.

The wholesale firing of employees would trigger the prosecution of the company’s new owners. Employees could still be fired, but only for provable just cause, and only on a case-by-case basis.

(5) Employers would be required to provide full medical and pension benefits for all employees, regardless of their full-time or part-time status.

Increasingly, employers are replacing full-time workers with part-time ones—solely to avoid paying medical and pension benefits. Requiring employers to act humanely and responsibly toward all their employees would encourage them to provide full-time positions—and hasten the death of this greed-based practice.

(6) Employers of part-time workers would be required to comply with all federal labor laws.

Under current law, part-time employees are not protected against such abuses as discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions. Closing this loophole would immediately create two positive results:

(a) Untold numbers of currently-exploited workers would be protected from the abuses of predatory employers; and
(b) Even predatorily-inclined employers would be encouraged to offer permanent, fulltime jobs rather than only part-time ones—since a major incentive for offering part-time jobs would now be eliminated.

(7) Employers would be encouraged to hire to their widest possible limits, through a combination of financial incentives and legal sanctions. Among those incentives: Employers demonstrating a willingness to hire would receive substantial Federal tax credits, based on the number of new, permanent employees hired per year.

Employers claiming eligibility for such credits would be required to make their financial records available to Federal investigators. Employers found making false claims would be prosecuted for perjury and tax fraud, and face heavy fines and imprisonment if convicted.

(8) Among those sanctions: Employers refusing to hire could be required to prove, in court:

(a) their economic inability to hire further employees, and/or
(b) the unfitness of the specific, rejected applicant.

Companies found guilty of unjustifiably refusing to hire would face the same penalties as now applying in cases of discrimination on the basis of age, race, sex and disability. Employers would thus fund it easier to hire than to refuse to do so. Job-seekers would no longer be prevented from even being considered for employment because of arbitrary and interminable “hiring freezes.”

(9) Employers refusing to hire would be required to pay an additional “crime tax.”

Sociologists and criminologists agree that “the best cure for crime is a job.” Thus, employers who refuse to hire contribute to a growing crime rate in this Nation. Such non-hiring employers would be required to pay an additional tax, which would be earmarked for agencies of the criminal justice system at State and Federal levels.

(10) The seeking of “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to or remaining in cities/states would be strictly forbidden. Such “economic incentives” usually:

(a) allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
(b) allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
(c) allow employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
(d) allow employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

(11) Employers who continue to make such overtures would be prosecuted for attempted bribery or extortion:

(a) Bribery, if they offered to move to a city/state in return for “economic incentives,” or
(b) Extortion, if they threatened to move their companies from a city/state if they did not receive such “economic incentives.”

This would protect employees against artificially-depressed wages and unsafe working conditions; protect the environment in which these employees live; and protect cities/states from being pitted against one another at the expense of their economic prosperity.

(12) The U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor would regularly monitor the extent of employer compliance with the provisions of this Act.

Among these measures: Sending undercover agents, posing as highly-qualified job-seekers, to apply at companies—and then vigorously prosecuting those employers who blatantly refused to hire despite their proven economic ability to do so.

This would be comparable to the long-time and legally-validated practice of using undercover agents to determine compliance with fair-housing laws.

(13) CEOs whose companies employ illegal aliens would be held directly accountable for the actions of their subordinates. Upon conviction, the CEO would be sentenced to a mandatory prison term of at least ten years.

This would prove a more effective remedy for combating illegal immigration than stationing tens of thousands of soldiers on the U.S./Mexican border. With CEOs forced to account for their subordinates’ actions, they would take drastic steps to ensure their companies complied with Federal immigration laws. Without employers’ systematically hiring illegal aliens at a fraction of the money paid to American workers, the flood of illegal job-seekers would quickly slow to a trickle.

(14) A portion of employers’ existing Federal taxes would be set aside to create a national clearinghouse for placing unemployed but qualified job-seekers.

HOW TO RESTORE FULL EMPLOYMENT – PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Politics, Social commentary on March 19, 2010 at 3:07 am

For thousands of years, otherwise highly intelligent men and women believed that kings ruled by divine right. That kings held absolute power, levied extortionate taxes and sent countless millions of men off to war because God wanted it that way.

That lunacy was dealt a deadly blow in 1776 when American Revolutionaries threw off the rule of King George III of England.

But today, millions of Americans remain imprisoned by an equally outrageous and dangerous theory: The Theory of the Divine Right of Employers. That employers—especially the CEOs who rule corporations—know what is best for us, and can be trusted to do only what is best for all of us. That employers would never endanger their companies—let alone their country—simply to enrich themselves at all costs.

America can no longer afford such a dangerous fallacy as the Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

There is a way to return millions of unemployed and under-employed Americans to full-time, permanent work. But we can do this only if we, as a Nation, are willing to face some hard truths about corporate employers.

I refer to this solution as an Employers Responsibility Act.

If passed by Congress and vigorously enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice, an ERA would ensure full-time, permanent and productive employment for millions of capable, job-seeking Americans.

And it would achieve this without raising taxes or creating controversial government “make work” programs.

An Employers Responsibility Act would simultaneously address the following evils for which employers are directly responsible:

• The loss of jobs within the United States owing to companies’ moving their operations abroad—solely to pay substandard wages to their new employees.
• The mass firings of employees which usually accompany corporate mergers or acquisitions.
• The widespread victimization of part-time employees, who are not legally protected against such threats as racial discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.
• The refusal of many employers to create better than menial, low-wage jobs.
• The widespread employer practice of extorting “economic incentives” from cities or states in return for moving to or remaining in those areas. Such “incentives” usually absolve employers from complying with laws protecting the environment and/or workers’ rights.
• The refusal of many employers to provide medical and pension benefits—nearly always in the case of part-time employees, and, increasingly, for full-time, permanent ones as well.
• Rising crime rates, due to rising unemployment.

DON’T LET THE BASTARDS SCARE YOU

In Bureaucracy, History, Self-Help on March 12, 2010 at 5:20 pm

“Don’t let the bastards scare you.”
–Elmer Davis, newspaper and radio reporter

Remember the artificially-created “energy crisis” of 2000-2001? The time when Enron and a host of other energy companies almost pushed California and the entire Western United States into bankruptcy?

TV news stories on this outrage focused on the gleaming, steel-and-glass towers where many of these Texas-based companies were headquartered. You almost felt you were looking into the face of God–that the decisions made in these towers were being made by deities, not a bunch of greedy, overpaid criminals.

Finally, the media began attaching human faces to this story–like those of Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. The faces of the criminals behind this scheme. Like the Wizard of Oz after the curtain was pulled away, these seemingly all-powerful men lost their aura of Godlike authority.

Suddenly, viewers–and even the Justice Department–woke up to an important truth: These criminals could be held accountable, after all. Some of them could even be indicted and convicted. (Though, as at the Nuremberg trials, not nearly enough were.)

There is a valuable lesson here for everyone forced to deal with bureaucracies–of public agencies or private companies: The people working in them are humans. They aren’t gods, no matter how highly-placed some of them are–and no matter how Godlike some of them think they are.

So if you get turned down or treated rudely at one level, don’t lose heart: There is nearly always someone else higher up to contact. Very often, that person wants to do the right thing–s/he simply needs to be given the facts of the case.

But often you have to deal with an official who simply wants to shove your problem under the rug. There can be several reasons for this: The official might simply be lazy. Or s/he might be following company/agency policy to do nothing. (Many such organizations consider it a “win” if they don’t have to spend any money or effort helping their customers–even if this makes for disastrous PR.) Or the person might simply dislike you for no good reason.

In any case, you have reason to be optimistic. That official nearly always has a superior–maybe a long line of superiors–who can overrule him. Sometimes it’s his immediate superior. Sometimes it has to be the president of the company or the director of the agency.

And those are the people you need to persuade.

In the posts to come, I’ll share some of my secrets for doing this. And I want you to feel free to share your own experiences–and the lessons you’ve learned from them–with me.

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