Tyranny of the market.
"This is not one of my favorite days," said AT&T chairman Robert Allen, "but then I'm not one who is in so much pain as some of our workers." No kidding! Allen's total compensation is $5,489,000 a year.
Allen gave the typical corporate rationale for the layoffs. "To the extent we can get in trim, we'll produce better margins, more flexibility, and more cashflow to invest in other opportunities," he announced.
Love that corporate speak, "get in trim." It goes right along with "downsizing," "rightsizing," and other euphemisms for mass layoffs. Next they'll refer to firings as "body sculpting." After these latest layoffs, AT&T boasts buns of steel.
But Allen and AT&T were doing just what good little capitalists are supposed to do: juggling and junking workers to help the bottom line. That's what they're taught to do at Harvard Business School.
And the bottom line has never looked better for corporate America. Profits reached record heights in 1995, as did the stock market.
But there has been no trickle-down effect, as the apologists for the rich once promised. Wages and benefits for workers rose only 2.7 percent in 1995, the lowest since 1981, when such composite data began to be gathered. Not counting benefits, between March 1994 and March 1995, wages and salaries fell by more than 2 percent, adjusting for inflation.
The median household income has been falling for many years now. From 1979 to 1993, it fell 3 percent in real terms while the economy grew 35 percent. Male workers without college degrees have been especially hard hit, as their real incomes have tumbled 30 percent between 1973 and 1993.
To get an idea of how skewed the income distribution is in this country, consider this: in 1990, the richest 1 percent of Americans accounted for as much income as the bottom 40 percent.
When you look at wealth instead of income, the figures are even more staggering. Between 1983 and 1989, the richest 1 percent grabbed 62 percent of the newly created wealth, and the richest 20 percent grabbed 99 percent, as Alexander Cockburn has noted.
So what has the response been by the elite? Much hand-wringing, so compulsively performed at The Washington Post that a rash broke out among its editorial writers. On July 29, 1995, a Post editorialist penned the following fatuous comment about the decline in wages and the inequality of incomes: "Everyone in politics is well aware of these two unwelcome trends, but so far the public discussion of them has been muted," said the scribe. (Is this veiled self-criticism?) "The reason is that no one has been able to come up with plausible and practical ideas for dealing with them."
No one? Anyone ever heard of raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, or making the income tax more progressive, for starters?
Not the Post, evidently, which concluded by urging deficit reduction, even though cutting government spending will make income distribution even more lopsided.
Robert Reich, Clinton's Secretary of Labor, is not much more helpful. Reich took to The New York Times op-ed page after the AT&T announcement to pine for the day when corporate executives had a more enlightened, paternalistic approach to their workers. His nostalgia is not borne out by a look back at the textile mills, coal mines, and slaughterhouses of a by-gone era, and even Reich concedes that few CEOs will respond to pleas that they behave better.
So Reich's big proposal is to wipe out corporate income taxes for companies that treat their workers well. In the process, he accepts the legitimacy of their hoary arguments against corporate income taxes, claiming that it amounts to "double taxation" - first on corporations, then on investors. This is nonsense, and anyway, bribing corporations to behave better won't work, and it'll cost the Treasury money. Reich's proposal only serves as ammunition for the Fortune 500, which has always wanted to abolish corporate income taxes.
Something much more fundamental needs to be done to dethrone the tyranny of the marketplace. If we can't have socialism today, we should insist on a higher minimum wage, stronger unions, and a steeper income tax. But we need to go beyond these quaint New Deal notions and start campaigning for a guaranteed decent-paying job for everyone, or better yet, a guaranteed livable income.
Otherwise, 80 percent of Americans will remain hostage to the AT&Ts and the GMs-and their cheering stockholders who bid the price up when the pink slips are distributed.
Defense Secretary William Perry and Joint Chiefs head John Shalikasvili went to Haiti ostensibly to inspect the peaceful transition of power from President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to President Rene Preval.
But more likely they were there to see that U.S. intelligence operations are still running smoothly.
Investigative reporter Allan Nairn, in the January 8/15 issue of The Nation, discovers that U.S. military intelligence and the CIA are still, to this day, continuing their secret work with the repressive paramilitary organization known as FRAPH.
During the first week of the U.S. occupation, a CIA contingent arrived from Washington, Nairn reports, and fanned across the Haitian countryside to recruit agents, among them FRAPH leaders. Nairn also notes that senior U.S. officials intervened to free FRAPH leaders from jai after they were arrested either by Haitian authorities or U.S. troops.
The arrests of FRAPH members by U.S. forces, which received a lot of press coverage, were just "for publicity," Emmanuel Constant, the leader of FRAPH, told Nairn, U.S. Special Forces teams told FRAPH members that as long as they kept their guns out of view, they could keep them. Nairn traces these weapons back to U.S. shipments in July 1993.
Allowing FRAPH members to keep their weapons ran precisely counter to the wishes of Aristide and the Haitian people, who understood that these weapons would be used against them another day.
But it didn't run counter to the wishes of Washington, which set up FRAPH in the first place.
Score one for lesbian and gay rights - those rights that Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition are so hot and bothered about.
The victory occurred in Atlanta in December, when an appeals court ruled that a lesbian could not be fired simply because she was about to marry a woman.
Robin Joy Shahar worked as a law clerk in the Georgia attorney general's office in 1990. Upon graduation from law school, the attorney general offered her a job. But he withdrew that offer when he heard of Shahar's nuptials, which took place in a synagogue with a rabbi presiding.
"Inaction on my part," he said, "would constitute tacit approval of this purported marriage and jeopardize the proper function of this office." This is the same attorney general who went to the Supreme Court to defend Georgia's anti-sodomy laws, the ones that outlaw all acts except the missionary one.
But the Court of Appeals ruled that Shahar has a fundamental right of intimate association under the First Amendment, and that the wedding was "inextricably entwined with Shahar's exercise of her religious belief." The couple look the last name Shahar, which is Hebrew for "being in search of God."
The court sent the case back to a lower court to see whether the state could demonstrate a "compelling" government interest to override Shahar's rights. This is the most difficult standard that the court could have imposed.
Shahar, for her part, was ecstatic. "An employer should evaluate an employee based on work experience," she said, adding that she was impressed by "the extremely respectful way in which they talked about Fran and me and our ceremony."
Even as the Christian Coalition, the far right, and any Republicans in Congress attempt to deny rights to gays and lesbians, the courts are more and more frequently recognizing that these rights are basic to our constitution freedom. We have courageous people like Robin Joy Shahar to thank for that.
You've probably heard of the chain gangs that have returned with so much fanfare in the South.
But I bet you haven't heard about a new kind of prison activity that we've come up with here in Wisconsin - and that's to use prisoners hunting dogs.
In mid-November, at the Oakhi Correctional Institution just south of Madison, a prison guard ordered more than a dozen prisoners on two occasions to flush deer out of the woods so that the guard, his boss, and some friends could bag a few - deer, that is. The inmates were not given blaze-orange garb to prevent an accident; instead they were dressed in street clothes or prison green. They say they saw deer hunters in the woods, and one said that a hunter pointed a gun at his chest and face.
But state investigators seemed less concerned about the safety of the prisoners than about the risk that they might get away. Inmates were unsupervised by staff for extended periods of time, and this created an unnecessary and totally avoidable risk of escape," the report said.
It did, however, go on record as saying that "the use of inmates for driving deer is not an appropriate inmate work activity or an appropriate use of state resources."
No, that can't be. There's a booming business here. Why not charge hunters fees to participate in these state-sponsored festivities? It could be a national craze: prisoners in South Dakota could help with flushing pheasants; prisoners in Montana could roust some elk. The possibilities are endless, and if done right, state coffers would fill - along with a few coffins.
Pity the giant multinational, having to defend little things like human-rights abuses. Take the case of Freeport-McMoran, a New Orleans-based company that runs the world's biggest gold mine in the rain forests of Indonesia. The government of Indonesia is a 10 percent partner in the mine, and that government has perhaps the worst human-rights record of any government in the world.
In 1965, it wiped out hundreds of thousands of political opponents. In 1975, with the approval of Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford, it invaded East Timor, resulting in the deaths of 200,0000 Timorese - one-third of the population of that fledgling nation. (Kissinger is now of the board of directors of Freeport.)
In recent years, Indonesia has continued its crackdowns both in East Timor and in Indonesia. Even in the area of the Freeport mine, the Indonesian government has been accused on murdering and torturing separatists. And the mine itself is causing environmental damage.
Environmental and human-rights activists have been protesting Freeport's Indonesian connections, even holding a demonstration outside CEO Jim Bob Moffett's house.
Jim Bob didn't take took kindly to that. "Imagine yourself at home - your kids, your neighbors. It was a terrible, terrible, experience," one of his senior vice presidents said.
Poor Jim Bob. He responded by making a half-hour infomercial defending the company's record in Indonesia, and he bought time on local stations to broadcast it, The Wall Street Journal reported. He also took out a two-page ad in The New York Times, alleging a "smear campaign" by unnamed "foreign interests" funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The cost of this counterattack was just a drop in his bucket, but his friends at The Wall Street Journal think he made a mistake by responding to what it called "a group of postadolescent protesters." Better to have said nothing, and gone on with business as usual, The Journal advised.
That's the credo of the savvy multinational. Just Keep quiet, hope the protesters go away, and keep those profits coming. Now if we don't hear from Jim Bob again, we'll know why. You can bet he hasn't pulled out of Indonesia; he's just hired better P.R.
I'm OK, You
Belong in an Institution
Along with lower taxes and smaller government, institutionalizing people has captured the Republican imagination. Putting poor children in orphanages, elderly and disabled people in nursing homes, and more and more criminals behind bars are all themes of the Republican Revolution.
Nest Gingrich's dream of Boys Towns to house the children of AFDC recipients has yet to be realized. But cuts in social programs already mean more and more people face confinement in institutions.
In California, which leads the country - and every other country in the world - in its per-capita rate of incarcerations (see "Crackdown on Kids," Page 24), prison guards have the second most powerful lobbying group in the state. A recent New York Times article quoted the head of this lobby proudly describing the state's prisons as a "growth industry." Indeed, employees of the California prison system lobbied hard for the "three-strikes" bill, which has funneled nonviolent drug offenders away from community-based treatment programs and into prison.
Institutions are also all the range in Wisconsin, where the state legislature is yanking away Medicaid funding that allows disabled people to live in their own homes, and pressing them to go into nursing homes. This has caused a wave of fear among the seriously disabled.
The appeal of institutionalizing has nothing to do with saving money. In the big picture, prisons, nursing homes, and other live-in institutions cost significantly more than community-based programs.
The real reason politicians like institutions so much is that they appear to be a clean, simple solution to social problems. They create the illusion of order and control. And, most ominously, they appeal to the bigotry of the wealthy, the able-bodied, and those free of the grasp of the criminal-justice system. Institutions offer to put away all those misfits - lock them up out of sight. The trend is a symptom of American cynicism about the prospect for a free, heterogenous, civil society. Both financially and morally, it will bankrupt us.
All in a Simmer
Now that we have lived through the warmest year and the warmest half-decade on record, a number of formerly hesitant scientists have begun to admit that global warming is not a hoax, and that human behavior seems to be drastically altering the ozone.
But the reaction to this sizzling data has been almost uniformly tepid. A United Nations panel of scientists hedged with the comment that these climate changes are "unlikely to be entirely natural in origin."
Discover magazine's Paul Hoffman demurred during The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, "This does not prove that global warming is taking place ... this is one more piece of evidence that global warming is taking place."
The tentative quality of these revelations stems in part from a tendency among scientists to avoid a language of absolutes. But an astonishingly diluted analysis is also being sold to us by corporations that fund much of the research we hear about. Ross Gelbspan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, identified a list of corporate-funded scientists in a recent issue of Harper's. Most receive research money from the oil and coal industries. These scientists have repeatedly downplayed the findings of the larger scientific community in order, in Gelbspan's words, "to drain the issue of all sense of crisis."
Unfortunately, they've been largely successful: "Through their frequent pronouncements in the press and on radio and television, they have helped to create the illusion that the question is hopelessly mired in unknowns," Gelbspan writes. And they have "provided the base for the recent round of budget cuts to those government science programs designed to monitor the health of the planet."
Republicans in power have proven themselves extremely adept at pretending that information they don't like doesn't exist. (Remember the study suppressed by the Reagan Administration during the 1980s that found babies benefited significantly from the WIC program?)
That's why it's important now to press for rigorous government regulation of industry pollution, the national distribution of zero-emission automobiles, and the development of solar power as a universal, daily energy source.
Within a few years, the Republicans, and even the corporate skeptics, will have all the evidence of forthcoming disaster they can stand - a diseased populace, a desiccated planet, and a biological simmer. By then it will be too late.
From a column in The Capital Times on Madison, Wisconsin, by Alex Molnar, listing corporate-sponsored classroom aides" "Revlon wanted adolescent girls to know that the roots of self-esteem are in their hair and asked them to discuss the difference between a good hair day and a bad hair day.... Exxon sent thousands of videotapes to schools so children could earn that the Exxon Valdez oil spill wasn't so bad after all.... The Council for Wildlife Conservation (affiliated with the National Shooting Sports Foundation) wanted children to know that there are no endangered species."
Seeds of Reefer Madness
An item in the San Diego Union-Tribune on a "pot pen" found on a local high-school student: "The ballpoint pen, adorned by a green marijuana leaf and ostensibly stuffed with dozens of marijuana seeds, was seized from a junior at Southwest High School last week after she brought it to class. The girl has been suspended for three days while police check the authencity of the seeds.... The pen has markings Made in China and Pot Seed Pen - Real Marijuana Seeds stenciled on the body of plastic see-through base. "I've never seen anything like it,' said police officer C.J. Green.... The pen is marked with the disclaimer that the seeds are sterile, which means they cannot grow when planted. Marijuana seeds - whether sterile or not - are not psychoactive in themselves, authorities say. "I'm going to have the crime lab examine each and every seed,' said Green. `Then we will know what to do; we may be in a gray area of the law if the seeds are indeed sterile.' ... Green asked anybody with information on such devices to call the school police force."
Frontiers of Technology
As advertised in the Mac Warehouse computer catalogue: "New! Supermodels in the Rainforest. Explore the beauty and wonder of the Costa Rican rainforest with eight supermodels as your guides. Learn about the wondrous plants, animals, and insects through beautiful images, moving music, and insightful narratives from the models themselves. You can even interact with supermodel photo-sessions by controlling the camera and selecting from a variety of sequences. Snap the photos yourself as you build your personal photo album!"
Beating Back Veggie Terror
An Associated Press story datelined Phoenix: "Farmers say undue consumer fear hurts agriculture. A consumer's group says undue pesticide use hurts consumers. A lawsuit may result from their differences and a state law colloquially known as the `veggie hate-crimes act.' A farmer's group threatened Tuesday to use the state new law ... which allows farmers to easily get class-action status and sue for damages ... to fight what one grower called `consumer terrorism' ... by Ralph Nader's consumer lobby Citizen Action."
A story in the Chicago Tribune: "A family that was robbed in Disneyland's parking lot has sued Walt Disney Co., alleging that their children were traumatized when security guards took them to an office where the children saw Disney characters taking off their costumes... The family alleges they were subjected to hours of questioning as well as having Disney employee `exposing the children to the reality that the Disney characters were, in fact, make-believe.'"
An item in U.S.A. Today: "The Citadel's $2.7 million fight to keep women out of its all-male corps of cadets has forced its board of visitors to sell off most of the 80,000 Turner Broadcasting shares donated to it by owner Ted Turner, father of three Citadel graduates. ... The Citadel has used the money to pay legal fees to defend its admissions policy, mostly in the cases of Shannon Faulkner and Nancy Mellette."
Representing Henry Hyde, Republican of Illinois, quoted in the American Academy of Pediatrics newsletter, defending cuts in child-welfare programs to a pediatrician: "You mention balancing the budget as though that were somehow less meritorious a cause or goal than taking care of children."
The Higher Learning
An item in U.S.A. Today on Syracuse University chancellor Kenneth Shaw's decision to keep Otto the Orange as the school mascot, after convening an eighteen-member committee to study the issue: "I believe that, with the Orange, we retain a unique position in college athletics,' Shaw said. Committee members spent nine months searching for a new image."
On With the Bake Sale
From an article in The Gainesville Sun of Florida: "A military jet flown in combat missions during the Vietnam War has made a permanent landing in a more peaceful setting - the campus of Spring Hill Middle School in High Springs.... `I hope this symbol of technology and of America's greatness will make you reach inside yourself to do the best you can do,' Spring Hill principal Don Lewis told the more than 1,000 students assembled in front of the school."
Frontiers of Free Enterprise
From Cat Fancy magazine's "Meow Mart" section: "Political cat toys ... feature images of such political notables as President Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, and Rush Limbaugh.... The manufacturer suggests squeezing the doll's heads to activate the catnip."
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|Title Annotation:||increase in corporate profits at the expense of workers; unequal distribution of income|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1996|
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