30 January 2009

Somebody Had To Say It

I like Claire McCaskill's take on the present financial crisis and the use of TARP funds to pay executive bonuses in excess of $18 BILLION. "Idiots" is one word a person could use. "Criminals," unfortunately, is not a word you can use at the moment, but it seems like something about this mess ought to be against the law.

When an executive spends $1.2 million redecorating his office while his company is circling the drain (said decorations including "an $87,000 'area rug,' $28,000 for curtains, a $68,000 credenza and ... a $1,400 wastebasket," according to CNN's Campbell Brown), it is made perfectly clear that the executive class in the USA has largely lost the ability to police itself and must be reined in through other means.

I like the idea of capping all salaries at $400,000 per year, though I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that this bill will even make it out of committee. And no, this isn't about jealousy (okay, well, maybe a little of it is). It's about the good of the entire society. It's about the growing gap between labor wages and corporate wages. It's about 2% of the population holding a vast majority of the capital. It's about our lack of public will to eliminate poverty, hunger and lack of access to proper medical care, and people with the means to contribute the most lavishing themselves while children freeze to death on our streets this time of year.

In the Old Testament, care for the dispossessed and the lowest classes was one of the measures by which God judged the faithfulness of the people. Just so we're clear, that didn't cease to matter after the resurrection, folks - we still need to take care of each other, and if it takes handcuffs and prison time to bring certain portions of our population into line, so be it.


  1. An Open Letter From the Boss...

    Today at 1:35pm

    To All My Valued Employees,

    There have been some rumblings around the office about the future of this company, and more specifically, your job. As you know, the economy has changed for the worse and presents many challenges. However, the good news is this: The economy doesn't pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is the changing political landscape in this country. However, let me tell you some little tidbits of fact which might help you decide what is in your best interests.

    First, while it is easy to spew rhetoric that casts employers against employees, you have to understand that for every business owner there is a Back Story. This back story is often neglected and overshadowed by what you see and hear. Sure, you see me park my Mercedes outside. You've seen my big home at last years Christmas party. I'm sure all these flashy icons of luxury conjure up some idealized thoughts about my life. What you don't see is the BACK STORY:

    I started this company 28 years ago. At that time, I lived in a 300 square foot studio apartment for 3 years. My entire living apartment was converted into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you.

    My diet consisted of Ramen Pride noodles because every dollar I made went back into this company. I drove a rusty Toyota Corolla with a defective transmission. I didn't have time to date. Often times, I stayed home on weekends, while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business -- hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

    Meanwhile, my friends got jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a modest $50K a year and spent every dime they earned. They drove flashy cars and lived in expensive homes and wore fancy designer clothes. Instead of hitting the Nordstrom's for the latest hot fashion item, I was trolling through the discount store extracting any clothing item that didn't look like it was birthed in the 70's. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into a business with a vision that eventually, some day, I too, will be able to afford these luxuries my friends supposedly had.

    So, while you physically arrive at the office at 9am, mentally check in at about noon, and then leave at 5pm, I don't. There is no "off" button for me. When you leave the office, you are done and you have a weekend all to yourself. I unfortunately do not have the freedom. I eat, and breathe this company every minute of the day. There is no rest. There is no weekend. There is no happy hour. Every day this business is attached to my hip like a 1 year old child. You, of course, only see the fruits of that garden -- the nice house, the Mercedes, the vacations... you never realize the Back Story and the sacrifices I've made.

    Now, the economy is falling apart and I, the guy that made all the right decisions and saved his money, have to bail-out all the people who didn't. The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed a decade of my life for. Yes, business ownership has its benefits but the price I've paid is steep and not without wounds. Unfortunately, the cost of running this business, and employing you, is starting to eclipse the threshold of marginal benefit and let me tell you why:

    I am being taxed to death and the government thinks I don't pay enough. I have state taxes. Federal taxes. Property taxes. Sales and use taxes. Payroll taxes. Workers compensation taxes. Unemployment taxes. Taxes on taxes. I have to hire a tax man to manage all these taxes and then guess what? I have to pay taxes for employing him. Government mandates and regulations and all the accounting that goes with it, now occupy most of my time. On Oct 15th, I wrote a check to the US Treasury for $288,000 for quarterly taxes. You know what my "stimulus" check was? Zero.. Nada. Zilch.

    The question I have is this: Who is stimulating the economy? Me, the guy who has provided 14 people good paying jobs and serves over 2,200,000 people per year with a flourishing business? Or [insert slacker here] waiting for their next welfare check? Obviously, the government feels the latter is the economic stimulus of this country. The fact is, if I deducted (Read: Stole) 50% of your paycheck you'd quit and you wouldn't work here. I mean, why should you? That's nuts. Who wants to get rewarded only 50% of their hard work? Well, I agree, which is why your job is in jeopardy.

    Here is what many of you don't understand ... to stimulate the economy you need to stimulate what runs the economy. Had suddenly government mandated to me that I didn't need to pay taxes, guess what? Instead of depositing that $288,000 into the Washington black-hole, I would have spent it, hired more employees, and generated substantial economic growth. My employees would have enjoyed the wealth of that tax cut in the form of promotions and better salaries. But you can forget it now.

    When you have a comatose man on the verge of death, you don't defib. and shock his thumb thinking that will bring him back to life, do you? You defibrillate his heart. Business is at the heart of America and always has been. To restart it, you must stimulate it, not kill it. Suddenly, the power brokers in Washington believe the poor of America are the essential drivers of the American economic engine. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the type of change you can keep.

    So where am I going with all this. It's quite simple.

    If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, my reaction will be swift and simple. I'll fire you. I'll fire your co-workers. You can then plead with the government to pay for your mortgage, your SUV, and your child's future. Frankly, it isn't my problem any more.

    Then, I will close this company down, move to another country, and retire. You see, I'm done. I'm done with a country that penalizes the productive and gives to the non-productive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, will be my citizenship.

    So, if you lose your job, it won't be at the hands of the economy; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country, steamrolled the constitution, and will have changed its landscape forever. If that happens, you can find me sitting on a beach, retired, and with no employees to worry about....


    Mr. Dyer

    P.S. : No, I did not write this, but I could not have said it any better. While some wealthy people are reprehensible, most are not. Most are hard working people that make this country work and provide people like me a job. There is no difference between Wall Street greed and the "soak the rich" greed that has taken over our country. Please don't fall into the class warfare trap. We're all in this one together.

  2. Dyer, I've been writing for ten minutes and can't speak coherently for being angry. I respect your right to say what you said, and because you're my friend, it's going to stay here. But you couldn't have been more off the point. It's not about punishing the productive for being productive, or the wealthy for being wealthy: it's about the government stepping in and checking greed, corruption and incompetence, because apparently the executive class is unable to do so.

    When every American worker is guaranteed a minimum wage that can actually feed a family, access to quality medical care, and affordable housing, then we can start to talk about slackers and the productive, the wealthy and the not-so-much. But we aren't anywhere near that now, and $18 billion of the taxes you and I paid just went back into the pockets of those who were already guaranteed to sleep easy, healthy and well-fed tonight. It's obscene, and it should be criminal: end of story.

    PS: you're my friend. But you're wrong. And I've got the fork to back it up. :-)

  3. Mr. Johnson, I love you dearly. There is no anger here.

    Limiting pay is punishment for production. You clearly stated you supported this and I wanted to point out your folly. If this were to happen you'd see even more companies leave this country and therefore putting more people out of work. If you want government to check greed you will never see any progress. They are the biggest crooks of them all.

    I agree $1.2M for a new office and $50M for a new jet are horrible PR moves by these people and these people should have never been bailed out.

    Let's look at the current proposed stimulus. $335M for STD prevention, $10M for biking trails, $400M for diesel emission reduction, $75M for smoking cessation, $20M for fish barriers, $2.7B for for stem cell research, $50B to the national endowment of the arts etc etc etc...

    What's the difference? The Merril Lynch exec had to hire a decorator, hire contractors to remodel, buy furniture from a furniture store. All of these actions gave people jobs. That $1.2M did more to stimulate economic growth than most of the stimulus package. The $18B in bonus? Maybe it'll go to a yacht? A new Plane? A new vacation home? Those dollars go to products which are made by people. People that take that money and feed their families. Were you aware that the same person that remodeled that office has been hired to redecorate the White House? How much is that going to cost taxpayers? I'm ok with our president doing so. If it's ok for one why not another?

    My point is this: Wealthy execs can be idiots, they can take advantage of people, they can make some really boneheaded moves. But the biggest criminals of them all are the ones controlling our government, Republican, Democrat, it doesn't matter.

    That is where our efforts should be concentrated. Not on a few idiots.

    I love you, mainly because I'm still finding you long hair in my basement furniture ;)