Friday, August 6, 2010

I Have a (Pipe) Dream

Welcome. I’m La Piazza Gancio, and tonight on Interview we're pleased to have as our guest Dick Peanus.

Dick is the Chairman and CEO of the Deities, a corporate amalgamation of banks, investment houses, oil companies, credit card companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and healthcare providers.

Me: Hello and thank you for coming.

Dick smiles smugly and nods.

Me: I’d like to talk about business. Particularly in the midst of what appears to be the greatest financial catastrophe since the Great Depression. How are the Deities coping?

Dick: Through savvy management and the careful allocation of resources, the Deities have successfully weathered the storm and posted a seventy-billion dollar profit last quarter.

Me: Seventy-billion dollars! And that’s profit—not sales?

Dick: Yes.

Me: Isn’t that a bit more than just weathering the storm?

Dick: Well, in order to maintain market share, profitability and to serve our shareholders, changes had to be made. It didn’t just happen.

Me: What kind of changes?

Dick: It was necessary to divest ourselves of many of our human assets. These divestitures were a very painful and difficult decision.

Me: You mean you fired people.

Dick: Yes. It was either that or shut the doors. We have a responsibility to our shareholders, and we take that responsibility very seriously.

Me: I find it hard to believe that with extensive holdings in pharmaceuticals, oil, healthcare and on Wall Street that the Deities are or were in trouble.

Dick: You’d be surprised. Our operations and development costs are enormous, and they’re not going down any time soon. A good example is the cost of attracting the top drawer financial talent we need to develop new sources of revenue and keep them ahead of the curve.

Me: So the profits you make not only on Wall Street, but in pharmaceuticals, healthcare and oil barely cover expenses? Is that what you’re telling me?

Dick: You forget that we have shareholders. This isn’t just about us. There’s a bigger picture out there.

Me: How many shareholders are there?

Dick: Millions.

Me: I see. And how many shares do you own in the Deities?

Dick: I couldn’t tell you.

Me: I can. Six million. And when combined with the ten members of your executive board, the total goes to twenty-six million, or nearly three-quarters of the outstanding shares. So when you say ‘shareholders’, isn't that just code for you and the board?

Dick: I assure you, there are millions of shareholders. Secondly, every CEO and board member has stock options. It is commonplace for people in those positions to receive company stock as part of their compensation packages. There's nothing unusual about that.

Me: So let me get a handle on this. In addition to your traditional salaries, you also receive bonuses—which are unrelated to company performance. And then stock on top of that. Is that correct?

Dick nods yes.

Me: As the majority stockholder, isn't it conceivable that you stand to benefit personally from actions which don’t necessarily benefit the company as a whole?

Dick: Your point being?

Me: For instance, when company performance suffers because of wholesale layoffs, Wall Street blindly applauds the cost-cutting and the value of your stock goes up. You and the board consequently get to stuff your pockets with cash.

Dick: Look. We’re not a social welfare agency. It’s not our job to make sure that every American has a job.

Me: What exactly is your job?

Dick: To plot the course of the future. To turn a profit. To maintain and increase shareholder value.

Me: 'Shareholder' being, for all intent and purposes, you and the ten board members.

Dick: No comment.

Me: It leaves me speechless as well, Dick. Let’s turn to a different topic. How much in tax breaks, tax loopholes and corporate subsidies does the Deities receive annually?

Dick: I’m sure I don’t know.

Me: And what did the Deities contribute to political campaigns during the last election cycle? What did you spend on lobbyists?

Dick: I’m a CEO—not some accountant who tracks petty cash.

Me: Is that what you call one hundred and ninety-seven million dollars? Petty cash?

Dick shrugs his shoulders non-chalantly.

Me: But yet you needed to lay-off 13,000 employees because your revenue streams were drying up.

Dick: We’ve done nothing illegal.

Me: Only because you’ve purchased the law-makers and dictated the law.

Dick: As I said a minute ago, we’ve done nothing illegal. Every course of action taken by the Deities is completely within the law and upholds our responsibility to our stakeholders.

Me: Okay. Tell us about your 4 America campaign.

Dick: (brightening) In the Deities’ ongoing effort to promote good health, we are offering an American flag to anyone who participates in a health care plan administered by the Deities, or obtains a prescription for a pharmaceutical manufactured by one of our subsidiaries. However, pre-existing conditions may affect availability.

Me: (laughs) Yet at the same time, you’re throwing tens of thousands of people onto public relief rolls and taking away their health care coverage while you collect hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate subsidies and dodge millions more in taxes by claiming that the Deities are headquartered in a one-bedroom apartment on the Isle of Man. Curious form of patriotism, don’t you think?

Dick: (angrily) Who underwrote the Matisse exhibit at the Guggenheim? And the Eugene O’Neill playhouse on public TV? Who brought the Ballet Company of Sierra Leone to Lincoln Center? Who organized fund-raising for the two Pandas on loan from China at the National Zoo? We did!

Me: And you received still-another tax break for doing it! And then you turn around and buy fear-mongering politicians who campaign on the threat of an unprecedented transfer of wealth should a Democrat take office and enact budget-busting social programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance. Is that correct?

Dick stares resolutely ahead.

Me: Dick, isn’t it true that there is indeed an unprecedented transfer of wealth occurring in this country, but that it’s flowing upstream, not down? Isn’t it true that while income for the middle class has increased just twenty percent since 1979, income for the wealthiest one or two percent of has increased over one hundred and seventy percent in the same period? Isn’t it true that you and the elected representation you buy are in fact stealing the country as you consign the poor and middle classes to what will eventually be an existence of Industrial Age slavery? Isn’t it true? Isn’t it?

Dick says nothing.

Me: Tell me I have it wrong, Dick. Please.

Dick: (tersely) For the last time, everything we have done is within the framework of the law. We have done nothing illegal.

Me: So your best answer is that you haven't broken any of the laws you had your employees in the DC office write. What a sterling achievement. (Disgustedly) Goodnight, America.

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