There has been a trend, perhaps coincidental, of a continued drumbeat of feature movies with their sights set directly on corporate America. Specifically, I’m thinking of “The Corporation,” “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices” and “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” which is up for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars, broadcast March 5. What’s the problem with this spate, you say? Well, for this self-described centrist conservative, that they make a good claim.
Using interviews, documents and internal footage, the individual filmmakers make the case that conglomerates have passed a point where humans are knowingly and routinely being harmfully marginalized or dispensed with for the sake of profit. This is not a new argument, to be sure, but it is being made with a clarity and strength that Michael Moore, he of the creative editing, omission and emotion pimping, could only hope to obtain.
You cannot, in my opinion, hold yourself up as a truth-teller that will expose manipulations and obfuscations and then rely on the same tricks to propagate your message (at least without fueling derision). Those movies listed above, particularly “Enron,” lay out rationale and effective arguments illustrating against a harmful permeation by big business.
Free-market supporters (of which I count myself) should be horrified to learn that Enron kept itself afloat by purposely creating an energy shortage in California and then bidding up the available juice Wall Street commodity-style to ensure profits, all the while being legally allowed to project fictional high earnings for the sake of their stock market value.
Similarly loathsome is that Wal-Mart provides detailed instructions on how employees should get public housing, food stamps and Medicaid so that Wal-Mart is able to skirt costs and let it slide to the government while getting tax breaks from the same government. Tout Adam Smith if you want, but understand that the “Invisible Hand” was an argument against protectionism and against the equivalent of outsourcing, not the high sign to commit to kleptocracy.
“The Market” is created by events and the actions of people, and is not a stand-alone religion justifying prison workforces, fraud and perjury.
That being said, I’m not running off to found a commune of yurts. Businesses amass power, as they should as dynamos for employment. Social programs facilitated through taxation need funds to come from somewhere. Should there be balance? Yes, but don’t tell me that business wasn’t influential when Standard Oil made a billion dollars for John D. Rockefeller in the 1920s, when a can of tomatoes cost 13¢ and a 10 lb. bag of sugar cost 69¢.
This should not lead to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Why is it some of the most impassioned arguments I’ve heard for universal healthcare come from people rushing off to smoke during class break? Or that an institution like the Post Office tries to up-sell stamps, envelopes or tchotchkes like a movie theater hawking jumbo drinks or popcorn? Sensible moderation is the key.
Hollywood, a big business in its own right, has had a tradition of putting industry at odds with the people. How many movies have a band of plucky characters seeking to stave off destruction of their civic center/park/hangout/landmark by succeeding at a car wash/dance contest/downhill ski race/etc? These recent films differ by performing a public service in exposing malignancy. Though prosperous, these are not business models anyone should aspire to. The old truism is you get the government you deserve. Apply this line to commerce, and I think we deserve better.
Bush's 'Compassionate Conservatism' not found in budget
By Ron Felten - Columnist
President Bush signed last week the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which aims to cut almost $40 billion from student loans, farm subsidies, Medicare and various other federal programs.
Before he signed the bill on Wednesday, Bush spoke in New Hampshire, where he attempted to sell the “public” (members of the Business and Industry Association) on his plan.
“I look behind the numbers and see the quality-of-life issues,” Bush said. “Those of us who put [the proposal] together really did see the human dimension behind the budgeting.”
So, if that’s true – that Bush actually stopped to consider those he was planning to short-change – I guess it means that he ultimately just didn’t care about them. And while this is the Bush we’ve come to know and despise, it certainly is a far cry from the “compassionate conservative” he promised to be when campaigning in 2000.
And while Bush supposedly saw “the human dimension” behind his massive cuts, he did manage to increase spending in a few areas. Not surprisingly, both the military and homeland security will be sitting on fatter wallets next year.
Yet again, our federal government has shown its true colors: We don’t have enough money to provide our citizens with a quality education (or decent health care, for that matter) but we do manage to squeeze out the pennies required to buy “bigger guns,” which are supposed to somehow secure long-term peace. Interesting theory.
And if Bush’s neglect of students, the poor, the sick and the elderly wasn’t enough, he had the nerve during that same New Hampshire speech to mislead us once again. He said that he was trimming $14 billion from federal programs that aren’t performing well. A list of these programs, he said, could be found on a new Web site, ExpectMore.gov.
Why is this misleading? Well, as with anything that Bush says, I decided to check out his claims for myself. The site he referred to does, in fact, provide a list of government programs that are “not performing” but it is the way in which this determination is made that is suspicious.
The site breaks down these programs into two categories, those which are deemed “ineffective” and those which have “results not demonstrated.” The latter group includes programs that have been unable to “collect data to determine whether [they are] performing,” meaning that we don’t really know if they’re performing well or not. This list, it seems, is a bit inaccurate then, to say the least.
Furthermore, only 28 of the 219 programs listed were categorized as “ineffective,” meaning 191 – or 87 percent – of the programs listed may actually have been effective but simply had not collected the data to prove it.
A few Republicans have stepped up and publicly criticized at least portions of Bush’s plan. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), for example, was quoted by CNN as calling Bush’s proposed cuts in education and health care “scandalous.”
As usual, however, most Republicans are neglecting their responsibility to question Bush’s plans and are simply cheerleading. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) was quoted as saying, “Once again, House Republicans are on record as defending budget discipline.”
Discipline? Really? It’s interesting that our government, under Republican leadership, has been so irresponsible and so undisciplined with our country’s money. And not only that, but no one ever seems to be held accountable.
Remember last year’s report that said almost $9 billion that had been spent by the U.S. on reconstruction efforts in Iraq was (and still is) unaccounted for because of inefficiencies and bad management by the Coalition Provisional Authority? That organization’s leader, Paul Bremer, wasn’t fired or even criticized by Bush; instead, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
We know for a fact that our efforts in Iraq have been what ExpectMore.gov would classify as “ineffective.” Why and how, then, does Bush think throwing even more money at the problem will somehow fix it? In response to Mr. Blunt’s comment, I would consider Bush’s budget plans to be anything but “disciplined” and, in response to Bush, anything but “compassionate.”