Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

How Preventable was the Katrina Catastrophe?

One year after the massive failures around Katrina, this is still worth looking at.

According to investigative reporter Greg Palast--who has broken some of the most important stories of the past few years--responsibility to develop, duplicate, distribute, and execute an evacuation plan for New Orleans rested with a shadowy, and inexperienced, firm called Innovative Emergency Management (IEM). Palast claims IEM's major "qualification" is a solid track record of donations to Republican causes. He says this company cannot produce even a single copy of the plan that should have been in place, even though a core part of using such a plan is widely disseminate it to all the fire stations, hospitals, police unites, etc.

There was, however, a draft plan--that utterly failed to recognize that 127,000 New Orleaneans didn't have a car. Never mind that the highways were largely unusable between traffic jams and flooding.

Now--here's the really sad part: Dr. Ivor van Heerden, Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, warned FEMA ahead of time. Not only did he point out the large number of carless residents, he also mapped out exactly where these folks lived. And he predicted to FEMA and to the White House that the levees would be too short.

What thanks did he get? Here's Palast:

Dr. van Heerden offered this life-saving info to FEMA. They wouldn't touch it. Then, a state official told him to shut up, back off or there would be consequences for van Heerden's position. This official now works for IEM.

So I asked him what happened as a result of making no plans for those without wheels, a lot of them elderly and most of them poor.

"Fifteen-hundred of them drowned."

A bit later in the article:

Van Heerden astonished me with the most serious charge of all. While showing me huge maps of the flooding, he told me the White House had withheld the information that, in fact, the levees were about to burst and by Tuesday at dawn the city, and more than a thousand people, would drown.

Van Heerden said, "FEMA knew on Monday at 11 o'clock that the levees had breached… They took video. By midnight on Monday the White House knew. But none of us knew

Oh, and to top the whole thing off, guess who the Bush administration chose to investigate the failed evacuation plan--IEM! It's worse that putting the fox to guard the henhouse.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And Speaking of the Military-Industrial Complex--Who's Getting Rich Now?

War profiteers are at it again.The Boston Globe reports,

The estimated costs for the development of major weapons systems for the US military have doubled since September 11, 2001, with a trillion-dollar price tag for new planes, ships, and missiles that would have little direct role in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A Tyco-type in Baghdad

As if the scandals involving conduct of the war and treatment of prisoners weren't bad we find a U.S. Army Reserve officer who doesn't just have his hand in the cookie jar...he's sucking the contents out with a hose!

Both AP and UPI reported identical stories about Lt. Col. Bruce D. Hopfengardner and his extortion of "cash, cars, premium airline seats, jewelry, alcohol and even sexual favors" in order to throw massive contracts toward those bribing him.

He has pled guilty, as have the two men who wooed him with such "gifts" as "a white 2004 GMC Yukon Denali with a sandstone interior," a Harley-Davidson, and a $5700 watch.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What IS the Justification for "Re-secretizing"?

Come on, people--what possible justification can there be for re-classifiying ancient records of how many and which kinds of nuclear weapons the US government deployed through 1971? The stuff was made public, widely reported in newspapers at the time, and is completely irrelevant to today's security concerns.

And as a taxpayer, I can only hope this is a typo: The Department of Energy alone...

...has reported to Congress that 6,640 pages have been withdrawn from public access (at a cost of $3,313 per page)

The cost per page cited here is almost exactly half the number of pages, so I'm hoping someone garbled their statistics. Surely there are better uses for $21,998,320 than to obscure information from a public that already has access, but now has to work much harder; if you've never had the "pleasure" of scanning old newspapers on microfilm, I can tell you that the Web is a heck of a lot easier. These are the people that are supposed to be fiscally conservative? What can they be doing to run up three thousand dollars in expenses for every single page?

Is this just a case of Bush Administration paranoia, or is it still another instance of a more disturbing trend to take away the rights of Americans, pull down the curtain on any sort of openness in government, and make it ever-harder for journalists and researchers to do their work?

Unfortunately, I suspect the latter.

Vacation Shrinkage: This Makes Me Very Sad

40 percent of American consumers have no plans for a vacation over the next six months. And that makes me very sad.

In many countries, vacation is almost a divine right. Four or even six weeks of vacation is the norm, and those vacations are used. In the US, unless you're a teacher, you're lucky if you even get two weeks. And even then, according to the Travel Industry Association,

The average American expects his or her longest summer trip to last only six nights. And it takes three days just to begin to unwind.

One of the reasons I am self-employed is that I like vacations. I don't have anyone paying my salary when I'm traveling, but I usually manage to get about six weeks off per year (in chunks of anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks). That recharge time is soooo important!

Fortunately, at least a few companies, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, are beginning to recognize the importance of time off. The accounting giant (with 29,000 employees) closes the company completely for 10 days around Christmas and 5 at July 4th.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bush and Torture: More Self-Protective Rules Changing

They still don't get it! No matter how many times the courts and Congress tell them that torture is not OK, the Bush "do-it-my-way" Executive branch continues to duck, to twist, and to cause shame for thinking Americans.

The latest, as reported in the Washington Post, is a scheme to retroactively immunize CIA and other government torturers by making their crimes no longer crimes.


Meanwhile the Bushies yap about how taking away the "right" to spy on American citizens will mess up their war on terror, which they've messed up quite well enough without outside help. Fortunately, yet another judge disagreed with them.

Sooner or later, it will have to dawn on these people that they are, in fact, bound by the laws they are charged with upholding. Meanwhile, there's always the voting booth--IF we can be assured that those who count the ballots aren't trying to throw the election again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Kyle MacDonald: Inspiring Story of Creating Abundance without Money

I have been writing about abundance for many years--and particularly the idea that you can have an abundance-filled life even if your wallet is approaching empty. This is the focus of my first website, Frugal Fun, which I set up back in 1996--and of my fourth book, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook, from back in 1995.

So when my friend Bob Burg wrote in his wonderful Winning Without Intimidation newsletter about Kyle MacDonald, a young Internet- and media-savvy Montrealer who traded a single paperclip, and then traded the resulting trades, until he ended up--in only 14 steps--the proud owner of a house, I went off to view the TV segment.

ABC's 20/20 did an eight-minute profile on Kyle's journey--and eight minutes on network TV is kind of like the amount of coverage when a major head of state dies. Many news segments are under two minutes.

He started by posting his paperclip, and his dream, on Craig's List, and it spiraled out from there to inclue encounters with rock star Alice Cooper, among others.

It took him exactly a year. Oh yes, and he clearly had a great deal of fun along the way!

Each trade was carefully documented--though the TV segment doesn't answer the question of who flew whom around the US and Canada to connect, and at what cost. The recent trades, obviously had a lot of media attention, and probably a lot of media footing the bill. But I wonder how it worked out in the beginning. If the goal is to create abundance, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to interject plane fare.

Kyle's own site is called, not surprisingly, One Red Paperclip--and perhaps also not surprisingly, it's actually a Blogger blog--which means it's free.

You go, guy!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Buffy Sainte-Marie: Censored in the 60s?

The most famous Native American musician of my generation and a bit older is Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer and songwriter who was never afraid to be political. She had numerous songs about peace and about Indian rights. In the early 80s, I actually got to interview her at some length for a long profile that was published in a computer magazine (the focus of the story was the many unique ways she used her Macintosh.)

Now an article posted on the Indian Country website alleges that she was the target of a campaign of deliberate suppression by the US government. That in fact, there was a widespread campaign to suppress political rock music during the years of Democrat Lyndon Johnson's presidency--and this campaign went so far as to at least consider assassination attempts.

Sainte-Marie says she was blacklisted and, along with other American Indians in the Red Power movements, was put out of business in the 1970s.

''I found out 10 years later, in the 1980s, that [President] Lyndon Johnson had been writing letters on White House stationary praising radio stations for suppressing my music,'' Sainte-Marie said in a 1999 interview with Indian Country Today at Dine' College...

In the United States, her records were disappearing. Thousands of people at concerts wanted records. Although the distributor said the records had been shipped, no one seemed to know where they were. One thing was for sure: They were not on record store shelves.

''I was put out of business in the United States.''

Sainte-Marie is someone who I don't believe would make this accusation unless she truly believed it--she has always struck me as a person of great integrity. But she's got her dates wrong. "Universal Soldier" was first recorded in 1964; Johnson, known as a strong-arm kind of a guy from his days as a leader in the Senate, was President from 1964 to 1969--a time when protest music and counterculture music filled the airwaves. While it wouldn't be entirely out of character for him, this kind of action seems a bit of a stretch. Richard Nixon (of whom these accusations could more easily be believed) was president from 1969-74.

The Indian Country article focuses on a court suit by one Charles August Schlund III, who

...stated he is a covert operative and supports Sainte-Marie's assertions that the United States took action to suppress rock music because of its role in rallying opposition to the Vietnam War.

However, Schlund has not established credibility in my mind, and comes across in this article as pretty flaky. He sees a vast conspiracy to replace rock with the (often politically conservative) country music genre, orchestrated by the Rockefellers in order to control the natural resources of Vietnam.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

BP: Does the Emperor Really Have New Clothes?

Sigh. I should have known it was probably too good to be true. For the last few years, I've been praising oil giant British Petroleum's many environmental initiatives, and suggesting to my friends that BP, or Venezuelan-sourced Citgo, are better choices for gas purchasing than, say, Exxon-Mobil or Chevron-Texaco.

But now, I'm not so sure. Investigative reporter Greg Palast, who's broken some of the top stories of the last decade, including the scrubbing of thousands of black (and likely Democratic) voters from the Florida voter rolls prior to the 2000 election, accuses BP of dastardly deeds, including
  • Ignoring a well-reported corrosion problem in Alaska until fixing it could be timed to include a shutdown of critical facilities during the summer heat season and an Enron-style squeeze of customers and price-jacking.
  • Engaging in a pattern of intimidation and retribution against internal critics, whether or not they go public
  • Failing to clean up the Exxon Valdez spill for which they had taken responsibility

  • Of course I haven't verified these accusations--but Palast has a very good track record. Fortunately, there are a couple of Citgo stations near me.

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    The NORAD 9/11 Tapes: Shocking but Not Incriminating

    For several years, I've wondered about the failure to scramble fighter planes on 9/11 to intercept the hijacked jets. I've ready all the conspiracy theories, and agree that the series of coincidences is not plausible, and probably not random. However, now that the transcripts of NORAD's Northeast control center (NEADS) have been released, it seems very clear to me that whatever conspiracies might have been in play, NORAD's controllers weren't a part of it.

    Michael Bronner, writing in Vanity Fair, uses the actual transcripts of NORAD/NEADS control room operations on that fateful day, with his explanation and commentary. Bronner, an associate producer on the movie United 93, has the background to interpret what the cryptic military language actually means--and most of his commentary is simply explaining what we hear (yes, you can actually listen to several brief clips).

    The article is long, and includes large sections of actual transcripts. I recommend printing it out and reading carefully (and listening to some of the clips).

    What I come away with...
  • NORAD did absolutely the best job they could, given the lateness and dearth of information that should have been pouring into them from the first moment it was known that one plane had been hijacked
  • The government was completely unprepared for the possibility that planes would be hijacked by trained pilots who would know to turn off the transponder beacons that establish aircraft location for air traffic controllers
  • They only had four fighter jets to scramble, and they did scramble them, as well as call in additional resources so that by day's end, 300 jets were patrolling American cities--but because of the late notice and the equipment's failure to track planes with transponders disabled, they couldn't intercept--and misinformation such as the belief that American flight 11 was still airborne and headed for Washington (not to mention that there were reports of over a dozen possible hijackings) didn't help
  • There may have been a cover-up in NORAD's testimony to the 9/11 Commission--but the incorrect testimony just as easily could have been faulty memory or misunderstanding rather than malice
  • Any order to shoot down civilian aircraft could only come from the President--and as we all know, GWB was reading children's stories in Florida at the time
  • Dick Cheney lied about agonizing over the decision whether to shoot down Flight 93, which crashed in the Pennsylvania farm field within seconds of his first being notified that it was off course

  • What this article establishes in my mind is that NORAD's people behaved phenomenally well under conditions more stressful than any in history--but they had antiquated and inadequate equipment, antiquated and inadequate and in some cases completely false information, and no chance to preemptively block the hijackers from reaching their targets.

    I commend their courage, and I thank Vanity Fair for running the article. Now...was there a conspiracy involving other aspects of 9/11?

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Wiretapping Compromise: All I Can Say is "I Agree"

    Boston Globe op-ed on why the "compromise" on domestic spying is not a compromise but a surrender to the anti-democratic forces. Interesting reflections on the role of the Roberts court.