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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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

FEMA’s Fake Press Conference–Even the White House Condemned

This would be funny if it weren’t so stupid. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA, apparently didn’t want to take the chance of facing hard questions about the California fires as they did when they completely messed up the response to Katrina two years ago.

So, the Washington Post reports, the agency set up a press conference with just 15 minutes notice, and invited reporters to listen in by phone (but NOT to ask questions).

Turns out the people asking questions were on staff at FEMA–no wonder they were such soft questions! Did they actually think no one would notice?

Democracy Now reports that even White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who shills without apparent shame for the Iraq war, for various repressions of domestic civil liberties, and for the Bush Administrations continued defense of megacorporate interests against ordinary folks, couldn’t stomach this one:

REPORTER: On Tuesday, FEMA’s deputy administrator held what was called a news briefing to talk about the California wildfires. And from what we understand, the questions were posed not by reporters, but by staffers, and that distinction was not made known. Is that appropriate?

DANA PERINO: It is not. It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House or that we — we certainly don’t condone it. We didn’t know about it beforehand. FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to try to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regards to the wildfires in California. It’s not something I would have condoned, and they, I’m sure, will not do it again.

Oh yes, and DN also notes that these people can’t claim ignorance. They’re a very media-savvy bunch:

DIANE FARSETTA: Right. Well, there were four staff people with FEMA who all had roles in dealing with the media. So I think it’s important to point out that these are not people who are not used to these type of situations. These are people who work at a federal agency that deals with emergency situations, and they work specifically with press. One of them, John Philbin, who’s — or who was, until last week, FEMA’s director of external affairs, he had a quarter-century career so far working in government with media, specifically working on crisis communication — marketing communications, brand management are his areas of expertise, and I think that’s what we really saw was brand management. They couldn’t have known — or they couldn’t not have known that this would reflect very poorly on FEMA if the word got out. And they basically seem to have been assuming that the word would not get out about what they were doing.

And to top it off, Philbin actually got a promotion. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

You’ve just got to wonder what on earth these people were thinking!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Two Slices of the Mortgage Scandal

Two news stories from earlier this month:

First, the CEO of Countrywide Bank is accused by the state of North Carolina of dumping stockshortly before the company’s poor performance became widely known.

What he did was amend his automatic withdrawal plan to sell his shares a whole lot faster–and the second time he did that was just as the stock was cresting. He’s converted $300 million from stock into cash.

The whole idea of an automatic stock sales plan, of course, is to protect against insider trading. Obviously, the system needs some tinkering.

According to the New York Times, North Carolina’s State Treasurer, Richard Moore, wasn’t very happy about this news:

“I’m steaming when I think of the schoolteachers, sanitation workers and firefighters who have taken a loss on this stock and he’s still cashing out,” Mr. Moore said yesterday in an interview. “Where is the sense of shared sacrifice?

North Carolina’s portfolio with Countrywide is about $9.5 million.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Jourjnal reported that Merrill Lynch had to write off $5.5 billion in third-quarter earnings, directly related to the subprime mortgage crisis and its self-admitted poor oversight. The weird thing is–its stock went up on the day of the announcement. I will never understand the stock market.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Searingly accurate cartoon comparing Repubs & Dems

The Village Voice ran a cartoon that strikes me as a searingly accurate comment on the state of Democrats and Republicans in the US right now.

It shows the GOP for the vicious manipulators and the Democrats for the spineless wimps they have shown themselves to be over and over again. It’s no longer Tweedledum and Tweedledee as it often seemed to be in the 1980s, but it’s not any kind of meaningful choice. If in November 2008, I’m asked to choose between, say, Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, I can tell you right now that I’ll be voting third-party, probably Green. And if you tell me I’m throwing away my vote, I’d counter that voting for either Clinton or Romney is throwing away my vote because neither of them come close to representing me. At least in the primaries, I’ll be able to vote my conscience.

Back in the 1970s, when I first became politically tuned in, the Democrats were a party that took pride in actually standing for something, and the mainstream Republicans of that era would be dismissed by today’s extremists as art of the looney-bird Left.

Other than Dennis Kucinich, i don’t see a lot of Dems willing to take a stand that could be in any way attacked by the right–and as a consequence, they generate no passion, no enthusiasm, and very few election victories. Where are the Barbara Jordans, the Tom Harkins, the Bella Abzugs, the Shirley Chisolms, the Ron Dellumss, the George McGoverns of today? and how is it that people so extremist they make Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan look like flaming liberals become mainstream? Whatever happened to conservatives who think for themselves, respect individual liberties, and demand government accountability?

And how much logner will the American people put up with such rotten choices before demanding a political system where third-party votes are not thrown away, and where the two big parties run peole that one might actually enjoy voting for?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Has Ann Coulter Stepped Over the Line?

I have always found Ann Coulter’s blend of racism, homophobia, and general bitchiness extremely distasteful. Proof, if you will (along with Bill O’Reilly), that good looks and brains are not enough; a certain degree of compassion is necessary as well. And that’s sorely lacking here.

Coulter’s latest crazy idea is that Jews need to be “perfected” by converting to Christianity. I didn’t make this up. I couldn’t make this up. It’s right here in the pages of one of Israel’s premier daily newspapers.

If you want to see the full range of Coulter’s insults against Jewish talk show host Donny Deutsch, you have to go here. I won’t dignify them by repeating them but they are classic Coulter.

I put this filth in the same category as Don Imus’s words about the women’s basketball team–a slur that eventually, when CBS finally woke up, cost him his job.

Isn’t it time for the major media to stop condoning Coulter’s hate speech and toss her off the air? Shouldn’t they have done this years ago? Free speech does not mean you need to buy and pay for a platform for people expressing this continuous level of vileness. If she were a high school student and said those words to another student in the school yard, she’d be prosecuted for hate speech. If the hate speech laws mean anything, she should not be allowed on mainstream media. That’s not censorship; it’s refusing to condone disgusting behavior. Censorship would be if she were prevented from writing or speaking, but it’s not censorship to say, go bring that trash somewhere else.

Let her buy her own damn TV network!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Another Wal-Mart Scandal: Property Taxes

Yes, Wal-Mart is the company I love to hate. Yes, even I said marvelous things about W-M in the aftermath of Katrina, and I respect that it has taken a leadership role on organic food and green energy–though not necessarily the way it’s going about those worthwhile endeavors (that’s a subject for another time).

Back in August, 2005, I summed up some of my objections:

I consider Wal-Mart a predatory company. Its supplier policies (demanding 10 percent reductions in contract costs every year, as I understand it) are largely responsible for the wave of outsourcing that has cost thousands of Americans good jobs–and for the severely substandard working conditions that prevail in many of those foreign sweatshops. Its employees subsist on wages so low that many of them are also on government assistance–a quiet subsidy from the United States to the world’s largest retailer, despite it huge profits. When workers in the meat department of one store in Ontario, Canada formed a union, the company closed the entire store rather than recognize the bargaining unit. And the company’s steamroller tactics in bringing in new stores where they’re not wanted and then abandoning many of them after a few years do not make it a good neighbor, in my opinion.

Of course, in the last few months, we’ve become painfuly aware that Wal-Mart and other companies’ reliance on foreign sweatshops may have health and safety consequences for Americans who end up with tainted toothpaste or whatever else China feels like slipping into its exports.

Well, here’s a new Wal-Mart scandal. A group called Good Jobs First has just released a study showing that Wal-Mart systematically attempts to chisel down its property tax assessments. The efforts are based out of corporate headquarters, and have been charted to 36.3 percent of all locations. In other words, Wal-Mart has tried to get its taxes lowered by lowering its claimed property value in more than one in three of it locations. Total amount saved on taxes, even though the company loses more of these fights than it wins: $28.8 million.

We sholldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the same company that has a very clear history of hiring part-timers and keeping them just under the benefit level, so the government essentially subsidizes the health insurance costs the company doesn’t have to pick up. I’d stop shopping there, except that I already don’t shop there.

Remember this next time your kids’ elementary school (funded, in most communities, by property taxes) has to lay off teachers or cut programs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who Killed E-Mail? Meet The Inventors of Spam

I was absolutely shocked to see a reference to a book by the infamous Canter & Siegel in one of the publishing discussion lists I participate in.

This is the response I sent:

Are they still around? I find their behavior utterly loathsome! Maybe 12 years ago when I was very new with Internet marketing, I ordered Canter & Siegel’s book from a book club–and lo and behold it was, “we invented newsgroup spamming, aren’t we great?”

Yup–these two are the ones who gleefully take credit for inventing spam, and thus killing the Internet as a viable one-to-one and one-to-many communication tool. I’m sure there’s a special circle in Hell reserved for them and a few thousand of their followers. If there is any justice, they will spend lifetimes chained to their computers, deleting unwanted mail until their eyes give out and they get a jolt of electricity every time they fall asleep over their keyboards. I wouldn’t give them a penny, I don’t care *what* they’ve done since.

Normally, if I buy a book I’m not crazy about, I figure it’s my tough luck and I give it away. I had a moral problem with this one, and I returned it for full credit–with a note encouraging them to think about dropping it from their catalog.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mr. “Legal Lynching” (Justice Clarence Thomas) is At It Again

Forgive me if I can’t work up too much sympathy for Justice Clarence Thomas. I didn’t find him credible during his confirmation hearings with his “poor, pitiful me” bit, and I don’t find him credible now, as I read about his new book.

And I always found it incredibly distasteful that he had the chutzpah to claim that being asked some questions about allegations of grossly unsuitable behavior–sexual harassment of an employee, in fact–was in the same category as a lynching. Just because you’re black doesn’t mean you get lynched if people ask you some tough questions. Questions that you still haven’t really ever answered in a meaningful way.

Thurgood Marshall, a man who truly deserved the term “Honorable” in front of his name, with a distinguished career not only as a jurist but earlier, as a lawyer, must be throwing up. (Marshall, you may not know, was one of the attorneys who argued the landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court. And Thomas inherited his seat on the Court.)

Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post cites a large pile of evidence that Thomas does not have clean hands in the Anita Hill matter–and cites his own words from the book to prove that he’s still just as angry, arrogant, and completely clueless as ever.

This is his own words about actually getting confirmed:

“Mere confirmation, even to the Supreme Court, seemed pitifully small compensation for what had been done to me.”

Sorry, Clarence, but you’re way off base. The Senate had the right and the duty to ask questions, and should have asked a lot harder ones about your views of the Constitution. Maybe if they had, we wouldn’t have been stuck with an extremist like you.

And if today’s Congress was more willing to ask similarly hard questions, we might not be fighting an illegal and unprovoked war in Iraq, we might still have some standing in a world community that increasingly sees the U.S. as a “rogue state,” and we might have found out who actually won the last two Presidential elections, both of which are shrouded in a veil of mystery and deceit.

If Clarence Thomas wants to take his toys and go home, fine. But don’t look to me to agree that he’s been done wrong.