Faster Than Comcast

Comcast’s worst nightmare: How Tennessee could save America’s Internet via @Salon

Great article about how public utilities are serving customers better than the telecommunications companies.  It shows both that public investments are sometimes better than private companies, and if big corporations lose they will abandon their free market principles faster than rats on a sinking ship. 

How to Sell Out

It seems that in the current music business and the arts in general it is very hard to make any kind or real money unless one dances with corporate America.  With the record business and radio in decline, even though pubic radio is becoming more and more viable for getting artists heard, one of the best ways for young artists to get their music heard is through commercials.  Many film directors also get their start in commercials. 

In the past, because record companies actually had money to promote artists that were not top tier moneymakers, and because the power of radio, it was seen as selling out if one sold their song to a commercial.  Artists like Bruce Springsteen still do not allow their music to appear in commercials.  I highly respect him for this, but let’s be honest, he has enough money that he doesn’t need to do that.  I also read that Kanye West does not allow his work to be used in commercials.  Whatever one things of him that is to be commended at least.  But again he is someone that doesn’t need the exposure or the money. 

I grew up highly influenced by punk rock.  There still seems to me, even though I realize the rules of the game have changed, something disheartening about putting songs in commercials.  It seems to have a corrupting influence on art, as once you hear a song in a Cheetos commercial or whatever, it can be hard to disassociate that song with that product.  Art should also speak truth to power, not walk hand in hand with it.  However, I do know that Hank Williams did commercials, and no one doubts that he was one of the greats.  There are also more ethical ways to sell out.  Moby allows his songs to be played in commercials, but then he uses a fraction of the money towards causes that he believes in.  For instance he will allow his music to be in a car commercial, but then use some of that money for environmental groups.  He is using the money of the company in direct opposition to what that company does. 

After watching a few really awful commercials at the AMC theater last night, I thought of an even better way to sell out.  The one commercial was a bunch of musicians making really bad music with coke bottles or some such nonsense.  Part of my brain slowly died during that shit.  So I think that artists should only allow their art to be used in commercials if they are given enough money to purchase a high end military vehicle like a tank.  Then they should personally drive that tank to the corporation headquarters that gave them the money and blow it up.  The artist would get paid and get exposure.  Meanwhile the general public would not have to watch any more stupid fucking commercials by that company.  What do you think of that? 

P.S.  The last paragraph is a joke if the NSA happens to be reading along.  I swear! 

Climate Change Already Seen in the U.S.

A report came out today that talks about how climate change is already causing major effects in the U.S.  The above is a link to a New York Times article summarizing that report.  It makes me sad and angry to think that so many people are confused on this issue due to corporate misinformation.  Change is coming and we need to get serious about how we deal with it.  “If you don’t know this, then what do you know?”

Extra points to anyone that knows the song that last quote is from.  

The Brothers that Created Modern America

For any of you interested in American history, and understanding how we got to where we are now, I cannot recommend the book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War enough.  It was written by Stephen Kinzer, who is the national cultural national cultural correspondent for the New York Times.  This book is incredibly fascinating and very well written. 

John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State under President Eisenhower and Allen Dulles was the head of the CIA.  Both worked for the corporate law firm Sullivan & Crowell.  Their father was a minister.  They brought together the interests of big business, interventionist foreign policy, and especially in the case of John Foster Dulles, missionary religious beliefs, in a way that had never been done before. 

Their grandfather, who was also Secretary of State, was the first Secretary of State to help overthrow a foreign country.  He helped bring about an end to the reign of the monarchy in Hawaii.  They grew up in the realm of the exclusively white patriarchal ruling elite.  Both brothers went back in forth in their careers between representing large corporations and representing our government. Both believed that the US had a role in shaping the world.  Often their policy beliefs were in line with what the interests were for large corporations. 

I am only partially through the book at this point, and I want to read more before I say too much.  However, if you want to understand how the modern world was created in the world after World War II, I already know that this book is essential reading. 

I was a History Major for most of my college career before finally graduating in American Studies.  The wider you cast your net when learning history, the more time and people you cover, the harder it can be to understand the specifics of what was happening and why.  That is why a class concerning the history of the Civil War is so much more interesting than a broad American History class.  You are able to get down into the nitty gritty of things.  By focusing on the Dulles brothers, who were fundamental in shaping US policy, this book makes understanding this period of history easy to those that might not be well versed in it.  However, this book is full of revelations even for those of you that might have read different texts concerning this time period.  If you are interested in our history, or troubled by the current US, I can already say that this is essential reading. 

Advertising Absurdity

The above link is to Axe’s Make Love Not War Super Bowl ad.  I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, so I am only just becoming aware of this ad as of a week or two ago during some kind of online streaming.  If this ad’s purpose is to make you give up all hope and surrender to our corporate overlords, it might have achieved its purpose.  “Please Lord”, I thought after watching this ad, “give me a lobotomy.”

I was reading Rebecca’s Solnit’s Landscapes for Politics this morning. She was talking about a company that built Trident missiles during the Cold War and how they used famous landscape paintings as their public image.  This is even more absurd because the company was polluting those very landscapes. 

Companies will co-opt anything.  They are like giant leviathans that will eventually swallow anything in their path for any purpose that they deem useful.  No art or culture is safe from this.  One only needs to think of all of the 60’s counter culture rock songs that have been used in car commercials. 

The best that we can hope for is that artists, musicians, comedians, and writers will stay one step ahead of the game.  We need people that will produce new works that will point to the absurdity in our country and the injustice and insanity that often results from this.  This is because eventually all of these works run the risk of being integrated into the system.  

Democracy for Sale

Last night was spent revising a paper that will appear as a chapter in an environmental book.  I wrote the paper with my girlfriend Abby, who is an Environmental Science and Policy graduate.  I have also been taking classes at St. Edward’s University in Environmental Science and Policy, though I have taken this semester off as my gig schedule has gotten too hectic.  The paper and the chapter are called Oceans for Sale.  It is about the ties between ocean acidification and the group the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is also known as ALEC.  The paper was based on a speech that Abby and I gave at an environmental conference in Costa Rica last summer.  She handled the complex scientific issues and I handled the politics. 

I want to lay down a little about ALEC, although I don’t want to give too much of the paper away as other people have invested a lot of time making this book happen.  ALEC is a group that tries to influence politicians, mostly at the state level, with a corporatist right wing agenda.  They are not a lobbyist group.  We will see why they are able to do away with the traditional notion of lobbyists in a moment.  They claim that they are into education and therefore are tax exempt. 

ALEC creates model legislation that legislators at the state level can use to base real legislation on once they go back to their respective statehouses.  ALEC holds conferences and flies legislators out to these conferences, which are often at nice hotels in nice places.  ALEC even goes as far as flying the legislators’ family out and provides them with daycare so a couple can have fun while they are visiting one of these conferences.  At these conferences they write this model legislation where the heads of corporations and the politicians have the same level of influence into what goes into them.  When the legislators go back to their respective statehouses the legislation they introduce often includes verbatim language from this model legislation.  Again this model legislation is written in part by corporations.  These corporations want bills that favor their economic interests. 

The reason why ALEC is not a lobbyist group is simple.  They don’t need lobbyists in the traditional sense.  The legislators become the lobbyists when they go back to their statehouses.  They are called Super Lobbyists.  These are people that are part of our government carrying out the work of corporations. 

The paper I wrote focuses on ALEC’s dubious environmental legislation.  Often when there is legislation favoring the fossil fuel industry and legislation that tries to stifle renewable energy, ALEC has a hand in it.  The fossil fuel industry is a big supporter of ALEC.  However, energy policy isn’t the only thing that ALEC has its hands in.  It helps past legislation on a whole host of issues that pertain to a corporate right wing agenda.  The Stand Your Ground law in Florida, made famous in the Trayvon Martin case, was based on ALEC model legislation.  Yep, the gun industry is also a big supporter of ALEC.  Anti-union and education legislation has also been influenced by ALEC.  I could go on and on. 

What this represents is the selling of our democracy.  Even if you are a Republican, you should be able to see how these practices are unethical, if not illegal.  They subvert the will of the people and give power to those who have the most money.  Whether you are a Republican or Democrat I would hope that you would want people in government that are passing legislation that is in the best interest of their constituents and not the corporations. 

Corporations at their worst will pillage the land and destroy the rights of workers.  They will align themselves with religion so long as religion suits their end goals.  However, as soon as they have everything that they want, when there is no more resources to mine, no more markets to exploit, when they can find cheaper labor elsewhere, they will move on.  We need legislators which, while not stifling the creativity of the market, protect us from its greatest excesses.  

The Failure to Adapt

I saw the movie Glengarry Glen Ross last night for the first time.  It was a portrayal of the sales world that, although highly exaggerated in its language, rang too true in many cases.  I worked in sales and customer service for about six years.  My brother, who commented on the film’s depressing outlook, was also laughing at some of the darkly comic dialogue.  Meanwhile I felt my blood pressure going up as I relived certain situations that I have seen.

The movie tells the story of people in a real estate sales office.  In the beginning of the film Alec Baldwin, who plays a character that represents upper management, comes into the sales office and gives them an epic dressing down for their poor sales performances.  This sets the train of events that takes place in the movie and includes arguments, lying, and thievery.

The David Mamet play that this movie was based on was first performed in 1983 and the movie came out in 1992.  I don’t know how offices were in those years, but knowing how they are now, I knew that the dialogue was an exaggeration.  This movie has so many fucks in it that it became known to the cast as “Death of a fucking salesman.” In the neutered politically correct corporate world of today this kind of outwardly expression of vulgarity would never take place.  Sure, it might take place at moments or in some companies, but over all people would not be allowed to talk to each other like that.  However, this does not mean that the dialogue is untrue.  In its absurd exaggeration it exposes the feelings that I have seen in many coworkers and bosses.  It takes what often is going on inside in reality and moves it outside.

Earlier today I read an article about Hirdoo Onoda.  Onada was a Japanese soldier on a remote island in the Philippines that fought World War II for 29 years after the Japanese surrendered.  He believed that the war was still being fought so many years after it was over.  During this time he killed around 30 islanders who he believed to be enemy combatants.

Watching the movie, and watching these alpha males fight over such pathetic rewards, I couldn’t help but think that in our society we often behave in ways that are historically obsolete.  The men in this movie, and so many people in the business world, have some kind of delusion that they are part of some kind of lost warrior clan.  They are fighting and competing in ways that have no basis for what is needed in the modern world.  They are debasing their own and others dignity for nothing more than Willy Loman’s gold watch.  They behave with the ruthlessness of some kind of ancient guerilla general all for a couple extra bucks and a bigger desk.

In a global world with such global problems as climate change we must seek to see each other’s basic humanity.  The competition of tribes and clans, which the unfettered market still fosters in us, is out of date and will lead to our destruction.  Trouble always arises in the world when times change, but people fail to adapt.

Dealing With the Dark

I am in love with the world, yet I often hate what we have done with it.  Film, paintings, music, literature, poetry, architecture, and the best art of all, nature; leaves me filling out the hours of my days until they go by like mere blips.  But why do we often seem so hell bent on destruction and stupidity?  There are so many things to fall in love with and get excited about.  I don’t care if one is interested in sports or reading, how can one be bored?

Yet there are greedy people out there that would be happy to see us all wallow in the mud.  We would be nothing but indentured servants if the politics and markets of the corporations would be allowed to be followed out to their furthest conclusion.

This is not to say that markets are not important.  My brain freezes when things are reduced to simple Fox News propositions like the left is anti-market.  Sure there are those on the left that are.  But most people, left and right, are more complicated.  The TV news is no place for complexities and shades of grey.  We need a combination of markets and safety nets for those markets.  Most of my republican friends are reasonable if only talked to.  Most of us on the left are as well.

I watched Colbert and Stewart last night and was dumbfounded at some of the clips that they pulled up.  I only need to think of the recent past and of things like Freedom Fries to remember how ignorance can take over.  Remember after 911 when any kind of antiwar sentiment was seen as aiding and abetting the enemy?

It helps to remember the beauty of the world, because then you know what you are fighting for.  Don’t ever get completely lost down the rabbit hole of cynicism.  One can love and hate without contradicting oneself.  On the very same day that I hear a melody that fills my soul with wonder, I can also hope to see Ted Cruz go down in a flurry of shame and disgrace.  Don’t forget about the light when dealing with the dark.

Are We a Stupid Country?

I go back and forth in my mind about how stupid the American public is.  Just go to Huffington Post and look at the most popular stories on the side of the page.  I bet you can already guess that it isn’t usually the most important ones!  However, there are two tales to tell here.

Let’s start with Huffington Post.  I read Huffington Post most when I worked a day job.  There is no better time to be on the internet than when you are working a meaningless job.  Often by mid-afternoon I would joke with my coworkers that I had found the end of the internet.  One time I had a friend tell me that they hadn’t seen me on facebook for a year.  I told her that was because I wasn’t working a day job that year!  Alas, while surfing the world wide internet at work, I did also have to do some actual work.  So I couldn’t read any articles that were actually deep and meaningful.  Plus my bosses were usually destroying what mental abilities I did bring into the office that day.  So while I was at work, I usually did seek out articles that were more trivial and inane.  I needed to keep it light or someone was going to die.  It makes me think that what could be driving up the stupid factor at Huffpo is a whole nation of people at meaningless jobs just killing time.  There are a lot of meaningless jobs in this country.  It’s a good theory at least.  It also makes me think that the most obvious answer isn’t necessarily the right one.

Now let’s get back to the American people.  There is a side to me that wants to say that this country is really fucking stupid.  It’s when I see that we have turned so much of this nation into one big giant shopping mall.  It’s when I see what’s popular on TV.  It’s when I see the leaders that we elect most of the time.  It’s when I see that we don’t listen to scientists on things like climate change.  There’s a lot of evidence to support the “we’re fucking stupid” viewpoint.

There is a difference between being naturally stupid and being put in an environment that keeps you from reaching your full potential.  Look at how many schools are being changed from being places of critical thinking to places that create worker bees.  Think of the jobs that you have had.  Is it the smart people that critically think that rise to the top, or the people that don’t ask too many questions?  In corporate America it almost pays to be stupid.  Or at least it pays to be stupid in every way but making money.  The powers that be want people to be good at things that create wealth, but they don’t want people asking too many questions.

Another thought is that it takes wits to survive in this economy.  You make $25,000 dollars a year and you have to support three kids, in a country that has almost no safety net when compared to other industrialized nations.  You need to pull some shit out of your ass to do that!  You’ve got to be crafty.  It takes a lot more brain power and work to survive on minimum wage than it does to survive on millions.  When you are a millionaire you can just have other people do things for you.

Maybe some, but not all, of the dumb decisions that we make are just because people are burned out and tired.  When they get home from working two jobs they don’t have the energy to read Moby Dick.  It’s much easier to put on Who Wants to Blow a Millionaire and let your thoughts empty.  I know that’s what I would do if I was working two jobs.

Maybe as a people we aren’t stupid.  Maybe it’s just that the rich have gotten too much power and created a system that keeps people from reaching their true potential.  Like I said, I go back and forth on this.  I’d love to see this nation become a place where people are at least given more of a chance to prove how smart they are.

The Worker’s Dilemma

I used to do Customer Service at Cingular Wireless, which was eventually bought out by AT&T.  I did a little bit of sales, but mostly just tried to help people with their problems.  I think at some point when I first started I signed some kind of nondisclosure agreement.  But if they think some kind of piece of paper is going to prevent me from telling the truth, they’re fucking crazy.

This was the sort of super controlled corporate work environment where everything you did was under scrutiny.  You couldn’t even go to the bathroom without punching some numbers into your computer.  Your phone calls were often listened to, your computer was monitored, and you were instructed very carefully about how to explain things to customers.  The kind of language that you used was very important.  You weren’t even allowed on the phones before you took six weeks of training classes.

Often people were angry when they called in.  This could be for any number of reasons.  Sometimes it was a legitimate grievance with the company, and sometimes the people just were angry for no good reason at all.

It’s normal in a company to have them want to put the best face on things as possible.  If you work in sales or customer service and you tell the truth all of the time, many companies would simply cease to exist.  Often the worker is put in the undesirable place of wanting to keep their job and at the same time wanting to help the customer with integrity as best they can.  That’s not to say there aren’t some malicious fools out there that buy lock, stock, and barrel into company policy.  Some people drink the Kool-aid with zest.

Let me give you an example from another company first.  I did sales in the moving industry.  One of the companies that I worked for, which no longer exists, told its customers when they called in, that they had given their employees background checks.  This company never did one background check that I am aware of.  It was our job on the phone to keep this myth alive.  If we didn’t we were out of the job.  It sounds like a complicated ethical dilemma.  It’s more complicated than you think actually.  If you are asked to do something unethical at work, you could just simply quit.  Or you could just decide to tell the truth and face the consequences if anyone finds out.  However, most of the people that worked at this company, which depended on it for a living, were decent people.  If suddenly sales stop coming through the door, and I was good at what I did, a lot more people’s livelihoods were going to be affected other than my own.  This was also at the height of the recession and I chose to stay on, and subvert the company as best I could from the inside.  I gave customers price breaks when I could.  I tried to be as honest and forthright with customers as I could given the framework that was allowed.  I told my bosses many times that they had better get their act together or they were going to end up in hot water.  Maybe I’m just trying to justify why I stayed on.  Perhaps I could have done more.  Perhaps I should have even quit.  I also, like many, faced the added dilemma of having financial responsibilities to loved ones.  I am betting that millions of workers across America are being put in this situation by corporations.

Another thing worth mentioning is that Texas is a right to work state and a state that has weak corporate regulations.  Hell, our genius governor even tried to use this as a selling point to bring businesses here recently.

The wireless company was even more slippery in how they tricked their customers.  They would use clean efficient corporate speak to whitewash certain business practices.  They might go to a new plan, that was less advantageous to their customers, and then teach us how to sell it to them in a way that made it seem more attractive.  That’s just one example.  Remember, they were always listening in to our phone calls.  Every word and explanation was carefully worded to keep the customer’s eye off of the ball.

I learned in my six years in customer service and sales that there is just immorality built into the world of business.  It almost can’t function without it.  There are companies that provide people with an honest service and try to do the best they can by their customers.  However, even the people at these companies have to bend the truth if not outright lie.  Let’s say you work for a perfectly legit company.  Let’s say it is the moving business.  Maybe the week before someone drove a truck into a house by complete accident.  It happens.  If the customer asks what problems have happened at your company, you would be a fool to tell them that that happened last week.  You might tell them some smaller problems and try to be as honest as possible, but you can’t tell them everything that goes on behind company doors.  In the free market this would drive someone to your competitor at light speed.

I don’t know exactly what point I’m trying to make, other than to make you think about the nature of doing business.  Most businesses are trying to get as much money as humanly possible out of you, while making you feel great about the decision that you have made.  In an era of economic downturn people are going to be less inclined to leave their jobs.  They have rent to pay and families to take care of.  If the management at the top is not completely ethical the workers below them are going to be under more pressure to bend to their will.

Most sales and customer service reps have some leeway in the way that they deal with you.  They have certain discounts and billing decisions that they can make.  I almost always sided with the customer and tried to give away as much money as I could.  I knew there was something crooked going on.  Remember that these people have this small amount of freedom.  They are under a lot of pressure.  If you are nice to them, most of them will work with you to bring your cost down.  Occasionally you will get one of the Kool-aid drinkers.  Keep calling back until you get someone that will work with you.  Take pleasure in knowing that every time you call into a company it costs that company money.  I think when I worked at Cingular it cost them between 10 and 15 dollars every time someone called in.  You may not get your money back if they have wronged you, but you can help make sure that they don’t have it either.

I hope to never work in this field again.  One must survive however.  Corporations are not our friends.  We need them to be watched and regulated by a strong outside regulatory body.  The government is really the only one that can do this.  This will ensure that not only are you treated more fairly, but that workers are put in better situations.  There is so much more to say on this topic, but as Morrissey says in a song, “You get the general idea.”