Monday, February 27, 2006

Gentlemen...We Have A Problem

Gentlemen, We have a growing epidemic in America. Kids today with their rock music and their alternate covers and their Ultimate universes are missing something in their education: The Silver Age. This recently been brought to my attention due to a lack of respect for the Flash villains and pre-Crisis Supergirl. I ask of you, what do you say to a punk-ass kid who doesn't appreciate a when the Riddler ties Batman & Robin to a giant typewriter? Help me Silver Ages fans, you're my only hope!!! Meg-El If a kid can't recognize the intrinsic value of giant typewriters and legions of super-pets, then it's already too late. Give them the beating they deserve and, as you do, remind them that this only happens in THEIR comics, not Silver Age. Then switch to a bigger bat.

Monday, February 13, 2006

New Front: Protecting America's Investors by BEN STEIN

The New York Times February 12, 2006 Everybody's Business New Front: Protecting America's Investors By BEN STEIN IN the tiny room where I am writing this missive, there are four little display cases and a framed diploma, among many other mementos. The diploma is for my father-in-law, Dale Denman Jr. of Arkansas, and it is from the United States Military Academy, dated June 6, 1944 - a day when quite a lot was happening of military significance in France. Next to that is a display case with two little stars. One is a Silver Star that my father-in-law won in Europe several months after he graduated. It is for running along a road under heavy German machine-gun fire to call in artillery to save the company for which he was a forward artillery observer. Next to it is a Bronze Star that my father-in-law, then a colonel, won in Vietnam in 1966 for holding his unit together when it was ambushed by a Vietcong force and would have been cut to pieces without him. I have been thinking a lot lately about these heirlooms that Colonel Denman left to my wife and me. That's because of some mail I have been getting about my recent articles in this space about the way high executives have been treating their employees and stockholders. What I said two weeks ago about UAL, the parent company of United Airlines, prompted hundreds of e-mail messages. (I have still not even remotely caught up with all of them because I read them myself - no secretary here.) Several people sent clippings describing how UAL provided Glenn F. Tilton, who was living in San Francisco when it hired him as chairman and chief executive, with a suite in a luxury hotel when he spent time at its headquarters in Chicago. UAL was paying for the suite - which cost $18,000 a month, according to The San Francisco Chronicle - while it was reorganizing its finances under bankruptcy court protection and telling tens of thousands of workers that their jobs had been eliminated, their pay cut, their pensions terminated or all of the above because the company was broke. Some of the letter writers recalled how UAL spent an average of $10 million a month on lawyers, accountants and investment bankers for 37 months while UAL was in bankruptcy, and yet was unable to pay its employees their pensions. Now UAL has emerged from bankruptcy with a mighty flourish, and an allowance of hundreds of millions of dollars for its top executives. Some letters pointed out that one of UAL's board members is none other than our old friend Robert S. Miller, chief executive of Delphi, the auto parts maker. Delphi also recently entered bankruptcy - but proposed to the bankruptcy court a payment of well over $100 million to its top executives to keep them happy while it was in bankruptcy. Mr. Miller, who goes by Steve, a version of his middle name (not the one who sings "Fly Like an Eagle," but an artist of sorts nonetheless), has told Delphi's workers that they will have to take pay cuts of roughly two-thirds in order to save the business. But my favorite communication, the one that made me stay up nights, was from a United States Army sergeant who has done two combat tours in Iraq and two more in Afghanistan, and is now home in Georgia training others to serve in those wars. I have been pals with this man for a couple of years now, and we talk on the phone. He has been following my articles online, and he simply asked, "Was this what I was fighting for in Iraq?" The question haunts me, not only because of UAL and Delphi, but also because there is something deeply broken about the corporate system in America. Long ago, my pop was pals with Harlow H. Curtice, the president of General Motors in its glory days in the 1950's. Mr. Curtice presided over a spectacularly powerful and profitable G.M. For that, in his peak year as I recall from my youth, he was paid about $400,000 plus a special superbonus of $400,000, which made him one of the highest-paid executives in America. At that time, a line worker with overtime might have made $10,000 a year. In those days, that differential was considered very large - very roughly 40 times the assembly line worker's pay, without bonus; very roughly 80 times with bonus. A differential of more like 10 to 20 times was more the norm. Now C.E.O.'s routinely take home hundreds of times what the average worker is paid, whether or not the company is doing well. The graph for the pay of C.E.O.'s is a vertical line in the last five years. The graph for workers' pay is a flat line - in every sense. Now, my fellow free-market fans may well say: "Hey, stop your whining. This is the free market at work." Only it isn't the free market at work. It's a kleptocracy at work. (I am indebted to another of my correspondents for the word.) What's happening here is that the governance system for many - by no means all - corporations has simply stopped working. For centuries, the idea has held that the stockholders own the company. They are the trustors. The trustors select directors who in turn hire a chief executive and other top officers and then keep an eye on them for the stockholders. They - the chief executive, other top officers and the directors - are all agents for the stockholders, many of whom are often the employees, as is the case at UAL. But what has happened is that - as in a corrupt, failed third-world state - the trustees in too many cases are captives of the C.E.O. and his colleagues; they owe both their places on the board and their emoluments to the chief executive, and they exercise no meaningful restraint at all on managers. The directors are instead a sort of praetorian guard, protecting management from its real bosses, the stockholders, as management sucks the blood out of the company. I am by no means saying this is the standard or the usual way business is done in this country. Most managements are still honest and hard-working, I believe. But far too many are simply in the catbird seat to take what is not decently theirs from people who cannot afford to be taken. Government, meanwhile, does nothing, or next to nothing. Courts, especially bankruptcy courts, do nothing. And the employees and stockholders and the whole society are looted. Maybe it's not looting in the legal sense, but something basic is removed from the society. In the capitalist society, the most basic foundation is trust. But in today's world, trust is abused, mocked, drained of meaning. Again, I am not talking everywhere, by any means. I work with many, many businessmen and businesswomen, and a huge majority are honest and amazingly hard-working. I am sure that this is true nationally. But enough are not so honest and hard-working that it takes a toll on the rest of us. Don't get me wrong. I am not a newborn. I know that looting is not new. Man is highly flawed when money is on the table and not guarded well. I saw it and wrote about it in great detail when Michael R. Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert were ascendant, and in many other cases. It was terrible and dreadful, at least in my view, back then in the 1980's. It has always been terrible. But there is something new and unlovely that my pal in the Army brought up. Now, we are engaged in a war. More than 100,000 Americans are fighting far from home. Many don't come back. Many come home crippled. They are fighting for a vision of a just and decent society back home in glorious, shining, blessed America. And back home, meanwhile, the looters are running wild, taking the meaning out of that vision of America, taking some - by no means all - of the beauty out of America as a land of justice and fairness. ONE of my correspondents wrote that she, a flight attendant at United Airlines, had played by the rules, believed what her bosses told her, trusted that the laws would protect her, believed that fairness would triumph in the end because it's America. "I guess that makes me a fool in today's world," she said, because now she is broke, with no job, barely any pension and no faith. While the soldiers are fighting to protect us from the terrorists with bombs, too few are at home protecting us from the terrorists with briefcases. There aren't a lot of such terrorists, but they do a lot of damage. Surely this is not what Colonel Denman won his medals for. Surely this is not the America that our best are fighting and dying for in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is something desperately wrong here, and if President Bush is searching for an issue, I might suggest this: common decency for the workers and the savers and investors of this country, and an end to the hideous breaches of trust that build great mansions in the Hamptons and wreck a free soci- ety. Ben Stein is a lawyer, writer, actor and economist. E-mail: * Copyright 2006The New York Times Company _______________________________________________________________ Hello, Mister Stein... A pilot-friend of mine forwarded me your article ("New Front: Protecting America's Investors")and it lent me some much needed hope. You see, I also work for an airline and a bankrupt one at that. Rumors of liquidation abound and strike-actions are threatened while upper management is salivating at a plan to outsource a 75% of our international flight attendants to foreign nationals. This in an age when American citizens are being thoroughly screened before stepping foot onto a plane. I won't EVEN begin to tell you what a potential security-compromise this represents. Bottom line: Front-line staff are expendable in the feeding frenzy to cut costs and feather the nests of CEO's and upper management. Bigger, Better, Faster, MORE are the cornerstones of 21st Century capitalism, it would seem. Ah, well...this happened with Rome and it's Empire, back in the day. Most of the wealth was held by a miniscule percentage of the populace...the upper classes. And we all know what happened to Rome. All empires have to fall(and make no mistake, the United States is an extremely bloated one) we are no exception. And I don't imagine that it's going to be pretty... Thank you for listening... Yet another jaded front-line airline employee, GaP

Friday, February 03, 2006

Stinkin' Thinkin'

Russ... Hi G--! Glad that you're doing well...and that your silence was due to having a bitchin' adventure abroad. I've had three weeks of vacation and didn't even LOOK at a plane... I know what you mean ... the airplane/airport scene made me feel like I was at work. And then the $1,350 ticket I had to buy for my son to get out of South America was an added "bonus." That's why, in my quiet time now and to come, I want to travel by wind powered boat. Had a stinkin' thinkin' winter psyche-glitch. I went through this phase where I wasn't sure how I felt about Bill. The tiny concern flowered into a full-blown obsession. Jesus! What is it about relationship that uncorks the angels and demons in us? This basically pointed to some deep-seated bullshit in my hard-wiring: The fear of love, of BEING loved, and the tendency to create mental melodramas where none exist. In other words, if things are going too smoothly, THAT feels wrong. Only chaos and insecurity feels normal. He came over the house during the week and underneath the layers of fear, I felt a warmth, connection, and attaction there. He loves me with all of his heart. And I guess that must have freaked me. He's not possessive or anything...I've just never had that experience, you know? Wow! That's pretty amazing that you fear it so. You have been living in hell so long you don't even recognize, you are afraid, when the good stuff shows up. Thanks for sending the photos. The Antarctica lady seems really...exquisite. Elegant. Have you found a connection with her? Yes I have. She lives on the other side of America and that is most inconvenient. But this means we can explore the world and universe through written and spoken words, occasional visits and occasional adventures. It's a multidimensional relationship. We started as friends, sharing words and ideas and after two years the relationship continues to mature and grow sweeter and richer. She a woman with courage to discover and follow her authentic path. Ray adopted a dog this week. An eleven year-old gold labrador whose next stop was probably the glue-factory. He's far from a cripple case...but chances are no one would have adopted a dog at that age. Ray needed a dog to care for. It was a missing piece of his personality. And now he's having the best time taking Buddy everywhere. I'm including a photo and I hope it isn't a repeat. Nope, this is the first time I've seen Buddy. Good for Ray. It's quite a commitment ... but what a neat thing to have a friend who doesn't talk. I've been wondering why we can't be more like dogs; happy, very happy, with anyone with whom we find ourselves. As long as they have grub and aren't beaten, they wag their tail and are delighted and in love with the person or people with whom they live. So what's wrong with us. Saw BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Wow. Larry McMurtry collaborated on the screenplay and it SHOWS. Fragile human lives and connections across a starkly beautiful Western landscape...Paths not taken, yearnings not heeded, and heavy regrets. It's a hallmark of his writing... I saw it yesterday. I agree. Wow! Ang Lee, Annie Proulx (sp?) and McMurtry ... and the stark emptiness of the landscape and heart. Wow, indeed. I'm going to see it again. TJeannie put me on to it. I'm glad she did. The only part that made me feel that the author, Proulx, was a woman, was the initial physical love scene. I didn't get that they jumped in so fast without dealing with Inis' reluctance. What is your take? Not even CARING when I'm supposed to return to work. Sometime after 10 February... I'm going back on the 5th. Shit. A full month. Including A.R.T. (CQ for us). Hope you're well, my good friend...GaP I am alive and kicking. I was delighted to spend time with my son and Jeannie. Now I'm back and in the depths. Something has got to give. I've given it over (I think I said earlier) to the universe ... along with my intention to improve my lot ... I hope I can some (more) clarity soon. Let's keep the dialog going. Thanks, brother. Russ