Friday, June 24, 2016
America's Raw Story
10 th Post
Life is a crap shoot whether walking down the street, driving on the highway and across the bridge, flying overhead, depending on other organizations (besides those that build cars, trucks, bridges and planes), or just plain living. We take our chances no matter how selective and careful we may be.
But the chances get riskier when dealing with any of the more risky organizations or any of the card carrying corporate members of the Devil’s marriage, the unequal partnership between corporations and subservient government.
Trained as an organizational psychologist I still stay tuned to organizations and their people nearly six decades later. Recently, for instance, I was rereading a published book review of mine in which I criticized the book’s co-authors’ theory about how “highly reliable organizations” (HROs) should manage uncertainty in the face of hazardous operations and environment; and also their choice of organizations against which to “benchmark” their recommendations.
Since HROs presumably are less of a crap shoot I have decided to revisit their study and my review and write this essay. It overviews the nature of organizations, examines the organizations they benchmarked, reports on a cursory search for any real HROs, discusses other criteria besides reliability for judging organizational performance, and finally concludes with a commentary about organizational performance and life in general being a crap shoot at best and a hazard to humanity and the future at worst.
You might very well question why I write this essay at all, and having done so, why I chose this venue for it instead of some academic journal. The reasons are three-fold. Academic journals in my field tend to be unrealistic and esoteric. Not one of us can ever get away any day from one or more aspects of organized life. And there are times when we want a particular organization (e.g., a hospital; an airliner; etc.) to be highly reliable.
Organizations: A Sweeping but Fleeting Perspective
1. Origin. My guess is that the first collective efforts, resembling an informal organization, to achieve a common purpose appeared in the hunter-gatherer period of history. The precursor of organizations as we know them today probably arose during the industrial revolution, although some civilizations such as that of China had very defined civil organizations thousands of years ago. As a matter of fact, the Chinese probably invented the familiar bureaucratic form of administrative organization.
2. Kinds. You name them. They in all their variety are everywhere pursuing purposes that define the kinds of organizations they are.
3. Size. Small to humongous. The world’s most humongous? My guess is the U.S. government by a long shot.
4. Shape. From flat to tall. The world’s tallest? My pick again is the US government. Years ago I counted the number of bureaucratic levels between the entry level claims representative for the Social Security Administration and the President of the US when SSA was still part of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare---37 levels. Now that’s a mountainous pecking order with the biggest pecker at the top.
5. Performance. This is where the rubber meets the road. If an organization doesn’t perform there is no real point in its existing. At the same time, many organizations should not exist because their performance is irresponsible, even disastrously so.
There is a saying in my field that “people make the place.” That’s only partly true because the reverse is also true; namely, that the place makes the people. Another way of putting it is that an organization’s actions and the consequences of those actions are caused by both the organization’s people and the organization’s place; i.e., the organization itself along with the circumstances and situations that the organization encounters and its people sometimes create.
When the organization is a corporation and part of America’s corpocracy I can guarantee you that the place largely makes the people and mostly determines the organization’s performance, which usually amounts to negative successes (negative actions such as unethical and illegal ones that succeed in meeting the organization’s goals) and negative failures (negative actions that fail to meet the organization’s goals).
There are numerous criteria for judging an organization’s performance. The criterion of particular interest here for the moment is reliability. I define a highly reliable organization as one that unfailingly delivers the performance that end users expect and want and without any mishaps in the production or delivery phase.
The Benchmarked Organizations
The co-authors benchmarked five organizations as illustrating the right or the wrong way to manage for high reliability.
1. Bandelier, New Mexico Fire Department. A controlled burn became an uncontrolled inferno causing $1 billion damage.
2. The Bristol Royal Infirmary. It was known at the time as a doctor-knows-best culture with high children death rates. The place deserves to have been called an HDO, or high death organization.
3. Naval aircraft carriers. They have been, say the authors, “a prototype of high reliability systems from the beginning,” even though they say that the carriers “are the most dangerous 4 and ½ acres in the world.” My written reaction was that “I would give carriers barely a moderate rating considering the literature I’ve read on their safety record over the years. For instance, a fire broke out on the USS Kitty Hawk in 2008 causing many injuries and $70 million in damage. Moreover, one study found that on-board injury rates were slightly higher than for industries in general.
4. Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. In my assessment this particular plant and all other nuclear power plants are ticking radioactive time bombs that protestors have tried for decades to get closed. A plant can be accident-free yet till release harmful radiation. Moreover, the Diablo Canyon plant, besides sitting on an earthquake fault line once missed, as noticed in a safety inspection, about 22 missed weld quality hold points. How much radiation escapes from 22 leaky welds?
5. NASA. Sending astronauts into outer space is tricky business. Every detail and backups must be highly reliable. Tragedy may be just a heart-beat away, and that is what happened with the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003 respectively.
You can now understand my aversion to academic literature. The co-authors were clearly benchmarking unreliable organizations, apparently to present lessons learned on what organizations should not do in hazardous situations. Maybe the co-authors could find no HROs to benchmark.
In any case, how well have the five organizations learned their lessons?
1. The Bandelier Fire Department apparently hasn’t had an opportunity to show what they did or didn’t learn. The same dangerous weather and dry brush conditions discounted before the uncontrolled fire have not occurred since.
2. The medical staff at the Bristol Royal Infirmary took umbrage at a staff anesthesiologist who blew the whistle on the circumstances surrounding the deaths and railroaded him out of his job.
3. The co-authors didn’t mention that aircraft carriers were once saturated with asbestos that found its way into crews’ lungs, later causing a serious lung disease and death in some cases. Carrier construction still uses asbestos but much less of it. Carriers still experience flight deck fatalities about once or twice a year.
4. No reported mishaps could be found at the Diablo Canyon power plant, yet it remains a disaster waiting to happen as it sits on an earthquake fault line. California authorities are debating whether to shut it down permanently. In 2014 a senior resident inspector was concerned that “the plant was operating outside the safety margins of its State license.”
5. NASA seems to have missed or forgotten some of its lessons. There have been several failures since the coauthors’ study. In 2014, for instance, an astronaut was killed and another seriously injured when their space ship disintegrated during a test flight over California.
In Search of HROs
Are there any HROs operating today in routinely and potentially hazardous conditions? I could find none from my extensive search of the Internet.
Cheap-costly, inefficient-efficient, slow-fast, and shoddy-flawless are some of the other bipolar criteria for judging organizational performance. Yet another one that I must mention is socially irresponsible-socially responsible.
This additional criterion is particularly important when it comes to corporations. To me corporate social responsibility means 1) staying financially viable, 2) providing socially beneficial products and/or services, 3) without knowingly causing any physical, psychological, financial or ecological harm, 4) without externalizing costs (e.g., job outsourcing, waste disposal), 5) without seeking or depending on “warfare welfare” or other government favors such as corporate personhood recognition, campaign financing, lobbying, subsidies, revolving doors, laissez-faire regulations, or criminal immunity, 6) conducting business ethically and legally, and 7) treating all stakeholders fairly and with dignity. As you can see, my definition is a very unforgiving one that allows no leeway because ethics, morality, and responsibility are not, in my opinion, relative matters. They only become relative when people morally rationalize their wrongdoing.
No corporation in the corpocracy meets all of the above requirements. The corpocracy at large, moreover, is directly responsible for America being ranked the worst among industrialized nations on various measures such as income inequality and unemployment, for America being the most imperialistic nation on the globe, and for America being vulnerable to continuous blowbacks from drone strikes and other forms of unending, devastating and deadly military aggression done solely for profit and power.
The authors were oblivious to the broader context and implications of their benchmarked organizations’ performance. For instance, diplomacy, not war making, might stand more of a chance if aircraft carriers and all other weaponry were so unreliable as to be useless. The same goes for NASA and its revenue draining, risky, and scientifically meritless manned space program.
It’s said that two certainties in life are death and taxes. Baloney. The second is mostly escaped by people and organizations living on tax welfare, or tax havens and tax breaks. But there is another certainty, the focal point of this essay.
That certainty is the unreliability of life, which is a crap shoot. We take our chances every day aware or unaware, especially when we deal in one way or another with organizations in which we entrust our well being.
There’s another certainty when it comes to the organizations making up the corpocracy. Its corruptible politicians and corrupting corporations crap on the rest of us and the world’s regimes they try to change to suit themselves.
Finally, there’s yet another related certainty. What goes around comes around. Some day the US will get crapped on by the environment it has polluted and charcoaled, by horrendous blowbacks from enemies it has created, or by Armageddon from nuking Russia or China.
Monday, June 6, 2016
America’s Raw Story
Investing in Death
There are roughly 15,000 publicly traded companies and countless millions of people who invest in them. Each of these companies belongs to an industry of companies in similar businesses. Three industries are the subject of this short article; the funeral service industry, the gun industry, and the war industry.
The first provides burial and crematory services and paraphernalia for people no longer living due to nonviolent domestic deaths. The second provides the means to cause violent domestic deaths. The third provides the means to murder people in foreign lands.
The first industry is tangential to the focal point off this article. The other two are the focal point. But to be true to the article’s catchall tile, I feel behooved to say something about investing in the first one, so I will start with it.
Investing in Death from Natural Causes
Funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries, but excluding related costs such as headstones and crypts is a $15 billion a year industry in America. Almost gone are the days of small, family owned funeral homes. They are being gobbled up or swamped by funeral service corporations that promise investors healthy returns, at least if you buy one or more of the “six stocks to die for” as one authoritative source put it.
Investing in Death from Domestic Guns
It is said that Americans have had a love affair with guns and cars for a century. Until recently more people have died from car accidents than from guns. That apparently has changed and not surprisingly since there are more guns than cars in America.
Firearms’ makers and sellers tell investors and Wall Street that massive gun killings are a ripe opportunity for investors. The reason is simple. After a massive, homegrown slaughter the public panics and buys more guns.
Investing in Death by International Murder
Einstein called war an act of murder. I agree and would add that it’s an offensive act more so than a defensive act if you know the true history behind America’s endless wars since her founding. That’s why I call this industry the war industry, not the defense industry. The US government finally got smart and changed the name in 1949 from the Department of War to its current euphemism, the Department of Defense. But let’s not be fooled by our government that is always trying to fool us.
The war industry yields very good ROI’s (return on investments) if one is not squeamish or morally inhibited about investing in merchants of death. And thousands upon thousands of investors aren’t. A writer for Forbes magazine has given five reasons why other industrial sectors aren’t as good as the war industry; its stocks weather economic storms better; it dominates the market “selling Uncle Sam a billion dollars in goods and services every day, seven days a week;” it is “politically protected” (that’s an understatement); its oblivious to any “waning demand;” and its future prospects are more publicly known through news of any impending dips in the defense
budget and thus give cautious investors pause to reconsider” (when does that ever happen for more than blip of time?).
We can partly blame the second and third industries’ investors for the consequences of their companies’ miscreant behavior but we can’t sue them for wrongful death and other damages. The reason why dates back over two centuries ago in America’s history when the first state in the union enacted a limited liability law and other states quickly followed suit in a race to the bottom. States initially gave their chartered corporations limited liability only if they provided public services, but with the advent of sham charters, any chartered corporation gets limited liability. That includes the chartered and insulated gun makers and sellers and war contractors.
The war contractors are also shielded from lawsuits for wrongful deaths for two reasons. The foreigners have no standing in our courts and our lawless, criminal, war perpetuating government makes murder by war legal.
Socially Responsible Investing: An Alternative for Morally Minded Investors?
One would think that out of 15,000 publicly traded companies there surely ought to be some socially responsible ones in which to invest. Well, name me one if you find a company that meets all of my seven criteria a company must meet in order to be rightly called socially responsible. A socially responsible company is one that 1) stays financially viable, 2) provides socially beneficial products and/or services, 3) without knowingly causing any physical, psychological, financial or ecological harm, 4) without externalizing costs (e.g., job outsourcing, waste disposal), 5) without seeking or depending on “warfare welfare” or other government favors such as corporate personhood recognition, campaign financing, lobbying, subsidies, revolving doors, laissez-faire regulations, or criminal immunity, 6) conducts business ethically and legally, and 7) treats all stakeholders fairly and with dignity.
The rationale for all but the first criteria is that they are hallmarks of the corpocracy, the Devil’s marriage between big corporations and government. The corpocracy is far more egregious than just being socially irresponsible. It is directly responsible for America being ranked the worst among industrialized nations on various measures such as income inequality and unemployment; for America being the most imperialistic and death dealing nation on the globe; and for America being vulnerable to continuous blowbacks from drone strikes and other forms of unending, devastating and deadly military aggression done solely for profit and power.
You know the old saying; “there are only two certainties in life, death and taxes.” I will add two more certainties; 1) America was born in the womb of war and will die in her arms unless the American people rise up to demand the end of the military/political/industrial complex; and 2) people who invest in the gun and war industries are as morally and socially irresponsible as people populating the complex and are not only investors in death but also accomplices of death by murder.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
America’s Raw Story
Conspiracy Theory or Conspiracy Reality?
The Conspiracy Reality of America’s Corpocracy
I was prompted to write this article when a twitter contact of mine wondered whether some of my writings about the corpocracy amounted to a conspiracy theory. Having been a behavioral scientist most of my adult life I know a thing or two about what’s theory and what’s not. I don’t know how anyone, scientist or lay person, could mistake the corpocracy for a theory. I doubt if any readers of articles published in the alternative news media would confuse the two. Nevertheless, I want to tell you what I have learned over the years.
A Tacit Conspiracy, Not a Public Wedding
I have called America’s corpocracy the “devil’s marriage between big corporations and what should be but isn’t the American peoples’ government. The marriage was not a public wedding by any stretch of the imagination. It was more like a tacit conspiracy between the two partners, with government being the subservient to the other in every respect.
To act together toward common goals is one definition of a “conspiracy,” and one of its synonyms is collusion. What are the conspirators’ goals? To name a few: keeping its marriage intact; staying for a lifetime in public office; protecting corporations’ fraudulent constitutional rights, not citizen rights; maintaining a hands-off policy toward corporate crime and ensuring legislation, regulations, and judicial verdicts that protect corporate interests, not the public’s interests or the general welfare; keeping the government’s plentiful and endless hand outs to corporations; privatizing public services; controlling the mass media; keeping the marketplace free, not fair; and to expanding and protecting a profitable hegemony in other lands (corporations want global markets and politicians want global influence).
Being a conspiracy doesn’t automatically mean the conspirators must operate secretly, although they obviously aren’t going to publicize their conspiring. That being so, how do we know they conspire and collude among themselves? The conspiracy’s goals stated earlier suggest the signs to look for as evidence. We don’t have to look hard. The signs pop up daily it seems, at least when reading the alternative media, not obviously the corpocracy’s mainstream media and propaganda.
Consider some signs from three of America’s industries in their control of “our” government and thus of 99%.of us. The three picked are the most dangerous industries because they are often extremely injurious and deadly in the consequences of their decisions and actions.
The “Defense” Industries
The “defense” industry, bar none, is the most dangerous as it inflicts on humanity destruction and death on a world-wide scale. The industry pushed for preemptive war with Iraq before Bush Jr.’s first administration and then was heavily represented among the war policy makers in the administration. It spends billions of dollars lobbying Congress. It locates facilities in all or almost all Congressional districts to ensure servitude. It makes sure the most compliant politicians chair and sit on influential committees. It persuades Congress to authorize purchase of obsolete, unreliable, and extravagantly expensive weapons. It constantly engages in contract fraud with impunity. Ad infinitum.
Lest we forget the companion gun industry, its lobbyists have basically been assured a carte blanche by “our” government to arm Americans to the teeth with almost any form of firearm.
The Health Care Industries
These industries are a cluster of industries made up of big Pharma, the health insurance industry, and the provider industry, all conspiring with “our” government, to keep Americans in dept and in poor health needing expensive attention. The bête noir of this conglomeration is the pharmaceutical industry. Over the years it has reaped an astounding 7,000 percent return on its investment in lobbying Congress and has gotten in return for its bribery such favorable government actions as defeat of mandatory discount pricing; protection of drug patents in trade agreements; joint research patents with public institutions allowed; Medicare price negotiations with companies prevented; government list of preferred drugs prohibited; availability of generic pediatric drugs delayed; faster government drug safety reviews; company recommended reviewers allowed; bill to make generic drugs more accessible defeated; bigger hurdle before government warning letters issued; approval of some drugs just from animal testing; medical device makers get favorable considerations; unapproved uses of drugs gets journalistic license; restrictions eased on direct-to consumer advertising; tax credits given to makers of orphan drugs; licensing of new sites for making drugs eased; continuous review of approved new sites ended; pre-clinical trial data allowed for patent application; criteria for awarding patents for genes relaxed.; price control proposals dropped by government; companies allowed to pay fee for faster reviews; faster review of drugs for life-threatening diseases; distribution of drug samples allowed; easier for brand-name makers to sue generic makers; government promotes university-industry partnerships; and allowed to tap research at subsidized facilities.
The Chemical/Agriculture Industries
I put the chemical and agribusiness industries together because chemicals saturate the food chain and agribusiness thrives on chemicals. There’s an old nostrum that “we are what we eat,” which is why these two industries are so hazardous and potentially deadly, especially with their genetically modified organisms that are an assault on and gamble with nature that may ultimately have dire consequences for our species.
Within this pair of industries is the Monsanto Corporation. Mike Adams, chief contributor and editor of NaturalNews.com, says that “MonSatan---is now the No. 1 most hated corporation in America---and the destructive force behind the lobbying of the USDA, FDA, scientists and politicians that have all betrayed the American people---.”
Monsanto is simply too big and has too many allies outside government (e.g., American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology) and too many friends in government, both at the federal level (e.g., former Monsanto executives appointed to positions with the USDA) and state level (e.g., Secretaries of Agriculture) to be thwarted in its continuing drive to reap profit from its toxic products that threaten the health and lives of animals and humans alike. It was the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 that opened the sluice gate for GMOs by issuing the absurd ruling that nature could be patented. And it will very likely be this same captive, infamous court that bats down all lawsuits against Monsanto and the rest of the chemical and agribusiness industries. But whatever they unlikely lose at the Federal level they can try recouping and conspiring at the state level. “Don’t count Monsanto out” concludes the co-editors of Vanity Fair in a long and detailed expose.
Industries at Large
There are over 100 US industries. Take a random pick. Any industry, besides the three just cited is most likely to be a “card-carrying” member of the conspiratorial corpocracy. Banking industry? Remember the government’s bailouts after the second greatest depression? Remember the bail outs in the auto industry? Energy industry? As I recall oil big wigs were influential in the build up to the invasion of Iraq. I could go on to cite many other industries, but I think my point has already been made. Any industry that is supposedly governed by government regulations, and most if not all are, is ipso facto a conspirator with “our” government. The most flagrant instances are the many times industry representatives ghost write the regulations and/or the regulations, lax or not, are not enforced.
The epitome of collusion may be the many instances where corporations buy public services and public land out from under our noses.
Here is a privatization riddle. What a) sorts mail but is not the USPS, b) cuts Social Security checks but is not the SSA, c) counts the census but is not the Bureau of the Census, d) monitors air traffic but is not the FAA, and e) runs space flights but is not NASA? Give up? It is Lockheed Martin, the largest military contractor in the U.S.
Pick any type of public service or public land and you will find some corporate owners. Public schools? Not any longer in many school districts. After Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans privatizers swept in and took over the public schools. Health care industry? Our health care ought to be a human right not to be put on the auction block. Public toll ways? Not any longer in some states. Law enforcement? In some areas private police have the same authority as deputy sheriffs. And pause on this. The State of Arizona even sold its State Capitol and then leased it back.
Privatization, argue Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich, co-authors of The Fox in the Henhouse, is the private sector’s way to “undercut, limit, shrink, or outright take over any government and any part of the public sector that stands in the way of corporate pursuit of ever larger profits and could be run for profit.”
Conspiracy within a Conspiracy
I suppose there are numerous instances where petty conspiracies arise within one part of the government to spoil or thwart another part. I’m not going to bother trying to ferret them out. Politics as usual is rife with internal rivalries as appointed officials vie for influence.
The conspiracy I have in mind here is within the corporate part of the corpocracy. Probably the most prevalent form of it is the collusion among corporations in fixing prices. Whenever government is lax in stopping the practice it conspires with the price fixers.
“Our” government is accountable to no one, a scofflaw committing all sorts of legal and illegal wrong doing daily up to and including murdering people with drone strikes. This government, moreover, in good faith as a conspirator, rarely holds corporations accountable for all sorts of wrongdoing, including defrauding and gouging the government. Is it any wonder then that the two parties to the marriage made in Hell conspire to raise Hell with 99% of Americans and the rest of the world?