Monday, October 26, 2015

Week of 10/26/2015

The Onus Needs To Actually Be On Us
A few weeks ago (as of this article’s posting) a rare thing happened here in Georgia.
The former managers of a peanut processing plant in Blakely, Georgia, were sentenced to prison for their roles in the outbreak of salmonella poisoning that killed nine people and sickened hundreds.  Two managers, Samuel Lightsey and Daniel Kilgore, each got three-to-six years in prison, while the company’s owner, Stewart Parnell, was sentenced to 28-years in prison, and his brother Michael, got twenty years.
Let me repeat that...
Two plant managers, the food broker, and the owner of the company, were each sent to prison for their roles in a salmonella outbreak that took lives and sent hundreds to the hospital.
You know, the place with the iron bars and the armed guards and where “don’t drop the soap” is not just a joke.
I point this out because there has been this trend for corporate entities to escape all accountability for their actions by simply paying a fine and making some mealy-mouthed promise of some future changes.  They step up in front of the cameras, they say “We’re sorry, mistakes were made, and we can only move forward to do better” and that’s it.  Then it’s business-as-usual for them as they wait for their bonuses for making so much money off the misery they created.
That’s what the banks did.  That’s what Wall Street did.  That’s what Big Oil does when they screw up.  That’s what Corporate America usually does when faced with this kind of “nuisance”.  They pay a fine, say “mistakes were made”, promise to do better next time, and then nothing is done until the next time.  And there usually is a next time.
And, yes, we can thank our former Attorney General for a lot of it!  Eric Holder allowed big corporations, especially the financial ones, to literally buy their way out of trouble under his watch by doing just that.  Even though his department had it in writing as a matter of policy that they needed to hold corporations to account for their actions, even if it risks crashing the whole economy, Holder and his people let the big money criminals buy their freedom in exchange for what would be essentially pocket change.
But not this time!  Not for the big-wigs of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America!  No, they really faced criminal charges, they really were found guilty, and they really were sentenced to prison.  They really were held to account for their actions.
And that is great news!  In fact, we need to see more of this going on!
Volkswagen got in hot water when it was revealed they put in a cheat for some of their cars so they would pass emissions tests.  Now the owners of those cars are stuck with vehicles that are illegal to drive, expensive to fix, and impossible to sell.  Meanwhile the CEO says “We’ve totally screwed up” (I kid you not, that’s what he really said) and then steps down with his golden parachute package intact.
Now, folks, we’re not talking about some “accident” or some manufacturing defect.  This was deliberate, intentional, and premeditated.  Someone had to actually come up with the process to defeat the emissions testing. Someone had to make the conscious decision to have them put in all those vehicles.  Someone had to give approval for these to be shipped, knowing that these vehicles violated state and federal laws!  These are all elements of criminal activity.
By all rights, there needs to be prison time for the people involved.  Executives need to be handcuffed and frog-marched in front of the media, and then join the peanut execs in the federal correctional system so they can play “don’t drop the soap” with hardened felons.
Sadly, I can see lawyers already writing up settlement papers, and executives practicing their “mistakes were made” speeches, and budgets being adjusted to account for the “fines” that they’ll pay in lieu of criminal charges.  Execs are already saying they “didn’t know” what was going on.  Only time will tell if our current Attorney General will be just like her failed predecessor.
Even worse, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the overall problem of accountability.
My stomach churns every time I hear some shyster say “mistakes were made”.  It churns because it means that people are once again deferring any kind of accountability for their actions.  “Mistakes were made” implies that bad things simply “happened” without any kind of human activity behind it.  “We’re not accepting any blame,” they say, “but we will admit that mistakes were made.”
Or, worse, they use some kind of false equivalent to negate those “mistakes”.
“Well, mistakes were made with the emissions, but at least we didn’t make an airbag that explodes like an anti-personnel mine.”  “Well, mistakes were made with our airbags, but at least we didn’t make a steering column that becomes a javelin on impact.”  “Well mistakes were made with our steering column, but at least we didn’t make a gas tank that explodes like a grenade on the slightest nudge.”
Doesn’t seem to be helping the auto industry, does it?
But it doesn’t stop there.  The same game is played with politics, with education, with the military, with organized religion, with pretty much any organization where nobody wants to own up to their faults, but they all want to be recognized for the successes.  They all say the same thing, “mistakes were made”, and they all dance around accountability, but still reap the benefits.
Let’s get brutally honest here... if we’re truly serious about not letting history repeat itself, and if we really do want to learn from our failures, then we have to actually hold groups accountable, both in success and in failure.  It’s damnably hypocritical for any group to argue that they deserve the same rights and privileges as individuals when they aren’t held to same standards as individuals.
One of the old scares of Halloween is when sick individuals would put razor blades in apples and inject poison in candy bars and then hand them out to kids.  A lot of the stories were just myths, but at least one instance from the 1950’s was true.  Now if an individual does it, it’s considered a crime.  But if a corporation does something like that, they should not be allowed to get away with saying “mistakes were made”, especially when the “mistake” was not accidental.
We saw this with one company.  One company was held to account for their actions.  Now we need to see it applied to all the others.

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