[Editor’s note: A San Antonio executive writing under the pen name Felix Culpa graces our blog with his fourth post.]
Haters of evil, greedy corporations: good news! You have a new target to vilify!
It’s Wells Fargo, which agreed to pay $190 million in fines after creating fake accounts and forging documents in order to sell unwanted services to customers without authorization.
In addition to the record-high fine, the company is suffering severe damage to its carefully crafted reputation. Lawsuits are likely to follow. And all of you who demonize corporations get to roast a scapegoat.
Bravura performance at this week’s hearing, Senator Warren!
But one wonders whether you’re aware of the irony at work here.
After all, one imagines that many of you lining up to take action against Wells Fargo earned your anti-capitalist cred via your outrage over the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which confirmed that certain organizations — like corporations — share some of the constitutional rights that citizens have. In that case, it was the right of political speech.
You probably held up signs and chanted that “corporations aren’t people.” But, in fact, by incorporating under the law, companies have always been granted certain rights and protections. The irony is that these rights include things like the right to pay taxes, the right to be sued, the right to be forced into bankruptcy, and the right to be held accountable for misdeeds. Just like Wells Fargo.
Yes, individuals at the company can be held accountable too. At Wells Fargo, more than 5,000 people have been fired for violating the rules. Prosecutors are probably exploring the possibility of criminal charges. Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Andy Fastow of Enron went to jail. In the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, a company engineer has pleaded guilty, and there’s speculation that the Justice Department is building criminal cases against other top officials. Going after individual bad actors is always part of the process.
But the main target always is the corporation itself, and rightfully so. Especially where fines are concerned, a corporation has much deeper pockets than even the highest-compensated CEO.
You may argue that corporations can’t be sent to prison, but they can receive a death penalty verdict – like Arthur Andersen did – and they can even be wrongly convicted – like Arthur Andersen was.
So next time you get the urge to occupy Wall Street or whatever to protest against corporations’ rights, keep in mind that those rights work both ways, and right now they’re working in your favor.
After the massacre in San Bernardino last December, the New York Times ran a pro-gun-control editorial on its front page, prompting my liberal Facebook friends to go nuts. Judging from their reaction, the side fighting for sane, or less insane, gun laws had just dropped the Big One. How could the NRA survive such an attack?
An editorial hadn’t run in that hallowed space since 1920.
I have to say though, I didn’t actually see the front page. I read the editorial on the Times’ website. In fact, I learned about this blessed development from a headline that popped up on my iPhone screen.
No one seemed to grasp the irony of celebrating and promoting this rare event on Facebook, which is probably where many of gun-control advocates found out about it. I can’t imagine anyone I know standing in their bathrobe and slippers on the driveway with the unwrapped Times in their hands, mouthing “Oh, my God!” Among the handful who ever see the Times’ actual front page, it’s usually when they glance down at the newsstand at Starbucks.
Progressives’ reaction on social media was like putting on your Google telepathy hat to tell a friend the latest Outlook email upgrade will have a profound impact on the way we communicate.
Nicholas Kristof’s Times column on Thursday, headlined “When a Crackpot Runs for President,” reminded me of the clamor that morning nine months ago. Kristof’s piece revealed a lack of understanding of today’s media landscape and a certain nostalgia, just like the notion the Times’ sets the national agenda with its front page.
His topic was whether journalists should be honest with their audiences about the danger Donald Trump poses to this country. He approached the question with great earnestness.
“I’m wary of grand conclusions about false equivalence from 30,000 feet. But at the grass roots of a campaign, I think we can do better at signaling that one side is a clown.
“There are crackpots who believe that the earth is flat, and they don’t deserve to be quoted without explaining that this is an, er, outlying view, and the same goes for a crackpot who has argued that climate change is a Chinese-made hoax, who has called for barring Muslims and who has said that he will build a border wall and that Mexico will pay for it.
“We owe it to our readers to signal when we’re writing about a crackpot. Even if he’s a presidential candidate. No, especially when he’s a presidential candidate.”
Now, just reflect for a moment on the hours of video you’ve watched over the last 14 months of Trump making outlandish, stupid, racist, misogynist, and sometimes dangerous statements. Off the top of my head: inviting the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s email, his eagerness to use nuclear weapons, his fondness for war, and his belief that many of our generals are know-nothings.
Progressives’ reaction (to the NYT’s front-page editorial) on social media was like putting on your Google telepathy hat to tell a friend the latest Outlook email upgrade will have a profound impact on the way we communicate.
Sorry, Kristof, but I’ve already concluded Trump is a threat to the United States. Whether a reporter flat-out calls him a whackjob in print or on air is of zero consequence to me. Most Hillary Clinton voters have already come to the same conclusion.
Donald Trump has taken us and the news media into virgin territory.
Kristof is a solid, card-carrying liberal, but he’d never have written the same kind of column about Mitt Romney or John McCain. And if he had, he would have been laughed off the Internet, his credibility smashed. His differences with Romney and McCain were within the band of acceptable politics. Trump’s politics are unacceptable.
Except to his supporters, whose fear of a secretive, corrupt Clinton administration overwhelms their misgivings about Trump. Wrongly. But, of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Which gets to my deeper problem with Kristof’s column. It’s nostalgic for the days when big dailies and big networks were more consequential — when they had real authority.
To be an authority, a major cross-section of the population (national, state, or local, depending on which news outlet you’re looking at) has to agree that 1) you’re thorough and know what you’re talking about, 2) have integrity, and 3) are an honest, nonpartisan arbiter of facts and the contexts that make sense of them.
Which newspapers and networks are you willing to say that about?
Hillary still has my vote, but Christ why does she have to make it such a challenge? She might as well say, during one of those awkward pauses in her speeches, “Hey, motherfuckers, I dare you to not vote for me. Trump? Good luck living with yourself.”
First her “basket of deplorables” comment. Yeah, yeah. We know what you meant. White supremacists, run-of-the-mill racists, nativists, women haters — all that. Got it. What’s troubling is that she believes they make up half of Donald Trump’s voters.
Congrats, Hillary. Your comment will deservedly take its place alongside Barack’s bit about gun-and-bible clingers and Mitt’s quote about how 47 percent of Barack’s supporters would vote for the president no matter what because they were professional victims, dependent on the government, kind of bummy.
All three statements were the sweaty, claustrophobic exaggerations of political and economic elites. The only difference is that two of them were coming from the left side, the other the right side. And shocker — Clinton, Obama, and Romney spit up that bile in the safe zones of high-dollar fundraisers, not in high school gymnasiums stuffed to the rafters with supporters.
Suggestion: To get honest, unvarnished answers out of our presidential candidates, let’s stage all of the general-election debates in exclusive clubs that charge the audience thousands of dollars per plate. Dinner theater for the elites, and real insights into our candidates for the rest of us.
Clinton doesn’t get the middle class or the working poor any more than Romney, the private-equity buccaneer and son of American Motors Corp. chairman and Michigan Governor George Romney. I’m leaving Obama out of this formulation because of his life story and his amazing power of empathy, and, mostly, because I have a soft spot in my heart for him. In my household, we call him Obambam.
At heart, Clinton is a free trader who only opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership because Bernie Sanders would have continued bludgeoning her with it if she hadn’t flipped her position. Robert Rubin and Larry Summers are her homies. Wall Street is another one of her safe zones.
Suggestion: To get honest, unvarnished answers out of our presidential candidates, let’s stage all of the general-election debates in exclusive clubs that charge the audience thousands of dollars per plate
She can’t quite understand what all the fuss is about in the hinterlands. Say again? What’s this about stagnant wages and a declining standard of living? (For a glimpse of what unfettered trade has done to my hometown of Muncie, Indiana, click here.)
Nevertheless, I will vote for Clinton because, while Trump has a feel for the legitimate grievances of the middle class, he’s exploiting them, not addressing them, and he brings out the worst in us across the political spectrum. Also, while Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and their supporters wouldn’t stay Clinton’s hand as president, they would force her to remember the great unwashed, as they did during the primaries, and moderate accordingly. Finally, she wouldn’t radically depart from Obama’s economic policies because they’ve worked by and large.
Yet, sadistically, she’s forcing the non-Clintonites who will vote for her in November to crawl through the muck to do it.
Not to belabor the point, but the second clear indication that she just doesn’t get it arrived yesterday in her Facebook post about her recovery from pneumonia. It included this line: “Like anyone who’s ever been home sick from work, I’m just anxious to get back out there.”
Stop binge-watching Netflix and surfing Facebook and YouTube to rush back to work? Really, I want to know — what planet is she from?
The San Antonio in 12 Days on the Road, a chronicle of the Sex Pistols’ disastrous U.S. tour in 1978, is almost unrecognizable. But no need for a DNA test. It’s ours.
Noel Monk, the Pistols’ road manager for the tour and the book’s author, portrayed San Antonio as so violently reactionary — so cowboy — that the band didn’t spend the night there before or after their gig at Randy’s Rodeo on Bandera Road. They’d received too many credible threats, as we say in the age of terrorism. So the band, whose shows in England and across Europe were powered as much by violence as electricity and beer, bedded down in the safe confines of Austin.
To be fair, Monk, an American, made that call, not Johnny, Sid, Paul, or Steve.
A snippet of film from the show — Johnny Rotten alternately tearing and mugging his way through “New York” — shows the band dodging flying trash. There’s a sweaty crush of fans and antagonists against the stage. At the end of the song, Sid Vicious hammers one of the antagonists with his bass, which was probably his most effective use of the instrument that night.
In other words, nothing too crazy by Sex Pistols standards. In fact, the scene comes off as a little anticlimactic in Monk’s telling.
The band disintegrated in San Francisco a few days later, at the end of the tour. That’s why Monk wrote the book and why we remember the gig at Randy’s Rodeo. U2 and Patti Smith also played at Randy’s, but nobody writes about those shows because U2 didn’t subsequently break up and Patti Smith didn’t subsequently die.
Members of the Sex Pistols managed to do both. Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose a year after the band split up and roughly 24 hours after he killed Nancy Spungen, the love of his life, with a knife.
The band had made a single, great album.
I’ve owned I don’t know how many copies of “Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols” since I first listened to it on vinyl, borrowed from a friend in high school in the mid 1980s. Later, the tape player gobbled up at least two copies. The CDs got scratched in the trips from apartment to car, car to house. Each of my three daughters lifted the album for their own collections.
My curiosity about Randy’s got the better of me after reading 12 Days on the Road in June. I’d known about the gig practically since moving to San Antonio in 2000. But it took the book to focus my interest. I found the address online, loaded my 1-year-old grandson into his car seat, and went looking for it. Turns out I’d passed the building countless times on Bandera Road, but had never noticed it.
The question hanging over the Sex Pistols’ San Antonio date was whether they would survive it. Randy’s survival was never in question. Still, the Rodeo left town a long time ago. It’s now Randy’s Bingo and Ballroom, and the St. George Maronite Catholic Church owns the business.
Randy’s is a big, windowless, rectangular concrete box set far off the street.
I went with a friend, Mike Knoop, to play bingo there on a Friday night in late August. Of course our real purpose was to witness the dissonance between the past and the present — we’re both middle-age, so that kind of thing matters to us. Specifically, I wanted to experience the psychic commotion of sacred ground being profaned by the Catholic Church. I’m not sure if that’s what Mike wanted to see, too.
We stepped up to the window in the lobby to pay our $10.
If Moses had been assigned to produce Randy’s laws, it would’ve taken him three trips up and down Mount Sinai and four additional stone tablets. Randy’s operates under 27 rules, including don’t photograph or record anything that happens there. Which was odd since very little was happening.
The room was bright, low ceilinged, and nearly the size of a football field. No sign anywhere of the raucous concert hall it used to be, before bingo. The walls were painted peach. Long tables lined the room, perpendicular to the black stage against the eastern wall. Individuals and clusters of two or three people sat far away from one another. They murmured. The only clear sound was the bearded twenty-something guy on stage calling the letter-number combos.
Three women in their fifties or sixties sat at one of the tables flush with the stage. Each had at least two of the chunky black computer tablets that you get when you pay at the front window. One of the women had three tablets in front of her, in addition to several paper bingo grids. They talked in Spanish, glanced every now and then at Mike and me, made judgments too fast for me to get the gist of, and laughed.
The rules of big-money bingo — Randy’s website brags about nightly payouts of $5,000 — were as impenetrable as the women’s conversation.
Mike and I bought Budweisers at the snack bar, and tried to figure out what we were supposed to be doing.
Rules pile up over time, increasing in complexity. We couldn’t square what we saw on our tablet screens with what the DJ/caller said into his microphone. The bonus rounds were nearly over before we understood they were bonus rounds. Young men in bright orange shirts patrolled the room, ready to answer questions, settle disputes, etc. I flagged one of them down, but my question was so rudimentary, so clueless that he barely bothered to answer before moving on. I read it on his face: Tourists.
We might have unknowingly won hundreds or thousands of dollars. If so, hopefully there’s an afterlife in which we can collect our rightful winnings. But if there’s a god, he probably doesn’t like tourists any more than the St. George Maronite Catholic Church, the kid in the orange shirt, or the bingo ladies sitting in the shadow of Randy’s stage.
That’s the same stage where Sid Vicious went clubbing after wrapping up “New York” nearly 40 years ago.
Not even the Sex Pistols at their rawest could match that Friday night at Randy’s for dissonance.