Enjoying That Roasted Scapegoat?

[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!

Elizabeth Warren speaks with voters as she campaigns after announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Framingham
Sen. Elizabeth Warren brutalizes some executive with her large index finger

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.

NYT’s Pearl Clutcher

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.

Redesign Your Cause: Nicholas D. Kristof
Nicholas Kristof, pearl clutcher

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?

A Pew Research Center study on political polarization and news consumption gives a partial answer: not many.  The 2014 report found that, among the consistent liberals surveyed, CNN was the top news source (15 percent of respondents), followed by NPR (13 percent), MSNBC (12 percent), and the New York Times (10 percent).

For conservatives? About 47 percent named Fox News as their No. 1 news source. They also distrusted far more news outlets than liberals.

Unless lefties start flocking to Fox News — no, no, never, never — the kind of authority that underpins Kristof’s piece is toast.

Postscript: One of SanAntoniomizer’s thousands of readers said she got the feeling that I’m nostalgic for the good old days when Big Media set the agenda. I am not — at all. Kristof? Definitely.





Hil, Please Stop Daring Me

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.

Hillary, making that face

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.

Sharp increase in household incomes and decreased poverty? Yes, please!

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?

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