March, 2002, Volume 9 Nr. 7, Issue 103

OWE.  WE PAY, WE PAY.  WE OWE!

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, PhD

This is a good time, as a consequence of both world and personal events, to link a very popular tune from the late 1960's Broadway American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, "Hair", to the present.  Though the Right would object, more on the grounds of possible apoplectic reaction and intellectual spasmosis than anything else, the relevance of this play and those times to the present is, at least, on par with George Orwell's prophetic 1948 book, "1984" as descriptor of a nation gone "Big Brother" mad.  If a 74-year old book can describe present events shedding some light on the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue pretendential dyslexicon as doublespeak, then a 34-year old rock music opera has hope for some relevance, given its questioning of readily accepted standards of its day and today. 

Produced for the Broadway stage by out-of-work actors Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and originally produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival, "Hair" lyrics, form and acting, question the problems associated with the status quo and the propagandist values of patriotism, perpetuated then  as now, and morality, sexuality, individualism, loyalty, liberty, freedom, racism, government, military service, war, violence, peace, social acceptance, status, the flag, just to name a few.  This questioning is as valid and necessary today as it was in 1968 or 1948, perhaps more so, given the ever more rapid drift of the nation toward the brown fascism of corporate-state control of all aspects of life. 

In the scene/song, entitled, "Don't Put It Down", the lyrics, referring to the U.S. flag, poke more than a few holes into the sheeple-accepted and unquestioned notion that this cherished symbol, today much more a corporate logo than when the lyrics were written, represents democracy, liberty and freedom -- present-day doublespeak for capitalism, neo-liberalism and so-called free trade.

Don't Put It Down
1969 James Rado & Gerome Ragni

Om mane padme om; Om mane padme om,
Folding the flag is taking care of the nation,
Folding the flag is putting it to bed for the night;
I fell through a hole in the flag,
I'm falling through a hole in the flag;
Help! Don't Put It Down Best one around!
Crazy for the red, blue and white,
Crazy for the red, blue and white,
You look at me, What do you see?
Crazy for the white, red and blue,
Crazy for the white, red and blue,
Cause I look different, You think I'm subversive,
Crazy for the blue, white and red,
Crazy for the blue, white and red,
My heart beats true, for the red, white and blue!
Crazy for the blue, white and red
Crazy for the blue, white and red and yellow fringe
Crazy for the blue, white, red and yellow!

This is a beautiful song, one patriots everywhere should take to heart and sing with gusto.  The opening line of this Ode to Ploy, "Om mane padme om; Om mane padme om", is a Sanskrit chant, which more or less translates into, "all is well with the world".  This, at a time when the body bag count from the "police-action" in Vietnam was desensitizingly disengaging the masses through the newspeak of the day, all the while claiming victory in the making.   Playing with the wording in the opening line, I'd like to share a free-trade religious experience through a catalytic parodic rewrite of a few lines with "Don't Put It Down". 

Owe.  We Pay.  We Pay.  We Owe!

From the American Corporate Crock Trivial musical, "Where?", the plot unfolds.  In the lyrics, "Don't Put the Credit Card Down", the opening line chants, "Owe.  We pay, We pay.  We Owe!" This chant, the new mantra of the new millennium, affecting the bottom line of the corporate ever-increasingly wealthy elite, and, the not-so-well being of workers that create their wealth, transcendentally maneuvers believers into an other plane of: all is well with the world.  All is well that is, as long as you keep spending money -- money which in fact, you don't have, buying the things and stuff that you don't need, made in countries where labor costs pennies per hour as a consequence of our jobs being eliminated.  At least, it affords us time as we can scan the Tommy Hilfiger ads on the unemployment line, a company who manufactures nothing and whose website claims, "Hot clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger's popularity with hip-hop stars and fashion-conscious youth has given him street credibility to burn."

New Delhi is Not A Neighborhod Sandwich Shop

A few days ago, I opened a rather large batch of junk mail within which, occasionally, arrives a relevant  letter.  This, even after I have filed the appropriate notification for junk mailings to cease and desist.  You can always tell when the neo-liberal corporationists fear their cherished profit uber alles system is failing when the amount of junk mail in general significantly increases.  This was such a day.  Therein, amidst the double-bargain coupons for Twinkies, Spam, Coke, Pepsi, dead meat, in between the mortgage offerings, insurance come-ons, collection agency threats for supposed non-payment of medical bills, free this and free that which never are, solicitations from the Republican National Committee, solicitations from the Democratic National Committee, solicitations from supposed socialists masquerading as Progressives, but in-reality Democrats, interlaced with credit card offers (I collect them -- now occupying two bookshelves full and totaling millions of dollars), was a simple windowed envelope from P.O. Box 9769, Macon, GA 31297-9769, bulk-mailed, Presorted Standard US Postage Paid, Randolph, MA, Permit No, 75.  Not wanting to miss an important letter, perhaps from my East European grandparents whom I've never met, I opened the letter.

Two documents were inside the letter: an 8 X 11 inch Vermont Green Mountain, green-colored sheet entitled, "Important Information for Vermont Customers", and, a  blue tripartite booklet dated 04/01 called, "Montgomery Ward Credit Card, Our Privacy Commitment, Monogram Credit Card Bank of Georgia."   The latter begins with, "As a valued customer, we are committed to providing you with exceptional service and product offers."  This is nice, especially given the fact that Montgomery Wards & Co., filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed its 250 stores by the end of spring, 2001.  I'd give Monkey Wards the benefit of a doubt if I had not cancelled my account a year ago.  It gets better.

What irked me enough was the following:

Please call us toll-free at 1-877-969-9016, or write to us at P.O. Box 103064, Roswell, GA 30076, if you would like to request the following:  Please do not share information about me with companies outside the GE family, except as permitted by law.  And please do not share Consumer Report Information about me with companies within the GE Family.

Please understand that, even if you select this choice, we will continue to share information with joint marketing partners and service providers as described in this policy, and as otherwise permitted by law.

Super.  I can opt out from having some non-identified nor specified information about me and my buying habits and credit history given to other than my relatives in the GE Family on a credit card account I don't have through a bank I have no knowledge of in a state south of the Mason-Dixon whose mailing from New England by a corporation, GE, headquartered elsewhere, I wouldn't given the time of day to.

General Electric, ah yes.  Owning NBC while "Bringing good things to life", like PCB contamination of the Hudson River from Schenectady to the Atlantic Ocean.  INFACT, describes the espose documentary, "Deadly Decption", thusly,

Deadly Deception exposes the terrifying human and environmental cost of General Electric's nuclear weapons development...At highly secret facilities like Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in upstate New York, GE workers have been poisoned by radiation and asbestos...Downwind of the Hanford, Washington nuclear bomb plant, on a stretch of road known as "Death Mile," 27 of 28 families have suffered deadly cancers or birth defects.  While GE managed the Hanford plant, GE knowingly released extensive amounts of radiation into the air and water...

The liquidation of Montgomery Wards under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy code eliminated 37,315 jobs nationally.  I can just hear the critics saying, "At least GE is bringing some of those jobs back!"  Not so fast.

I called the number in the Earth-toned sky blue brochure to make certain that my year-old cancelled defunct Montgomery Ward credit card was indeed, cancelled.  I reached a woman, Rene, with an Indian (Asia) accent.  She politely told me that in order to cancel my account, I would have to call another number: 877-969-1130.  I did that.  This time, I spoke to Michelle, with an Indian (Asia) accent.  Now, I can see running into the anomaly of Rene being the name of an Indian woman, but running into Michelle as an Indian was a bit like believing that George Dubya had a real job before he was elected governor of Texas, which in itself is a ceremonial job at best.  So, I asked, "Are you located in the United States?"  The reply, "No, sir,  I am located in India".  Ah!   Free trade.  Wonderful, is it not?  These poor folk in India making pennies on the hour from jobs moved out of the United States, 12 hours up from the U.S. east coast time zone, working through the night, do so for a company that has polluted the Hudson River. 

To bring it a bit closer to India, GE owns (Reuters) 10% of Enron's $2.9 billion power project, a "massive 2,184 MW gas-fired power plant and adjacent LNG facility, the largest foreign private investment ever in India."  I wonder if either Rene or Michelle have any Enron or GE stock options?  They better not have any 401K plans.

Neutron Jack

Thomas O'Boyle, author of At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric and the Pursuit of Profit (Knopf, 1998), calls Mr. Welch "Neutron Jack".  The Corporate Crime Reporter dated November 16, 1998, writes,

Over 17 years as CEO, Welch eliminated hundreds of thousands of jobs, bought and sold hundreds of businesses, and shifted the company's focus from manufacturing to entertainment, O'Boyle reports.

During the same period, the company was caught in a web of scandals including defective refrigerators brought to market, industrial wastes improperly buried, excessive radiation in the workplace, fraud in military contract procurement, and the Kidder, Peabody disaster -- all reported in detail in the book.

The Corporate Crime Reporter continues regarding O'Boyle's expose,

Extravagance was a way of life at GE Plastics. Like Welch's Phi Sigma Kappa college fraternity, which threw the wildest parties at the University of Massachusetts, Jack's boys at Plastics were a wild fraternity."

Trashing hotels was considered being one of the boys, so was playing demolition derby with rental cars. At the annual meeting one year in Montreal, the German sales contingent heaved a grand piano out the hotel window (fortunately, it was on the ground floor.)"

The damage done at some hotels was so great that GE Plastics was asked not to return.

Now, mind you, I'm for enjoying life.  However, my mother, a working-class clean-fill for the P. Laidlow company building banks, offices and stock exchange brokerage houses on Wall Street taught me better.  There isn't a snow ball's chance in Dante's mythological hell that I would carry a credit card having any knowing connection the "GE Family".  Not after dumping a million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson.  Not after being fined a paltry $740,000 by the federal government for withholding information.   Not after, as the Utne Reader, put it, 45 years of corporate crime.

Global Exchange, San Francisco, sites a study by the Project on Government Oversight, a public interest group.  The study

...found that General Electric had defrauded the government 16 times since 1990. An easy way to punish companies in the habit of ripping off the taxpayer is to establish a three-strikes principle that any corporation caught defrauding the government three times or more would no longer be eligible for government contracts. This would disqualify an impressive roster of fraud-tainted losers from receiving government contracts, including Boeing, Grumman, Honeywell, Hughes Aircraft, Martin Marietta, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop, Raytheon, Rockwell, Teledyne, Texas Instruments and United Technologies.

Strike Infinity

The other day on National Public Radio (NPR), I listened to a story about an elderly grandmother who was being evicted from public housing because her grand daughter was busted from smoking marijuana off premises.  She wasn't even driving, nor going through a stop sign.  Strike one, you're out -- for the people.   Strike infinity, for GE.  Well, you're still there, even though you, as a corporation, have the same rights and privileges constitutionally as an individual.   Or, if you have the right last name, the charges and arrest can be expunged -- say for drunk driving. 

As Global Exchange puts it, "If the three-strikes principle is good for street criminals, shouldn't it also apply to a form of crime that is far more damaging to our society?"  Compare: in 1995, the FBI reported that all burglary and robbery in the U.S. totaled a loss of $4-billion.  White-collar fraud costs $200 billion per year.

As Michael Moore puts it in his new and wildy successful book, Stupid White Men...and other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation,

There is no recession, my friends: no downturn, no hard times.  The rich are wallowing in loot -- and now they want to make sure you don't come a-lookin' for your piece of the pie. 

This is the reason why I spoke with Rene and Michelle in India -- the only way to make a free call to India these days.  Imagine it.   It's cheaper (never mind, un-American and unpatriotic) to hire someone in India to work in this arena and pay the long distance charges than to hire an U.S. worker.   Must be those pesku U.S. folk wanting health care benefits and all.

More Plastic

A day after I received the "GE Family" mailing, we received a phone call from the MBNA bank, headquartered in the tax-beneficial and bank friendly state of Delaware.  A real U.S. citizen was at the other end trying to get to me say, "ahuh" or "OK" or some other affirmative variant so that he could sign me up.  I started in.  Do you know that I collect credit card offers?  Please tell your supervisors that they are liable to a fine as I have registered my phone number to not receive telephone solicitations?  The reply, "Since you collect credit card offers, perhaps you'd like another credit card for your wallet?"  Certainly note.  Sad.  This gentleman's job is heading to India, Afghanistan, Rwanda...  You too will be chanting, "Owe.  We pay.   We pay.  We owe!"

Orwell, Then as Now

George Orwell's, 1984, made the following points (amongst others):

  • War is important for product consumption based upon human labor.

  • Increasing the standard of living decreases control over people.

  • War is the economic basis for a hierarchical society.

  • There is an emotional need to believe in the ultimate victory of Big Brother.

  • The cessation of war comes about from implementing continuous war.

  • Continued war maintains the current order.

  • War is Peace.

  • Society is stratified into classes: Low, Middle and High.

  • Collectivism maintains economic inequality.

  • Wealth is kept within the ruling elite.

  • Freedom of thought is not thinking.

  • Mental training (today - television, the doublespeak) guarantees little or no deviation in thought, no critical thinking.

  • Who controls the past controls the future.

  • Who controls the future controls the past.
    Big Brother is watching and listening and reading and spying and...

  • It's all for you own good.

Michael Moore is optimistic.  In a time, when as Moore puts it, "Our great economic expansion is unraveling faster than a set of Firestones...", I do believe there is much hope.  As the ending to another song from "Hair", puts it,

Our eyes are open, our eyes are open
Our eyes are open, our eyes are open
Wide! Wide! Wide!

2002 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, PhD

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