JIM HIGHTOWER Expendable People Let me call out a few names to you: Tom Rshback of Dale Lake Wisconsin; Danny Gilchrist of Eddy County New Mexico; Dereck Bridges of northwestern Alabama; Anthony Marks of Clevelan4 Ohio; Howard Cohen of Wilmington, Delaware; Ismael Acero of El Pasq Texas; Michael Pitts of Westminster , South Carolina; and Brownie Rockwell of Merrill Maine These are among a dozen of the working people in our country who died on a single day last year, October 21victims of their jobs. Every workday, according to a report in The New York Times, an average of two dozen Americans are crushed, blown up, asphyxiated, gored, electrocuted, buried alive, or otherwise unpleasantly and prematurely terminated. With more than 6,000 such deaths a year, ours is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work. These are deaths that happen in a flash, and their families often never learn why “wrong place, wrong time” is all the explanation they get. Ismael Acero, 23, had a seventon concrete panel fall on him while his back was turned; Michael Pitts, who left a widow and two sons, had seventeen years with Duke Power before his shoulder somehow touched a 7,200-volt line, just a month before he would have paid off his mortgage; a mechanical failure of some sort caused a piece of oilrig equipment to crush Danny Gilchrist against a control panel; Anthony Marks was near a steam boiler in a municipal water plant when it blew up, for unknown reasons. In Washington, where the only injury risk is from being weighted down with corporate campaign contributions, politicians have been cutting back on job safety protections, saying they’re unnecessary. My wish is that these politicians should have to spend a year on the jobs that they make less safe. Let’s see how they like worrying every day that they’ll be the next “workplace statistic.” NO ROLE MODELS HERE The dapper sophisticate, Fred Astaire, once noted: “The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” Same thing for kids these days who are told they must learn to be “responsible” for their actions. But where are their role models? One institution in which taking responsibil 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER ity has long been considered not just a convenience, but a code of honor, is the U.S. military. Yet those in the top ranks no longer seem encumbered by such old-fashioned notions of honor, accepting no responsibility for the consequences of their military actions. In 1994, when two F-15 fighters mistakenly shot down two of our own helicopters over Iraq, killing all twenty-six people aboard, only a low-level captain went to a military trial, and he was acquitted. In 1996, when nineteen Americans were killed and 500 wounded in a terrorist truck bombing of a military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, the Air Force found that its general in charge of security at that complex was not responsible, even though he had been warned that a truck-bomb attack was likely and he did nothing to stop it. Instead of punishment, this general is up for promotion. Likewise, two of America’s highest-profile generalsStonnin’ Norman Schwartzkopf and Colin Powellclaim that they , have no responsibility for the fact that more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers under their command in the 1991 Persian Gulf War are now sick and dying, as a result of massive chemical and biological contamination that these two generals knew took place. “It’s not our responsibility,” is the claim of Schwartzkopf and Powell”we’re only generals.” Both of these guys are making millions on books and speeches as a result of their “war celebrity,” but neither has the integrity to stand up for the soldiers they sent into that Desert of Death. Don’t bother telling kids to be responsible, until those at the top are. CORPORATE COWBIRDS Like the cowbirds you see riding the backs of cattle, corporate directors have a symbiotic relationship with the corporate managers who choose them to serve on their boards. Especially if you are , a prominent cow bird, like former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, former Labor Secretary Ann McLaughlin, or former Health and Education Secretary Joe Califano. Together, these three serve on thirty-four corporate boards, including such giants as Chrysler, Travelers Insurance, and K-Mart. Such “celebrity directors”also known as “trophy directors”are usually handpicked by the very chief executives whose management they are supposed to oversee. A New York Times report by Judith Dobrzynski finds that, these board directors and the chief executives end up feeding off of each other, instead of serving stockholders or the larger public. These “star” directors tend to lavish huge paychecks on top corporate management and, in turn, they tend to draw fat paychecks from the management. It is the essence of “symbiosis.” For example, for the nine corporate boards that Joe Califano sits on, the chief executives of those corporations are estimated to be overpaid by 281 percent. Califano having scratched their backs, these chief executives in turn scratch Joe’s backhe draws around a million bucks a year for sitting on their boards. Symbiosis. The Joe Califanos are supposed to be “governing” the corporation on behalf of stockbrokers and the community, but mainly they end up subservient to management. To be otherwise would disturb the status quo and cost you your board seat. As one investment analyst put it: “If [a director] aggravates the CEO of one company, word gets around. And you want to be a team player. That’s the problem with boardsthe team-player culture.” Symbiosis means the executives and the directors take care of each other, and the hell with the rest of us. 0 Jim Hightower is a former Observer editor and Texas Agriculture Commissioner. His nationwide radio show broadcasts daily from Austin, Texas. FEBRUARY 14, 1997
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