Friday, July 1, 2016

The Tilapia Choice in 2016: Donald J. Trump

For starters, you may be asking: What does Donald J. Trump have in common with delicious fish?

First a disclaimer. My father, the most honest man I ever met, ran a business with honor. He didn’t stick our name in giant letters on any buildings; but he was proud of what he and his father built.

There are plenty of good people running businesses.

Still, I’m not blind. I know government is often better at protecting the interests of ordinary citizens. 

A Trump property in Chicago.

For starters, let’s talk fish.

In 2013 scientists (the same people who warn climate change is real) decided to do DNA testing on fish sold in markets and restaurants. It turns out not all business people are fit to serve flounder.

How often were people selling fish pulling what one writer called a “bait and switch?” In New York City a study found 39% of sellers, wholesale and restaurant, were dishing up tilapia that wasn’t—and 100% of sushi restaurants would have served an old shoe if they thought they could get away with it.

As a liberal, I understand why Trump supporters are sore. If they feel Big Business has been screwing them, they’re correct. But the argument the GOP loves—a bizarre variation of which Mr. Trump peddles himself—that he’s suited to run America because he ran a business—flies in the face of logic.

Let’s talk food again; let’s talk Trump steaks. 

I am not about to claim Donald Trump is selling weasel meat and calling it premium beef. 

I am saying the fact he once sold beef doesn’t qualify him to be president. If it did, some future White House dinner would feature meat from the Rancho Feeding Corporation, a California slaughterhouse. According to federal agents, Rancho made a habit of butchering cattle no one else wanted, for the simple reason those cattle had cancer.

In fact, government isnt always the problem, as Ronald Reagan once claimed. Government is the main reason you are not currently gobbling down cancerous beef. 

And if you’ve ever been to Yosemite you know government does a magnificent job creating national parks.

A gorgeous Yosemite stream. Don't let British Petroleum within a thousand miles.

By comparison, we all remember what the business geniuses at British Petroleum managed to do. In 2010, eleven workers were killed when BP cut safety corners and the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded. Before the damage could be contained, 4.2 million barrels of oil had fouled the waters and shorelines of the Gulf of Mexico.

In fact, history is chock full of examples of business people you would definitely not want running the country. Instead, government must check the abuses of crazed men and women in pursuit of a buck. Today the child pornography business is a $3 billion annual industry in the United States.

You can’t go lower than that.

Still, no list of greedy rats would be complete without Henry’s Turkey Service. For decades the company held dozens of special needs workers in a condition akin to slavery. The men were abused and paid, on average, 41¢ per hour. In 2013 an Iowa jury awarded thirty-two victims $240 million in damages.

Remember Bernie Madoff? He stole $20 billion.

Remember Enron? Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling rigged company books, jacked up stock prices to $90 and walked away with millions. When their scheme unraveled investor losses exceeded $63 billion.

Remember the Ford Pinto? In the “good old days” when safety regulations didn’t “strangle” job creators, Ford engineers decided to cut safety corners and save a few dollars. In rear end crash tests, conducted by the company, the Pinto kept failing, even at speeds as low as 20 mph. Ford sold the car anyway and, all across America, Pintos began exploding in giant fireballs. At least 180 drivers and passengers were incinerated.

Remember Joe Camel? In 1994 the first big lawsuit was filed against R. J. Reynolds and Big Tobacco. During hearings before Congress, executives insisted their products were perfectly safe. Why, babies could smoke cigarettes! The courts disagreed; state and federal agencies won $246 billion in damages.

Okay, those executives lied. According to the Center for Disease Control smoking results in the premature death of 480,000 Americans yearly.

How about business skunks like Martin Shkreli, of Valeant Pharmaceuticals. He made a name for himself recently after his company bought the rights to Daraprim, a drug used to treat life-threatening parasitic diseases affecting newborns and promptly raised the price from $13.50 per pill to $750. Yep: an increase of 5,500%.

How about the men and women who run Johnson & Johnson. For years the pharmaceutical giant provided expensive perks to doctors who agreed to prescribe Risperdel for creative uses. This included sedating elementary-age school children with behavioral issues. Presto! No more behavior issues! 

Also: tidy profits! 

Who cared if 1,200 kids suffered from serious side effects? Who cared if thirty-one died, including a 9-year-old who suffered a stroke days after beginning treatment? An Arkansas judge cared. 

He fined Johnson & Johnson $1.2 billion.

(We might also mention Pfizer, Amgen, Merck & Co., Eli Lilly, Abbott Laboratories and other big drug companies all successfully sued for hundreds of millions for illicit practices. The biggest fine of all, however, $3.3 billion went to GlaxoSmithKline, in large part for making false and misleading claims about the safety of their products.) 

Drug cartels: Not to be confused with pharmaceutical giants already mentioned! Then again, money is money is money. 

Speaking of which, HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, helped Mexican drug cartels launder $400 billion. In one email an HSBC executive lamented the fact the bank could lose $2.6 billion in fees if the lucrative pipeline was sealed.

Also: It turns out playing football is hard on the brain. For years, the NFL denied it was. “Here,” they said to players who suffered concussions, “take these pain killers and get back on that field. No! Wait! You’re heading for the stands. That way.” In a recent out-of-court settlement the league agreed to pay former players $765 million in damages.

How about that cesspool we know and love, Big Time College Sports! Top coaches earn millions even as players graduate with useless degrees. Or no degree at all. 

In an effort to keep athletes eligible, for example, the University of North Carolina came up with a novel plan. The school paid a professor to create dozens of classes that…how do we say this...never met at all 

Grades were good though!

Speaking of education, consider the whole for-profit college industry. (We will give Trump a pass, for now, until the matter of Trump University is litigated.) Not long ago Corinthian College paid five top executives $22 million for a years worth of effort, while simultaneously employing a variety of illegal sales tactics (including recruiting homeless individuals). Then they saddled students with high-interest loans. Eventually, Corinthian went bankrupt. Thousands of young people were still stuck paying off crappy loans.

And let’s not forget the University of Phoenix, once the biggest cash cow in the for-profit education game. The school came up with $67.5 million in court to pay for defrauding students—kicked in another $11 million for legal fees—all while spending $892 per pupil annually to…um …educate them.

Business people have been doing a fantastic job running various charter schools into the ground too. Consider General Chappie James Leadership Academy, a Dayton, Ohio charter. In 2015 the Academy was billing the state for each of 459 students enrolled. An audit revealed that Chappie James was missing a few bodies. 

Total students in attendance…oh, thirty.

And if you haven’t read about the scam that was Trump Institutenot to be confused with Trump University, but an entirely different schemeyou should. Glowingly endorsed by Good Businessman Trump, the institute was piloted by a couple who fled Texas, fled Florida, and fled Vermont to stay ahead of the law.

In fact, Susan G. Parker, who worked for Trump Institute and helped compile curriculum material (much of which has since turned out to have been plagiarized), came away from one training seminar appalled. “It was like I was in sleaze America,” she says, “It was all smoke and mirrors.”

I know. This is depressing.

So, perhaps a little levity might bring this post to an end. According to the Good Housekeeping Institute, when business people are on the loose, the consumer—and, in 2016, the voter—has reason to worry.

In various tests, Good Housekeeping uncovered more than bogus tilapia. It turned out a moisturizing cream sold by Olay for $22 outperformed a competing salon product that cost $350.

Another test of seven shampoos advertised to reduce split ends, involving magnification under microscopes to 700X, found none did.

Could it be: Is Trump using the wrong shampoo?

Well, the money-making shenanigans only continue! The New York State Attorney General recently accused GNC, Target and other retailers of fraud related to sales of herbal supplements advertised for health benefits to the unhealthy consumer. Walgreen was selling ginseng pills said to promote “physical endurance and vitality.” Turns out the pills contained nothing except powdered garlic and rice. 

In the same way, Walmart was offering ginko biloba pills, supposedly filled with a Chinese plant product touted to enhance memory. Sadly, someone making the pills forgot to include ginko biloba. The suspect pills contained powdered radish, powdered wheat and powdered houseplants.

In other words, the argument that we can trust business people to run the entire world has more than a few gaping holes in it.

Consider, for example, the coal and oil barons who pay for bogus climate denial “science” today. 

Consider the Oklahoma fracking companies, where earthquakes have been one unwelcome side effect. 

Throw in the trawling vessels which drag nets along ocean floors, nets which have scraped bare twenty million square miles of continental shelf. You know: the guys looking for tilapia to harvest—the guys not worried if they devastate an area equal to the land mass of Brazil, Canada, China, Russia and the United States.

In fact, when it comes right down to it, I would argue that Donald Trump is to government what fake ginko biloba pills are to healthful living.

Trump is political “tilapia” for the unwitting restaurant patron.

Maybe it's tilapia. Maybe it's Trump.

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