Punchinello’s Chronicles

December 10, 2008

The Billionaire Pirates

There’s lots of news these days about the pirates off the coast of Somalia. That country has no actual government, the people are starving, so basically anything goes. It’s affecting the rest of the world, and little by little those nations and governments are getting fed up with rampant crime.

Not so in the world of economics, finances, and the US economy.

We recently witnessed another classic instance of piracy, profiteering, and total disregard for reality in the buy-out of the Tribune corporation by billionaire (maybe) Sam Zell. Here’s a man who has absolutely zero interest or concern about his actions and their consequences. Like so many modern-day pirates, he used other people’s money to buy out a major corporation, then wiped the whole thing out in a minute and a half.

Where’s the vaunted Michael Moore on all this? Remember that movie, “Roger and Me?” In that movie, Mr. Moore tried to find out why Roger Smith, the then-CEO of General Motors didn’t seem to care if workers were going broke due to the corporate decisions being made. Of course today, we’re supposed to give a damn about GM going broke, right?

That movie came out in 1989, almost 20 years ago. Even then, conditions were set toward the financial disasters we’re facing today. They weren’t yet inevitable, but now, a decade later, the glide-path is set. We’re heading into the ground, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Much of what’s taking place is a result of accountants, the scariest people on Earth! Unlike ordinary thugs, corporate accountants don’t look dangerous. Jackie Mason has a comedic bit about how you don’t usually see a gang of accountants coming toward you at 2am out of a dark alley. But that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous! Accountants make the financial decisions and introduce the accounting systems by which we determine if any of us have any money at all.

Accounting systems spawn banking and lending laws, formulate how spending processes take place, and “prove” that credit cards can become pretend money. Following accounting advice, all sorts of changes come into play. It’s these accountants who show pirates like Mr. Smith or Mr. Zell how to accomplish the real-world decimation, plundering, and destruction we have to live with.

The Tribune company was a reasonably profitable company until Mr. Zell took control. Why did he do so, we might wonder? No particular reason other than “because he could.” It’s not much different than George Soros buying the Presidency, or the Saudi Arabian OPEC ministers owning the world.

What’s pathetic is the number of people who fawn all over these billionaires in admiration. They hold up these pirates as role models and examples of the American success story. All the while, watching and blaming everyone and everything else for the destruction of the economy, family lives, homes, traditional values, and the overall American lifestyle.

Is this a failure in capitalism? No, of course not! Profiteering and immoral accounting practices have little to do with private ownership and creative investment. It’s a failure to hold accountable people with massive amounts of money. It’s a failure on the part of all of us in terms of limiting the consolidation of business into mega-corporations owned by nobody and accountable to no one.

The problem is that you can’t arrest someone for breaking laws that those same people put into law. Next thing we’ll hear is that we’ll being asked to bail out the Tribune corporation because “so many jobs” depend on it staying in business. If we do that, then Sam Zell gets his money, while all the rest of us get nothing. And isn’t THAT typical!

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