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June 1, 2010

Oil spill another example of corporate failure


"You want the Kubota or the Husqvarna?" I asked, looking at the ragged yard and field early Friday evening.

"Kubota," Uncle Chet said.

"You want to start by the road, or down by the garden?"

"The garden; you take the road," he said as we walked to the barn.


"And we'll burn a little petroleum."

"After I retire, I'm going to get goats," I said.

"Ought to get 'em now," he said.

"A lot of things I ought to do," I said as I opened the overhead door.

We had about an hour and half of light left, enough to put a good dent in this job, I thought. Then tomorrow, maybe I'd have time to plant a few trees.

"This BP spill has got me thinking about fuel," Uncle Chet said as he went over to the tractor.

"It's made a mess of the Gulf," I said.

"The Gulf is a mess and so is the industry, the entity that made the mess," he said. "The destruction of the Gulf is another example of corporate failure, another link in the chain, along with the Exxon Valdez, Union Carbide in Bhopal, Massey at Upper Big Branch, Enron, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Bear Sterns and TYCO, to name a few."

"You forgot ImClone," I said.

"True, but I'm thinking about the failure of a system, not individual disasters," Uncle Chet said. "Corporations repeatedly fail the public because they're set up primarily to generate a profit, not serve the greater good."

"Well, the Ford Foundation gives an occasional grant," I said.

"The giant doesn't eat all the food, but most of it's PR," he said. "The bad they do, they try to bury, and the good they try to blare. Do you hear any company, any cherished brand name, taking credit for shipping our jobs to Mexico and Asia?"

"No,." I said.

"But when they give a grant, you'll hear about that, because it's a good way to spend their excess profit: PR."

"I'd still like a grant," I said.

"So would I," he said. "But what I'm questioning is the corporate model. I think the public should compete with it in key industries and control others democratically, because public is, by collective self-interest, designed to serve the greater good."

"Now I see why you want to mow down by the garden," I said as I got on the lawn tractor and put in the key.

"Well, it's got to be said, even if it's in the privacy of your barn: Corporations fail all the time, and it's always government to the rescue when they run amok, or aground."

"Like Wall Street, you mean?" I asked.

"Sure. Two years ago when Wall Street collapsed after a frenzy of gambling on derivatives, who came to the rescue?"

"Uncle Sam," I said.

"The public stepped in because of corporate failure," he said.


"Now that BP has ruined the Gulf of Mexico, whose responsibility, whose fault, is that?" he asked.

"It's Obama's Katrina," I said.

"Right. And in World War II, when we had to fight all out, or learn to speak German, Uncle Sam came to the rescue, in a big way," Uncle Chet said. "FDR mobilized labor and industry under the Office of War Mobilization, because the real Hitler was in a class by himself. And industry and workers were never more efficient, productive or patriotic than when they were working for the public, working, in a sense, with, not for, each other."

"So what you're saying is we need another Hitler?" I asked.

"I'm saying that in areas where failure can't be tolerated — say health insurance, pensions, education, transportation, military preparedness, offshore drilling, the government — the public, has to be in charge," he said, and started his engine.

Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit

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