Mixed Year For Big Business In 2012

Big business…  StateOfSearch.com

Big business… @ StateOfSearch.com

For Big Business in 2012, it was the best of times. No, no, nooooooooooo! On November 6, it was the worst of times.

Shortly after 9:00 PM on that fateful evening, 79-year-old Sheldon Adelson put on his night cap and headed for bed knowing he had funneled $150 million into GOP war chests and ended up with nothing to show for it except an, “I Spent $150 Million to Elect Mitt Romney and All I Got Was This Crappy T-Shirt” t-shirt. The 47% had spoken (actually pretty much every group in America except angry old white men had spoken). And they had agreed that the well-known communist, Barack Obama, deserved four more years in the White House.

Still, there were silver and gold linings in 2012. The stock market continued its recovery, essentially doubling in value between 2009 and the end of this year, during Mr. Obama’s evil watch. Car sales came roaring back (damn Obama!). And gun manufacturers laughed all the way to the bank (although they tried a little harder to hide it after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School). A record 16.8 million guns were sold in 2012, as paranoid Fox News fans flocked to stores to stock up to fight the bloody “War on Christmas.” True, Rebekah Brooks, head of News Corporation operations in Great Britain, and a close associate of union-hating-Fox News-owning Rupert Murdoch, was charged in May (along with several of her peers) with “perverting the course of justice.” But, hey, not to worry!

In the meantime, the cumulative wealth of the 400 richest Americans grew by 13% to $1.7 trillion. The Koch brothers—kind of the Ebenezer Scrooge twins, only without the epiphany—saw their personal wealth increase by $6 billion apiece (to $31 billion each), a gain of $16,438,356 per day. Fortunately, the year came to an end in much the same fashion in which it began: with their bought-and-paid-for GOP friends in Congress fighting like the defenders of the Alamo to stop President Vladimir Obama from raising taxes.

If Obama won the votes of America’s “freeloaders,” Big Business had allies, too. The U. S. Supreme Court had ruled that corporations were “people” with free speech rights and that meant corporations could dump as much money into campaigns as they could load into their company dump trucks. Speaking of which, Caterpillar reported profits of $4.9 billion for 2011 and $1.586 billion in the first quarter of 2012 and still refused to agree to worker demands for a raise. Hostess Brands tried to squeeze its bakers out of a few more dollars, declared bankruptcy when the bakers refused to be squeezed, and then turned around and handed millions in bonus payments to beleaguered executives. Mitt Romney was a true friend—albeit an inept one. And Fox News talked endlessly about the battle between job-creating business heroes and job-destroying union thugs. Unions killed the Twinkie. Union thugs in the public schools were ruining education.

(Even the paid shills at Fox News backed away from that line of attack after the bloody massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.)

What else happened that was good for Big Business? Productivity continued to rise and corporate profits set records. Yet, wages stagnated. That was pretty cool. Michele Bachmann insisted that if elected president, she would eliminate the minimum to insure that American companies could meet foreign competition. At the same time, Apple continued to build computers and iPhones in China and managed to get by paying Chinese college graduates $22—per day. Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich, also running for president, opened what had to have been the nuttiest campaign in American history by channeling their inner Robber Baron, arguing that child labor laws were stupid and poor kids would be better off if they held jobs.

You know:  like working as school janitors after classes ended.

The drug companies had a profitable 2012, because, frankly, the drug companies pile up profits every year. Oh sure, there were glitches. The State of Texas sued Johnson & Johnson for defrauding Medicaid and the company settled for $158 million. Okay—and an Arkansas judge told the company to set aside $1.2 billion for illegal marketing activities related to Risperdal, typically given to children. Well, sure, there was that unfortunate court case involving a young man who took the drug and grew breasts. But New England Compounding Center had a worse year, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after unsafe practices led (almost inevitably) to the company shipping contaminated steroids to doctors all over the country. For customers of New England Compounding, 2012 was the worst of times, indeed. Thirty-nine died and 620 suffered serious injury.

What else was going on with the economy? Unemployment remained high; but Mitt Romney assured voters if they elected him (a man who once bragged about starting up all kinds of companies in China), he would get right to work creating 12,000,000 new jobs with good pay and benefits in this country. Walmart saw mixed blessings. The company managed to thwart attempts by workers to unionize and continued to contract out production of clothing to factories in Bangladesh, where the average worker made even less than a worker in China. Unfortunately, factories in Bangladesh, where companies flouted safety regulations, kept going up in flames and incinerating employees, which didn’t dent Walmart’s bottom line but did put a crimp in the supply chain. After a series of articles broke in the New York Times, Walmart executives were also forced to launch an investigation into reports of widespread bribery involving government officials in Mexico, China, Brazil and India.

Sometimes, as any Tea Party thinker could have told us, government wasn’t the solution. Government was the problem. UBS, the Swiss bank, had to agree to pay $450 million in fines after U. S. and British authorities accused the institution of playing a central role in a scheme to rig international interest rates. No bankers were harmed by the scheming—only people who wanted fair rates on auto loans and home mortgages.

Government proved to be the problem again when British Petroleum reached final agreement to pay $7.8 billion in damages to 100,000 individuals and businesses that suffered damages as a result of the Gulf Oil Spill. Hyundai and Kia inflated gas mileage figures by 10% on some 2012 models, got nailed by federal investigators, and agreed to pay $100 million to make up the difference to owners. Even James F. McCann, founder of 1-800-Flowers.com, was charged with consumer fraud in a tough year for job-creating heroes.

Who else got nailed? Bank of America ended the year facing fines of $1 billion, if not more, for its role in the 2008 housing collapse. JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse took their lumps and agreed to pay $417 million to settle charges of “selling risky mortgage bonds to investors that the banks knew could fail ahead of the 2008 financial crisis.” Other major players in the business set aside $22.5 billion in June to pay future settlements. Meanwhile, hedge fund managers paraded into court as defendants and back out again as felons. In 71 of 72 cases prosecuted by the U. S. attorney for Manhattan, the government won convictions.

The lone exception—Mr. Deep Shah—skipped town and has been declared a fugitive.

It was, of course, a much better year for defense contractors. Lockheed announced shortly before Christmas that it expected to make a 10% profit on sales of a fifth batch of F-35 fighter planes to the American military. Not including engines, which would be like asking a car dealer to throw in chrome rims on an SUV purchase, each aircraft cost the U. S. government at least $105 million. This was roughly 50% more than the company originally promised when it won the contract in 2002; but who was even counting? Not Fox News, certainly.

Fox reported that Lockheed was cutting prices 4% on this specific deal, wowing the ignorant fools who tune in regularly.