Super Bowl Sunday naturally brings lots of articles and columns about the game. None of the sportswriters who will type those articles and columns is better than Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press. Mitch has been voted national Sportswriter of the Year more than once. His articles are read nationwide in guest columns and articles in publications like Sports Illustrated. I had just watched a great game and was online looking for commentary about it so it’s not surprising that I decided to see what Mitch might have said about it.
When I got to www.freep.com and looked at the list of columns by Albom I was quickly reminded that Mitch is much more than a sportswriter. He’s one hell of a sportswriter, of course. He won Sportswriter of the Year 13 times and Feature Writer 7 times. No other writer has won it more than once. Mitch has also written plays and songs, both lyrics and music. But what Mitch is probably most famous for are his novels. He wrote three NY Times best sellers including, Tuesdays with Morey, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and For One More Day. All of them have been made into movies.
Mitch could be writing for any publication in the world. I have no doubt that he has turned down offers from papers like the NY papers or the LA Times. For some reason, he never accepted one of those offers. He seems to have fallen in love with Detroit since he first came here in 1985. Instead of taking his trophies and popularity and cashing in he decided to stay in Detroit. He’s highly respected in this state for his loyalty to Michigan.
He’s been more than loyal. He’s also founded three charities that do great work for the people of this state. He further supports the area with timely columns that often prove very thought-provoking. I think it is safe to say that Mitch is a standup guy. Rush Limbaugh would label him a bleeding heart liberal.
I never did get to read a column about football tonight. I got sidetracked on a few columns by Mitch about greed, lies, and a defense of Detroit. The one about Detroit is quite long. They were all worth the read. That’s not surprising since Mitch is a smart guy with great writing skills. Since I liked them so much I thought I’d share those columns with the Moose crowd.
The first column I read was about greedy bankers. It begins:
It was the wastebasket.
That did it for me.
No, you can’t justify $87,000 for a rug and you can’t justify $35,000 for a commode — yes, a commode — but you really, really can’t explain $1,400 for a wastebasket.
Made out of parchment.
Who buys a wastebasket that can catch fire faster than the trash inside it?
The column refers to John Thain, the former chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch who was ousted after merging with Bank of America for hiding last-quarter losses of around $15 billion.
When a reporter asked why he felt a need to redecorate the office after inheriting it from his predecessor in late 2007, Thain said this:
“Well, heh, um, his office was very different, uh, than, uh, the, the general decor of, uh, Merrill’s offices. Uh, it really would have been, uh, very difficult, uh, for, uh, me to use it in the form that it was in.”
The “uh’s” say it all. Come on. How bad could an ex-CEO’s office be? Were there dead animals in there? Dry rot? Mold?
Mitch doesn’t think very much about big CEO’s who feel they are owed something just for who they are.
And therein lies the problem. Even as he is being pasted in the media, Thain (whose corporate nickname was once I-Robot) doesn’t get why he can’t still be a Master of the Universe, where CEOs rule the game because they’re smarter, faster and, doggone it, richer than the rest of us.
Of course, Thain ran off for a ski vacation when news emerged that his company lost billions. So I guess “braver” isn’t one of his adjectives.
Here’s the rest of the column:
Now, Thain is hardly the only CEO dipped in a sense of privilege. True, he was paid a whopping $83 million in 2007 and stood to earn as much as $120 million last year, so you’d think he could have purchased his own $16,000 coffee table.
Instead, when things went sour, he still wanted his bonus. He blamed the economy for the losses. Of course, he never credited the economy when everything was shooting up. Then it was somehow just his brilliance.
Or maybe it was the commode.
Either way, he needs to be held up and lambasted. Sure, he points to other companies, he claims this is par for the course in Wall Street, he wonders, why pick on him?
Which reminds me of a scene in the movie “Stand By Me” where a young hero pulls a gun on a gang of thugs led by Keifer Sutherland. Sutherland says, “What are you gonna do, shoot all of us?”
And the kid says, “No … only you.”
For now, begin with Thain. Shame him, deride him, hold him up and then move on to the next guy who does this, because the spineless nature of these guys will quickly emerge: They all want to be rich; none of them wants to be humiliated.
We have endured such shameless behavior before (remember Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski and his $6,000 shower curtain?), but in this New Depression, it can’t be tolerated and it can’t be sloughed off. Enough is enough. If they won’t stop this elitist immorality, the government should make them.
Remember, it’s our money being given out. And $1 million could be 20 middle-class jobs, 20 Americans who wouldn’t have to sell their homes or pull their kids from college — just so the Thains of the world can toss their trash into parchment.
In another article, Mitch goes off on the lies that businesses get away with in this country.
There’s a movie trailer out for “Sunshine Cleaning” in which a father gives his daughter a sign for her new company. The sign says she has been in business “since 1963.”
“It’s a lie,” the daughter says.
“Yeah,” he answers, “but it’s a business lie. It’s not the same as a life lie.”
I think we’ve become a country that believes that. We accept business lies. We almost expect them.
Mitch lists some recent lies he’s heard and then mentions the banks and TARP. He goes on to say:
Now, I’m not saying we never get upset at such things. But we get much angrier over a football coach not getting fired or a New York governor hiring a prostitute. We will argue that stuff on the airwaves, over watercoolers. We’ll scream until we’re blue.
But celebrity lies or sports lies don’t affect our lives. Business lies do. They affect many aspects of it. And yet we seem to shrug and sigh, “Ah, what are you gonna do?”
Mitch has more to say on this and much of it matches what I’ve always thought. Why should someone go to jail longer for burglary than someone who destroys the life savings of 1’000’s of people?
But, folks, as long as we accept lies as part of doing business, we are going to get lying businesses. We need to get indignant. We need to change laws. We will jail a common thief for robbing a liquor store far longer than we’ll jail a CEO for robbing thousands of investors.
Why? Why shouldn’t white-collar crime be as serious as drug trafficking or manslaughter? Don’t both crimes ruin lives, destroy families, even lead to deaths? How often have we read in recent weeks about suicides by people who were overwhelmed by business trauma? Don’t kid yourself that a white collar can’t run blood red.
And yet we shrug and bite the bullet. We accept no truth in advertising. We accept all those weird assorted charges on a cable or phone bill. We accept multinational banks — who view us as stupid little people — taking our tax money and delivering nothing in return.
At a tim
e when people are scraping for their last nickels, this kind of behavior is not only inexcusable, it’s abhorrent, immoral and should be much more illegal.
When that movie father tells his daughter, “It’s a business lie. It’s not the same as a life lie” — the truth is, he’s right.
Mitch has another great column about Detroit. If you are only familiar with the city from what you read in the papers, this might open your eyes. For those who have read this far, you should really check out Mitch’s writings on these and other issues, they are well worth the time – http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs…
If you like Mitch’s writing you might want to learn more about this highly talented individual. He started his adult life after graduation by traveling around Europe as a musician. He is in a band with Stephen King, Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan and Scott Turrow. The band of writers raises money for children’s literacy programs.
Here’s a link to his wiki page.