Well it finally happened. Though there’s slim chance anyone noticed. But the Conscience Revolution (or whatever one wishes to call it) just may have begun in the United States. Today. Or last night at 1 am to be exact. In an unheard of move in the world of Wall Street, one of the highest rated analysts on the Street today issued a downgraded “Sell” recommendation for Apple Computer Corporation based on “moral grounds”. The video of a brilliant and bewildering interview with the analyst is embedded below in this post. But more on that in a minute. For some, I know what you might be thinking. “What Conscience Revolution is that Mr. Ambassador? You mean the one that started way back in the nineteen-sixties when we were marching in the streets for women’s rights and civil rights and to end the war in Vietnam? Doesn’t sound new to me!” Yes, that one. And point well taken. The sixties were certainly a moment of awakening conscience.
But I’d offer several alternative perspectives to consider. Number one, that wasn’t a revolution as much as it was a revolt. By a relatively small number of people. Though we were able to make great strides towards more equality, pass the Civil Rights Act, garner more pay — and more say — for the female portion of our society, and yes even brought the Vietnam War to an end eventually (though some could rightly argue that America’s retreat from Vietnam had little to do with the will of the people and everything to do with the fact that the powers that be in Washington finally realized it was an unwinnable war), these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to truly eradicating the myriad injustices in the world today, not to mention the ones in our own backyard here in the land of the free. More to the point, the group that was revolting — call them hippies, liberals, concerned citizens, whackos, crazies, people of conscience — was still a very small and select group of Americans compared to the over all majority who sat back in their easy-chairs each night to watch the chaos ensue on TV. For whatever reason(s), the message didn’t get through to the larger majority of the American people. Hence no revolution.
[In fact some even point to the nineteen-sixties as the exact moment that those mysterious powers-that-be took over the governing of the United States — through their carefully targeted assassinations of JFK, MLK, Malcolm X, RFK and a few Black Panthers, they discouraged, frightened and mentally defeated the people so much that from that point on everyone in the country knew the rules. No revolutions here thank you very much.]
The problem with a full-on Conscience Revolution in America is that we have –quite literally– three types of citizens in America. Each vying for very different agendas. Neither specifically politically nor religiously divided one might be able to break these groups down as follows:
Type One — The Short Hairs — The Mainstreamers — The Capitalists. They LOVE freedom and capitalism and the free-enterprise system. They believe in that sophomoric ideal tossed about during election season known as “American Exceptionalism”. Just as much as they believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy, by himself mind you; or that Adam Lanza killed all those kids in that school in Sandy Hook (with a gun that was found later in a trunk of a car after the shooting). And yes they believe that Osama Bin Laden was the mastermind who brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11, along with Building #7 (most of these people don’t even know there was a Building #7 that mysteriously collapsed to the ground as if by magic). They pretty much believe anything that they see on the evening news or their morning news show of choice. They want “government out of our way”. It’s an every man woman and child for themselves rule of law they promote. And if you work hard, you’ll get ahead. If you don’t manage to get ahead, some of that wealth of the higher-ups will “trickle down” and surely come your way anyway. Thus they fight for lower taxes across the board, for individuals as well as for corporations, and they fight for fewer looser regulations.
They tend to be unfairly and inaccurately associated with Evangelical Christians, but they aren’t any one religion. This isn’t about religion. They could be all sorts of different Christian denominations. Some may be Jewish. Some may be Hindu or Buddhist. Surely some are atheists. And let’s remember that Arabia (refuse to use the family name of Saudi on moral grounds — (which would definitely make you a Type Two person)) happens to also fit into this category and they’re all strictly Muslim, but that doesn’t stop them from working with and profiting greatly from working with the Americans of this ilk. They don’t always vote Republican. That’s too stereotypical. But they sure aren’t as focused on raising the minimum wage or providing affordable health care for all Americans as they are on increasing corporate profits and their own salaries. They’re not going to show up at any protest or demonstration any time soon. Except maybe a Tea Party one — and that’s a very small minority of them. They’re too busy living or attempting to live the American Dream.
Now these Type One people, they aren’t necessarily all bad or evil — in fact some of them are the nicest folks you’d ever want to share a beer and a steak with. They give just as often as the next guy. They just may not give to environmental charities, because they don’t like environmentalism for the most part because it “gets in the way of business and corporate profits” too much. They think a lot of it is hogwash. Some even point to a global conspiracy created by certain hucksters to frighten the world into believing there is an impending human-created global warning crisis coming in order to profit from ineffectual “alternative energy” sources like solar and wind energy that we don’t even need. They know coal and other fossil fuels are bad for the air we breathe and the water that the fishes live in, but they don’t see any other valid way of powering our lives in the convenient manner that we’re used to nor at the inexpensive prices we’re used to.
They want government to butt out of Big Oil and Big Coal and Big Pharma and Big Defense spending and any other Big industry where Big profits are being made. They know about sweat shops and they know about slave labor. But it’s not going to stop them from buying the latest gadget or their favorite pair of shoes. They also know that China is a fascist/communist country where the people have fewer rights than we could ever even imagine, but they don’t feel strongly enough about it to be compelled to boycott products made in China or do anything else about it. Because they’ve been told that “there is nothing we can do about it”. They accept the status quo. The same hook line and sinker that’s fed to them every four years from the same two political parties that control the country and they don’t even recognize that that fact alone is not very democratic. They’re good hearted generous salt of the earth Americans. Nothing wrong with them. If anything, some of them, a small minority granted, are also waiting for a revolution of sorts. Just an entirely different one than Type Two citizens. Their revolution entails getting rid of as much of the Federal government as possible in order to allow what they call the “free market system” to work the way it’s supposed to. To them you would never make an investment decision based on moral grounds. That just goes beyond all logic to how they think and function. There’s some truth to what they practice and preach. It’s not a bad idea to get to know them and learn what makes them tick.
Type Two — The Conscious — The Protestors — The Awakened — The Hippy Crowd: Some may consider these Type Two types as being strictly Democrats or liberals. But again this isn’t strictly about political persuasion. These citizens are a different breed that’s for sure. And yes they’re occasionally labeled hippies or crazies or whackos by Type One and Three types. They do tend to be liberal (lower case l), meaning, they believe that everyone should be treated equally no matter who they are or where they’re from. And they’re willing to fight for that cause. Certainly more than the cause of freeing up the free market capitalist system. They’re also willing to write letters, start NGOs, march, protest, demonstrate, get arrested, or do just about anything if they believe that it will bring more real freedom, justice and liberty to the people of the world . They don’t always vote Democrat but they seem to lean that way. Lately they’ve been voting Independent more and more.
They too hate taxes just as much as the next guy, but not for the “really wealthy”, which of course is anyone who makes more money than they do. Joking. That’s not actually fair. Based on numerous polls, most of these Type Twos don’t actually mind paying higher taxes if it means that their moral values are being expressed in society more through the paying of said higher taxes. They’re peculiar that way. They claim that they don’t think there’s anything wrong with “paying a bit more to help more people”. They believe in global warming, or at least that there’s something wrong with the weather lately and they believe that there’s something that we humans have done to cause it and there’s something we can do about it. They were in the streets in the sixties fighting for civil rights and women’s rights and all sorts of other rights. They burned their draft cards and they burned their bras in the seventies. During the eighties they were marching against nuclear proliferation and various wars. In the nineties and two-thousands they were in the streets fighting for corporate finance reform and political campaign finance reform and for banking and financial institution reform and trying to prevent yet more wars.
They tend toward what the Mainstreamers would label conspiracy theories. They think it’s a crock that anyone could believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK all by himself (maybe because it’s impossible…?) or that James Earl Ray killed MLK by himself, or that “Osama Bin Laden masterminded the 9/11 attacks”. They’ve seen LOOSE CHANGE (the most popular of the 9/11 Truth movement’s documentaries on the subject) more than once and find too many inconsistencies in the official story to believe it. They protested America’s invasion of Iraq and they protest the monopoly that corporate lobbyists have on Washington DC politicians. They fight for equal rights for same sex couples because they truly believe in equal rights for all as being what America and democracy is all about. They’ve got their separation of church and state issues reconciled. They may be religious or they may not be. They aren’t necessarily against it or for it. But they certainly wouldn’t stop anyone from practicing said religion if they wanted to. They’re more concerned with saving the planet from pollution and corrupt politicians and ending slave labor and sweat shops. They’re awaiting a coming revolution where freedom, beauty, truth, love, peace and compassion are the ties that bind us all and govern the way we live. They want the revolution to be peaceful. They’re willing to do just about anything to see it in their lifetime.
Type Three — The Laggards — The Majority: Type three citizens don’t fit into either of the above groups. They may lean one way or the other on certain issues but for the most part they just don’t have the time nor the attention span to care one way or the other about most of the issues to get too involved. It’s not that they don’t care. Some do. (Incredibly some actually don’t, and don’t mind bragging about it). Some are beyond jaded and just downright cynical because they’ve seen too much. Some are lazy. Some are just too poor and busy making ends meet to jump in the game. And it’s not that they don’t have an opinion. Ask them. Some do. They just don’t have any irons in the fire. They’ve got no skin in the game to fight for anything one way or the other. They work. They consume. They eat. They live. They get married and have children and buy homes and get jobs and retire and mourn their loved ones when they pass on just as everyone else does. But you aren’t going to get them to a protest or a march for anything. And likewise, you also aren’t going to hear them complaining too much about how Washington needs to get out of the way of big business so the free market system can do it’s thing. They may know about these issues. To a degree. But they know a lot more about Kim and Kanye or American Idol or Hoda and Kathy Lee. They’re common everyday folk. Both rich and poor. Both middle class and not so middle class. They’re everywhere and they’re just about everyone. They’re the majority of the people all around us. They don’t want a revolution. Though they don’t mind singing about it if a good song happens to come on the radio. But more than revolution one way or the other, they just want to be happy. And that’s their right.
Towards the end of the game, they’re the swing vote. They’re what makes America purple. They’re too afraid to jump in, but if the life of someone they loved was on the line, a betting man could depend on them to step in and do something about it. They just need coaxing from the heavy weight and burden brought about by five decades of strong near police state government coercion tactics. They don’t want to get in any trouble. Some care. Some don’t. But for those that do, they’re a good lot to have in your corner because they aren’t necessarily swayed one way or the other yet. Getting along and being happy are their primary motivations.
Walk down the busiest street in any major city and you’re likely to run into a pretty equal portion of all three groups on any given day. After a day or two you’ll notice that there tends to be more Type Three people in America than either of the first two groups. That’s just the way it is. For now at least. And therein lies the problem. In terms of Type One versus Type Two, the country seems almost split between them. The groups cross through all nationalities, religions, political persuasions, ethnicities and classes. Both groups think they’re right for believing what they do, and in certain cases, on both sides, they are.
The problem of this equal split is also of course the beauty of the country. Our diversity is one of our most cherished strengths. But it makes getting things done take a long long time. It is said that Civil Rights never stood a chance of passing without President Kennedy being assassinated and Lyndon Johnson using his inaugural address as a platform to promote the cause in the name of the slain American war veteran and political demi-god Kennedy. MLK and Malcolm had to die too. Perhaps it works this way all over the world, and perhaps it always has; but nothing moves a country or its people towards rapid progress more than a martyr or two.
Usually the lines between these two groups of Type Ones and Type Twos are clearly marked: You can spot a Type Two American a mile away. You can see it in the clothes they wear or on the bumper stickers they slap on the backs of their fuel efficient hybrid cars. And the same goes for Type Ones. They surely won’t be wearing Birkenstocks and they don’t see a problem driving a Hummer. And for the most part that’s a good thing. A Type Two American doesn’t believe that Monsanto should be allowed to patent seeds that farmers plant in the ground and then ban those same farmers from ever being able to plant another crop in the ground without first paying them. Type Ones see this as only right, seeing that Monsanto spent all that money to come up with those special seeds, and more importantly they’re pro-business and just might own stock in Monsanto. They want to see the company do well because they want the stock to go up. They also want the stocks to go up of the numerous companies that Monsanto works with. Everything is connected economically and they’re smart enough to know this. They’ll tell you that “we’ll figure out the tragic plight of the farmers later. Or we’ll import our food from a poorer nation where we can get a hell of a lot cheaper anyway”. And when it comes to our food, specifically the genetically modified kind, Type Ones see all those regulations regarding labeling as just another aspect of government that’s bad for business and corporate profits. Like I said, the lines in the sand that separate these two groups are pretty wide.
But something changed all that today. A minor glitch in the system for sure. But still a major milestone. A research report came out last night at 1 am EST by one of Wall Street’s most respected and highly rated research investment firms, Standpoint Research. Turns out the owner and chief analyst at Standpoint had a Jerry Macguire moment and decided to downgrade APPLE Corporation to a Sell rating. Now upgrades and downgrades by Wall Street analysts happen all the time, everyday in fact. Investors, both institutional and individual live and die by these reports. They’re usually logical and reasonable and if nothing else thorough analyses of where that company is in the moment in terms of it’s ability to be successful and continue to grow, as in make a good investment or a bad one for people who invest their money in order to make more with it, which is a good chunk of most people in America, regardless of which group they happen to camp in.
Apple is the largest company in the world today. Bigger than GE, who for decades held that honored title. More importantly Apple is profitable. More than profitable. They’re so profitable that they are sitting on over one-hundred and fifty BILLION dollars in free available cash. Just sitting there. Nope, you read it right. That’s $150,000,000,000. American dollars. It’s an unfathomable number. Never mind that they park most of it offshore in various places as far away as the Cayman Islands or Ireland or China so as not to have to pay the United States any corporate tax on it. (The corporate tax rate they paid in 2012 amounted to less than 9% if you can believe it. Less than what the average American waitress pays a year. These are the kinds of things that Type Two people would like to change in the world today. The exact same things that Type One people would like to keep the way they are or in fact even find a way to improve on. Hell, some say that corporate taxes should be lowered even more to help rev the economy up a bit faster.)
Because Apple is such a damn good company when it comes to making money and delivering new exciting products to tons of adoring customers who love them, trying to downgrade Apple is like trying to talk a child into not liking chocolate. It just doesn’t make any sense. You don’t get much better than Apple when it comes to being a good investment. But analyst Ron Moas of Standpoint disagrees. He wrote a 40 page scathing report last night that concluded that Apple should be a Sell on MORAL GROUNDS. He can’t quite explain what happened, but he was reading up on the company and preparing his analysis of Apple and one of the things he learned is that the average Apple employee in Asia and other parts of the world makes roughly $2 an hour. That’s $80 a week. Do the math. In the States we call that slave labor. Or sweat shop labor. To be fair to Apple, THEY don’t actually hire and pay these people. They outsource most of their staffing to the Chinese behemoth FoxCon. They’re the ones who are paying the Apple workers two bucks per hour. Now based on the fact that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, brings home approximately $40 MILLION a year in pay, one can easily see why Mr. Moas got so hot and bothered over this discrepancy and in a mad late night burst of conscience declared that everyone should sell their shares of Apple stock until Apple starts compensating it’s employees more equitably. At least a living wage for God’s sake. He also downgraded Amazon.com and Philip Morris for similar reasons.
The report of course didn’t do much to move the market one way or the other. In fact, once people got wind of why Standpoint had downgraded Apple — companies like Standpoint usually have a lot of pull; they can make a stock rise up or fall down 5 to 10% in an hour based on their opinion — everyone had a good chuckle and the stock ended up 4 dollars by end of day. See, that’s the thing about Type One types. If the downgrade would have said something about “Apple’s inability to merge mobile device platforms in the China market effectively enough to increase revenues substantially in the second quarter of 2014” then the stock may have tanked 5%. But because this was simply a downgrade based on moral grounds, the effect it had was nil and the reaction was laughter and mockery.
In fact, a few hours later, CNBC, God bless their money loving naiveté, invited Mr. Ron Moas from Standpoint Research on their Fast Money show to talk about his “strange report and downgrade of Apple”. Lucky for us, he agreed to come on the show. He then proceeded to rally against corporate greed in America and its effect on people all over the world as if he had found a new religion. When the usually well-dressed and air-headed token femme fatale mouthpiece of the show Melissa Lee interviewed Mr. Moas, she had no idea what kind of minefield she was walking into. She, being used to the shallow “think profits only” Type One kind of people that the show usually interviews, innocently threw Mr. Moas a lifeline (or so she thought) and suggested that perhaps he was just tired when he wrote the report, or perhaps he was “on the verge of a nervous breakdown.” For the life of her she just could not imagine how anyone in their right mind could possibly allow “moral reasons” to cloud their judgment about the health or prospective profitability of a company. In fact she even stated this verbatim to Mr. Moas. It was as if two cultures who had never even heard of one another before stepped into a room together for the first time and as soon as one began speaking all hell broke loose.
Moas shot back at Lee “How dare you insinuate such an irrelevant idea like I am having a nervous breakdown when I am up here defending the rights of people all over the world who deserve to be paid a decent living wage for their hard work. I am just so disgusted by how far gone some of these companies are and the lowly extent they are willing to go to hoard money for their shareholders and their executives who reap huge salaries in the tens of millions each year and they can’t afford to pay their workers more than two dollars an hour?!?” The guy was acting flat out crazy at times, I must admit. He went on to say:
“For Apple Computers to pay their workers $2 an hour while they have $150
billion in the bank is nothing short of obscene. They have workers who are doing
back-breaking and eye-burning work in depressed states of mind and in many
instances have already committed suicide. Instead of treating their employees
like human beings, they are treated like animals. If it were not for their
employees, Apple would not be where it is today. But instead of giving these
people a better life, they give these people the bare minimum and defend this
action with the argument that the wage is higher than the average there and
in-line with what their competitors are paying.”
But this is just the kind of reaction we all have when we jump that ship from either Type One or Type Three into the Type Two boat. Life as it’s preached and practiced in corporate America is brutally cut throat, self-serving and greedy. There is no room for compassion or concern for the health and welfare of the workers when your shareholders are demanding a higher dividend yield. When you have activist investors like Carl Icahn breathing down your neck — as Apple currently does — demanding that Apple relinquish more of that one-hundred and fifty billion in free cash to the shareholders. Workers be damned. That’s the free market system at it’s finest. It’s what’s created all the mass fortunes of the wealthiest names in American history, from the Vanderbilts to the Carnegies to the Rothschild’s to the Waltons of Walmart right through to today and Nike’s infamous sweatshops that crank out $200 sneakers at a pay-rate of .40 cents an hour to some of it’s finest sneaker crafts-persons in tiny countries we’ve never heard of. It’s the American way.
The only question is, is it the right way? As someone very torn between the capitalist investor AND the compassionate human rights activist in me, I found this surprising turnaround in Wall Street thinking today quite encouraging. With 150 BILLION in free cash Apple could easily pay more than 2$ an hour to its employees. Hell, it could easily pay $10 an hour and still barely make a dent in all those billions. This is an idea that’s been being promoted over the last few years called Compassionate Capitalism. I am sure there are other names for it too. I believe I even formulated a name for it a few years back here in the Diaries. But what we call it isn’t important. Watching today’s exchange on CNBC between the impassioned Mr. Ron Moas and the unsuspecting Melissa Lee was some high quality entertainment. Truly awe-inspiring to watch a man so on fire all of a sudden with a new found moral compass and the pure unadulterated shock displayed by Lee, someone who clearly is not used to morals and values being on the same plate as her high-priced stocks and corporate profit speak. It was a brilliant display of two culture-clashing. The irony of course being that Moas IS part of that Type One culture. Or at least he has been for the last ten years of his professional life. Perhaps that’s all going to change for the man. Perhaps like Jerry Macguire, Moas is going to awaken tomorrow and discover that he’s out of a job and set about to change the world. Who knows? But it’s a start.
We need to see more people speaking out like that. And more importantly more people like Ron Moas, of that caliber. Somehow we Type Twos got through. How? Because we need to get through to more and more of these types. Moas claimed it was the Pope who gave him his inspiration. But regardless of who it was, let us hope that we just keep getting through. I personally LOVE profits. But not at the expense of or on the backs of those less fortunate than I am.