Beyond Cronyism to Geopolitics in the Port Controversy
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on February 22nd, 2006
As much as this is a story of privatization and racism, it is also about cronyism. The New York Daily News notes that Dubai Ports World has at least two ties to the Bush Administration - Treasury Secretary John Snow who, a year after joining the administration, sold his company's port operations to the same Dubai firm; and David Sanborn, the head of the U.S. Maritime Administration who still runs Dubai Ports World's European and Latin American operations.
But before concluding that this is simply more Bushistic cronyism, consider that almost all of the United States' military supplies headed for Iraq and Afghanistan are channelled through Dubai's ports, at the pleasure of Dubai's government, which in turn just happens to run DP World. This is geopolitical quid-pro-quo. Don't piss off Dubai, and we can still run our wars in the Middle East.
Ports Deal is Not (Only) About Race; It's About Globalization
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on February 22nd, 2006
We were getting all ready to climb up on our soapbox to shout our revelation to the word: the scandal of the Dubai Ports deal is not the knee-jerk reaction that exposes a deep-seated anti-Arab xenophobia among average Americans and Congress alike. No, it's about the little-known fact that major operations of ports in America are sold off in the global marketplace. How would we feel if JFK International was run by a Venezuelan company? Or if our interstate railways were run by Pakistan, or China, or Canada for that matter? We assume too easily that certain basic infrastructure matters are of such national importance that we keep their care in American hands. That's our own naivete. In the global economy, everything's for sale.
Well, that's what we were going to say, but it turns out Joshua Holland over at AlterNet beat us to it:
This deal is about government procurement, one of the hottest
controversies in the trade debate, but one of which the general public
is largely unaware.
The U.S., E.U. and Japan -- the dominant
service economies -- have been pushing hard to get a deal done on
government procurement that would bring public purchasing of goods and
services into the WTO framework. Their goal is to give foreign-based
multinationals "national status," meaning that governments couldn't
favor domestic firms over foreign firms for any reason (except for
security issues, and this case wouldn't be likely to qualify as such).
assume that this UAE port deal was the best one out there -- that they
offered the lowest bid among highly-qualified firms. Under the
framework that we've been pushing, it would be a sanction-able
violation of WTO rules to discriminate against the company because it's
based in the Middle East.
Tell it, Joshua.
Pump and Dump
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on February 22nd, 2006
Great interview with the authors of "Pump and Dump: The Rancid Rules of the New Economy" on the WaPo site today. The book's authors float an obvious theory (to us anyway) of 1990s financial fraud called "pump and dump," in which corporate executives artificially inflate stocks and securities in order to sell
their shares at higher prices, leaving any fall-out and responsibility
on naive investors.
You don't say? We applaud the market timing of the publisher, releasing the book as they did during the Enron trial.
Monsanto's Old Plantation Days
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 28th, 2006
Stay Free! Magazine is always worth a read, and the current issue caught our eye with this ad. We forget that Monsanto was a chemical giant long before Round-Up and genetically modified crops.
Allison Xantha Miller's article on the history of plastics the current Stay Free! notes:
Plastics from cotton? The industry didn't always show
plastics futuristically. In some cases, like this 1939 ad from Monsanto,
it reassuringly tied plastics to nostalgia for America's agricultural
heritage and for a racial order in which African-Americans worked on farms
in the South. The ad speaks condescendingly of mysterious processes that
"create new materials from nature's crops," juxtaposing its knowingness
with the innocence and ignorance of children cavorting in the soft white
Bush Defends Mining Record
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 23rd, 2006
The Bush administration on Monday defended the government's oversight of the Sago mine and said none of the previous safety problems cited at the West Virginia mine appeared to be the cause of the Jan. 2 explosion that killed 12 miners.
That's sort of like an auto mechanic saying he forgot to tighten the bolts on a customer's car wheels after the tune-up, but the accident that killed him was a seat-belt issue. Just because the Bush administration never cited Sago for the safety issue that resulted in the tragedy doesn't mean it shouldn't have, or that the political coziness of the mining industry to the Bush camp might not have resulted in the oversight.
Not clear how this makes Bush look better: Yep, all of the citations we issued were obviously not as serious as the one we should have!
Do Private Contractors Do Better Work?
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 23rd, 2006
Categorically no, if we're to take a lesson from a recent experiment in Fresno, California. Fresno's City Council conducted a year-long competition pitting private contractors against city public works crews to see who did a better job paving their assigned roads in the municipality.
The city crew and two contractors were each given five neighborhoods to pave. The city crew finished its work in September - ahead of schedule and on budget. One private contractor had finished only 20% of its work by September and had its contract terminated. The other contractor hadn't even started paving one of its neighborhoods, and instead asked the city for $750,000 to complete the work.
The mayor still says the competition is too close to call (!). Some council members saw the competition as a waste of money, and illustrative of how city contracts need closer consideration and accountability.
"Awarding these contracts out, the administration is playing Russian
roulette with taxpayer money, and it's been a costly, very expensive
experiment," said Councilman Henry T. Perea.
Time Again to Expose a Mining Company's Safety Record
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 20th, 2006
As we write this, two more miners are missing in West Virginia as the result of a fire inside a coal mine. This time, the company that owns the Mine is Massey Energy - a mining giant with one hell of a bad reputation in Appalachia.
In 2000, a coal waste reservoir operated by Massey in Kentucky sprung a leak and dumped 300 million gallons of toxic sludge into local tributaries of the Ohio River. The accident killed more wildlife and destroyed a larger geographical area that the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which amounted to "only" 11 million gallons of oil.
A young investigator named Jack Spadaro was sent by the Mine Safety and Health Agency to investigate the accident. Hew discovered that Massey had been fully aware of the reservoir's likelihood to fail, and yet did nothing. Instead, Massey had poured money into Republican campaign coffers, including Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell's campaign committee and the Bush Cheney campaign. It just so happened that McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao was appointed Secretary of Labor after Bush's election. The MSHA is an agency within the Department of Labor. Furthermore, Bush appointed a former Massey executive to the MHSA's review committee which handles all legal issues related to the Coal Act.
Spadaro recommended that Massey be charged with criminal negligence. His superiors refused. And when Spadaro publicly questioned whether mine safety had been sold to the highest bidder under Bush, he was summarily fired.
Today, another huge Massey sludge pond at a Kentucky mine sits on a hill
above an elementary school. Coal dust blankets the school yard.
Neighbors want the pond decommissioned; in response Massey applied for
and won permits to build coal silos even closer to the school.
The Citizens Coal Council says:
The company also regularly
violates coal truck weight limits, sending monster
trucks weighing 140,000–160,000
pounds hurtling through central Appalachia’s winding
roads. These speeding, overweight trucks damage roads
and kill, on average, four to six people a year in auto
accidents. Recently Don Blankenship, Massey’s CEO,
weighed in with his thoughts on killing innocent motorists:
“The truth of the matter is . . . four to six fatalities a year,
with the number of miles coal trucks are traveling on these highways each year,
is no worse than average.”
In addition to being openly
anti-union (only 5 percent of Massey’s work force is represented by a union),
Massey has been called one of the worst coal companies
in America for miner safety by the United Mine Workers
of America union, who also claim that the company uses
contracted management to avoid paying workers’ compensation.
Massey has been sued by its employees for overexposure
to coal processing chemicals and has been investigated
by the Mine Safety & Health Administration for chronic
health and safety violations at its mines.
In the past 2 years, the Massey mine where yesterday's fire broke out was cited by the MSHA 204 times for safety violations, but paid less that $50,000 in fines.
So we have Sago, Part Two. Cronyism kills.
The Old "When in Rome" Excuse
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 19th, 2006
Great article by Richard Cohen in today's New York Times about Microsoft's recent willingness to cave in to the Chinese government and shut down an MSN blog by a Chinese journalist that criticized the current regime. They, of course, follow Cisco Systems, which sells the equipment the Chinese government uses to censor the Web and Yahoo, who revealed the contact information for a dissident who is, as a result, now in a prison camp doing 10 years hard labor.
This is just the same old birthday suit on a new emporer. The Gap, Nike, Disney, Wal-Mart and scores of other corporations who farm out manufacturing to subcontractors in developing nations have used the same tired excuse: Sure, the working conditions are bad, the labor and evironmental laws are nonexistent, and the pay is paltry - but that's how everyone does it in (insert country here). It's a positively Clintonian splitting of factual hairs - we're not breaking any local laws, we're complying with the local custom. They conveniently ignore the moral implication if, say, the local custom is to whip children who don't meet their quotas. The same semantic jig is on display whenever one of these multinationals falls back on the old reliable "we don't own the factory, so we can't be held responsible for what a factory owner does."
It is remarkable, and remarkably sad, that companies like Microsoft who have grown incomprehensibly huge and prosperous precisely because of certain freedoms and ideals that make America great, yet they choose to sell out other freedoms and ideals when it is convenient. For shame.
The Wal-Mart Image War
Posted by CorpWatch on January 18th, 2006
In this morning's email was a press release from an organization called American Rights at Work. Normally, we don't pimp for activists - we're an investigative journalism outfit. But dammit, they made us laugh.
They've launched a new Wal-Mart-bashing site (Yes, they're a dime a dozen; the form is the Google maps mash-up of 2006). This one features Garth Brooks - the spokes-singer who recently agreed to make his latest album available only through Wal-Mart - thereby pissing off and financially screwing many an independent and even chain record store. In a smirky flash movie, the grotesquely caricaturized Brooks prances about inside a Wal-Mart, singing a knock off of his old hit "Friends in Low Places"; here he warbles "I've got friends with low wages, their health care plan fits on two pages ...". The message, the form, the content are not new, but this is a clever execution that deserves a look. It evokes (one might say steals directly from) Jib Jab's monumental viral "This Land" during the 2004 presidential election. But it does touch on some legitimate issues.
Meanwhile, of course, Wal-Mart has been stocking its arsenal against the growing chorus of such loud-mouth critics who would question its angelic, altruisitc ways. A few months back it was revealed that the company had hired former campaign consultants from the Bush and Kerry campaigns to burnish its image in the halls of power and among the public at large. Things being what they are, what with Maryland's decision last week, perhaps these consultants are sleeping on the job (Kerry's image consultants certainly proved given to fits of narcolepsy).
Then of course, there was the dust-up earlier this month in which a San Diego blogger discovered that Wal-Mart's website featured pages where one could by the DVDs of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Planet of the Apes" which also recommended similar items - except that the "similar items" on these pages were all films about African-American history. Wal-Mart claimed a malfunction and denied racial malevolence. You goatta think that made those high-priced consultants shotgun the Kaopectate.
So I checked out Wal-Mart's charitable arm - the Wal-Mart Foundation to see how wrong these snarky yahoos - including the entire Old Line State - are. The website desribes how the store improves every community in which it operates, from educating kids to saving the environment. But what stumps us, is the site's downright peculiar slogan: "Wal-Mart Good. Works." Someone either has a severe verb deficiency, or Wal-Mart is tailoring its message for the caveman constituency (not sure this is a departure from usual). "Wal-Mart Good. Union Bad!" Wal-Mart say get your club, aisle 11. Always low-brow.
Wal-Mart critics 1, Wal-Mart 0.
Mine Tragedy Spun as Profit Opportunity
Posted by CorpWatch on January 11th, 2006
Spectacular. Bad-boy investment celebrity Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's "Mad Money with Jim Cramer," actually recommended today investing in "mine-safety" stocks. Not because it is important for us as a country to pick up the slack left by a "paper tiger" federal mine safety agency, but because there could be lots of dough in it.
According to the blog Crooks and Liars, Cramer actually said ""we're not partisan here... we're just looking to make money, and the Bush Administration has been negligent." And why on earth not cash in?
There is simply something obscene about the very suggestion.
Privatizing Public Health in Massachusetts
Posted by CorpWatch on January 10th, 2006
Letting corporations clean up after other corporations sometimes leaves a bigger mess. At least, that is what Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in Massachusetts are saying today.
Massachusetts has outsourced its toxic clean-up responsilibities to private contractors, who have failed spectacularly in repeated state audits. (Most other states assign clean-up to public agencies.) Some of the findings in a review of Massachusetts state records:
• Three out of every
four private clean-ups failed to pass state audits
• Nearly one in ten
were so deficient that they were completely invalidated and retracted.
• Nearly three-out of
four (71%) of private clean-ups will require some sort of follow-up
work, such as retesting or additional soil removal
PEER says clean-up failure rates have almost doubled during Governor Mitt Romney's reign.
How Bush Rolled Back Mine Safety
Posted by CorpWatch on January 6th, 2006
With the same logic that dictates that logging is good for trees, the 5 years of the Bush Administration has rolled back regulations on mine safety at the bidding of mining corporations.
The head of the Mining Healthy and Safety Administration is himself a former mining executive. A New York Times article in August 2004 noted:
In all, the mine safety agency has rescinded more than a half-dozen proposals intended to make coal miners' jobs safer, including steps to limit miners' exposure to toxic chemicals. One rule pushed by the agency would make it easier for companies to use diesel generators underground, which miners say could increase the risk of fire.
The policy of the Bush Administration from the first has been to kowtow to energy interests, allowing them to tinker with the nation's energy policy, labor codes, and environmental protections in exchange for huge financial contributions to campaign coffers. Only today, in the wake of the Sago mine tragedy, we see how such policies can actually kill. And to think that West Virginia is a blood red state; perhaps not for long.
Wal-Mart Conflates Apes, African-Americans
Posted by CorpWatch on January 5th, 2006
Wal-Mart keeps having what you might call image problems. No one seems to want it to go into the banking business, it was just busted for overcharging customers in Wisconsin, and several states are gunning for the mega-retailer for not providing adequate healthcare for its employees (leaving taxpayers to pick up the difference). Wal-Mart are presently under investigation for mishandling hazardous waste, and it has long had serious problems with sweatshops overseas. It is fighting a class-action lawsuit claiming that it systematically discriminated against female employees, and was exposed for having taken out life insurance policies on its lowest-level employees.
But this just beats all. On Wal-Mart's website, the page for the Planet of the Apes DVD set includes recommendations for "similar items." Listed there are films about Dorothy Dandridge and Martin Luther King, Jr., "Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson," and "What's Love Got To Do With It," a film about Tina Turner.
BoingBoing.net has a full screenshot, in case Wal-Mart takes the page down.
UPDATE: Wal-Mart has apologized and claimed that it's cross-selling system had gone haywire. They deny that anyone perhaps coded some offensive keywords to enable the system to equate apes and African-Americans.
Tyco Execs' Mugshots
Posted by CorpWatch on January 3rd, 2006
It isn't everyday you get to see Dennis Kozlowski holding a jailhouse clapboard featuring his vitals. Thanks to Thesmokinggun.com, we can give you that pleasure.
Click here for former Tyco CFO Mark Swartz's mugshot. (Hey, where did his curly tresses go?)
The Vicious Tobacco Cycle
Posted by CorpWatch on January 3rd, 2006
Oklahoma has a problem. Too many people are quitting smoking. It's cutting into the state's budget.
Tobacco tax revenues are up, but not as high as expected, and that means that health programs funded by tobacco revenue are gasping for air. This illustrates an interesting conundrum: how can state governments effectively fight tobacco use when they have arranged to be so dependent on the tax revenue smokers provide? Sin taxes like those levied on tobacco are supposed to dissuade people from using the product - but if too many are scared off, budget line items go up in a puff of smoke.
George Will recently made this same observation (although he demonizes state governments for their 1998 deal with the tobacco companies to seize proceeds from a legal and federally subsidized commodity), but with a decidedly different conclusion. He says the Master Settlement Agreement should be scrapped. But consider: if fewer people smoke, fewer people get sick, meaning fewer costs associated with both healthcare and lost productivity. In the long run, if the theory holds, income may dwindle at roughly the same pace that outlay does.
Quitting smoking takes time, patience and determination. Apparently, so does quitting tobacco taxes.
Looking Back on 2005
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 2nd, 2006
Sure, sure, The New York Times is the voice of the status quo according to lefties, the bully pulpit of the liberal elite according to righties. But if corporate corruption, graft, greed, incompetence and influence-peddling are of concern to you - no matter your political stripe - you have to admit that a lot of stories used to fly under the radar of the Gray Lady are now frontpage news, and that is good news. Perhaps we can thank Kenneth Lay for that; what we at CorpWatch have long done just wasn't as sexy before he came along. Thanks, you big lug.
So here in the first week of a new year, we begin with a clean slate, ready for a year of customary despoiling. In reflection, let us review the year in corporate crime, courtesy of Gretchen Morgenson at The New York Times. (Or, of course, you could page through a few thousand of our favorite stories on the subject from the last 12 months ...)
Bechtel Fox in the Nuclear Henhouse
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on December 22nd, 2005
The news today that the federal government had awarded the Los Alamos National Laboratory to the UC-Bechtel team should give us all pause.
After all, as CorpWatch noted when Bechtel was amassing huge no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq (see "Profiting From Destruction"), the company's record with nukes is not exactly sparkling:
San Onofre, California, has a 950-ton
radioactive problem: a nuclear reactor built by Bechtel that nobody
wants. The unit was shut down over a decade ago in 1992 by its owners,
Southern California Edison, who preferred not to spend $125 million in
required safety upgrades.
The only place that will accept the reactor is a dump in South
Carolina but railway officials refused to transport the cargo across
the country. The next suggestion was to ship it via the Panama Canal
but the canal operators said no. So did the government of Chile when
the power plant owners asked for permission to take it around the Cape
of Good Hope.
The only option left is to ship it all the way around the world,
although even that is looking unlikely as harbor officials in
Charleston, South Carolina, are already suggesting that they may deny
the reactor entry. Edison officials are currently desperately looking
for a port that might accept the toxic cargo before the dump shuts its
doors in 2008. [...]
The local environmental costs continue to
mount every day as the plant sucks in huge quantities of plankton, fish
and even seals with the water to cool the reactors. It is destroying
miles of kelp on the seabed by discharging water that is 25 degrees
Fahrenheit warmer than ocean temperature, according to Mark Massara,
director of the Sierra Club's coastal program. [...]
Several former employees at the plant who have
developed cancer have also sued Bechtel and plant owner Southern
California Edison for exposure to radiation. It's a story that has
become depressingly familiar for dozens of communities living downwind
from nuclear plants that are seeing alarming increases in cancer.
Bechtel was also the contractor responsible for the biggest construction boondoggle in American history: Boston's Big Dig. Errors by Bechtel in planning and execution lead to massive cost overruns. As the Boston Globe observed at the time, "Yet, even as Bechtel's errors helped drive up the Big Dig's cost, the
company never paid for any of its mistakes. Instead, it profited."
Is this really the kind of company we want watching over the most sensitive and dangerous of projects?
While the award of the Los Alamos contract to UC and Bechtel surprised some, the company's long record of coziness with those in high government places even outpaces its rival for the contract, Lockheed Martin (which was to partner with the University of Texas to run the lab).
The Presidential Pipeline
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on December 21st, 2005
The Pultizer Prize-winning and yet still oddly underappreciated Toledo Blade
ran a penetrating series this week on how specific Bush fundraisers
have seen their investments in the cadidate reap profitable policies.
It's worth a read as a primer on exactly how corporate executives and
lobbyists buy influence legally ... and sometimes not-so-legally.
example, Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim is chairman of Texas-based Pilgrim's
Pride, the country's second biggest poultry processor, and a Bush
"Pioneer" (meaning he has raised over $100,000 for Bush. He freely
admits he asked the president directly for a favor in 2002. And quite a
favor it was: Pilgrim asked Bush to speak to Russian president Vladimir
Putin about dropping that country's ban on chickens imported from the
United States. Shortly thereafter, Russia opened its markets to
American chickens. Pilgrim's company has also collected $60 million in
federal monies since Bush took office for selling his birds to the
Department of Agriculture.
then there's MBNA, the massive credit-card company which eclipsed Enron
last year as the largest corporate patron of Bush's entire political
career. The company regularly let the Bush campaign use its corporate
jet. It was MBNA's generosity in Bush's campaigns that may have
persuaded the president to push through a revamping of the nation's
personal bankruptcy laws. The result: $380 million a year annually
toward MBNA's bottom line. (See CorpWatch coverage of MBNA here.)
Read the whole series:
- Presidential Pipeline: Bush's Top Fund-Raisers See Spoils of Victory
- Presidential Pipeline: Bush Money Network Rooted in Florida, Texas
- Presidential Pipeline: Kerry Backers Still Feel Sting of Losing 2004 Presidential Contest
US Lags Behind in Tobacco Regulation
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on December 20th, 2005
It isn't new for the United States to fall behind the rest of the world on causes like global warming and arms control. But this week, news from the rest of the world reveals how much more seriously the tobacco problem is being addressed, even in the tiny, poverty-stricken country of Uganda.
The government of Uganda is considering banning all tobacco advertising in that country, because ministers consider the ads to imply falsely that smoking is an attractive and positive thing to do.
In China, the world's greatest consumer of tobacco products, the governors of Hong Kong may force several tobacco companies to change the names of their brands, because terms like "light" and "mild" imply that the cigarettes are less harmful.
In South Australia, the government is set to ban fruit-flavored cigarettes it claims are targeted to children. (You think?)
In the UK, the 2006 budget includes provisions for massive fines on tobacco companies whose product is found being smuggled anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch ... a new study from a coalition of anti-tobacco groups shows that tobacco companies in the United States still spend $28 in advertising for every $1 they spend on anti-tobacco cessation and education programs.
After a series of high-profile lawsuits that mandated some of Big Tobacco's profits go to public service education campaigns, the industry has spent a lot of time and money advertising its altruistic side, while far less is being spent actually funding those community programs being hyped.
And there is always more. Just yesterday, a study showed that Indiana -- a major tobacco-growing state -- actually loses money because of tobacco.
Profits and tax revenue generated by tobacco production and sales is
far outweighed by the resulting costs associated with health-care and
decreased productivity due to tobacco-related illness and death.
But even with such evidence, tobacco companies are freer in the US than many other parts of the world. Appeals have shrunk the monetary awards resulting from those suits to negligible amounts, and tobacco again looks untouchable in this country. Last week the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a lower-court verdict penalizing Philip Morris over $10 million for defrauding customers into thinking its "light" cigarettes were less dangerous.
As ever, it keeps friends in high places to ensure that regulations like those in Uganda, China, and Australia do not happen at home. For example, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds reportedly supplied now-sullied Texas Senator Tom DeLay with their corporate jets as he flew from campaign fundraiser to campaign fundraiser.
From an Associated Press story today:
R.J. Reynolds let DeLay use a company plane at least nine times since
1999, once joining Philip Morris in making jets available for a DeLay
PAC fundraiser at a Puerto Rican resort in winter 2002. R.J. Reynolds
spokesman David Howard said planes are loaned usually at lawmakers'
request and are only done if jets aren't needed for company business.
much more convenient as opposed to your regular commercial travel,"
Howard said, noting there is no need to go through airport security.
R.J. Reynolds' planes, smoking is allowed and there are usually
beverages and deli-style food. There's more leg room and the
convenience of phones.
The smoking rule suits DeLay, who likes
to chomp on cigars while golfing and reported spending at least $1,930
in PAC money on cigar-shop purchases. The cigars were reported to the
Federal Election Commission as donor gifts.
It's business as usual in Marlboro country.
Is Wal-Mart Good for You?
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on June 27th, 2005
"Progressive" economist Jason Furman and Barbara Ehrenreich are currently engaged in an eye-opening dialogue over at Slate. He presents the old red-herring argument that boild down to "What do you elitist liberals have against saving working people money?"
He makes some points I'll concede that I think critics should internalize: it isn't the low prices we object to, it's the way Wal-Mart treats people. If anything, the efficiencies that allow Wal-Mart to have such low prices do not require that the company abuse its employees, fail to provide a living wage or the most basic benefits, or to source product from factories that abuse people oversees. Wal-Maerts low prices, and its low regard for its own employees has been proven to depress wages in the communities where it operates. If Wal-Mart is so clever, why doesn't it innovate when it comes to how it treats human beings? Why doesn't it spend as much money actually improving communities as it does telling us about how it improves communities?