Let me start by saying something in plain English.

Our Indiana delegation attending the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai event is just playing up to big corporate interests, and this effort will not amount to a hill of beans for Hoosiers, and real jobs.

The delegation includes our governor, Mitch Daniels, Purdue Vice Provost Vic Lechtenberg, Indy Partnership President & CEO Ron Gifford (here is his travel blog), IU President Michael McRobbie, and others. Wish they would tell me who the private donors were who foot the bill.

The American Chamber of Congress in Shanghai is sponsoring a conference there, Greentech: A Call To Action.

Now I am not opposed to trade with China, and understand the need for US investment abroad. But at some point you just have to call it for what it is.

Corporate America, tapping into cheap Chinese labor, and subsidized investment schemes. All at the expense of real jobs for Americans.

They will be talking with representatives at Eli Lilly’s swanky facility in the Pudong Science Park, no doubt to keep the smiles coming. I’m sure the workers in Eli Lilly’s Research Center in China are thankful for the jobs, and look forward to the incredible savings that Lilly will pass on to US consumers as a result of cheap Chinese manufacturing and R&D costs. Honestly, I don’t know if this will include clinical trials in China, but why not? China routinely performs clinical trials, especially prisoners. Talk about value!

Our governor will also be talking with Chinese representatives about how we can work together as an agricultural partner. What does this mean for you, dear Hoosier? Well it could mean good news for the large farms in Indiana. You know, the ones that are raking in government subsidies, gaming the system. Or the large, corporate owned farms. ADM, Cargill, and others come to mind. What might it also mean for Hoosiers? China desperately wants to sell us things like raw chicken. The USDA country of origin labeling (COOL) program requires things like raw chicken, fruits and vegetables show their country of origin. I don’t know about you, but COOL is very important. My family wants to know where our food comes from. And we currently ban chicken from China, for some very good reasons.  But the irony to COOL is that processed foods are not subject to this law. For example, did you know that Companies like Tyson and Perdue want to ship raw chicken to China, where it would be processed, then shipped back to us for sale in supermarkets. All without you, the consumer, knowing that you are eating chicken from China. American companies like Tyson and others want to first repeal COOL, then have their way with the American public. Wal Mart doesn’t like COOL, either.

You will probably be shocked to know how much of your food comes from China. The good folks over at Food and Water Watch have created a calculator that shows you how much of your food is imported, do give it a try. It is a real eye opener.

What does it mean for the so called green jobs in Indiana, the Green Economy? Daniels and others in the delegation met with several Chinese companies. “Daniels met with two companies who are actively exploring investment opportunities in southern Indiana. The governor toured the production facilities and met with executive management at Shanghai Top Motor Co, Ltd. (Techtop), an electric motor manufacturing company, to discuss the company’s ongoing plans to expand its operations in Indiana. In 2008, Techtop announced plans to bring a new manufacturing and distribution center to Columbus in a joint venture with LHP Technologies. Daniels also met with officials from China Dongfeng Motor Industry Import & Export Company, Ltd, a government-owned automotive company, about its joint venture with Cummins supplier Yinlun and the company’s operation in Columbus.”

Ah yes, we should all remember how important hi tech electric motors once were to the Indiana economy. A small company in Anderson, called Magnequench, was a leader in the manufacture of high-powered neodymium magnets, which are the core of virtually all hi speed computers, as well as being absolutely essential to all defense electronics. and the technology also forms the basis for today’s hi efficiency electric motors, used in virtually all hybrid vehicles.  Magnequench was at one time owned by General Motors, and used Magnequench magnets in things like airbags and mechanical sensors. When GM sold it to an investment consortium acting as a front for Chinese interests, China eventually moved the technology, and the production capabilities, to China. The story of how China did this is painfully fascinating, but rest assured, companies like Cummins, and the IEDC, are looking out for us. Right. And GM has the Volt, which is nothing more than a billion dollar marketing campaign. Completely useless. They should copy the Prius.

So now China wants to be the world leader in electric and hybrid vehicles. They have a huge advantage on America, and corporate America is ready and willing to jump on their manufacturing bandwagon. Soon, you will be shopping for a Chinese hybrid, powered in part by Chinese solar technology, all thanks to our leaders in state and federal government.

I can’t understand why the Obama administration doesn’t get serious about using stimulus dollars to fund American solar manufacturing, and massive solar system installations for residential use. I find it absolutely frightening that our government allows American based, multinational corporations to play an economic shell game that is destroying our manufacturing base.

A truly intelligent stimulus effort should focus on creating an American solar manufacturing base, and simultaneously provide rebates that would enable almost every American home to install solar systems. This single act would have provided real long term jobs for us, and taken OPEC out at the knees. The bad news is that so much of the readily available technology, such as solar panels, are made in China. They have a huge advance on anything the US can provide, both by output and cost. One reason for this is the fact that the Chinese government subsidizes the solar industry there, providing a huge jump start in manufacturing capacity and technological edge. They are also superb gamers, adept at “dumping” artificially low priced goods into export countries.  China can undercut any manufacturer of solar panels, and has taken the edge from us on battery technology. And as we watch with bated breath to see the resurrected GM pull some miracle, China once again is poised to beat us at our own game.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. 

We’ll also need to achieve grid parity (make solar as cheap as fossil fuel derived power) for large scale installations. For example, First Solar has a 10-megawatt plant in Nevada that produces electricity without subsidies for 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 9 cents for fossil-based power.

But do we as a nation have the leadership to accomplish these goals?

How do you feel about the Cash for Clunkers program? Have you done any homework? The top choice for participants was Toyota. Now, mind you, many Toyotas are made here in America, and provide badly needed jobs. More on this program in a later posting.

But now there are rumors of a similar program for appliances, such as refrigerators, freezers, etc. And this industry, like many others, has been hit hard by the economy.

But let us all remember that the purpose of any well designed stimulus effort is to ultimately get American consumers buying again. And the critical apex is the individual consumer, who has a job.

One way to shape how this might pan out is to tell your elected officials that you are concerned that one of the main beneficiaries of such a progam, Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR), based in Benton Harbor, Mich., is eliminating its manufacturing plant in Evansville, Ind., destroying about 1,100 full-time jobs by mid-2010. These jobs will be moved to Mexico. There are another 300 jobs that are also up in the air. Let’s guess what Whirlpool executives will do to them?

This is what Al Holaday, vice president, North American Manufacturing Operations for Whirlpool, had to say.

“This was a difficult but necessary decision.  “To reduce excess capacity and improve costs, the decision was made to consolidate production within our existing North American manufacturing facilities. This will allow us to streamline our operations, improve our capacity utilization, reduce product overlap between plants, and meet future production requirements.”

“We are announcing this decision nearly one year in advance as part of our commitment to make the transition as smooth as possible.”

Nice work. But he says the same thing, every time they axe jobs. Nice gig, Mr. Holaday. Get your MarCom folks to write a shiny bit, practice it, make it your own. You can even say it while you are using your treadmill. Here is a quote from last year.

‘These decisions, while difficult, are an important part of our overall operating plans, and will help ensure that we remain competitive in North America,’ said Al Holaday, Vice President, Whirlpool North America manufacturing. ‘The changes are in no way a reflection on our employees at either the LaVergne or Reynosa facilities, whose contributions we greatly appreciate.’

Do you think Whirlpool will even pass on the incredible savings they’ll achieve in reduced labor costs to you, the American consumer? No way. Funny how that happens. Cheap foreign labor justified as a means of lowering the cost to the consumer. Show me some good examples of this in action. Good luck finding one.

Here is another good one. Rising costs. Steel is way down, Mr. Holaday. So is oil. Where are those lower costs to the consumer?

Tell your Congressman you want to see corporations that stand to benefit from such government sponsored giveaways to at least give something back to Americans. That is the ultimate goal of any stimulus program, right?

Like most people in America, I have been following the raging debate regarding healthcare reform. And as a marketer, I have been absolutely floored by the universally poor job both sides have been doing in articulating their game plans. Except for one camp. We should all give the insurance giants, and the pharmaceutical industry a big hand in how effectively they have positioned their businesses to profit regardless of the outcome.

You know something is fishy when big business is FOR reform. This is the first shell in the shell game. What does this so called reform mean for them?

Obama recently did a back room deal with the The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which promises to keep drug prices high, in spite of the $80 billion they say they will hand over. And concurrently, Congress moves to extend the patent protection on pharma to 12 years, since they say they can’t make a profit with five years of brand name exclusivity. Top that with the elimination of even a hint of price negotiations for Medicare and Medicaid, and you have Big Pharma laughing all the way to the bank.

America, you just got screwed by your president.

Now,  move on to the issue of the uninsured. This is a valid problem in America, and it is getting worse. With over 6 million Americans out of work in the past year, it is turning into a huge problem. But part of the real story, just under the surface, is that many of the same folks now uninsured, will be crushed with medical bills that will drive them to wipe out savings, lose homes, and erode the promise of the American Dream.

For the truly uninsured, they are now contributing a full one fifth of all ER visits, and the strain on our Federal coffers, as hospitals receive partial reimbursement from Uncle Sam.

But how many of those “one fifth” are undocumented aliens? In 2006, there were 120 million ER visits.

You have to understand a key difference between an ER visit for an uninsured American, and an undocumented alien. The American ER patient may still be liable for the bill, and as such, could go financially under. The undocumented alien, on the other hand, has their ER visit, as well as follow on care, paid for by the Federal government, via Program 93.784 Federal Reimbursement Of Emergency Health Services Furnished To Undocumented Aliens. Hospitals love this program.

America, you just got screwed again.

And the so called nonprofit hospitials (another follow on blog) love it even more.

Now, why would the big healthcare insurance providers like Wellpoint be all over Obama’s grand plan for reform? One reason is that they see a huge increase in the number of customers, since every American will be required to have insurance, and that single payer notion wil be killed before it is born. Do the math. Even with changes to pre-existing condition policies and rescissions, the insurnace companies will clean house.

 

Now I get to what I think is most important to most Americans, the ones with some insurance. We need insurance (or whatever) that is affordable, can’t be revoked because you or a family member gets really, really sick, and protects us from huge bills that take away our homes, our savings, and indeed, our lives.

So keep up those antics on both sides, America. Democrats, Republicans, and all in between, rant and rave all you want. Because the folks in power will come out of this smelling like a rose. Unless you start ranting about the real healthcare demons that keep us down.

Like many people involved in marketing, I am fascinated with the impact of social media on consumers, businesses, and all in between. Like many of my bretheren, I subscribe to a laundry list of RSS feeds, blogs, and newsletters, all revealing tales of how social media is the cure for our age, how some companies “get it”, how customers are taking control, how we will all, once and for all, get exactly what we deserve.

But enough is enough. We can’t expect Facebook, Twitter, or any electronic forum to guilt or shame any business into some semblance of social responsibility, if they are just too big, too powerful, to listen.

The Wellpoints and Goldman Sachs of the world don’t embrace any of our social media banter. Not one bit. These types of companies will use the time tested, good old fashioned sour mash mix of misinformation, newspeak, and PR bullshit that the marketing biz is so very good at providing.

No ladies and gentlemen, why don’t we all draw a line in the sand, and please admit that all this buzz is just that. Social media tools are great for organizations that truly enter into a social contract with their customers. Hence the “social” thing.

Even many of the worst corporate entities in America can stand to benefit. But to really do so, it takes a huge transformational effort internally. We all work under the rather animistic notion that companies have personalities. And what is the source of this illusion? The CEO perhaps? The customer service team? The PR and marketing folks?

The true personality of a company, or any organization, must ultimately reside with how it behaves to others. This must include its customers, vendors, distributors, local community, the ground it is built on. Everything.

Zappos recently came under fire for putting way too many ad agencies through the ringer by announcing an open casting call, so to speak. Many firms scrambled for the chance, not really understanding that it was really an embarassing situation for Zappos, and whoever ultimately got in the card game. Why? Because on the front end, Zappos has a reputation for being really nice to their customers, almost providing the illusion that they have your back, dude.

But man, on the backend, to set up a cattle call for ad agencies is just wrong. This is a good example of the actions of a psychopath, and the disease must be treated before any social media tools are handed out.

I don’t see any marketing or “new marketing” pundits out there even talking about corporate “personality profiles” or such as a major part of their makeover packages.

Chris Carfi, over at The Social Customer, created a few years back an excellent Manifesto that attempted to define the push to social media driven consumer power.

The complimentary piece needs to be a Consumer Bill of Rights. Now I have attempted to push such a concept at the last two companies I worked for, and it met dull ears. But I believe to rally around such a thing can and will help a company set itself on the right path, and help it define its “personality”.

I’m going to leave you to think about this, with a video of Wendell Berry. Do take the time to watch it. My point in this post is to get you thinking about connectedness.

I’m an eBay regular, and recently discovered Mike. He is selling some accordians. And he is using YouTube in eBay to really help sell his accordians. But Mike is teaching all of us supposed marketing and social media hipsters a very powerful lesson. The medium used (you pick from your favorites) is merely a vehicle to communicate something authentic, real, valuable, with tangible information that the consumer can use. And he gives us a little something extra, his love of music. A song for you and me. If after watching Mike play his accordian, you are not feeling better, or smiling, then watch him again. Then go do something authentic.

Seriously folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Obama recently named John Huntsman, Jr. as Ambassador to China.

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Huntsman International has extensive business interests in China, so don’t expect any action on the part of our administration to pull back American jobs. Business as usual. We should all expect to see our trade policy with China continue to go downhill.

You may also find it interesting that Huntsman is suing Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank for backing out of a finance deal that would have provided $15 billion in financing for Huntsman’s acquisition by Hexion Specialty Chemicals last year.

California also just released the last listing of 30 chemicals they have deemed as potentially carcinogenic, or lead to reproductive/development issues.

If you want to have some fun, compare them to those found in the Huntsman Product List.

Now I have nothing against chemicals per se. The universe is a big chemistry set, after all, and we are made from the stuff we ponder. But any chance I have to hassle these dudes, I’ll take.

Unlike the higher education many sons and daughters of well off families receive at Yale, Harvard, and other bastions of ethics, Berea has been a remarkable beacon of how things can and should be done. However, since Berea does not charge for tuition, they have been especially hard hit by our fellow Americans greed on Wall Street and at Big Banks.

There are so many young people out there who truly deserve to get an education and break the cycle of poverty in which they have been raised. So, I’d like to propose that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Bank of America each pass the hat, and cough up some dough.

 

Also, do take the time to read a good article in the NYT regarding how Amherst College is learning from Berea.

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