Ever get that creepy feeling you are being followed? In 1969, a friend and I were walking down a street when that spooky feeling crept over me. My friend agreed. Determined to keep walking and appear unconcerned, we maintained our gait. I turned my head slowly and peered over my right shoulder. It confirmed our fears but in a nonplussed way. Waddling about 15 feet behind us was three of the largest black birds I ever saw. Vultures.
The street was in the town of Manaus, Brazil, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. My workmate had drawn a low draft number during the Vietnam War. He was bound for the military. We left the U.S. for a time, as so many youth did during that tumultuous time, to figure out what to do.
However, that problem seemed distant at the moment as three, ravenous-looking vultures were stalking us. My mind began trolling for what little I knew about vultures. They are known as secondary carnivores. After a primary carnivore predator, like a lion, takes down its prey, these meat-eaters move in for the scraps.
Of late, I've had the same icky feeling of being stalked. The wealthiest man ever to head the ticket of a major party for the presidency, Mitt Romney, wants to do to the country what he does to workplaces through his company Bain Capital - decimate them.
Capitalism has always had its booms and busts. Manaus is an example. It boomed in the early part of the previous century when rubber there was the main industry. When the rubber industry shifted to Asian plantations, it went bust in the Amazon. Manaus, a town of 120,000 people, plunged to 20,000 by the time the two young and questing North Americans arrived there trying to figure out war and how to keep their rear ends out of it.
Alongside this usual functioning of the system came another way to make mega-profits. Swoop in on a company that's struggling. With Mitt Romney at the helm, Bain Capital did this to 17 companies. Workers were thrown into the streets and communities were left in the lurch.
But Bain also wrapped its tentacles around 60 other companies. What happened there? They were in the venture capitalist mode that became a focus during the heinous rein of President Reagan during the 1980s and since. It is part and parcel of what the Occupy movement calls financialization.
Let's go outside of Bain Capital for a classic example. Pacific Lumber Company was family owned since the beginning of the last century. It logged redwoods in Northern California using selective cutting, leaving much of the forest intact.
Capitalists of the venture kind saw this as an "undervalued" business. Translation: With an infusion of high tech capital, fewer workers, and financing from Wall Street, the forest could be devastated at a high rate of profit. Despite a valiant struggle by environmentalists, that's what the Texas conglomerate Maxxam Inc. did when it took over Pacific Lumber. Then, after clear cutting the forest, much of the logging shifted to the Southeast, leaving working families and communities devastated in the Pacific Northwest. Yet another kind of boom/bust.
So is capitalist Mitt Romney a vulture?
Vultures move in on their dead prey or carrion when they detect a distinct odor. Rotting flesh, including that of humans, emits an odious chemical called ethyl mercaptan. It draws sniffing vultures to their meal like bears to honey. In fact, the natural gas industry adds a bit of the chemical to odorless natural gas to make it more detectable. At times, a gathering of vultures at a pipeline actually helps detect gas leaks.
Back in Manaus, my friend and I decided, as we were very much alive, to simply pick up our pace. We left the vultures to find their usual prey.
Calling Romney a vulture capitalist gives vultures, as wolves in another setting, a bad rap. Mitt Romney and other vulture capitalists prey on their own kind. Vultures, in the wild, do not.
A better name for these capitalists, including Romney, would be parasitic capitalists. They latch onto a workplace, cut wages and health benefits. They make pensions disappear. These capitalists slowly but surely devour the place. Often, they finish killing the jobs there and, in the ultimate insult, outsource the work offshore. The unemployed workers then have to rely on a helping hand from government, the very helping hand that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to cut.
Vultures in the wild are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Vultures of the capitalist kind are the opposite as far as workers and communities are concerned. It is up to those very same workers and everyone in the caring movements to prevent a Mitt Romney, or any of his ilk, from gaining control of government.
Photo: Adams999 // CC 2.0