When Big Brown (Fossil Fuel-Burning Companies) Trumps Green Energy with Big Long Green-Part II

Whenever the human mind sets out to distort the truth, reality and the good things of the earth always seem to suffer.  In fact, all forms of bizarre human behavior vex the spirit every time. It gives you pause.  Why, for instance, would someone tell you to jump off the Empire State Building, telling you that you could fly?  Or fill your gasoline tank with water and advising you that your Chevy would magically convert to steam power?  Why would someone advise you to light a cigar with a $100 bill?

Such bizarre behavior is not that uncommon.  Like when on the first day Ronald Reagan took up residence in the White House Ronald Reagan promptly had the solar panels taken off the roof.  Isn’t that the same as burning money?  Wasting tax dollars?  Ain’t that a jaw-dropper? 

Back 1986 I had lunch with an old boss, president and CEO of a large lumber manufacturer in the Southwestern United States.  We were in Albuquerque, adjusting to our new jobs in new industries, and trying to figure out what had just happened to our old company.  He now sold commercial real estate and I had resigned and had taken a position with a municipal bond underwriting company in Houston, Texas.  The lumber company had just been bought out by an international holding company in London with the word “Trust” at the end of the new company name.  My old employer had been fired and replaced with a young CEO from afar who would promptly begin working at the axing and selling-off of what had been the 64th largest lumber manufacturer in the world. 

All this happened during Ronald Reagan’s second term as president.  Reaganomics (Voodoo Economics so said Poppy Bush before joining the daffy Laffer Curve morons) was in full flower then.  Companies were buying and selling each other, cutting off the arms and legs of healthy companies, raining pink slips like a cow pissing on a flat rock from a high cliff, and pursuing the sacred bottom line for the sole benefit of stockholders and CEO bonuses.  It was like, don’t confuse me with the facts or any sentimental meanderings, just cut.  Employees were forced to scurry for new positions in a strange new world.  Some got new jobs manufacturing products (flipping burgers according to Reagan), and all had to settle for less pay.  The new tax codes allowed companies to buy tax credits from one another as well.  It was the anything-goes corporate buggering of employees and once profitable American companies. But all was made legal and respectable during Reagan’s reign.  Unions were scuttled, bonked, and rendered impotent after Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers.  And our lumber company was one of the first companies to see the blood of the legalized butchering.  Repositioning assets and wealth from one pocket to the other was all that mattered.  Human welfare and decent-paying jobs became the ultimate casualty. 

The mission of the new CEO of the lumber company was to chop off sawmills or shut them down, and auction off all the real estate, machinery and equipment.  This took only a few years before the second- largest lumber company in the Southwest became history.  We all had to say goodbye to a company that had had sawmills in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  The mills, 7 in all, had been top money-makers since 1945 and had employed several hundred people.  Poof.  All gone by the mid-1990’s, one by one. But I am getting sidetracked and ahead of the story and the point about human nature I wish to make.

So we sat there at the table back in 1986 having freshly been whisked away from such a fine old lumber company by a foreign international chopping block company.  Having worked for this great company for over 15 years, I was left scratching my head and wanting answers.

Right after the new company took over the first thing that changed was that the lumber quality that we had been so proud of all those years went to the dogs.  New companies back then were interested in profits.  The numbers.  Bean counters thrived.  And if you could squeeze out another nickel by lowering the quality of lumber stamped with the same old stamp, good for you.  You would be rewarded with a bigger bonus at year’s end.   

“How can you just switch from the quality lumber that has defined you for decades and take to selling crap lumber with the same grade stamp on each piece?”  I asked him. 

“What do you mean, ‘How can you switch?’”  he asked, with a crooked grin.  “You just do it.”

“But why?”  I persisted.  “Won’t there be repercussions from customers?  Won’t they complain and quit buying the lumber?”

“Nah,” he smiled, “They will just cut the price and the customers will love it and just adjust their presentations to their contractors.  Everybody will forget all about it in no time.”

“But it seems like such a deviation from what our former company used to stand for.”  I said.

He sighed a knowing sigh and put his palms on his forehead for a second.  He had been the nephew of one of the original founders of the lumber company that had created so many jobs in several states.  With him it was personal.  I knew that it was with me too.  It was the finest job and association with my fellow creatures of the business world I had ever known.  It wasn’t easy shooting your best horse, but it was necessary.  Business was business, and if the new owners could sell crap lumber cheaper and make it all work so be it.

He looked up at me with sad brown eyes.

“Have you ever heard the fable, ‘The Scorpion and the Horse?’” he asked.


He proceeded to tell me the story, but years later I discovered that the most popular version called, “The Scorpion and the Frog.”  No problem.  I stuck with the “horse” version.

He began with, “Once there was a scorpion in a desperate predicament, clinging to a branch in high water due to a flood.  A horse came swimming by on his way to higher ground in the distance.  The scorpion pleaded with the horse to let him hitch a ride on his back.  The horse said, “Neiggghhh”, no way, that he feared getting stung and drowning on the way to high ground.  But the scorpion was a smooth talker and finally convinced the horse to let him ride on his back.  So when the horse almost reached the shore, the scorpion stung him right behind the right ear.  The horse began to founder and lose control of his muscles.  He was beginning to give out.  The horse said, ‘Why would you do this when you said you would not?  Now we both will drown.”  The scorpion knew all this.  In advance.  But he said, “I could not help myself.  Stinging is what we scorpions do.  It is because we are scorpions.”

There was no good reason for the scorpion to kill himself and the horse in the process, but the explanation is meaningless; there is no explanation beyond what is.  From the remote origins of human culture to the daily events of our time, what is most insanely stupid is that human beings can and will do harm to others and to themselves for no understandable reason, just because “it’s their nature”.

My old boss looked at me, slowly shaking his head and said:

“Don't be surprised by someone's actions. If it has always been a person’s nature to be destructive to himself and his company why would you expect any different?  Operating at a profit is secondary to acting out according to your scorpion nature.  Should it really be a surprise to the horse that the scorpion stung him?”

Wow.  He was absolutely brilliant when it came to understanding the human condition.  Even at its most bizarre limits.

I get angry sometimes at how people act stupidly and screw up the good guys for no valid reason.   I would have to guess that Reagan had some good coaching on the need for him to remove the solar panels Jimmy Carter installed on the roof of the White House some 4 years prior.  Perhaps Big Brown, nee the electric companies, General Electric, Exxon, you know the crowd, tutored the Gipper on why it would be in his best (do 327 PAC campaign contributions ring a bell?) interest to take the annoying solar panels down, you think?  Why else would you throw away something good that generates free electricity from the sun?  I mean Germany encouraged their citizens to build their own solar panels to generate megawatts of electricity for the common good.  They used their brains to prepare for the God-given solar energy of the future when times get hard and old inefficient power grids brown out and fail.  The government paid their citizens handsomely for all the net-metered excess electricity the people created.  Germans must think that we are a nation of idiots.  Yet Reagan is touted in many circles as one of our greatest presidents, do you love it?  Sheesh.

I just realized that I must write at least one more sequel to this ongoing solar massacre in these United States, and so I shall follow up with a Part III in 2 weeks.  Then I will strive to show how Big Brown bribes and uses the state legislatures of each state to thwart and kill net-metering of electricity produced by an American citizen in his own backyard.  Translation:  any electricity generated by a private citizen and put on the electric grid becomes the property of the electric company.  No compensation to the private citizen.

And so we are forced to sting ourselves into electric grid oblivion and inevitable brown outs and higher electric rates to keep us forever enslaved.  Thank you Big Brown.  For giving us a 50% efficient, outdated, electric grid due to your terminal greed.  Screw allowing American citizens to sell back excess electricity generated from their own private solar panels and windmills. 

We will take a look at the states that do not allow net-metering.  And those states who attempt to throw a bone when the private citizen generates and puts excess power back onto the grid. We will examine all the necessary hoops to jump through to even qualify.  And we will examine the more friendly states toward paying a decent price for excess electricity sent back to the grid by the American consumer trying to make a difference in America.  Stay tuned.