– This is a reprint from 2007 —

For my birthday, my son gave me a book I’ve been wanting. “Blackwater”. It’s the in-depth account of the for-profit militia that is everything President Eisenhower warned about in his “beware of the military-industrial complex” farewell speech. Blackwater, Inc. first came into public consciousness when the incinerated bodies of four of its employee soldiers were strung up on the bridge leading into Fallujah.

A Christian fundamentalist ex-Navy Seal, Erik Prince, — heir to a billion-plus fortune — started the organization. Thanks to gigabucks and religious fanaticism, he was well-connected with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, et al. Prince is, of course, a much richer man now because so much of our tax revenue has been shoveled his way.I started the book and, at the beginning of the fourth chapter, I took a break. Needing a bookmark, I went to the bookshelf and pulled one from some book I was never going to finish. It was a flyer announcing the Peet’s Coffee IPO. I don’t know when they went public — there’s no date on the flyer — but it’s been a few years.

Normally, this would be of little interest to me. Although I am an investor in a small way, I am not part of what President W. would call “the ownership society.” The reason it resonates is that I am a regular at the Peet’s, corner of Fillmore and Sacramento. Its much beloved and respected manager, Brian, has been found dispensible.

The buzz has been going on for about six months now. Rumors to the effect that Brian’s not providing the extra .00000000671% revenue kick a more company-minded manager might bring to bear. That could have to do with less-than-optimal placement of the new Green Tea Frappuccino posters. Or maybe he let a customer linger at the cash register for 3.5 seconds longer than the new corporate formula recommends. Possibly a new barrista has been failing to adequately describe the caramelly-goodness of a topping option, thus losing that one person in a thousand who might act on that rehearsed nonsense. Whatever, the MBAs have apparently determined Brian is not delivering for the investors.

Most everybody’s kind of sad. The employees, to a person, say they’ve never worked for a better manager. Anywhere.

I said to a friend, “I’m going to write a letter to Peet’s complaining about the situation.” He said, correctly, that it wouldn’t make any difference. But it will to me. Somebody else snorted, “What are you going to do, Fred, go down the block to Starbucks?”

This puts me in mind of the op-ed piece I read in the Wall Street Journal a couple years ago. The writer had the CEO of CostCo in his crosshairs. By paying its employees an average of $17 an hour, and giving them satisfactory health benefits, the argument went, CostCo stockholders were getting screwed. WalMart, with it’s $9 an hour, stingy benifits plan, was a better model. Investor-friendly, good. Customer-friendly, consumer friendly, employee-friendly, bad.

It’s all pretty awful, this legacy of the Reagan years, but I doubt even that crackpot band of supply-side crooks would deploy a private army just to steal from the public.

No, that’s a Bush specialty. In fact, stealing doesn’t appear to be the only motive. A private army’s a dandy thing to have if you get impeached and convicted, but don’t want to leave.

But, along those lines, I think the sooner we test it, the better.

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