When I was young I had a friend named Lenin. This was his first name; his full name was Lenin Antonio Restrepo Barca.
Lenin’s parents were fervent communists. They spent their time in party meetings, sticking pamphlets on neighborhood walls with slogans about the proletarian revolution, attacking imperialism, and praising the achievements of socialism (such as “this month Soviet production of truck axles rose 22% “).
As we all know, children tend to follow their parents’ footsteps regarding diet, religion and politics. This means my friend Lenin had an ordinary diet, was atheist and had been a good communist since the moment he could walk.
I’m a pretty big guy. But I started school at four because my grandfather had taught me to read and write that summer. Lenin was older, but he was short and skinny. I was the youngest and Lenin was the shortest. This made us the class midgets. And because we looked different to the others (and looking more or less the same is very important in first grade), we suffered the other boys’ abuses together and became close friends.
Another thing that united us was my tendency to get into books as if I were a termite, and Lenin’s character, because he liked to hear me describe everything I read, especially the stories of the Tiger of Malaysia fighting against British imperialism and how to prepare explosive mixtures using household materials.
But Lenin also listened and learned from his parents. This gave him big ideas that he tried to explain would improve society. For example, the school grades idea:
Lenin came up with the suggestion that the whole class’ grades should be averaged and everyone would end up with the group average. This, according to him, would give the best a strong incentive to help the worst students in the class.
I had good grades. I was either 1st or 2nd in the class, always competing with a girl named Alina, a blonde I really disliked when we were in first grade but had become my imaginary girlfriend by the time I was in sixth grade. So when Lenin presented the idea it didn’t go over very well with me. I got very worried and thought that, if Lenin could convince the teacher to go along with this plan, I would have to move and change schools. Being forced to change schools and not having Alina to compete with really bugged me. But I wanted to be an engineer and I thought the class average wasn’t going to get me into a good undergraduate nuclear engineering program. Thank goodness the teacher was not revolutionary. She laughed when Lenin suggested it, and that was it.
Lenin and I continued hanging out together for a long time. And as I grew up I saw him develop into a devoted communist. When we were in high school he spent all the time talking about the destruction of society, which he said was necessary to build the socialist world. This apparently included having a revolution to put his father in charge of the police, so he could lead a firing squad and shoot the rich.
Eventually we graduated from high school. Lenin was an expert at throwing stones, making pamphlets and organizing fun student demonstrations demanding an end to war and imperialism. Lenin was also an expert in the number of Soviet space launches, and enjoyed counting the medals obtained by the Soviet Union in the Olympics, because he believed that if they had more medals this meant Soviets lived well and were really tough.
I happen to think the achievements of athletes from other countries are important only if they lose against our guys, or if they do something amazing. Like the time a woman ran the marathon, and entered the stadium so dehydrated she was tottering, but kept making step after step while the people cheered and wept with emotion.
Meanwhile I kept dreaming of building nuclear reactors, thinking I would build a car with an atomic engine that would go at super speed and could take off and fly up when traffic was heavy (this idea came from reading Popular Mechanics).
So when we graduated from High School he went to study political science at the junior college on the outskirts of town, and I went head to study engineering, which wouldn’t let us hang around together much.
But occasionally we did go out together, and he kept talking about his ideas, which he explained with passion. One night we were standing outside a bar, completely broke and watching people go in and come out. Lenin told me that if you walked into a bar you should have the right to drive back home without having to worry about the cops, so it was better to install a blue light on car roofs. This blue light would be turned on when the driver was drunk so people could be warned and get out of the way. This didn’t seem like a good idea to me, but Lenin stubbornly insisted that I had rejected it because I had a capitalist mind, and I couldn’t accept revolutionary changes.
I kept apart Lenin’s personality as my friend, and his ridiculous communist ideas. But eventually I began to get tired of the whole thing. This reached a peak when he mentioned he was going to start distributing pamphlets asking for gasoline price controls. At that time gasoline prices were very high on account of Iran. Their government had fallen in the hands of an Ayatollah Khomeini, and somehow he had managed to cut oil production. On top of that he caused a huge mess when he ordered an invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran. This was shown in Ben Afleck’s movie “Argo” (I have to mention that Affleck bugs me as an actor ever since he made the movie with Matt Damon about God being an old man with amnesia, but he is a darned good director).
To me, gasoline price controls sounded like a really dumb idea. It was evident that gasoline price controls would eventually cause a gasoline shortage. But to my surprise many people agreed with Lenin, and began to demonstrate in front of the gas station asking the government to intervene and keep prices low “for the people”
The fools didn’t realize those who spend more on fuel are the rich because they drive Cadillacs and Mercedes Benz and jumbos with rocket tails. I had to read a lot when I was in college, but the public bus was so full all the time I had to stand and read as best I could, and people complained when I stuck a book in their faces. From my point of view it was better to raise the price so people would drive less, and then use the tax to give us better public transport with more frequent service.
So this was how Lenin and I started to come apart. Eventually he got into a group of people who called themselves internationalists and left the country. The last I heard, he is in southeastern Venezuela preaching communism to the Pemon Indians. I don’t think he will do well, because the Pemon Indians have their own ideas about communism. What they seem to want most is to have a gold mine, to earn some money and send their children to school to be doctors, or engineers, so they can leave the jungle and build a house with real furniture and everything.
The Pemon, you see, have been communists for a long time, and now they want to move forward a bit, to study hard, and become good capitalists. They are like the Chinese, and other peoples who have been communist. They tend to dream of being capitalists and getting rich.
How do you get to be president of a large company? There are several methods, however, in most cases the president of the company won´t know how to run it.
Surprised?? It turns out that large companies are so huge that it is impossible to know what goes on inside them. For example, at Enron it was possible to have crooks in almost all key positions, honest managers could not stop them and the company went bankrupt. They took several of them to jail, but that didn´t help the shareholders nor the workers. Everything was lost.
Enron was an extreme case, because they broke the law quite often. But we can mention cases of companies that just seem to have been poorly run businesses, for example Sacyr Vallehermoso and Nokia. These companies have very sad records.
Now we will see what happens in big business to allow these people to take their positions. There are four methods to become president of a large company:
Method 1. Family relationship with the previous president. Being the son / daughter or brother is better. There are many examples of this kind of president. Sometimes, in spite of having a good education, they lead the company into bankruptcy. A few do it well, but this happens when they take over a small or medium size company. For example, Rupert Murdoch inherited control of a midsize company and grew it tremendously. But they say that his son will have many problems if he does inherit his post.
Method 2. Having an excellent relationship with the former president. Usually these people have spent all their time kissing the buttocks of the president who recommended them to take over the job. They tend to be mediocre to good. They are famous for their loyalty. They are associated with disastrous decisions but they have managed to hide them. It helps that other managers are afraid of them because they think they are favorites of the president and if they say something it is going to get them in trouble. Often nobody knows these guys have skeletons hidden everywhere until it is too late. BP had a president like this and his career ended in a disaster.
Method 3. Be recommended or nominated by a major political figure. This works very well to be president of a state controlled enterprise. They tend not to know much about the business, but because they linked to the government, they can do well. Because many state enterprises don´t have profits, no one notices these guys are fools. However, they are often fatal in the long term. An example is the president of PDVSA, the Venezuelan oil company. As you probably know, this president is doing a really bad job.
Method 4. They are recommended by a company that specializes in the search of presidents. They range from good to terrible. The interview process is quite overwhelming, and the winner is more or less good (but not necessarily the best). However, they often have problems because they don´t know anyone inside the company. And sometimes they don´t know the business, which makes me wonder why these executive search companies exist. Hewlett Packard recruited a president from another company and things went really bad until she left.
From my point of view, they should have a fifth method, which may improve the performance large company presidents. The best solution is to choose candidates within the company. This means you have to be employed and have been working there for a while before you can be considered.
And I would try something radical: the new president would be elected by a vote among coworkers, who get to see who wins. This would be similar to what they do in the Vatican to elect the Pope.
The ones who vote can be those with more experience and / or some level of responsibility. They can review the candidate´s personnel file, watch Powerpoint presentations detailing their business strategy, and discuss who would be the top individuals to be considered in the final vote rounds.
Then they can take a series of secret votes (secret voting is important to avoid the future president´s revenge if they voted the wrong way).
I think it would work. What we need to do is infiltrate and gain control of a giant company to prove it. I want to be the candidate and you can vote for me.
I was a triple CIA, KGB and MI6 agent for a while. I can confess it now, because we are at the end of history, and nothing happens anymore. I got into this mess when oil prices fell in 1986 and I was concerned because there was little work. So I sent my resume to all the spy and intelligence agencies worldwide. I was so desperate I even sent a letter to the Mabaheth of Saudi Arabia and the Israeli Mossad, those guys would have forced me to convert to Islam and Judaism respectively if I had been accepted.
Imagine my happiness when I received several dozen invitations for interviews! My self esteem was pretty high, so I decided to be selective. I only accepted invitations from the CIA, the KGB, and the MI6.
The interviews were all the same. They asked endless banalities, they made me drink eight glasses of whiskey, vodka and gin, respectively, then asked me go down a hallway and open a door with a small key. After that I had to go out of a 6th floor window and go for a walk along the ledge, enter another window without making noise and put my ear to the door. That was it.
I must admit that at the time I was a little crazy, and when I got job offers from all three agencies I decided to take them all at once. The triple pay was great, and when one is a spy one can lie to the boss and tell him he’s into something secret, then travel on assignment for a different spy agency.
Because the work involved being a spy, a voyeur, and write reports, I often managed to deliver the same report to all three at the same time, which saved me a lot of work. For example, when I was in Burma, everything was in triplicate because no one really cared much about what happened in that country (the government was repressive and their pastime was killing their own people, but they never spoke ill of the great powers so they were considered to be ok).
At one point I had a huge scare, because the CIA sent me to meet with me, who was representing the MI6, and get some documents the MI6 was delivering to the CIA. At the same time the KGB asked me to tape the meeting between the two sides. Imagine the mess. Luckily the work that MI6 had given me was to get copies of articles from the Spanish press on Felipe González Márquez, which I, as an MI6 agent, had to pass on to myself at the CIA. The CIA wasn´t interested in this man but they were always looking for excuses to buy information from the MI6 because they knew that the British were always short of money. Anyway, I managed to pass the documents from me to my alter ego at the CIA, and as a KGB agent I recorded the conversation between myself and me and gave it to Moscow center. Everything went well.
Having those three jobs was nice but stressful. So, eventually I decided to resign from the KGB and MI6 when the CIA offered me a position in the research department lab, working 40 hours a week without hassles.
Luckily I didn´t have a labor dispute with the other guys. The KGB was demoralized because Gorbachev didn´t let them torture as much anymore, and the British we were so short of money we had to send our secret messages by regular mail. Both agencies let me go without causing me any problems.
The work in the research department of the CIA was fun while it lasted. Eventually I returned to two more or less normal jobs I hold today: I work for Greenpeace and the Koch brothers, both are easy jobs making protest signs and writing shit in internet blogs. So let´s get back to my CIA lab job….
Imagine, my job was to design technology to assassinate other countries´ leaders. That lab was where we designed the mosquito with the little tank loaded with cancer that killed President Chavez of Venezuela … I worked on that. However, the cancer mosquito program is considered a failure. We did a pilot using weak countries (we wanted to kill presidents whose replacements couldn´t retaliate if they found us out). So, we sent mosquitoes to Dilma Rousseff, Lula da Silva, Fernando Lugo, Cristina Fernandez, and Hugo Chávez.
Only the Chavez mosquito did its job properly. But it took 20 months from the time the mosquito stung until the target died. The other pilot enemies of the empire got cancer but survived. The project was abandoned, because we couldn´t afford to send murderer mosquitoes which failed to kill the target 80% of the time.
After the mosquito project was cancelled, I became convinced plain imagination was much better than exotic technology. To test my idea, I sent a leather-bound Kama Sutra to Ernesto Kirchner. He must have read it the day he received it, because that night he died while he was in bed with Cristina.
I was also responsible for the elimination of Fidel Castro. I sent Fidel a large basket full of hard cheeses. Fidel loved the gift, he had the cheeses tested to make sure they weren´t poisoned, and then the fool ate the whole basket within a week.
Eating so much cheese gave Fidel a serious case of constipation, which led to really bad hemorrhoids. And as I had expected, the Cuban dictator refused arse surgery until it was too late. Fidel died and they had to use his double fulltime. But that old geezer can barely speak, so the dictatorship was handed over to his brother Raul, who is capitalist but has hidden this tendency for over 50 years.
I am very proud of the Fidel case. I think the CIA would have given me a gold medal if weren´t an organization where obsessive secrecy is the norm, and where murders are not listed in the employee evaluation form.
I think it was an excellent decision to leave, because today the CIA is not the same as it was before. They murder people with drones using rockets fired by remote control, and all the killing in person is left for the Special Forces, but those guys don´t observe the old CIA tradecraft we developed with so much pride. Can you imagine a Green Beret delivering a basket full of cheeses to a Taliban leader in Afghanistan? Neither can I.