Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Hustling

Business attire—my derrière! I wasn’t even through my first morning news story when I was assaulted by the media’s growing obsession with the number of working girls who have descended upon Davos for our annual conference. The press changed from citing ‘hundreds’ yesterday to ‘hundreds and hundreds of high-class’ prostitutes today. And the story isn’t going to die anytime soon. With very few details the piece is likely written by someone who doesn’t have official press credentials or access to attendees. But the girls of course (unnamed) agreed to be interviewed and imagine themselves to be stealthily dressed in ‘business attire’. Please! All I could think of was Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny telling her boyfriend…‘Oh, yeah, you blend’.

If last year’s unofficial theme was Africa, this year it’s commerce—the old-fashioned kind. But what do you expect at an event that draws more billionaires and CEO’s than any other? Still… they were annoying. And I was never more grateful to don my high-level credentials badge and wave it around like the mark of distinction it truly is! As to status, we are divided into seven tiers—it’s quite the caste system and to give you a frame of reference, in previous years Donald Trump was listed as tier 1 (head of state), his daughter Ivanka as 7 (functional staff) and his poor excuse for a son-in-law, Jared-4 (sub ministerial).

He's got the whole world on his bum.

On top of that, there are various other hierarchical distinctions all denoted by colour and design. Inexplicably someone thought it wise to give journalists a level two badge (for access) but under closer scrutiny the lack of a hologram, (and their crepe-soled shoes) outs them as the enemy. Also everyone is aware that angry reporters are hounding the CEO of Pfizer with questions about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine that his company disseminated, and from which he personally made millions. Purportedly those were un-credentialed reporters who stalked him outside the secure perimeter but still, rather scary for those of us who consider Davos our safe space. 

I was just going through my calendar when the phone rang, and I tipped my coffee cup into my lap. UGH! So much to deal with on top of not having an assistant this year. The reason, of course, is all the extra rooms being taken up by the now well-documented invasion of the body snatchers. It was, of course, my father. Swapping my now coffee-stained hotel robe for the clean one hanging in the bathroom, I picked up: 

'Jennifer, have you seen the keys to my roadster.'

‘They aren’t in the car?’ I asked.

‘Clearly not’. He huffed. ‘Any thoughts whatsoever?’

‘Can you try the counter in my bathroom? The front pocket of my rucksack?’ Over the phone I could hear daddy clomping up the steps of my childhood home in St John’s Wood. I felt bad but he knows my Tesla is in California. ‘OH WAIT…I drove to Canary Wharf!’ I said, ‘Look in a small pink quilted-bag in my closet’ I said.

‘Wait…you DROVE to Canary Wharf? When the brand new Jubilee Line runs every five minutes and takes you right there in less time? Daddy asked, incredulous. '

Yeah, she blends.

Daddy, please! I’m at Davos!’ I said.

‘Of course you are’. He said. ‘How’s it going?'

‘Well not great’ I said, ‘I don’t have an assistant and I got stuck in an ecosystem discussion… I mean it said ecosystem but it was about an EU-wide healthcare ecosystem’.

‘Which will end global warming?’

‘No Daddy, it sounds like an expanded network to track vaccines and tests, but it will save money’.

‘Fascinating. Nothing like creating a massive new agency to save money’.

‘Well… it will also hold our x-rays and things’ I said, quickly wishing I hadn’t. Yes, the number of times I’d found myself in Anacapri wondering when my last cat scan was—was never. 'So, Daddy, any suggestions before you go?’

‘Yes. Maybe ship your car here if you’re never going back to California’.

UGH! He knows I don’t want to talk about that. I refused to engage and waited.

‘I have one idea…’ he said, ‘Why not be a jobs creator, a true innovator, why not find an assistant among the ranks of those leggy Russians who are likely free during the day anyway?’ 

Why is this man smiling?

This wasn’t the worst idea actually. They all had access badges. And hotel rooms! But obviously—no. ‘Anything else?’ I asked.

‘Well, given the level of clients you generally attract, why not help out that poor Albert Bourla, the press won’t let up on his worthless vaccine, it seems he’s ambushed every time he returns to his hotel. But he can very well sleep in his plane and its parked in an even more secure area. Heck he can even finish up his meetings there’.

It was genius actually. And a perfect solution to his problem. I would suggest it and more. Finally something to look forward to instead of another day of endless panels, whilst waiting for the parties to start.

I hated being grumpy but the mood was different this year… less urgency, more part of a process. And the larger media outlets were only quoting the VIP’s with whom they’d struck deals in exchange for attendance at their events. It was kind of like going to the Golden Globes, the powers that be already knew which stars and scripts they were going to fête, so from the ramp-up to the telecast, the pecking order was already decided down to the last detail. From seating placement, to who was getting Gregory Arlt to do their make-up, no one drove past the congratulatory billboards along the route to the Beverly Hilton wondering if they would go home with an award or not.

This of course wasn’t bad news for me. My clients were always the A-listers in the ecosphere. It’s why Daddy called my biggest client ‘The Green Baron’ and why there was no Greta sideshow on my watch. But the Pfizer CEO was not yet my client and this was about to change. Question was, where to find him while he was in stealth mode?

Aha! That was it. Those other stealth-savvy attendees would know. Oh hello girls! Have I got a job for you.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Vaccinating

VACCINE! VACCINE! VAK-SEEEEEEN! The sound of it has become as harsh as COVID Nine-TEEEEEEN! (the only infectious disease out there. Apparently.)

I’m once again “stuck”. This time in Davos, where I came for the Great Reset Agenda after accompanying my father to an “essential” infrastructure meeting in Copenhagen. I mean what’s a girl to do with the world shut down? And all because our entire focus is on vaccines instead of wellness. I haven’t been able to return to my beloved Los Angeles for nearly a year and soon I’ll be labeled COVID Mary if I try to return amid the buzz of a new variant.

On this point even stuffy old Daddy and I agree. He, because he’s old enough to remember when we vaccinated against incurable diseases like polio, and me because I’ve been living and working among the Hollywood elite. And I’m sorry but let’s face it... with more money comes access to better information—or so said a Hollywood A-lister when he first explained it to me at a party in Malibu. We’ve been in the forefront of anti-vaxxing long before Republicans took it up as their cause. WE are famous for it -- NOT THEM!

Daddy’s more sanguine argument is it shouldn’t be our focus when we’ve got treatment for it —and it’s 99 percent survivable. But I’m taking the larger view in that if we start chasing down every perceived “variant” what we are really doing is demanding a virus-free world... year in, year out, forever. And neither Daddy nor I can blindly #backboris on this. All three of us have had it (Covid) and just because he (Boris) got scared out of his wits, is no reason to lock down the whole country. And, again... where are the wellness programs??

In this corner: Battered Boris.

Gosh I’m glad I’m not a Tory in these times. Can you see Churchill asking Britons to hunker down in fear? He’d have sent the NHS packing if their solution was a dose of panic. Luckily we don’t have any modern-day enemies, despite all Daddy’s bluster about China, but if we did, can one imagine what they’d be plotting? They’d be delighted to hear the equivalent of Boris (as if on the wireless) hawking [an enemy so terrifying, you need two masks to fight it].

And I know exactly what my Tory father’s response to that type of talk is...“Oh, Winston, what they’ve done to your party!” And I don’t blame him. In this battle, Daddy’s been the real hero... saying simply, “Get it, get over it, get on with it.”

Personally, I’ve lost a few friends over trying to promote health and sanity. If I say anything like “it wasn’t so bad” or “mummy’s bout was slightly worse,” I am attacked and vilified for promoting “dangerous” and “reckless” ideas. Since when is spreading sunshine (and my truth) dangerous? And if I suggest a course of action (a prophylactic wellness regimen) they make some snide comment about “California thinking,” so you see we are divided AND conquered. Perhaps I should just say Mummy died… so sad… please send flowers. Spreading fear is the new way to win friends and influence enemies!

So hard to believe it’s been a year since I blogged on the best smudge-proof lipsticks to wear with masks.

One thing’s for certain… Google should be handing out MDs since somehow everyone became an epidemiologist during quarantine, and everything we know about viruses and immunology has magically warped into, we’re all gonna die.

I don’t mean to sound cavalier, having gotten sick and gotten over it but in any other reality I’d be in a group with those Korean kids in Los Angeles whose mums take them to chicken pox parties—the point of which is go to the party, get infected and enjoy lifelong immunity. Hey I don’t know if they are anti-vaxxers (I honestly don’t) but there is no denying recovery from an actual virus provides lifelong immunity.

Wearing the black mask: Iron Mike.

Except in this scheme… the plan is NO. No way, no how, you never get out, new strains, fourth lockdown NO NO NO. And the U.S. (you can’t make this stuff up) is ramping up to spending $350 billion to “fight the virus”. Seriously…what does that even mean? Who's fighting the virus -- is it Mike Tyson? Cause we know it isn’t Jonas Salk.

And what happened to ‘my body, my choice’? I’m free to kill a baby,  but I can’t decide for myself? Well here in Davos -- and frankly everywhere where money is not an impediment -- we are deciding and I’m embracing the original… after all, with more money comes better information. As horrible as this is to say… it’s the masses that are being suppressed, so don’t blame me. 

Speaking of the 1 percent,  I watched the press vilify fellow climate enthusiast John Kerry for constantly flying private, and thus making his daily carbon footprint exceed that of most humans in a lifetime, but he really should have called out our real enemies—those pro-vaccine Republicans who shouldn’t now be asking us to fly commercial.

Here in Davos we are a healthy set, skiing and swimming and sauna-ing. And mostly flying private. Still every conversation is polluted with talk of a vaccine! I don’t know what they expect to have happen but we can’t keep this up. I’m thinking of launching my own frequent traveler business. But for sheer profit—I’m not sure if I should focus on wellness, or offer a vaccine du jour.

I could set up an algorithm where I plug in where you’ve been and where you’re going and then adjust based on what’s hot (contagious) right now. Granted it’s essentially what a healthy body does on its own but as you can see there’s no money in that.

BP: Towards the Socialist Corporation

Some years ago when I was a media company executive, I had to spend long fruitless hours in a committee that had been given the task of writing a company mission statement. My opening suggestion that we should write “We give our customers accurate news and fair-minded commentary, the fastest, the mostest” and leave it at that was quickly sidelined as frivolous. It made no mention of stakeholders, equal opportunity, corporate giving, social responsibility to our city and region, and much else thought to be vital by the accounting department, the strategic planning department, and the religious affairs correspondent. Discussion limped on for many days over the minutiae of trivial differences until eventually the actual journalists present gave in and assented to a smoothly unmemorable paragraph. Today I can’t recall a word of it. 

My skepticism about that sort of thing was confirmed when I came across the monograph Good Companies Don’t Have Mission Statements by Digby Anderson—a sociologist, a wit, a gourmet chef, and an Anglican clergyman—published in London by the Social Affairs Unit. Dr. Anderson’s broad argument is that companies can be classified into two groups: those that know what they do, and those that have mission statements. Because those in the second category don’t know what they do (or in the case of pornographers, slum landlords, etc., would prefer not to say), their mission statements tend to the vacuous, the long-winded, the boastful, and the excessively worthy. Dr. Anderson cites many self-promoting examples, but maybe the ripest is the mission statement of BP Amoco which declared holily that we “try to be a force for good in all that we do.” Almost as if the company was God, as the Anglican clergyman noted acidly.  

Running into that quote was a genuinely pleasurable surprise, however, because I had earlier decided that my topic for this article would be BP’s latest mission statement.  To be fair to BP (formerly known as British Petroleum, among other things) and its CEO Bernard Looney who signs it, the document is technically not a mission statement but a declaration of how BP intends to lead the world into the broad sunlit uplands of a net-zero carbon emissions future. But that ambition suggests a company that doesn’t know what it does, or more charitably a company that doesn’t want to be a major oil and gas producer and is looking for some other identity.  Maybe you think I’m exaggerating? Here’s its opening line: 

BP today set a new ambition to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get to net zero. 

It then sets out two set of aims. The first five show how BP itself intends to become net-zero. They are: 

  1. Net zero across BP’s operations on an absolute basis by 2050 or sooner.
  2. Net zero on carbon in BP’s oil and gas production on an absolute basis by 2050 or sooner.
  3. A 50 percent cut in the carbon intensity of products BP sells by 2050 or sooner.
  4. Install methane measurement at all BP’s major oil and gas processing sites by 2023 and reduce methane intensity of operations by half.
  5. Increase the proportion of investment into non-oil and gas businesses over time. 

All these points are hard to reconcile with being an oil and gas producer. But with point five, BP comes out of the closet as a Green refugee from its core business. 

Turn now to the second set of five aims—those attempting the even bolder ambition of making the world net-zero. These are:

  1. More active advocacy for policies that support net zero, including carbon pricing.
  2. Further incentivise BP’s workforce to deliver aims and mobilise them to advocate for net zero.
  3. Set new expectations for relationships with trade associations.
  4. Aim to be recognized as a leader for transparency of reporting, including supporting the recommendations of the TCFD.* 
  5. Launch a new team to help countries, cities and large companies to decarbonize. 

*[The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, which "will consider the physical, liability and transition risks associated with climate change and what constitutes effective financial disclosures across industries"].

And thus with these five aims, BP becomes an evangelical missionary preaching against its core business. For if BP persuades the rest of the world to stop buying oil and gas, how is it going to make money? Renewables? Not many companies marketing wind, wave, and solar solutions can boast BP’s earning power. Most of them need state subsidies to survive. What will the shareholders make of this strategy? 

Oh, yes, the shareholders. In order to get to them, the reader has to trudge through some substantial paragraphs on plans for the corporate re-organization that will deliver this transformation of BP into a Green energy NGO. Beyond those paragraphs, he will find the following: 

No change to BP’s fundamental commitments: * to safe and reliable operations; *to delivering BP’s investor proposition, including commitments on: a) growing sustainable free cash flow and shareholder distributions over long term; b) maintaining strong financial frame and cost and capital discipline, and deleveraging the balance sheet; c) delivering 2021 free cash flow targets.  

I’m not sure that if I were a shareholder, I would find these plans very comforting. My feeling would probably be that BP’s senior management, in order to appease pressure from governments, UN and other international agencies, the environmentalist movement, including deep green extremists such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, and advocates of “woke capitalism,” have decided to take a giant financial leap into the dark by adopting government policies that have a fair prospect of losing my money. I might look at BP not as a capitalist corporation trying to make a profit but as a socialist one trying to achieve certain political objectives—sometimes objectives that public opinion dislikes, such as carbon taxation, and that governments themselves are nervous about pursuing. 

As it happens, there’s a lot of that kind of corporate transformation going on. It’s almost a trend. So it’s worth wondering how might we legitimize the gradual transformation of the corporation from a capitalist to a socialist entity?  

The answer is surprisingly simple. It needs only one very straightforward reform. It’s a reform rooted in the orthodox capitalist theory of the limited liability company. And to add the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, the reformer can dress up his proposals in the soothing but deceptive managerial jargon of “stakeholder capitalism” (though managers should be warned that this reform will make their jargon honest.) 

The reform begins with a question: why should shareholders get their dividends? It’s an old question. Socialists have traditionally asked it, especially when the dividends were large, because they felt that a company’s profits should be distributed more equally between shareholders, management, and workers. The answer to it is that shareholders get what’s left -- “the residual” -- after the other stakeholders have already got their shares. Indeed, the shares going to the other stakeholders are guaranteed in advance—to workers in wages, and to managers in salaries, stock options and other perks. A profitable company can keep all its stakeholders happy, but an under-performing company will pay few or no dividends, and a bankrupt company will mean not only that shareholders get no dividend income but also that they lose their entire capital, their savings, as well. Dividends have been their reward for taking that risk. 

If that’s the traditional company structure, it’s not the only one. We can in principle organize companies on very different foundations. Different versions of worker control and participation have been attempted across the world since 1945. Some survive, but none have been game-changers, and mostly their results have been disappointing. The main alternative to capitalism under fire usually comes down to socialism of some kind.  

Old-style socialists want companies to be founded, funded, and managed by state managers on lines approved by government. That system has a tendency to produce failing companies that consume state subsidies and press governments to protect them against competition (often successfully because that saves ministerial faces too.) Or as the sadder-but-wiser saying goes: “If the government owns an airline, it’s really the airline that owns the government.”  

That kind of socialism has gone out of fashion even on the Left which now prefers to regulate capitalist companies so that they aim at more “socially responsible goals” than mere profit-making while still not actually going bankrupt. Ministers then get the credit for the company’s virtuous behavior, and the capitalists pay the price in reduced dividends for the “social obligations” imposed on them. That’s the socialist view of what a corporation is and how it should operate, but it’s also one that has been swallowed by corporate and capitalist titans. As the manifesto of the 2020 Davos World Forum puts it:

A company is more than an economic unit generating wealth. It fulfills human and societal aspirations as part of the broader social system. Performance must be measured not only on return to shareholders, but also on how it achieves its environmental, social and governance objectives.

Get the message?

If we look at the “re-imagining” of BP by Mr. Looney and his corporate colleagues, in which he makes the “net zero” goals of government a central purpose of BP, we can see that it fits very neatly into this paradigm.  

What makes it an unusually difficult proposition in BP’s case, however, is the radical character of the “net zero” obligations that BP has to accept as part of its re-imagining. In brief, these are seeking to reduce the market for its core products drastically, embarking on new energy industries in which it has modest expertise and which themselves will struggle to survive (let alone prosper), endorsing the replacement of the market by national and international socialist planning, and supporting general economic policies that will raise energy prices for everyone and severely impoverish Western populations -- one well-researched estimate puts the total cost of getting to net-zero carbon admissions at one-and-a-half trillion Pounds. In these circumstances, as Rupert Darwall points out in his forthcoming “The Climate Noose: Business, Net Zero and the IPCC's Anti-Capitalism,” published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, corporate executives like those at BP would be collecting their shareholders’ money and distributing it on causes which they might dislike and which would certainly run counter to their interests in very large amounts.  

As I hinted above, however, there is a simple way to legitimate this. If the senior executives of BP and other corporations with a passion for corporate social responsibility were to borrow money from banks or other institutions and buy out the shareholders, thus becoming manager-owners, they would then take on all the risks of ownership. They would have to pay interest to the banks, as with wages to their workers, out of company profits before being able to distribute “the residual” to themselves in dividends. In hard times they might have to cut or even eliminate their salaries to ensure the company’s survival. If the prospered, however, they would have a clear right to disburse company profits either in donations to favored charities or in financing “their environmental, social, and governance objectives” because they would be spending their own money in doing so. Governments might even consider making corporate social responsibility spending conditional upon this form of company structure. (They’re as about as likely to do so as manager-owners would be to maintain high levels of corporate social spending.)

All the same, I recommend this reform to Mr. Looney and his BP colleagues. I also recommend it with greater hope of agreement to their shareholders.