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A Death in the Family -- and the Question Is: Whodunit?

Business  (tags: abuse, americans, bad products, business, consumers, corporate, corruption, dishonesty, economy, finance, government, investments, labor, law, lies, marketing, politics, society )

- 1967 days ago -
Having long enjoyed the sweet life, the end was a bit bitter, for the dearly departed's estate had been mercilessly plundered in recent years by unscrupulous money managers.

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Kit B (276)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 10:48 am
(Image of twinkies from Common Dreams )

Born in 1930 in Schiller Park, Ill., the deceased was 82 years old at the time of passing, which ironically was the day before Thanksgiving.

Having long enjoyed the sweet life, the end was a bit bitter, for the dearly departed's estate had been mercilessly plundered in recent years by unscrupulous money managers. This left 18,500 surviving family members in dire straits. Indeed, the family contends that the octogenarian's death was not due to natural causes, but to foul play — a case of corporate murder.

This is the drama behind the sudden death of Twinkies. Fondly remembered as "the cream puff of the proletariat" (and less fondly as a sugar-and-fat bomb that delivered a toothache in one bite and a heart attack in the next), this industrial concoction of 37 ingredients became, for better or worse, an icon of American food processing.

The father of the Twinkie was James Dewar, a baker at the old Continental Baking Co. who saw the goo-filled tube cake as a way to keep the factory's confection machinery busy after strawberry shortcake season ended. Yes, the Twinkie was actually conceived as "food" for idle machines. How fitting is that?

But us humans happily swallowed this extruded marvel of comestible engineering. As a teenager, I probably downed my weight in Twinkies each year — and my long years on this Earth might well be due to the heavy dose of preservatives, artificial flavors and other chemicals baked into every one of those cellophane-wrapped two-packs that I consumed.

The Twinkie was the best-seller of Hostess Brands, a conglomerate purveyor of some 30 nutritionally challenged (but moneymaking) brand-name food products, ranging from Wonder Bread to Ho Hos. In the past year, Hostess racked up $2.5 billion in sales — yet it suffered a staggering $1.1 billion in losses. Thus, on Nov. 21, Ripplewood Holdings, the private equity outfit that had taken over the conglomerate in 2009, pulled the plug, solemnly announcing that Hostess simply couldn't survive.

Why? Because it was burdened with overly generous labor contracts, the firm's executives declared, adding that greedy union officials refused to save the company by taking cuts.

Wait a minute. They claim that the bereaved loved ones of the Hostess family killed the Twinkie? Holy Agatha Christie, that can't be right.

Remember the horrible murders in 1978 of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk? At the killer's trial, his lawyer argued for leniency on the grounds that his client subsisted on a steady diet of junk food, which had addled his brain. This claim entered the annals of American jurisprudence as the "Twinkie Defense."

Even less defensible is the campaign by Ripplewood financial manipulators to lay the death of Hostess at the feet of loyal, longtime employees who, after all, need the jobs. In fact, far from greedy, Hostess workers and their unions have been both modest and faithful. Their wages are decent but not at all excessive — only middle class. And the charge that unions would not make sacrifices to help the company is a flat-out lie, for they had previously given back $100 million in annual wages and benefits to help it survive.

The true perfidy in this drama is not in the union, but inside Ripplewood's towering castle of high finance in New York City. After buying Hostess in a bankruptcy sale, these equity hucksters proceeded to feather their own nests, rather than modernize Hostess's equipment and upgrade its products, as the unions had urged. For starters, these profiteers piled an unbearable debt load of $860 million on Hostess, thus diverting its revenues into nonproductive interest payments made to rich, absentee speculators. Also, they siphoned millions of dollars out of Hostess directly into their corporate pockets by charging "consulting and management fees" that did nothing to improve the snack-makers financial health.

But it was not until this year that their rank managerial incompetence and raw ethical depravity fully surfaced. While the Ripplewood honchos in charge of Hostess were demanding a new round of deep cuts in worker's pay, health care, and pensions, they quietly jacked up their own pay. By a lot! The CEO's paycheck, for example, rocketed from $750,000 a year to $2.5 million.

Like a character in a bad Agatha Christie whodunit, Ripplewood — the one so insistently pointing the finger of blame at others — turns out to be the one who killed the Twinkie. Along with the livelihoods of 18,500 workers.

by Jim Hightower | Common Dreams |

Kit B (276)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 10:53 am

I tasted these things called Twinkies once, and that was enough. Unlike Jim Hightower, I did not develop any addiction to these nasty things, I found them quite repulsive, though I do recognize the loss to the employees. Jim HIghtower offers a very different take on this than I have read in the past, enjoy his delightful confectionery on the demise of the sugary treat.

. (0)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 1:32 pm
It's actually a shame that companies are vying to keep Wonder Bread and Twinkies alive. On the History channel, the history of the Twinkie was run. There is actually no nutritional value to this product as it is a chemical reaction in a petrie dish.
Wonder Bread is the last gasp of valueless white bread.

Kit B (276)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 1:45 pm

I think Allan hit the nail on this one. This company turns *turned out pure crap posing as bread products. I do feel for those that lost their jobs, the union is not responsible but poor management and a lousy product is the fault. That's the "Free Market" if you make junk people just might stop buying the junk.

Angelika R (143)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 3:24 pm
I am very sorry for the 18.500 bereaved and can just say RIP twinkie. Never had one in my life and guess I won't either under the circumstances.. I am not really a sweet tooth anyway, particularly not for a chemical bomb.

Nancy M (197)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 3:26 pm
CEO Gregory Rayburn did it in the board room with a broken contract?

Rose Becke (141)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 3:29 pm
Never had one

David C (29)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 3:30 pm
Thank you Kit always finding a new way to look at things

Gloria p (304)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 3:54 pm
"The CEO's paycheck, for example, rocketed from $750,000 a year to $2.5 million." And all that over a product that works just as well as Crazy Glue.

Kit B (276)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 3:59 pm

Ya got to give it to Jim Hightower, he does handle this whole "sticky" situation with tongue in cheek if not wrapped firmly around a Twinkie.

Like I said - I have tired one - a long time ago and I am here to tell ya - nothing missed. Though I hear that they can last for many years - because it's a confection of sugars and (as Gloria said) glue.

Lydia Mcintyre (47)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 4:36 pm
Never really was into these, thanks for the info!

Yvonne White (229)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 5:43 pm
Here's the thing that irritates the hell out of me :"In the past year, Hostess racked up $2.5 billion in sales — yet it suffered a staggering $1.1 billion in losses." So you still have $1.4 BILLION and you can yell Bankruptcy & F*%k Everybody????? Only since the 80's have I known of companies claiming bankruptcy because they claim NOT to be Profitable ENOUGH!!!! Before then you better be BROKE, not just whining because you couldn't afford the Hope Diamond or you weren't Allowed to take bankruptcy! This is just Union Busting GREED & every freaking member of Management should be fined and prosecuted for fraud!!!

pam w (139)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 5:44 pm
Twinkies & Ho Hos.....junk food of people smoking dope!


pam w (139)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 5:59 pm
(Guess you know now how it is that I've eaten a Twinkie.) :-)

pam M (98)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 6:14 pm
You tell them Miss Yvonne. I too am tired of people pissing all over me telling me its raining!

Nancy M (197)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 6:15 pm

JL A (281)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 6:20 pm
I'm sorry folks, but I keep remembering the stories about deep-friend twinkies at fairs a couple years ago.....

Dorothy N (63)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 6:52 pm
A great a humourously-written article - thanks for posting it!

It also makes me laugh, albeit bitterly, when these greedy, debt-loading-for-personal-profit-company-and- job-killers try to demand some sort of bizarre special status as 'job creators'...

Wonder bread should have gone extinct long ago - don't specifically recall ever eating a Twinkie, although that's probably another of the chemical-flavoured treats I was never big on...

Ancil S (175)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 8:29 pm
I'm gonna miss 'em. I remember in the '70's,as a teenager,I downed those Twinkies like there was no tomorrow! That's how I got my energy fix.

Yvonne White (229)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 9:33 pm
I was more partial to the Ding Dongs!:) I'm bettin' that Lil Debbie bitch will buy it out, she has Hobbits cranking out cupcakes & Ho-Ho rip offs already, but they're cheaper - I think she uses Angel tears for extra sweetness..;)

Arielle S (313)
Monday December 3, 2012, 6:05 am
Sorry for the workers but is it really a tragedy if the world has no more Twinkies?

. (0)
Monday December 3, 2012, 9:14 am
Hostess products were designed to addict you and then kill you. I ate one once and was sick. It's almost as bad as the ubiquitous corn starch and syrup that I find in a lot of Louisiana cooking.

Sheryl G (363)
Monday December 3, 2012, 9:19 am
Not to worry, I hear there are a lot of companies in the wings wanting to buy the Hostess products to get them back out again.

I'm very much in agreement with Yvonne's White's first comment of Sunday December 2, 2012, 5:43 pm. Why are things like this still being allowed to go on?

We keep going on year after year and the same dirty tricks are allowed to be played out. Judge awards the 19 or how many upper Management that destroyed the company big money, the majority of workers are out on their butt and another comes in and buys the company, hiring low wage workers that they don't have to honor any benefits of the previous workers nor current workers.

And Stella, the workers had already made many concessions while top Management got raises, big ones. So why is the blame always on the workers. That is a tune I keep hearing, at least I'll give you credit you did add that it did include Management this time.

For the past eight years management of the company had been in the hands of Wall Street investors, you know, those "restructuring experts", third-tier managers from other non-baking food companies and lastly a "liquidation specialist". Six CEO’s in eight years, none of whom with any bread and cake baking industry experience, was the prescription for failure.

Another one of those Romney style deals.

On a more personal note, my Grandmother was diabetic and also a wonderful baker of all her homemade cakes, cookies, breads so on and so forth for her family. I loved walking into her kitchen, it always had a wonderful aroma to it. At the end of her life however, she had to move in with my Uncle and my Father lived next door so between the two brothers they looked after their Mother, my Grandmother.

My Uncle did a yearly trip for 2 weeks into the mountains with his wife so that my Dad would walk next door to see that his Mother had everything she needed. He asked her, what would you like for dinner tonight. She said, I'd like some of your potato salad (my Dad made a yummy one) a lobster roll and a Twinkie. He said rather stunned, you want a Twinkie?? She said, yes, I haven't had one in years and I just feel like having one.

I never knew my Grandmother had ever eaten a Twinkie being she always baked and diabetic seldom ate what she baked, let alone if she did allow herself a sweet it would be with a Twinkie. My Dad, who always tried to please got her all she asked for and made up a nice dinner and ate along with her. She said, that was the best dinner and I so enjoyed that Twinkie. She told him she was tired and wanted to rest, so he helped her with her nightime things and got her into bed (she was blind by then).

My dear sweet Grandmother went to sleep and passed to the Spirit World that night. My Dad always grateful that he made her exactly what she wanted to eat and even went out and found that Twinkie. I never ate a Twinkie in my life, but my Grandmother and Twinkies are forever linked.

Kit B (276)
Monday December 3, 2012, 12:02 pm

I also strongly agree that it must be the company mismanagement that is held responsible for the failures of this and many other businesses. A product being offered may well not meet the public standard or public interest, a good, well managed company will then with find a way to meet a new public demand or go out of business, that is the actual free market. Now companies are forcing workers to take less and less pay, removing benefits that were a substitute for direct pay and expecting those workers to be grateful. Meanwhile, those same companies - as with Hostess, are paying ever higher compensation to upper management, who in most cases is directly the fault of financial problems within the company. The "group" think wants to hold the workers that have no direct input to company management or fiscal responsibility as guilty, that is simply displaced accountability.

When a company is still showing a profit, still able to pay the stock holders then there is no excuse for a judge to accept the bankruptcy claims. First on the chopping block is consistently the pension funds. Once the bankruptcy is complete, many of these companies simply reorganize and re-open for business. And....the republicans wonder why the majority of Americans have soured on the ideas of the current corporate systems.

paul m (93)
Monday December 3, 2012, 1:45 pm


Yvonne White (229)
Monday December 3, 2012, 2:01 pm
Right on Kit & Dandelion!:) You cannot currently send a star to Dandelion because you have done so within the last week. I'm so sorry that you lost your Grandma, Dandelion, but I love that she got her last Twinkie. My little Grandma (I sorted mine by size) loved Whorthers toffe candy, and I buy a bag every so often to remind me of her. She could never afford store bought treats, but big Grandma usually had Twinkies or Lil Debbie treats for us kids...which was great, because big Grandma wasn't half the cook little Grandma was!;) I miss them all so much..:(

Sheryl G (363)
Monday December 3, 2012, 2:13 pm
Thank you Yvonne, thankfully she lived a long full life into her nineties, and of coarse we always miss them, no matter how long we had them. She was blind at the end so was ready to go, she was no longer able to do much as it's hard to re-learn to live sightless when one is so far up in age.

She was a kindly woman and I think it was a nice way to go, after a good meal with one of her children and drift off in her sleep. Thanks also for sharing you family too. Ironically, my Dad loved the Whorthers too and he is now with his Mother.

Kit B (276)
Monday December 3, 2012, 2:23 pm

That is so true, when we are fortunate enough to know our grandparents they tend to have a lasting impression for life. Both of my grand mothers were great cooks and only to happy to share those years of experience with me. I miss them both, terribly. Though I was not offered packaged treats, there was often something freshly baked waiting for me. Considering my age and the age of my grandmothers one might think their greatest hope for me was that of finding a good husband. Both urged me on to have a good education and career choice that would make me feel good for my life. Sure they expected marriage, but both wanted more for me, for that and all the wonderful time and memories they are never far from me.

Kathy Chadwell (354)
Friday December 7, 2012, 3:38 am
kind a throws a wrench into the talking heads right wing propaganda doesn't it?

Sheryl G (363)
Friday December 7, 2012, 5:21 am
Kit thank you for sharing your grandmothers with us, I think we had some special women in our lives.
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