By Brian M. Howle
(Note: The following column originally appeared on July 4, 2002. But it is somewhat interesting – if not exasperating – how although the more things change, the more things really stay the same.)
There may have been other times in my life when I’ve been happy to see the end of a month – but not many top this past month. We’ve had more problems than Carter’s has little pills, here in the bustling headquarters of Alternatives and Coast, as computer glitches and outright computer death conspired against us all in achieving our deadlines. But, I’m thrilled to report that we have replaced the old dinosaur with a pair of new iMacs. And now that we’ve worked out all the software conflicts and avoided massive brain embolisms in the process, I’m as happy as kid in a candy store – until the next crash sends me into a profanity-laced diatribe.
Quite a few things have come to light since my last column, so let’s get right to it:
I guess a lot of folks are shaking their heads over the recent barrage of stock market scandals – and while I have no holdings in the market to fret over, I don’t understand why people are so surprised by it all.
Although we’ve made tremendous strides since September 11, we’re still reeling from the effects. The upcoming July 4th holiday has set off yet another round of security warnings from the government, and everyone needs to stay on their toes in case of another Al Qaeda attack.
But is Al Qaeda really our biggest threat? As horrible and tragic as those Sept. 11 attacks were, we may well be in the midst of something even more tragic – an attack from within.
Oh, it’s not as impressive or immediate as flying a plane into a building, that’s for sure. But for all of my adult life, I’ve seen it coming.
We’ve taken the American Dream and milked it for all it’s worth, maybe to the point of running the well dry. What was once a simple desire and goal to make better lives for our children and us has mutated into an ugly, self-fulfilled prophecy of greed at all cost.
Need an instant example? All-you-can-eat restaurants – really, can it get any more arrogant than a desire to gorge one’s self to the point of nausea? Just so you can “get your money’s worth?”
Apparently, capitalism is a thorny little concept with many built-in landmines. Profit-driven incentives have turned honest, simple goals into chasms of unrelenting deceit that now threaten to destroy our entire economic system. For decades, normal folks have watched the rich get richer through shrewd, bold investments on Wall Street, and along the way daydreamed of one day being included in that exclusive club of high rollers.
Then the ‘80s came along with the new “Me” generation of get-outta-my-way, I-got-mine players. The slow erosion of character, values and ethics gave way to a landslide of money-grubbing hands, as everybody wanted to get in on the “sure thing” that would create the next block of millionaires.
The catch was, the men who ran that exclusive little club – Wall Street – had the game fixed from the get-go. After all, who was going to stop them from running the table on us all
Federal regulators? Congress? The Justice Department? Seriously … the lack of enforcement of shenanigans in the trading world is shameful at best.
And now the vaunted glass ceiling of exclusivity has truly begun the metamorphosis of change, as that darling of handy gals everywhere – Martha Stewart – now faces the same scrutiny and plunging fortune as the boys. Personally, I hope Martha comes out unscathed (well, relatively; her stock value has dropped 50% since the news of her alleged involvement in a dead stock dumping arrangement just a leetle bit ahead of the rest of us), because, well, she’s the first woman and all, and I think she deserves some gimmes during the initial years. Later on, if she tries it again, then I’m alright with letting Martha go to prison, where she’ll get a whole new appreciation for the term “insider trading.”
Now, Congress (what a bunch of posturing weasels these guys have turned out to be lately) has jumped up on the ol’ “God & Country” bandwagon and called for the heads of all stock markets and major companies to appear before them, because “you got some ‘splainin’ to do, mister.” They want the presidents and CEOs and CFOs to take an “Oath of Disclosure,” stating that – to the best of their knowledge – the books are not cooked (By the way, I understand Martha has some great recipe ideas for that).
Oh yeah, I find this interesting: You know all those loudmouth morons who are constantly using “them damn foreigners” as the standard answer to all of these problems? Well, I wonder if they have noticed that in the mix of folks accused in these stock/financial swindles, that there are no Blacks, no Hispanics, no Asians, and no high-profile Arabs. There are no thick, indiscernible accents or Pigeon English to contend with. Just a bunch of middle-aged to senior white guys – oh, and Martha.
Along with the stock mess, the courts and the church are at it again. The infamous California (why, oh why did I know right away that this was a California court decision when I heard the headline intro on the news?) judges have stirred up a good ol’ fashioned hornets’ nest with the decision that – within the Pledge of Allegiance – the words “under God” were unconstitutional.
Well, when you live in a country where the founders (I like to call them founders; but really, they sorta started all this deceit and manipulation with that pesky Native American problem – which they sorta added insult to injury when they added on slavery, too) were all Anglo-Saxon Protestant or Catholic Christians, chances are their descendents are going to be a bit perturbed with such a silly move.
Of course, the fact that the single founding purpose was for a country – where people could choose their own religion and live free of government intervention – completely negates any argument about the decision that these two judges reached. Technically, they are correct: the phrase implies ONE religion over another. Especially when you add in the fact that “under God” was a little nicety that President Eisenhower bestowed on the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Oh yeah, that the fact that the Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t around when the constitution was written. The framers of the constitution didn’t create either version, for whatever reason – I tend to think they would have immediately realized the possible conflicts. Then again, they muddied up that “all men are created equal” part with the provision that one be “at least three-fifths white,” so maybe we should cut them some slack at not being omnipotent at the time.
On the Merit Score, however, it’s ridiculous to even have the case brought to ANY court, at ANY level. If you don’t believe in religion and you don’t want your kid to recite the Pledge, have them step out of the room and smoke ‘em if they got ‘em for all I care. But don’t screw up the ritual for the rest of us, okay?
Now, I’ve never claimed to be a perfect person; nor will I start now. But during my childhood and adolescence, there were many, many instances of hypocrisy that shook my trust in the adult world – and the advancing forays into the world of big money investments did nothing to restore that trust.
As children, we were subjected to an infusion of rules, laws and regulations, which were more or less pounded down our collective throats. And they all seemed to be of the highest good intentions, and they all followed the common sense approach to life. Be a good little pig – do the right thing, be good to your neighbor, serve your country, and give thanks to your God for everything that happens in your life, good or bad.
Oh, except for the fact that there were some little pigs more equal than others.
There is no way on earth that I’m the only person to notice the shadowy demise of honesty, character, and even the most minute molecule of ethical standards in all aspects of our society over the course of my life. So how did we get to this point?
The same way I’ve come to poorly attempted compromises in my take on life, I guess.
I’m guilty as charged, for turning my head the other way when I heard a person of standing use racist language in private.
I’m guilty as charged for keeping quiet when I overheard police officers using “good ol’ boy” language when referring to a suspect.
I’m guilty as charged for – in my youth – wanting to keep my job, and going along with a corporate decision that I knew to be illegal or unjust.
I’m guilty as charged for just not getting involved in the hundreds of thousands of little opportunities I’ve had to try and change the things that I know are wrong.
But I take solace in knowing that while I am guilty, I am not alone.
That means it’s up to all of us to right these wrongs, and to forgive those of us who have bowed to the ostracized-threat induced capitulation of not standing strong against the forces of wrong and evil.
President Bush, in promoting his administration’s plan to back school vouchers, recently stated to the administrators of the school districts wanting federal funding: “Show us results, if you want government help. We can’t allow our children to be trapped in schools that can’t teach and won’t change.”
I second that, Mr. President. Now … can we also ask our government and financial leaders to do the same? Show us results, if you want our help and our vote. Give us back our trust and dignity and maybe even a little say so in our country. We can’t allow our citizens to be trapped in a country that can’t govern and won’t change.
These things weigh heavily on my mind, as we prepare to celebrate our nation’s birthday. Once again, the terrorist warnings are up; our color is orange; our outings will be subjected to massive security checkpoints, with all of the expected delays and frustrations; our very lives in our hands as we plunge onward to attend the special services, concerts, fireworks displays and family gatherings.
Our adversaries shake their tightly-wrapped noggins and wonder out loud, “What IS it with these people? Why would they risk their lives to watch fireworks and sing their infidel anthem – even as their capitalist greed causes them to fight and bicker among themselves?”
Because we’re Americans – and that’s what we’re all about.
The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, July 4, 2002.