Thursday, September 29, 2011

What It is Like Going to War

At 23 Karl Marlantes, a 23-year-old 2nd Lieutenant from Oregon, parachuted into the jungles of Vietnam. That was 1969, four years after I watched young Vietnamese trainees being celebrated by the local hockey fans in Fort Worth, TX, 1965.

Marlantes is a Yale graduate and a Rhodes school, so he is no fool. He served as a Marine officer, loved the service, and valued his Navy Cross, Bronze Star, two Navy Commendations for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. He is also a prize-winning author. He wrote this particular book as his way of wrapping up forty years of dealing with his experiences of PTSD and the gruesome life-destroying effects that war has on the soldiers that survive intense combat.

He writes from a deeply personal perspective. I found him brutally honest, intensely personal, widely educated, and ethically sensitive. He understands military life and describes both its better sides and its undesirable effects. He shows great insight into human nature, with pros and cons of human reaction to military life and the politics of war.

I was glad I read his book, for he added to my arsenal of challenges opposing war and military thinking in contrast to waging peace. In the end, I found him in a love-hate relationship with war, loving the models of heroism with its polished medals, and the excitement of intense combat, yet thoroughly traumatized and haunted across the years by the face of that young Vietnamese soldier he killed in close combat.

Ultimately, it is his how he examined himself and made peace with his past. It is also his critical analysis of the military mind, and war. He tells riveting stories of combat, thoughtfully analyzed and self-examined via readings from Homer, the ancient Greek warrior to eastern Mahabharata, to psychoanalyst Carl Jung.

Although he began with a religious orientation, I found him more steeped more in psychoanalysis than the Bible.

His major concern is one he makes extremely clear--just how poorly prepared our nineteen-year-old warriors--mainly men but increasingly women--are for the psychological and spiritual aspects of the journey. He deeply values the warrior, and loved the warrior life, but within the scope of his ethical concepts for a warrior.

He rightly concludes that a nation that sends its finest young to do its dirty work of war, owes them better psychological and spiritual preparation than they currently receive. As the world’s finest fighting machine, they are ill equipped in the realm of the spirit, yet his brilliant education seemingly lacked the ability to dig deep enough to find an evangelical God.

Ed Conklin of Chaucer Books called it a “courageous, noble, and intelligent grapple with myth, history, and spirituality.” I gained insights both positive and negative regarding WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR. Most people would gain greatly from an open-minded reading of it, but I came away disappointed that he could not conclude it with a total rejection of a failed system.

War is as old as humanity and it comes out of a nature that man is unable to conquer, because that man is unable to deal with that selfish side of humanity which the theologian describes as that old sinful nature. Marlantes writes in his closing paragraph on page 256:
“As long as there are people who will kill for gain and power, or who are simply insane, we will need people called warriors who are willing to kill to stop them … They must undertake the personal responsibility for deciding when to kill and for what higher cause … beyond self-interests, or even national interest alone…”

Military leaders could improve themselves by reading it, and perhaps their chances for survival. People opposed to the ways of war, would be greatly enriched as to why they believe in waging peace. People who do not, or will not, bother their minds about issues like war, could greatly benefit by reading this recent literature on war.

His “Afterward” briefly outlines contradictory causes leading him into the Warrior life. He now confesses never feeling closer to God and yet more baffled by the problem of evil. He admits his own flawed humanity and raw savagery, but witnesses to something better when saying “the more we recognize the feelings of transcendence and the psychological and spiritual intensity of war, the easier it will be to prevent their appeal from clouding our judgment about going to war the next time. What ultimately will save us from the appeal of war is achieving this transcendence and intensity through other means” The weakness I find here is his very unevangelical substitutes are “all achievable through individual hard work” with too little recognition of the power of God’s transcendent grace.

From Warner’s World,
I recommending your reading of WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR, by
Karl Marlantes, Atlantic Monthly Press, NY, 2011 …

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Slippery Slope of Decline

Just before 9/11, America “was in full bloom.” The economy was booming. George W Bush had “inherited a fat budget surplus.” The U.S. was “the indispensable nation.” The world rallied to the American cause. Even Yasser Arafat personally donated blood for the 9/11 victims.

“Even the French suddenly wanted to be Americans.”

And 10 years later?
The U.S. is unrecognizable. Bitterly divided against itself, the country has become “distrustful, fearful, and defensive--against Muslims, against foreigners, against anyone who is different.”

What a toll this decade has taken on the U.S. said Gregor Peter Schmitz, of the Hamburg Der Spiegel, a German newspaper.

If al Qaida’s goal was to goad the superpower into self-destruction,” the Bush administration succeeded admirably in complying.” By launching two wars, at a cost of trillions of dollars and rising, the U.S. carried out “a massive transfer of money and resources from the national treasury into the pockets of the military-industrial complex.”

Military budgets have ballooned to the point that the U.S. now spends more than all other countries in the world put together. And that’s not even counting the massive costs of the new Homeland Security Department and Transportation Security Agency. The financial meltdown facing the U.S. can be directly traced to this insane overspending on defense against a small band of terrorists.
The terorists won, said Bernd Pickert in the Berlin Die Tageszeitung.

There is also “another less tangible, cost,” said Neil Tweedie of the London Telegraph. America has abandoned its claim to the moral high ground--not just by killing 140,000 civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
First it violated the sovereignty of allies by kidnapping suspected terrorists … Then came the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” whereby those suspects were shipped off to other countries for torture.

Then torture was embraced as an American tactic, when CIA agents water boarded suspects at “black sites.” And finally we have outright assassinations, in the form of drone attacks. All these Bush administration policies “have sullied the country’s reputation” beyond repair.

Don’t blame Bush alone, said Tariq Ali in the London Guardian. Obama has deported more immigrants and prosecuted more whistle-blowers than Bush. He has failed to close Guantanamo, and he renewed the Patriot Act. He increased the use of drones, killing untold numbers of Pakistani families.

I would not go as far as the writer who said Obama started a third war in a Muslim land, Libya, but the words of new CIA Director David Petraeus, might be true (I hope not): “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids lives.”

But what do I conclude from these references by mostly foreign editors? It remains obvious to me that we have paid a far bigger and heavier price than these wars were worth. Wars are anti-social behavior--failed diplomacy. Wars are never settled by force; they are finally resolved by intense diplomatic efforts. Wars result mostly from greed and the struggle for power, be it military, economic, or religious.

Moreover, I would agree: the decade since 9/11 has been one sorry downhill slide--decline.

From Warner’s World,
The American people have done themselves no favor by listening to the political and military leaders taking us down this slippery slope. I am

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I find several interesting things happening under President Ronald Reagan that give me pause for reflection, as noted by Jeff Madrick in his book Age of Greed /Madrick/169-175).

Reagan cut taxes. In turn, he raised military spending. He cut taxes 25% over 3 years but ended up with a deficit of $130 billion.

Consequently, he added payroll taxes to 12.3% on the working - mid-class (up to $107,000 in 2010) and raised retirement to 67. “It was a decidedly regressive tax: earners in the middle fifth of Americans would now pay 9.8% of their income in payroll taxes, while those in the top 1% now paid 1.4% of their income in payroll taxes.”

We also note that Security taxes were “commingled” with general revenues to pay for all government programs, and have been ever since.” (altho passed and intended only to pay Social Security.” This suggests shortages in the Social Security funding are generated by legislators “borrowing” out of budgetary funds not theirs to spend, and that most of the hubris about Social Security is just that: political hype.

“The rate of actual federal taxes of all kinds on the middle fifth of income earners in America (households) fell only be .7 percent between 1979-1989, but for the top 10 percent it fell by 3.3 percent, and 8.1 percent for the top 1 percent of owners.”

“Thus, Americans paid lower taxes, but the cuts for the well-off were far greater on a percentage basis than for those in other brackets.”

Under Reagan, Defense spending rose from 5. To 6.5% of GDP in the late 80s. “Business investment remained significantly weaker as a percentage of GDP than in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The 1983 Budget deficit, which was above $200 Billion and 6+% of GDP dropping to 3% at its lowest point, was “never as low as Carter’s final years.,”

“As for American workers, who so strongly supported Reagan politically, their wages, as noted, generally stagnated or at best grew slowly. Male wages were especially weak. In this period, income inequality started to climb to the levels reached in the 1920s. Typical family incomes rose only because spouses went to work. Female incomes rose consistently, but not robustly, and a typical woman of the same age and experience as her male counterpart still earned far less. Meanwhile, the public goods of America were neglected. Under Reagan, investment in public transportation infrastructure was reduced from 0.5 percent of GDP to 0.3 percent - a sharp drop. And more and more Americans had no health insurance.”

As a Christian, I am decidedly uncomfortable with this system of taxation, for the inequity of the system and for the increased military spending, which continues to dominate our pocketbooks, to the point it seems we pay for Defense and War but we deserve neither adequate infrastructure nor a public safety net for the more vulnerable.

Issues for the common good are made to appear as politically incorrect. However, I am no more interested in Socialism than I am in Capitalism. I do not need the government planning my life for me. Neither do I appreciate being increasingly impoverished by the Barons of Corporate Capitalism. I long ago committed my life to the teachings of Jesus, which are the only teachings I have found with power to change a human heart, and on which humanity can build a safe and friendly environment for everybody. I read Matthew 25 and take seriously His Word, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me: (v. 26 NIV).

It sort of reminds me of a statement Michael Kazin quotes from William Jennings Bryan: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold. ” Bryan recalled tethering the hogs back in Southern Illinois as a boy when he had to prevent the hogs from tearing up the land. “And then it occurred to me,” he said, “that one of the most important duties of government is to put rings in the noses of hogs.” (of greed).

What I want to know is not your politics, or religion, but how you live and how you treat your fellow man. I like following examples like that of Thaddeus Stevens, the Pennsylvania Congressman that led a move during earlier days to redistribute southern lands to slaves. You may challenge his politics, but I find it hard to disagree with his final example in death.

When Stevens died, he was interred in the one integrated cemetery in Lancaster, PA with these words on his stone:
“I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death The Principle which I advocated through a long life EQUALITY OF MAN BEFORE HIS CREATOR (Kazin, American Dreamers, P. 61).

From Warner’s World,

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Then They Came For Me

The anticipated return of the two American tourists from their Iranian imprisonment makes the story of Maziar Behari of great interest to me, since I discovered that Behari encountered the three Americans late in his own imprisonment. Behari’s book, (Maziar Behari/Then They Came for Me/NY/Random House/2011) gives me some idea as to what to anticipate for the two young Americans awaiting release.

Three young American tourists made the mistake [?] of transgressing the Iran border--two men and the fiancée of one of the men. Iran eventually released the female and she returned to America. She has continued advocating for her two male counterparts. Now, the world awaits their soon release, as promised. When the three were arrested, they were accused of leading the Iranian branch of the American CIA, et al, which I considered both interesting and humorous.

Behari, an Iranian-born Canadian citizen, was arrested while filming the 2009 mass protests in Teheran, with the savage repressions that followed. Although he was a 12-year-journalist with “Newsweek” magazine, he was imprisoned as a spy and spent 118 days in Evin Prison. Tortured, fearing for his life--thought lost--he held to the secular values that sustained him.Late in his imprisonment, he encountered the three Americans apparently coming into the Iranian prison system. He also reveals the truth about the [crooked] election of Ahmadinejad, as well as his relationship to the present Ayatollah.

Behari gives a riveting, and at times heart-wrenching, memoir of his imprisonment for being a Western spy. I found his historical insights into the past seventy years of various regimes of Iranian history offering me a better feel for the land of his birth. I found him very empathic with Jewish people, whom he recognized as being a wholesome part of Iranian culture since the days of King Cyrus of the biblical days of Daniel.

Behari’s family experienced wars, coups, and revolutions under oppressive regimes. In reading his story, I could feel the aspirations of his people living under oppressive, totalitarian [fascist] regimes as they did (and do), and looking for any kind of philosophy or faith to enable them to live freely and enjoy those qualities that go with human rights, economic and religious freedom, et al, that I and all other freedom-loving Americans enjoy.

Maziar’s father belonged to a Communist circle, through which he sought those social and economic benefits to which we all aspire. Maziar grew up as what I would consider a secular Muslim, drawing strength from his father’s courage during his imprisonment as a Communist. He drew additional strength from his sister’s imprisonment under the shah of Iran, the American-supported Muslim dictator-king, whom the Ayatollah Khomeini eventually overthrew. Moreover, he continued to draw strength from the surprising and feisty resilience of his 84-year old mother who had seen it all but continued to cope, even when her son Maziar was all she had left.

The book traces the democratic impulses of freedom-loving people long-tired of oppressive government, most of which they experienced in the name of religion. I readily understand why the author is a secularist in his desire for democracy; he had never experienced human and civil rights otherwise. While Behari continues to hope for, and press for, democratic expressions of civil society, his story reveals the corruption of power, and Lord Acton’s confession that absolute power absolutely corrupts.

In Behari’s experiences, I could only guess at the “real” treatment of the two young Americans, and especially at the face-saving loops they are must go through as they anticipate their soon-freedom, which some suggest will not come until they accompany Ahmadinejad, when he comes for his soon-anticipated appearance in America.

What interested me most was Islam's obvious lack of a personally life-transforming faith, and the fact that there seems to be a significant number of Muslims who are freedom-loving non-totalitarians. The problem in Islam is the religious institution, just as it was in Judaism during the days of Jesus. The religious establishment has become quite institutionalized, and Muslim leadership can no more tolerate diversity and individuality than could the Pharisees and Saducees when challenged by Jesus.

Power corrupts. Absolute power (Islamic theocracy or Christian theocracy) corrupts absolutely, whereas Jesus taught the truth shall make you free (not the institution). From Warner's World, I am

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Jeff Madrick introduces the Epilogue in his book Age of Greed (NY, Knopf, 20011) with a quote by Shiela Bair,Republican-appointed chairwoman of the FDIC. Bair acknowledged that Wall Street had channeled hundreds of billions of dollars of capital into foolish speculation in the housing market. “The bust that followed” she claimed, “is clear evidence that capital was misallocated and could have been put to better use in areas such as energy, infrastructure, or the industrial base.”

Madrick’s expose, Age of Greed, details four decades of records revealing how a select Wall Street CEOs and Executives became fabulously rich while channeling hundreds of billions of dollars into wasteful investments via sub-quality bonds packaged and sold deceptively. The question, he says, was not whether they contributed “enough to the economy to warrant their compensations, but how much they cost the economy in the damage done” (399). He shares further costs, which I have not listed here.

To challenge such practices is in the minds of some unthinkable: socialism and liberal politics. To deny such a discussion is to fail to get to the truth, which may not be on either side of the political aisle. I like what Randy wrote on my Facebook page,
“I agree with you about extremes. Capitalism without morals is exploitive. Socialism without incentive makes everyone poorer. Democracy without a bill of rights results in the tyranny of the majority. A representative republic without effective accountability results in corruption. Reasonable regulations and checks and balances are necessary for a healthy nation and economy. Workers without protection can be manipulated by their employers. Unions without constraint can be just as greedy as their employers. A well operating society requires a fine balance of freedom and responsibility.”

The CEO at Caterpillar Corp in Peoria told CBS News recently that the primary thing lacking today is “honesty.” I agree and I suggest that many liberals and conservatives have supported an economic free-market gone to the extremes of individualism and greed. It became increasingly so in the 1970’s, progressed through the Reagan Administration until the White House appearance of Barak Obama. Today we are caught on the horns of the dilemma of the past 40 years and we don’t know which horn is most damaging, the left or the right. Truth seems lacking from both directions.

To begin with, I challenge the right of the Financial Industry to behave like a hand-full of Roman Gladiators killing Christians in a free-for-all survival of the fittest. That is the free market of Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush et Company. That free for all intensified until Wall Street was on the verge of Collapse, and we have all heard news reports of unregulated and irregular practices making a few people filthy rich while whole companies were on the verge of self-destruction.

In one instance, George Bush’s Admin backed a TARP bailout of $700 “B” billion, which free-marketers do not like to acknowledge because it admits to the truth that a free market economy does not self-adjust nor does self-policing (assisted by lobbied legislation) work adequately. Both Bush-43 and Clinton became exceedingly wealthy in such instances but that is a political aside.

Madrick reports the financial industry paid back the TARP loans, except the loans went to pay for executive benefits et al and the banks continued withholding on loans, slowing both the economy and jobs, thereby hurting ALL OF US.

Adds Madrick: "the largest cost of the crisis was the steepest recession since the 1930s. GDP fell sharply. Eight million jobs were lost. And recovery in the subsequent year and a half beginning in mid-2009 was slow, and will likely stay slow, resulting in considerably higher unemployment and lower national income for many years than otherwise could have been realized. Federal tax revenues were and will continue to be reduced accordingly and the budget deficit will be much higher as a result. None of this counts the several trillion dollars of debt or loan guarantees made by the Federal Reserve, whose future costs cannot yet be computed”

While this was going on, “Average compensation per employee at financial firms started growing far faster by 1978 than the average of other U.S. business, and was well more than double the average compensation elsewhere by 2008.”

In other words, the financial industry was “making money” by selling paper back and forth (stuff like sub-prime mortgages on my daughter’s house, which re-sold several times), while the labor force was losing income but paying more taxes, and the top 1% was increasing 400 times while paying a lower rate of taxes. This is what many have not yet comprehended.

“Harvard Law School researchers found that the top five executives at each firm (in recent bank collapse) drew out cash and stock of $1.4 billion from Bear and $1 billion from Lehman. It is fair to estimate that both Cayne and Fuld had put away $300-400 million each” (before their banks crashed--p. 397).

Jeff Madrick concludes Age of Greed with this 4-liner:
“The crash of 2008 was not a systematic failure. It was a function of the unchecked greed of a handful of individuals, the culmination of forty years of growing power and weakened government. And the same individuals were essentially still in charge. The age of greed continued” (italics mine).

Back to what Randy commented on my Facebook page: I could not agree more, Randy: “ We need to model integrity, fiscal responsibility, justice, industry, wisdom and generosity in the public sphere. The answers to the multiple woes of our time are fundamentally spiritual.”

From Warner’s World,
Let’s stop parallel-talking each other (conservatives vs liberals) and filter our conversations as Christians through the words of Jesus
- - there is truth to be found in between our extremes!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The "Madness" of Greed

GREED did not launch with the Iraq War and will not end with the Tea Party. Free-market capitalism has a history as old as the Garden of Eden. Charles Spurgeon did not miss the mark by far when he recalled the words of the ancient wiseman: “madness is in their heart while they live” and after that “they go to the dead.” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 KJV).

That sounds like the small Mississippi start-up company--Global Crossing. Jeff Madrick describes it.

“Global Crossing was another phenomenon of the age, built on a good idea and carried to extremes by the Wall Street juggernaut… (emphasis mine).

“Global Crossing engaged in dubious accounting practices, such as swaps of financial assets, some with Enron, others with Qwest, to inflate earnings. These and other such questionable accounting practices were again approved by Arthur Anderson (Winnick even hired Andersen’s main auditor as his chief financial officer).

Global went bankrupt a month after Enron. Its executives and other insiders had already sold $4.5 billion worth of stock, far more than the Enron executives did. Winnick sold $735 million. George W. Bush made a killing as did Bill Clinton’s close friend and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, who saw his $100,000 investment increase to $18 million.

All along, Jack Grubman advised on Winnick’s deals for Salomon, sat in on board meetings, and kept giving Global Crossing shares his highest rating for most of its life as a public company… (Madrick 342-43)

“Global Crossing was not Grubman’s biggest mistake. He developed a similar relationship with Bernard Ebbers, the head of WorldCom. Ebbers had started a small long-distance phone services company in Mississippi, and expanded by acquiring other small phone companies. His strength was as a salesman; his weakness was numbers.

Grubman noticed that the upstart firm, despite its small size, was expanding rapidly. He made contact with Ebbers and, as WorldCom grew, eventually convinced him to make a daring bid for the much larger MCI with Salomon’s considerable help. MCI agreed to the acquisition, given Salomon’s participation, and overnight Ebber’s WorldCom became the second largest long-distance phone company in the nation.

“As recession coupled with overcapacity began to undo the telecommunications bubble in 2000, WorldCom’s clever financial officer Scott Sullivan moved expenses off the profit and loss statement and into the company’s capital account, keeping the earnings trajectory rising--out accounting deception (emphasis mine). With rising earnings, WorldCom could claim that it was unique in avoiding the plunging earnings of the rest of the sector and it was able to sell a $12 billion bond issue through Citigroup (Solomon) and JPMorgan Chase.

As with all underwriting, the two investment bankers were obliged by SEC rules to do due diligence, providing an opinion statement that all the financial reporting was in order and reflected the operations of the firm. Neither Citigroup nor JPMorgan Chase discovered the major accounting deception, or if they had, they did not make it public. The credit rating agencies also overlooked the obvious chicanery and gave the new bond offering a high rating.

“It turned out that WorldCom had overstated its $10.5 billion of earnings in 2001 by at least $4 billion. Another $3 billion of false profits was later found. The SEC discovered that WorldCom gave Ebbers more than $400 million in personal loans, with which he bought more WorldCom stock. Grubman maintained a buy recommendation until one month before the formal bankruptcy and only a few days before the admission of the accounting chicanery.

The accounting restatements and the plunging stock prices, plus ratings downgrades (again too late to save many investors) made WorldCom’s end inevitable. Ebbers was ruined, but Global’s Winnick remained one of the richest men in Los Angelos.

“In 2002, Grubman, at the peak of his influence, despite Global’s bankruptcy and the similar fate awaiting WorldCom, denied to BusinessWeek that he had conflicts of interest… WorldCom went bankrupt in July 2002, becoming the largest failure ever until Lehman Brothers a half dozen years later” (Madrick, 343-4).

The accounts above reveal little about our national economy; they suggest nothing of the reasons for starting a business (to manufacture or whatever). What this does reveal is a vulnerable herd of valuable cattle--our cows of industry: manufacturing, technology, information, et al. It further reveals the illegal and fraudulent practices that are protected by a Congress that conspires in the crimes by refusing to regulate special-interest cowboys who enjoy raping companies for the singular purpose of reaping obscene profits (not to increase production or improve services, but desk jockeys trading deceptive paperwork--corporate raiders).

And when you see a recent President and the former head of the Democratic party reaping those “obscene profits” you understand why it is so important that government regulations be minimized--to protect and maximize the profits of select private interests (emphasis mine).

From Warner’s World, I repeat, Charles Finney hit the mark: “madness [in this case greed] is in their hearts while they live. Too bad they can’t take it with them, but then they never could …

Saturday, September 10, 2011


We retired just in time to take a hit on wife’s retirement funds secured through a church agency. Having banking experience, she insisted on secured bonds only. The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) eventually investigated that Agency and we discovered her “secured” bonds had been exchanged (without her knowledge) for unsecured bonds she knew better than to buy.

Two leaders were found guilty in civil court, but church leaders refused to press criminal charges. She lost substantially, and we lost our “margin of difference” between comfortable retirement and tough stretching, and Church Leaders could not adequately cushion the worst losses.

That explains part of my interest in today’s political climate; it is where I live. It helps me understand Kevin Phillips, onetime Republican strategist, when reporting, “Nearly 90% of all shares were held by the wealthiest 10% of households in 1997, up from 68.2% in 1983. Stock options pushed the ratio of executive pay to factory workers pay to 419.1 in 1998, from 42.1 in 1980” (italic mine). He concludes, “Succinctly put, the two-decade stock market boom, together with the tax advantages that accrued to investment income over earned income, became the motive force of a new national economy” (italic mine)

The new national economy, so highly touted at the time by Milton Friedman our top government economist and a strong free-marketer, supported a system in which the top 1% held 40% of stock doubling from 10% in 1980 to 20% in 1999 - while the average household stagnated (Phillips/American Dynasty/ NY/Viking Penguin/ 2004/ 66, italics mine).

Another author announces “There were dozens of accounting frauds in these years, and Anderson [Arthur Anderson Accounting Firm] was involved with many of them. Only a few of the CEO’s who perpetrated the major frauds served jail time or were severely fined compared to their substantial wealth…

“In 1997, Arthur Levitt, the SEC chairman, at last realized he had to take more aggressive legal action and the SEC started to bring suits, including those against CUC and Waste Management. But the campaign almost completely neglected the newer, more innovative kinds of accounting manipulation [cooking the books], and the growing derivatives market…

“Unethical accounting standards were, in large part, a consequence of the outsize personal compensation CEOs could earn because compensation was linked to rising stock prices through generous stock options. Theoretically, if they managed the company well, share values would rise and options with them…

“Stock options ... it was discovered, were illegally backdated … the price at which the shares could be bought had already been exceeded when they were issued. The practices did not fully come to light until 2006... Approximately one hundred companies were involved in cases brought by the SEC. By 1996, average CEO compensation among the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies was 210 times the level of average pay for production workers compared to roughly one hundred times in 1990.

“It was only twenty-five times higher in 1970"
emphasis mine). Many CEOs profited handsomely from the roaring bull market of the late 1990s, no matter how poorly they managed their firms” (Jeff Madrick/Age of Greed/NY/Knopf/2011/326-328).

Adjunct professor of humanities at The Cooper Union, senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, The New School, and an economics columnist, Madrick reviews America’s financial history since 1970: “The triumph of finance and the decline of America, 1970 to the present.”

I see it as a moral indictment of an immoral financial system that capitalizes on greed and only uses politics to satisfy that greed. So, when I say that we live in a financial system stacked to favor special interests groups of the wealthy, some of my friends whine that I am only reading liberal “left-wing rags.” They ask “why”” are you so opposed to the Republicans. They call me a “socialist” for supporting President Obama; some add the bullying rhetoric of “baby killer.”

My well-meaning friends are shooting themselves in the foot at the ballot box. “Free market” sounds good, but it was never intended to become a survival of the fittest through cannibalizing corporations, manipulating the money market so only the top 1-2% can pay themselves obscene fortunes, while companies they buy go out of business, or downsize the labor force to expand stock values, etc.

The companies have to play the game or get swallowed up. The purpose for their existence and what they produce no longer matters--only the stock values that allow speculators to up the market-value long enough to buy, sell, or trade for an obscene amount of money, purely for investor’s profits.

Mention any kind of controls and somebody screams “Communism! … Socialism …” ad infinitum … Do you know what the Stock Market is? It is a wealthy play-boy’s gambling casino--largely unregulated and highly protected. Try buying into it.

I fail to understand Christians insisting on protecting unborn babies and feeling no social responsibility for America’s underclass. They support a political-financial system that protects individuals at the top of the pinnacle. They elevate obscene greed as the epitomy of success while supporting a political structure that feeds and protects that system. The words of Jesus mean nothing!

The Prophet Amos thundered, You cows of Bashan … who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, ‘Bring us some drinks!“ …You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain … you oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the court … I hate, I despise your religious feasts … away with the noise of your songs! But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 4:1-7:14, NIV).

From Warner’s World, I am

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Labor Day Weekend 2011

Local Church on KY Mission-09

The weekend of Labor Day 2011 is upon us with record weather everywhere: heat, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, and you name it. Not only are we assaulted by forces of nature, but by political forces that seek to denigrate working Americans by taking away rights to bargain, negotiate, et al.

This weekend finds me past my working days, doing my routine as a spousal care-giver.
That said,I find care of the kitchen is mine, and I confess I am disturbed over recent evidence of a mouse. We have not seen such evidence in years in this house--until days ago.

While dealing with my mouse problem, I’m thinking about Labor Day and the mice in our kitchen. They are eating things we don’t want destroyed. Wisconsin’s governor Ryan is taking bargaining rights from working Wisconsinites and Governor Snyder is wanting to privatize teaching positions in Michigan. These greedy little mice are destroying fundamental “civil liberties” of working class Americans for personal and political gain; now that is fascism in action, little different than Libyia.

I called them greedy; they are self-seeking. They care little for the common good--too far to the left politically, although that is what makes American workers different from the rest of the world. I guess they want us to be like the rest of the world.

Greed is a viral infection, destroying our western culture of affluence. The Bible says enough about greed that no matter how loudly individualists and atheists preach the benefits of greed, selfishness is selfishness--destructive of anything hindering its success.

That leads me to the current book I’m reading: Age of Greed by Jeff Madrick, Knopf, 2011. It describes the fast-paced, single-minded pursuit of huge personal wealth in American capitalism. The author is an economist, teacher, author and has paid his dues. He tells many stories of politicians, economists, and financiers who have participated in this moral battle for freedom that has given way to an age of greed.

Madrick describes intense economic inequity and instability with style, clarity and command of his subject. I share part of Sam Walton’s success, as one of many such stories.
“Walton contracted leukemia in the late 1980’s and died in 1992. His successors intensified his devotion to controlling labor costs. As criticism of Wal-Mart’s low pay, long hours, and scant benefits grew, the company defended itself by noting that nearly three quarters of its employees work full-time and earned twice the minimum wage. But it defined full-time as working thirty-four hours a week, and even for a forty-hour worker, that meant less than $1,300 of income a month after taxes. Few families, no less individuals, could live on that anywhere in the United States…” In essence: The company succeeded on the backs of its employees.

“Many claimed, despite the low wages, the nation benefited from Wall-Mart’s low prices. American consumers had voted with their pocketbooks. Ninety percent of Americans lived within an hour’s drive of a mammoth Wal-Mart store, half of Americans lived within a ten-minute drive … In the 2000s, for the first time, more Americans were working in retailing than in manufacturing and the pay on average was far less. This was the business environment of a new age. Some companies went against the trend, such as Costco, which emphasized more service for customers, paid higher wages, and offered better benefits. But it was not nearly Wal-Mart’s size.

“McKinsey, the consulting firm, estimated that Wal-Mart’s productivity gains accounted for one fourth of the productivity gains of the entire nation between 1995 and 2000. Yet in the past, higher productivity of industrial giants was usually associated with high wages--even as the prices of products fell. The great entrepreneurs of an earlier era created jobs that paid good wages. The price of a Model T fell from roughly $1000 to $300 in the early 1900s, and Henry Ford fought vehemently against unionization, yet he paid his workers up to $5 a day, an extremely high wage in those times. This had become the classical example of capitalism at work. Now productivity was losing its historical meaning in a political environment that tolerated low wages and worker insecurity. It was not a model that a prosperous nation could depend on indefinitely” (emphasis mine).

I quote this not to offer a political position, or to pick on Wal-Mart; I am a customer too. I use it to illustrate something it took me years to understand. Henry Ford provided a needed product and paid his people well to produce it. For that reason, they were able to buy the products they produced. The biggest reason today for the “consumer confidence crisis” is the inability of families on Main Street to buy the products they produce, due to current politics that favor downgrading the rights and wages of working class people.

This is producing an expanding Grand Canyon between the haves and the have nots, and no amount of rhetoric about reforming welfare and entitlement programs et al will change this situation. The statistics show CEO’s with increasing entitlements, the wealthy becoming more affluent, and the rest losing ground--totally contrary to Jesus word suggesting it is better to give than to receive.

As one who never cared for money, I first became aware of this when my wife managed a business for a “Christian entrepreneur” who operated on the other person’s money, who regularly “skimmed the till” and lived out of it illegally, and who typically paid most of his employees minimum wage. He thought nothing of that, but challenged me when I voted on what he thought was the wrong side of a “moral” issue. Yet, his whole business foundation was “immoral”.

Jesus said give Caesar what is his (Caesar has his place and God has His). Jesus also said, love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself. Seems to me that ought to say volumes to our Labor Day celebrants.
… at Warner’s World.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Frank Bailey vs Sarah Palin

… Frank Bailey, Blind Allegiance to Sarah. Nashville: Howard Division of Simon & Schuster, 2011.

The author takes an interesting journey of introspection that reveals more than a little insight into the author himself. He reveal a very religious (Protestant Christian) and idealistic (naïve) young man wanting to make a difference (good), but thinking he can do it through political strategies (mostly naïve and not so good).

I had a hard time putting the book down, and by the time I finished reading it, I had a thorough appreciation for the fact that three authors collaborated the effort rather than one single disgruntled opinionater venting it. I felt that I had a comprehensive and accurate assessment rather than a one-track opinion.

Bailey’s journey shows how the political system becomes a fiery furnace that will break, bend, burn, or someway compromise participants (both staff personnel and candidates) before it will allow the system to be changed. He offers insight, intentionally or otherwise, on how participants gradually succumb to the tidal rip currents and get pulled down into the depths of party participation.

He reveals participants playing the system for self-gratification. If one wants to see it, the workings of the human mind are shown at play, and one can see people finding either a path for themselves or Robert Frost’s road less taken. I found this challenging.

The Alaskan data and background showed just about what I expected to find in that frontier-minded setting; interesting and inviting … exciting … often beautiful … some parts less than flattering. It is a culture of its own where people are individualistic and do not understand or appreciate the more populous and urbanized social development of the Coastal States and the northeast.. I could just as well have been back in the West Texas of the 1950s, or other western states where they still have a less-urbanized and more pioneer mindset with romanticized cowboys and Indians, and raw individualism.

I selected the book out of curiosity about Sarah Palin, not one of my favorite people … wondering just what kind of dirt Bailey would expose under her rug (authors oft times reveal as much about themselves inadvertently as they do about the character they are exposing). I was not disappointed; but, I was more than disappointed.

Bailey tells a story that is as much his story as Palin’s story. His innocence and naivety show through but he does not hide his slide into failure and ultimate betrayal of himself and his ideals (Never sell your soul to any person!). He attempts to be honest in his self-revealing. He reveals a surprise climax that may, or may not reflect Divine approval (according to one’s views). It does, however, make for a good journalistic tool that adds a “feel good” touch to having read the book.

How did Bailey influence my views regarding Sarah Palin?
1. Whereas I once regarded her as an undesirable presidential candidate, I no longer regard her as a potential threat.
2. The book reinforced a few negative views of her, but in the main, it neutralized any negative feelings and left me passively viewing her as non-threatening.
3. I saw how cruel and destructive public office and media attention can be to a candidate, and a candidate’s family. That was vigorouly reinforced, I should say, and I responded with compassion for her children--parental victims of both the political system and the public media.
4. Having said that, I saw a family exposed and left naked in the public eye. I viewed that exposure as unflattering rather than pleasing. They became human beings, having all the warts and flaws of a human family--sometimes “unpretty”. I saw very little I would support in a political candidate; I saw aspects that could draw negative feelings;mostly, I saw a person exposed for whom I felt compassion.

I saw a very attractive person to look at from an external viewpoint. However, I saw someone like Baltasar Gracian described long ago as “all front, like houses having the entrances of a palace but the contents of a hut.” Sadly, I saw a person wanting perceived changes, but I also saw a person wanting ... needing, public adulation. I saw an individual who, contrary to her faith journey, does not have her internal issues in order and under control ... a person I recognized as having too many unresolved personal issues to be of immediate service ... a person too swept up in the heady atmosphere of wealthy celebrity living to ever again be valued as a public servant for the common good.

Before reading the book, I was inclined to argue with Sarah's views. Having read the book, I am more inclined to pray that she rediscover those original values she once wanted to share. From Warner’s World, I am