As the first decade of the twenty-first century draws to a close, there is not only despair for the people and events that have crossed our path, but also a fear for the future. As I will explain, our country has fallen to new moral and ethical lows during this time period, characterized by a flagrant disregard for much that we hold near and dear. Still, we might not yet have hit bottom. That is the truly scandalous and scary scenario. The decade of the “naughts”, of the zeros, was aptly named: promises and principles were ignored and subjugated for personal gains. The smoke and mirrors, indicative of a bankruptcy of values, prevalent in this decade is just dead empty.
Frank Rich, in his Op-Ed article in the New York Times this past Sunday (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/opinion/20rich.html?scp=2&sq=frank%20rich&st=cse), wrote of his analysis of this decade. He held Tiger Woods as the ultimate symbol of an era typified by scams, shams, and devoid of any ethical underpinnings. I beg to differ with Rich, although only in matter of degrees. I would choose Tareq and Michaele Salahi as the epitome of this empty decade. At least Tiger had some real talent/ability and expertise. The Salahis have neither, yet were able to convince many people to the contrary.
The underpinnings of America as a moral beacon have come undone. That is precisely the sickness that is affecting our government, our financial and corporate entities and of course, our individual citizens. With simply a hope and a prayer supporting their schemes, the crooks and fake icons of this decade, from Enron to Madoff , from the heinous sub-prime mortgage scandal to easy credit, from the unrelated impetus of us starting a war with Iraq based on a purposeful deceit for its inception, from the bailout to the recent health care “reform”, from Craig to Spitzer to Sanford to Ensign to Tiger and to the Salahis, this country is in so deep that it might not be possible to extricate itself from this downward spiral of ethical neglect and betrayal. Thus, we are running on empty.
Historically, Americans love their con men. All you have to do is to read about Ivar Krueger, “The Match King” and Charles Ponzi (whose name tells the whole story) to understand the infatuation the United States has with their heroes/goats. The reason escapes me, but may have something to do with their love of risk especially if the potential payoff is huge. The Enrons and the Madoffs of this decade are merely repeats of scams that have come before.
However, this decade has seen the greed and corruption, the selling of products and services that were nothing more than empty promises (Enron’s energy, financial industry’s derivatives, etc.) and the gall of the guilty to insist they did nothing wrong and continue to avoid scrutiny and accountability. Our government has likewise avoided real legislation and called it a victory for the people, piling nothingness upon nothingness. Shoot: if everyone else can do it, why not our elected officials?
To me one of the worst violations of our code of ethical conduct are those incurred by the non-profit organizations. Remember the Red Cross after 9/11? They collected a huge amount of donations after that tragedy and then announced that not all of that money would go to aid the victims of that fateful day. The Red Cross was going to “put aside” a chunk of the donated funds for any future catastrophes or needs, no specifics given. All too often, charitable enterprises abuse their not-for-profit tax status. The term non-profit is misleading because it applies to these associations only after all salaries are paid. All too often, the executives receive millions of dollars of compensation packages. So while their tax status might be non-profit, their major employees are quite for-profit.
Many hospital associations and universities are run exactly like this. Just the other day there was a story on the radio about hospital alliances that pay out millions of dollars to their leadership staff. In fact, the head of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City was cited as having a salary approximating $3 million per year. Remember the graft and corruption, the “misappropriation of donations”, that wracked the United Way in 1995 and again in 2004? The same open disregard for the rules, as demonstrated by our government’s buying and selling of Congressional votes and and our corporate entities’ raping of the economic structure ( e.g. AIG, Goldman Sachs, etc. ), is thriving in the one industry, that of charity and good deeds, that we thought was above such deceit and distortion. The irony is particularly stinging because of the legal tax-exempt loophole that permits these non-profits the same indulgent, top-heavy compensation packages as private industry.
In our halls of government, it is a contagion present on both sides of the aisle. Today, Harry Reid begged for civility in the Senate:
Reid implored his colleagues to tone down the heated rhetoric and work together to finish the process. “There’s a lot of tension in the Senate,” Reid observed from the floor. “And feelings are high. And that’s fine. Everybody has strong concerns about everything we have done and have to do.”
Reid invoked the name of Rodney King in calling for calm. “But I would hope that everyone would go back to their gentlemanly ways and I would hope that — I was trying to figure out how to say this — gentlemanly ways. We used to say in the House, ‘Gentlewomen.’ So, I guess the same here. So anyway, I hope everyone has — I’ve said to a number of people, Rodney King — ‘Let’s just all try to get along.’ That’s the way we need to do it,” Reid said.
How in all the world can the members of the Senate act like gentlemen when the policies they are espousing are not worthy of the humanity they falsely support? They are a bunch of carpetbaggers, consumed by their own special interests to further their re-election goals and personal wealth ideals. Real gentlemen beget real legislation and do not compromise away the promises they made to the people who put them where they are today. On the GOP side, John McCain called the compromise give-aways by the Democrats to their fellow party members as indicative of a corrupt government takeover. He called the concession granted Mary Landrieu as “The Louisiana Purchase” and the similar gift to Ben Nelson as “The Cornhusker Kickback”. Despite the hypocrisy of these trade-offs, McCain’s memory is seriously impaired if he fails to mention the many times the GOP bought off their members. The horsetrading in Congress, not the concern for our citizens, is the driving factor in making new laws. Further, McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his Presidential running mate smacks of exactly the overriding concern for a re-election bid rather than an emphasis on ability, intellect and temperament in providing America with potential leadership in its top position. So both of America’s political parties have proven themselves devoid of principles and character. It is next to impossible for such a dysfunctional governing body to produce any sort of functional policies and laws.
As a result of this dysfunction at every level of our society, some experts are speaking to the issue that political science and economics are more close in character today to the social sciences/psychology. David Brooks of the New York Times wrote this piece about how economics is being transformed into psychology, mainly as a way to alter the corroding underpinnings of our society:
Then read what Drew Westen, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, had to say about President Obama’s actions during the last year, as campaigner and as Commander-in-Chief, again explained within a psychological framework:
Being faced with such complicated and divisive issues, President Obama has chosen a path of survival: non-confrontation. I appreciate his need, a real one, to preserve his strength for the many battles he still has to fight. However, though still in praise of his eloquent words, a more in-depth follow-up and support to his proposals would have gone a long way towards real reconciliation.
This decade has been emblematic of an erosion of our founding values. The Salahis are the creme de la creme of the ague that infects us. Selling themselves as productive and charity-loving members of society when all they have to show are endless unpaid bills for services rendered to them is the ultimate act of moral emptiness. Yet, their facade was enough to allow them entry into the highest echelons of social and political circles in this country. As goes the “respected” members of our community, so goes their corporate and governmental counterparts. The ethical core of our country needs shoring up and only time will tell if we will undertake that task or continue to speak caring words with no restorative actions to follow.
One can only hope the admission of the smoke and mirrors will shake us all up for the coming decade. We still have the option of acting upon values, ethics and morals. The possibility of making corrections to our underlying, Constitutional principles and social mores still exists. I am of the opinion that until we do the hard work of altering our current behavior, no amount of legislation can pick up the shortfall. Changes in our basic structure are necessary. It can get done, but must be accompanied by a willingness followed by heart-rendering honesty to redistribute wealth and benefits, just to get back to some semblance of equality and justice. We are absolutely capable of filling up our empty tank.
I thank you for your readership during the last year and wish you a better next year filled with promise turned into reality.
SENDING YOU HOLIDAY GREETINGS OF GENUINE JOY
With much love,
Yo Mama For Obama
Tags: America's smoke and mirrors culture, Bernie Madoff, Charles Ponzi, decade summary, Enron, financial bailout, Harry Reid, Ivar Krueger, John McCain, moral underpinnings, non-profit organization, politics as social science, Sarah Palin as VP choice, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the psychology of economics, Tiger Woods