The Common Good

The moral failures of Enron execs

Sojomail - January 16, 2002

               


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+++++++++++++++++++++++ 16-January-2002 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+++++++++++++ The moral failures of Enron execs ++++++++++++++++++++++

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 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *Martin Luther King Jr.'s infinite hope

 H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
     *Where do Enron executives go to church?

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *Classic oldie from Bob Hope

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Growth rates for religion (and no religion) in U.S.

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Martin Luther King Jr.: What does it mean to be great?

 S o j o C i r c l e s
     *SojoCircles spotted down under

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers hit reply

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *Best 100 Jewish books of modern lit

 P. O. V.
     *Who's eating the American pie?

 W e b   S c e n e
     *Sacred celluloid
     *Visible earth...from space
     *No Child Left Behind Act
     *Top 50 search terms listed

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Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"We must accept finite disappointment, but we must
never lose infinite hope."

              --Martin Luther King Jr.
 
----------------------------------------------------------------------

H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Where do Enron executives go to church?

by Jim Wallis

Before going to church, I watched Treasury Secretary
Paul O'Neill say this on Fox News Sunday: "Part of
the genius of capitalism" is that "people get to make
good decisions or bad decisions. And they get to pay
the consequences or to enjoy the fruits of their
decisions." O'Neill was doing the Sunday morning news
circuit to talk about Enron, the huge energy company
that just went bankrupt, destroying both the jobs and
lifesavings of thousands of Enron employees, yet
enriching the corporation's top executives.
 
O'Neill got it wrong. In fact, the emerging Enron
scandal teaches a different lesson from O'Neill's -
the people on the top of the American economy get
rich no matter whether they make good or bad decisions,
while workers and consumers are the ones who suffer
from all the bad ones. In the Enron case, the company
executives overestimated the company's value, ran it
into the ground, lied to their employees about the
company's stability, encouraged Enron's workers to
invest their pension funds in company stock, and then
imposed rules against selling that stock while, all at
the same time, arranging an executive bailout for
themselves worth $1 billion. Enron CEO Ken Lay
quietly sold his company stock before the collapse
for $101 million.
 
Enron was one of the best-connected companies in the
country. The Houston company had been long-time
contributors to the Bush family, father and son, and
had extensive access to Washington politics. Enron
executives met six times with Dick Cheney and his staff
on the administration's Energy Task Force, and the oil
giant helped shape (some say virtually dictated) a policy
based on deregulation and the marginalizing of both
conservation and alternative energy sources. Of course,
such influence is being downplayed because, it is argued,
Bush and Cheney already agreed with the oil company's
view of America's energy future. What a surprise.

A big political topic in Washington is a couple of urgent
phone calls made from Ken Lay to O'Neill at Treasury and
Donald Evans at the Commerce Department, perhaps hoping
for some last-minute administration help for old friend
Enron. The Bush administration points to the fact that
no help was offered, another testimony to its belief in
capitalism's survival of the fittest. But again, this
episode demonstrates the survival of the richest, with
all the ordinary employees losing their livelihoods and
lifesavings. No one seems to worry about the fact that
Ken Lay's calls got through instantly to Cabinet
secretaries. The relationship between money and access
is a given nobody in Washington even questions anymore.
Democrats will be careful about criticizing too strongly
since Enron was so bipartisan in its buying of influence
- 3/4 of the Senate and 1/2 of the House benefited from
Enron cash. I want to tell you that faith-based
organizations and advocacy groups fighting child poverty
don't get their calls though nearly so easily.

My good friend Scott Harshbarger of Common Cause will
speak eloquently about how the Enron scandal dramatically
demonstrates the need for campaign finance reform. And my
favorite media broadcaster, Bill Moyers, will explain how
events like this reveal how the very nature of democracy
is being threatened in America.

But I want to get back to where I was headed before
listening to O'Neill's Sunday morning homily. And I
wonder if he and his administration's friends at Enron
made it to church or synagogue this weekend. If they
made it, what did they hear about their business and
political dealings? Let me be blunt. The behavior of
Enron executives is a direct violation of biblical
ethics; the teachings of both Christian and Jewish
faiths would excoriate the greed, selfishness, and
cheating of Enron's corporate leaders, and condemn,
in the harshest terms, their callous and cruel
mistreatment of employees. Read your Bibles. The
strongest media critics of Enron call it putting
self-interest above the public interest; biblical
ethics would just call it a sin. I don't know what
the church- or synagogue-going habits of Enron's top
executives are, but if they do attend services, I
wonder if they will hear a religious word about the
practices of arranging huge personal bonuses and
escape hatches while destroying the lives of people
who work for you. It's time for the pulpit to speak
- to bring the Word of God to bear on the moral
issues of the American economy. The Bible speaks of
such things from beginning to end, so why not our
pastors and preachers? O'Neill should have to hear
about all this in church, after doing the Sunday
morning news shows.

------------------------------------------------------------------

F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Classic oldie from Bob Hope

"I was aboard a plane last week when it
started to go down. "Do something religious!"
passengers started shouting. "So I did. I
went up and down the aisle taking a collection."

                   --Bob Hope

-----------------------------------------------------------------

B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Growth rates for religion (and no religion)
in the U.S.
            
                       2001 (in millions)   % change since 1990

Catholic                        50.8                   10.6%
Baptist                         33.8                   - .4%
No religion                     29.5                   14.2%
Christian (non-denominational)  14.2                   75.8%
Methodist/Wesleyan              14.1                   - .2%
Lutheran                         9.6                    5.2%
Pentecostal/Charismatic          4.4                   38.1%
Episcopalian/Anglican            3.5                   13.4%
Jewish (by religion only)        2.8                   -9.8%
Mormon/Latter Day Saints         2.8                   12.1%
Churches of Christ               2.6                   46.6%
Congregational/UCC               1.4                  130.1%
Jehovah's Witness                1.3                   - .4%
Assemblies of God                1.1                   67.6%
Muslim/Islamic                   1.1                  109.5%
Buddhist                         1.1                  169.8%
Hindu                             .8                  237.4%
Unitarian/Universalist            .6                   25.3%

*Source: American Religious Identification Survey by the
Graduate Center of the City University of New York

-----------------------------------------------------------------

S o u l   W o r k s
++++++++++++++++++++
Martin Luther King Jr.:
What does it mean to be great?

On February 4, 1968, two months before he was
assassinated, Dr. King preached his "Drum Major
Instinct" sermon from the pulpit of Atlanta's
Ebenezer Baptist Church.

In the biblical text for his sermon, two of Jesus'
disciples, James and John, thought that one day Jesus
would establish his kingdom and reign supreme as the
new king of Israel. They asked Jesus if, when that day
came, one of them could sit on the right hand, and the
other on the left hand of Jesus' throne. Jesus answered
their selfish request by saying if any one would be
first, he must be last of all and servant of all.

Here's an excerpt from King's sermon:

"There is, deep down within all of us, an instinct.  
It's a kind of drum major instinct - a desire to be
out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to
be first....

What was the answer that Jesus gave James and John?  
It's very interesting. One would have thought that
Jesus would have said, 'You are out of your place.  
You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?'

But that isn't what Jesus did. He did something
altogether different. He said in substance, 'Oh, I see,
you want to be first. You want to be great. You want
to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you
ought to be. If you're going to be my disciple, you
must be.' But he reordered priorities. And he said,
'Yes, don't give up this instinct. It's a good instinct
if you use it right. It's a good instinct if you don't
distort it and pervert it. Don't give it up. But I want
you to be first in love. I want you to be first in
moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity.  
That is what I want you to do.'...

By giving that definition of greatness, it means
that everybody can be great. Because everybody can
serve...." 

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S o j o C i r c l e s
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*********************************************************

B o o m e r a n g
+++++++++++++++++

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom writes from Jerusalem, Israel:

Re: Ryan Beiler's "Aroma of Christ" (SojoMail 1/9/02):

Thanks, Ryan, for keeping Jesus' memory alive, and
helping him to continue to serve a higher purpose
than he might have been aware of.

---------------------

Jenny Mikulski writes from Ithaca, New York:

Re: David Batstone's column, "Tolkien translates to film
(SojoMail 1/9/02):

I was not as impressed with the cinema translation of
Tolkien's novels, which were very absorbing to me as
a child. In the theatre, I cringed from the oh-so-
dewy-white goodness, and the oh-so-ghastly-evil-
blackness, especially as some of the orcs seemed to
remind me of - though grossly distorted, a little too
similar not to be uncomfortable - aborigines.

---------------------

David Cockburn of the Christian Peacemaker Teams writes
from Shepperton, Middlesex, United Kingdom:

Re: Jim Wallis' column, "Peace in the Trenches" (SojoMail
1/2/02):

The story of the Christmas in the trenches of World War
I is remarkable, but it's also a story of tragically
missed opportunity, with lessons for today....

What if they had declared those other days as Christmases,
and not fought?  What if they had said, "We will not have
these men (who sent us out to die and kill) to reign over
us?" What if they had loved their neighbors and their
enemies? And what if army chaplains had helped them
to work out the teaching of Jesus? If the war had stopped
at that opportunity, perhaps there would have been no
Versailles treaty, no economic collapse in Germany, no
Hitler, no Holocaust, no Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

Withdrawal of consent to slaughter would have rendered
their leaders powerless to wage war, but also resulted
in punishment. For many, however, it might have meant
life rather than death. Governments can only use military
force with the consent of individual soldiers who give
power to military leaders - now as then, to send them
to kill and to die.

--------------------

Steve Heitzer writes from Innsbruck, Austria:

In response to Mark Roberts of Tulsa, Oklahoma,
whoever truly realizes the tragic situation of the
Palestinians - in a land that has been theirs for centuries
before it was handed over to European Jews to build the
modern state of Israel - will never again speak or write
in that black-and-white language that condemns Palestinians
as terrorists and celebrates Israel as the only democracy
in the Middle East.
 
The everyday terror of Israeli soldiers and occupying
military forces and the systematic oppression of a whole
people - and this has been going for decades already! -
destroys body, mind, and spirit. And it is just a logical
consequence that especially the young men who have no
perspective, no job, no freedom to move...but who
all do have traumatic experiences with the arbitrary
and cruel rule of the soldiers (this is almost the only
Israeli they get to see!) will one day join those using
violence and terror to fight violence and terror. And
the spiral goes on.
 
I am a German, and I know the guilt our country carries
on through history. And yes the Jews once were victims.
And I know that most Germans today still cannot but see
the victims in the Jews, as this has also become part of
Jews' own identity. But this is not the whole truth.
Now we have to open up our eyes and see the culprits in
them, too. Israel is on the best way to destroy a whole
people itself - just like China does in Tibet and Germany
did decades ago.

-------------------

Jeffrey Adler writes from Indianapolis, Indiana:

So many opinions expressed in your spaces remind me of
a photographic negative - light and dark are reversed.
Examples are David Shipley's "New York Times" column
and Charlotte Hill's letter to Boomerang. Mr. Shipley
commented on Israel's "preference for Arab violence in
order to validate their policies." Mr. Shipley fails to
mention that the majority of Israeli governments have
been led by the left wing Labor Party, not rightists.

Also, Arab nonviolence would have been a refreshing
change; the Arabs declared "holy" war immediately upon
the birth of the state, not even giving peace a chance.
There never had been a "Palestinian" people, but the
same move that created a Jewish state created a Palestinian
state, Jordan (which the same current "Palestinian"
leadership tried to destroy in 1969-1970). Upon the birth
of the state of Israel, 96.7% of the land belonged to
Jewish individuals, organizations, or the Israeli
government; the stories about the Arabs having to give up
their lands is a myth. The "Palestinian" has been a racist,
anti-semitic one from the start. Mrs. Hill was, apparently,
involved in a worthwhile ministry, but the "data" she was
fed does not square with the facts.

As a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, and one who
believes in the faithfulness of God as demonstrated in
His covenant with Israel, I have to see the rebirth of
the state of Israel as an act of God. I also see a
wonderful future for the Arab world in Isaiah 19:19.
It just isn't sovereignty over the same land.

-----------------------

Mark E. Roberts writes from Tulsa, Oklahoma:

Thanks to Boomerang for publishing contrary views and to
respondents taking issue with mine (1/02/02). Yes, Israel
is guilty of injustice against Palestinians, as Charlotte Hill
points out (1/9/02); and those abused by Israel will
understandably feel that Israel is Goliath and they, David.
Israel must act justly within its borders, but it has to
exist securely to be able to act justly. The injustices occur
within the insecurity of continuous threats to its existence.
Enemies from the immediate north, south, and east (not to
mention from within its own borders) vow to destroy Israel.
Israel's interdiction last week of the ship bound for
Palestinians with $10 million in armaments from Iran (how
could Arafat have not known?!) is only the latest evidence.

Before these enemies, Israel is David. Such enemies reject
genuine dialogue and compromise because they hate Israel
(and secondarily the Christian West) with a hatred stronger
than what civility can channel for good. Its source is, sadly
and ultimately, jealous rage against the God who chose the
Jews. This human anger is augmented demonically, hence its
resistance to civil resolution. Enlightenment-tempered
Christians reject this analysis because it "demonizes"
persons. Their rejection presumes that supra-human devils
either do not exist or do not influence human beings and
behavior. Both presumptions fit today's unwarrantedly
optimistic Zeitgeist splendidly, but both are wrong
(Treblinka, Auschwitz, etc.). The solutions are two: the
suppression of unlawful acts of hatred, through armed force,
when necessary (as it was against Nazism); and spiritual
conversion from hatred - to, we hope, the God who is love
(Does one find this God in Islam in its historical
and political expressions, including the Quran?). We
may wish it were otherwise, but to do so would be to
abandon reality as biblical Christian faith enables us to
know it.

--------------------

Martin Smedjeback writes from Sweden:

I agree with Hoodbhoy's "How Islam lost its way" (Sojomail
1/9/02) that religious people act in evil ways, both
yesterday and today. They also often use their religion to
account for their actions. But I would still argue that
most (all?) religions have a core message of love and
peace. The fact that people who belong to a religion can't
follow this message of love is not a reason for us to
blame religion or God.

For me it is really a mystery how people can claim that
they are Christians, Muslims, Jewish, or belonging to another
religion and, at the same time, support war in Afghanistan,
terrorist attacks, Israeli settlements, or killing doctors
of abortion clinics. It is so against all of these religions.
If I may take the example of Jesus: In his time the Romans
occupied his land. Some of his people desperately wanted
him to lead them in an armed fight against the Romans.
He did pick a fight. But not the fight that they expected.
He started a fight of the spirit, where he tried to change
people's hearts with his love and his nonviolent actions.
He created the biggest movement that ever existed through
nonviolence. Sadly this movement, the Church, hasn't
always followed his message of love.

---------------------

Steve Oldham writes from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania:

Our family response to the flag dilemma in these
times is to fly the United Nations flag outside
our home. It has evoked some productive discussions
in our neighborhood and the school where I teach.
We are trying to be a witness to the power of the
international community and a mission to improve the
international structures to arbitrate grievances in
a manner that promotes justice for all and not
revenge for a wrong.

-----------------------------

Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of
views. The views expressed are not necessarily
those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice
heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:

"boomerang@sojo.net"

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**************************************************************************

C u l t u r e  W a t c h
++++++++++++++++++++++++
Best 100 Jewish books of modern lit

"No one will ever completely agree on what the
best 100 books are [since the 18th century],"
said Aaron Lansky, president of the National Yiddish
Book Center, which brought the judges together. "But
if we get people to at least start arguing, we've
accomplished something. That will keep these
works alive."

Here's 10 of the top books...let the debate begin:

"Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler," S.Y. Abramovitch
"The Joy of the Poor," Nathan Alterman
"The Journey," Ida Fink
"Night," Elie Wiesel
"Zelmenyaner," Moyshe Kulbak
"The Things We Used to Say," Natalia Ginzburg
"The Castle," Franz Kafka
"The Gollem," H. Leivick
"Death of a Salesman," Arthur Miller
"The Diary of a Young Girl," Anne Frank

For the entire list of 100 greatest Jewish books, go to:

http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org


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P. O. V.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Who's eating the American pie?

by Nathan Wilson
executive director, Call To Renewal

Let me see if I have this straight.

First, more than 900,000 Americans have had their economic
security jeopardized by the attacks and aftermath of Sept.
11. Second, of an estimated 869,000 Americans laid off
since March 2001, 725,000 plus their dependents have also
lost their health coverage. And third, it is well known that
within the next year many Americans are approaching the end of
their allowable time to receive government assistance.

Yet the House of Representatives passed an economic stimulus
package that focuses on tax cuts for large corporations and
the richest one percent of taxpayers. And the U.S. Senate
just passed a bill giving themselves a $4,900 raise - to an
even $150,000 a year - effective January 2002, despite
the knowledge that the present economic recession, impending
federal budget deficits for the foreseeable years ahead, and
the money needed to fight terrorism at home and abroad will
collectively make funding social services nearly impossible....

If "we the people" have this straight, let's insist our
elected officials get it right also.  Let's insist that
our policy makers be more idealistic and less ideological,
more populist and less partisan, more concerned for the
common good and less captivated by special interests. And
let's insist it now.

To read Wilson's entire column, go to:

http://www.calltorenewal.com/commentary020103.html

----------------------------------------------------------------------

W e b   S c e n e
++++++++++++++++++

*Sacred celluloid

Cinema in Focus has been providing commentary on film
from a religious viewpoint for more than seven years.

http://www.cinemainfocus.com/

-----------

*Visible earth...from space

Visible Earth is a collection of NASA images of Earth
captured from space. The images are divided into categories
such as "Atmosphere," "Land Surface," and "Oceans," and most of
the images are in the public domain.

http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/

------------

*No Child Left Behind Act

The education reform bill Congress passed last week includes
a number of changes for public schools, including new
student testing requirements and increased accountability
for underperforming schools. Learn about the plan at this
U.S. Department of Education site, which offers news updates
about the bill and the full text of the president's original
proposal, along with links to the House and Senate versions
of the bill.

http://www.ed.gov/inits/nclb/

---------

*Top 50 search terms listed

Want to know how other people use the Web? The Lycos
top 50 search terms listed: Dragon Ball Z, Britney Spears,
Napster, tattoos, and Osama bin Laden were the top five
searches of 2001. See last week's top 50 at:

http://50.lycos.com/

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