The Common Good

A Culture of Greed

Sojomail - July 17, 2002


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++++++++++++++++++++++ 17-July-2002 +++++++++++++++++++++++++
+++++++++++++++++++ A Culture of Greed ++++++++++++++++++++++

 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *Gandalf: Who deserves death?

 H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
     *Robbery with a fountain pen

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *The potato patch

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Little faith in big business in USA

 D e b a t e
     *What's the best welfare reform we can hope for?

 R e l i g i o n   &   P o l i t i c s
     *US evangelicals financing settlements in Israel

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Are you milking God?

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *Mostly tango

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *IT becomes a social bridge in South Africa

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

 W e b s c e n e
     *The new environmentalist
     *Create your own wildlife habitat
     *Fredrick Douglass feast

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

"Deserves it! I daresay he does.
Many that live deserve death.
And some that die deserve life.
Can you give it to them? Then do not
be too eager to deal out death in
judgment. For even the very wise
cannot see all ends."
Gandalf in "The Fellowship of the Ring"
by J.R.R. Tolkien

H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
Robbery with a Fountain Pen

by Jim Wallis

Every day brings new reports of more corporations that have been "cooking" their books - using accounting tricks to mask expenses, hide losses, and inflate profits. When investigators finally step in, thousands of people are left jobless or without their retirement funds, while top executives walk away with millions.

The recent list includes Adelphia Communications, Xerox, WorldCom, and, of course, the continuing saga of Enron. It's been reported that in 2001 alone, 270 corporations "restated" the numbers in their financial statements. From 1997-2001, a total of 1,089 companies have apparently done so. These transactions have cost investors hundreds of millions of dollars.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with government and business. The climate seems to shift like a pendulum between eras of an "anything goes" mentality and periods of government regulation. The excesses of the 1920s, leading to the Great Depression, were followed by the reforms of Franklin Roosevelt, particularly the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Beginning with the Reagan administration and culminating in the Gingrich "revolution" of 1994, many of these regulations were relaxed. Congress passed legislation shielding accounting and law firms from liability for false reporting and made shareholder suits more difficult. The trend has continued through the Bush administration's close relationship with the corporate world, appointing a new fraternity of former corporate executives to oversee the businesses they used to run.

The president's speech on July 9 was delivered with a high moral tone: "There's no capitalism without conscience. There is no wealth without character." But he had very little to offer in the way of concrete solutions.

For the president, the problem is a few bad apples. He fails to see that a tree whose growth is all at the top, with bare branches at the bottom, is in real danger of falling over. And at a deeper level, Bush doesn't seem to grasp that the tree of the American economy is rooted in the toxic soil of unbridled materialism, a culture which extols greed, a false standard of values which puts short- term profits over societal health, and a distorted calculus that measures human worth by personal income instead of character and integrity.

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed unanimously a series of accounting measures considerably tougher than what the president had suggested. They included a new chapter in the criminal code that makes any "scheme or artifice" to defraud stockholders a criminal offense. "If you steal a $500 television set, you can go to jail. Apparently if you steal $500 million from your corporation and your pension holders and everyone else, then nothing happens. This makes sure something will happen," said Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Amen to that. Corporate CEOs, no less than everyone else, have a responsibility to the common good, not just to the bottom line. The entrepreneurial spirit and social innovation fostered by a market economy has benefited many, and should not be overly encumbered by stifling regulations. But left to its own devices, and human weakness (okay, let's call it sin), the market will too often disintegrate into greed and corruption. Capitalism needs rules, or it easily becomes destructive. A healthy balancing relationship between "free enterprise" and public accountability is morally and practically essential.

Sen. Leahy is right - let's call theft theft. And when there is theft, let us hope that "something happens." As folksinger Woody Guthrie reminded us a long time ago: "Some will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen."


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F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
The potato patch

An old man lived alone in Palestine. He wanted to dig his potato garden, but it was very hard work.

His only son, who would have helped him, was in an Israeli prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and mentioned his predicament. Shortly, he received this reply, "For HEAVEN'S SAKE, Dad, don't dig up that garden, that's where I buried the GUNS!"

At 4 o'clock the next morning, a dozen Israeli soldiers showed up and dug up the entire garden, without finding any guns. Confused, the old man wrote another note to his son telling him what happened, and asking him what to do next.

His son's reply was: "Now plant your potatoes, Dad. This is the best I can do for you at this time."


B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
Little faith in big business

A poll reflecting the US public's impressions of corporate
business shows:

*25% say most corporate executives are honest.
*57% say white collar crime occurs very often in US business.
*79% say questionable accounting practices are widespread.
*6% say they have a lot of confidence in business.
*71% say the federal gov't should do more to regulate
    accounting practices
*17% say the gov't is doing enough.
*58% say big business has too much influence on the Bush

Source: CBS New Poll, July, 2002

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D e b a t e
What's the best welfare reform we can hope for?

"Welfare Reform that Doesn't Punish the Poor"

by Martina Gillis

Welfare is an income-support program designed to help if you've lost your job or are otherwise down on your luck, and you and your children have run through all of your savings and have little money left to pay the rent or feed yourselves.

To read the entire essay, go to:


"Welfare Proposals Bad for Business"

By A. Lee Blitch, Theresa Feeley, and Andy Van Kleunen

Why is this proposal bad for business? Employers want to hire welfare recipients who are prepared to go to work and have the skills to stay and succeed on the job. Employers lose money and confidence if they hire someone off the welfare rolls who does not possess the necessary job skills. If the public and nonprofit systems are no longer able to provide welfare recipients with basic education or skills training, employers will cease to tap into this important labor pool.

To read the entire essay, go to:


R e l i g i o n   &   P o l i t i c s
US evangelicals financing settlements in Israel

Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza have been among the most significant benficiaries of the Christian support. "We've seen financial the settlements double the past 21 months," said Sondra oster Baras, an Orthodox Jew and director of the Israel office of the Colorado- based Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, which runs an "Adopt-a-Settlement Program."

To read the entire feature article, go to:


S o u l   W o r k s
Are you milking God?

Some people want to see God with their eyes as they
see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow -
for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them.
This is how it is with people who love God for the
sake of outward wealth or inward comfort.
                        - Meister Eckhart


C u l t u r e   W a t c h
Mostly tango

Recorded live in August 2001 at the Old First Church in San Francisco, "Mostly Tango Live!" Viviana Guzmán recreates the burning tradition that is tango. Described by The New York Times as "an imaginative artist," the Chilean-born flutist Guzmán performs more than 80 concerts a year throughout the world.

"The tango was born more than 100 years ago in the impoverished neighborhoods of the newly arrived immigrant population. Within the merging and clashing of cultures, the embrace of tango became the bridge across which the human spirit could travel. Influenced by the percussive rhythms of Candombe, tapered by the the Cuban habera and expanded in melody by European instrumentation, tango evolved as the new language of the dawning world. It enabled people to cross the economic and social boundaries of their divided society."

         - From the "Mostly Tango Live!" CD cover


F i e l d   R e p o r t
IT becomes a social bridge in South Africa

By Christer Sturmark

I visited South Africa a few weeks ago, and there I met Arthur. He is 10 years old and the son of Muriel, the black maid working for the family I was staying with. Arthur lives in a shantytown outside of Cape Town, in fact just below the white upper-class area with its luxury villas up in the hills of Hout Bay.

Arthur is a smart guy. He was top of his class in the "black" school where he studied until just recently. The family where his mother works know that change begins at home and that they themselves have to take responsibility for it. They have helped Arthur to get into the white school their own children attend. Arthur's mother has no means of paying for this on her own, but her employers cover all the expenses for her son's schooling....

However, Arthur¹s new school is quite unusual and special in South Africa: The school has invested in IT, computers and internet. Arthur became interested in computers quite shortly after starting in his new school. He surfs on the internet and seeks out knowledge and information, all by himself. He uses e-mail, he networks, and he learns quickly the mysteries of the computer.

In the end IT and internet isn¹t just about "Connecting people," but also about a way to make yourself heard, even as a black 10-year-old in a shantytown in South Africa.

To read the entire feature, go to:


B o o m e r a n g

Chris Pieper writes from the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas:

David Batstone's column on binary logic, time, and theology (SojoMail 7/10/02) was brilliant, compassionate, and well- articulated. I hope to see more of this level of writing in future editions of Sojourners. Thanks for sharing your mind and heart with us.


E. Ball writes from Germany:

Thanks so much for the funny "wabbit" joke from 6/26/02 SojoMail. I was sad to read that someone complained about it. The world is a serious enough place already, without getting all upset about a joke.


Steve Hayes writes from Pretoria, South Africa:

I have just been asked by my bishop to prepare a position paper for him on sustainable development from a religious point of view. This is needed for a hastily called conference to be held in India next week to prepare for the sustainable development conference to be held in Johannesburg at the end of August.

One of my biggest difficulties is that the statement is supposed to be from a "religious" viewpoint, and I find it hard to imagine what a "religious" (as opposed to a Christian) viewpoint on the topic could be, and how it would differ from a secular one. That seems to me to be an invitation to even more platitudes.

Does anyone have any ideas about this topic? Or can anyone suggest any resources (preferably on the Web) that could be used for preparing such a paper? Write me at:


Nancy Jalbert writes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

Thank you Jim Wallis for your excellent editorial "Where Do Enron Executives Go To Church?" I'd like to take that thought a step further. How would one find out where these executives were educated? If our educational "institutions" are churning out morality challenged business executives, should they not be held responsible for their products? I'd especially love to know if the Ken Lay set were products of "church related" schools. If even one of these executives was educated at Georgetown or Notre Dame it would raise some interesting questions about a religious "mandatum", wouldn't it?


Alex Araujo writes from Seattle, Washington:

I am surprised at the lack of comment on the parallel between the Sept. 11 terror and the current discoveries of corporate malpractice. Surely the horror of planes flying into buildings and the horrible deaths of thousands at one time make a deep impression on our psyche. As for lasting damage to our society, I think it takes second place to what we are seeing in the American business community. Most of us today did not live through the Great Depression, and only hear faint echoes of the horror that ate the insides of heads of household waiting for weeks or months for the unwanted other shoe to drop.

Our dependence on the Wall Street gambling casino for the health of our economy is in itself something worrying. Who would want major decisions about his/her financial future to be determined by strangers hustling each other in a crowded, noisy room in some New York building?

Osama is more spectacular and traumatic but with a far less corroding effect than the enemy within.


Thomas Lash writes from the Coastal Convergence Society in Huntington Beach, California:

We are living the ultimate irony. Under an administration that holds morning "Christian" prayer meetings our military has embarked on the most comprehensive war the world has ever known. The military has one function: to root out and kill the enemy; that enemy being worldwide terrorism. It is ironic that the first commandment of the Bush choir is bomb first and ask questions later, not "thou shall not kill." I understand the Norse god was a fighter and that the Old Testament god was a ruthless, jealous, and vengeful deity, but the Christian god is supposed to be a god of love. Under what god are we supposed to be putting our trust? In Thor We Trust?


Gayle Holten writes from Kentucky:

As a Christian, I must walk the word or I am not a Christian in action - only in rhetoric. I can love those who call love by another name; Buddha, Allah, Mohammed, Mother Nature, Yaweh, Abba. In a land of freedom, we can call it whatever we believe, but Love is the universal connection. The seamless web that connects the frailty of humanness. I can seek the love in every brother and sister on the planet. Faith and hope are gifts, no doubt, but the greatest of these is Love. Why can't our ideal be...One Nation Under Love?


Scott Rosner writes from Placentia, California:

A brief response to the note written by Edward Said: "...the U.S. administration is effectively controlled by the Christian Right...."

What a preposterous pile of blubber! We could only hope and pray that some day our political system and the individuals involved will be effectively controlled by the principals of the "Christian Right."


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:



W e b s c e n e
This week's best of the Web

*The new environmentalist

The New Environmentalist magazine was founded by a group of people who have a passion for ideas, information, and technologies that can easily be applied to everyday lifestyles, bringing people into balance with nature. Its current issue features "Religion and the Environment."


*Create your own wildlife habitat

Get back to nature at this comprehensive Web site. Check out field guides on more than 5,000 species, get expert advice, create your own wildlife habitat, and become a better birder.


*Fredrick Douglass feast

Frederick Douglass' great speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" reached its 150th anniversary on July 5, 2002. This site celebrates that speech as well as other landmarks in Douglass' life


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