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Thieves With Briefcases
July 2, 2002
By Michael Shannon

The irony is rich beyond measure. Although "rich" may not be the best of all possible choices of words. Here we have a President whose one claim to academic/intellectual fame is that he is the first MBA to hold the office of Chief Executive of the United States, as well as being the most blatant corporate sycophant to hold the office since Calvin Coolidge, and what happens? Right in the middle of his watch, by its own nefarious and avaricious hand, corporate America plunges into the biggest meltdown of investor confidence since the early days of the Great Depression.

Stocks that were until just recently among the most actively sought after on Wall Street are now being traded for pennies. And deservedly so. And for the would be rulers of the universe who bailed about before the companies they drove into the ground actually hit bottom, the most actively sought after asset on the Street these days is a top flight criminal attorney.

So much for the benefits of having a friend of big business being in the driver's seat.

Of course, that does not mean that Mr Bush has turned on his corporate benefactors. On the contrary, a big part of the problem is that he and the Republican party's love affair with deregulation has so loosened the controls that those who would take advantage have done so with a vengeance. Removing the locks from the doors only works in a neighborhood where there are no thieves. And even when you think you can trust your neighbor, making it too easy is often enough temptation to turn a fence sitter into a fence jumper.

This extraordinary sequence of revelations of corporate grand larceny being unfurled on a seemingly daily basis - and these are not middle of the road companies we are talking about. These are outfits that have tens of thousands of employees and tens of billions of dollars of gross revenue - has done one thing for sure. It has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the wisdom of that fount of eternal wisdom Don Vito Corleone, a.k.a. Mario Puzo, who said, "A man with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns".

It has also shown once again that the principal of "trickle down" economics has always been fatally flawed. Yes, a successful company does employ X number of people and with the company's success comes job growth, security and increased compensation. At least that is in theory. In reality there are very few things that grow from the top down.

To pretend that a policy of protectionism / favoritism of the corporate elite is a sure ticket to widespread prosperity is not only unfair it is untrue. No company was ever born gigantic. Not ATT, not GM, not Microsoft. All of them started as an idea held by a single individual or a very small group of people who in spite of their size, not because of it, grew to immense proportions through a combination of ingenuity, hard work, being in the right place at the right time and a thousand and one other intangibles. It is once these corporate behemoths reach the crest of the hill that they and their political protectors then set out to see that no Johnny-come-lately comes along to unseat them.

And it has been said that a rich man will fight harder to hold on to his wealth than a poor man will fight to get it.

The effect of this greed run amuck on the financial health and well being of this country and its citizenry is both immediate and long-term as well as global and searingly personal. Quoting from Thursday, June 27, 2002, NY Times, "This is the most pessimistic sentiment against the United States that I have ever experienced in my career," said Wolfram Gerdes, chief investment officer for global equities at Dresdner Investment Trust in Frankfurt. "There is unanimous agreement that the U.S. is not the best place to invest anymore." In other words, in just two short years we have gone from being the economic envy of the world to being a risky bet.

And if the geopolitical ramifications of all of this aren't enough to get your attention than you're one of the lucky ones. I have not suffered the fate of hundreds of thousands of other American workers who have seen their jobs blow away in the wind but judging from my latest statement I have received from ING, my wife and I no longer have a 401k. Now after watching its value erode twenty five percent over the past two years we have a 301k.

Our illustrious President has, as is almost always the case with this delegator in chief, waited far too long to step in with the power of his office and at the least make an effort to change the tone and restore some level of confidence in the average Joe and Joan.

That he has not done so is not altogether surprising. His reluctance to get fully engaged in this debacle is partially due to his own very real potential exposure. He and his handlers are well aware that as the Enron investigations widen there may yet be disclosures that will jump up and bite him where it really hurts.

Mr Bush acts as though he is extremely cognizant of the lessons learned from his father's failed Presidency. There is one lesson in particular that he had better pay very strict attention to before this thing really gets out of hand; if people/voters are worried about their financial security the war hero of today can quickly become the discarded politician of tomorrow.

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