Has the war on terrorism become the modern equivalent of the Roman Circus,
drawing the people's attention away from the failures of those who rule them?
Corporate America is a shambles because deregulation, the mantra of our president
and his party, has proved to be a license to steal. Yet to question our leaders'
stewardship of the economy has been made to seem unpatriotic.
Although combating terrorism is of compelling importance--and should have been
before Sept. 11--one is likely to be branded a nut for daring to suggest that
the administration might be using current security threats as a smoke screen to
obscure our floundering economy.
Yet, after the miserable performance of the stock market these past five weeks,
the forced resignations and indictments of corporate titans (not to mention the
conviction of a top accounting firm), the humbling of the dollar and a rise in
the trade gap, isn't it time to ask whether the war on terrorism isn't being milked
as a convenient distraction? The question seems particularly relevant when our
man in the White House has had close personal and financial ties to the company--Enron--whose
demise is the most glaring symbol of the broad moral disarray of the nation's
Is there any doubt that the chicanery of Enron executives and that of a growing
Who's Who of top CEOs has done more long-term damage to the U.S. economy than
the efforts of anti-American terrorists? And while sending in the Marines to clean
up the boardrooms is not feasible, we ought to wake up to the reality that business
greed is subverting the American way of life--and hurting the image of American
capitalism and democracy--more effectively than the ploys of any foreign enemy.
When even Martha Stewart is ethically suspect and her company's stock has plummeted--though
not quite to the depths of Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, Dynergy, Wal-Mart and
Rite Aid--it is time to return to the wisdom of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the
Depression-era president who saved capitalism from itself.
Wealthy from birth, FDR had a healthy awareness of the tendency of the upper
classes to destabilize society and even destroy themselves with their greed and
hubris. Unlike Karl Marx, however, he believed the unraveling of capitalism was
not inevitable if these excesses could somehow be corralled. Thus was born the
idea of government regulation as the vital support structure for the powerful,
fertile but unstable free market.
Unfortunately, greedy people and institutions don't like being monitored, and
they have the means to corrupt governments and skirt laws.
Since the so-called Reagan Revolution, powerful corporate interests have succeeded
in profoundly damaging the foundation of a properly regulated economy. Company
auditors, for example, have become accomplices to deceptions of the public that
should be considered criminal but that often do not violate statutes written by
Enron provides a startling illustration of a company jumping through loopholes
that its D.C. lobbyists have created. In fact, the Enron scams made possible by
deregulation in the first Bush administration are still being revealed, such as
last week's reports that the company hid billions in income during the California
energy crisis while publicly denying it was profiting excessively.
Yet former Enron officials continue to play an important role under Bush the
younger. The Bush family, in fact, has never been seriously confronted by the
media or Congress as to its questionable ties to former Enron Chief Executive
Kenneth Lay, a close family friend and top contributor to Bush family presidential
To be fair, the corporate corruption of our political system has long been
bipartisan. The Clinton White House, for example, sponsored major deregulation
acts, including the Financial Services Modernization Act, which reversed consumer
protections enacted under Roosevelt, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which
effectively ended all public accountability for the communications industry and
has permitted a few media giants to gobble up vast markets.
Clearly, the problem is bipartisan when a Democrat-controlled Senate moves
so hesitantly to confront the myriad examples of sickness in our economy and corporate
The politicians hesitate to act because candidates of both parties are lavishly
financed by the very people who are conning a gullible public.
Robert Scheer writes a syndicated column.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times