Monday, July 22, 2002

Sex vs. Money

After last week's rather dry discussion of stock options and accounting, it was time to have some fun with the "It's Bill Clinton's fault" people. Don't forget to sing along when you get to the 9th graf. I'm working on another song, with the line: "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying IRA?"

Looking to George Bush to protect the average American's investments is like looking to Bill Clinton to protect a woman's virtue. Not the first person you'd choose for the job, and if it turns out OK, it's only because you're watching him really, really closely.

Here's the link to the column on the East Valley Tribune website. And if you want the same argument in cartoon form, check out Tom Tomorrow.

East Valley Tribune, July 21, 2002

Moral relativism is back--because that’s where the money is!

And we’re not just talking about how “in the corporate world, sometimes things aren’t exactly black-and-white when it comes to accounting procedures,” in the not-exactly-stirring words of George W. Bush. We’re talking about looking for the “root causes” of crime and unethical behavior. A way for bleeding-heart conservatives to shirk individual responsibility and shift blame--at least for corporate crime:

It’s Bill Clinton’s fault!

I just love blaming today’s business scandals on the moral failings and “climate” set by Bill Clinton. If you’re gullible enough to swallow that, go buy some WorldCom stock in advance of Monday’s bankruptcy filing.

Apparently, we can’t hold these book-cookers and stock-pumpers fully responsible for their own behavior. Instead, blame Bill. Sure, on the way up, these executives were take-charge-guys, absolutely indispensable to their companies, fully responsible for all success--and compensated accordingly. But failure? That’s not their department.

Better look elsewhere. Like Arkansas.

We’re talking about rich, well-connected, and exceedingly well-lawyered malefactors, so conservatives who usually argue the other way--John Walker Lindh is guilty, and therefore so is all of Marin County, California--shift blame for this tidal wave of accounting scandals from the perpetrators.

Instead, these hard-nosed, shareholder-value-paramount, take-no-prisoners masters-of-the-universe business types can avoid responsibility. They caught some sort of ethical flu from the Philanderer-in-Chief.

If these business ethics disasters are Clinton’s fault, then isn’t society to blame? I await a business school production of West Side Story, when Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay, Qwest’s Joseph Nacchio, WorldCom’s Bernard Ebbers, and AOL Time Warner’s Gerald Levin belt out slightly revised lyrics:

Gee, Officer Krupke, we’re down on our knees
We’re just rich CEOs with a social disease
We don’t know accounting, what were we to do?
Gee, shareholders--Krup you!

The right wing must be in absolute awe of Clinton’s power; it’s just amazing how one man can affect so many, for so long, through his personal example. Of course, Clinton hasn’t been president for about two years, but he’s still the moving force of the entire universe.

On the other hand, Dick Cheney hasn’t headed Halliburton for about two years, so he can’t be held responsible for the results of his bad decisions, lackluster leadership, and questionable corporate accounting.

So if the SEC answers those questions about Halliburton’s accounting by forcing the company to restate its inflated earnings, it won’t be Dick Cheney that’s fully responsible, but rather the Clinton moral climate. You certainly can’t expect somebody with merely the ability and morals of a Dick Cheney to withstand the overwhelming force of the “ethical tone” set by (gasp!) Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, our first “M.B.A. president,” has some problems meeting today’s challenge of restoring confidence in business. President Bush may lack some of that “moral standing” to attack corporate shenanigans like insider loans to buy shares, dubious off-balance-sheet accounting to generate profits and hide debt and losses, and failures to comply with insider trading rules--because he did them all.

Poor George W., facing a national problem on which he’s spectacularly ill-suited to lead. From the moment of his birth, he’s benefited mightily from being in the right place at the right time with the right connections. But nobody trusts business insiders anymore, especially ones lecturing on “corporate responsibility.” At least Clinton never gave a speech in front of a backdrop emblazoned “marital fidelity.”

Meanwhile, I’m watching the Dow and the consumer confidence index drop, and waiting for the first Democrat to frame the 2002 elections by quoting Ronald Reagan: “Are you better off now than you were two years ago?”

Yeah, I know Reagan said four years ago, but these days nobody wants to wait that long for anything. Live by self-interest, die by self-interest.

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