Thursday, April 17, 2014

PEACE...

Modern life is anything but peaceful.  We are on edge and on the go constantly.  Our waking hours, and perhaps even in our sleep, are dominated by concerns about how to pay bills...care for, or be a part of, family...work (which we may not like nor have passion for or find fulfilling) or searching for work at a time when the economy is in limbo and a job, any job, is a keeper.  We are bombarded with cultural messages to spend and consume.  (which means acquiring the money to do so)  Do we have the latest phone, TV, car, dress, purse, Jimmy Choo shoes, skinny jeans or the latest styled jacket?  We are on edge over a love life, or the lack of one.  Adolescents are tweeting about fears of what they will be when they grow up and adults self-medicate because of how their lives have unfolded.  Add to all of this the sheer, real, ear-splitting, nerve-jangling noise which is a constant of modern life and the last thing that one can say is we know a lot of peace.  (is it any wonder anti-depressants are a multi-billion dollar industry and a new study says depression among adolescents is up over 60%)

     As we approach the celebration of Easter, we do so fragile and splintered yet the whole point of Easter is we have a chance to restore peace to our lives.  What the apostles, and others, discovered that Sunday morning is an insight...a hint...an epiphany about life and how to have a peaceful one where you do not have to be afraid.  See, this is the key to the good news.  Jesus' message was not about heaven, or afterlife, or kingdoms to come.  From His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, to His appearance in the upper room, Jesus consistently told those around Him to be at peace and not to be afraid.  Why was he so sure?  Why was He seemingly fearless and peaceful?  What did He know that we didn't?

     Jesus knew how close He was to God...the more He trusted in God...the more He let go of things, the more peace flowed over Him.  He describes this closeness as like that between a mother or father and a child...intimate...Abba.

     Now comes the good part...Jesus proclaimed this same relationship with God is ours for the taking.  We too could be so close to God that peace will flow like a river.  We too can take all the noise, pressure, stress, which is day-to-day life and let it roll off of us like water off a duck's back.  We can trust in God so implicitly that not even death can stop us nor do we have to fear it.  Resurrection, which we celebrate on Easter, is ours too.  This is the good news.

     It sounds so easy.  Who wouldn't want to be at peace and not to be afraid anymore?  Yet, when we look around we don't see allot of peace...don't feel peaceful...we worry and fear...the world certainly isn't peaceful, so what happened?  Sin is what happened.  We have freely chosen to attach to things...to this world...to our basic desires for pleasure and satisfying our desires...for ego and pride...and the result is not intimacy but rather separation.  (since God created all "things", God by definition cannot be a "thing", God must be "no-thing"...nothing.  When we hold on to things...prioritize things...seek out things...we lose intimacy with God) There is no clearer reason why I am in prison and why I chose to hurt my family and myself than an obsession with things and a failure to trust in God.  (interestingly, this is the same message of Buddhism  which teaches the more you let go of things, the better you can handle the suffering which life throws at you)

     Jesus' message is constant.  Love your neighbor.  Love your enemies.  Turn the other cheek.  Forgive an infinite number of times.  Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters you do for God.  Implied in all of this is a focus on others, developing a closeness with God which promises you two things...you will be at peace and don't have to be afraid any longer.

     Have you ever had a genuine moment of peace?  A moment of living without fear?  If not why not?  If so, how badly did you want to experience it again and again...seek it out...try to replicate it if you could?  In the upper room, on His first appearance after Easter, Jesus breathes on them (recalling God breathing on Adam and Eve in Genesis) and says, "...peace, my peace I give to you."  This is the central message of the gospel.  We can do what Jesus did.  We can be intimate with God.  We can experience peace because we trust in God.  Sin sews doubt and fear, but Easter is the celebration of a man who was at peace and wasn't afraid...even when faced with his own death...sin lost.

     This is my last Easter in captivity.  I will come out of this place, and this experience, less afraid and more at peace than at any time in my life.  All I needed to achieve this was to have my ego crushed, pride stripped, every "thing" taken away and the time to contemplate the state of my relationship with God.  I was forced to let go and to trust, which was so, so hard, in God.  I am still a work in progress, and I still love certain things, most especially my wife and children, and can be filled with fear, but the Easter message, ..."Alleluia, Alleluia, He is risen," fills me with joy and I wish all of you that same joy.


     Happy Easter, and please remember the world is alive with the grandeur of God.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

FYI...

Hello fellow fans of the Lion of the Left!  Some of you have asked for the Lions's mailing address. Here's the information that you asked for:

Mr. Bernard Ward
#90569-111
FCI Low
3600 Guard Rd.
Lompoc, CA  93436

You can only send envelopes that weigh 16 ounces or less.  Don't send any stationery, stamps, travel magazines, books, or porno.  The Bible is the only book that is permitted.  The Lion would love personal hand-written letters from you and greeting cards are O.K.  Have fun!

               

SELFIE...

On a recent phone call, my son informed me he had read around 10 pieces from this blog.  "Dad, I got bored and thought I could be watching HBO instead, so that's what I did."  I took no offense.  That he was reading them at all was a triumph for me.  One of the reasons I decided to write this at all was to show my children I wasn't crushed nor was I going to just fade away into the night under a cover of shame and embarrassment.  The other reason not to take umbrage was these comments were coming from a member of a generation which has raised the art of navel gazing to a sacrament, so naturally commentaries on politics, foreign policy, circumspection or theology will create a dissonance forcing them to look up and actually perceive what is going on around them.

     This is now the era of the selfie.  You buy a cell phone now, not to make or receive a call, but rather based on the quality of the camera...whether there is on the front and the back...the ease with which it allows you to take pictures of you.  It gets even more convoluted.  Studies show people don't actually want to talk to each other directly over the phone.  They prefer to text or email or leave a voice message or post a message on Facebook than engage in actual live conversation.  The phone is ordered for its screen size, touch screen, design, with its actual function as a phone a long, last, concern now resembling an electronic vestigial organ.

     I find myself chortling at the irony of coming from the generation which grew up in the 60's and was accused of narcissism on an Olympian level.  "It" was all about tuning in, turning on and dropping out...make love not war...yippies and hippies vs. straights...we had to have our own music and clothes (sort of dumpster chic) and our politics...we took drugs to turn inward and see ourselves clearly, allegedly.  Today, "it" is all about taking pictures of myself and chronicling everything and anything I do.

     I'm now officially the old, curmudgeonly, grumpy old man shaking his liver-spotted fist at the non-sense of his children's generation.  It is a natural progression and flashing in front of me is Dick Van Dyke in Bye, Bye, Birdie singing about kids and why can't they be perfect like we were in every way.  However, this obsessive need to share and over share with religious-like fervor still cannot be left without some comment.

     Why would I care about where you ate breakfast, lunch or dinner today?  Tens of thousands of pictures are uploaded to the "cloud"  (oh come on you have to love the "cloud"...it now refers to some gigantic storage unit in the sky when for us it was a way to get a contact high in the back of someone's car or their bedroom) of what people ate at their latest meal.  (the next logical progression is the uploading of what it looks like at the other end, an evolution not to look forward to with relish)  The phone you don't call anyone on anymore tracks your every movement so your friends, and "friendly" big brother, can know what stores you frequent, restaurants you like, concerts you attend, political rallies you support.  The phone which no longer has any connection to Alexander Graham Bell, is a game-playing, picture taking, electronic spying mirror which can be used to catalog every moment of your day.  While the premise of all of this is it builds community...keeps us connected to each other...makes us feel social...the same folks who don't want to talk to each other...sit across from each other in a restaurant staring at their phones...refuse to make eye contact when they are pedestrianatiing (and now have to be warned by public service announcements not to cause auto accidents because of their inattention)...completely avoid any intimacy with anyone else.  (they use dating sites because they can't "meet" anyone any other way)

     The ultimate beneficiary of all this is corporate America.  (you remember them don't you?  They keep telling you they wont do any evil and only want to connect the world and are not at all interested in making money off of you)  Samsung got huge returns by encouraging Ellen DeGeneres to take a "selfie" at the Oscars.  (do you think she was paid?)  Boston Red Sox slugger, David Ortiz used a Samsung phone to take a "selfie" with President Obama.  All the mega data being created each day by all the texting and tweeting and pictures and sharing is vacuumed up by advertisers so they can pitch you, prod you, push you, play you into buying their product.  (not to mention what the NSA is doing with all of this information)  Facebook spent $19 billion to buy "What's App" to commoditize every "intimate" activity we have with anyone else.  Hell, we don't even ask for directions anymore (something 60's men were supposedly very bad at) and now use Google maps to get from point A to point B leaving a trail of electronic bread crumbs for anyone to follow and observe.  (ANYONE !!)

     It is not surprising this kind of long form blog could be boring.  Try and reduce discussions about health care or the Russian incursion into Crimea or the raging debate about same sex marriage to 140 characters.  Is it possible young people are not more liberal on social issues, like gay marriage or the legalization of marijuana, than their parents, but rather just take a pass on anything not reducible to a tweet or a selfie?


     Yes, I sound like my parents and their horror over Elvis' hips or the Beatles hair.  However, watching an entire generation turn themselves into a product for corporate profit...observing the emergence of a device even George Orwell couldn't imagine...commenting on narcissism on steroids was too good to pass up.  An additional benefit is it gave me a reason to write about my son, who I love, and the pride I have knowing that he is purposely reading some of this blog even if he gets bored.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF ONE'S BIRTH...

 I've been adding to this blog for almost six years.  (not so much in the last few weeks...just sort of down...sorry)  A friend reminded me I wrote a piece on my 60th birthday.  You have the ability to go back and re read it.  I cannot.  So, I have no idea if this will repeat themes from birthdays past.  However, as this is my last birthday while being held against my will, I thought it an apt moment for reflection.

     The first birthday in prison is soul sucking and psychically torturous.  Why was I born?  Look at what I have done with my life.  Would it have been better not to have been born at all?  How do I survive all the future birthdays in prison?  Please don't wish me a happy birthday.  I'm glad my parents are dead and can't see what I have done to their name.  How will my wife and children cope?  Will they ever forgive me?

     This birthday occurs with the realization I should be home by Christmas and there will be no more birthdays in captivity.  It also occurs to someone quite different than the man who cried and zombie-walked his way through that day in 2009.  At least I've answered one query as I have survived up until now and I wouldn't have taken bets on that back in the day.

     That first birthday, in Beaumont, Texas, took place far away from home...hell, far away from civilization and intelligent life.  If my brief sojourn in the South is any window on that world, this nation is doomed to remain fractured forever.  I had met a former head of allegedly one of the most violent drug gangs in Texas.  He was a Puerto Rican from the Bronx trying to convert to Buddhism from cultural Catholicism.  He taught me about prison and prison culture and how to get my head out of my ass and see trouble brewing before it starts.  He knew he couldn't protect me, his people would never have gone for that, but told me to get to his bunk if violence broke out because no one could fault him for protecting his house and the people in it.  On that first birthday he presented me with a gift...a pair of non-prison issue, thick, wool gloves.  They were gorgeous and warm and valuable.  Who would have thought such an act of kindness could happen in Beaumont, Texas.  The gift was a counterpoint to the isolation...soul losing...recriminations...self-loathing I was going through at that time and were a miracle of sorts.

     There will not be any gifts on this birthday.  There will be visit from some friends...a former Maryknoll missionary who was a total stranger until he visited me three or four times now...an ex Franciscan and a dear friend from the City who has been a source of comfort and support through this entire journey.  If there are any tears, they will be tears of joy and the soul nearly sucked out in Santa Rita, Oakland, Dublin, Oklahoma City, after a 14 hour bus ride with no food, Beaumont, and Lompoc, seems to be making a comeback.

     Birthdays are moments, snapshots, of where we are and where we have been and contain the hopes of what we might be in the future.  I have been consigned to the scariest place on earth...alone with my own thoughts.  If one is at all honest, and willing to take a plunge into the ether which is ourselves, prison offers a chance to assess and unpack the behaviors and beliefs which led to the current circumstances.

     On this birthday I can admit to so many shortcomings and bad choices which were mixed with an oversized ego...pride on steroids and an absolute belief life had wronged me, cheated me, played favorites and I would do anything, break any rule, reject any limits in order to get what was rightfully mine.  I had a good heart, but a dark spirit which encouraged me to take risks, put my family in jeopardy and disappoint my friends all in the name of achieving fame and fortune.

     A Franciscan friar who was a guest with me here for a while, Rev. Louis Vitali O.F.M., convinced me the way to do this time was to imagine it as a monastery.  It's all men.  We live in "cells".  There is an inordinate amount of time for prayer and reflection and celibacy is easy to maintain.  He nailed it.  I have said publicly I didn't have an active prayer life out of fear one day God would answer back and make demands on me I couldn't, or wouldn't, carry out.  Now, I pray begging to hear Her voice.  I said Mass here for the first time in 30 years and it moved me deeply.  It showed me how badly I wasted my chance to be a good priest and, ironically, how much better I would be today.  After everything is taken from you, including your reputation, it is possible to see what is real value and on this birthday, if you said I could have anything I wanted, it would be to be home celebrating with my family basking in their presence.

     There is still much more work to be done on me.  I have to face the justifiable anger of family and work to regain trust.  I hope God is not done with me yet and search for a new epiphany.  I would like to work with the poor and do some prison ministry.  I don't know if anyone will allow me back in the media, but boy would I have something to say and from a very different perspective.

     Finally, if I can be so bold as to offer some observations on this day...we all make mistakes and we have to seek forgiveness, including forgiving ourselves, and not allow the mistake to define us.  Please reject all the culture around you which glues you to your phone, computer, TV screen and a plethora of other distractions.  I am convinced they are like fool's gold and have neither intrinsic value nor recipe for happiness or fulfillment.  Instead, seek out people and places and times you love and moments of care and banish the easy path of cynicism.  You, and I, were given a gift...this life...and it is a chance to be someone who cherishes what is real and loves with all your heart.  Please learn from my mistakes.  At least then maybe this tragedy can have a positive outcome.


     I am thankful I was born.  I am grateful to have four children and a wife who love me unconditionally.  I am blessed to get a chance to reboot and see what Bernie 2.0 will look like.  I am lucky to have all of you to call friends.  It is a happy birthday.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

MOM JEANS...

  Two new posts from The Lion:

Daily Show host Jon Stewart ran clips of regressive pundits on Fox attacking President Obama for being weak and for an ineffective foreign policy.  As proof, they pointed to the "mom jeans" the president wore while tossing out the first pitch at a baseball game.  By wearing "mom jeans", Obama became the 21st century equivalent of Neville Chamberlin.

     At last weeks regressive religious revival meeting in Washington D.C. (CPAC), Republican regressives took to the stage to attack the President for being feckless and timid, weak and soft when it comes to foreign policy, in particular in dealing with Iran and Syria and now Russia.  The President is a doormat being stepped on and muddied by foreign leaders eager to test his metal.  Even as these attacks drew hoots and hollers from the audience, what wasn't said was a deafening.  At no point did any speaker sight former presidents George W. Bush or George H.W. Bush, or their party, as examples to be emulated and the reason why Americans should again elect Republicans to the White House.

     Republicans promise not to wear "mom jeans", but beyond that they range from fuzzy to fanciful in their critiques.  They don't like the President's diplomatic strategy with Iran.  What do they propose instead?  A few, most notably Sen. John McCain, would use military force to bomb and destroy Iranian facilities.  This despite the widely accepted belief a military attack could only delay the inevitable while crushing any moderates left in the country and justifying Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon to its people.  It would also justify Iran's use of asymmetrical warfare through the use of Hezbollah and Hamas in attacks on Israel, soft American targets around the world, attacks on shipping or attempts to shut down the straights of Hormuz possibly driving the cost of a barrel of oil to $200-$300.  (can you imagine what would happen to our economy if oil jumped to that price?  It would make the depression of 2007-2008 look like a walk in the park...oh, also imagine if we were exporting energy too and what that would do to the price?)  Others, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio or Texas Senator Ted Cruz, want more economic sanctions.  More economic sanctions would do nothing to affect Iran's military budget (look at North Korea) and would guarantee they would walk away from any new or ongoing negotiations since there would be no advantage to them.  Still other Republicans say let Israel do it for us.  Nothing could be a bigger disaster for us were that to happen.

     These same critics attack Obama on Syria.  Once again McCain and others say we should use military force to topple Assad.  These are the same voices which screamed to get into Afghanistan and Iraq and we saw how well that turned out.  Some say Obama should have armed "moderate" rebels in Syria.  When pressed, none of the President's critics can identify who is moderate and who is Al Qaida.  (these same congressional experts called for arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan much to the benefit of the Taliban and Bin Laden.)  Maybe we should have a no fly zone over Northern Syria they say.  They are silent when confronted with what to do about resistance from allies in the region and Europe...what the rules of engagement would be and what would be done if a plane is shot down...where they would get the money to pay for this plan.  (perhaps we can cut back further on food stamps, day care tax credits and the earned income tax credit while cutting taxes more for the 1%)

     All of this perceived weakness and stumbling by the President is directly responsible for Putin's actions in the Ukraine we are told.  If Obama had bombed Syria after Assad had used chemical weapons...if he would have bombed Iranian nuclear facilities...if he had armed some rebels, any rebels in Syria...if he carpet-bombed Libya after the attacks in Benghazi...Putin would never have dared to invade the Ukraine.  Really?  You mean the same Putin who invaded and annexed parts of Moldova and Georgia...you mean that Putin?  You mean the Putin who moved into Georgia with impunity while George W. Bush was attacking and bombing and invading Afghanistan and Iraq?  That Putin?

     All of the weeping and gnashing of teeth by regressives cannot hide the fact they have nothing to offer as an alternative policy or solution to these problems or to growing unrest in Africa, Egypt, Thailand, or anywhere else.  They accuse the President of playing checkers while Putin plays chess, yet when asked how they would differ from the President's policies they look like deer caught in the headlights and manage to sputter how they would be stronger and more resolute.  Not one regress is advocating military force in the Ukraine.  They offer no plan on how to get the European Union to back strong economic sanctions.  (something the E.U. seems determined to avoid)  When asked for alternative proposals, they are mute.  The only comments they offer are how the "mom jeans" wearing president is at fault or is too soft and not up to the task at hand.  This is the equivalent of playing with matches in a room filled with gasoline.  They undercut the President...give the impression of disunity in the nation...provide aid and comfort to our enemies and hurt our ability to bring pressure on Europe to step up.

     Obama has not helped his own cause very much.  Hillary Clinton sounds more hawkish and strident than John Kerry.  Obama did blink in Syria when he ignored the red line he himself laid out.  (remembering of course that Congress at the time made it clear it would not support the use of force in Syria.)  The attack in Benghazi was a debacle and his attempt to restart his relationship with Putin and Russia has yielded view dividends and looks naive.  (although Syria has increased the pace of getting rid of chemical weapons and Iran is still at the table talking and Russia at least didn't torpedo these efforts)

     President Obama faces allies economically dependent on Russia who are reluctant to take Putin on and seem to be willing to even let him have the Crimea if he is nice about it.  (shades of Munich)  These same allies are not much better when it came to Syria and Iran.  Despite this, the President has to forcefully respond to the Russian aggression and he must be creative since military force is off the table.

     It is tiring and disheartening to watch politicians who offer no plan of their own...no solution...take no political risk...have no responsibility for foreign policy...refuse to stick their necks out and then attack the President for being weak and soft because of the style of jeans he chose to wear when the last time most of them, and their party were in power they invaded two sovereign states on specious grounds, cost the American taxpayers over $1 trillion in treasure and the loss of thousands of young soldier's lives in blood in what is now recognized as a foreign policy disaster of biblical proportions.


     I'll take mom jeans over that any day.

MISDIRECTION...

 Believing in the axiom,"...a crisis is a terrible thing to waste", powerful forces in Washington are trying to use the situation in the Ukraine to argue for lifting restrictions on the exporting of American natural gas and oil.  Since the Arab oil boycott and shock in the early seventies, with the arrival of long gas lines and fears of compromised national security, it is illegal to export natural gas or oil in order.  Now, with the advent of horizontal drilling and fracking, America enjoys a surplus of both items and the cheap prices that follow when supply exceeds demand.  Not for long if the Speaker of the House and others have their way.

     In a Wall Street Journal column, Speaker John Boehner calls on President Obama to speed up the permit process that would allow for the construction of facilities to process, freeze and export liquefied natural gas and allow for the export of domestic oil.  Boehner claims these resources can be used as a way to undercut Russia by offering natural gas to Russian customers in Europe in the event Russia cuts them off because of their support for sanctions connected to the invasion of the Ukraine.  Boehner is not alone.  Democrats from energy producing states like North Dakota and Louisiana are lending their voices to the cause.  The longer the crisis in Ukraine, the louder the demands will get.

     Boehner et.al. sight numerous studies claiming America will produce more natural gas and oil than it needs.  (increasing pressure for the Keystone pipeline too)  America, they say, needs to punish Russian president Putin by stepping up and giving Europe all the natural gas it needs.  They see this as Putin's Achilles heal.  They say this, and call for new export authority, despite the fact even if new permits were issued today; it would be seven to ten years before any significant exports could be produced.  So why are they pushing so hard now?

     Supporters of exporting American energy need to use the current crisis to scare Americans into supporting a policy that is against their own economic best interests.  It is a classic example of "misdirection".  While you are intent on the crisis in the Ukraine, maybe even getting angry, maybe want to strike back at Putin and Russia, you will translate all that emotion into concrete action by supporting a lifting of export restrictions.  The oil and gas corporations are chuckling knowing if you were left to your own devices you would never cut your own throat, but the crisis in the Ukraine is exactly the distraction they need to overcome your common sense.

     All this natural gas being discovered is a huge boon for this country.  Companies are moving manufacturing plants back to America from overseas because it's cheaper due to lower energy costs.  Jobs are being created.  Utilities are shutting down old coal-fired plants and switching to natural gas because it's cheaper.  This will have a dramatic effect on the reduction in greenhouse gases.  Abundant natural gas could lead to more vehicles on the road powered by it and even more jobs created.  It can reduce energy costs for the average home putting more money in consumers pockets in an economy where 2/3 of it is dependent on consumer spending.  All of these benefits, and more not even envisioned yet, disappear if you allow the "surplus" to be given to foreign markets.  The only beneficiaries then will be the energy corporations.

     The law of supply and demand is simple.  More demand drives up the cost and uses up any surplus.  If you want to see this in real time, look at the effect this harsh winter in the Midwest and East has had on the price of natural gas.  It has skyrocketed in a few months.  This despite the alleged surplus.

     Now imagine Boehner gets his way.  Imagine we build huge LNG export operations at ports along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Texas.  The gas is exported to Europe and the rest of the world raising demand until it exceeds the supply.  The price goes up here at home of course.  Manufacturers lose the price edge the get from lower energy costs.  Utilities have no incentive to close old and damaging coal-fired plants.  Home heating bills will be huge and all of this susceptible to market forces which Americans would have no control over.

   I don't need to tell you what the energy companies will do.  They will justify price increases due to the heavy demand.  (not from Americans)  They will say there is nothing they can do about it because the market dictates price.  They will do exactly what they do with gasoline where price continues up and rarely goes down.  Supporters of exporting energy say there is so much Americans won't be hurt and besides, we have to do this to hit back at that thug Putin.  (Houdini would be proud)

  What is most distressing is to see Boehner and Sen. Landrieu from Louisiana, and others, putting short term political and financial gain ahead of patriotism.  Landrieu is running for re-election and Boehner sees a yellow brick road for Republican coffers from the huge profits energy companies will achieve at your expense and they are willing to put narrow self interest ahead of what is in the nation's best interest.

     It is in America's best interest to have a cheap abundant energy supply.  It is in America's interest to have manufacturing return and give them an edge over foreign competition.  It is in America's interest to utilize natural gas and oil for domestic consumption saving American families billions of dollars.  It is in America's interest to be able to end a detrimental dependency on foreign energy sources that drive political decisions about war and peace.

     If you allow the exporting of energy, it plays right into the hands of those who will always choose a quick buck over what is the best long-term policy for all of us.  Boehner, and company, want you outraged at Putin, teary-eyed for the Ukrainian people, demanding something be done to punish Russia, so you won't notice how you are being sold a bill of goods which will harm you, your children, the environment and America's one chance for energy security.


     Please keep your eye on the prize and don't get fooled into this energy version of 3-card Monty.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

DEJA PINTO...

 When I was young, my family owned a Ford Pinto.  You remember the Pinto.  It was ugly, with a four-cylinder engine, which barely made it up and down the hills of San Francisco and, if rear-ended in a crash, exploded like a Molotov cocktail.  Yeah, that Pinto.  Ford knew if the car was struck from behind it could turn into a fireball and people died.  The company made an actuarial decision that it was cheaper to pay off a few lawsuits by the families of dead or disfigured drivers, than it was to recall the car and fix the problem.  The account of their callousness towards unsuspecting customers is now the stuff of legend and we were told it couldn't happen again because now they teach ethics in business schools.  The reality is Ford embodied corporate evil...questionable ethics (if any)...everything which is wrong with the amoral corporate culture and they were an object lesson to future companies about how much you could get away with and stay in business.
 
     General Motors knew in 2004 they had a problem with the ignition switch in certain model cars.  If the ignition key was on a heavy key chain, or got jostled in some manner, it could cause the switch to jump from "run" to "accessory".  This would kill the engine and render the air bags useless.  In 2005, they got their first report of a fatality due to the defect.  They notified their dealers about a fix, but told them not to bring it up unless a customer specifically asked about it.  They knew this could kill but directed their dealers not to volunteer any information.  In the ensuing years, 12 more people died, many more injured, and yet it is only in 2014 that General Motors finally issued a recall.  Oh, and they are sorry and you shouldn't blame them because this was done by a different General Motors than the current company.  Huh?

     (N.B. my daughter owns one of these cars mentioned in published reports.  She had no idea about all of this and when she inquired was told she had nothing to worry about, as the dealer hadn't heard anything negative about her car.  I'm not kidding)

     I taught a class on ethics, as part of the Theology department, to juniors and seniors in high school.  The first day I singled out a student and presented her with a scenario in which she is the head of a corporation, which produces toxic waste.  If they process it and clean it up it will cost a fortune and hurt profits, but if they dump it in the local river they will make money.  She indignantly responded she would never agree to dump in the river.  I then mentioned if she didn't dump, she would be fired, lose her home, her kids would have to leave school and she would never work in the industry again.  She pondered for a moment and then said, "...oh, then I guess I would have to rethink my decision."  Welcome to corporatism 101.  When are we going to learn?

     There is great pressure on President Obama to approve the Keystone oil pipeline.  This despite numerous reports of the poor safety recorded of its owner, Trans Canada.  (the promise they would never build something, which would leak)  In West Virginia, and throughout the nation, corporations which store and work with toxic chemicals operate essentially on the honor system, due to corporate pressure against regulation, and promise to voluntarily police themselves.  In West, Texas, no one in the town new what was being stored by a chemical company until it exploded and wiped out homes, a school and a few people as well.  Recently in Pacheco, Ca, Tesoro Oil Company had a pipe burst and spray workers with acid causing burns and injuries.  When federal inspectors showed up to investigate the incident, the company refused to let them on the property claiming they had no jurisdiction.  (this was only the latest in a series of problems at Tesoro)  Supporters of fracking want us to trust the companies pumping toxic water into the ground.  The companies will spend whatever, do whatever to protect local aquifers and ground water and there is no need for more regulations.  What was it P.T. Barnum always said?

     The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most evil organizations in this nation, spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to eliminate or dilute regulations aimed at monitoring corporate America.  They were behind the de-regulation of the financial industry.  (how did that work out?)  They oppose regulations forcing corporations to be more transparent and to hold them responsible when they cause harm.  They oppose attempts to get companies to bolster their cyber security.  (can anyone say Target?)  Recently, they were in front of the Supreme Court trying to gut attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases produced by corporations.  At every turn, corporations ask us to trust them when they cannot be trusted.  Apple says trust us that your iPhone, iPad and Macbook aren't being made by slave labor.  Google says trust us we are really giving away our Android system for free, until you find out that anyone who uses it for an app has to make Google search the default setting locking out anyone else.  Silicon Valley screams about too much regulation stifling innovation while they sacrifice your privacy for their profit.  (and give the government backdoors to spy on all y our online activity)

     That's the bottom line you can never avoid...the bottom line.  A corporation will always choose profit over principal.  They have to.  It's their nature.  The phrase "corporate ethics" is an oxymoron.  The only check we have is through regulations and lawsuits.  (regulations are certainly not a panacea since the same corporations spend millions lobbying to water them down like they did with the Dodd/Frank financial regulation legislation rendering it toothless)  Corporate America constantly tries to get Congress to pass, and the President sign, so-called tort reform to make it more difficult than it already is to hold them accountable for their corrupt practices...trying to prevent anyone from suing them for any reason.


     For 10 years, General Motors knew their cars were killing people and did little or nothing to stop it until the butcher's bill got too high to ignore.  Now, they are sorry and join the likes of J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs et.al. who are so sorry for almost destroying the world's economy, costing millions their homes and jobs while paying nice bonuses to their leaders for doing exactly what is in the corporation's best interest no matter who is harmed.     WILL WE EVER LEARN?