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America’s God Is Capital

You never knew where Paul Lynde was going to show up on "Bewitched."

Paul Lynde’s head on a plate; I can think of a few more that ought to be there.

Sometimes I get the impulse to start a new blog which would list crimes committed by American business.

I’m going to resist this impulse for a host of reasons: it would get boring. Shrill, probably. Take up too much of my time, a drumbeat of bad news. Better to collect TV Guide covers, like I did when I was 10 years old; I had quite a collection there for awhile, I Love Lucy, the Flintstones, My Three Sons. Davy Jones of The Monkees!

Davy Jones was the cute one, a former child actor in Britain.

Davy was the cute one, a former child actor in Britain.

But it would be a good idea for some compulsive person to gather all the white collar indictments, fraud charges, shareholder lawsuits and convicted criminals in one place. Because there’s a pattern to them; somebody wanted to make money and didn’t care how they did it. Didn’t care who they hurt. Didn’t care how polluted that river got.

Let me start with this one, just reported today, February 21, 2013.

Feds Indict 4 in Salmonella Outbreak

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted four people in a 2009 salmonella outbreak linked to a Georgia peanut processing plant.

The indictment unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Georgia charges four employees with Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America. The charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and others related to contaminated or misbranded food.

The company’s filthy processing plants were blamed for the outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds. The company later went bankrupt.

Named in the indictment were company owner Stewart Parnell, vice president Michael Parnell, Georgia plant manager Samuel Lightsey and Georgia plant quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson.

They knew their peanuts were bad. They sold them anyway. A lot of them ended up being made into peanut butter sold to schools, where kids got sick. But the Parnells didn’t care about that; they cared about profit instead. They had a bunch of bad peanuts and they “couldn’t afford” to eat the loss, so they made sure schoolchildren ate them instead. And Lightsey and Wilkerson went along.

Or, to be fair, that’s what they’re indicted for; they haven’t been convicted.

Stewart Parnell, right, of Peanut Corp. of America took the 5th Amendment when called to testify before Congress. His tainted peanuts killed 9 and sickened more than 700.

Stewart Parnell, right, of Peanut Corp. of America took the 5th Amendment when called to testify before Congress. His tainted peanuts killed 9 and sickened more than 700.

Now it would be one thing if this were an isolated case; “a few bad actors.” But that isn’t so; for one thing, they had help from your Food and Drug Administration, which doesn’t have enough food safety inspectors, thanks to your elected Congress, industry lobbyists and your Republican Party.

I’d also put on my fantasy blog several entries about the Indianapolis concrete cabal; those convictions came down a few years ago. Most of the big concrete companies in the city conspired to fix prices, costing taxpayers untold millions for every mile of highway and public works project in central Indiana.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned Wall Street and the big banks until now.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren made news the other day during her first big hearing on the Senate Banking Committee. They had the heads of the financial regulatory agencies – the SEC, the Comptroller of the Currency, etc. – all lined up in a row to testify. She asked a simple question: when is the last time you took the big Wall Streek banks to court? I know you get fines out of them, you announce impressive-sounding settlements for wrongdoing, but when is the last time you put them on the witness stand?

Elizabeth Warren

It was good Washington theater. The agency heads hemmed and hawed, mumbled and shuffled, which was all anyone needed to know. The agencies, which are supposed to be guardians of your taxpayer and investor money, never take anyone to court. So, unsurprisingly, when a big bank gets caught being funny with the money, whatever fine they receive is simply written off as the cost of doing business, while the CEO takes his golden parachute to Aspen.

Corruption is endemic in American business. It’s everywhere – every industry and just about every big company. Or so I believe.

It’s not that there aren’t honest businesspeople, there are; but “corporations are people, my friend,” and people are greedy.

Johnson & Johnson is in trouble right now over a bunch of hip implants they knew were bad, but kept selling anyway. That’s right, the Band-Aid people who took care of my ouchies when I was collecting pictures of Samantha and Darren on “Bewitched.”

bewitched

So if you ever find yourself wondering why some people are religious, including some Gay people like me, here’s an answer. Religions are ethical systems. Right and wrong are their subject matter.

Religions make clear that if the peanuts are bad, you can’t sell them. If the mortgages are bad, you can’t package them up, stamp an A+ rating on them and sell them, while secretly betting against your own customers that those Collateralized Debt Obligations are worthless and may bring down the entire world economy.

It is wrong, West Virginia and Kentucky politicians and citizens, to blow the tops off mountains so coal companies can kill workers while extracting coal that fouls the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, which will probably destroy planet Earth.

There is no amount of money that makes these things right. And if the planet gets destroyed, Aspen won’t be worth living in.

Of course, even religions act corruptly much of the time. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a possible candidate for pope, spent hours testifying in a deposition yesterday about the pedophile scandal in Milwaukee during his time as bishop there. Cardinal Roger Mahony, rebuked last week by the new Archbishop and told not to speak publicly again, was also deposed in Los Angeles about the pedophile scandal there. Both Dolan and Mahony get to vote on the new pope – proving that religion is no guarantee of personal sanctity.

A person has to follow religion and really do what it says for it to be effective. The Episcopal Church isn’t pure either. And neither am I, but I’m working on it.

About the time I was collecting TV star covers, my Granddad, about to retire from the drug store he owned in our small town, asked me what I was going to do when I grew up. “Bidness?” he assumed. (David Letterman’s right, that’s how Hoosiers pronounce it.)

“No,” I told Granddad too heatedly. I couldn’t imagine myself as a businessman. (I probably wanted to be Paul Lynde.)

At 14, after Grandma and Granddad moved to Florida, I remember deciding I would never be part of corporate America. It was a juvenile decision, at the start of my hippie days in the ’60s, but I was right. I did end up owning a small business once, but I really wasn’t cut out for it. I’m a social worker, a writer, an activist, even a religious leader.

And while there’s no money whatever in those professions – and yes, it takes money to live in this country – I’m okay these decades later with how my life turned out.

Paul Lynde never hurt anybody, while that peanut man in Georgia killed nine people. Four years later he’s finally being brought to justice with his brother and two other accomplices.

And let me note this: a few weeks ago my prayer site, dailyoffice.org, received a $500 contribution from a stockbroker. We really needed that money, and he’s not the first businessperson to give.

Where is J.P. Morgan – the man, not the company – when we need him? He was Mr. Episcopalian in his day; he used to hire a special train to take him and his mistress to General Convention, where he’d hold court and decide everything, while writing the occasional letter to his wife. He wouldn’t have tolerated today’s corporate behavior – he got his way because he was rich and people were afraid of him.

I fantasize he would have made a big announcement about his donations to the Republican Party – then quietly cut a check to Elizabeth Warren.++

No one was stupid enough to cross J.P.

Nobody fucked with J.P. – yet we still have atheists complaining about the Wrath of God. Don’t they understand anything?

Gay Valentines, 1980: Comedy or Revolution?

Gay Cupid

Eons ago in my undergraduate days at the University of Cincinnati, I decided that Gay students needed to organize themselves; I was in social work school, and the origin of the profession lies in community organizing (howdy, Barack!). So I founded something called the UC Gay and Lesbian Alliance to fight for our rights; David Packer and David Giesler were two of the early leaders. The group continued for decades, and over the years added B’s, T’s and Q’s to its name, until it’s now subsumed in an official university-funded LGBTQ Center, which you can find here.

Well, it’s one thing to have meetings and organize yourselves, but the question soon arose, What shall we do? We decided to have a dance for Valentine’s Day.

We reserved a room in the student center, arranged for some music (disco, no doubt), made up flyers and sent out announcements; no one comes to a dance they don’t know is being held. There was no Facebook or e-mail in those days; we posted flyers in the bars and sent out press releases hoping to get four lines in the community calendar of the student newspaper.

I didn’t give this project a great deal of thought; it just seemed like a fun activity – until the TV cameras showed up.

I don’t recall having a boyfriend at the time, though I was never long without one in those days. I knew I could find someone to dance with; meanwhile let’s make sure the decorations are in place and we’ve got something to eat and drink, right? Wrong.

As the president and founder, I was the one reporters sought out for interviews. Fine, I thought, this will put us on the map and let the university know we mean business. (UC already had a non-discrimination policy.) Besides, as one of the first two people to come out publicly in the city – with full real names and everything, in the Sunday paper the year before – I was comfortable being in the media.

They all wanted to know if we were trying to “take over” Valentine’s Day.

Our dance floor was about this crowded.

Our dance floor was about this crowded.

I was, to put it mildly, nonplused. “Since when do heterosexuals own Valentine’s Day? We came here to dance.”

You’d have thought I was a Gay Panther, armed and dangerous. The reporters were all paranoid; I didn’t expect that.

Valentine’s Day is a “cherished institution,” they said. (Where have you heard that before?) Lovers look forward to it every year; the stores are full of chocolates and roses. “I know; I bought some.”

Meanwhile the TV cameras were busy taping people dancing – forty people, tops, counting the wallflowers.

My view of the TV shot was Look at all this empty space on the dance floor. We were a new organization, lucky to get the few people we had. Most of our efforts up to then were focused on gaining university recognition as an official group, so we’d qualify for the right to reserve a room.

Reporters demanded whether this was a sign of Gay student militancy at the university? “I think it’s a sign that there are actual Gay people here, and that we dance like anyone else.”

All their questions were variations on this theme; reporters couldn’t get their heads around the idea that Gayness and love are connected – I suppose they all thought that “Gay” meant nothing but sex in the bushes, not actual romance – while I couldn’t get my head around the fact that they were so clueless.

Soon enough the videographers had all the tape they needed of half a dozen people pretending to have fun to Donna Summer and the Village People, and the reporters ran out of new ways to ask the same thing, so they packed up and left. As I recall the party did not greatly improve on their leaving; the wallflower caucus remained the biggest group.

We made the news that night, though; we usually led off the second segment, after the anchors used us as a tease going into commercial, “Queers hold a Valentine’s dance at UC, stay tuned!”

The reports on the different stations all looked the same; Josh the talking head, music playing in the background, then video of half a dozen souls bravely bobbing up and down. I didn’t regard it as a great triumph, and I don’t think the president of UC broke a sweat over us either. But at least we got on the teevee.

Two nights from now, the LGBTQ Center and Colors of Pride will sponsor a Valentine’s Day Mixer on Friday, February 15 in the same student center where we held our forlorn little party 33 years ago; maybe the exact same room. I hope they get a better turnout than we did. I don’t suppose reporters will swarm.

And in a few weeks the world will learn whether the inclusive prom at Sullivan High School in Indiana will be successful, or the bigot prom at another location will rival it. Special education teacher Diana Medley, demanding a Straights-only prom, has equated LGBTs with the developmentally disabled (!) and says Gay people “have no purpose.”

Special ed teacher Diana Medley says you're retarded and have no purpose. But she doesn't even work at Sullivan High School, so she's obviously dipping into an issue that doesn't affect her.

Special ed teacher Diana Medley says you’re disabled and have no purpose. But she doesn’t even work at Sullivan High School; she’s obviously dipping into an issue that doesn’t affect her, so she can get TV time and proclaim her love for Jesus.

The pastor at the First Christian Church in Sullivan, which hosted the Straights-only prom meeting, has disavowed it, saying all he did was let some people use a room. Other Christian leaders have come out affirmatively for the inclusive prom. It looks to me like that’s the one that will succeed. If so, the bigots will tell each other that Christians are being victimized again.

Thank God for today’s students. For those at Sullivan High School, the upcoming dance is certainly revolutionary. As for my little Valentine’s Day gig, I’d have to call it comedy; no matter what I tried I couldn’t peel the wallflowers away from their wall.++

"Are Gay people trying to take over Valentine's Day?"

“Gay people are trying to take over Valentine’s Day!”