Posts Tagged ‘Corporate greed’

I BELIEVE IN AMERICA

The film begins with the screen black. A man’s voice declares, “I believe in America!” His Italian accent tells us he’s an immigrant. The camera then reveals him in closeup—mustache and suit as black as the background in which he seems suspended. A humble if successful undertaker, he pleads with someone we cannot see: His daughter has been dishonored. He seeks justice. But it will not be in the American way. Or will it?

The Godfather presents America as the land of opportunity. For many millions born on foreign shores and their first-generation American children, it has been just that. But the irony of the undertaker’s speech soon hits home. The Godfathermakes clear that in America, hard work and risk-taking offer great rewards. These values may be applied to a great many enterprises. Not all need be legal.

Those who saw opportunities by breaking the law are duly noted in downtown Las Vegas’s Mob Museum. I was there last week, since I did a small portion of the research for my next novel on their website. Moreover, I admit to a fascination with the Mob—particularly Jewish gangsters of the first half of the 20th century. They were legion. Money guys like Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky? Sure. But many more were stone-cold killers like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, Dutch Schultz, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter. (FYI, Lansky and Siegel appear in the novel.)

The Mob Museum details the rise—and fall—of the Sicilian Mafia and its affiliates, including the Jewish gangs, which provided murder—and lots of it—for hire. (Protestant and Irish gangs terrorized New York and Boston before them). For many young immigrants lacking education and living in slum conditions, crime paid. Death often came early; success comes with a price.

Ultimately, the FBI squeezed and put away the classic Mob bosses. Vegas cleaned up its act. Other ethnic groups stepped in. Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Dominicans, Mexicans, Chinese, Russians and Vietnamese, as well as groups native to the Heartland, carved out their own American opportunities.

This nation will always face the Mob in some form. But ordinary criminals—even the drug cartels—will not destroy our democracy. We’ll rot at the hands of corporations and the super-rich. They buy politicians and virtually write our laws to eliminate regulations protecting ordinary citizens and reduce their taxes and liabilities, society be damned. In the process, they brush crumbs to the floor. Some people lap them up.

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman advises, “It’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor, either.” I support ambition. I succeeded financially because I risked working for myself and pushed to meet my goals—honestly and ethically.

I also support a sense of balance. The Christian Bible tells us that not money but theloveof it is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The Mishnah offers wisdom through a Jewish lens: “Who is rich? He who appreciates what he has…” (Avot 4:1).

I believe in America. I also believe that keeping the pursuit of wealth from devouring ethics requires making wise choices. November will reveal whether greed outweighs goodness and lemming-like, this nation marches off a cliff.

For you who are celebrating Yom Kippur starting Tuesday night, may you have a meaningful holiday and be sealed for good in the New Year.

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BLAMING THE VICTIM

A woman my age recently suffered sexual harassment. Her story says a lot about how we still treat women in our enlightened American society, the San Francisco Bay Area included. It also delivers a sad message about how money undermines decency.

“Evelyn” decided to move from her condo to an independent living facility. “It had all the amenities—swimming pool, gym, roof garden,” she says. “All the nice, pretty things I thought would make my life good.” The right unit became available. She passed her physical and mental exams—people with problems aren’t allowed; residents have to “graduate” to assisted living—put down a hefty deposit and moved in. A nightmare followed.

At first, Evelyn was happy. Then one of the building’s security personnel—a man—followed her into her room. The pretense was checking the functioning of her door. “He grabbed my shoulders and neck, and massaged them,” Evelyn recounts. “He told me how stressed I was. Then he pulled me towards him with a disgusting, full-body hug.” Evelyn pushed back. He left.

Shocked, Evelyn met with a woman from the facility’s human resources department and the facility’s executive director—also a woman. They told Evelyn that the employee had resigned. Then they asked if she still wanted to tell them about the incident. Evelyn said yes and related what happened. They never took notes and dropped the matter. Things got worse.

“The next day,” Evelyn says, “the support staff shunned me.” She contacted HR and the executive director. They responded that there was no shunning; they simply were short-staffed. “I said that obviously the employee who resigned had informed the other staff. They said they’d get back to me.” A week later, the executive director called. She had nothing else to say. The matter, according to Evelyn, was being swept under the rug. What would residents think if they found out?

Evidently, the residents did find out. Gossip flew. The environment grew hostile. Residents shunned Evelyn, although the staff came around after several weeks. “The word was I had tried to seduce the security man and was a woman scorned. Residents believed I’d come to live there to create an incident and sue.”

The administration became furious with Evelyn. Complaints, no matter how legitimate, were bad for business. The facility is a big money maker. What could be more important than maintaining the bottom line whatever conspiracy of silence was required?

Evelyn started looking for an apartment and wanted back her hefty deposit. Meanwhile, the executive director left none of Evelyn’s complaints or requests in her record. It was as if nothing had happened. Fortunately, a senior executive of the corporation that owned the facility helped work things out. Evelyn got her money back. She rented an apartment where she’s quite happy. Yet she’s afraid the facility might come after her—and she’s the victim.

You probably know one or more women who’ve been mistreated by men. Such unwanted attention doesn’t have to involve outright sexual assault. It could be the unwanted, “disgusting” all-body hug. Or the unwanted kiss on the lips—brief or, worse, lingering. Perhaps crude remarks supposedly humorous or well-intentioned. Too often, the woman who complains is the person who gets blamed for being a bad sport—or worse.

If you’ve been enjoying these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you’re a guy, give a second thought to that big hug.

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