Swans Commentary » swans.com January 1, 2007  



A Good Start


by Bruce Patterson





(Swans - January 1, 2007)  After I returned from Vietnam in 1968, my dad and I argued about politics all of the time. We argued about the war, of course. I thought the war was a crime against humanity and my dad thought, well, welcome to the real world, son. War was powerfully evil, my dad admitted, but there were levels of evil, one floor above the other as in a skyscraper, and Communism was the greatest evil of all. Regarding the fratricidal bloodlettings going on in Indochina and elsewhere across the globe, at base, it just went to show that war was a part of human nature.

Civil wars were always the most vicious, and that said something important about people, my dad was convinced. Fear, hate, and greed go together and get people fearful, hateful, and greedy enough, then even the most timid of them will join in a mob on its way to cheer a lynching.

Since politics, economics, and ethics all boil down to deciding who gets what -- an elementary fact of life that both my dad and I based our thinking on -- the fault line dividing us, the Grand Canyon cleaved between us, had to do with our competing conceptions of human nature. A Chicago slum child who grew up during the Great Depression, a man who'd strolled German city streets lined with carrion-smelling heaps of rubble, and who had toured Dachau when all of the bleach on earth couldn't erase the stench, and who during his short life had watched from afar the mindless mass slaughters in China and Korea, the rape and enslavement of Central Europe -- not once, but twice -- the endless pirate wars in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, my dad didn't trust "The People" as far as he could spit.

My dad believed that if you stripped away people's platitudes and conceits, excuses and accusations, you'll see that most people, most of the time, get exactly what they deserve. Society was corrupt because people were corrupt, and due to the Natural Depravity of Mankind, Law and Order was all that stood between us and a collapse back into savagery.

Of course I strenuously disagreed. I saw faceless and soulless institutions in the saddle and humanity being ridden into the dust. To repudiate the inevitability of war, I asserted, all we needed to do was to peer into the terrorized faces of war-ravaged children.

So our arguments went on for years. Once, sensing a chink in his armor -- in a flash my dad would have laid down his life for any of his grandkids -- I wanted to know why he couldn't bring himself to care about all of the children in the world.

Struck by my arrogance, my dad replied that he did care. He'd cared every day of his life reaching way back to long before I was born.

Our conflicts went far beyond the cynicism of the old and the life-weary versus the sky-is-the-limit idealism of the young; the hard-headed realist against the starry-eyed flower child. Also at issue was our very method of analysis. In my dad's mind, compared to any of the other major empire/countries of the 20th Century, whether Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Germany, Japan or whatever, we Americans not only had it better -- we were better. We Americans had more peace, freedom, and opportunity and having those precious things allowed us to be better as people; more open, generous, and easy on each other. And the proof of that was obvious enough. For if I so much despised the state of American society, I could always move to Bangladesh.

Whereas, when I looked at the world around me, everywhere I heard a whisper of something more. I saw the dawn of something I thought my dad was missing. Fueled by a young veteran's regrets, I knew the world had to be better than what either of us had ever known. With life came a promise, and in my bones I knew that my sons and my dad's grandsons deserved better.

Yes, judged against the other empire/nations that have risen and fallen, we Americans have much to be proud of. But, at the same time, considering the opportunities we've been given as our birthrights and what we've done with them, we are among the modern world's greatest failures.

It was within that context of constantly butting heads that one day my dad, having finally gotten a bellyful of my Leftist moralizing and my Leftist analysis, asserted that never once had he or any of his business buddies ever heard a single so-called New Leftist like me -- a bunch of freeloading college kids who thought it was noble to bite the hands feeding them -- put their finger on the one thing, the one true "revolutionary act" that the politicians and Big Business, Wall Street and the Banks feared more than God or Hell's Fury. When my dad got together with his business buddies over lunch, they talked about it all the time -- it's dirty money that greases the wheels, no shit!

But, because we "radicals" had our noses stuck so high up in the air, we couldn't see what was planted directly in front of us. We couldn't see the beast that was tearing away at our liberty, the chains getting wrapped around our necks.

When the Japanese took over Firestone Tire and Rubber, my dad was one of Firestone's most senior mid-level executives. But the Japanese wanted to bring in new blood and so they offered my dad a Golden Parachute. If he would consent to retiring six years early, they'd give him his full pension and medical benefits, plus a fistful of company stock and a fistful of stock options.

While my dad had no desire to be put out to graze, after he crunched the numbers, he realized that if he kept working he'd lose money. They had made him an offer he couldn't refuse, in other words. So my dad happily tipped his hat and set about catching up on his fishing.

A couple of months later, when his old department of wholesale sales was falling apart, the company hired my dad back as a part-time "consultant." He'd get to keep all they'd given him plus, rated-out, his new salary would be triple what his old one was. So my dad decided to put off fishing for a little bit longer (it turned out to be six years).

Now one of my dad's old colleagues, another old-timer who hadn't risen so high in the company and so wasn't offered such a generous Golden Parachute, had refused to retire. A big spender up to his neck in debt, he needed every nickel he could get before he could even consider quitting working. One day a memo arrived on my dad's desk. Some bean-counter in the Accounting Department had discovered that the old-timer, while on company business in Las Vegas, had booked himself into a double hotel room instead of a single room. Not only that, but he had booked himself a suite. The clear implication was that he had his wife or a girlfriend along, boarded at the company's expense. That meant he had stolen from the company and, having been caught in this case, you could bet he'd been stealing all along, a little bit here and a bit little there.

Since no wise or honest company will keep a thief on the payroll, the higher-ups wanted my dad to call the old-timer into his office in order to fire him. Which my dad agreed to do but only -- only -- if the charge was true.

During their meeting the old-timer scoffed at the accusation. The reason the hotel bill had been so high was because there had been a bunch of conventions in town and every room in Vegas had been booked and over-booked. He got the suite because the hotel had "lost" his reservation, and the upgrade was given "comp." So his two nights of luxury hadn't cost the company a penny.

A big grin on his face, my dad picked up the phone and dispatched the company's private detective in Vegas to visit the hotel to collect the documentary proof. My dad had no doubt in his own mind -- his old colleague knew the rules -- but he knew the higher-ups would want proof and so my dad would give it to them.

The point of the story was that the company was willing to spend dollars to save nickels. They were willing to do so because, in business, if you don't watch out for your nickels, it's impossible to make dollars. An honest and well run company has open books and in those books will be a full accounting of all expenditures right down to the price paid for a hotel room. The old-timer certainly knew that, my dad knew it, and so did everybody else, it seemed, except us radical know-it-alls.

As my dad was dealing with petty personnel problems like that (unable to understand the high "non-discretionary" costs built into the operations of an American business, the Japanese suspected everyone of skimming their profits), in Washington D.C. the company had a lobbyist on the payroll who was getting paid in the high six figures. Now, did I think that lobbyist was unaccountable to the company? Did I think the company gave the lobbyist a blank check and a limitless expense account and then forgot about him? Was I nuts? If the company wasn't getting its money's worth -- the price of 50 factory workers for this one stuffed suit -- they'd fire him and get themselves somebody who would.

But they were getting their money's worth and that's why this guy was living so high up on the hog. Politicians have very expensive tastes, they find it slightly humiliating to rub shoulders with their social inferiors, and if you wish for an audience with one of them, then you'd best dress immaculately, show impeccable manners, and bring lots of cash.

So, if greedy, corrupt, and heartless corporations and the politicians in their pocket are really at the root of our society's ills, if you can't bring Law and Order to Dodge when the City Marshal is in the pay of the pushers and pimps, then the solution is as plain as day. Since no lobbyist is much better than the money he brings, and since it's the big money boys who control about ninety percent of all of the money given to lobbyists and then to politicians, the solution is to run every last lobbyist out of Washington D.C. Run every last lobbyist out of every State Capitol, County Seat, and City Hall in the Union. Make it illegal for a politician to accept so much as a cup of coffee from a private citizen and the foxes are gone from the chicken coop and the money-changers gone from the steps of our Republican temple. With that one simple reform, over night and without a shot being fired, or hardly anybody in America, Left, Right or Center, even getting their feelings hurt, you've got your revolution.


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Internal Resources

Patterns which Connect

Activism under the Radar Screen


About the Author

Bruce Patterson, a Vietnam Vet, has spent 30 years logging and ranching in the hills of Northern California. He's been writing columns for his local rag for 15 years, and went into a serious writing spree; the result of which is an exceptional book, Walking Tractor And Other Tales of Old Anderson Valley -- a book that should deserve a New York Times review and that is available on the Web at 4mules.com. A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser just about one year ago.



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2007 Infamous Predictions™ - SWANS

The Soldiers Among Us - Jan Baughman

Failure And Truth - Michael DeLang

Empire And Glory - Martin Murie

What Happens To The Decent Kids Who Enlist - Philip Greenspan

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2007 - Milo Clark

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medianoche - Poem by Guido Monte

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art13/brucep02.html
Published January 1, 2007