Ethics & Morals

Think on: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” EXODUS 20:16

High, unimpeachable, consistently applied ethics and morals are essential to our success in all aspects of life.  In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge said, “If we are too weak to take charge of our own morality, we shall not be strong enough to take charge of our own liberty.”  Enron and Worldcom were just two modern-day examples of how everyone – not just the company employees – pays for unethical workplace practices.  Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance now costs companies millions of dollars which are then passed on to consumers.  Dodd-Frank compliance, legislative reaction to unethical banking practices, compounds that cost.  Both laws were “knee-jerk” legislation in response to perceived failures of securities regulation enforcement.

Examples of unethical practices in business abound.  In addition to the huge Enron and Worldcom scandals of the 1990s, there were the Archer Daniels Midland price fixing scandal brought to light by whistleblower Mark Whitacre, the Koss (headphones) internal $31 million fraud perpetrated by its vice president of finance, the case of CFO Sam Antar who bilked hundreds of millions from consumer electronics chain Crazy Eddie, CFO Aaron Beam’s $2.7 billion accounting fraud at HealthSouth Corporation, and there was Martha Stewart’s insider stock trading and Bernie Madoff’s investment scam.  The corporate executives pay the price for their behaviors, but the investors and consumers never really are compensated.  What can we do?  I’ve personally had sales executives attempt to bribe me to get a sale and even was passed files of corporate secrets from a competitor.  These are among the more heinous lies, especially as they are criminal.

Today’s moral relativism is rooted in moral values that far too often have become a matter of personal opinion or private judgment rather than something grounded in objective truth.  Mostly, it’s about our own selfishness, our immediate gratification mindset; the “I, me, mine” thinking of narcissistic hedonism.   It describes how most of today’s Millenial Generation…and many Baby-Boomers…define their morality.  In my 8 years of teaching as a college adjunct, I have asked hundreds of students what they base their morals on, and very few profess biblical morality.  These students are being fed a “do good, feel good” morality professed by the generations that preceded them and have been raised in a fully atheistic public-school environment.  Little wonder we seem to be breeding successive generations of corporate fraudsters.

Tumbleweed believes that the one of the biggest manifestations of corrupt ethics and morals is the lie.  As an inveterate collector of quotations, a couple that come readily to mind are Mark Twain’s, “A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies.” and John F. Kennedy, “The greatest enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and realistic.”  What parent can forget “Veggie Tales,” especially the episode about the lie.  Or, recall actor Burl Ives famous reference to “mendacity” in the film, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

For me, the scariest and most tragic lies are those that are rationalized or justified by some relative interpretation of morality.  And perhaps even worse are lies that emanate from the perspective that someone’s lie is okay because someone else had gotten away with it previously – as though that makes it less of a lie.  We see that a lot in politics but in business, as well.

So, I’m afraid it does get down to the basics of ethics and morality.  I rather like Colossians 3:9, “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices.”  It can be tough to resist the lure of compromising our ethics and morality, but we cannot serve two masters.  It’s man or God.   What’s your choice?  Just sayin’.

 

Only a Trillion Dollars

Tumbleweed admits that this is an unusually long post.  Then again, a trillion dollars is a lot of money.  It takes a special perspective to come to grips with it.  The next time you hear a politician use the word “billion” in a casual manner, think about whether you really want that politician spending your tax money.  Then, think about “trillion,” which you hear increasingly from the hallowed halls of our government.  Let’s see, to truly grasp the number it’s got to be more than the fact that a trillion is a thousand billion.

A billion is a difficult number to fully comprehend.  By comparison, a trillion is absolutely mind-boggling.  So, let’s get some perspective:

  • A billion seconds ago, it was 1976 (a trillion seconds would put you at roughly 30,000 B.C.).
  • A billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive.
  • A billion hours ago, our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.
  • A billion days ago, no one walked on the earth on two feet.
  • A billion years ago, the earth was pretty much a molten mass…and a trillion years ago our solar system likely didn’t even exist.
  • A billion dollars ago was less than 2 hours ago at the rate our Federal government is spending it.

Now, let’s see.  The U.S. national debt as of November 2017 is $20,597,790,000,000.  Hmmmm!  The Gross Domestic Product is a mere $19,420,000,000,000.  So, the debt represents 105 percent of the U.S. GDP.  That is as bad as it seems.  Of course, politicians quickly point to Japan at 230 percent debt to GDP and Greece at 177 percent.  Of course, those two economies are in the proverbial toilet.

Actually, did you ever notice that the typical calculator won’t even permit you to enter a billion?  Hmmmmm.  So, what does one TRILLION dollars look like?

All this talk about “stimulus packages” and “bailouts” and “temporary spending bills”…  A billion dollars…  A hundred billion dollars… One TRILLION dollars…  What does that look like? I mean, these huge dollar numbers are tossed around like so many doggie treats, so I thought I’d try to get a sense of what exactly a trillion dollars looks like.

We’ll start with a $100-dollar bill. Currently, it’s the largest U.S. denomination in general circulation. Most everyone has seen them, slightly fewer have owned them. Guaranteed to make friends wherever they go.  A packet of one hundred $100 bills is less than 1/2″ thick and contains $10,000. Fits in your pocket easily and is more than enough for week or two of shamefully decadent fun.  The next little increment is $1 million dollars (100 packets of $10,000), and you could stuff that into a standard grocery bag.  While a measly $1 million might look a little unimpressive, $100 million is a bit more respectable. It fits neatly on a standard pallet about waist high.  However, with $1 BILLION dollars, we’re really getting somewhere.  It would fill eight of those waist-high pallets.  Getting scary isn’t it?

Next, we’ll look at ONE TRILLION dollars. This is that number we’ve been hearing so much about. What is a trillion dollars? Well, it’s a million million. It’s a thousand billion. It’s a one followed by 12 zeros.  You ready for this?  It’s pretty surprising.  A trillion dollars would require three football fields of those pallets stacked double high with $100 bills.  MIND BOGGLING!!!

So, the next time you hear some politician toss around the term “trillion dollars”… that’s what they’re talking about

The government will have taken in $3.21 trillion for fiscal year 2017 while spending was pegged at roughly $3.7 trillion, an “automatic” deficit of $490 billion.  The U.S. national debt is $20.6 trillion and interest is $2.4 trillion of which we will pay annual interest of more than $228 billion (there are those big numbers again).  We will have spent $1.3 trillion more on so-called “entitlements” (Social Security, Welfare, Unemployment, Housing, & Medicare) than we will have spent on defense of our nation ($1.9 trillion vs. $569 billion).  Besides borrowing, where does that money come from?  Bet you can’t read the following in a single breath:

Accounts receivable tax, building permit tax, commercial driver license tax, cigarette tax, corporate income tax, dog license tax, individual federal income tax, state income tax, multiple healthcare taxes, capital gains tax, business taxes, federal unemployment tax, social security & other payroll taxes, excise tax, energy tax, healthcare tax, fishing license tax, food license tax, fuel permit tax, gasoline tax, hunting license tax, inheritance tax, customs duties, estate & gift taxes, inventory tax, IRS interest taxes (tax on top of tax), IRS penalties (another tax on top of tax), liquor tax, luxury tax, marriage license tax, Medicare tax, property tax, real estate tax, service charge taxes, road usage tax (truckers), sales tax, recreational vehicle tax, state income tax, state sales tax, state unemployment tax, telephone federal excise tax, telephone federal universal service fee tax, state local telephone surcharge tax, telephone recurring and nonrecurring charges tax, telephone usage charge tax, telephone state & local tax, utility tax, vehicle license fee, vehicle registration fee, watercraft registration tax, well permit tax, building permit fees, workers compensation tax…anyone laughing?  Oh, and now we’ll add 23 new taxes and a penalty connected with the “Affordable” healthcare law.

Now, I hope you’re seated.  NONE (zero, zilch, nada, nil), none of these taxes existed 100 years ago!  AND our nation was the most prosperous in the world.

Just 125 years ago, we had absolutely no national debt, we had the largest middle class in the world, we were mostly pretty self-sufficient, divorce was rare, television was nonexistent, Twitter was what you felt when you were in love, AND moms stayed home to raise and often home school the kids.  We didn’t need bailouts or stimulus packages, the Federal Reserve wasn’t, paper money was backed by gold and silver, and no nation messed with us.  In fact, the government didn’t mess with us very much.  We weren’t perfect, but… arguably we were in better shape than today.

If you’re ready to hyperventilate, go to www.usdebtclock.org.

Anyone check lately about whether “entitlements” are in the U.S. Constitution?  Uh-oh.  They aren’t, are they?  What happened?  Whose money is being spent?  Whoa, wait, that’s our money!

Can you spell g-r-e-e-d?  Can you spell l-i-e-s?  Can you spell p-o-l-i-t-i-c-i-a-n-s?  How about P-r-o-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e-s?  E-n-t-i-t-l-e-m-e-n-t-s?

Billions…trillions…numbers that are so overwhelming that we’ve become numbed to them.  We hear them bandied about in the media, but since we can’t conceive of ever attaining those numbers for ourselves we tend to tune out the news.  Should we?

There are idiots out there that want to give even more free stuff from government coffers to citizens.  All we need to do is get rid of spending on defense and tax billionaires more heavily.  So, aside from our enemies coming in and walking all over us, let’s take away the sources of investment for the businesses that employ our workforce.  Putting aside that most billionaire wealth is tied up in investment (e.g., corporations, real estate, etc.) that’s not taxable as income, all the U.S. billionaires net worth combined could barely put a dent in the national debt.

Maybe what we actually need is p-o-l-i-t-i-c-i-a-n-s with f-i-s-c-a-l r-e-s-p-o-n-s-i-b-i-l-i-t-y.

Sexual Harassment – Defamation Tool

Think on: For wicked and deceitful mouths open against me; they speak against me with lying tongues.  They surround me with hateful words and attack me without cause.  PSALM 109:2-3

Like many folks, Tumbleweed has been noticing a veritable plethora of claims of sexual harassment and aggression exponentially dominating headlines.  From Congress’ Anthony Weiner to Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein to Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott to Alabama’s Roy Moore, we are besieged with real and possibly fake accusations.  Sorting through them to determine veracity can be a challenge unto itself.  How many are true?  How many are trumped up fakeries to bring down a celebrated figure or organization?

Tumbleweed suggests that accusations drawn from the past are more often becoming a tool of political hacks to take advantage of opportunists with clouded memories dredging up alleged dark secrets.  Yep, Tumbleweed is talking about those “wicked and deceitful mouths” out there.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  When there’s legitimate sexual harassment, violators should be indicted, tried, convicted, and punished.  Hang’em high!  We cannot stand for attacks on women.

So, there is certainly sexual harassment out there, and it’s shameful.  But we must stand awestruck at the profusion of accusations that continue to flood the media, as accusers get their 15 seconds of fame to bring down an alleged predator.  Tumbleweed thinks back on Bill Clinton’s “alleged” peccadillos and how his victims were sanctimoniously poo-pooed by the liberal elite.  Even his wife viciously discounted Bill’s victims.

What are the solutions toward stopping sexual harassment?  Education?  Probably.  Mutual respect between the sexes?  Good idea.  Christian love and compassion?  Certainly.  Avoid situations that encourage sexual contact?  Duh.  Just sayin’.

Words Matter in Art & Life

You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Most folks know by now that I’ve become increasingly immersed in my writing craft, creating poetry and fiction books.  I’m a member of the Poetry Society of Texas, the Pennsylvania Poetry Society, and Catoctin Voices, a local poetry group for which I have twice served as featured poet.  As Tumbleweed, I do manage to tumble around to various literary events.  Recently, I was confronted with a shocking reality.  I attended poetry readings at a Gettysburg-based poetry group.  These events generally consist of an hour of “open mic” whereby local poets may read their creations, and this is followed by a featured guest poet.  The featured poet is usually a published poet, is often a college professor, and likely has received awards for their poetry.  (My cousin Mary Maud Dunn Wright [pseud. Lilith Lorraine] was a much-awarded poet and novelist.)

Back to the event.  There were about 20 open mic participants, many of them local college students.  There was some really good word art delivered, and there was some arguably very bad material.  In my experience, what is good to one person may not be so good to another and that’s to be expected.  My concern, however, is with the trend toward ever more frequent use of truly vile language.   The student poetry in particular was liberally laced with expletives.  I was shocked.

My English teachers taught me that folks tended to resort to vile language, when they lacked language skills.  As an English major back at University of Maryland, I recall two semesters of Shakespeare as taught by a professor whose doctoral thesis was on the Bard’s use of sexual imagery.  They were fascinating courses, and I expect that in Shakespeare’s time the material was considered quite racy.  However, the audiences had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  There were no surprises.

I did leave the poetry event early, because I simply couldn’t tolerate the language used by the featured English professor poet and her student acolytes.  Pity, as there were some worthy poetic subjects shattered on the rocks of ill-chosen verbiage.

I don’t consider myself a prude, but I wouldn’t dream of inserting expletives in my own poetry.  In Proverbs 16:23, we are advised “The hearts of wise people guide their mouths.  Their words make people want to learn more.”  Surely, our poetry should reflect that advice.

I don’t believe in censorship on the one hand, but I believe the choice of receiving offensive material should rest with the receivers.  There were certainly guests in the room that Friday evening who were shocked by the language (their discomfort was obvious).  In fact, shock was likely the poet’s goal.  But few in our culture today are likely to take such abominable purveyors of poetic license to task.  It’s a sad commentary indeed that the morality of our culture should be so low.  After all, Ephesians 3:7 tells us that there’s a time to keep silent and a time to speak.  I suggest it’s time to speak against the corruption of our morals and of our language.

Justice in Justice

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. (Thoreau)

These days, it seems every “minority group” seemingly worth its salt is crying out for justice.  I think it’s fitting to kick off my Tumbleweed blog with a free-verse poem I wrote titled “Justice Enslaved.”  I hope my readers find it thought provoking. Where indeed is the justice in justice?

To what…to whom are we enslaved? Who forged our chains?

Is enslavement just?  Where is the justice? Who decides what is justice?

Slavery justified from the Hammurabi’s Code to Bible scrolls.

Neolithic times segue to Sumer, ancient Egyptian pyramids, Greece,

To China and Hebrew kingdoms, to the ancient Levant…even to the West;

Slavery as punishment, debt repayment, spoils of war, or birthright.

Christian, Hindu, Islam; all find justice enslaved to the law.

 

Is there justice in slavery?  From slavery?

Be it medieval Europe, Vikings, Tartars, or Barbary Pirates;

Slaves were as booty, a mercantile undertaking, a way of life.

Justified in economics essential to the culture, a fact of life!

Whether issued by Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontiex, or Sublimus Dei.

Pope or Imam, King or Sultan…made no matter; misanthropes all!

Justice stood as mute sacrifice to some larger, greater need.

 

Where then is justice?  What indeed is the justice?

Reparation, rehabilitation, retribution…mere slogans.

From Aztecs to Cortez’, Incas of Peru, Comanches of our plains;

To southern cotton fields and tobacco barns enslavement flourished, justice died.

Despite Wilberforce, Newton, and Lincoln, slavery forever prevails.

EBT cards replace chains, urban plantations defy any escape;

Khartoum, Delhi, Jakarta, or Detroit; enslavement abounds.

 

We cry out for justice.  Cry to end enslavement.

Yet its pervasive tentacles imprison all nations, all people;

Justice seems such a shallow game, a losing default setting for life.

What is justice to the enslaved?  What then is justice to the enslavers?

And what is justice for those who would end slavery? Such optimistic fools.

Only our souls offer protest, unshackled by iron chains;

Yet justice rings hollow as payment for our past enslavements.

 

Dare we dwell on justice for past and present sins?

Can money or lives truly compensate for injustice perceived or real?

For justice remains an elusive charade, be it divine or natural,

Be it distributive, egalitarian, social, fair, or utopian.

Retributive and restorative justice stand as inherently unjust;

We find ourselves mired in justice, mine or yours, the red pill or the blue pill;

God forgives, and in the end only “the truth will set you free.”

 

Indeed, the truth is all that really sets us free; the only justice.