Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2002 19:26:08 -0400 From: email@example.com Subject: AANEWS for Monday, July 29, 2002 To: getgod
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S #1047 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 7/29/02 http://www.atheists.org http://www.americanatheist.org http://www.atheistviewpoint.tv ftp.atheists.org/pub/atheists
A Service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS "Leading The Way For Atheist Civil Rights And The Separation Of Church And State"
In This Issue... * Report: "God," Public Piety Helping Disgraced CEOs? * Secular Memorials For September 11 Anniversary * Join American Atheists * American Atheists Speakers Bureau * Resources * About this list...
An AANEWS Special Report...
BESIEGED CEO'S TURN TO PUBLIC PIETY, RELIGIOSITY FOR REDEMPTION Disgraced, Implicated In Financial Scandal? "Show Up At Church"
The recent wave of financial scandals has sent shudders through Wall Street, and in the words of one ABC news analyst, made some of the most powerful top executives "look pretty bad."
Over a trillion dollars in shareholder equity has evaporated in the past three months. Tens of thousands of people risk the loss of jobs, along with a big chunk of their retirement nest egg. But beleaguered "Masters of the World" who looted their companies and became gourmet chefs when it came to cooking the accounting ledgers are turning to a tried-and-true remedy for deflecting public wrath. Some are broadcasting their credentials as men of God, stable family-raising, church-going Americans.
Others have maintained a self-righteous, high profile religious stance, denouncing the ills of society while raiding their share holder's portfolios.
Embracing religion in a time of publicity crisis is nothing new.
When Bill Clinton was under media scrutiny for his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky, press flaks assured the media that the president was meeting with a team of religious "counselors," and immersing himself in a redemptive regimen of prayer meetings and meditation to recover his status with both the Almighty and the voters.
Jesse Jackson adopted the same strategy when it was revealed that he had been dipping into the funds of one of his non-profit organizations in order to support a former mistress and illegitimate off-spring. One way of polishing his tarnished credentials was for underlings to announce that Jackson had gone into a week-long "retreat" in order to "heal." Several days late, Jackson was back to work at Operation PUSH, and apparently reconciled with his deity for years of unfaithfulness and financial hanky-panky.
The list of such redemption-seeking public icons is long, from PTL ("Praise the Lord") televangelist Jim Baaker whose multi-million dollar proselytizing empire collapsed amidst scandal to former Washington, DC mayor Marion Barry. A good mea culpa can quench the thirst of many critics and pave the way for a future political or financial resurrection.
Need Help? Head For The Pulpit ...
In today's scandal-ridden climate, there are certain do's and don't for those tainted by financial impropriety. Reporter Catherine Valenti provided guidance last week "(Scandal Sheet," ABCNews.com) with a laundry list of tongue-in-cheek recommendations for white collar executives caught raiding the corporate cookie jar and facing possible time behind bars. Don't flaunt your wealth, says Valenti, or cry poverty when it is simply not true. It's hard, for istance, for the public and laid-off workers to believe such claims, as when Enron exec Kenneth Lay's wife went on national TV to insist "we lost everything."
And stay away from the multi-million dollar mansion if you don't want to encounter the press. That's good advice for Mrs. Lay, who pleaded poverty in front of one of the couple's splendorous multi-million dollar houses in Aspen, Colorado. It's also good counsel for Scott Sullivan, the disgraced CFO at WorldCom who allegedly masterminded the firms $3.8 billion accounting crash. He's building a $15 million mansion in Boca Raton, Florida.
"Show up at church or a baseball game," Valenti adds. "This gives the image of being a family-oriented, religious citizen."
Carol Ruth, a veteran of the public relations trench wars, is watching the growing CEO scandal with alarm. She see nothing improper with corrupt executives being held accountable, and pursued by media. "You're supposed to be a person who recommends equities based on your expertise -- so tell us what happened," she told ABC. As for recovering from angry revelations and accusations of financial impropriety, Ruth added: "Church is like the first thing everyone (implicated) is told to do. Go to church and play ball with your kids."
* When Bernard J. Ebbers, the CEO at bankrupt WorldCom came under the glare of the spotlight, he dodged an onslaught of questions from members of the U.S. House of Representatives and instead tried to wash away sins in his local Baptist Church in Brookhaven, Mississipi where he also teaches Sunday school.
Parroting Richard Nixon, Ebbers -- a staunch fundamentalist Christian and member of the Promise Keepers men's group -- told fellow congregants, "I want you to know you aren't going to church with a crook."
Even the religious were a bit skeptical. Asked writer William Bole of Religion News Service, "Did Ebbers go before the faithful because he knew they would go easy on him, easier than secular authorities would?"
Ebbers, say investigators, began cooking the books at WorldCom back in 1999. The company had entered into a deal with the then-thriving Promise Keepers to generate the staunch Christian group extra revenue by providing discount long distance and other telephone services to members. Amidst growing scandal, Ebbers resigned earlier this year after funneling $408 million from WorldCom accounts to cover personal stock losses.
* Last week, pictures of another CEO falling from grace captivated the newspaper and television media. John Rigas, founder of Adelphia Communications Corporation relinquished control of the troubled cable provider after it was learned that he and his relatives used the company to guarantee billions of dollars in personal loans, and then kept those liabilities off the accounting ledger.
Rigas had built the company up over a period of nearly half-a-century into the nation's sixth largest cable provider. He stepped down from the Adelphia board in late May, along with sons Timothy, Michael and James, and son-in-law Peter Venetis. Under a negotiated agreement, Rigas-controlled corporations would diver $567 million back into Adelphia, and surrender their stock which will be placed in trust pending repayment of other monies. All told, the financial sleight-of-hand involved more than $3.1 billion in loans, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, none of it revealed to shareholders, workers or other officers.
As a result, Adelphia is still under investigation by the SEC and grand juries in two states. The company also failed to make a $38.3 million interest payment and a $6.5 million dividend payment. John Rigas is out as president, CEO and chairman of the troubled company, but received a handsome $4.2 million severance package to run over the next three years.
During his long tenure with Adelphia, Rigas developed an odious reputation for censorship and efforts to promote purity by banning salacious cable content. The Los Angeles Times reported that the 76-year-old telecommunications founder "has operated his business and personal life in line with Christian principles," and turned Adelphia into "the only one of the nation's eight large cable companies that lacks adult programming."
One victim of the cable provider's self-righteousness was Susan Block, a sexologist whose program was cut by Adelphia after purchasing the local Century Cable. The story became front page news in the Los Angeles Times last year. Columnist Robert Scheer supported Block's program, describing her as "one of the nation's leading sexologists ... and a very bright and funny woman to boot." Block, a minted Yale Ph.D. had been on hundreds of episodes of her popular cable show since 1992. In 1998, however, the legal department at Adelphia began rejecting installments, warning Block that her show "constitutes obscenity" and would not be aired.
Meanwhile, Adelphia was also slicing other adult fare including "Spice" and the Playboy Channel.
Rigas went public, issuing a statement announcing that Adelphia was dumping all adult programming including pay-per-view content. Decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court didn't help the situation. The justices had tired to design a test for "obscene", defining it as "Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest; whether the work depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law; and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." As ACLU attorneys know, these standards seem to vary considerable, from backwoods villages to downtown New York and, yes, Los Angeles.
Rigas, a Greek Orthodox known for his religiosity, was awarded Block's "Book Burner Prize."
"This old-fashioned moralist from small-town Pennsylvania is trying to dictate programming to open-minded Angelenos, and is flouting the rules of public access," charged Block.
Rigas enjoyed the support of the religious right during his on-air purity campaigning. James Dobson, the avuncular head of Focus on the Family, urged followers to contact Rigas and Adelphia and praise the firm for being 'the only major cable operation with a policy against pornography." Rigas, said Dobson, "believes it undermines family values. Other organizations such as "Hollywood Prayer Digest" joined the show of support, praising Rigas for "carrying the torch for cable pioneers who long shunned adult programming."
The last laugh seems to be had by Dr. Susan Block, though, who found a cable provider elsewhere, and suggested that viewers dump their Adelphia stock before it was too late.
* Maybe there is something about crusading against smut that distracts the public from more pressing concerns (like financial accountability), and appeals to scoundrels. George Bush has vowed to carry on the flagging war on "obscenity," and during the year 2000 campaign declared "pornography has no place in a decent society." It is all reminiscent of Charles Keating, a tycoon caught up in the midst of the old savings and loan (S&L) scandal, who poured millions of dollars into anti-pornography groups including his Citizens for Decency Through Law.
While pointing the accusing finger at porn peddlers, though, Keating companies like Lincoln Savings & Loan and American Continental Corporation were busy bilking investors -- many of them elderly -- out of their last dollars by hawking unsecured and worthless junk bonds. Taxpayers covered some of the losses to the tune of $3.4 billion dollars. Keating was convicted in federal and state courts of numerous counts, and served five years of a twelve-and-a-half year sentence.
* While the Enron roller coaster was crashing, not all of the heat was on Kenneth Lay. The firm's Chief Financial Officer, Andrew Fastow was also coming under scrutiny, and was described as a up-and-coming figure in corporate America as well as a devout Jew. That caused concerns within the Houston Jewish community, where Fastow and his wife were building a $1.3 million home in the posh River Oaks section of town -- a neighborhood where for decades, according to news reports, Jews and blacks were not exactly welcomed.
In reporting the Enron scandal, no one seemed to be playing a religion card until Fastow himself sought public redemption by seeking the support of a local rabbi. After all, one of the courageous whistle blowers in the Enron debacle is Jordan Mintz, a senior lawyer who sent memos to corporate higher-ups warning that something was amiss with the accounting ledgers.
"Some Houston Jews say Mr. Fastow is being singled out for blame even more than former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay," noted the Jewish newspaper "Forward."
"Others see Mr. Fastow's prominence at Enron as a sign of just how far Jews have come in an oil town where memories of anti-Jewish discrimination are still fresh."
While groups like the Anti-Defamation League monitor coverage of the Enron collapse for signs of anti-Semitic bias, though, "it appears that Mr. Fastow himself has been playing the religion card by directing calls (from media) to his rabbi, who has vouched for his moral character," notes Forward staff writer Rachel Donadio.
Indeed, Rabbi Shaul Osadchey of Houston's Congregation Or Amni lauds Fastow. "He's a mentsh," he told the Forward. "He's a very committed member of the community. He's active in supporting Jewish causes and he's a devoted supporter of Israel."
The "mentsh" moniker has appeared throughout the national media, including Newsweek, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the Washington Post, Cox News Service and U.S. News and World Report. It raises ethical and journalistic concerns, though, for Post reporter Lois Romano, who was directed by Mr. Fastow to Rabbi Osadchey.
"When does religion come into a story? When the subject brings it into play," Ms. Romano opined. "And the subject brought it into play."
Not all Jews agree that Fastow is acting properly in turning a close spiritual adviser and friend into a PR flak catcher. Evan Smith, editor of the Texas Monthly magazine and a Jew, said "It's the marketing of religion as a cure-all for sins. Now when the white collar guys are in trouble they quote the clergy as a way to sanitize their sins."
Even Kenneth Lay has played the religion card notes ADL's Martin Cominsky. "I see religion and people's faith background coming into all the stories." Cominsky noted that coverage of Mr. Lay's religion has put the former Enron Chairman "within a Christian narrative of sin and repentance, even casting him in the time-honored Texas role of prodigal son." The February 11 issue of the New York Post conspicuously splashed Lay on the front page under a banner headline declaring, "Lay Prays." A story accompanying the "photo exclusive" noted that Lay, fresh from stinging revelations of financial impropriety and stonewalling to investigators, emerged from seclusion to put in a public appearance at Houston's First United Methodist Church. Lay told eager reporters, "With God's help, we'll get through."
The ties go even deeper, of course, linking Enron, Lay and people like Ralph Reed, former whiz-kid director of the Christian Coalition and now a political gun-for-hire operating out of Atlanta.
Reed's firm, Century Strategies, approached Enron with an offer to stage a publicity blitz using a select list of religious-right political contributors, talk shows and shadowy advocacy, non-profit groups to press Congress for favorable legislation. A February 17, 2002 story in The Washington post revealed that the $380,000 fee also covered "blast fax" saturation of Captol Hill lawmakers.
One question about this cozy arrangement is whether Karl Rove, stage manager for Bush's 2000 campaign and now a senior White House advisor, sought to land the Enron contract for Reed in exchanging for paying Reed campaign consultation fees.
Others on the Enron consulting payroll including Bush economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey, William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, and even Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot.
There has also been speculation that Enron was a quas-religious cult, with chairman Lay operating in a manner hauntingly reminiscent of David Koresh or Marshall Applewhite of the bizarre Heaven's Gate sect. The similarities are hard to ignore, asserts David Arnott, a management professor at Dallas Baptist University and the author of the book "Corporate Cults" which describe how some aggressive companies take over the lives of workers and create a totalistic environment.
"There are elements of cultist behavior in Enron," said Arnott. These included the requirement that emploees yield their complete devotion to corporate culture; the presence of a dynamic, charismatic leader; and the fostering of a climate separate from the larger community. The Enron work place was awash in intense motivational sessions, emphasis on "team play," and long hours. "At any hint of attack," notes journalist Froma Harrop, "and they'd rush to their companies defense."
Like a cult, Enron management sought to keep the outside world at bay. But while seeking redemption in public religious spectacle, Lay, Ebbers and the other fallen Masters of the Universe -- real life incarnations of Michael Douglas's character in the movie "Wall Street" -- still bear the responsibility for bringing down the lives of others, including share holders and workers. For that, Jesus may forgive -- hopefully, Caesar will not.
For further information:
http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/enron1.htm ("Family ties -- Enron, the Taliban and the Religious Right," 2/21/02)
ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF SEPTEMBER 11 TRAGEDY APPROACHES American Atheists Urges Secular Memorials Across The Nation!
On September 11, 2002, Islamic militants launched the ultimate "faith-based initiative" and attacked targets in Washington, DC and New York City. Thousands died in this religion-based terrorism, and the lives of many more were affected.
The one year anniversary of that tragic occurrence approaches.
Over the course of the past year, the September 11 tragedy has become an excuse to violate the separation of church and state. Clerics and political leaders, including President George Bush have exploited the events and the horrific imagery to rally the nation to prayer and religious faith. As with the cold war decades ago, religious belief is now promoted as a badge of patriotism and concern for fellow human beings. In the process, millions of Americans who profess no religion have been insulted, marginalized and excluded.
It's time to take back and reclaim our share of the cultural landscape. One way to do this is for Atheist, Freethought, Humanist and other secularist groups to consider sponsoring Secular Memorials on or about September 11, 2002. If we demand "a seat at the table" in political affairs, we must claim participation in honoring the victims of this tragedy, and saluting the many heroes and heroines as well.
American Atheists urges you to visit http://www.secularmemorials.org and consider organizing an appropriate event in your community. here are suggestions, along with resources and a discussion board so you and your group can join the conversation. America's diverse community of nonbelievers has every right to be heard on this important issue. If you are a member of an Atheist, Freethought, Humanist or other nonbeliever group, consider joining with us in this national event. Visit http://www.secularmemorials.org .
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