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Len Anthony: Why Nothing Changes

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THE ANSWER IS “US”

len anthonyBy LEN ANTHONY || I am tired. It seems that nothing changes. Twenty years ago the FBI executed Operation Lost Trust in South Carolina resulting in seventeen legislators being convicted or pleading guilty to public corruption charges.

I know an attorney who represented one of the legislators. He told me “South Carolina legislators have been selling their votes for years. If the Federal folks are going to start enforcing the laws they should have warned us.” Today, with the corruption plea deal involving former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, it is déjà vu all over again. Nothing changes.

I just finished reading two books. The first was “State of War” which describes the actions of the CIA and the administration of George W. Bush in initiating and pursuing the war in Iraq. It paints a picture of a war caused by politics, egos and incompetence. The second book was “13 Hours” written by three of the American security contractors who fought in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 when US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

The book attempts to be purely factual but given the events described therein and the events that have occurred since the attack, the reader has to conclude the administration of Barack Obama did a lot of “spinning” of the facts because the November elections were just weeks away. It appears the Administration’s primary concern was the political impact of the tragedy, not the tragedy itself. Nothing changes.

Twenty eight years ago when I was an in-house lawyer for BellSouth (one of the Baby Bells resulting from the break-up of the old AT&T) I performed the legal research that nixed a proposal to add a charge to residential customers’ bills for a service they did not request.

Management, including my boss, was not happy. Today, the new AT&T stands accused of offering an “unlimited data” plan that has an undisclosed data usage threshold that when exceeded results in speeds slowing to a crawl. Again nothing changes.

We continue to elect legislators and Presidents who care more about themselves and their political parties than their duties as our representatives. People with questionable ethics continue to be placed in corporate executive positions. We continue to patronize stores and buy products from companies run by unethical management teams. We continue to work for unethical bosses and management.

Why? Because there is usually a real or perceived personal benefit in doing so. We vote for those legislators and Presidential candidates we think will support initiatives or laws that will benefit us personally. There is a trade-off. We tolerate the dishonesty in return for what we believe will be personal gain. The politicians may have no morals but as long as they “bring home the bacon for us”, be it federal programs, student loans, or infrastructure in our districts, or profess to support our causes, we will vote for them.

My wife’s grandmother is as fine a person as you will find, and she sings the praises of deceased South Carolina Senator Jack Lindsay because he “helped people back home”. No one “back home” apparently cared about his ethics. (For those of you unfamiliar with Senator Lindsay you may want to “Google” him.)

We continue to work for sorry people and companies because we need a paycheck. We have mortgages to pay and families to support. Besides, as one CEO I worked for put it to a poor soul in a meeting: “If you will not do what I want, there are plenty of other folks here that want your job who will.” So, nothing will change if you take a stand.

We invest in companies that we think will provide a good return. The ethics of the company rarely factor into the investment decision. If the return is good, we turn a blind eye to how the company makes the return.

We rarely pay attention to the ethics of the makers or sellers of the products we purchase. If the style or price is right, we buy it. We have limited resources, paying more for a product because the seller has ethics means we have less money to buy other things.

Finally, closer to home, for those of you who enjoy criticizing me for being a lawyer, when is the last time you heard someone say: “I need a lawyer. Does anyone know a good, honest, fair decent one who will treat everyone respectfully and seek to obtain an equitable result?” Nope, when hiring a lawyer most people want aggressive, tough, mean lawyers who will go to any length to win, i.e. get you some money.

So, we are the problem. We need and want things. Money is important. But if we want the world to change, we have to change. The irony is I know some really great, honest people – people who would never do anything dishonest or because of greed. I think they don’t see their votes, purchases, lawsuits or jobs as greedy or dishonest. They are just being practical and realistic. Therein lies the rub. We can stand on principle and be righteous, but often to our financial detriment, or we can be practical and realistic, to our financial benefit, and nothing changes.

Unless and until society rewards ethics, honesty and integrity, nothing will change.

Len Anthony spent thirty years as in-house counsel for a public utility.  He’s now semi-retired living in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.  Wanna sound off on FITS? Submit your letter to the editor or opinion column HERE.