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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Signs of a Societal Decay

Modern societies specialize in a dazzling number of indicators that mark the ups and downs of various activities, especially economic, health and audience ratings. But when it comes to signs of societal decay that cannot easily be reduced to numbers, there is a void. So let’s look at four “decays” that are trending downward.

Gluttony literally is rapidly becoming a competitive sport. In fact,

out-gourging has become a contest with the gourgers riding circuit

around the country performing in what its euphemists call “competitive

eating.” No longer one of the seven deadly sins in this field, “Crazy

Devin” Lipsitz, winner of the 2000 year United Carnegie International

Pickle Eating Contest in New York City, describes his skill as “a

sport” played by “athletes.”

There is even an International

Federation of Competitive Eating which presides over dozens of events a

year where contestants inhale hot dogs (the champion swallowed 50 hot

dogs in 12 minutes), matzoh balls, chicken wings and who knows what’s

next — mayonnaise?

The voyeuristic audience for such gluttony

battles is growing fast. It may be only a matter of time before the

first cable TV show is launched. By the way, according to the rules, if

an “Athlete” vomits, he/she is disqualified. So much for the Peter the

Great manuever.

Next on the decay derby is Tyco under CEO L.

Dennis Kozlowski, presently the defendant in a criminal trial. He held

a $2 million 40th birthday party for his wife in faraway Sardinia that

featured a shrunken model of Michelangelo’s David with vodka streaming

from its penis into crystal glasses. Videotapes also showed an

exploding birthday cake with a replica of a woman’s breast. Government

prosecutors charge that Tyco paid for much of this party as a

deductible business entertainment expense.

Parents cannot deduct

their children’s college tuition as educational expenses. Yet

corporations can and do deduct liquor, lurid entertainment and

expensive, luxurious gifts as “ordinary and necessary” business

expenses. They thereby reduce the revenues going to the U.S. Treasury

which could have been used to provide grants and loans to America’s

deserving students. Call this the decay of inverted priorities.


third decay comes from the electoral arena. There was a time in our

history when a resurgent citizenry gave itself the right to vote. So

the oligarchs devised a “wealth election” when dollars began voting in

ever greater numbers. But buying elections was not enough for the power

brokers in the two major Parties. Lately they are determined to pick

their voters by increasingly precise computer-driven legislative


In the past redistricting came once every ten

years after the decennial census. Now Republicans and Democrats can not

resist the lure of more frequent redistricting because, depending on

who controls the state government, the reward of making their one party

districts are obvious. In Texas, the state Republicans have broken

cynical new ground in passing legislation that carves new zig-zag

Congressional districts in order to pick the voters that would replace

almost certainly up to five Congressional House Democrats with

Republicans. These elections are over before they start.


courts have been too lenient in permitting such blatant electoral

map-making that is turning most of House of Representative Districts

into areas of one-party domination. Both Parties now believe that over

90% of House Districts in the country are not competitive, meaning that

the other major party doesn’t try to contest the incumbents seat. This

is worsening decay for voter choice and political competition in a

weakening democracy.

The fourth “decay” is occurring in the

midst of the nation’s largest corporate crime wave (remember Enron,

Worldcom, Health South, etc., etc.) that has drained or looted

trillions of dollars from millions of workers, their pension funds and

small investors. Well, it seems that the corporate crooks so vastly

outnumber the federal cops on the corporate crime beat that

“accommodations” have become necessary.

Faced with a tiny

enforcement budget and the”soft on corporate crime” attitude of the

Bush Administration, the Justice Department has developed ways to avoid

traditional, straight out indictment, prosecution and conviction

approaches of the past.

Presently, the Department initiates a

criminal prosecution of a company and then settles for a probation plus

a modest fine. Or, the Department criminally prosecutes companies but

then enters into a “deferred prosecution” agreement stipulating that

the case will be dropped if the company shows good behavior over a year

or two. Another lax approach is to file criminal charges but then not

prosecute the company and instead enter into a “memorandum of


Large corporations with their giant corporate

law firms skilled in battles of attrition and delay can routinely bring

the small number of state and federal prosecutors to such levels of

concessions, if they do not escape prosecution filings entirely in the

first place.

Congressional and state legislators know this, as

they raise money from these companies for their campaign treasuries. So

these lawmakers return the favor to their business benefactors by

starving the budgets of these federal and state anti-corporate crime

task forces. And you the consumers, workers and investors of America

continue to pay the Big price.