Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Church of the Almighty Dollar

    In case you missed it, Allen Stanford is to be a knight no more. The Texas quick-buck baron is going to have his knighthood stripped by Antigua and Barbuda.    

  Quite a fall for the guy — Sir Allen to you and me. He'd be a saint if a Caribbean nation were so empowered. As it were, the next best thing it could do was shelter him from taxes.

   If what we're reading holds true, Stanford, awaiting trial on charges of running a $7 billion ponzi scheme through his offshore bank, is one twisted piece of driftwood.

   His former finance chief, James M. Davis, recently pleaded to fraud-related charges in a Houston federal court. In the process he revealed fascinating things.

  For one, Davis said Stanford spent $200,000 to buy off an Antiguan bank regulator. Included: $8,000 for two tickets to the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston.

   Also, Davis said Stanford conducted "blood-oath brotherhood" loyalty ceremonies to enjoin insiders against revealing the dealings that finally brought U.S. investigators in waves to salty and once-secluded beaches.

   It's odd that Stanford would have brought bodily fluids into the equation, when all he had to do was bring out the Bible that he and his company exalted.

   Starting meetings with prayer. Bowing heads with new clients. These things, reports Bloomberg News, were business as usual for the Stanford Financial Group.

   Well, yes. Stanford was a good Baptist boy. He met Davis when they were roommates at Baylor.

   And isn't that the way? How often do we hear about godly board chambers that are really greed-ly board chambers, looking for any way to avoid rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's?

   How often do we hear about sods raking in 10 figures who claim their Christian faith drives their every movement and fills every moment? Too many times. What version of the Bible is up on that corporate shelf? Surely it's not the blunt Bible that says, in Luke, "You cannot serve God and wealth."

      It's rather amazing to hear how tuned-in some Christians are about isolated admonitions in the Bible, say about sexual orientation, while feigning deafness per Jesus' repeated insistence on forsaking riches.

     Now, one could certainly justify amassing great wealth upon the urgings of saints like Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. But not the man who said "Sell your possessions and give to the poor." It's so much more soothing to turn to Friedman's, "Boost your possessions and move offshore." That's why so many love him.

     We are in the midst of a national debate about how, or whether, to close the abominable gap that leaves 40 million Americans without health insurance. We appear frozen at the prospect of making it slightly less profitable to be the health insurance middle man, as profits are the only imperatve, the only truly American virtue, we know.

     We are frozen at the thought that insuring all Americans will carry costs with it, as if building highways, invading other nations and subsidizing a host of industries with tax shelters doesn't. Of course it costs. We choose to spend our money that way.

     We have been told by any number of groups and politicians that this is a "Christian nation," whose policies should reflect as much. They don't mean it. The last thing they would ever want would be a nation that shuns the amassing of wealth and weapons, and concentrates instead on matters divorced entirely from fleshly functions and philosophies that divide.

  Regarding the knight from Antigua: How much different is he, really, from so many who put profits above all else while claiming to adhere to a set of saintly principles?

   Not so different.

   John Young is a syndicated columnist. E-mail:

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