The Long Way Home 9.15.23

As America’s political evolution moves from campaigns to courtrooms, I recall these lyrics from the late Jimmy Buffett’s song “Son of a Son of a Sailor.”

As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin' man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I learned much from both of their styles

I too have read dozens of books about heroes and crooks. I’ve also known my share of both, and I’ve seen how the system works to make heroes out of crooks.

The media has an unending source of titillating stories with a former US President, a hero to many, and his advisors under criminal indictment in various venues. Many of my fellow citizens are channeling their inner constitutional and legal brains to tout whatever BS they heard on the latest podcast. 

Let my channeling begin.

Americans love to ignore, stretch, and even break the law. We drive five mph or more over the speed limit. We fudge the numbers on expense reports to our employers and, as often as possible, on our tax filings. 

Growing up, we shot off fireworks purchased and transported illegally. We smoked and drank and maybe used those so-called illicit substances to see what the fuss was about.

Testing limits of the law is human nature.

Our legal system tries to keep a lid on the testing. It has a civil function- you suing a neighbor for breaking HOA rules. A customer is suing you for breach of contract or personal injury. The criminal system deals with white-collar, property, and violent crimes. 

There is a stereotype of the well-known commercial property developers like Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas and Donald Trump in New York that is richly deserved, not least because it is also true of the less renowned developers who aren’t headline-sized. 

To promote their massive construction projects to investors, local governments, and the public, they stretch the truth to fit the vision, minimizing risk assessments and overstating future financial gains. They often donate money to bribe politicians who have oversight or approval power.

Once projects begin, they’re known to default on commitments to sub-contractors like the crooks they are, leaving many to go broke and fade from memory. 

In 1960, a guy named Bernie Madoff started a financial services business. He built a large company, was a hero to most, and was honored to serve three years as the NASDAQ stock market chairman in the 1990s. He was a trusted resource for regulators, serving on advisory committees of the Securities and Exchange Commission. But in 2008, we found out this hero was a crook. He used his business to endear himself to unwitting investors and regulators while running a Ponzi scheme that prosecutors valued at almost $65 BILLION. 

Just seven years before Bernie was busted, the idealized heroes leading the business conglomerate known as Enron were found to be crooks. Their financial maneuverings that painted a rosy picture of prosperity and growth hid gross mismanagement, losses, and thievery. 

The late huckster PT Barnum supposedly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I opened a fortune cookie once and read, “PT Barnum was thinking of you.”

I kept that fortune posted behind my desk for years to remind me to be skeptical of all the heroes I’d encounter each day. They just might be crooks. 

I’ve learned that every criminal defendant claims to be innocent, from the small fry to the big fish, and the innocent ones are as hard to find as Sasquatch.

On to the trials of the century. I’m betting we won’t find Sasquatch when it’s all done.