The United States Of Deceit: 1968-2011 – OpEd


I’ve just returned from a day-trip to Sea-Tac airport where I spent three hours with an old friend on his way to Tokyo, his first stop of six in Asia before he returns home to Athens.

If in a symbolic way, I could say that during the past two weeks I have traveled, separately, on two voyages that had the very same destination: deceit. In one, I toured an impersonal, more generic international route; in the other I followed a personal path.

During the 160-mile trip north to Sea-Tac my thoughts for the most part did not revolve in anticipation of seeing my graduate school friend of four decades ago coming from Greece. Instead, they centered on a very close friend in Portland who was truly hurting and embarrassingly humiliated, a victim of duplicity and imposture by a former woman friend without apparent scruples.

Ben Tanosborn
Ben Tanosborn

This woman friend seemingly failed to consider her family and past romantic associations in a reckless behavior that, although private and very personal, could easily become public or somewhat public; a behavior that in today’s society is considered totally amoral, and one where decent people can be tainted simply by association. And that would be my Portland friend. However, my trip’s purpose had nothing to do with personal reflections on deceit, but solely a visit with my Greek friend that I hadn’t seen for years.

Stefan received his doctorate in economics 40 years ago and he is more than just a spectator in the problems besetting Greece these days. Although we have not had much of a relationship past grad school, other than the obligatory 2 or 3 seasonal cards, nowadays converted to the same number of less costly and receipt-proof emails, there have been a few times of transcendental happenings, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when we did exchange extensive personal notes of criticism on the infamy that stood behind such intervention and crimes perpetrated by uncontested US superpower.

Both Stefan and I have been bucking the establishment going back to our days in graduate school in 1967 and 1968 at UCLA. A group of us, probably fewer than a dozen, and never more than 4 or 5 at a given sitting, would make political hay of Lyndon Johnson and what we considered “his war” in Vietnam. Usually at one of the school’s cafeterias, no Starbucks then, at a table next to one usually frequented by later-to-be basketball legend, Karim Abdul-Jabbar, known at that time as Lew Alcindor.

Although our group was small, it probably included all or most of the active voices against the war in the Graduate School of Business (both students and faculty); also, all criticism of racial prejudice and lack of ethics teaching in the conduct of business. In June 1968, shortly before our upcoming graduation, four of us in the group celebrated the occasion at the Coconut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, three days before then senator and aspirer to the presidency, Bobby Kennedy, was assassinated a few feet away. That occurred two months and a day after another fighter for freedom, Martin Luther King, was gunned down in another hotel in Memphis.

In my conversation with Stefan, our first memory was that of the prevailing airs and gossip that transpired in the School of Business during those last 9 weeks of school. The typical statements made on MLK’s assassination then were not of outrage but the opposite, and how he had brought his demise onto himself. By just about everyone’s account he (MLK) was a commie, a plagiarist and a philanderer… a down and out troublemaker. Bobby Kennedy fared better although his progressive stands did not, perhaps considering that his father, Joseph Kennedy, had been a turncoat against Wall Street helping FDR,

During the extended lunch period at the airport, we revisited Vietnam and the Richard Nixon years. It’s Stefan’s contention that Watergate was an insignificant event, and that Nixon’s crime had been following the advice of his much lauded, irresponsible Henry Kissinger in the way in which he opened up relations with China. Not the fact that relations were established but how they were established, a path which was followed by every president since that time at a horrific cost to the nation’s economy. As far as Stefan is concerned, that was the very start of a policy of deceit by the US government on its people, and the shift of wealth from the US to China shouldered in exclusivity by the American people, principally those involved in the area of manufacturing; the true start of poorly planned globalization.

We shifted the theme and tone from one of an American equivocated foreign policy that stays silent on oppression against the Palestinians, and most often against the aspirations of much of the population in the Middle East or Southwest Asia, to the economic predicament that much of the world is in today. We concurred in the assessment that much of the problem had been brought about by the US directly through its creative financing and phony paper assets, and also by the emulation in some Southern European countries of the flawed US real estate model.

Although I am not as convinced as Stefan that the US government has brought about all our economic ills through deceit, I give it ample credence; but also give a good share of the blame to a citizenry at large vested with waste and greed.

On my drive back, ruminating on that blame placed on the government as the mastermind and source of deceit I thought of my friend back in Portland. Was he really the victim of deceit, or did he really invite deceit by his own self-deceit? By entering into a romantic relationship two years before with a woman less than half his age with a compromising polyamorous background, one which was not much different from that which she is exhibiting, and blamed for, today!?

Is it really economic, political or romantic deceit we are sometimes victims of, or is it more often than not a case of unfulfilled wishful thinking, of self-deceit?

Ben Tanosborn

Ben Tanosborn is a syndicated columnist. Over a decade ago he started writing a weekly sociopolitical column, 'Behind the Mirror,' hoping to bring new perspectives that would allow us to see ourselves with borrowed eyes. He can be reached at [email protected]

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