Crimes of greed great and small


It’s Monday morning and I’m already jangling a bit from the coffee and the early morning news. We just got back from a short road trip.

After unpacking the van, we answered our voice mail only to find that our storage unit had been broken into over the weekend. I drove over to take a look, but the owner had already put on a new lock on the door so we still don’t know how much we’ve lost. It may not be a big deal to anyone else, but it speaks to community trust.

Community exists on all sorts of levels. On the immediate level, community is family and close neighbours. Then it’s work, maybe the kids’ school and the town where you live and shop. We’ve had varying levels of connection to local communities. Prior to coming here, we lived in the city where both Sharon and I were born. We knew the neighbourhoods to avoid, the better places to hang out. In larger cities like Toronto, these areas are well-known, such as the troubled Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

I can remember when I first encountered the idea of crime. I was about nine. My uncle had borrowed his dad’s (my grandfather’s) car and stopped at a corner store to get a pack of cigarettes. Everybody smoked back then. He left the keys in the car, and came out to find it gone. Days later they found the burned out shell in a gravel pit. That car is one of my earliest memories and I have a photo of myself standing up on the seat tugging on the huge steering wheel. So I still feel the loss of that car.

This is our second break-in since arriving here. Someone broke into our garage before we’d even moved in, and we lost a small TV set along with some kids’ videos. Again, nothing serious but troubling. There’s rarely anything the police can do, or will do. It takes a lot of time and money to bring out Ident Unit, dust for fingerprints, run the checks, etc. So unless the theft is major, there’s little hope for recovery.

Then there’s our larger community—and the trust issues that seep into our living rooms on the evening news. Some days it’s like a toxic waste dump. This morning, for example, we heard about a student sex slaying in Italy involving an American girl. On another channel it was the murder of two people in Arkansas, the disappearance of a young wife and the interview of her suspicious husband. On Canadian TV it was the apartment fire in Vancouver which is thought to be a cover-up of the murder of the young woman who lived there, and yesterday morning it was fatal street shootings in Toronto and Calgary. Just your average news days. It almost makes you grateful for living with garage thieves.

Of course theft and corruption floats always floats to the top, where the guilty parties are usually rewarded, not punished. Occasionally, a few obnoxious ones are sacrificed, like those bad Enron boys or Martha Stewart or Conrad Black. I expect nobody at the top really liked them anyway.

It’s not that much bit different when the crimes are international. Take George W. Bush’s little war in Iraq. It’s unlikely that George (or his accomplices Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld) will ever be punished for their Middle Eastern oil grab. But we will. The US will stagger under the weight of the $3 trillion (and counting) pricetag of the war for decades. The cost of war has tipped the American economy into crisis. And now the whole world is sliding into recession.

Not many folks in the US media seem to be blaming the war for the ailing economy. It’s those greedy Wall Street investment bankers, the sub-prime mortgage lenders and those spendthrift American consumers and house-flippers who should take the blame.

But a few of the wiser voices are pointing to the former chair of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan. In the midst of an ill-conceived and expensive war in Iraq, and another in Afghanistan draining the public purse, Greenspan kept tinkering with lower interest rates to keep over-stretched American consumers shopping till they dropped. Which they finally did this summer, after some of the highest gas prices of the century finally put a nail in their spending. Who could afford that big new house in the ’burbs (at much higher interest rate when the sub-prime mortgage came due)—plus $4 a gallon gasoline for two 3-hour commutes, one for each income-earner? The world community was banking on those over-stretched American consumers. As the American economy pooped out, Canada’s resource sector took a dump, and the Chinese double-digit growth flushed down into the single digits with the prospect of growing unemployment looming in both countries.

A destabilized world community is not a pleasant prospect. Neither China nor India, with a third of the world’s population between them, have any fossil fuel resources. Both are nuclear powers located in near proximity to the largest reserves of remaining oil on the planet—exactly where the US just happens to be having its little wars. And across a few small “Stans” to the north, Russia is sitting on the largest natural gas reserves on the planet and testing its new power. Their recent invasion of Georgia was a message to the US: “Your military is over-stretched. Watch your back.”

History repeats itself. The stockmarket Panic of 1907 preceded the First World War by seven years. The Crash of 1929 preceded the Second World War by ten years. Could the Meltdown of 2008 precede another war in 2012 or 2015? I for one do not want to find out.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that CBC ran a documentary last evening on global nuclear weapons proliferation. We’re running out of oil and the sabres are starting to rattle. Loudly.

On crimes of greed on a much smaller scale, avoid Oliver Stone’s new movie “W.” like the plague. Don’t give him your hard-earned money like we did this weekend. This trivialization of serious subject matter makes the prospect of real George W. Bush seem almost appealing.


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