Blue Goes Green

June 19, 2002
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The Cold War is over. The Berlin Wall is down. LeeBollinger is Michigan State University’s fall commencement speaker.

Maybe the East Lansing engagement is because the U-M president is skipping town for a more lucrative post at Columbia University in New York, but the commencement invitation still smacks of inviting the fox into the henhouse.

Local Staters PeterSecchia and ScottBowen, among others, must be scratching their heads. What, Osama bin Laden wasn’t available?

Even Business Journal Publisher and MSU grad JohnZwarensteyn was taken by surprise: “He is!?!”

Or, as Spartan and Grand Rapids Magazine Managing Editor CaraKissling said, “You’re kidding, right?”

But MSU President PeterMcPherson sees nothing wrong with the situation.

“President Bollinger has led the University of Michigan at a time when our two universities have cooperated as never before on many opportunities to serve the citizens of our state, from the historic Life Sciences Corridor to the Collaborative Air Research Effort to joint efforts to clean up groundwater contamination.”

Oh.

  • A few of the larger Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce members admit they’re taken aback by recent shenanigans. Questions about individual commitment to Chamber-announced issues are answered with, “I’m not sure what’s going on,” which is second only to “No comment.”

First, the Chamber staff argued that free enterprise need not apply to casino builders. There were dissenters in the “anybody but J.J.” city commission primary election, which was so unsuccessful J.J., James Jendrasiak, won renomination for the general election next week by a 2-to1 margin. Add to that a bevy of “interesting speakers,” from Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to XX

It is rumored that the “Ada influence” rules. That would be Alticor President Dick DeVos. There is a direct connection: Chamber President John Brown is a former Amway executive.

It may behoove the staff to begin announcements with, “The following does not necessarily reflect the opinions of our members…”

  • Noted economist and CNN MoneyLine News Hour host StuartVarney probably made plenty of money friends Wednesday at Fifth Third Bank’s annual financial summit, but he scored very few points with the legal community.

“American business is a shining example of success in our society. And yet, at precisely this moment, business in general, and capitalism in particular, are under attack,” Varney said, acknowledging that he usually begins frothing at the mouth when he gets on the subject.

Business is denigrated in our popular culture, he remarked. People in business are not portrayed in a positive light. Business is portrayed as flat-out greed — as always putting profits before people.

Varney said American business today isn’t under attack from terrorists, bureaucrats, politicians or the IRS; it’s under attack from the “legal business”— namely, the rise in civil litigation in the last decade. And it’s nothing more than the law being used as a club to beat business over the head, he said.

“I don’t think the civil litigation system truly offers truth and justice. I think it offers a contingency fee in the pursuit of billable hours,” he said.

“I think we’ve seen a predatory monopoly going after American business. I would like to see some form of legal reform. This involves our everyday lives and it involves questions about the way we live.”

Class action suits, he said, have been used to great effect by the legal community in recent years to gang up on business.

There’s no need for people to take individual responsibility for their own actions anymore. If, for instance, you fall down in the school parking lot, just sue the company that poured the concrete. Better yet, sue the architect, sue the school, sue the taxpayers, and, as Varney put it: “Win a lot of money. Win the great American legal jackpot.”

  • If we had only local TV broadcasts for news, the anchor types might convince us Americans are cowering and chewing their nails back to the knuckles. The TV people apparently are trying to outdo each other with overwrought phrases such as: “America terrorized by anthrax,” and “widespread panic” and, worst of all, “fear sweeping the nation” (evoking the image of a skeletal janitor with a slavering push broom).

But then while driving to and from work, pretty much everybody is stopping for red lights, accelerating smoothly, using turn signals, and otherwise going about business as usual, exchanging smiles and nods.

So, Miss Terror-Sweeping-The-Nation of Channel Whatever, it’s time for a little perspective.

Item: Americans drive with little evidence of terror even though about 800 of us die every week in car accidents.

Item: Though anthrax has killed four people so far and others have contracted it, it also responds to a fairly broad range of antibiotics.

Item: Antibiotics, on the other hand, won’t touch the flu virus that probably will kill another 20,000 Americans this coming winter. And almost nobody is losing sleep over that.

The thing is that the local TV people should start acting like adults and quit lecturing their listeners as if they and the listeners were school kids.

Let’s not forget our London cousins who 60 years ago were sleeping in subway tunnels and going about their lives amid the rubble their city. And the symbol of their stubborn defiance was the quaint, understated notice scrawled on shop fronts: “Business as usual.”

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