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Moral Climate Among Southland Businessmen

March 02, 1985

Reading recent business news items has raised an interesting speculation regarding the moral climate of the Southland business community. The evidence is not enough to indict, but certainly enough to raise some questions.

Beginning against the recent backdrop of the mayor of San Diego's financial problems and his reelection, we read that the Bank of America's recent $95-million loss can be traced to two respectable Orange County businessmen who were later identified as felons. Then we read that the Security Exchange Commission is seeking legal action against Oak Industries Inc. because of alleged violation of various anti-fraud and record-keeping provisions of the securities laws.

In an apparently unrelated item, a Southland businessman of Central American origin is arrested in a small Texas airport for trying to leave the country with $5.3 million in $100 bills loaded in eight suitcases. He is identified as a close associate of one of the leaders of the death squads in El Salvador. The flight of this executive's jet originated at the John Wayne Airport.

Against this background is it really so strange that White House Counselor Edwin Meese III, the par excellence Southlander, has had curious financial problems and problems of giving guidance to staff in issues of personal ethics?

It makes this observer wonder if there is not really a moral climate in the Southland that is quite distinct from other parts of the country and even other parts of California. It seems to be characterized by a free-wheeling entrepreneurialism and a distinct inability to clearly distinguish between the domains of public and private behavior. This is the area that supported key actors from the Watergate scandal and gave them a place to feel comfortable in. It is also called "Reagan Country." Is there something different about that place called the "Southland?"

ROBERT S. SPICH

Pacific Palisades

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