Enter Stage Right hands out its monthly awards...

The January 1999 Earth is Flat Award

A celebration of the inane, insipid and asinine...

If you've spent any time reading the financial pages over the last few years you would have noticed that the world's big banks are going crazy. Merger crazy. Citing increased globalization and competition, big banks have been either buying up smaller fry or merging with equals to create uber-banks.

All of that spells trouble for smaller banks who haven't yet found anyone to go to the dance with. Even nations who have barriers up to foreign banks from entering their markets realize that the banks in their jurisdictions will suffer unless changes are made. And fast.

Up here in Canada, four banks announced in early 1998 that they too wished merge. The Royal Bank announced a proposed merger with the Bank of Montreal in January, followed by a similar announcement by the Toronto-Dominion Bank and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce a few months later.

From the start it was expected that the banks would have a tough time receiving federal approval from the Liberal government, a government which claims to be a friend of industry, but has rarely put the walk in their talk.

On December 14, Federal Finance Minister Paul Martin announced that after a negative review from the federal competition bureau, which spotlighted fears of concentration of ownership and potentially higher fees for consumers, no mergers between the big banks would be approved until a new federal review process was brought in by the federal government.

"[W]hereas the merger proponents wanted the mergers to be allowed in order to change the status quo, we believe the status quo must be changed before any merger can be considered," Martin said in a bizarre bit of double talk while justifying his decision.

Martin's decision was a purely political one designed to placate critics of the proposed mergers in his own party and among the public, hold out some hope for bank executives who hear the footsteps of European and American banks behind them, and most importantly, to preserve his status as the leading candidate to replace current Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

His most important justification to prevent the mergers was that consumers might suffer if the four banks were allowed to merge, a justification which ignores two important facts. The first is that Canadians only have six major banks to choose from because of federal government interference in the past, mostly that of previous Liberal governments.

The second is more philosophical. The banks are private entities who own their property. They have the right to merge regardless of what anyone thinks, including their customers who are free to leave and pursue other avenues of banking. Martin's decision was yet another attack on capitalism by a government which is nothing more than a collectivist wolf wrapped in a capitalist sheep's wool.

Americans take note, the restructuring in the bank industry affects you too. Think CitiBank will the biggest bank forever?

U.S. President Bill Clinton must have loved the movie Wag the Dog, especially considering how often he followed the script of the movie in 1998 alone.

In January, the Monica Lewinsky story is broken by Matt Drudge and leads even the liberal media and Friends of Bill to say that Clinton may have to resign before his State of the Union address. Within two weeks, America goes on alert over Iraq.

In June, Linda Tripp is to testify before the grand jury with testimony which would shock the American public. The morning of her testimony, however, sees the United States fire two cruise missiles at Iraqi radar stations. The result is little coverage of Tripp's testimony by the media.

Three days after an August apology which was widely ridiculed by all, Clinton launches cruise missile attacks against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, claiming to be striking terrorist centers operated by Islamic militant Osama bin Laden. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff admits on live national television, just thirty minutes after the bombing, that the attack was neither in response to any imminent threat, nor targeted any particular person, much less a "conference of terrorists" as Clinton later claimed. ABC news anchor Cokie Roberts actually uses the phrase "wagging the dog" on national television.

And to close out the year, Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair launch a series of attacks against Iraqi targets after United Nations inspectors were stopped once again from performing their duties. After claims by administration officials that the attacks were decided upon after a United Nations report detailing Iraqi intransigence, the Washington Post learned and reported that the attacks were actually given the green light several days before the report was released. The attacks, of course, begin on the eve of the House Judiciary Committee's vote on four articles of impeachment against Clinton.

Does Bill Clinton use the U.S. military to deflect attention from his crimes and peccadilloes? Is Saddam Hussein a convenient straw man to be set up every time the firestorm of controversy threatens to engulf the Clinton administration? Do the Iraqi people suffer so that Clinton may yet govern?

It says a lot about Clinton's character and past that many people ask those questions before they praise the bravery of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.

The answers to the three questions posed you will have to come up with. Depending on the answers, the doubts you may have will be yours as well.

The January 1999 Vinegar in Freedom Award

There is an old Serbian proverb that says vinegar in freedom tastes better than honey in slavery. This award is meant for events and people Enter Stage Right considers to be positive.

We at Enter Stage Right won't be too surprised if we get tagged with a high volume of e-mail over the following selection for the Vinegar in Freedom Award, in fact, we would welcome it. Direct all complaints or comments to editor@enterstageright.com. Call us Rockefeller Republicans, compassionate conservatives or handles which are less polite. We can handle it.

Steve Dunlap had a problem. Dunlap is a man who began selling his father's watermelons at age eight and who later became rich from novelty inventions. The 42-year old decided to open a small resort after retiring with his gains. Plans were drawn up with the help of a developer and Dunlap went to local bankers for financing.

There was one slight problem. Dunlap's resort would have targeted gays and lesbians as its clientele. The bankers got cold feet and declined to invest money.

Dunlap, who is gay, figured that if bankers were afraid to touch a project developed by a prosperous gay, then the same thing must also be happening to other gays and lesbians. He decided to do something about it.

Specifically, he decided to open a bank which would cater to the gay and lesbian community. Creating a bank for such a geographically widespread market niche would normally be difficult but Dunlap decided to do it through the Internet (http://www.g-lbank.com).

"The Internet now allows us to deliver to this community without having bricks and mortar," Dunlap stated recently. "It actually allows me to put a bank branch in every house where there is a computer."

Dunlap's bank, the G&L Bank, which pending approval from federal regulators would be the only bank in the United States -- and perhaps the world -- that catered to homosexuals and one of the few Internet-only banks.

Being a businessman, Dunlap isn't thick. All are welcome to open accounts and the staff of the bank itself has a mixed staff of gays, lesbians and heterosexuals. The bank's president, Kathy Griffith, herself is a heterosexual.

What causes our admiration is that Dunlap could have easily cried discrimination and put his energy into giving business to America's already gigantic trial lawyer industry. Instead, Dunlap decided to use some of that entrepreneurial spirit that sometimes seems to be on the decline these days and solve the problem with old fashioned work. In America, it's easier today to take on the cloak of the victim than it is to simply solve the problem yourself.

Dunlap deserves recognition for the fact that instead of whining to the government about people using their freedom to associate with who they please, he decided to roll up his sleeves and work for his success. A market-based solution to a market-based problem. That's an American value if there was ever one.

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