FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Two Challengers – Both One of a Kind

by RALPH NADER

Two distinctly different Americans with distinctly similar, independent thinking and progressive values passed away last week. The great accounting professor Abraham Briloff (age 96) who relentlessly and brilliantly took apart the failures of his profession to insist on honest and ethical corporate accounting, and Tom Laughlin (age 82), the jolting producer and star of the ‘Billy Jack’ films who broke the Hollywood industry’s rules with sagas of fighting for justice. Although they never knew each other, they both championed fair play and courage to face the grim realities of the day.

It was exhilarating to read Professor Briloff’s (Baruch College in New York City) precise exposés of companies faking their financial conditions in the influential Wall Street publication, Barron’s. He would dissect captured accountants’ sleights of hand and shake company executives and stock prices down from their deceptive, overvalued pedestal. I initially subscribed to Barron’s Financial Weekly because of Briloff’s writings, and later the excoriating articles by the conservative financial analyst, lawyer Ben Stein.

But what most impressed me about Briloff, was that he took his criticism directly to the accounting profession and threw back its own standards and ethical rules against the indentured hypocrisies of compliant accountants.

In his books The Truth About Corporate Accounting and Unaccountable Accounting: Games Accountants Play, Mr. Briloff, who also had an accounting practice, was a lone voice who blew the whistle and stood tall with reform proposals among hundreds of thousands of silent accountants.

All professions have a few courageous challengers of their fellow practitioners who speak the truth of ugly failures, damaging greed and conformity within the ranks. Lawyers, doctors, architects and dentists all have these positive dissidents. But accounting, with its ‘mums the word’ tradition, has the fewest dissenters and standard bearers of all the professions.

Much of corporate financial speculations and the crimes, such as those of Enron and Lehman Brothers, flow from years of phony accounting or what is commonly called ‘cooking the books.’ The sheer complexity of the multi-tiered, multi-corporate transactions, feeding off intricate corporate-lobbied tax laws, provide a camouflage that few people can understand, much less authoritatively expose.

Abraham Briloff was one of those rare individuals.

Abstruse as corporate accounting can be, its consequences, the loss of millions of jobs, huge fleecing of investors and the depletion of pension funds, ending with coerced taxpayer bailouts, are clear.

The Wall Street binge of 2008-2009, that collapsed the economy into the ‘Great Recession’ while continuing to enrich the very rich, illustrates the derelictions of an accounting profession that is paid to cover up misdeeds and then look the other way.

None of this excuses the regulatory agencies or Congress from meeting their responsibilities. But the genesis of these frauds stems from the complicit and corrupt services of accountants and auditors.

About ten years ago, I tried to get some conscientious accounting practitioners and professors to form a public interest accounting group. It almost happened, but the few founders could not raise the necessary sustaining funds for staff and offices. Too bad there weren’t more Briloffs around that table.

Tom Laughlin’s ‘Billy Jack’ character was largely based on the values of Tom Laughlin. Billy Jack is a hell-raising peace advocate and environmentalist, who protects Native Americans and wild horses, and advances justice by standing up to the ruling classes and their henchmen-bullies. The first ‘Billy Jack’ movie in 1969 was distributed by Warner Bros, but Tom Laughlin did not feel that the studio adequately promoted his film. He bought back the distribution rights in 1973 and, with a national advertising campaign, rented 1,200 theaters for a re-release. This move was unheard of in Hollywood. The re-released film grossed $100 million, which would be the equivalent of about $400 million now. The New York Times said, Laughlin’s success “caused Hollywood to rethink its approach to releasing films.”

Laughlin used his sharp way with words to promote his films and a bold style to advance his causes. The trouble was that his imagination was way ahead of his ability to obtain funding. His ‘Billy Jack goes To Washington’ premiered, but was never released theatrically.

Around Presidential election years, he would call me to share his ideas about how to make a popular movie so inspirational that it would propel its leading actor-candidate into the actual presidential primaries and challenge the power structures that Laughlin so intensely wanted to make accountable to “we the people.” His messages were eye-catching and provoking.

It must have been very frustrating for him to not continue what appeared to be a vision of dynamic, gripping real movies about injustices that could motivate viewers to civic and political action for reform.

Unlike many good muckraking documentaries today, Mr. Laughlin and his co-actor, wife Delores Taylor, mixed blood-and-guts fighting with themes of challenging wrongdoing. The Los Angeles Times gave one flavor of the man with a quote from his daughter Teresa: “A student of the martial art hapkido, Laughlin would train feverishly for his films with grandmaster Bong Soo Han, who choreographed the fight scenes and sometimes acted as a double.” They produced raw scripts that, as actors, fit their own real life passion for a just society.

A man of perpetual enthusiasm for the next theatrical breakthrough, however blunt and unnuanced for the film academy’s taste they would be, Tom Laughlin may generate successors in the same vein.

His style was encapsuled in a scene from Billy Jack that has been called “I…Just…Go…Berserk” which has developed a cult-following. (See the clip here).

Our society needs more Abraham Briloffs and Tom Laughlins. To remember them and their works can help make that prospect more likely.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail