November 5, 2002: Election day. Nothing terribly exciting on the ballot for most of us, other than the fight for the overall balance of Congress, which if it goes to the GOP, is unlikely to take any further action on improving corporate accountability. (It may be pretty unlikely even as it stands now -- even getting companies to follow existing laws seems difficult.) I have a hunch that the Democrats are going to do a little better than anyone is predicting. There are also governor's races... including the re-election of Jeb Bush®. His Democratic opponent Bill McBride has been variously ahead or behind in the polls lately.
One news item which I thought I had covered earlier, but apparently got missed, was this: the NAACP sued the state of Florida for illegally excluding tens of thousands of eligible citizens from voting, simply because they had the same, or almost the same, name as a known felon or dead person. Like, if your name is John H. Smith, and a John M. Smith is a known felon in Kansas, you don't get to vote -- never mind that John M. couldn't have moved to Florida because he hasn't been released from prison yet. About half of the people on the list were African-American and the great majority of those listed were democrats. The company that prepared the list, DBT Online (since merged with ChoicePoint) warned the state that their preliminary list of possible duplicate names needed much more checking to weed out the coincidental resemblances and find the true unqualified voters. They told the state that there might be only about 3,000 names left out of the 91,000 provided, once the cleanup was thoroughly done. But the state of Florida -- or rather, Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the same Katherine Harris who did such a perfect job of separating her official duties from Republican campaigning (not) -- ordered that the raw unfinished list be accepted as the official final result, and everyone on it was barred from voting. It was this, not any of the other fiascos discussed on the news, that really handed the state of Florida over to Dubya in 2000. The Supreme Court had to step in only when this much larger theft of votes fell just short of success. The NAACP's suit after the election was not contested by the state. They admitted that they had no leg to stand on in defending the list, and settled the case, agreeing to clean up the list of ineligible voters properly.
But here's the kicker: it turns out they are going to clean up the list, as agreed, only after today's vote! Those 91,000 mostly Democratic voters are still excluded from voting against Jeb Bush®. And if Jeb wins, it may well be by only a few thousand votes. In which case, chalk up another stolen election for America's most successful crime family.
Various stories are continuing to come out about assorted bits of sleaze, crookedness, and election day dirty tricks in Florida, from Democratic voters getting phone calls "reminding" them to mail their absentee ballots five days late, to financial favors granted by Jeb's state government to the family of New York's Governor Pataki.
Jeb Bush®, by the way, has joined the illustrious list of those sued by Judicial Watch... which, by the way, has still not let up on Bill Clinton. I'm beginning to think Larry Klayman (head of Judicial Watch) is a kook, despite the largely positive nature of his efforts at this time. Anyway, they now say they've been getting threats from Bushies over the Cheney energy task force lawsuit. The White House recently got a three week delay in that case, but all other rulings have been going against them.
In California, we have the election between the extremely unpopular Gray Davis and the extremely sleazy Bill Simon. I predict a record vote for the Green Party candidate, Peter M. Camejo. He's got my vote. Davis looks likely to be re-elected.
The most contreversial initiative on the California ballot is one to allow voter registration on election day. Both sides are claiming that the other stands for Florida-style fiascos. Both sides are, as far as I can see, willing to stretch the facts considerably in arguing what the bill does and doesn't do. This is also the one measure that I haven't been able to decide on yet, and I'm heading to the polls in the next hour. In some ways it's a partisan vote: a yes would favor the Democrats. But I don't want to vote on that basis.
This year's award for sleaziest scare campaign goes to Oakland's local Measure EE, a Just Cause Eviction law. The opponents (landlords) have put out tons of direct mail flyers arguing that a vote for just cause eviction is somehow a vote in favor of drug dealers and child molesters. Nobody else in this campaign has sunk that low, as far as I've seen.
To get back to the issue of corporate crime, somewhat neglected in this space of late, it appears that Harvey Pitt may finally be on his way out as head of the SEC. He appointed former FBI head William Webster to head a new accounting oversight board. He asked Webster whether there were any skeletons or conflicts of interest that might make the appointment questionable. Webster told him that he'd been on the audit committee of US Technologies, a company now being questioned about possible fraud. Pitt then concealed this information from the other four SEC commissioners, who approved Webster's appointment. When they found out, they were pissed. Pitt has managed to cheese off a lot of Republicans with this move, as well as the Democrats who already wanted his head. Some say that Dubya is going to ask him to leave... though as others have noted, in this administration, corruption is practically a job requirement. Just a few weeks ago, Dubya was sending a White House press flack over to the SEC to help straighten out Pitt's image... a move of questionable legality given that the SEC is supposed to be kept independent.
More papers have come out about Harken Energy, confirming that George W. Bush and the board were indeed informed ahead of time that dumping their stock in advance of bad news (as Bush did) would be illegal insider trading. (And who gets punished? Martha Stewart.) And here's some news about weird trades that Harken made with none other than Enron. They also made some funky deals with, of all things, Harvard University. Both cases have the savory aroma of books baked to a light golden brown.
Microsoft won what was left of its antitrust suit, the main part of which had been jettisoned by Attorney General John Ashcroft. With only nine states left in the fight and a much friendlier judge, Microsoft was able to win, despite the fact that the previous guilty verdict was never overturned. It was simply disregarded.
Meanwhile, the administration has opened a new front in pro-business crookedness: sabotaging the Health and Human Services panel to study whether standards for lead poisoning should be tightened. The lead industry has an extremely dirty history when it comes to political maneuvering to get away with poisoning people, dating back a hundred years, as documented in this book. It wasn't until the civil rights movement made an issue of lead paint circa 1960 that the stuff was finally banned... before then, the industry ran ad campaigns telling people that lead paint poisoning only afflicted "ineducable" black and hispanic slum families, and therefore was not their fault. Doctors who found that low levels of lead were dangerous got paid off, threatened, or discredited. And now they're back... Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson just vetoed the appointments of medical experts on childhood lead poisoning to the committee -- routine appointments of the same kind that have been done for decades without political interference -- and replaced them with other "experts" tied to the industries that make profit from lead. This is part of a trend of scientific groups being overridden politically in the Health and Human Services administration. Several congressmen, and the editorial page of Science magazine, have protested Secretary Thompson's apparent habit of putting political ideology before science, which extends from this incident and others like it to removing from the HHS website any information that presents abortion or condoms in a non-negative light. For instance, one page noted that it's a myth that abortions increase the likelihood of breast cancer. That's hardly a statement in favor of abortion, but it had to go. Thompson's office has denied that any ideological bias is being applied... they say they're just getting balanced views.
On the Enron front, former CFO Andrew Fastow has been indicted on 78 counts: wire fraud, money laundering, etc. You will recall that his lawyer stated that he committed all his financial crime there at the direct request of the board and the chairman, none of whom have charges filed against them yet. What's left of the company, meanwhile, has filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan laying out how it will try to pay back creditors. Some creditors, namely other energy trading companies, have been arguing for handling Enron North America separately from the parent Enron, because Enron North America still has about $5,000,000,000 in assets above its debt. I assume this means that they would get full payment on their share of debt, while creditors of the parent Enron would get much less. Needless to say, there is no grounds for this group deserving such preferential treatment.
Andersen, the crooked accounting company that vetted Enron's books, got fined a whopping $500,000 for shredding evidence. Despite how microscopically small this fine is in comparison to the business they've lost (they're now less than a tenth of their previous size), they're appealing the ruling!
I'll stay away from the subject of the War On Terror and Iraq this time, except to note that the effort to get UN backing has fortunately caused the White House to back down from some of their previous rhetoric, in particular the call for "regime change". Suddenly they are not advocating this and never have been. I wonder if he's still telling oil companies that Iraq will be "modernized" and made more productive.
Worldcom has joined the Enron and PG&E club by getting approval to spend $25,000,000 of their last remaining cash on "employee retention bonuses" which the remaining executives pay to themselves.
Finally, I'm glad to note that Bush's 2001 energy bill -- the product of Cheney's infamous committee -- is currently stumbling in Congress, and may soon die off, because of the electric utility regulation issue. Somebody up there finally noticed what bad results have come out of the kind of regulatory plan Bush is still insisting is the path for the whole country to follow. Many are saying that the bill has already been made toothless just to get it this far, and what's left offers little reason to believe it will do anything to reduce our dependence on imported oil.
MORNING AFTER UPDATE: Well, my "hunch that the Democrats are going to do a little better than anyone is predicting" sure turned out wrong. In race after race across the country, Republicans did better than expected. Polls were way off in predicting the outcomes. Jeb Bush won reelection by a startlingly large margin, and even Walter Mondale lost in Minnesota in the effort to fill the seat of Paul Wellstone. Gray Davis hung onto the governorship of California by a slim margin, and probably would have been defeated by any Republican opponent who wasn't such a fuckup as Bill Simon was. Simon complained a lot about Davis running one of the most expensive attack campaigns in history, but he ought to take some responsibility for committing so many lapses for Davis to remind people of.
This result is hard to understand, since not only does the party in the White House normally lose seats in midterm, but the GOP achieved this victory without any issues to campaign on and without any principles to stand for. Basically, all they had to offer the voters was ideology. They avoided 90% of the issues because they knew that almost every issue would make the Democrats look good. They knew that most of the policies they had been fighting for lately, like upper bracket tax cuts or a homeland security department, were not anything the average voter would get any benefit from. Even on the issue of terrorism they only sound good on the surface, since their current policy is to sweep Osama bin Laden under the rug in order to focus hate on Iraq. This victory appears to have been won with a campaign consisting of little more than "We support George W. Bush." (Plus, of course, plenty of lies and smears of their opponents.)
Analysts watching the polls said "George W. Bush has no coattails." They were wrong, I think, because the polls were wrong. (And why the polls were so far wrong is certainly a mystery.) Bush is still the president that people turned to after 9/11, and is still popular for that reason, despite the fact that the majority of his policies are unpopular. I think Dubya's coattails are what won the Senate for the GOP, and that party succeeded by making the election a referrendum on whether to back Bush, while avoiding most discussion of what Bush is actually accomplishing.
At least I got one prediction right: the Green Party and other third parties got uncommonly high votes, not just in the California governor's race (where the Green candidate Camejo got over 5 percent, and other minor candidates got another 4 percent), but in many races across the country. Even the moribund American Independent Party pulled in some noticeable numbers.
Harvey Pitt stepped down from the SEC yesterday.
To me, one discouraging result is how short the public's memory is on the electricity issue. Governor Davis's unpopularity appears to have a lot to do with being tainted by having the electricity crisis happen on his watch, but despite all his early timidity and half-measures, the inarguable fact is that he did end the crisis (and may well be the person responsible for destroying Enron as a consequence of that). The Republicans, meanwhile, contributed no help at all, and actively resisted measures that did help, like the FERC price caps. And the public power measure in San Francisco, up for the second time, was defeated by a much larger margin than before. The evidence in favor of switching to public power is far better now than it was two years ago... but it's not fresh in people's minds any more. People only pass big reform measures for crises that are immediate or recent enough to be still vivid in memory, I think. Otherwise, the very idea of political reform just seems to turn people off, as if the whole notion were tainted with Socialism.
The aftermath of September 11 has already saddled us with one dubious war and maybe another to follow, major erosion of the Bill of Rights, and an atmosphere in which the director of the FBI equates political dissent with terrorism and hardly even gets criticized for it. Now it appears that it will also bring us a two year period in which the entire federal government is run according to the most blatant kind of bought-and-paid-for special interest policymaking, starting with further and deeper tax cuts for corporations and investors when even the previous cuts were more than we could afford. The Republican Party stands for nothing any more but following George W. Bush, a president in the mould of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover: presidents who handed the country over entirely to business interests, sometimes illegally, with disastrous results. And as ever, when they discuss "bipartisan cooperation" they are essentially demanding Democratic surrender to their will.
I predict that the result over time will be an increasingly angry population. An awful lot of people already feel sold out by the two major parties, with good reason. Only time will tell whether that anger turns to some constructive purpose, or is misdirected to fuel the careers of demagogues. Judging by history, the latter is unfortunately much more likely. I fear that by 2004 some new demagogue may be wielding considerable popular influence.
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