February 14, 2002:  Well, I guessed wrong, Ken Lay took the fifth after all.  Probably saw how Jeff Skilling's attempt at denying everything went, and decided there was little hope in that direction.  Whistleblower Sherron Watkins says that Skilling and Fastow "duped" Lay and the board.  She says Lay just didn't get it.  But he got enough of it to save his own money from the wreckage, I note...  Lay may come out painted as cluelessly innocent in the financial flimflam that wrecked the company, but let us not forget that Lay personally led the effort to buy the services of countless politicians.

Much of Enron's Board of Directors is stepping down.  Oh, and here's a report of Enron's executives giving themselves hefty bonuses with the last of the cash before the company went under.

It's grab bag week, with lots of topics.  The Congressional struggle over campaign finance reform is in progress, and sure enough, a few republican leaders, like house speaker J. Dennis Hastert, are quietly admitting that true reform would greatly weaken them relative to the democrats.  Naturally, the usual attempts are being made to hobble and twist the bill with poison pill amendments, loopholes, and so on.  Bush is threatening veto if it doesn't fit his preferences, but is making no commitment either way on the current package yet.  Some in the Senate are threatening a filibuster, but Tom Daschle is vowing that the bill will not be blocked.  In the House, they had to force the bill past the Republican leadership by getting 218 representatives to sign a petition demanding a vote.  This is considered an extraordinary recourse, because it casts the house leadership -- rightfully -- in a very bad light.  This bill would at least close the "soft money" loophole, which most reformers agree is the biggest problem with the current system and the most important first step that needs to be taken.  We'd still be a whole lot better off with an absolute cap on donations from a given contributor in a given election.  As long as any method exists for somebody to personally grant a given candidate a really sizeable donation, government by bribery will continue.  The current bill does very little to limit this sort of thing at the state and local level.

I predict that Bush will sign the bill, which is pretty near the same as the McCain-Feingold bill that the GOP killed last year.  Because at this point the White House is seriously scared and won't dare take the kind of high-handed "who cares if we have a mandate" attitude they took during their first eight months in office.  If that happens, we'll have made a big start on one of the major actions we need to take in the wake of Enron.  But that is hardly a place to stop.  As I see it, the needed actions are:

Certain parties in Washington are going to vigorously oppose all of these, especially the second.  But the last may be the most difficult to accomplish.  The stolen money could be in the billions.  Let's not act like it just disappeared!  It is owed to people, such as ex-employees, and the state of California.  We can't settle for just exposing wrongdoing in hearings -- we need to find the money and take it back.

Get a load of this whopper from Ari Fleischer:  "If campaign finance reform is enacted into law, I believe that you can thank President George W. Bush, because he changed the dynamic of how this phony debate has finally ended in Washington, D.C."  My god, how retarded does he think the public is?  Bush's opposition to this kind of reform has never been a secret.  But as Matt Weiner points out, there is some truth to this: Bush "changed the dynamic" by making himself an example of corruption so bad that Congress finally could not hold back from doing something to stop it.

In the "for what it's worth" category, it is being whispered that, according to some anonymous leak, Dick Cheney is planning to leave the White House for "health reasons" in March.  Alleged replacements being allegedly discussed include Rudolph Giuliani and Condoleezza Rice.  They're allegedly hoping that the First Black Woman Vice President will allegedly gain them coolness points in the 2004 election, but this is allegedly offset by the allegedly very real dread among certain republican powers that such a person might actually become the prez.  And as for Rudy, it might look bad to appoint an adulterer when they tried to impeach Clinton for the same thing.  Let's just wait and see if this comes true.  Here's a pool for those who want to bet on when Cheney leaves...

The primary for the California gubernatorial race is heating up.  The candidates are all airing ads trying to tar each other with guilt over the power crisis -- or, in Richard Riordan's case, with profiteering from it.  I'm registered Republican right now (honest!) so I have to decide which of these crumb-bums to nominate.  Davis may have been only halfway there for us during this, but I have seen no evidence that any of these other guys would have done even that much.  Maybe I should just vote for one of the looney tunes candiates -- there are two in the race.  Riordan was supposed to be the front runner, but with attack ads airing early and often, his effort seems to be crumbling.  Simon says (as Dubya once did) that he'll run the state like a business.  (Riiight.  A business makes a profit, but he's promising us how much money the state won't take in.)

In other news, today the Bush administration will unveil their plan to reduce global warming.  It's sort of like the Kyoto protocol, only toothless and with much more modest goals.  One feature of the plan is that he's linking the goals to economic activity, so his goal is to shoot for an 18% lower ratio of greenhouse gas output to the total size of the economy.  This would mean only an estimated 4.5% real reduction over ten years.  Given his record in Texas, it will take some vigorous pressure to even achieve a fraction of that goal in real practice; the environmental regulations he managed in Texas are basically designed to "grandfather" almost every major polluter into an exemption that lets them continue their toxic output for decades after the passage of the laws that were supposed to clean them up.  If we don't hold some feet to the fire I doubt we'll really see more than a quarter of the reductions he's calling for, let alone those we really ought to achieve.

The Bush plan exempts power plants completely!  They are the biggest producers of carbon dioxide.  Environmentalists are calling it "too little too late" and "nibbling at the edges of" the problem.

On another subject, California's Public Utilities Commission has presented their plan to the bankruptcy court for how PG&E could pay off its debts.  They say it could save customers $8.6 billion.  The judge recently threw out PG&E's preferred plan, which basically consisted of them keeping all their money and making their customers pay all the debt, and asking the judge to overturn every state law that interfered with this.

I got a strange email yesterday telling me that the Mafia made billions off of Enron.  No evidence was offered.  Wouldn't surprise me, though; there are indications that they made plenty off of the Savings & Loan disaster in the eighties.  They're bigger than neighborhood rackets now; they have graduated to Wall Street.

Enron had so many fake companies going that they had a job on their hands just thinking of names for them all.  So they started taking names from popular films, like Jurassic Park and Star Wars.  George Lucas is not pleased.

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