September 7, 2002: Unfortunately, we've had a temporary service outage here at gning.net. I had just finished the process of breaking up this Enron material into separate pages, as you see it now, when I found that the gning.net domain name had stopped working. It had expired and I had not received renewal reminders. A domain-squatter had promptly seized the name. (Apparently the fact that squatting on other people's domain names is now illegal is not sufficient to stop people from making money off of it. Why? Because the official means of legal recourse for those whose domain names are grabbed is so expensive that it's out of reach of individual amateur webmasters, and US law only protects trademarks and celebrity names.) Anyway, the site is now back up under the name gning.org instead of gning.net*, which depending on my luck may be temporary or may be a permanent change. If the latter, it may take months to rebuild readership.
[*note: that's all historical. Neither of these names is in use anymore; it's all paulkienitz.net.]
Our lead corruption item this week is the Congressional effort to stop companies from filling up their employees' 401(k) retirement funds with their own stock. This was one of the more damaging abuses committed by Enron -- they stuck thousands of employees with Enron stock that they were forbidden to sell, at the same time that the felons in charge were dumping their own shares. Of all the different abuses they committed which might need laws passed to stop others from doing the same, this is one of the clearest. When a company limits employees' choices to invest in something other than its own stock, or to sell it when they wish, then they are using that money for the company's purposes instead of for the employee's. It is hardly different from stealing back part of the worker's paycheck, to be returned to the worker if and when the company feels sufficiently generous. So, who could be against stopping this? Who could oppose protecting the workers' right to own and fully control their own money? A lot of corporate lobbyists, for a start. And somehow, all through Congress, the enthusiasm for reforming this problem has waned. They're talking now about maybe passing a rule that would let employees sell their employers' stock after three years. And even that might sputter out without being passed.
Senator Barbara Boxer was one of the proponents of strong reform, with a hard limit on the amount of employer stock a 401(k) can contain. Edward Kennedy came out for less stringent reform. But many Republican leaders, and some Democrats such as Max Baucus of Montana, oppose all these measures. They say it would undermine employers' willingness to contribute to retirement funds at all, which they can do more cheaply with stock than with cash, thanks in part to the same IRS rules that make stock options into a corporate tax shelter.
But if you're invested in a company that is now being hit with fines and penalties for stock market skullduggery... don't worry, the fines are tax deductible!
Here's another case of Congress backing away from obviously necessary reform. Who could possibly want a repeat of the awful recount debacle in Florida? No sensible American, obviously. But the effort to pass a reform bill that would improve standards and help pay for replacement voting machines is being sabotaged. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the #1 opponent of John McCain's campaign finance reform, is practically gloating at the bill's apparent demise, though early versions of it had strong bipartisan support before they started trying to iron out a final compromise version. It isn't dead yet, but it's coughing up blood. Democrats definitely carry some blame here, in that some are trying to remove any provision that would require voters to demonstrate that they are who they claim to be.
So far the only reform that's actually been accomplished is the Sarbanes accounting reform bill, and Bush opposed it up until two weeks before it passed with a veto-proof majority... and now he's practically taking credit for the reforms in it (a familiar pattern in his political history), and trying to suggest that the job is done and no further reform is needed.
In the previous entry I reported on the arm-twisting being done by the US delegation at the Johannesberg Earth Summit. Well, people couldn't take that crap forever -- when Colin Powell got up to speak before the conference, he was jeered and heckled as he tried to claim that America was making an honest effort to help the developing world with poverty and environmental issues, instead of just promoting special interest profits overseas like everybody thought we were. I'm surprised he's staying on the job, given that he has to spend more and more of his time carrying out policies he's probably embarrassed by... but reportedly, he has promised to serve out Bush's first term no matter how much shit they make him eat. We used to think that Bush needed him more than he needed Bush... but clearly Bush doesn't think so, even if it may still be true.
The rotten platform being pushed by the US at Jo-berg is not a Republican party line, is is merely a Bush administration line. Check out these statements by congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), who attended: "We have a threat. Global warming is for real.... All the financing that the major developed countries are doing for the undeveloped countries -- ten percent at least should go for energy that is sustainable. When we help a third world country invest in a fossil fuel plant, they're stuck with that plant for the next fifty years. And yet, they could start fresh. They don't have to make all the mistakes that were made in the United States." These are all sensible statements, yet according to the Bush administration every one of them is wrong-headed.
Judicial Watch's lawsuit with the Sierra Club against Dick Cheney has finally reached the point where Cheney refused flat out to turn over subpoenaed papers from his energy policy task force, on grounds of executive privilege. Judicial Watch is of course claiming that this is contempt of court.
What a noble figure Dick Cheney is. Telling us all how evil and awful Saddam Hussein is... after his own company was the number one violator of the law against doing business with him. Halliburton rebuilt Iraq's oil fields, through third parties and shell companies. But hey, Ann Coulter thinks he's sexy.
In the meantime, we have some good news on the international cooperation front: Canada may sign onto the Kyoto Protocols after all.
Another character tainted by Enron: Texas Supreme Court justice Priscilla Owen, who took Enron campaign contributions and then authored a majority opinion on a ruling that reduced Enron's taxes. What does George W. Bush do when a judge shows this kind of taint? Give her a promotion, of course! He nominated her for the US Court of Appeals. The Senate Judiciary Committee gave the boot to the nomination on the grounds that Owen is "a judicial activist of the first order [who] all too often lets her personal preferences dictate how she rules." The Republicans, of course, denounced this as partisan. Dubya was pissed. "This is pure politics!" he fumed. Tom Daschle just said, "Don't send us unqualified people."
In the next district over he's nominated Judge Dennis Shedd, who appears to be basically an Old South segregationist type. He was once an aide to Strom Thurmond. His past rulings have been very hostile to civil rights. Nobody who has brought an employment discrimination case before his bench has ever won -- in 39 out of 40 cases, he pronounced summary judgment without even hearing the case argued. This district of the Court of Appeals is already so conservative that even William Rehnquist has repeatedly found fault with its rulings on civil rights matters, and Shedd looks to push it even further in that direction. And before the Judiciary Committee, Shedd fell back on lying about what others had written about his decisions, to defend his record.
The Federal Communications Commission is holding hearings to decide whether they should further relax the restrictions on allowing single owners to monopolize large portions of the news media. As if our news wasn't McDonaldsized enough already. When's the last time you chumps spent money on funding real legwork by political reporters, instead of on lobbyists? 1978?
In local news, the city of San Francisco again has an upcoming ballot initiative (Proposition D) to create a public electric utility for the city, replacing PG&E. The Bay Guardian, of course, is all for it -- they have fought against PG&E for thirty years now. Their current cover article makes the case that PG&E is draining up to $620,000,000 a year out of the city's economy, and that not only do cities and districts with public utilities enjoy cheaper rates, but they are therefore more prosperous in times of recession thanks to the multiplier effect of the savings on the local economy. PG&E has never really refuted such figures, but they have nevertheless managed to defeat previous attempts at public power just by flexing enough political muscle. We shall see whether the increased awareness of the thievery of power companies since the last election is enough to tip the balance this time.
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