June 25, 2002
Scheer Watch

More idiocy from Robert Scheer. His most recent column:

Bush Overplays the Terror Card
It's 'unpatriotic' to say that corrupt business is ruining our economy.

Nobody has said this, nor can it be inferred from any statements from the administration. Scheer won't let this inconvenient fact deter him from implying that the Bush administration has said this, however; facts appear to be irrelevant when it comes to trying to tie Bush to scandal.

Has the war on terrorism become the modern equivalent of the Roman Circus, drawing the people's attention away from the failures of those who rule them? Corporate America is a shambles because deregulation, the mantra of our president and his party, has proved to be a license to steal. Yet to question our leaders' stewardship of the economy has been made to seem unpatriotic.

No, not unpatriotic. Stupid, perhaps, but not unpatriotic.

As to deregulation, Ted Kennedy led the charge for deregulation the airline industry, Fernand St. Germain (D-RI) was the point man for deregulating the S&L industry, and the California "deregulation" experiment was the baby of state Sen Steve Peace (D-El Cajon). While the GOP has been largely in favor of deregulation, they have had ample support from the other side of the aisle.

Although combating terrorism is of compelling importance—and should have been before Sept. 11—one is likely to be branded a nut for daring to suggest that the administration might be using current security threats as a smoke screen to obscure our floundering economy.

No, but one is likely to be branded a nut for using the struggling economy as a club to bash Bush on his foreign policy. Scheer has been equally critical of Bush's foreign policy and his domestic policy. In fact, I cannot recall Scheer ever saying ANYTHING positive about Bush.

Yet, after the miserable performance of the stock market these past five weeks, the forced resignations and indictments of corporate titans (not to mention the conviction of a top accounting firm), the humbling of the dollar and a rise in the trade gap, isn't it time to ask whether the war on terrorism isn't being milked as a convenient distraction? The question seems particularly relevant when our man in the White House has had close personal and financial ties to the company—Enron—whose demise is the most glaring symbol of the broad moral disarray of the nation's corporate culture.

Must remember to throw Enron in there. Never mind that there has been no indication that the Bush administration had any role in the Enron collapse (and in fact refrained from interceding during the company's implosion), Scheer will always attempt to work in Enron as a trope to prove the corroption of the Bushes.

Is there any doubt that the chicanery of Enron executives and that of a growing Who's Who of top CEOs has done more long-term damage to the U.S. economy than the efforts of anti-American terrorists? And while sending in the Marines to clean up the boardrooms is not feasible, we ought to wake up to the reality that business greed is subverting the American way of life—and hurting the image of American capitalism and democracy—more effectively than the ploys of any foreign enemy.

An assertion like that can be vociferously debated, considering that the repercussions of the WTC attack are still affecting New York City and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the country. In any case, the Bush administration had little to do with the Enron implosion; most of the illegal activity occurred during the Clinton Administration.

When even Martha Stewart is ethically suspect and her company's stock has plummeted—though not quite to the depths of Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, Dynergy, Wal-Mart and Rite Aid—it is time to return to the wisdom of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Depression-era president who saved capitalism from itself.

I was not aware that Wal-Mart's stock had tanked; while it is about 10 dollars off of its 52 week high, it is also about 10 dollars above its 52 week low, and it's been fairly stable.

Martha's stock is already rebounding; while it was pounded last week (on rumours of her stock investments in other companies, not on the performance of her company) it rebounded sharply today, and is expected to continue rising.

Wealthy from birth, FDR had a healthy awareness of the tendency of the upper classes to destabilize society and even destroy themselves with their greed and hubris. Unlike Karl Marx, however, he believed the unraveling of capitalism was not inevitable if these excesses could somehow be corralled. Thus was born the idea of government regulation as the vital support structure for the powerful, fertile but unstable free market.

Marxism lite—private ownership, mixed with plenty of governmental interference. Sounds suspiciously like FASCISM to me.

I am overstating here to make a point. FDR (and undoubtedly Scheer) didn't advocate forceful suppression of their opponents, and didn't have the nationalistic overtones of fascist movements, but governmental control of private industry is a hallmark of fascism.

Unfortunately, greedy people and institutions don't like being monitored, and they have the means to corrupt governments and skirt laws.
Since the so-called Reagan Revolution, powerful corporate interests have succeeded in profoundly damaging the foundation of a properly regulated economy. Company auditors, for example, have become accomplices to deceptions of the public that should be considered criminal but that often do not violate statutes written by corporate lobbyists.

A "properly regulated economy"—somehow I suspect that Scheer's idea of a properly regulated economy is one like most of the more socialized countries of the EU. It's too bad for him that the rest of the country does not share his enthusiasm for state-mandated micromanagement, and the growth and unemployment penalties that are part of the package.

Enron provides a startling illustration of a company jumping through loopholes that its D.C. lobbyists have created. In fact, the Enron scams made possible by deregulation in the first Bush administration are still being revealed, such as last week's reports that the company hid billions in income during the California energy crisis while publicly denying it was profiting excessively.
Yet former Enron officials continue to play an important role under Bush the younger. The Bush family, in fact, has never been seriously confronted by the media or Congress as to its questionable ties to former Enron Chief Executive Kenneth Lay, a close family friend and top contributor to Bush family presidential campaigns.

What is he smoking? Bush is constantly portrayed as a slave to Enron and the oil industry. There have been numerous attempts to prove Bush has been guilty of malfeasance, but because Bush did nothing illegal, they have not been able to produce any evidence.

In what way are Bush's ties to Lay questionable? Bush isn't allowed to have friends? Or he's not allowed to have friends who are doing illegal stuff? I seem to remember a few of Clinton's friends who had some legal trouble—Bill and Susan MacDougall, Webster Hubbell, Charlie Trie.

To be fair, the corporate corruption of our political system has long been bipartisan. The Clinton White House, for example, sponsored major deregulation acts, including the Financial Services Modernization Act, which reversed consumer protections enacted under Roosevelt, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which effectively ended all public accountability for the communications industry and has permitted a few media giants to gobble up vast markets.

I cannot comment on the FSMA, as I am not familiar with it. However, I fail to see where the deregulation of the telecom market has hurt consumers. The fact that quite a number of telecom companies have gone under indicates that the competition in the field in fierce, and profit margins are scarce. Consumers are looking for a bigger, better deal, and companies that attempt to gouge their customers will get bloodied. The fact that consumers can now choose which company will provide them with local phone service (as opposed to the state-mandated geographical monopolies of the past) is a triumph of the free market, not a shortcoming.

Clearly, the problem is bipartisan when a Democrat-controlled Senate moves so hesitantly to confront the myriad examples of sickness in our economy and corporate culture.
The politicians hesitate to act because candidates of both parties are lavishly financed by the very people who are conning a gullible public.

And a beautiful finish, as we segue into a call for more campaign finance reform. Is this going to be the topic of his next column?

posted on June 25, 2002 05:20 PM


The Financial Services Modernization Act dropped some of the governmental barriers between banks and securities dealers and insurance companies, allowing them to merge or to pool interests. A side effect of the FSMA is all those privacy-notice letters from banks and credit-card issuers and the like; since there are now many more joint ventures and whatnot, a lot more personal information is being circulated, and the law requires you to be notified that everything about you is up for grabs. There is a limited opt-out provision, which critics say is essentially meaningless.

posted by CGHill on June 26, 2002 09:19 AM

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