Social democracy in peril.
The new fascism.
Coming Together at the Seams
The view from Porto Alegre ...
... and direct action in New York.
Not Just Black and White
LOCAL MOTION: Oak Park, Illinois
A Scandal Bigger than Enron.
An Open Letter to George W. Bush
Kenny Boy? Never heard of him.
The military busts the 2003 budget.
Bush stealth-attacks reproductive rights.
Bush hands AIDS policy to the Christian right.
Chechnya remains mired in misery.
Ann Pettifor: Discrediting the Creditors.
BOOKS: Micah Sifry follows the third way.
BOOKS: Randall Kennedy's Nigger.
MUSIC: Something is in the water.
FILM: Let's play Rollerball.
February 19, 2002
A Scandal Bigger than Enron
ust as President Bush pretends that he barely knew Kenny Boy Lay,
the major financial backer of his career, many conservatives are pretending
that Enron is a scandal of business, not politics. The roster of business misdeeds
is already long and likely to grow, but the rise and fall of Enron is a major
political scandal on at least three levels.
First, the Bush administration is perhaps the most unabashedly pro-corporate
ever. No industry has more influence than the energy sector, and no company
had more clout than Enron. At least eight of the most powerful members of the
administration, including both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, had significant
ties to Enronreceiving pay or campaign contributions, investing in the
company, or gaining appointment on the basis of Enrons recommendation.
Enrons tentacles reach even further into Congress, state governments and
the Republican Party, whose new head, Marc Racicot, was an Enron lobbyist.
In just its first year in office, as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) catalogued
in a request for an investigation, the Bush administration delivered almost
everything Enron wanted: an energy plan with at least 17 policies Enron favored,
opposition to electricity price caps in California (which Cheney announced a
day after meeting with Lay), numerous interventions by Cheney and others to
help Enron sell a controversial power plant in India, a proposed repeal of the
corporate minimum tax (further helping a company that had already avoided paying
taxes for five years), appointment of Enrons choice to head the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission, and opposition to efforts by the other major industrial
countries to rein in offshore tax havens (where hundreds of Enron special enterprises
were set up).
Enron couldnt overpower other corporate interests to win support of the
Kyoto agreement (and its lucrative promise of emissions trading), and the company
didnt get a bailout, but it was stunningly successful at influencing the
The second level of scandal is that Enrons contributions and influence
spread across the political spectrum. Corporate money not only won influence
among ideologically sympathetic Republicans, but corrupted the Democrats, who
have largely abandoned the partys claim to represent the little
guys and the broader public interest.
The Democrats are marginally better on corporate issues: In recent years, some
Dems tried to push modest regulations that would have restrained abuse of tax
havens and retirement plans, as well as the use of auditors as consultants.
But much like the savings-and-loan debacle of the 80s, this is a scandal
tainting both parties.
Yet the biggest scandal is ideological. For at least the past 25 years, there
has been a concerted attack on government and a worshipful adulation of the
free market as the answer to all problems, including the ones it
creates. The balance sheet of this ideological attack deserves to be auditedbut
not by Arthur Andersen.
Such an audit would show that few of the promises have been delivered, and
that the Democrats have offered weak resistance and frequent collusion. At the
same time, social and economic inequality and instability have grown, and democracy
has been undermined.
Congressional and courtroom investigations may expose some of the political
dimensions of the Enron scandal in the Bush administration. And real campaign
finance reformpublic financing of elections, not the weak compromise recently
approved by the Housecould seriously reduce the corruption of politics.
But it will take a broad citizen movement on the scale of the Populist or Progressive
movements of a century ago to dig out the roots of the Enron scandaloverwhelming
corporate powerand demand the revival of democracy and government in the