WITH EVERY PASSING week, it becomes increasingly clear that a frighteningly large segment of corporate America is out of control.
The latest outrage, as reported just days ago on the front page of the New York Times, is that in 1998 Merrill Lynch, the nation's largest securities firm, replaced an analyst who failed to recommend Enron as an investment with someone who would. In return, Merrill Lynch won investment-banking business from the once high-flying, but now utterly disgraced, energy company. That means Merrill Lynch was willing to screw its customers in its quest to make more money for itself - in theory to benefit its stockholders (including senior management, who always get the biggest piece of the pie).
Several months ago, this scandal would have been dismissed as an aberration. Just one rotten apple in the bountiful barrel of capitalism, the seers would have said. But now, in the wake of what we know about Enron, Arthur Andersen, and Merrill Lynch - and what we suspect about AOL and a host of other companies - it's becoming increasing clear that it's not just the fruit that's rotting, it's the barrel as well.
Even Boy Bush, our first MBA president, is on board with the corporate-reform program. But we have no doubt that he'll do as much for corporate reform as he's done for the environment and education.
There is more than enough blame to go around. There are, of course, the corporate malefactors themselves and their allies and enablers in the accounting and securities professions. The Republican Party, since the Reagan era, has preached the gospel of the free market with a fervor that would have made the robber barons of a century ago salivate. This has led to the triumph of radical monopoly capital, the likes of which have never before been seen. One percent of the nation controls almost 50 percent of its wealth. Sadly, most Democrats have been more than willing to go along.
H.L. Mencken once observed that democracy is the system wherein people get what they deserve. And, he added, they deserve to get it good and hard. It is true that government seems at this point in time to be particularly insensitive to the nation's real needs. A look at Bush's high approval ratings would seem to belie that point, but that's not the fault of the president. It's the fault of the public and the media monopoly, both of which passively accept the Republican-approved business-can-do-no-wrong agenda.
It's time to hold our government responsible. And here in this overwhelmingly Democratic state, we should urge our senators and congressmen to investigate with vigor and legislate with conviction. For too long, congressional Democrats - and even the GOP's figure of evil incarnate, Bill Clinton - have gone along to get along with the interests of Big Business. Since so much of Big Business is no longer sensitive to the interests of its shareholders, it's time for Washington to make itself sensitive to the needs of the nation.
We applaud Bill and Hillary Clinton's move to invoke federal provisions that call for reimbursement of government employees for legal expenses incurred during investigations that result from wrongful accusations. The Whitewater witch-hunt was just that. It was an almost extra-constitutional effort of bad faith engineered by the national leadership of the Republican Party; its intent was at maximum to unseat and at minimum to cripple a duly elected president from carrying out his duties and exercising his prerogatives. When it became clear that Whitewater wouldn't accomplish the GOP's goal, the Monica Lewinsky matter was thrown into the mix. The two scandals were inextricably linked. Clinton did himself no good by lying in the latter case (a human, if unappealing, reaction), and we wouldn't lose any sleep if he weren't reimbursed for those costs. But the fact is, the Clintons were indeed the victims of a "vast right-wing conspiracy." Justice calls for the nation taken in by the conspirators to pay the price.
The news from Egypt is that Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a professor at the American University in Cairo and a leading advocate of democratic reform, was for the second time in seven years sentenced to prison. The irony is that he was sentenced under laws intended to curb religious fundamentalists and fanatics. That should give us pause here in the United States. After all, if the Republican Party can try to frame a president and drive him from office on virtually no grounds, and if it can conspire with a majority of Republican-president-appointed Supreme Court justices to steal a national election, what's to keep such a government from some day misapplying the questionable anti-terror laws it seeks to enact? Think about it.
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