01 April 2014

AUSTIN, Texas -- Now some fools want to fire Treasury
Secretary
Paul O'Neill, the only straight-shooter in the Cabinet. Tell you
what I like
about O'Neill: He's from Widget World. This Cabinet is
wall-to-wall
corporate America, but most of them -- including the president --
are from
Enron Economics, whereas O'Neill was CEO of a business that makes
something
useful, to wit, aluminum.



As many economic poohbahs have been at pains to
explain to us
lately, out there in Widget World, where people produce actual
goods and
provide useful services, things are going along quite nicely.



It's the financial sector that's the disaster, the
part where
they play fancy games with other people's money for a living.
That's Enron
Economics, the land of stock options, commodities futures,
derivatives,
swaps, financializing markets and offshore partnerships.



Before we get back to our ongoing project of
connecting the
consarn, dag-rabbiting dots between corporate theft and
government
corruption, let's see if we can stop Congress from actually
making things
worse. Good project, eh?



Members of the House and Senate are now meeting in
conference
committee over their respective energy bills, and it's a
challenge to figure
out whose is worse.



The House bill repeals a key consumer protection law,
the Public
Utility Holding Act. Public Citizen, the consumer research
outfit, says
repeal will "further deregulate the energy industry and allow
more
Enron-like manipulations. Enacted decades ago to protect consumer
from
rapacious electric companies, the Holding Act is one of the few
remaining
federal laws regulating the nation's giant power companies.
Repealing the
law will allow those companies to embark on another frenzy of
mergers and
acquisitions, and encourage corporate financial escapades in
far-flung,
risky ventures that have nothing to do with providing reliable
and
affordable electricity service to consumers -- an essential
commodity."



In fact, that's just what the Holding Act does --
prevents
utility companies from investing the rate-payers' money in areas
that will
not directly contribute to low bills and reliable service. If
this law goes,
derivatives market, here they come.



Also of note in the almost-equally disgusting Senate
bill is a
plan to provide federal insurance for the nuclear industry, which
is so
risky it cannot get insurance in the private market, so now it
wants the
taxpayers to subsidize its future Three Mile Islands.



And now, back to some older dots. The 1995 Private
Securities
Litigation Reform Act is a little gem you should not miss. So
easy to
overlook, yet so damaging. The bill was passed by the Republican
Congress
over Bill Clinton's veto, which means Republicans really don't
like to be
reminded of it. But as far as I'm concerned, Democrats are only
slightly
less bad than Republicans on these critical issues. If the choice
is between
some ideological pinhead like Tom DeLay -- The Wall Street
Journal once
asked DeLay if there was any regulation on the books he favored
retaining
and he replied, "I can't think of one" -- and Sen. Joe
Lieberman, who has
totally sold out to the accounting industry, what's to choose?



Anyway, the "Litigation Reform Act" (beware anything
with tort
"reform" in the title) among other things made it harder to sue
executives
and accountants, lawsuits the corporate world invariably
describes as
"frivolous." This is the bill that made accounting firms
"sue-proof" for
aiding and abetting securities fraud. The bill also made it legal
for CEOs
to pipe up and lie about their company's prospects. Until then,
executives
had to avoid all "forward-looking" public statements about future
earnings.
Contrast that with Jeffery Skillings of Enron bullying and
snookering stock
analysts right up to the end.



In the real world, there are only two ways to deal
with
corporate misbehavior: One is through government regulation and
the other is
by taking them to court. What has happened over 20 years of
free-market
proselytizing is that we have dangerously weakened both forms of
restraint,
first through the craze for "deregulation" and second through
endless rounds
of "tort reform," all of which have the effect of cutting off
citizens'
access to the courts. By legally bribing politicians with
campaign
contributions, the corporations have bought themselves immunity
from
lawsuits on many levels.



For years, corporations have conducted a campaign
designed to
convince people that trial lawyers are the scum of the earth.
Personally, I
find trial lawyers as a group to be warm, cuddly and cute as
little bugs.
But if you wanted to think of them as tigers or sharks, go right
ahead. The
idea is to have them patrolling corporate behavior, so that
whenever a
corporation sticks a hand over the legal limit, along comes a
tiger and
bites it off by suing them for lots of money.



You can imagine what an improving effect this has on
corporate
behavior. Except "tort reform" has made the tigers an endangered
species. We
need a new wildlife crusade, "Save the Trial Lawyers."



To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features
by other
Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators
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