ENRON: WHERE DOES THE BUCK STOP?
The Justice Department and several Congressional committees are starting to look under the Enron rock. Representative Henry Waxman has been shooting some trenchant questions at the company–and getting some answers. So far a prominent name has been missing from the potential witness list–George W. Bush. As is well-known, the company’s disgraced chairman, Kenneth Lay, was a prime booster of Bush’s political career, and he and other Enron executives greased W’s rise with nearly $2 million in contributions. Lay personally gave $326,000. As Robert Scheer has been pounding home in his “Column Left” (which appears on www.thenation.com), Bush was good to Enron in return, starting when he was Texas governor, pushing through tax cuts and deregulation measures benefiting the utility. Then there was that 1997 phone call he made to his buddy Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge at Lay’s behest, supporting Enron’s bid for entree into the state’s tightly regulated electricity market. After Bush moved into the White House, the Enron-friendly actions continued. Curtis Hebert Jr., chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was given the boot not long after Lay called him to demand a faster track for Enron’s access to the national electricity grid. Hebert was replaced by Pat Wood, a Texan Lay approved of. Dick Cheney as well should be coaxed out of hiding and deposed on those six meetings he or his staff held with Enron representatives, some of which were followed by some policy decisions favorable to the company. And how about presidential assistant Karl Rove’s owning $68,000 in Enron stock at the time he spoke with Lay about the latter’s FERC “problem”? He sold the stock in June, well before the company tanked. Lucky him. Did others in the Administration with previous ties to Enron own stock? What did they know about the company’s financial troubles, and did they know it in time to bail out? Make way for Enrongate.
A leader in the drive for greater government secrecy has been Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose most recent blow was aimed at the Freedom of Information Act. As Ruth Rosen reports in the San Francisco Chronicle (January 7), Ashcroft, in a memo dated October 12 that surfaced only recently, urged federal agencies to resist FOIA requests, considering whether “institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests could be implicated by disclosure of the information.” Ashcroft told officials: “When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records.” The Justice Department declined comment on Rosen’s interpretation of the memo, but Ashcroft’s policy can only encourage more stonewalling in the future, thus weakening the FOIA, an indispensable journalistic tool for exposing government and corporate corruption. (In another example of the secretiveness of this Administration, Bush ordered that presidential papers may not be released if present or former Presidents, Vice Presidents or their families object, thus shielding two Republicans, Reagan and Papa Bush, from historical scrutiny. According to The Washington Spectator, Brett Kavanaugh, who drafted the Bush order, previously worked for special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. At that time he argued that President Clinton had no right to withhold any document demanded by Starr’s office.)
FOLLOW-UPS: MONSANTO, NARCO NEWS
For decades, with full company knowledge, dangerous PCBs flowing out of the Monsanto factory in Anniston, Alabama, saturated the plant’s surroundings, turning rivers an unnatural shade of green, poisoning fish and wildlife and, some say, sickening local residents. In her May 29, 2000, Nation piece, “What Monsanto Knew,” Nancy Beiles chronicled the town’s long struggle to force Monsanto to admit and compensate for its misdeeds. On January 7, the residents finally got their day in court–along with a flurry of national print and television publicity, including a page-one feature in the Washington Post. We’ll keep readers abreast of events as this environmental scandal unfolds.
And in the cause of journalism we’re also pleased about a recent ruling by Judge Paula Omansky of the New York State Supreme Court dismissing libel charges against Mario Menéndez, a Mexican journalist, and Al Giordano, editor and publisher of Narco News, an Internet magazine (www.narconews.com), published in Mexico, that reports on corruption and the drug war in Latin America. As Mark Schapiro wrote in his article “Drug War on Trial” (September 17/24, 2001), Narco News ran a story making charges against Banamex, Mexico’s second-largest bank, based on articles by Menéndez in Por Esto! a Mexican newspaper. Menéndez had reported, inter alia, that the bank’s president was involved with drug trafficking and money laundering. Banamex took him to court in Mexico and lost. The bank then sued Narco News, along with Menéndez, in New York. Again they lost in what is a stirring victory for freedom of speech on the Internet. Narco News has broken important stories on the drug war. If it had lost, a chill could have settled over the web.
GOING FOR THE GREENBACKS
Is the environmental movement falling sway to the revolving-door syndrome prevalent in Congress and federal regulatory agencies? The association is prompted by the news that Lord Melchett, who was head of Greenpeace UK and remains on Greenpeace’s board, has become a consultant for Burson-Marsteller, a multinational PR agency popular with dictators burdened by odious human rights records and corporations caught polluting the earth, the seas and the skies. The gadfly group PR Watch (www.prwatch.org) points out that other environmentalists have also sold themselves to PR firms, where, like Lord M., they serve as a valuable front for standard pro-industry propaganda.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
A cultural insight from People magazine re David McCullough’s bestselling biography: “Who would have guessed that John Adams would ever be more talked about than Michael Jackson?” Sure you don’t mean Andrew Jackson?