In these times of imperial overreach and the erosion of constitutional protections, there is plenty of reason, as Arthur Miller once wrote, to “tear at our collars and get red in the face” [“Arthur Miller,” March 7].
Framed on my wall is a yellowed New York Times article written by Miller just before the 1972 election–words that resonate today. Speaking to the reasons George McGovern’s candidacy “hasn’t caught fire,” he concludes, “What this tells about our inner attitudes, I think, is that we are far more apprehensive than we are confident of ourselves; and that what we want in a political leader is enough larceny, enough insensitivity to permit him to do our dirty work for us, to fight dirty in a dirty world.”
The leading players may have changed, but the plot line hasn’t. I take comfort in the knowledge that Miller’s work will never cease to embolden and inspire, while the exhortations of the false prophets who pass for leaders in today’s arena will be relegated to oblivion.
BARBARA ALLEN KENNEY
PENSION FUND SUPERHEROES
I am a Libertarian and a financial planner. I disagree with your politics on almost every issue. But William Greider’s “The New Colossus” [Feb. 28], on pension funds’ muscle, was brilliant. One thing I agree with is using financial clout to advance your agenda. We as financial planners and mutual fund investors are told to keep out of corporate governance. But by using your voting power, you have as much power as a major stockholder. That brings more voices to the table and will, one hopes, limit corporate malfeasance. I fully agree with your right to influence these companies through the private sector, not through additional government regulations. By doing so, you are part of the party as opposed to a party crasher. The reforms will most likely be more efficient than silly government regulation. And if your reforms are stupid, you will be held accountable.
William Greider accurately portrays the increasingly important role of public employee pension funds like California’s CalPERS (assets of $180 billion) and CalSTRS (assets of $125 billion) in addressing corporate malfeasance, from climate change to slave labor. Greider omits another important role: Public funds are now serving as “lead plaintiffs” in a host of securities fraud cases, many arising from the meltdown of companies like Enron, WorldCom, QWEST, AOL Time Warner and HealthSouth.
Ten years ago, one of the few provisions of the GOP “Contract With America” that actually became law was the Private Securities Law Reform Act (PSLRA). The “reform” legislation was written largely by and for powerful Wall Street interests, to impose obstacles to prosecution of securities fraud cases [see Greider, “William Lerach’s Legal Crusade Against Enron and Infectious Greed,” Aug. 5/12, 2002]. One provision has followed the law of unintended consequences. Under the PSLRA, shareholders who have suffered the greatest losses because of fraud are made “lead plaintiffs” and given broad powers to run class-action litigation. Public and labor pension funds have now stepped forward to serve as lead plaintiffs in hundreds of such cases. They have not only already recovered billions for their retirees and shareholders but also have changed corporate behavior.