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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 9 - 15, 2002

  Opinion Column

Enron collapse mimics earlier scandal

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

As Washington wags say, members of Congress usually have only two basic postures on issues — they either point with pride or view with alarm.

Now they’re viewing with alarm — the collapse of Enron, the energy giant, and the fleecing of thousands of employees’ pensions.

How could this happen, congressmen cry?

How familiar this sounds.

It was just less than than 20 years ago when Washington was abuzz with the same anxious question, as savings and loan associations throughout the country went belly up, leaving the public treasury stuck for tens of billions of dollars in bailouts, plus criminal charges filed against S&L executives.

The Enron and S&L failures had the same basic ingredients — greedy executives, cooked books, auditors that didn’t do their jobs, congressional oversight committees that didn’t oversee, regulators who didn’t regulate.

Also, Enron’s top brass might’ve counted on trouble-free going because Enron founder Kenneth Lay is a crony of presidents Bush I and II and one of the Bushes’ most prodigious political campaign fundraisers.

How convenient, too, that Enron’s board of directors also includes Wendy Lee Gramm, wife of Sen. Phil Gramm, who serves on committees that regulate and oversee.

Now the farce is about to begin anew: months of congressional investigations into the Enron scandal, ending with the same predictable, wordy reports from Democrats and Republicans as after the S&L investigations that promised reform to prevent another corporate scandal under noses of regulators and Congress.

Until the next one, that is.

The cyber age has made it easy to check out unfamiliar words for meaning and pronunciation.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary website (www.m-w.com) not only finds words and provides definitions, but has an audio feature that pronounces words over and over with a click of the mouse.

Those who’re quick to accuse the FBI of "cover-up" — such as after the Ruby Ridge fiasco in northern Idaho with the Weaver family and the Branch Davidian inferno at Waco, Texas — suddenly have clammed up when there’s actually a cover-up.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has convinced President Bush to claim "executive privilege" and refuse to cooperate with Congress investigating corrupt FBI practices in New England — termed by the Republican-chaired House Government Reform Committee as "the greatest failing in federal law enforcement history."

What Congress wants to know is why an FBI official wasn’t charged for taking money from a gang; why the FBI allowed a man it knew was innocent serve a 30-year prison term, and why the FBI gave immunity to a gangster known to have committed 10 murders, for which he’s now standing trial.

Critics suspect one reason for the "executive privilege" is to protect FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was the Justice Department’s U.S. attorney in Boston for awhile and probably knew of the FBI’s history of hanky-panky dating back several presidents and did nothing.

At least one Republican conservative is beside himself. New York Times columnist and speech writer for President Nixon, William Safire, writes that "(Bush’s) popularity breeds contempt. When you’re sailing up there around 90 percent, your advisers tell you that wartime is the perfect time to put those Congressional pipsqueaks of both parties in their place.

"It’s another mistake that will come home to haunt the Bush presidency."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.