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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.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

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For the week of January 16 - 22, 2002

  Opinion Column

Enron dooms GOP’s Social Security plan

Commentary by PAT MURPHY


The most enduring sound bite from America’s worst corporate scandal prior to Enron was uttered by savings and loan swindler Charles Keating.

When asked whether his campaign donations in the 1980s to key U.S. Senators Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, John Glenn, John McCain and Donald Riegle (the infamous "Keating Five") had bought influence, Keating unabashedly said:

"I want to say in the most forceful way I can: I certainly hope so."

In the end, however, Keating’s cash bought him no comfort. Keating went to prison until released on appeal, but still faces billions of dollars in shareholder claims. But the political careers of the Keating Five were blemished permanently: only McCain is still in office.

Now, as congressional committees and Justice Department prosecutors hover over the carcass of Enron, founder and chairman Kenneth Lay surely must be asking himself whether the $500,000 he donated to President George W. Bush over the years (plus other thousands of dollars to Democrats and Republicans in Congress) will help pull him through his mounting legal problems, civil and perhaps criminal.

The likelihood is that they won’t, not with the whole country looking on and watching for any signs of special treatment that might suggest favoritism from the Bush White House.

True, Lay’s heavy ladling of donations did buy access to Bush’s inner circle: he served on Vice President Dick Cheney’s closed-door energy strategy committee; he apparently was able to get an unfriendly regulator fired, and he induced Wendy Gramm, a former government regulator and wife of Sen. Phil Gramm, to serve on the Enron board’s audit committee.

But Lay is learning that even politicians who took handouts won’t jeopardize their reputations when arrogance and greed have plundered the lives of so many people.

As a final touch of irony, Lay turned out to be the kiss of death to President Bush’s and the Republican Party’s pet goal ¾ privatizing Social Security with investments in the stock market.

Only Republicans with a political death wish will argue now that American workers can trust Wall Street, trust corporate auditors and trust corporate CEOs to protect their life’s savings with investments in stocks.

The most convincing evidence are thousands of Enron employees who have zilch left of their investments in their own company that betrayed them.

While on the topic of influence, Boise’s Ridenbaugh Press has published its periodic list of people it considers Idaho’s 100 most influential.

An impressive list — plenty of politicians, plenty of corporate big wigs, plenty of lobbyists.

But does being a heavy hitter translate into having vision and courage?

Idaho’s state finances are in shambles. Yet stubborn Republican leaders — from Gov. Dirk Kempthorne down through the Legislature — seem hidebound to ignore one obvious interim solution.

They so far have refused to consider rolling back any portion of the ill-timed, ill-advised $100 million tax cut that principally benefits corporations and wealthy individuals.

So, Republican leaders are asking schools and other public services to sacrifice by taking cuts in their budgets.

Is it possible some of Idaho’s other influential heavy hitters have the courage to uncork some of their influence and pressure lawmakers to do what’s best for Idaho?

 


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.