AUSTIN, Texas The famous Texas two-step is getting a heavy workout in
Washington. You glance away for just a moment to watch the World Series and --
oops we're no longer for regime change in Iraq.
We've spent the last two months having it pounded into our brains daily that
we must have regime change in Iraq, nothing else will do. But now not so.
Well, you say, people are allowed to change their minds, even presidents. But
that's where we come to the awkward part, because the administration is insisting
it hasn't changed its mind at all, it never demanded regime change and it's all
our fault for being so stupid as to have misunderstood them. This is the Red Queen
stage, she who could believe six impossible things before breakfast.
You won't find me griping about our new policy except of course, since
we're so dumb we can't remember what the old policy, this is not new at all. I
like the not-new policy. The not-new policy is that if we can get rid of Saddam
Hussein's weapons of mass destruction through strict U.N. inspections, we don't
have to have a war. Actually, that was my old policy, so I'm glad to see it's
become Bush's not-new policy, and I'd just like to apologize to everyone for thinking
that Bush ever wanted regime change in the first place.
Now that you are in practice on the Red Queen program, join us for the latest
fiasco in corporate reform. In those dear, dead days of last summer, Bush appeared
on Wall Street standing before a blue and white backdrop on which "Corporate Responsibility"
and "A New Ethic" were printed over and over in case we should miss the
point of his speech. President W. was there in his incarnation as the Scourge
of Corporate Misbehavior to read the riot act to corporate executives who do terrible
things like get insider loans, dump their stock when the company is tanking
and do phony transactions to take heavy losses off the books.
For those us who had followed Bush's career at Harken Energy Enron writ
small this was merely an average Red Queen morning. Hey, times change,
the guy was the executive of an energy company bleeding money way back when, why
shouldn't he get out while the getting was good? Now we have "a new ethic."
In that same speech, to show his zeal for going after corporate evil-doers,
Bush asked for a nice round $100 million in additional funding for the Securities
and Exchange Commission. Except the New Ethic didn't last very long. Didn't even
survive the election, and I think Bush deserves credit on this point. Any posturing
politician could have stuck with corporate reform until after the election was
over; it takes cojones to drop the whole thing two weeks before the election.
That, or someone who thinks the American people are deeply stupid.
So intense did the pressure for corporate reform grow last summer that the
Congress actually passed the Sarbanes bill, including a new board to oversee the
accounting industry and $776 million for the SEC, a 77 percent increase. Bush
signed the bill amidst great fanfare and later took credit for solving the corporate
corruption problems (even though he had opposed the bill almost until the moment
he signed it). And everyone agreed, "What a good first step."
Oops. Bush and his man Harvey Pitt at the SEC have already gutted the new accounting
oversight board, and last week he urged Congress to appropriate 27 percent less,
$568 million, than the agreed-upon increase for the SEC.
That's an increase of about 30 percent over last year's budget of $438 million,
and the SEC is one of the most notoriously underfunded agencies in Washington.
Lawyers and accountants who work there make about half what lawyers and accountants
do in other departments of government. New technology and enforcement efforts
will have to be shelved. The SEC's workload has increased exponentially while
its staff has shrunk. Given the corporate scandals, do we really want to call
off the already emaciated watchdogs at the SEC?
In order to understand this move, you have to think like a Bushie. Corporate
corruption? Hey, that was last summer's scandal -- that is so 10 minutes ago.
As for those who think there is much more clean-up yet to be done, what are you,
one of the 45 million Americans in a traditional pension plan? Why should you
worry just because the New York Times reports America's 50 largest companies counted
$54.4 billion of pension fund gains as profits last year, when in fact they lost
Just another cute accounting trick; doesn't hurt anybody. Just ask the ex-Enron
and ex-Worldcom employees. And why would major corporations pad their reported
earnings in this fashion? Could it be because that's the bottom line that determines
the bonuses for top executives?
Copyright 2002, The Daily Camera