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Paying Back Big Energy Evil-Doers

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a “trickle-down” economic stimulus package on a party-line vote that is now on the Senate’s agenda for consideration. The contentious issues boil down to a classical haves vs. have-nots conflict as the House-passed bill gives fat tax cut giveaways totaling $70 billion to big corporate and wealthy elites rather than helping out unemployed workers by increasing unemployment and health benefits.

The House-passed stimulus package gave the Enron Corporation a $254 million dollar tax relief gift. Enron is a Houston-based energy giant headed by Kenneth Lay, who has been a close friend of George W. Bush and a principal financier of Bush’s political endeavors. When Bush was Governor of Texas, Lay recommended appointments to state boards and called on Bush to meet with dignitaries from countries with whom Enron was hoping to do business. The longstanding corporate/political relationship goes back to the first Bush Administration when George W. used the family name to promote Enron’s ventures in Argentina. Enron was the major supplier of gas to California and, in the fourth quarter of last year, their revenues had tripled from a year earlier as energy prices soared in California’s deregulated market.

Enron was the largest contributor from the oil and gas industry in the 1999-2000 election cycle, giving $2.3 million in contributions. In that election cycle the oil and gas industry gave 78% of their contributions to Republicans and Bush got $1.8 million, which was more than any federal candidate received in the last 10 years. There was much speculation that Lay would become Bush’s Secretary of Energy and he has been a key advisor in shaping the Bush/Cheney energy policy that has come under legal attack by the Congressional Office of Management and Budget for being designed in secrecy by big energy executives and the White House. It calls for vastly increased gas and oil production in the United States, but belittles conservation and developing renewable energy sources.

In a rapid reversal of fortunes, it appears that Enron, the big energy insider, is running on empty. There is mounting evidence of indictable evil-doing by top officials of Enron, causing the N.Y. Times to report on November 7 that “various off-balance-sheet debts and related-party transactions..have drawn the attention of the S.E.C.(Securities and Exchange Commission). On November 5, the Wall Street Journal reported that “the company in March made a $35 million purchase from an entity run by a company officer.” The Journal said the payment was part of a complex series of transactions that allowed Enron to keep “hundreds of millions of dollars of debt off its balance sheets the past three years, during which the energy-trading giant has grown rapidly.” And, “In recent weeks, Enron’s labyrinth of financial transactions, particularly with members of company management, has come under intense scrutiny from investors and regulators.” Enron admitted the S.E.C. has begun a formal investigation. The Journal also reported that Enron’s auditor, Arthur Andersen, could face legal scrutiny on the clarity of Enron disclosures.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on the gloomy employment picture on November 5 in a front page story with headlines reading, “Slow Economy Takes Unusually Heavy Toll On White-Collar Jobs” and “As Service Sector Weakens, Once-Hot Labor Market Is Quickly Turning Cold.” On November 6, the Journal again reported on the worsening job market with a story headlined with, “Small Businesses Do What Big Firms Have Done-Cut Jobs.” The N.Y. Times told about job losses in the Cincinnati area under a headline “The Heartland Hunkers Down” and U.S.A. Today had a story entitled, “Recession Conditions Sink Several Sectors.”

On November 5, I received an e-mail from a women in Wisconsin who had just read an essay I wrote about the unfairness of the House version of the stimulus package. She wrote, “Dear Tom: I was just forwarded your article-Terrorizing the Poor and Subsidizing the Rich. I found it to be so true. My husband lost his job on September 19 and still hasn’t found another. He has sent out many, many resumes and has agencies also looking for him. We live 20 miles north of Milwaukee, WI. and the job market is very slim. Our unemployment check is $266 a week. The amount doesn’t even cover our mortgage payment. We don’t have any health insurance because there is no way we can afford it. My husband has been looking for agencies that might help us. He is a Vietnam Vet. So much for giving to your country when they need you. I can’t tell you how stressful this has been. Every single day it’s a worry how we will pay our bills and will we end up losing our house we have worked our entire lives for. What can we do, who can we write to and who will listen???”

Write your U.S. Senators and demand they stand up to corruption and evil-doers like Enron. The Senate should take away Enron’s $254 million gift and most of the $70 billion given to business interests in the House-passed stimulus bill. Jobless workers deserve the stimulus money to pay their bills and survive with dignity. CP

Tom Turnipseed is an attorney, writer and civil rights activist in Columbia, South Carolina. Visit his website at: www.turnipseed.net

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