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We The People

Social Consciousness in a Terrifying New World

The Return of the Robber Barons

"Rather than protesting the state of politics, most politicians are reinforcing and aggravating that state. While in practice they rig public opinion to suit their own interests, in word and ritual they enshrine "the sovereign public" and call for more and more letters. Their speeches and campaign actions are banal, based on a degrading conception of what people want to hear. They respond not to dialogue, but to pressure: and knowing this, the ordinary citizen sees even greater inclination to shun the political sphere. The politicians is usually a trumpeter to "citizenship" and "service to the nation", but since he is unwilling to seriously rearrange power relationships, his trumpetings only increase apathy by creating no outlets."

- The Port Huron Statement of 1962

On July 9th, 2002, Bush delivered a speech to Wall Street heavy-hitters decrying a lack of integrity in the market. He promised sharper teeth for the SEC and jail time for corporate criminals. Above all, said Bush, a return to decency and morality was needed to stave off investor mistrust in the aftermath of Enron, WorldCom and the others. The Dow responded by dropping another 170 points.

From a purely objective and disinterested distance, it was a fascinating thing to watch. There was George W. Bush in Alabama on Monday, July 16th, praising the economy on all the news channels while promising to get tough on evil-doing corporate thieves. Meanwhile, those same news channels had busy little numbers whirring along next to his image. They all had small red down arrows next to them. When Bush began speaking, the Dow was down 164 points. By the time he finished, it was down over 300 points.

This kind of action on the Street had been happening for weeks, as investors got familiar with names like Enron, Kenny-Boy, WorldCom and the rest. The Dow was making daily history with its posted losses. The Nasdaq took a similar pounding, and the dollar became slightly less valuable than the Euro on the international market. Bush gave two of these speeches on television. Both times, the market got clobbered after he was done.

The mantra of "Recovery" is everywhere. Bush says it, the stock analysts say it - we've hit a bump here on our economic recovery, folks. Nothing to fear, and certainly no reason here to suspect that our great economic system has developed a nasty case of pneumonia. One wonders, however, that if this is a recovery, what does a slump look like?

Here is the thing, though: we cannot look at this mess from an objective and disinterested distance. Millions of Americans are losing their futures. It used to be that stock market crashes affected only the big hitters. Now, more than half the working country has money in the market in some form or another - these are teachers, tech workers, secretaries, steelworkers. According to present accounting of losses, they are looking at ten more years of work before they can even begin to think about retiring. That's how much of a disaster this is.

A lot of people treat economics like voodoo. It's arcane and mysterious, with all these obscure phrases: macroeconomics, microeconomics, leading indicators and the rest. People go to school for years to learn how to parse it all. But so very much of it is blood simple: Americans will spend money if they trust the leadership and whatever they are looking to invest in. This we call "consumer confidence." If that is absent, the people keep their wallets in their pockets, and the voodoo of economics grinds to a halt.

The giant sucking sound on Wall Street was nothing more or less than the single most important poll George W. Bush has taken to date, and his numbers looked soft. He went on television to instill confidence, and everything fell apart around his ears. Forget Zogby and Pew - everything you need to know about how Americans feel about Bush and his people can be summed up in those busy little numbers and the tiny red arrows next to them on the news channels.

Really, there is no surprise here. Presidents can instill confidence in consumers with well-chosen words only if said consumers think he has anything to do with the process. Americans knew a while ago that Bush was a corporate puppet on some very short strings, and now the corporate puppeteers have been revealed to be Armani-suit-wearing versions of the smash-and-grab thieves that plague the jewelry stores at your local mall. This does not instill confidence in the puppet.

The sense has begun to walk and talk out there that Bush is basically guilty of the same crimes and lies that crushed Enron in the first place, guilty from back in the days when he was a petroleum executive with Harken Energy. Bush's lawyers have maintained for years that he sold that Harken stock to pay off some debts. The Washington Post published details of a "Hold Letter" that Bush signed two months before he sold out. The letter, with his signature, was his promise that he would not sell his stocks for six months. This begs the question: if he was planning to sell the stocks to pay off debts, why would he sign that letter?

It's just another accent in the symphony. There is a cancer on the Presidency of George W. Bush. Maybe he jobbed Harken stockholders, maybe he didn't. Maybe he sold out with insider information, maybe he didn't. Maybe he was part of the Harken scheme to lie about their stock value, and maybe he wasn't. But he always seems to be standing right next to the corporate criminals when the bad noise starts, doesn't he?

The market, it appears, knows a hypocrite when it sees one. Leaving Bush to shepherd the economy towards morally sound shores is like asking the wolf to tend the sheep. The traders must have listened to that speech while choking back chortles. George W. Bush ran every business he touched into the ground. He played the same slick accounting games that have blown huge holes in the market, throwing in a little insider trading for good measure. His friends are among the worst offenders. He has bent his administration's policy to enrich these criminals while coddling terrorist regimes and overthrowing democracies, all in the name of oil and energy profiteering.

WorldCom declared Chapter 11 on July 22nd, buried under a $3.85 billion accounting scandal that has succeeded in doing what seemed impossible - their bankruptcy filing has managed to make the Enron implosion look small by comparison. WorldCom stock, once valued at $64 a share, was trading for nine cents per share when the markets closed the Friday previous. This is a microcosm of the disease that has rotted what was once a gloriously lucrative stock market.

Vice President Dick Cheney's health is so poor that he spends most of his time sleeping or resting. Perhaps he is hiding from reality in slumber - the thunderheads developing around his time as head of Halliburton Petroleum, which has recently earned itself an SEC investigation because of WorldCom-esqe accounting fudgery, led the Chicago Sun-Times to declare on its July 21st Sunday front page that Dick will likely not be on the ticket in 2004. The comic strip Doonsebury ran cartoons of Cheney in prison as the judas goat for this administration.

Bush's own curious definition of business integrity earned wraparound coverage on all the news networks. The Harken story got more and more interesting by the day. Questions were pouring forth regarding what Bush knew and when he knew it as a board member for the doomstruck petroleum company. It is clear that he knew how rough the profit situation was for Harken when he sold off $850,000 worth of stock, just before the bottom fell out because Harken was forced to admit that they, too, had fudged the books. The tiny trickle of Harken documentation that the SEC has deigned to release - because Bush won't authorize a full disclosure - reveal that he was, in fact, all too aware of how poor the company was doing before he bailed out. He was in the loop for all the letters and meeting minutes describing how bad the situation was, right up until the day he left.

The New York Times on that same Sunday ran a front-page report describing the civilian cost for Bush's war in Afghanistan. Some 812 innocents have died as a result of erroneous bombings and strafings since Bush unleashed our armed forces, a number sure to go higher as investigators continue their travels to burned-out villages. In all that blood, our actions there have failed to bring about the capture of one single Taliban leader. Most notably, of course, is the fact that Osama bin Laden still breathes free air somewhere in the world. Local Afghan officials were incensed by these civilian disasters, and may break from the Bush fold if it continues.

James Carville once said "It's the economy, stupid," and Bush's slump in most every respected poll shows this all too clearly. The support he has been getting comes from American's belief that he is running the war well. This speaks more to the loyalty of the American people than anything else - after 9/11, a ham sandwich would poll around 80% if it looked good in a suit and had people calling it "Mr. President." 812 families in Afghanistan, and 3,000 families connected to the WTC, may say otherwise. Osama eludes justice and children die in the shadow of the Khyber Pass.

More ominously, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge floated the idea that military troops should be given much greater police and shoot-to-kill authority while on American soil. This further erodes the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, a law that expressly established the fundamentally important firewall between civilian and military law enforcement. The burning of our basic liberties continues apace, one drop of flame at a time.

Millions of working Americans now face the hard reality that they will have to continue working at least ten years longer than they expected to before they can afford to retire, thanks to the shredding of their retirement portfolios at the hands of corporate brigands whose version of ethics comes right out of the Harken How-To manual.

While the September 11th attacks certainly play a part in the slowdown, Democrats will tell you that Bush's massive and ill-advised tax giveaway to rich people, an act that gutted the Clinton surplus and left little maneuvering room for the Federal budget, is a central factor. They are quite correct in this. The Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Tyco, Xerox, and Martha Stewart/IMClone scandals have done their damage, as well.

Bush sees himself more as a corporate CEO than as a President. If his past and present management history holds any mirror to his soul, it can be said without qualification that he is the worst CEO in modern history, perhaps second only to lifelong chum Ken Lay. Everything he touches turns to dust.

So, with all this in mind, we are forced to remind ourselves to look at the way a candidate handles his business. It will also pay dividends to look into the company a candidate chooses to keep.

Americans like to believe they live in a democracy, based upon their individual right to vote. Those who remember their high school civics lessons like to think of America as a Constitutionally democratic republic, based upon the right to choose representatives in government. The essence of the ideal remains constant - We the People run the show, we choose the leaders, and they in turn honorably represent our interests to the best of their abilities.

The underpinnings of this ideal have been subverted by years of campaign finance chicanery on both sides of the political aisle, and this is no secret. Only benightened fools miss the influence cash-heavy donors have upon the legislative process and the formation of national policy. Yet we cling to our belief, almost in desperation, that the purity of the American democratic ideal still beats like a living heart within the body of our government and the souls of our representatives.

The final balance of Enron contributions to House and Senate officeholders comes to 72% for Republicans and 28% for Democrats. As political Jedi James Carville noted on Meet The Press, "If the score of a game is 72-28, that is not a tie." Of the 30 Senators holding office in 2002 who have never received Enron money, only 7 were Republicans. In the 2002 House, there was not one single member who has not accepted Enron money at one time or another.

While Carville made a valid political point, this does not spare us from the stark reality to be found in the disbursements above. The taint of Enron is as bi-partisan a fact as has ever been found on Capitol Hill. These members, whose job it is to zealously represent our interests, have for years been ravaging the regulation of the energy industry at the behest of companies like Enron. They have done it because they were paid to do it. It is as simple as that.

After the election, Enron used its financial reach to better its fortunes. As the Bush administration pulled together national energy policy behind locked doors, an Enron lobbyist named Edward Gillespie was formulating plans to defang the anticipated Democratic attacks against it. 'Carterize the Democrats' was the run of his thoughts. Make them the party against sound policy, remind voters of the gas lines of the 1970s, and above all, obscure the perception that the GOP sits snugly in the pocket of big business.

Some weeks after Gillespie crafted memos detailing his plans, television advertisements began appearing across the country comparing Democratic resistance to Bush's energy plans to Carter's request that Americans wear sweaters to defray energy costs. This obvious connection between the formulation of Bush's energy policy and Enron, including the six meetings between Enron executives and chief policy formulator Dick Cheney, is among the myriad reasons why the administration is fighting tooth and nail to keep those meetings secret.

Congressman James Greenwood (R-PA), who chairs the oversight and investigation wing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, stated that Enron's financial practices, while uncommon, are certainly not unheard of. Mr. Greenwood stated that there could be "dozens of Enrons" lurking in the weeds, just waiting to implode. The disaster of the first Enron still echoes on Wall Street. WorldCom and the rest added to the thunder. American faith in the stock market, in the accounting industry, and in the viability of virtually every retirement portfolio in the country, has been badly shaken. Two or three more could bring our whole economy down around our ears.

Amid this blizzard of fraud, economic woe, looming indictments, shredded freedoms and dead civilians, George W. Bush made an executive decision to spend the entire month of August on vacation down in Crawford, Texas.

The business of America needs a cleansing, from the top on down. In offering this Manifesto, we do not denigrate the institution of capitalism. We stand against those who would abuse that system to line their pockets at the expense of working America. This criminality strikes at the heart of the nation, and must be stopped.

Come Wind, Come Weather...

"Beware the Ides of March!"

Unfortunately, we were not able to gather the permits for our March Protest in Washington D.C. We are revamping this web site to coinside with a national flyer campaign in partnership with The Alliance For Democracy. Stay tuned.

Manifesto:

I. Preamble: We The People - New social consciousness in a troubled world

II. The Port Huron Statement - Participatory Democracy 40 Years Later

III. Defending the Essence - The Constitution under attack

  • Understanding the PATRIOT Act
  • Understanding the TIPS Program
  • Destroying Freedom to Save Freedom

IV. The Return of the Robber Barons

  • Understanding the current state of the economy
  • The murder by inches of functional capitalism
  • A roll call of criminals

V. War Without End

  • A rudderless global conflict with no end in sight
  • The promulgation of fear as a political tool

VI. Conclusion

 


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