As Enron executives claimed the protection of the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, NPR"s Daniel Schorr noted, in a column in the Christian Science Monitor, "Sen. Joseph McCarthy invented the term 'Fifth Amendment communists.' Soon we may have a new class of "Fifth Amendment capitalists.'" He also noted that the rubble of the collapsed energy empire "has the potential to alter the political landscape. It goes deeper than the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s, because it victimized so many more people."
CABLE IGNORES HEARINGS. When former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling appeared before a House committee Feb. 7, becoming the first Enron exec to testify as to his side of the scandal, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post noted that the cable news channels were disinterested. "[I]sn"t it odd that the cable networks only had the patience for a few minutes of the House hearing at a time, cutting to their commentators while the tableaux silently unfolded in a small on-screen box? It"s only an investigation of the biggest bankruptcy in American history. Yes, some of the stuff is technical, but there"s no shortage of congressional outrage.
"Would Fox, CNN and MSNBC have covered the Watergate hearings if they were happening now, or dip in and out of John Dean"s testimony? Does a hearing have to live up to O.J. standards to be worthy of continuous coverage? Shredded memos aren"t as good as Bruno Magli shoes and a missing knife?
"If you stop to think about it, far more people were hurt by Enron, and the market is still taking a beating as investors flee other potential Enrons. Yet only CNBC stuck with the hearing for any length of time, along with C-SPAN."
BUSH TAKES THE BAIT. At his website, thismodernworld.com, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow notes this quote from the controversial Al Jazeera interview with Osama bin Laden that CNN aired: "I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The US government will lead the American people and the West in general into an unbearable hell and a choking life." To which Tomorrow adds: "Can it be spelled out any more clearly? This isn"t just about bringing down skyscrapers and murdering civilians and wreaking havoc and discord ó it"s about setting into motion a chain of events through which we end up doing irreparable damage to ourselves, to that part of our society which can only be destroyed from within, to the very ideals which define us. The trap lies in wait before us, open and beckoning. And I have seen little evidence so far that we are wise enough to avoid it."
W"S PHOTO-OP UNFUNDED. George W. Bush took a page from Ronald Reagan"s playbook recently when he visited a job-training center in Portland, Ore., during a half-hour photo-op visit, looking over the shoulders of computer operators working on job listings as he praised the program"s work. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz noted that Portland TV station KGW reported: "Some of the kids who go to a federally funded youth center to hunt for jobs or complete their high school education said Monday [Feb. 4] they have nowhere else to go if the center is closed under the Bush administration budget plan." ... Bush sent Congress a $2.13 trillion budget Monday that would slash $545 million from job training programs nationwide -- including the Portland center that Bush himself praised -- saying the money is needed for the war on terrorism." Kurtz noted that Reagan once used a senior citizens" center in Buffalo as a campaign backdrop, then proposed to eliminate the program that funds such buildings. "The press had a field day. Will today"s reporters be just as willing to criticize a wartime president?"
AUTOWORKERS EMBRACE FUEL EFFICIENCY. Michigan Democrats generally have followed the company line that increased fuel efficiency standards would be bad for the car industry, but the Sierra Club noted that autoworkers are not necessarily resistant to better mileage. A poll in January found that fully half of UAW households in Michigan believe that increased mileage standards will create jobs compared to only 14% who believe jobs would be lost as a result. The Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that raising fuel efficiency standards to 40 mpg would create some 40,000 jobs in the auto industry by 2010 while saving car owners as much as $5,000 at the gas pump over the life of their vehicle.
AMTRAK NEEDS $1.2B BY THIS FALL. Amtrak President George Warrington Feb. 1 said he will shut down most of the Amtrak system on Sept. 30 unless Congress appropriates at least $1.2 billion to keep the system going while the government debates the long-term future of passenger trains. Even if Congress matches this year"s $521 million appropriation in fiscal 2003, Warrington said, Amtrak could operate only the profitable Washington-Boston Northeast Corridor and state-supported services, most of them in California. The Amtrak Reform Council recommended turning over Amtrak to private operators. Warrington said Amtrak has dropped behind in capital spending by $5.8 billion, and Congress must decide whether Amtrak is a public service or a for-profit corporation, which he said it can never be if it must operate a nationwide system. The federal government spent $33 billion on highways and $13 billion on aviation infrastructure in 2001. After Sept. 11 the airlines got a $15 billion bailout and Amtrak got just $165 million.
WHITE HOUSE RELEASES CLINTON DOCUMENTS. While the White House was prepared to go to court to block the release of information on Vice President Dick Cheney"s meetings with energy industry executives, the Bush administration authorized the release to Congress of thousands of e-mail communications by senior White House officials in the Clinton administration, including messages sent by outside advisers and senior aides to Vice President Al Gore, the New York Times reported. With approval of the Bush administration, the National Archives and Record Administration turned over to the House Committee on Government Reform 2,000 pages of Clinton White House e-mail messages. The committee is headed by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who requested the records last September in his ongoing quest to impeach Bill Clinton. The Bush administration also allowed the release to Congress of White House notes of conversations on some of Clinton"s 11th-hour pardon decisions.
LAWYERS URGE TRIBUNAL RIGHTS. The American Bar Association, defying a Bush administration request to keep quiet, voted Feb. 4 to recommend that defendants tried before military tribunals be guaranteed traditional legal protections. "Our system does not work, democracy does not live, unless we are willing to give the same rights to the worst of us as to the best of us," Miami defense lawyer Neal Sonnett said to applause from the ABA's policy-making body. Military tribunals should guarantee that defendants are presumed innocent and must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the nation"s largest and most influential lawyers" group declared. A death sentence should require a unanimous verdict.
SC GOP CANDIDATE: NAACP 'TERRORISTS.' Seeking to enlist in the war on terrorism, Republican gubernatorial candidate Reb Sutherland called the NAACP "domestic terrorists" in a letter to Gov. Jim Hodges, the Associated Press reported Jan. 29. In a continuing effort to have the Confederate flag removed from the Statehouse grounds, the NAACP has announced plans to begin border patrols at entrance points to South Carolina, in an attempt to discourage tourists from spending money in the state. Sutherland said the border patrols would intimidate tourists, and thus fall under the FBI"s definition of terrorism. If Hodges fails to have the NAACP"s leadership arrested and prosecuted once the organization"s planned "border patrols" are implemented, Sutherland's letter said, Hodges would be subject to impeachment. An NAACP official said any protests would be peaceful and a Hodges spokesman said the impeachment threat "hasn"t exactly sent our legal team scrambling."