As the public gradually became more aware of this situation, opinion turned against the government, and there were protests in every major city over the last weekend. The repressive policy appears to have eased to some extent, although Prime Minister Howard still takes a nonchalant view, as when Mary Robinson, the UN high commissioner for human rights, suggested the country might be in violation of treaties and sent an envoy to inspect the Australian camps. Howard told her to go fuck herself. "We'll look at it [meaning the situation in the camps]," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "but I mean, I'm not particularly bowled over by a request from Mary Robinson."

You've Got a Racist Friend in Pennsylvania
American X Heads East

"Notice: For those of you looking to relocate to a beautiful WHITE area of the country, here on the east coast, check out Potter County, Pennsylvania! This county here in northern Pennsylvania is 98.8% White and plenty of reasonable housing can be found. It is the planned future headquarters of Aryan Nations, many racialist families have settled here and many more plan on settling here in the near future! Let's start taking our country back, county by county! " —Aryan Nations Internet bulletin board

Chao Knew but Didn't Act
Enron's Labor Pains

In little-noticed testimony before Senator Ted Kennedy's Health, Education, and Labor Committee last Thursday, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said the department launched a still ongoing examination of Enron's 401(k) pension scheme before the company went bust in December, but has taken no action. Many workers lost their life savings when their plans, heavy with company stock, crashed.

"We were on the ground investigating Enron even before it declared bankruptcy," Chao said. Under questioning by Connecticut senator Christopher Dodd, the secretary said the department then had considered taking administrative remedies, but didn't do so because the law was so complex.

This is just one more indication the administration was fully aware of what was happening at Enron before the bankruptcy, but did nothing.

Now the Democrats want to tighten 401(k) rules by insisting on independent investment advice and diversification. Last year 255 companies went bankrupt, some of them reneging on 401(k)s, according to Senator Barbara Mikulski. Many companies dump as much as 43 percent of retirement funds into their own securities. "We don't allow even sophisticated financial participants, like banks, to lend more than 10 percent of their capital and surplus to one company, or securities firms to build up concentrated asset positions," New Jersey senator Jon S. Corzine, former co-chair of Goldman Sachs, told Kennedy. "If we believe such diversification requirements are appropriate for sophisticated financial firms, why would we leave ordinary investors exposed to such inordinate risks?" The public has a right to act, he noted, pointing out that federal tax subsidies to 401(k)s exceed $330 billion in the president's budget. He and Senator Barbara Boxer are sponsoring legislation to place a 20 percent cap on company holdings.

But Chao came down against such changes, arguing Washington shouldn't place "arbitrary restrictions" on 401(k)s. She supports disclosure laws on investment advice, but not formal legal restrictions. Let's get the "bad actors," she said vaguely, turning aside questions with refrains of "let's work together," and "our primary concern is for the workers."

The Bush administration is trying to outmaneuver Democrats in the Senate by offering modest reforms, such as disclosure laws. After weekend hearings on Enron, the Labor Department said it would seek to remove company officials overseeing the retirement plan, replacing them with independent experts—a step the government might have taken months ago.

Dishonor Roll

From a list of awards given to Enron (Motto: "Natural Gas. Electricity. Endless Possibilities."):
•100 Best Companies to Work for in America
Fortune, 1999
•The Global 500
Fortune, 1998
•World’s Most Respected Companies
Financial Times, 1998
•Most Admired for Innovativeness
Fortune, 1996–99

Additional reporting: Gabrielle Jackson, Adrian Brune, and Michael Ridley

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