By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Last week President Bush "got tough" with alleged corporate crookswith some of them, anyway. The papers carried photos of John Rigas and his son Timothy being carted off on charges of looting their company, Adelphia. There were also pics of WorldCom bigs Scott Sullivan and David F. Myers in custody. Sullivan was released on a $10 million bond, while Myers was sprung for $2 million, pocket change for guys like them.
Rumors are that the president is having a hissy fit over the unending series of scandals, even considering taking away guilty executives' vacation homes and yachts, just for good measure. Yet of the 10 large corporations that have recently crashed, taking thousands of innocent investors with them, eight still have the responsible players walking the streets, a little poorer perhaps, but in no danger of being arrested.
Meanwhile, the full story of the rape and pillage of America is still unfolding. Last week the Financial Times ran the results of a survey revealing that top execs in the 25 biggest recent corporate collapses had built up fortunes from 1999 through 2001 totaling $3.3 billion. Richest of the rich: Ken Lay of Enron with $247 million and Gary Winnick of Global Crossing with $512 million.
Layalong with his buds in the executive suitefamously ran Enron into the ground. He ripped off tens of thousands of electricity consumers in California, lying to them, manipulating the so-called free market while hiding the true nature of the corporate business from its stockholders and the government. In cold blood, he ruined the livelihood of thousands of its employees, screwing them out of any sort of "retirement." Surely Lay and the other chieftains at Enron ought to be charged with criminal malfeasance of some sortfraud, conspiracy under the racketeering laws, obstruction of justice, or perjury, just for starters. Lay happens to be a major Bush family supporter, having financed both presidents' political conquests and acted as the frat brat's confidant on energy policy. Natch, he doesn't get charged with anything.
Beyond the political will to hold people like Lay accountable, we need a mechanism for going after the companies themselves, paving the way for placing them in receivership so they could be managed under public supervision until their acts were cleaned up. There is nothing unusual in this notion. Crooked unions go through it all the time. Corporations should get the same treatment. At the very least, firms with shoddy accounting and other dubious practices should be denied government business. For Enron, federal subsidies and contracts were the lifeblood that let the corrupt operation flourish.
Pro-choice advocates trying to block the sale of anti-abortion license plates have now lost two important legal battles. On July 16, a state judge ruled that Florida could indeed offer "Choose Life" tags and hand the proceeds to so-called crisis-pregnancy centers, all of them pro-life, many of them religiously affiliated. That edict mirrored a March decision in which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Louisiana could move forward with its plan for the controversial tags.
The Center on Reproductive Law and Policy had argued that the plates amount to government financing for a political cause. Florida's law creating the fundraiser, signed three years ago by Governor Jeb Bush, explicitly bars the money from going to any clinic "involved or associated with abortion activities." Seeing a clear breach of church-state separation, the center is appealing both cases. "The legislation is tailored to funnel money into anti-choice organizations," says center attorney Brigitte Amiri.
The specialty tags have begun to generate real cash in Florida, the only place where they are currently in use. They cost an extra $22 apiece annually, with all but $2 set to go directly from the county of purchase to the pro-life clinics. So far the state has issued 29,165 Choose Life plates, drumming up $880,400. With its crayon scrawl atop a drawing of smiling children on a happy yellow background, says Arlene Conklin, of Birthline/Lifeline in Palm Beach County, the plate is "very, very cute. . . . It's strictly for adoption, that's the sole purpose of it, for a mother planning to place her child for adoption."
An outfit called Choose Life Inc. is promoting the license plate concept across the country. Already, a number of states are signing on. South Carolina, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama have passed the legislation; 14 others are currently considering bills.
Choose Life's main task is to make sure any state selling the plates blocks the proceeds from going to pregnancy-care centers that offer abortion as an option to pregnant women. In an e-mail to the Voice, spokesperson Russ Amerling wrote, "Since the purpose of the Choose Life plate is to fund the efforts of women who choose to place for adoption their child resulting from unwanted/unplanned pregnancies, it seemed logical to restrict funding to those agencies offering abortion alternatives."
But pro-choice advocates say the clinics favored by Choose Life don't deal fairly with clients. "Crisis-pregnancy centers entice women with free pregnancy tests and then provide them with misinformation in an effort to dissuade them from having an abortion," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation. She says the pregnancy centers have been known to trick an unsuspecting client with fake ultrasound results in an effort to persuade her to have the child. They give misinformation like claiming abortion leads to breast cancer, she says, and have sometimes gone as far as tricking laboring women into signing away their newborns for adoption.