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Legislation - Page 8
Retroactive 'Enron Escape'Alliance for Justice – Press Release - August 29, 2003
WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- "Retroactive legislation moving rapidly through Congress would make it easier for corporate wrongdoers to escape responsibility for defrauding investors, harming the environment and otherwise maximizing profits at the expense of the health and financial well-being of ordinary citizens," says Nan Aron, president of Alliance For Justice, a nonprofit corporation based in Washington, DC. "In the wake of the worst corporate scandals in fifty years, rather than acting to deter wrongdoing, Congress is poised to encourage more white collar misconduct with passage of a so-called class action reform bill which actually retroactively helps several of our most notorious corporate miscreants escape accountability."
President Bush Wants Senate to Debate the Retroactive House Bill Which Lets Ken Lay Off Hook and Usurps Federal Judicial Discretion
The Class Action Fairness Act (HR 1115), passed the House by a vote of 253 to 170 on July 12 and its Senate counterpart, S. 274, are expected to be debated on the Senate floor during the second week of September. "The House passed legislation retroactively empowers defendants in the largest stock fraud cases in American history, as well as other white collar wrongdoers, to delay for many years, and possibly escape, accountability to defrauded investors, harmed patients, ripped-off consumers and other ordinary aggrieved citizens," added Aron. The House bill would enable such notorious corporate wrongdoers as Enron's former chairman Ken Lay and senior managers at WorldCom, ImClone and other corporations who are defendants in class action lawsuits pending in federal courts to automatically delay their cases for years.
"We call these provisions of the House bill the 'Enron Escape Clause'," Aron continued. "Unfortunately, President Bush supports all the provisions of the House passed bill and wants the Senate to take up that version rather than its own."
Ms. Aron pointed to statements made by the President soon after House passage of HR 1115. On June 16, for instance, the White House released comments made by the President before a group of New Jersey business people: "I appreciate very much the House of Representatives dealing with this issue. And I strongly support the measures they took, the reform on class actions ... [T]he Senate needs to act." The following week, during a discussion of Medicare reform, the Associated Press reported the President "also called for the Senate to debate House-passed legislation to curtail the number of class action lawsuits."
Ms. Aron responded, "S. 274 is a radical bill in and of itself which big business is trying to sell to the Senate as more moderate than the House bill. We oppose both versions of the bill and we are particularly concerned in light of President Bush's recent comments. An extremely broad and diverse coalition of organizations will see the Senate bill as harmful to the rights and protections enjoyed by ordinary Americans."
Senate Majority Could Follow President's Lead and Incorporate "Enron Escape Clause"
Of course, even if the Senate passes its own version (which is not retroactive), the President and such outspoken HR 1115 proponents as Representative Tom DeLay, R-Tex (whose 22nd Congressional district includes Houston, Enron's home town), could pressure House-Senate conferees to ensure the retroactive Enron escape provisions remain in the final bill.
How would the House provisions let Ken Lay and other white collar wrongdoers off the hook? HR 1115 retroactively applies all of its provisions to all current class actions pending in federal court in which the plaintiff class has not yet been certified, granting current defendants strong new powers to postpone financial liability for years and, perhaps, escape it entirely. (The Senate bill also strongly favors defendants, but would only apply to future cases.)
Under current law, when a class is certified, any defendant has the right to seek an immediate appeal of that decision, but the federal appeals court has discretion to decide whether to permit the appeal to go forward. The so-called Class Action Fairness Act takes away the federal court's discretion to evaluate the merits of the appeal and, instead, automatically requires the court to allow an appeal in every case. Moreover, proceedings in the case are halted while the appeal is pending, which could take 1-2 years.
Consider the Enron case. At present, the federal judge in Houston hearing that case has directed the parties into mediation to see if they can reach a settlement agreement. At the same time, each side in the case is preparing papers on the issue of class certification, which the judge is expected to decide this year. If this retroactive House provision were to become law, one individual defendant such as former Enron Chairman Ken Lay could stop all proceedings in the case, merely by filing an automatic appeal of the class certification decision. That would be so even if other defendants, such as banks, law firms or accountants, want to settle the case in order to put the controversy behind them and "clean the slate."
The House would also make this delaying tactic available to defendants in other pending cases of egregious fraud and abuse of investors, such as WorldCom and ImClone. Should the House provision become law, they too could be put in limbo for years.
Moreover, both the House and Senate versions of the bill would move virtually all state court class actions into federal courts. If the House version prevails in conference committee, the "Enron escape clause" could become available to countless current and future wrongdoers nationwide.
Both the House and Senate versions of the Class Action legislation are opposed by:
The Sorry Energy BillEmployee Advocate – DukeEmployees.com - August 20, 2003
The energy bill has not passed for one reason: It is a piece of trash. The bill exists as a means to reward political contributors to G. W. Bush. Energy executives met secretly with V. P. Cheney and inserted exactly what they wanted in the bill. The administration is still fighting to keep the list of attendees a top secret.
If the energy bill really had provisions to help the American people, it would have already passed. The giveaways, to already bloated energy corporations, is the only reason the bill has not passed.
The Washington Post quoted Senator John Kerry as saying “If it weren't for this administration's obsession with giveaways to their friends in the oil business, Congress likely would have passed an energy bill last year.”
Energy Bill Would Hurt ConsumersPublic Citizen – www.Citizen.org - July 30, 2003
WASHINGTON, D.C. - If lawmakers approve a portion of the Senate energy bill dealing with electricity, consumers and the economy both will suffer from higher electricity costs and even less accountability from energy corporations and federal energy regulators, according to a Public Citizen analysis of the electricity language, which the Senate debates this week.
As it stands, the electricity title proposed by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) empowers many of the same energy companies that stole billions of dollars from American consumers to repeat the same games played during the West Coast energy crisis. Moreover, the push for further deregulation almost certainly would encourage a wave of mergers that would benefit energy superpowers like Southern Company, Entergy and American Electric Power.
"Senate lawmakers face a crucial decision: Do they listen to the voters and take the health of the economy into account? Or will $21 million worth of campaign contributions from corporate utilities do the talking?" said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "This bill is a compromise between energy corporations and city-run utilities. Consumers were left out."
Central to Domenici's electricity amendment is the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA), which was designed to protect consumers by preventing multistate electricity companies from investing ratepayer money in risky schemes that do not contribute to the delivery of affordable and reliable energy. It also was intended to prevent a single company from controlling electricity, telecommunications, water and other essential services. Convergence stifles competition and consumer choice, and can lead to poor service and higher bills.
Repealing PUHCA's strong rules will encourage these same utilities to replicate Enron's complex corporate structure, making it easier for companies to hide debt from shareholders and raise prices for consumers. Repealing PUHCA therefore would result in the dominance of U.S. electricity markets by just a handful of mega-utilities that could use their market dominance to raise prices across the board. In repealing PUHCA, the amendment's sponsors try to appease opponents by giving the government access to energy companies' books and records and providing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with merger review authority. However, this is a smokescreen.
"Consumers cannot wait years for government regulators to pour through the often-opaque accounting files of energy corporations," Hauter said. "PUHCA's tough rules prevent fraud from occurring in the first place. Giving access to records is a weak remedy after fraud has occurred."
LibrarygateEmployee Advocate – DukeEmployees.com - July 30, 2003
A “Librarygate” apology was offered on the House floor by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), according to the Washington Post. But his tearful apology for calling the police to evict Democratic colleagues from a library was only a half-way measure. He refused to correct his inappropriate action that caused Librarygate. Admitting his wrongdoing and refusing to correct all his actions that lead up to it, makes him look like a total buffoon and hypocrite.
He refused to apologize for his “quick gavel,” that forced a vote on the pension bill H. R. 1776. He offered no apology for not giving the Democrats enough time to read the new bill. He did not apologize for calling the House sergeant-at-arms. He offered a “Trent Lott apology,” or a non-apology. You will remember that the more Trent Lott offered his non-apologies, the deeper the resentment against him grew. Some called him the “apologizer-in-chief.”
Why did Thomas even offer any apology? Because of all the bad publicity stemming from the blow-up. The Republicans were in the damage control mode. They have spent hours in closed-door meetings giving lectures on proper decorum. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had to cajole Thomas into making his half-hearted apology.
It is business as usual in Washington. Little is ever based on substance. Everything is based on appearances.
Read on for more about Librarygate:
Congressional FruitcakesEmployee Advocate – DukeEmployees.com - July 24, 2003
The GOP does not want to apologize for railroading the pension bill (H. R. 1776) through a House committee, according to Reuters. House Republican Leader Tom DeLay also said that he saw no reason for the pension bill to be returned to the committee.
DeLay is just following in the footsteps of Little King George. He saw no reason for the ballots to be verified in Florida. He barged into the White House with the aid of brother Jeb, Katherine Harris, James Baker, and the Supreme Court.
From reports by CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, a truer composite picture of the House committee event can be seen.
The blow-out all started in the Ways and Means Committee. They were to vote on pension bill H. R. 1776. Representative Bill Thomas, committee chairman, tried to railroad the bill through the committee by not allowing the Democratic members time to review the extensive changes made to the bill. The Democrats were properly doing their job by requesting time to review the bill. Would you want your congressman voting on a bill that will affect your pension when he does not even know what is in the bill?
If even one critical word had been changed in the bill, it could have been drastically altered. But we are not talking about a one word change. The original bill went from the 200 pages to a 91-page substitute, in the middle of the night! The new bill could have wreaked havoc on the pensions of all Americans, and the original bill had already done a pretty good job of that. To compound the problem, the change was sneaked in. The changes were only posed a midnight. The Democrats did not know what was in the bill and had not time to find out. The bill was not on the House calendar for the next week. There was no need to rush the vote, other than to keep the Democrats in the dark about what they would be voting on.
When the Democrats could not get a line-by-line reading of the bill, they walked out. Democrat Pete Stark stayed in the committee to demand a line-by-line reading of the bill and to keep the Republicans from railroading the bill through the committee. But the Republicans rammed the bill through anyway, over the protest of Pete Stark.
Bill Thomas agreed to allow a line-by-line reading of the bill, but almost immediately tried to get an unanimous consent to dispense with the reading. Pete Stark objected, so the reading had to continue. A few minutes later, Bill Thomas again tried to get an unanimous consent to dispense with the reading, and this time he immediately brought his gavel down, allowing no time for objections. When Pete Stark objected, Thomas said “You’re too late.”
Pete Stark was no doubt enraged and called Bill Thomas a “vulgarity.” At some point, Republican Congressman Scott McInnis told Pete Stark to “Shut up.”
Pete Stark replied “Oh you think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you. You little fruitcake. You little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake."
Pete Stark attempted to make a “parliamentary inquiry,” but was ignored by Bill Thomas. When Stark joined the other Democrats in a room close by, the Republicans approved the substitute and then the final bill unanimously by voice vote and adjourned.
At some point, Thomas called the Capitol police. Mr. McInnis claimed that he feared a “bodily threat” from Mr. Stark. It should be noted that Mr. McInnis is 50 years old. One report puts Mr. Stark at age 71, another put him at age 72. So, a 50 year old man tells a man greater than 70 years old to “shut up.” When the elder man calls him a “fruitcake,” the 50 year old man feels that he has been bodily threatened and the police must be called? It sounds like Mr. Stark calls them as he sees them and that Mr. McInnis is indeed a wimp and a fruitcake!
A lone officer responded. What did Thomas expect, the National Guard? The matter was referred to the House sergeant-at-arms. He quickly determined it a matter to be “resolved within the committee.”
Congressman Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) later asked "If it was the gentleman from California in the hearing room with the fruitcake, why did you sic the cops on the Democrats in the library?"
If Thomas call the police for a publicity stunt, it backfired. The last thing the corporate lobbyists directing this sordid bill want is publicity. They want to operate in the shadows and quietly deprive working Americans of their earned pensions. They do it a little at a time, bill by bill. The corporate pension lobbyists own one Republican and one Democrat in the House. They do all of their dirty work through them. Who are these two? H. R. 1776 is called the Portman-Cardin bill, after Congressmen Rob Portman (R-IL) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).
The Employee Advocate has no political party affiliations. But it is obvious that one party is pushing the corporate pension agenda through Congress. All employees need to be aware of what is happening. And, do not forget about it on election day.
Read on for more about the House pension blow-up:
House Pension BrawlEmployee Advocate – DukeEmployees.com - July 19, 2003
For too many years, lawmakers have sat quietly by, as lobbyist ruled Congress on pension issues. Pension have always been a backroom matter. Apparently few in Congress understood pensions and even less cared what laws were passed. There has been no shortage of corporate lobbying groups eager to instruct lawmakers on how to vote and to toss them a treat for blind obedience. They were able to get by with this because employees knew even less about pensions.
Things have changed. Workers have lost so much promised pension money over the years that they have started to delve into what makes pensions tick. They did not like what they found. It was obvious that Washington officials were catering to the lobbyists, year after year. Employees continued to lose promised pension benefits as corporate executives and their lobbyists were rolling in cash.
As lawmakers realize that they will be held accountable for their pension actions, or non-actions, they instantly became more interested in pensions! On Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee was energetically discussing pension bill H.R. 1776, according to CCN. There was a Democratic walkout. Accusations include: name-calling, vulgarity and physical threats being made, Congressman to Congressman. Witnesses described flaring tempers which almost led to the exchange of blows. The Capitol Police were called in!
Now this is what the Employee Advocate calls an energetic pension meeting! Every effort should always be made to resolve things peaceably. But sometimes it is necessary to get another Congressman’s attention. If perhaps a chair has to be sacrificed in getting the person’s attention – a Congressman has to do what a Congressman has to do!
This is not what the corporate lobbyists wanted at all. They like to slither around in the shadows, unnoticed. It is their wish that any pension legislation will also go unnoticed. The last thing the lobbying groups want is for a pension bill to get news coverage. More employees will become aware of how corporations and Congress double-team them to get their pensions. The lobbying groups will be biting their nails over the ink that this bill has already received. And just think, this blow-up started while the bill was only at the committee stage! There will undoubtedly be more black-eyes to follow. (The black-eyes may be figurative or literal.)
As long as the public remains uninvolved, lobbying is as easy as pie. But those days are gone. The pensions issue is mainstream now. Those who vote to take more pension benefits from employees will be exposed. Their actions will have consequences.
The squabbling even spilled over onto the House floor. Conflicting accounts were offered by Democrats and Republicans.
Witnesses said that Democrats did not like the way the committee's Republican chairman, Congressman Bill Thomas of California, was running the session. The Democrats said that they did not get enough time to review changes made to the bill, overnight.
This is a valid point. Often, lawmakers vote on bills that they have not read. Some depend on the reviews of others. Some just follow the lobbyists' instructions. At the end of the day, some do not have a clue as to what actual laws they voted on.
When the Democrats could not get a line-by-line reading of the bill, they walked out. Evidently, the committee ring-master did not really want them to know what was in the bill.
Bill Thomas decided that he was going to throw a scare into everybody by calling the Capitol Police. What a joke! How many officers do you think are going to go out of their way to arrest a group of congressmen? A good guess would be zero. An aide reported that the police scratched their heads and referred the matter to the House sergeant at arms. The committee members were instructed to work out their own problems.
From the House floor, Democrats denounced Republicans for using heavy handed tactics to get what they want.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said “We're not taking it anymore… How outrageous. The Ways and Means Democrats were subjected to an indignity, an indignity no member should have to endure. Make no mistake about this the police were summoned to remove these Democratic members because the chairman didn't want them in the room and for no other reason.”
Republican Congressman Scott McInnis said that 72-year old Democratic Congressman Pete Stark “threatened me with physical harm.”
An accusation was made that Pete Stark called the chairman a vulgarity.
Pete Stark was quoted as saying to Scott McInnis “You little fruitcake, you little fruitcake, I said you are a fruitcake.”
Democrat John Lewis of Georgia said “We will not be intimidated, we will not be immobilized; we live in a democracy and not a police state.”
Read on for an earlier article about the dangers of H. R. 1776:
Snakes in the Pension GrassEmployee Advocate – DukeEmployees.com - July 5, 2003
Congressmen Rob Portman (R-IL) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) are the pension twins of Congress. They apparently have taken as their personal mission the destruction of the American pension system. They introduce bill after bill to further degrade workers' pensions.
These destructive bills always have deceptive titles. Portman and Cardin would have you believe that they are champions of employees and saviors of pensions. They are, in fact, the proverbial snakes in the grass.
They take their orders from the giant corporate pension lobbyist groups. The lobbyist groups know that by having one Republican and one Democrat pandering their wishes they stand a better chance of destroying your pension. Portman pitches the Republican side of Congress, while Cardin works the Democrats. All the while, lobbyists are “softening up” the other congressmen.
The Pension Rights Center, in Washington, has exposed the latest Portman-Cardin pension bomb. It is H. R. 1776. It is innocently titled “The Pension Preservation and Savings Enhancement Act of 2003.” As is often the case, there is no truth in the title.
Do not let the patriotic "1776" number of the bill fool you. If this were the year 1776, the bill would not favor the Minutemen, it would favor King George. It does favor “Little King George’s” crowd – the corporations!
The bill was introduced in April, 2003 and the House Ways and Means Committee may vote on it this month. Now would be an excellent time to call your congressman and protest this bill.
The Pension Rights Center has stated:
“H.R. 1776 would neither PRESERVE PENSIONS nor ENHANCE SAVINGS.
“Instead, the bill’s major provisions would:
“Reduce the benefits that millions of American workers are now counting on receiving from their pension plans. The bill would permit plans to pay out smaller lump sums to retirees, while also jeopardizing the security of retirees’ lifetime benefits, by lowering the amounts that companies are legally required to put into plans to ensure that promised pensions are paid.
“Reduce the contributions that employers are now making to retirement plans for their employees. The bill would allow company owners and company officers to increase the tax-sheltered amounts they could put into 401(k) plans for themselves, making it possible for them to reach their plans’ overall (employer-employee) contribution limits by putting less money into profit sharing and 401(k) plans for their employees.”
The above covers only the highlights. The bill is 207 pages of pension reductions for workers.
Even parts of the bill that may seem good are there only to forestall comprehensive legislation.
Any good for employees contained in this bill is far outweighed by the bad.
Defined benefit pensions are required to use 30-year treasury securities to base the corporate contributions on. That is good. The more laws that bind corporations to keep their pension obligations, the better. But there is a slight problem. Little King George's administration killed the 30-year treasury securities.
The Portman-Cardin bill would base the corporate contribution rate on an index of long-term corporate bonds. This move alone would let corporation off the hook for billions of dollars in pension funding.
The people at The Pension Rights Center have never steered workers wrong on pensions. Portman and Cardin have only steered employees toward more pension losses. Do not give them an opportunity this time!
More Homeland Security SkullduggeryTomPaine.com – by Arianna Huffington - December 5, 2002
(12/3/02) - As the war on terrorshows troubling signs of becoming a war of error, the Bush administration is waging a far more successful war on behalf of its corporate backers. The latest victory comes courtesy of Congress' 11th hour reversal of a provision in the Homeland Security bill banning government contracts for companies that move offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
This vote, shamelessly draped in the American flag, is so hypocritical, so despicable, and such an unmitigated "screw you" to every American taxpayer that it has sent me scrambling in search of a barricade to storm.
The sleazy backroom maneuvering that yielded this year-end dividend for expat corporations offers a perfect -- and perfectly nauseating -- case study in how Washington works. The same leaders who never miss a chance to be seen tearfully singing "God Bless America" with their hands over their disloyal hearts have allowed profits to trump patriotism, even in a time of war.
Earlier this year, with the stink of Enron, Global Crossing, and WorldCom filling the air, the House and Senate, after sensing -- and exhaustively polling -- the public mood, voted overwhelmingly to keep corporate expatriates from milking and bilking the government at the same time. It was a political no-brainer. A red, white and blue slam-dunk. After all, the sooner the issue was stamped "taken care of," the sooner those bothersome questions about Dick Cheney's serial use of offshore shelters while running Halliburton would fade away.
And with the dogs of war in full cry, no politicians in their right mind dared come out in favor of allowing tax dodgers to stick their hands in Uncle Sam's pockets. Out on the campaign trail, even the most corporate-friendly campaigners made it clear that they stood foursquare against such unpatriotic behavior.
"We ought to look at people who are trying to avoid U.S. taxes as a problem," roared President Bush. "I think American companies ought to pay taxes and be good citizens." Trent Lott was equally exercised. "It agitates me that companies will be doing that," he fumed. Cue "God Bless America."
Then Election Day came and went, and lots and lots of big corporate checks were cashed. It was payback time. And a bipartisan who's who of power lobbyists -- including former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, former House Ways and Means chairman Bill Archer, former House Appropriations chair Bob Livingston, and former Senate Intelligence chairman Dennis DeConcini -- made sure that the expat companies' government gravy train was kept running, "Mussolini-style," right on schedule.
With the public's attention diverted elsewhere -- namely Iraq, and J-Lo and Ben's engagement -- the tax haven crowd found a much more receptive audience in Washington. Operating behind closed doors, and with next to no public debate, the lame duck Congress made an abrupt u-turn and sliced-and-diced the no-contracts-for-tax-cheats rule. And without blinking an eye, the president happily signed the bill into law.
That barely muffled cheer you might have heard came from the Caribbean-based corporate offices of companies such as scandal-ridden Tyco, Arthur Andersen progeny Accenture, and Ingersoll-Rand, a corporate chicken that, in a show of national mourning and solidarity, flew the coop a mere three months after the 9/11 attacks. All have avoided paying tens of millions in taxes by reincorporating offshore while pocketing tens of millions in federal contracts. And now, thanks to their good friends in Congress, they'll continue to do so. Not only do they not have to help pay for homeland security, but they're helping themselves to the spoils of the Homeland Security Act.
Time and again since 9/11, the president has stressed that patriotism entails more than waving the flag or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. "Patriotism," he said this summer, "is proven in our concern for others -- a willingness to sacrifice for people we may never have met." I guess the tax exiles and their heavy-hitting lobbyists didn't get the "sacrifice" memo.
The IRS estimates that corporate émigrés are depriving the U.S. Treasury of around $70 billion a year. Twenty years ago, one out of every six federal tax dollars was generated by a corporation. That has now fallen to about one out of every 10. Meanwhile, the rest of us are being asked to shovel our dollars into the crater left by Bush's tax policies. Maybe that is what the president had in mind when he talked about sacrificing "for people we may never have met": digging a little deeper so corporate execs basking in the sun-dappled glow of tax-free profits won't have to.
It's bad enough that companies that enjoy all the benefits and protections of operating under the American system are allowed to avoid paying their fair share -- especially when we are told, again and again, that we are at war. But allowing those same companies to suckle at the taxpayer teat -- in the name of keeping our homeland more secure, no less -- is nothing less than scandalous.
Our leaders should be ashamed -- and make overturning this dreadful decision the first order of business when the 108th Congress convenes in January. But I won't be shocked if they don't.
Arianna Huffington is a syndicated columnist and author of How to Overthrow the Government.
Homeland Security Act Race to JudgmentNewsMax.com – by Dave Eberhart – December 1, 2002
(11/30/02) - Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., continues to assail the recently passed Homeland Security Act, saying that a full text of the 480 plus page bill was not available to his fellows on the floor of the House until just 2 hours before the history-making vote that literally reconfigures government.
Paul, who wryly admits that he has earned the sobriquet, “Dr. No,” was back on duty – this time on the Rush Limbaugh program at the weekend – manning the bulwarks against growing federal encroachments into American privacy and decrying that the bill was not even available in written form but only viewable on an unofficial website.
“It’s not a question of whether members did read it or could have read it.” Paul told substitute host Walter Williams. “They wouldn’t have been able to read it. Even if it were available in written form, it was so complex and couched in such technical language.”
For Rep. Paul, careful reading of legislation is a must, as he believes each piece of legislation must be examined for its constitutionality; that is, on the basis of whether or not the U.S. Constitution allows the Congress or the Federal Government to engage in the actions described by the proposed legislation. If the Constitution does not allow it, then it must be opposed.
When asked on the program if ignorance or contempt for the nation’s oldest guiding document was behind the passage, he answered that it was more a matter of “misinformation.”
“Folks these days have come from an educational system that indoctrinates them that the Constitution is not rigid,” he says.
Another part of that misinformation, Paul maintains, was and is the notion that much of what was in the Act was new. “Most of the things were proposed a while ago,” he says. “Now it’s, as usual, the innocent people that will suffer the intrusions.”
Concern about one of those intrusions was voiced by a listener who was most concerned about how the Homeland Act seemed to push the envelope of privacy even farther than the Patriot Act by allowing investigators to penetrate individual ISPs and review e-mails without a warrant and only under the auspices of “good faith.”
Paul agreed that it was a concern and suggested that his fellow lawmakers were “encouraged by the fact of the recent elections” that suggested that Americans were perhaps impatient for a security bill.
“What should have happened,” says Paul, “is that we should have reacted by saying, ‘Hey wait – let’s hold back awhile.’”
As a matter of record, Paul has from the beginning wanted to take a longer and harder look at some of the security-freedom tradeoffs Americans would be making under the Act:
“HR 5710 grants major new powers to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by granting HHS the authority to ‘administer’ the smallpox vaccine to members of the public if the Department unilaterally determines that there is a public health threat posed by smallpox.
A Mere Potential
"HHS would not even have to demonstrate an actual threat of a smallpox attack, merely the ‘potential’ of an attack. Thus, this bill grants federal agents the authority to force millions of Americans to be injected with a potentially lethal vaccine based on nothing more than a theoretical potential smallpox incident.”
“Furthermore,” Paul has noted in arguments in the House chamber, “this provision continues to restrict access to the smallpox vaccine from those who have made a voluntary choice to accept the risk of the vaccine in order to protect themselves from smallpox. It is hard to think of a more blatant violation of liberty than allowing government officials to force people to receive potentially dangerous vaccines based on hypothetical risks...”
Arming the Government
“HR 5710 also expands the federal police state by allowing the attorney general to authorize federal agency inspectors general and their agents to carry firearms and make warrantless arrests,” Paul added.
“One of the most disturbing trends in recent years is the increase in the number of federal officials authorized to carry guns. This is especially disturbing when combined with the increasing trend toward restricting the ability of average Americans to exercise their second amendment rights. Arming the government while disarming the public encourages abuses of power.”
Rep. Paul likes to point to “You are a Suspect,” a recent article by William Safire in the New York Times. In that article, Safire details the Defense Department's plan to establish a system of "Total Information Awareness."
“According to Mr. Safire,” Paul notes, “once this system is implemented, no American will be able to use the internet to fill a prescription, subscribe to a magazine, buy a book, send or receive e-mail, or visit a web site free from the prying eyes of government bureaucrats.”
“Furthermore,” says Paul, referring to the Safire concerns, “individual internet transactions will be recorded in ‘a virtual centralized grand database.’ Implementation of this project would shred the Fourth Amendment's requirement that the government establish probable cause and obtain a search warrant before snooping into the private affairs of its citizens."
Paul has summed up his feelings on what he perceives an a race to judgment with the Homeland Security Act:
“Congress spent just a few short hours…to create the biggest new federal bureaucracy since World War II, not that the media or even most members of Congress paid much attention to the process. Yet our most basic freedoms as Americans- privacy in our homes, persons, and possessions; confidentiality in our financial and medical affairs; openness in our conversations, telephone, and internet use; unfettered travel; indeed the basic freedom not to be monitored as we go through our daily lives- have been dramatically changed.”
Rep. Paul, known widely in Washington for his unyielding opposition to big government, was honored recently for his defense of civil liberties during the 107th Congress. Paul won the prestigious Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties, which is presented annually to individuals who champion the cause of the individual against the growing abusive power of the state.
Paul was chosen in particular for his outspoken resistance to the Patriot Act, which grants the federal government unprecedented surveillance powers over American citizens.
Congress OKs Pipeline Safety BillAssociated Press – by Jim Abrams – November 16, 2002
WASHINGTON - Legislation designed to significantly improve the safety and security of the nation's natural gas and fuel pipelines cleared Congress Friday and was sent to the president for his signature.
Rep. Don Young, D-Alaska, chief sponsor of the legislation in the House, said it would "improve pipelines operational efficiency, provide better protections and training for pipeline workers and increase safety for residents who live near our pipelines."
The Senate approved the measure Wednesday, and the House passed it by voice vote early Friday as one of its last acts before adjourning for the year. The bill pending President Bush's signature would broaden safety requirements, improve the authority under which the Transportation Department can order an operator to fix an unsafe pipeline and increase penalties on operators who violate regulations
Pipeline safety advocates have pushed for a bill regulating the nation's 2.2 million miles of pipeline since a 1999 explosion killed three people in Bellingham, Wash. An August 2000 explosion killed 12 people in Carlsbad, N.M., and two more people were killed in pipeline accidents last year.
The bill would require pipeline inspections at least once in the next 10 years and every seven years after that. Some pipelines near large cities would be inspected more frequently.
The bill also would expand the public's right to know about pipeline hazards, set up environmental reviews intended to enable more timely pipeline repairs and increase state oversight of safety activities.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., hailed the measure as an important step to improve an often overlooked part of the country's infrastructure.
"I am proud to have been involved in the effort to increase the safety of our nation's pipelines," said Murray, who sponsored a similar bill that won Senate approval last year. That measure died in the House.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said the latest bill should provoke the pipeline industry to be more responsible. The measure increases the maximum penalty for a series of violations from $100,000 to $1 million.
"I believe we have crafted fair legislation that should work to give the public more confidence in the safety of the pipelines that cross our state, particularly when these pipelines impede populated or sensitive areas," Domenici said.
Both the House and Senate approved pipeline bills this year, and an agreement on pipelines was reached this fall as part of a comprehensive energy bill. Senators adopted the stand-alone bill after negotiations on the energy bill collapsed this week.
Consumers Win; Energy Bill RejectedPublic Citizen – Press Release – November 14, 2002
Consumers won a big victory today when congressional conferees wisely decided to abandon the retrograde energy bill. This legislation was based on Bush administration proposals that were plotted in secret with Enron executives and other energy lobbyists. It would have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars in handouts to nuclear, coal and oil companies, including some of the wealthiest corporations in the world.
The legislation included provisions to repeal vital electricity consumer protections as a reward for campaign contributions from energy companies, many of which are under investigation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other agencies for rigging California's deregulated energy market and costing consumers billions of dollars.
The failure to pass this legislation also means that Congress has failed to reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act, which would subsidize new nuclear power plants by making taxpayers responsible for nuclear catastrophes. Finally, the bill did nothing to address America's dependence on foreign oil, such as addressing consumption or efficiency.
We hope that if the 108th Congress revisits energy policy, lawmakers will address the real needs of Americans and the environment rather than simply caving in to the demands of greedy energy executives who have proven over the past few years that do not have the best interests of consumers at heart.
100 Groups Decry Energy BillPublic Citizen – Press Release – November 9, 2002
More Than 100 Public Interest and Environmental Groups Urge Congress to Reject Energy Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. - More than 100 environmental, public interest and consumer organizations from 32 states sent a letter to Congress today urging lawmakers to reject the pending energy bill. Last year, the House passed a pro-corporate energy bill and the Senate followed suit, but the legislation has been held up in conference committee due mainly to the objections of Senate Democrats to certain damaging provisions, including oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the repeal of important consumer protections within the electricity market.
It is unclear whether energy conferees will attempt to hammer out a final bill in the lame-duck session scheduled to begin next Tuesday. The broad coalition of environmental and public interest organizations endorsing today's letter urged lawmakers to abandon the legislation. The letter and list of 103 organizations signers is at http://www.citizen.org/documents/energyletcongress.pdf.
"While H.R. 4 is packed with numerous incentives for destructive polluters, it does virtually nothing to advance conservation and efficiency in this country, or meaningfully promote safe, clean and affordable renewable energies," the groups wrote. "Do not give billions of dollars to the oil, nuclear, and coal industries at the expense of your constituents' health, safety and tax dollars. We urge you to defeat the energy bill."
With the Republicans now in control of the Senate, House and White House, the 108th Congress is expected to return next year to the issue of comprehensive energy legislation, likely pushing a package that will largely resemble the controversial Bush-Cheney National Energy Policy crafted in May 2001. Promoting increased fossil fuel and nuclear generation, as well as the further deregulation of electricity markets, such a bill could spell disaster for consumers and the environment. Energy companies contributed heavily to election campaigns this cycle, with the nuclear industry alone doling out more than $5 million to candidates, according to a Public Citizen analysis.
"Polluting energy industries have set themselves up to wield considerable influence in the 108th Congress," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "But Americans who are committed to safe, sustainable and affordable energy policy will stand together to oppose polluter pay-out energy legislation and hold politicians accountable for policies that protect the corporate interests that bankrolled their campaigns rather than consumers."
The Shaky Energy BillAssociated Press – by H. Josef Hebert - October 13, 2002
WASHINGTON - Lawmakers' inability to resolve a few issues important to the electric power industry — rather than a dispute over new oil drilling in the Arctic wild — is thwarting a deal in Congress to overhaul the nation's energy agenda.
With time running out, House and Senate negotiators were trying Wednesday to salvage an energy bill. The legislation repeatedly has been pronounced a top priority of the White House and essential to wean the country away from Mideast oil.
Over the past week, the sticking point has been disagreement over electricity policy.
Lawmakers have been unable to resolve how much control they should give federal regulators over electricity transmission, how to protect consumers against market abuse, and how much utilities should rely on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Many Democratic senators and House members already believe the legislation has been weakened to a point where it will do little to spur new energy production or significantly curb energy use.
The dispute over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is viewed by a growing number of Democrats and Republicans as so entrenched that it cannot be resolved quickly. They say it will be put off until they can agree on the other matters.
The White House did not rule out accepting a bill without the drilling provision.
"The measure in the conference right now, to some degree accomplishes some of (the president's) objectives, so we'll continue to work with the conferees to see precisely what it is they agreed to," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (news - web sites) said Thursday. "It's a moving target right now, though."
The energy legislation has taken almost the entire two years of the current Congress. Senate Republicans in early 2001 offered their proposals, focusing heavily on production incentives. They were quickly rejected by most Democrats.
The House pushed through an energy bill in early August 2001 that largely mirrored proposals by Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites)'s energy task force a few months earlier. It tilted heavily toward boosting fossil fuel production, including drilling in the Arctic refuge.
The Senate rejected development of the Alaska refuge. Last April it passed its energy bill, giving more incentives to development of renewable energy sources, requiring wider use of corn-based ethanol and banning MTBE, the gas additive blamed for polluting drinking water in many states.
The Senate version would scuttle a 1935 law limiting the activities of large electric power holding companies, but would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (news - web sites) additional consumer protection responsibilities over them. House Republicans have strongly objected to giving FERC this new authority.
There also is sharp disagreement over proposals to expand FERC's authority over public power companies and a dispute over who should pay for certain expansions of transmission lines.
The Senate proposal to expand ethanol use, an issue close to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and other farm-state lawmakers, has riled some Texas lawmakers, including Rep. Joe Barton (news, bio, voting record), one of the key GOP negotiators. Barton has also fought the proposed ban on MTBE, the additive ethanol would replace.
If the ban is imposed, Barton has insisted, MTBE makers should be given a liability waiver against lawsuits arising from MTBE contamination of water supplies. So far, the Senate has balked on such a waiver.
At a meeting this week among Senate Democrats, some — including Daschle — suggested the entire electricity section might be scrapped to open the way for possible agreement on other issues, including a proposal on reporting emissions that contribute to global warming (news - web sites).
Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the energy conference chairman, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (news, bio, voting record), D-N.M., leader of the Senate negotiators, remained determined not to abandon the effort to forge the needed compromises.
"It's like the seventh game of the World Series," said Ken Johnson, Tauzin's spokesman. "We're optimistic and hopeful, but we could still lose it."
Environmental and consumer groups made clear at a news conference Wednesday that they would just as soon see the energy bill go away.
"Congress should abandon energy legislation and start again next year," said Adam Goldberg of the Consumers Union.
Kill the Energy BillNew York Times – by David Cay Johnston – October 6, 2002
Negotiators from the House and Senate have been struggling to reconcile two different versions of a multibillion-dollar energy bill. They would do themselves and the nation a tremendous favor by junking the whole thing and agreeing to start all over again next year. Though the Senate bill is preferable to the House's, neither version would measurably improve the nation's energy security or lessen its dependence on Mideast oil now or in the future — which is what the whole exercise was supposed to be about. Both are also suspect on environmental grounds.
There are bound to be a few good things in a bill this big, and there are. Both versions include various tax breaks for greater energy efficiency and renewable, non-fossil fuels, like wind and solar power. The Senate is also pushing some potentially useful incentives to make the energy transmission markets more reliable and decentralize them.
Nevertheless, these and other useful ideas are buried under an avalanche of subsidies for traditional producers of fossil fuels — oil, natural gas and especially coal. In that sense, the bill points in exactly the wrong direction, enriching industries that already have plenty of investment capital while doing relatively little to encourage newer technologies that could lead the way to a less oil-dependent energy future.
Even some of the "renewable fuel" provisions are not what they seem. The worst example is a so-called ethanol mandate that would triple the amount of ethanol used as a fuel additive over the next 10 years. There are no persuasive environmental arguments for ethanol; clean-burning gasoline can be made without it. Nor is it attractive as an alternative fuel. Ethanol is produced from starches, mainly corn, but as of now it requires nearly as much energy to produce as it gives back. The ethanol mandate amounts to a giveaway to the big corn producers and the politicians who represent them.
The most important step this nation could take to ease its dependence on Middle Eastern oil is to tighten fuel economy standards, which have not changed since 1985. In March, however, the Senate bowed to union and industry pressure and rejected an effort to increase fuel efficiency by 50 percent over 13 years, a technologically feasible move that would have saved 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, or roughly our current imports from the Persian Gulf. The conference committee's response is a pathetic little measure that aims to save about 25 million barrels over five years (or about 10 days' worth of imports). Loopholes in the measure would cancel out even this modest saving.
The terrorist attacks and California's power crisis challenged Congress to devise a comprehensive, innovative energy strategy. It has failed to do so. The new Congress that convenes in January should make a fresh start.