What a strange world this would be if the virtue-mongers in the Senate were to actually get to the bottom of the Enron scandal which kicked off the frenetic round of activity to make America safe from greedy CEOs, CFOs and auditors.
Hinting that the Bush Administration is responsible for all this (in the hope voters will agree in November), Senator Tom Daschle, the majority leader, and Senator Joseph Lieberman intone their veiled attacks with such preambles as "I am gravely concerned..." and "It distresses me to say..."
It turns out, however, theirs is a case of do-as-a-I-say-not-as-I-do. For example, when Republican Rep. John Thune of Daschle's state, South Dakota, included in the farm bill earlier this year a provision to allow culling of undergrowth and dead or dying trees from national forests in the state, Daschle killed the provision at the urging of environmental groups.
Last week, however, it was revealed that Senator Daschle had quietly slipped into a defense spending bill a provision to allow just such thinning of forests in South Dakota as a means of preventing forest fires. The provision exempts the subject forests from regulations and lawsuits. At present, more than 20 legal proceedings aimed at preventing the removal of forest fire fuel from South Dakota national forests are on court dockets. Western states' senators claimed that the Daschle provision should apply to their states, too. They have a strong argument. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 3.7 million acres of forest have been consumed by 50,000 fires this summer.
There is mounting evidence that environmental extremist efforts to prevent culling and thinning of fuel from national forests have contributed to the devastation. Imbued with self-righteousness, the environmentalists deny this, although they gave Senator Daschle a pass for his action.
As for Senator Lieberman, he was asked if he planned to call Citigroup Executive Committee Chairman Robert Rubin (who was Mr. Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury), to testify before his Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "I do not," he replied tersely. That's odd. Just the other day, Senate investigators revealed in a hearing that Citigroup helped Enron disguise its ballooning debts through an arcane device called "commodity prepays." These devices were hidden from Enron investors while Citigroup was selling a large amount of Enron bonds, now worthless. Rubin, who was nearly canonized by the media when he left office, joined Citigroup in 1999. By April 2001, Enron had used "prepays" to understate its debt by $2.2 billion. Under generally accepted accounting principles, this debt should have been on Enron's books, but Citigroup turned the other cheek.
As Enron's position deteriorated, maintaining its credit ratings was essential. Three weeks before Enron declared bankruptcy, Rubin lobbied a senior Treasury Department official to urge him to call the independent credit-rating agencies to persuade them not to downgrade Enron. What he was asking the official to do was wrong. The official told him, in effect, to jump in a lake.
You would think that Senator Lieberman's committee would be interested in learning everything there is to learn about the role of Mr. Rubin and his company in the Enron saga. He's not. Do you suppose it is because they are both Democrats? And, you'd think Senator Daschle would want his forest-thinning exemption extended to other-fire prone states. He doesn't. Do you suppose it is because his fellow South Dakota Democrat Senator Tim Johnson is in the political fight of his life with Rep. Thune, and Daschle wants to help him?
We know these explanations can't be true because virtue reigns in the Senate.
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