Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Random Acts Of Economic Violence

In the mid-1980s, the phrase 'random acts of violence' was used to describe the terror that is urban gang warfare. Violence that is perpetrated between rivals is not random. People driving in cars and shooting at a group of people on the sidewalk is not random, even if a bystander is hurt. It is really specific, and I always disliked referring to it as a random act of violence.

During the same era, the federal government was instituting Reaganomics. For those of you not familiar with the history of economics in modern America, this movement was a process by which the federal government lifted regulations that controlled vital industries such as finance, energy, transportation and communications.

Laws were repealed and companies were allowed to . . . no, encouraged to take any action they chose in efforts to grow. We were promised that deregulated industries (banks, electricity providers, telephone companies, and airlines) would flourish: profits would rise while prices dropped and competition flourished and jobs were created. The streets would flow with honey. The stagnated US economy would be reborn.

With all this growth, taxes would be cut and businesses would be even freer to spread their wealth among the citizenry, who would no longer need so much tax money budgeted for infrastructure because the newly flowing profits would certainly take up the slack.

Well, profits increased very quickly. In fact, much changed in a very short period of time. None of the promised benefits were realized, though, as competition dwindled. Jobs were eliminated. Prices sky-rocketed. Pretty much the opposite of the promises of supply-side economics happened.

The tax base was eroded by eliminating the tax burden from the wealthy and shifting it to the working class. Given the simple algebra that follows such a process, tax coffers were emptied and the federal government began to borrow money to keep basic services running. They are still doing it.

You see, you cannot eliminate your taxes and continue to run a country.

What has happened is that social service safety nets have been eliminated and unemployment and personal debt have sky-rocketed, leaving the United States with a pretty-much dead economy that is prodded along slowly with tax incentives provided by borrowing money from Saudi Arabia and China.

Homelessness is at an all time high.

More people are unemployed than ever before. Only the numbers don't reflect it because the Reagan administration changed the way we count the unemployed: we now only count those people receiving unemployment benefits. When your benefits run out, you are no longer considered unemployed -- even though you may not be working.

More people, especially children, are without health insurance.

The tax burden for the lowest of the economic strata is greater than it has been since the turn of the last century.

The way that Reaganomics has impacted the citizens of the United States is totally random. Could not be more random. Any industry at any moment could lay-off thousands of staff, and not because profits are down. They might NAFTA the jobs to Mexico, they might merge with another company and eliminate 'redundancy,' they might automate one division and expect staff in another division to take on a larger workload. Completely random.

And violent.

Forcing Americans, healthy hard-working Americans, to choose between food and medicine, homelessness and food, education and retirement, is brutal.

We are the wealthiest nation in the world. The statistics of our health, welfare and education systems place us on par with developing nations in Africa and Asia.

Supply-side economics -- Reaganomics -- is single-handedly responsible for this.

The poster-child corporation for our failed economy is Enron.

Enron delivered everything that supply-side economics and deregulation can offer.




And a very few very rich people smiling all the way to the bank.

Happily, one Enron executive, a man responsible for random violence perpetrated against his employees, retirees and shareholders, is smiling all the way to prison.

Of course, we all pretend that this is isolated, that our economy really is strong. That a six trillion dollar national debt isn't that bad, and as my brother told me this weekend: "The country is doing better than it ever has." Of course, we have to believe that and be grateful for what we have.

But what are we doing? What has happened to America that we continue to let this happen? Why do we elect Bushes and Clintons and others who represent the now-toxic mainstream (Democrat and Republican alike)?

Where are the voices screaming for economic justice? for education? for health care? for fair labor practices? for a balanced tax burden?

We are screaming about immigrants and gay marriage while Bill Clinton and George Bush cash-out.

What are we doing?


We are grateful to have a job and a mortgage and a car and whatever nominal health benefits are provided. We can point at the immigrants and the homosexuals and the single mothers or abortionists, and we can say: that's the problem.

We ignore that our government has been hijacked by a small number of people and we pretend there is a difference between red and blue, Democrat and Republican. And we ignore that they continue to deregulate business and allow companies to buy and sell our congressional process. We let businessmen dictate federal policy and we ignore scientists and economists who warn that things are going poorly.

Well, there is at least one of these crooks who is going to pay: Jeffrey Skilling. He's taking the fall for the Clintons and Bushes and all purveyors of voodoo economics.

Jeffrey Skilling is going to prison and there should be dancing in the streets.

Court orders Skilling to jail
By Eileen O'Grady
A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday ordered ex-Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling to begin serving immediately a 24-year prison sentence after a one-day reprieve, according to court documents.

Late on Tuesday, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Skilling's request to remain free on bail while he appeals fraud and conspiracy convictions.

"As a result of the Fifth Circuit's ruling, the government is pleased that the jury's verdict and the District Court's sentence will now be carried out for defendant Skilling," U.S. Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said in a statement.

Skilling's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, was not immediately available for comment.

Skilling had been scheduled to report to a Minnesota federal prison on Tuesday, but the Fifth Circuit Court said late on Monday that Skilling could stay out while a panel of the court's judges gave "careful consideration" to his bail request.

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons said Skilling was not yet in their custody.

Veteran Houston appellate lawyer and TV legal commentator Brian Wice expressed amazement at the court's one-day reversal.

"I've never seen in 27 years of appellate practice the panel stay the decision to send someone to prison the day of and then reverse it the next day," Wice said. "How can you go from 'careful consideration' to 'don't let the cell door hit you in the behind'?"

Another appellate attorney, who declined to be identified, said the ruling does not mean the court has any opinion on Skilling's chance for a successful appeal and does not prevent Skilling from being granted bail at a later date.

Skilling, 53, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in hiding Enron's financial condition from investors as the company's fortunes eroded prior to its 2001 collapse.

In May, a Houston jury convicted Skilling of defrauding investors. Skilling maintains he committed no crime and plans to appeal. His sentence is the longest handed out to a former Enron executive.

Energy giant Enron, once the seventh-largest U.S. company, spiraled into bankruptcy in a tangle of secret deals that hid billions of dollars in debt. Thousands of workers lost their jobs and pensions, and investors lost billions of dollars.

Skilling is to serve his sentence at the low-security prison in Waseca, Minnesota, which is about 75 miles south of Minneapolis.

Low-security prisons are designated for nonviolent offenders and often resemble school dormitories. The facilities typically do not have barbed wire or guard towers.

(Additional reporting by Bruce Nichols, Erwin Seba and Anna Driver)

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