Call for Bush-Cheney probe

George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney faced sharp new questions about their role in Enron-style corporate fraud as the stock market continued to plummet and WorldCom went belly-up July 22, the largest corporate bankruptcy in history. In just the past two weeks the markets have lost $1.5 trillion. Publicly traded stocks have lost $7 trillion in value since stock prices peaked two years ago.

The AFL-CIO responded to the spreading corporate scandals by calling for a demonstration in New Britain, Conn., July 29 to protest Stanley Works “infamous” plan to move its corporate headquarters to an offshore tax haven. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and International Association of Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger will speak at the rally. The Machinists represent the Stanley Works employees who manufacture quality hand tools.

The next day, Sweeney will speak on Wall Street on the theme, “No More Business as Usual! Restore corporate accountability on Wall Street!” Sweeney will be joined by former WorldCom, Enron and Arthur Andersen workers who have lost their jobs, health care and pensions in the bankruptcy of these firms. A media advisory announcing the protest reported that the rally “is part of the AFL-CIO’s national campaign … to hold CEOs and corporations accountable, eliminate conflicts of interest among accountants and financial analysts, abolish stock options for corporate leaders, secure retirement security of all workers and demand meaningful pension reform.”

Worker retirement funds represent over 20 percent of stock ownership, the advisory reported, “and losses over the past year have been estimated at $800 billion.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), speaking at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition annual conference in Chicago called for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate charges that Bush engaged in “insider trading.” In 1991, Bush sold 212,000 shares of Harken Energy Corp. for $878,000 in profits just before the oil company announced $22 million in losses. Bush, a director of Harken and a member of its audit committee, has admitted he received an inside tipoff that the company was about to announce heavy losses.

Similarly, Cheney is under investigation for his role as CEO of Halliburton, the Texas-based oil equipment firm. (See story page 12)

Conyers’ proposal for a special prosecutor was the topic of the July 22 edition of CNN’s “Crossfire.” Julian Epstein, minority counsel of the House Judiciary Committee, said an investigation is needed of Bush and Cheney. “Every time they open their mouths, the stock market tanks,” said Epstein, a veteran member of Conyers’ staff. “Why is that? Part of the reason is that they have become the poster children for the corporate malfeasance that’s been occurring. Both of them presided over corporations that used Enron-style accounting.”

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the National Employment Law Project debunked Bush claims that the economy is rebounding. The two groups released a report titled “Time to Fix the Federal Extended Benefit Program.” As of June, 1.67 million workers have been unemployed more than the 26 weeks and even the minority of jobless workers who receive unemployment insurance are now exhausting their benefits, the report charged.

Matthew Walters, an EPI spokesman told the World that after the 1991 recession, “We had a jobless recovery. The current ‘recovery’ is following that pattern.” Long-term unemployment, he said, proves that workers who are laid off these days “are finding it increasingly difficult to find new jobs. Companies are downsizing. They are not hiring people back. The jobs are permanently eliminated.”

Congress he said, must further extend Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits for workers who are exhausting extended benefits and must lower the threshold to permit more jobless workers to qualify for UI. “This is a huge issue in this year’s election,” he said. “Millions of workers and their families are affected by the loss of these benefits.”

Dan Kaufman, press spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) said his union is fighting to protect pension funds hard hit by corporate bankruptcies. The best solution, he said, would be a federal law requiring disclosure and worker representation on pension funds.

In Florida, the State Employees Pension Fund, which covers thousands of AFSCME retirees, “continued to buy Enron stock even after the company was beginning to collapse,” Kaufman said. “Gov. Jeb Bush was one of the trustees and pushed for the purchase of Enron stock.”

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