Time to go all the way

President Bush finally stopped searching little old ladies' sneakers for terrorist bombs long enough to begin declaring war on the other "evildoers" of society -- the crooked corporate executives, boards of directors, regulators, auditors, investment bankers, stock analysts and rating agencies who have lied, cheated, stolen and bilked millions of American workers and investors out of billions of dollars over the past several years.

Never to be confused with someone who is quick on the uptake, Dubya apparently needed a little more time than the rest of us to "get it." (He amply demonstrated this trait 12 years ago while on the Board of Directors of Harkin Energy Co., a Texas-based oil exploration firm. By illegally waiting eight months to inform the Securities and Exchange Commission of the stock sale that netted him $848,560, just before the company went bust, he remains entirely unaware that he was just as guilty of corporate malfeasance as the titans of Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, Qwest, ImClone, WorldCom, Global Crossings, et al, who have recently plunged the stock market into a downward spin of disastrous proportions.)

Unfortunately, there is something that he, his equally crooked vice president (Halliburton, the oil company chaired by a well-paid Dick Cheney for five years, is also under investigation for illegally inflating profits) and his whole business friendly administration don't understand. That is, any "fixes" it plans around the edges of the capitalist system -- increased jail time for corporate fraud, limiting loans to executives -- will do little but treat the symptoms of a disease that will inevitably, generation after generation, produce the same scandalous results.

So, although the White House admirably wishes to limit the conflicts of interests that allow boards of directors, accounting firms, investment bankers, etc., to all look the other way when dubious practices go unchecked and everyone is making money (of course when things unravel, all parties claim to have been kept in the dark!), its proposals don't nearly go far enough. Fundamental reforms are needed in corporate governance, so that corporations are forced to serve the commonwealth in which they are chartered and not the other way around.

For example, instead of the incestuous relationships that now prevail, corporations should be required to seat on their boards minority shareholders, workers, community representatives, company creditors, and corporate suppliers and customers. Those people would be independent of both managers and majority shareholders, and answer only to the broadest array of stakeholders within the company and community at large.

To destroy the conflicts inherent in relationships between companies and the auditing firms that oversee their books (while receiving hefty consulting fees on the side) all corporate accounting must, in the future, be totally transparent. Publicly administered audits attesting to the validity of the ledgers -- and not just certification of the company accounts by its CEOs, which the President supports -- should be the norm.

To eliminate the coziness between the government and the American corporations that it seems to serve, the strictest campaign finance laws, totally banning all forms of corporate contributions, must finally be put into place. The battle against corporate control of government via campaign underwriting has been raging since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. Public financing of political campaigns is a long-overdue necessity.

Also, if we are going to continue to finance the government by income taxes, corporations must again pay their fair share. After the 2002 tax cuts, U.S. corporations will pay close to the lowest rate of taxes as a share of the economy that they have paid in 60 years (4.5 percent of the GDP during the Truman and Eisenhower years, vs. 1.3 percent, today.) Perhaps if companies knew they were going to pay taxes on their real income and not rely upon tax dodges, like offshore reincorporation and the kinds of corporate welfare that tend to eliminate tax liability, "overstatement of earnings" would be too expensive a way to cook the books.

Finally, we must recognize the limits of capitalism. The energy and utility markets must be re-regulated to prevent a repeat of the California/Enron debacle where blackouts and price-gouging reigned side by side. Restraining greed for the sake of the peoples' health and safety is not socialism. It's merely good government and plain common sense.

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