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Inside Politics
Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Where is the outrage?


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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- Either we are losing our capacity for moral outrage, or George W. Bush is presiding over the ultimate Teflon Administration.

On the evening of January 20, Rich Little, the impressionist-comedian, was emceeing the inaugural ball at the Washington Hilton hotel. Little did this impersonation Ronald Reagan: "You know somebody asked me, 'Do you think the War on Poverty is over?' I said: 'Yes. The poor lost.'"

According to the Washington Post reporter who was there, "The crowd went wild." From the surly, syndicated talk show hosts or their cranky callers, there was no condemnation of the unfeeling meanness of the Bush party-goers' reaction.

Thanks to the Snohomish County (Washington) Public Utility District -- which argues that it was swindled by, and is fighting a legal suit against, Enron -- audio transcripts have now been made public that show that in the middle of California's acute energy crisis in 2001, when power plants were under an emergency U.S. order to keep operating, Enron conspired to take a power plant off-line to price-gouge even more the state's homeowners and business owners.

As a direct consequence of the plant's being taken off-line for phony repairs, the very next day California was forced to impose a power emergency, and over half a million residents endured rolling blackouts.

On the tapes, one Enron trader reports, "They had to do a rolling blackout through the town, and there was a red light there he didn't see," to which a second trader responds, "That's beautiful." Earlier, the Snohomish utility (not the torpid Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) had through the courts made public tapes that revealed Enron executive laughing over how their price-rigging was ripping off "Grandma Millie" and congratulating each other over the record profits their schemes were producing for the Houston company.

Let's look at the record. According to the respected Center for Responsive Politics, the biggest corporate contributor to George W. Bush's two campaigns for governor was Enron. Its employees contributed more than $312,000.

Enron's CEO, Ken Lay, gave $100,000. Enron and its employees donated $118,000 to George W. Bush's first presidential campaign, and Lay was designated as a Pioneer by the Bush-Cheney committee, which meant he had raised at least $100,000.

Enron, corporately, and Lay, individually, each gave $100,000 to the Bush-Cheney inaugural. But of perhaps greatest value to the Bush candidacy, Enron corporate jets were used by Bush on 14 different occasion for a bargain-basement total price of just under $60,000.

Later, poking fun at Bush's public distancing of himself from the friend he once called "Kenny Boy" by comparing it to his predecessor's denial of a relationship with a White House intern, former South Carolina Sen. "Fritz" Hollings put it this way: "I did not have political relations with that man, Ken Lay."

Remember Vice President Dick Cheney's "secret" Energy Task Force? Lay remembers. In the midst of the California energy crisis, with increasing demands for the imposition of federal caps to provide relief from the skyrocketing prices, Lay met with Cheney on April 17, 2001.

One day later, the vice president told the Los Angeles Times that price caps, which would not be considered, provided "only short-term political relief for politicians."

Enron's unquestioned criminality inflicted enormous human suffering. Employees saw their life savings, their pensions and their retirement plans destroyed. Investors were robbed.

Ordinary citizens and communities were fleeced and swindled by illegal price-rigging. Families -- faced with utility bills they could not pay and did not deserve -- lost their confidence, their homes and their peace of mind.

Enron, a white-collar Fortune 500 star, did not commit victimless crimes. Where is the accountability, and where is the outrage?


Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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