Monday, December 23, 2002

It's All Enron's and Trent Lott's Fault

I got a pretty amazing "tag" above the headline this week: "Republican Rot." Bob Schuster's idea, not mine--and that's even without mentioning the $60 million civil verdict against GOP Corporation Commissioner Jim Irvin. If you want proof, check out the paper's version here.

I also wrote 99 Words About Jane Hull, in Sunday's Arizona Republic, where they pretty much used my bar mitzvah photograph. You can read the bit here but there's no photograph available online.

Happy holidays to Gentile readers, and I presume I'll see the rest of you (us?) at the movies or at dim sum on Christmas day.


East Valley Tribune, Dec. 22, 2002

Our local media missed the local angle on two big national stories last week.

First, a videotape surfaced of an Enron Corp. party, featuring a glowing testimonial from our current president, and one from his father about just how helpful an Enron executive had been to “my boy George.”

The video also featured skits with Enron honchos actually joking about accounting fraud. A financial type jests that managing earnings was proving less difficult and time-consuming than he had feared. But the highlight was Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling talking about a new technique to boost profits by “kazillions” through adoption of “HFV” -- accounting based on “Hypothetical Future Values.”

Skilling was joking (I think). Enron’s standards-free abuse of “mark-to-market” accounting already allowed it to decide how much money it made by using prices only it knew, set in markets it controlled. Who needed to invent future values when you were creating today’s prices? But HFV sounded eerily familiar. What famous Arizona businessman actually used HFV, years before the Enron skits?

Answer? Former Gov. J. Fife Symington. In his bankruptcy fraud trial, Symington justified the inflated values he claimed for various assets on his financial statement as based on what he just knew those properties would be worth sometime in the future. It was Fife Symington, not Jeffrey Skilling, who invented HFV -- and then testified under oath that he meant it.

Fife Symington: Just slightly (and fraudulently) ahead of his time.

Second, while Trent Lott now regrets wishing that Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948, his problems increased before his resignation Friday with renewed attention to several pro-Confederacy and anti-civil-rights remarks Lott’s made, including a lengthy interview with a crypto-racist publication called Southern Partisan.

Southern Partisan has defended slavery (“Slave owners . . . did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves’ peace and happiness”) and trashed Lincoln’s memory (a “consummate conniver, manipulator and a liar”). They sold the T-shirt -- with Lincoln’s image over the words “sic semper tyrannis” (“thus always to tyrants”), John Wilkes Booth’s cry after the assassination -- that Timothy McVeigh wore when arrested for the Oklahoma City bombing.

Here’s the Arizona connection. In 2000, Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign -- paying some $20,000 per month for “consulting services” -- hired none other than Richard Quinn, the editor of Southern Partisan, for the South Carolina presidential primary.

Quinn’s “consulting” led McCain into supporting keeping the Confederate flag atop the South Carolina capitol, a position McCain later renounced and for which he apologized. And based on what foul stunts the Bush campaign pulled in South Carolina (the speech at Bob Jones University, the push-polls about the McCains’ adopted daughter), perhaps McCain gets his apology accepted.

But why was support of the Confederate flag the least bit legitimate in the first place, to McCain in 2000, and in GOP gubernatorial campaigns in South Carolina and Georgia this year? In 1948, the Dixiecrat platform meant nullifying the U.S. Constitution. Flying that flag today celebrates treason.

If Confederate flag-wavers claim that it’s actually about culture or history, South Carolina and Georgia were British colonies, and Mississippi and Alabama part of France, decades longer than the Confederacy. You don’t see the Union Jack or Fleur-de-Lis on many pickup trucks.

In reality, it’s all about racism.

Coded (or plausibly-deniable) appeals to crypto- (and not-so-crypto-) racists have been part of southern GOP politics for decades. As Bill Clinton noted, despite the current right-wing outrage over Lott, “he just embarrassed (the GOP) by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day.”

As computer programmers say, “It’s not a bug -- it’s a feature.”

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