(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)



Subject: Gotta love Molly Ivins
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002 03:38:12 -0700
From: "Peter Coyote"
Organization: Wild Dog Productions

Posted on Sun, Sep. 08, 2002
Keep your eyes on the shell game

By Molly Ivins

Nothing like a lot of distracting saber-rattling to get you to take your eyes off the shell with the pea under it.

Kind of like the prospect of being hanged in the morning, impending war does tend to concentrate the mind wonderfully. But the remaining balance, if any, in your 401(k) is an attention-grabber as well, so while the administration tries to make up its mind whether it agrees with itself on the best way to handle Saddam Hussein, I recommend a swift glance back at the corporate reform agenda.

President Bush went around the country this summer essentially saying, "Done that, it's all over," on corporate reform. His adoption of Sen. Paul Sarbanes' Accounting Reform and Investment Protection Act, which he staunchly opposed until two weeks before it passed by a unanimous vote, is his most unusual claim to parenthood since he announced in mid-debate he was the father of the Texas patients' bill of rights. In that case, he had first vetoed the bill of rights and then refused to sign it after it passed by a veto-proof majority.

But the media failed to run the DNA on his paternity claim. Listening to Bush at his Economic Forum in Waco, one would have thought that the Sarbanes bill was his very own pet project and that he had shepherded it carefully through the bob-wire thickets of Congress. As they say in West Texas, not hardly.

But Karl Rove or somebody with political savvy did have the sense to get him to sign it, for which we are all appropriately grateful. Unfortunately, what remains to be done is considerably more than what has been accomplished to date. Still unresolved is that matter of counting stock options as an expense on corporate balance sheets, and here we need to keep an eagle eye on the shell game.

Dozens of corporations have already announced they will begin expensing stock options when they are granted under a complicated formula called Black-Scholes. As Reuven Brenner and Donald Luskin point out in a recent Wall Street Journal article, that's jumping from the frying pan into the fire---trading one form of fake accounting for another. No one knows what a stock option actually costs until it is exercised.

"That means the options are risky liabilities of unknown future cost---a short position in derivative security, actually," Brenner and Luskin write. "As such, they should be reflected on the company's balance sheet and marked to market every quarter. ... Keeping the options off the balance sheet conceals what is potentially a vast liability. ... Putting options on the income statement reveals their expense. Putting them on the balance sheet reveals their risk. Together, they reveal exactly how much a company is paying for its precious human capital. ... By bringing the true cost and nature of options into explicit public view, the debate will focus on the fundamental issues behind the accounting facade. One such issue is the role of boards and the functioning of markets for corporate control in awarding these compensations and significantly altering the company's risk profile. Another is whether or not linking compensation to stock prices, rather than companies' actual performance, is a good idea to start with."

Both Democrats and Republicans can do themselves a great deal of good by shutting down the phony mailbox, offshore corporations in places like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Shutting that tax loophole will meet with thundering approval from the voters. That is a real bone-in-the-throat issue, and not fixing it is definitive proof of how far Congress has been corrupted by campaign contributions. These corporations that use offshore mail-drops to evade taxes use our air, our water and our roads, they are protected by our laws, our police and our military, and they can damn well help pay the taxes.

Then there are the continuing issues of corporate governance and pension protection. Employees need the right to sell the company stock in their 401(k)s. Give workers the right to elect the trustees of their retirement funds. Corporations need truly independent directors, including a director to represent the employees' interests. Management should be forbidden to spend company funds electing its preferred candidates. Stop loans on 401(k)s.

Is anyone ready to admit yet that permitting banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies to merge was a rancid idea? We can thank Phil Gramm, the senator from Enron, for that one. Anyone ready to tackle derivatives yet? Because I guarantee you, if we don't regulate derivatives, we're going to see a mess that will make Enron look like patty-cake.

Whichever party gets out in front on these issues is going to have an overwhelming advantage in the fall. According to Newsweek, congressional committees are sitting on evidence that could seriously embarrass pols of both parties. Of course, they're both up to their necks in making this mess - the question is which one is going to get the credit for fixing it.

Just watch out for any paternity claims by George W.

Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate. 5777 W. Century Blvd.,Suite 700, Los   Angeles, CA 90045

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Creators Syndicate

AUSTIN -- Billie Carr, the godmother of Texas liberals, passed last week at 74. Sue Lovell of Harris County Democrats said she knew Billie was gone when she leaned over the bed and said, "Billie, should I get you a mail ballot?" and there was no response.

Billie wanted her funeral conducted in the same political tradition in which she had spent her entire life: "I'll be half an hour late. I want a balanced delegation of pallbearers--- blacks, browns, gays and an equal number of women. And I want an open casket and a sign pasted over my left tit that says: Hi there! My Name Is BILLIE CARR.'"

They did it exactly as she wished. There were voter registration cards by the guest book. Hundreds of us were there, wearing tags pasted over our left tits that said, "Hi there! My Name Is ..." and people wore old political buttons from ancient struggles. I haven't had such a good time at a funeral since Nixon died.

Oh, she was so much fun. Irreverent, and improper, and absolutely fearless. And she had the greatest laugh. She attended her first political convention in 1928, when she was 26 days old. Her parents pinned a credential on her diaper.

Carr was a working class Democrat her whole life. Her granddaddy stood down the KKK, her parents were both politically active, and her husband, David, was a Steelworker, but she always counted Frankie Randolph as her greatest political mentor.

What a pair. Randolph was known as "the Eleanor Roosevelt of Texas." She was from an upper-class background, and although she was a shrewd political player, she was also a Southern lady to her bones. Tall, red-headed, raucous Billie, who cussed like an art form and fractured English grammar to the end of her life, was not. She venerated Randolph, but she had the special gift of being completely comfortable with who she was.

Between the two of them, plus Ed Cogburn, they built the Harris County Democrats into a major political power. They did it the old-fashioned way---by precinct organizing. Billie's book How to Do It! Or Organizing a Precinct Can Be Fun is still the manual of choice. Billie believed politics is about people---you have to listen to them, you have talk to them and all the rest is applesauce.

All over Houston, ever since Billie died, they've been having "a moment of silence" in her memory at the public shindigs. How ridiculous is that? If you were having a Billie Carr Minute, obviously everybody would start talking at once, at a very high volume, about some hot political topic---or at least start a good story.

Billie often said of politicians, "They are ALL alligators." If you don't feed them, they eat you. The word is now part of the lexicon of Texas politics: to be an alligator means you sell-out on one issue or another. To all the alligators Billie ever chewed out, I would say: She only cussed you out if she cared. If she thought you were hopeless, she never would've called.

Carr had known Bill Clinton since he was a baby alligator, come to Texas in '72 to run McGovern's campaign. She later worked her tail off for him. A main thing about Billie was, she didn't just work herself, she made everybody else work their asses off, too. When President Clinton got himself into that Monica Lewinsky mess, Billie was pissed off at him as only a woman of a certain age can be about men and their stupidity. She defended him against the Republicans, but she was steamed.

Clinton made the mistake of inviting her to the White House in the middle of that deal. Here it is, a big reception line, everyone duded up, all these important folks around, and Billie came though that line, looked the president of the United States in eye and said, low and hard, "You dumb son of a bitch."

Which is, of course, what every Democrat in America wanted to say to Clinton at the time. Such a tragedy there was no one there to write down the rest of the ass-chewing, but we do know that Clinton started laughing and said, "Billie, I knew you were gonna do that." Which proves he wasn't all dumb.

I love Texas, but it is a nasty old rawhide mother in the way it bears down on the people who have the fewest defenses. Not many can claim a better record for justice and freedom---she was there for the workers and the unions, she was there for the African-Americans, she was there for the Hispanics, she was there for the women, she was there for the gays. And this wasn't all high-minded or we-should-all-be-kinder-to-one another. This was tough, down, gritty, political trench warfare---money against people. She bulled her way to the table of power, and then she used that place to get everybody else there, too. If you ain't ready to sweat, and you ain't smart enough to deal, you can't play in her league.

I reckon Billie's somewhere up in heaven, in an old-fashioned Texas icehouse, with the ceilin' fans goin' and the beer and soda pop in those long ol' bins full of ice water. All her family's with her, and Randolph, Millie Bruner, Bob Eckhardt and Ralph Yarborough--- and they've all got Bob Bullock cornered at last.  ##

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