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5 Scandals that Could Put Republicans in Jail -- James Ridgeway

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Demeter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-12-06 07:26 AM
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5 Scandals that Could Put Republicans in Jail -- James Ridgeway /

5 Scandals that Could Put Republicans in Jail

By James Ridgeway, Mother Jones

Here in the humbly named Caucus Room, the U.S. Congress has held some of its most famous public hearings, beginning with a 1912 investigation into the fate of the Titanic. The Watergate hearings unfolded here in the early '70s, beneath the ever-watchful gaze of Senator Sam Ervin (D-N.C.). It was here that Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-Texas), the first Southern black woman elected to Congress, declared: "My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution."...But in the past six years, congressional investigations of such bold, searching nature have disappeared. In a post-9/11 environment of silence and fear, the mood inside Congress has mirrored the bunkers and barriers outside: No one dares question the military or the intelligence services too closely, or to push the president too far. The Caucus Room continues to be used for party meetings and social events, and every so often there is a potted inquiry, as in the case of the 2003 hearings on the space shuttle. But on issues of war and peace, of corruption and graft, of civil rights, civil liberties, and constitutional breaches, meek questions are the rule, answered by dull assurances from the White House.

If the Democrats win back control of Congress (or even one of its chambers), if they can come up with the requisite moxie, and if they can muster the political will to reach out to their own base as well as to disaffected Republicans, they will have an opportunity to begin to change all that. They will need to overcome the myriad obstacles the Bush administration has created to keep lawmakers from obtaining and releasing critical information, such as its resistance to briefing congressional committees on intelligence issues, or its heavy hand in redacting congressional reports. When explosive information has leaked out -- the fact that documents offering "proof" of Saddam Hussein's intent to buy uranium from Niger had been forged, or that the United States is operating a network of secret prisons in other countries -- the administration's response has focused on condemning critics for politicizing national security -- a charge before which the Democrats usually crumble...Still, there is a chance that some of the gutsier Dems, with the support of an increasingly fed-up public, could make progress toward exposing the truth.

1. Who lost Iraq?
2. Who blew 9/11?
3. How wide is the domestic surveillance net?
4. Is Big Oil pulling an Enron?
5. Who's making money off your retirement?

It's been predicted that at least 1 in 10 retirees in 2020 will teeter on the edge of financial collapse or plunge into outright poverty. Social Security is just a small bit of the problem. The potentially much bigger challenge is the disappearance of pensions, most of which have been replaced with 401(k)-type accounts dependent wholly on the securities market. This is an enormous shift: Corporations have succeeded, with amazingly little protest from labor, in transferring the cost -- and the risk -- of retirement from employer to employee. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. provides some backup when a company with a standard pension plan goes under (think United Airlines). With 401(k)s, there is no insurance. The Securities and Exchange Commission is supposed to regulate mutual funds, which handle most 401(k) money; the sec has nowhere near the resources to keep tabs on the $9 trillion business, so policing is largely left up to the funds themselves.

Before this crisis grows greater, Congress ought to launch a serious investigation into the retirement system. We've got to know all the ways companies are bailing on their pension plans -- by converting them into 401(k)s, by filing for bankruptcy, or simply by quietly not paying into (or "underfunding") them for years at a time. We need to understand who controls the money in 401(k)s, what the hidden costs are, and to what extent these accounts are threatened by Wall Street conflicts of interest. For example, thanks to deregulation laws passed during the Clinton administration, commercial banks can now sell the mutual funds that their investment-banking arms manage, but investors have no recourse if their 401(k)s lose value because of bad management. With Social Security privatization refusing to die, and Wall Street eager to get its hands on that money, Congress should do some due diligence.

BONUS: Grounds for impeachment?

Read about additional questions the Democrats should be asking at

James Ridgeway is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief.

View this story online at: /
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