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Page   1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Legislation - Page 9

"(I) would rather have newspapers without government
than government without newspapers." - Thomas Jefferson

Spending Money 'Like a Drunken Sailor'

Employee Advocate – – December 2, 2003

Republican Senator John McCain blasted the energy bill, Medicare bill, pharmaceutical companies, Congress, and G. W. Bush on Fox News Sunday. Below are some of his insightful comments:

“Congress is now spending money like a drunken sailor. And I've never known a sailor, drunk or sober, with the imagination that this Congress has...

“And this energy bill, of course, there was no policy initiatives in the energy bill. It was just one pork-barrel project larded on to another, to the point where we're subsidizing a Hooters...

“Look, this energy bill, I hate to keep going back to it, but its kind of a classic example. The administration originally supported an energy bill that would cost about 8 billion -- B -- billion dollars. This one is up to $24 billion, and the administration is still saying it's one of its highest priorities. I don't know how you rationalize that.

“But, look, with this latest Medicare prescription-drug thing, which is now a $7 trillion unfunded mandate on top of a $13 trillion unfunded mandate, everybody agrees that Medicare is going to go broke. We are laying a burden of debt on future generations of Americans.

“A second point is, you cannot -- any economist will tell you cannot have this level of debt of increasing deficits without eventually it affecting interest rates and inflation. I mean, it's just -- it's common sense. And those are the greatest enemies of middle-income Americans and retired Americans…

“And in the bill, we did such incredible favors to the pharmaceutical companies. We banned Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies for lower prices for prescription drugs. The Veterans' Administrations does it. The state Medicaid programs do it. And we also banned any reimportation from Canada. This was the greatest -- it wasn't an accident that the pharmaceutical stock went up $9 billion the day before we passed the bill.”

This Measure Will Not Strengthen Medicare

This Measure Will Not Strengthen Medicare

Omaha World-Herald – by Chuck Hagel – December 1, 2003

The writer, a Republican, is Nebraska's senior U.S. senator.

(11/26/03) - I voted against the Medicare reform bill because it will not strengthen Medicare and does not responsibly address the need for prescription drug coverage. It will add trillions of dollars onto Medicare's current $13.5 trillion in unfunded liabilities for future generations.

I voted against this for reasons different from those of many of my Democratic colleagues.

Yes, it does contain some good things, like realistic Medicare reimbursement formulas for rural hospitals and physicians, preventive health care measures and means testing. For $400 billion over 10 years and an additional $7 trillion of unfunded liabilities, it should!

This started as a prescription drug plan for seniors. We need to add such a plan. But it must be an honest, responsible plan that can be paid for and sustained by the next generation. This bill became a payoff to special interest groups involved in Medicare reform.

It expressly prohibits the federal government from negotiating drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries, even though the government negotiates prices for other Medicare services. Who wins here?

The drug benefit structure is confusing. There are premiums, deductibles and gaps in coverage. Between $2,250 and $5,044 of drug expenditures, seniors pay 100 percent of their drug expenses while continuing to pay monthly premiums. Who wins here?

There is a fear that many employers may drop the drug coverage they offer retirees once a federal benefit is in place. In order to prevent this, the bill contains $68 billion in tax-free payments to employers so that they will continue to offer retiree prescription coverage.

However, many employers are already contractually obligated to do this through collective bargaining agreements. These employer subsidies are being used to provide drug coverage for those already covered. Who wins here? Congress should have produced a bill that addressed those seniors who do not now have prescription coverage. Seventy-five percent of Medicare beneficiaries already have some such coverage. We also should have limited the bill to addressing some of the real problems with Medicare, such as rural health care reimbursement formulas and preventive health measures, and by addressing some form of means testing and the cost of prescription drugs. This could have been done.

There is nothing in this bill to control costs. There is a phony cost containment "trigger" that would require an unspecified "congressional response" once the general revenues (revenues beyond the Medicare payroll tax) account for 45 percent of program spending. Currently, 30 percent of Medicare costs are being paid for from the general treasury. When Medicare was enacted in 1965, the government's lead actuary projected that the hospital program (Part "A") would grow to $9 billion by 1990. It ended up actually costing more than $66 billion by 1990. This is reality.

There is a larger point to all of this. Who is looking out for the future of the country? This administration and Congress have increased federal spending over the past three years by 21 percent, resulting in budget deficits for the last two years of $559 billion, with next year's deficit estimated to be about $500 billion. We passed some of the largest and most expensive bills in the history of the Congress in the past three years - at the same time passing some of the largest tax cuts ever.

All of this at a time when America has taken on more peacekeeping and nation- building around the world than at any time since World War II - all at huge costs. And we see a dangerous and strong protectionist movement beginning to dominate our historical commitment to free trade that will have a negative impact on our trade and institutional relations as well as our economy.

I gave my first speech on the Senate floor in February 1997 in support of the balanced-budget amendment. Republicans used to believe in balanced budgets. Republicans used to believe in fiscal responsibility, limited international entanglements and limited government. We have lost our way.

We have come loose from our moorings. The Medicare reform bill is a good example of our lack of direction, purpose and responsibility. If we don't get some control over this out-of-control spending and policy-for-the-moment decision-making, we will put America on a course that we may not be able to recover from.

We need to reform Medicare. We need a responsible and affordable prescription drug plan for seniors. But this legislation does not fit that prescription. The forces of reality will require us to go back and try to undo the damage we've just done to Medicare and future generations. We then will have another opportunity to do it right. This time it was about 2004 politics. Next time it will be about responsible policy for the future.

AARP Tells a Few Lies

AARP Tells a Few Lies

Employee Advocate – – November 27, 2003

When a corporation or organization makes an outlandishly dimwitted move, it is always a riot to hear them try to lie out of it. They never seem to catch on that there are not enough lies in the world to cover over the original lie. The New York Times reported on the AARP’s attempt to explain away their latest blunder.

AARP stabbed their members in the back by promoting a Bush endorsed Medicare bill. The bill is the first step in privatizing Medicare.

On Tuesday, AARP CEO William D. Novelli said “Boomers are the future of the AARP.”

Does he know where he is going with this, or is he just babbling?

That was his whole spiel. He is trying to blame his support for this bad legislation on the Baby Boomers! Guess what? Baby Boomers do not want crummy legislation that will wreck Medicare; they will need it one day!

The Times article stated: “During the past decade, AARP has moved aggressively to expand its membership by focusing on people 45 and older.”

That statement makes no sense at all. One cannot even join AARP until they are at least 50 years old! This notice was on the AARP website:

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people over 50.

The AARP explanation makes about as much sense as the corporate excuse for converting to cash balance pensions: “To cater to the younger, mobile workforce”! (That excuse alone invites age discrimination lawsuits!)

Just as cash balance plans hurt both younger and older workers, the Medicare changes will eventually hurt all. The changes will hurt younger people, because one day they will be old, and they will also pay the price for today’s ill conceived legislation.

The real reason for cash balance plans and the AARP support for the Medicare bill is, of course, MONEY! Corporations wanted the money in the pension fund. AARP wanted to sell huge amounts of insurance.

Trying to pit different age groups against each other will never excuse their greedy actions.

Employer consultants sold corporations cash balance plans as a way to take money out of their pension funds. Believe it or not, they are already at work, exploiting the impending Medicare legislation! On November 25, Watson Wyatt was already pitching to corporations with ways to “save” money with the Medicare changes. “Save” is a code word. It means “take from employee benefits.”

This statement was on the Watson Wyatt website: “Specifically, employers will need to decide whether to maintain drug benefits as a 'qualified' plan and whether to send retirees to stand-alone prescription drug plans or integrated Medicare Advantage plans. Perhaps different approaches for different groups of retirees will be your best option.”

AARP President James Parkel said “We had to change. We had the boomers coming and you didn't want to be perceived by the boomers as just being for old people.”

That statement is sheer lunacy! An organization that has a lower age limit of 50 is not exactly going after the teeny bobber crowd! “AARP” originally stood for “American Association of Retired Persons.” Most retired people are not teenagers! AARP admitted that it shortened its name to get rid of the word “retired.”

Now AARP says that supporting bad legislation will make the youth oriented?

AARP has 35 million members, each one over 50. Following AARP’s reasoning, all the members should resign, so younger members can be sought. 15,000 members did immediately resign, according to Mr. Novelli.

IBM employees expressed some misgivings about James Parkel some time ago. The employees did not feel that anyone who has been in IBM's top management for 32 years could be trusted to look out for the interest of senior citizens. Their words were prophetic.

The AARP website stated: "Jim Parkel, the longtime IBM executive who has just been sworn in as AARP's new president...He went into management, holding positions in virtually every phase of human resource management, including retirement programs."

Bingo! The pension connection had to be in there somewhere. Mr. Parkel is an old HR man, with retirement program experience. The fingerprints were there all along.

As long as AARP is controlled by two snakes, expect the very worst!

Lovola Burgess, AARP's national president from 1992 to 1994, said “We've always felt Medicare was very important and should not be means-tested and should not be privatized.”

Mr. Novelli is a newbie CEO; he has only two years experience. He said “We felt that we had to do two things. One is to listen to our members, and the second thing is to lead. We feel we did both.”

Allow the Employee Advocate to translate this statement. What Mr. Novelli really meant was “We are going to do whatever gets us the most money, no matter what our members think. We are going to make some really dumb, arrogant moves. Then we are going to tell some outrageous lies to smooth everything over.”

Lead? Anyone can lead. Some headstrong CEO’s took perfectly good companies and led them straight into the gutter. It looks like AARP has also chosen this path.

Mr. Novelli’s background explains a lot; it is public relations! Smoke screens, making black seem white, weasel words, and big lies are all tools of the trade.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV said “The AARP is a business, first and foremost. They have a product to sell.”

Even some AARP employees see through Mr. Novelli. One said (anonymously out of fear of reprisal) “He likes to make deals. He has said he always wanted to be an agent of social change. The problem is if you're the head of a membership organization, you should do what the membership wants.”

AARP began 45 years ago as nothing more than an insurance business and mail order drug peddler. It sold policies to people 65 and older. It is obvious that any other hats worn over the years were just to drum up more business. The AARP is now out of the closet for all to see. It is still denying, but fully exposed.

You can call AARP Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. ET at 1-800-424-3410.

E-Mail William Novelli:

‘AARP Has Betrayed Us’

‘AARP Has Betrayed Us’

Employee Advocate – – November 26, 2003

The Medicare bill, HR 1, passed the Senate on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. The sell out of senior citizens by the AARP was a leading factor in this bill slipping through the Senate. AARP President William Novelli did not represent the AARP members; he represented the bottom line of the AARP!

AARP joined the other sleaze-bag lobbying groups.

The Times interviewed retirees in Orange County, New York City and Miami. It found opposition to the bill by Democrats and Republicans and disgust with the AARP.

Elaine Robechek, 73, said “The administration is looking out for the big guys — that, we know. I think they need to come up with something, but I don't like the way they're going about it. I'm terribly upset. They're trying to pull the wool over people's eyes.”

Louis Witkin, 90, said “We were members of the AARP — but it's not for seniors anymore. They are a big business and AARP has betrayed us.”

Another dumb thing the AARP did was change its name. It used to be the American Association of Retired Persons. AARP was the acronym. The name made perfect sense. The name is now “AARP.” It is no longer an acronym; it is just meaningless alphabet soup. Or, perhaps the name change was a subtle hint that AARP no longer represents retired persons. Maybe the new name is really “Accommodating Anal Retentive Politicians”!

AARP has acknowledged criticism from members. It tried the old standby platitude: “Seniors did not understand.” All the corporations that convert to cash balance plans always try that one! Employees just don’t seem to understand that it is good for them to lose half of their pensions. The real problem for the perpetrators is that seniors and employees understand too much.

The plan goes into effect in 2006.

Pearl Diamond, 90, said “I will be dead by then.”

Art Callen, 82, said “My feeling is, you accept this and then you're stuck with it. I would rather wait a little bit longer and see if they could come up with something else. I think it has to be revised and made a little bit more palatable. A lot of people don't have [those] kind of bucks. Some seniors use maybe nine or 10 different medications a day.”

Alphonso DiDomenico, 69, said “The drug companies are going to be making out like bandits. The people who really need Medicare are going to have to struggle.”

Alice, 93, said “The drug companies will make out, not the seniors. Eventually, they'll try to privatize Medicare. That's what it will come to.”

Yes, it sounds like the seniors know just a little too much to suit the AARP.

AARP Sells Out Seniors

AARP Sells Out Seniors

Employee Advocate – – November 25, 2003

It was probably inevitable. AARP was rolling in so many millions of dollars, it just had to get greedy for even more. AARP sold out the seniors, that it supposedly represents, to get its hands on even more money, according to USA Today.

You can often tell which bills are shams by who supports them. The Medicare bill is being pushed by G. W. Bush. Is it necessary to say more? Any seemingly beneficial legislation pushed by this administration is only to gum up the works and prevent real change.

The bill sounds great, if one does not look at the details. The bill is to introduce prescription drug coverage for Medicare. Some seniors will actually be worse off as a result of this bill. It will be a step in the direction of privatizing Medicare.

The AARP will come out ahead by selling insurance products, and is supporting the bill. It is also spending millions of dollars to promote the bill. Members do not send in dues to the AARP so it can lobby against their interests.

AARP has been flooded with protests by members demanding a refund of dues.

Some Democrats followed the AARP lead and sold out the senior citizens. As things stand now, it looks like this terrible bill is going to pass the Senate.

Real Cynical

Energy Bill is Blocked

Employee Advocate – – November 24, 2003

The outrageous energy bill was block in the Senate on Friday, according to the Chicago Tribune. G. W. Bush and V. P. Cheney have been trying to push this pork barrel legislation on the public since they have been in office.

The Republicans could not stop the Democratic filibuster against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is going to try to ram the “industry giveaway” bill through again this year.

Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid said “It really doesn't help the Senate to prolong the inevitable. The inevitable is that this bill is history. It's not going to go anyplace.”

Vigorous lobbying is expected, as the energy industry tries to claim billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.

Thanks to all who have written to oppose this bill.

The Leave-No-Lobbyist-Behind Bill

Employee Advocate – – November 16, 2003

The Bush energy bill was expected to be loaded with pork, and it is, according to a Knight Ridder report. Even one of the major authors seems a little embarrassed about it.

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici said “We know that as soon as you start reading the language, we're duck soup.”

At least one provision that G. W. Bush was demanding was rejected. There will be no drilling for oil in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Before the bill became public on Saturday, Democrats did not know what was in the bill. The Republicans refused to let any Democrats on the committee. Although the Democrats did not have any input to the design of the bill, Republicans will expect them to wholeheartedly vote for it. The Bush administration has control of the House, but it may hit a stump in the Senate.

According to lobbyists, there are at least $20 billion in tax breaks for energy companies. The total cost of this bloated bill is over $100 billion!

Senator John McCain said “It's an Iranian bazaar, not an energy bill. It's a leave-no-lobbyist-behind bill.

Some are worried that the Democrats will filibuster. With any luck, they will. No energy bill is preferable to this monstrosity.

Senator Charles Schumer issued this statement: “This is a grab-bag of goodies for special interests at a time when we desperately need a comprehensive energy policy to deal with the very real energy problems our nation faces.”

This sorry bill has been called everything except what it is. It is payback to energy companies for donations to the Bush campaign. The bill was a railroad job from start to finish. First, only energy executives were allowed to have any input into the bill’s structure. V. P. Cheney is still keeping the details of those meetings secret. Then, only Republicans were allowed to have any input into the actual writing of the bill.

This bill cries out for a filibuster.

Real Cynical – Molly Ivins - November 15, 2003

As Lily Tomlin observed, no matter how cynical you get, it's impossible to keep up. But the Congress of the United States is doing its best to keep us up to snuff in this department, and we would particularly like to thank all of them, and the Bush White House as well, for keeping us on our misanthropic toes.

Gee, it seemed like such a good idea—a plan to help senior citizens with their outrageous drug bills.

It's bad enough that the drug companies are ripping off the rest of us, but seniors on fixed incomes are just brought to their knees by these unconscionable prices. They've been begging for help for years, and for years the pols have been promising to deliver. And now they will.

Oops. Bad news.

According to a report by the co-directors of Boston University's School of Public Health titled "New Medicare RX Benefit Means Big Profits for Drug Companies," we have once more failed to sufficiently overestimate what special-interest money can do to legislation written by our elected representatives.

According to the report, "An estimated 61.1 percent of the Medicare dollars that will be spent to buy more prescriptions will remain in the hands of drug makers as added profits."

Isn't that nice? Sixty-one percent of what the plan costs will be additional profit for drug companies. Just what we had in mind.

Only our fully-bought-and-paid-for politicians (in Texas, we rather delicately refer to them as "whored out") could have taken a plan to help seniors and turned it into a plan to help drug companies already making obscene profits. Their estimated increased profits under this bill are $139 billion over eight years.

Of course, that's not all that's wrong with the bill. It has a peculiar doughnut provision that eliminates coverage for total out-of-pocket drug costs between $2,200 and $5,000.

The legislation also prohibits Medicare from "interfering" to lower drug prices by negotiating or implementing a price structure, or ceiling. Isn't that special?

Several governors are considering buying their drugs in Canada, which could save them hundreds of millions of Medicare dollars. But when the House put such a provision in the bill this summer, the White House promptly threatened to veto the entire bill.

If you think that's a loverly bunch of coconuts, wait'll you see the energy bill!

Holy pig, what a staggering piece of pork this is—what a beauty, what a lulu, what a special-interest bonanza. The corporate giveaways in this thing are just staggering.

We're not just talking tax breaks here. There are billions and billions in actual giveaways of taxpayer money to these immensely profitable—and immensely polluting—industries.

Oil and gas, which paid an effective tax rate of 12.5 percent in the late 1990s (would you like that rate?) already have gotten $10 billion in tax breaks from this administration over the next five years. Now they get another $10 billion from the energy bill.

Thank goodness Santa didn't forget the coal industry, or for that matter the singularly repulsive coal-bed methane industry, or the absolutely amazing alchemical synfuel industry, which gets $1 billion in tax credits each year for transforming coal into coal. (You really must read up on that one.)

Here's one I especially like: a $2.5 billion tax break for ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and ChevronTexaco to write off the cost of exploring for oil on our public lands and off our coasts.

Oh, this bill is so cool. Research subsidies, development subsidies, construction subsidies—and that's just the beginning of the goodies. The big polluters won't have to pay to clean up their toxic pollution anymore, especially water polluted with MTBE. And, as usual, your nonpolluting renewable energy industries—solar, wind, geothermal—get peanuts.

But hey, lots of people are getting peanuts from this Congress. They cut Pell grants for college students, and they left 12 million children out of the child tax credit.

Nobody except students of politics worries much about process—everyone else knows it's like sausage-making and wisely averts his eyes. But you might want to keep an eye on some chilling procedural signs.

Democrats are now being shut out of some conference committees entirely. That's new. What we're seeing more and more is less a pragmatic approach to problem-solving, which used to be the way things got done in politics, and more and more straight party-ideology voting.

Compromise is becoming unfashionable.

As Texas Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said of his Republican colleagues: "They don't want to govern. They want to rule."

Molly Ivins is the former editor of the The Texas Observer. She is also author of the bestselling book, Molly Ivins Can't Say That Can She?.

Shaky National Prescription Drug Plan

Powered by Pork – The Waste Basket - November 15, 2003

Vol. VIII No. 46 -- November 14, 2003

For the past several weeks, Republican energy conference leaders have been keeping the massive energy bill concealed from the public's prying eyes while they tenderized the final version of the bill. Today, Sen. Peter Domenici (R-AZ) finally decided to let the rest of us have a glimpse of the details in this 1,700 page, $80 billion bill before it goes to vote sometime next week.

One thousand seven hundred pages is longer than War and Peace, but we here at TCS didn't have to read a single word in order to figure out that Congress is getting fed the Christmas ham a little early this year.

One of the most dubious provisions in the bill are tax incentives for a $20 billion natural gas pipeline to be built from Alaska to Chicago. Although the pipeline could instead be run through Canada at a much lower price and directed towards the lower 48 via existing infrastructure from there, what's good for the federal purse isn't always what's good for a member of Congress's district, and it looks like our friends from Alaska will get to have their pork and eat it too.

All of the subsidies and tax breaks in the bill gave many of Senator Domenici's colleagues a mild case of trichinosis. A quick look at informs us that the best way to treat trichinosis is with Thiabendazole. Unfortunately, Senator Domenici has chosen a considerably more questionable way to deal with this pork-induced affliction: more pork. The final bill includes funding for dozens of frivolous pet projects that were added on in order to grease the palms of a few fence sitters.

A set of five development projects financed by tax-exempt bonds that could cost taxpayers $350 million over 10 years is one of the provisions that has held up the bill. Included among the five projects is a billion dollar mall, to be built in Syracuse, New York at three times the cost of the Mall of America. Another, the Louisiana Riverwalk, is a $180 million urban renewal project to bring shops and restaurants to downtown Shreveport. Already confirmed for the Riverwalk is a Bass Pro store and Shreveport's first ever Hooter's restaurant.

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is one of the biggest fans of these projects. He points to provisions that would require each of the projects to include environmentally friendly architectural and energy features as justification for the projects. Conveniently, one of the projects is located in Iowa, where planners predict it will create upwards of 2,500 jobs and may net the region $120 million a year in economic benefits. Although the other projects are sneer-worthy at first glance, the "Iowa Environmental Project", which includes plans for a four and a half acre indoor tropical rainforest and a million gallon aquarium, is beyond the pale.

Next, we have the $800 million coal-gasification plant in Minnesota. Combine this with continued subsidies for the ethanol industry, another Minnesota friendly provision, and you may well have earned the support of Minnesota's Sen. Norm Coleman, who told the Washington Post that "It would be very hard to walk away from an energy bill (with those [coal-gasification and ethanol] provisions), no matter what else was in it."

Because the bill negotiations have been conducted behind closed doors and the Senate vote could be scheduled as early as Sunday, Senators will only have about 48 hours to read it over before casting their votes. At 1,700 pages, you would need to average 35.4 pages an hour, non-stop, from now until Sunday afternoon if you wanted to read all the fine print. Coming on the heels of the 39-hour judge-athon, Senate staffers will need to make a lot of Starbucks trips if they want to stay awake throughout the reams of tedious legislative language. Taxpayers for Common Sense urges them to go home, get a good nights sleep, and urge their bosses to take a pass on this pork-laden bill.

Energy Bill Mirage

Employee Advocate – – November 10, 2003

Senator Byrd’s statement about the much touted energy bill was posted on Mr. Byrd recognizes the bill for the sham that it is.

Mr. Byrd gave a good assessment of the current administration: “Through its short-sighted actions, this Bush Administration perpetuates an infinite mirage and a boundless facade. This Administration hopes to fool the American people into swallowing its wrong-headed policies with no questions asked.”

Some points from Senator Byrd’s statement:

  • The Administration's National Energy Policy plan will do about as much to improve the nation's energy security as the Administration's invasion of Iraq has done to stem the tide of global terrorism.

  • There was a horrible rush to pass the Iraqi Resolution in this body last year. This Administration is using these same tactics to dictate the terms of a very bad energy bill this year.

  • In the past, the Administration attempted to make a case that linked September 11th and Saddam Hussein, but these links failed to materialize.

  • Predictably, the Administration is now attempting to make the same connections between its National Energy Policy and a comprehensive energy strategy. This link will also be proven groundless in the not-too-distant future.

  • As a recent report from the General Accounting Office concludes, the Vice President's National Energy Policy Development Group did not solicit a broad range of views.

  • The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the energy industry gave more than $2.65 million to the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2000.

  • Not surprisingly, the media accounts are ripe with stories of the Administration's contributors who have been tripping over themselves to curry favors for their particular energy interest.

  • We are not expected to stand on this floor and offer amendments. We are told to sit quietly and wield the rubber stamp.

  • We heard claims that the Administration's energy bill will fix all of our energy problems. I hope the American people are smarter than that because this energy bill is no panacea, and it could very well turn out to be a Pandora's Box.

  • A cherry-picked energy plan based on soliciting big industry campaign contributions is a bankrupt policy.

Senator Byrd’s full statement:

U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd’s Energy Bill Statement

The Dirty Dozen Energy Traders

Employee Advocate – – November 6, 2003

A much needed anti-fraud and anti-price manipulation energy bill has been introduced in the Senate, according to Dow Jones. The bill would also provide desperately needed oversight of energy derivatives. For years, energy trading corporations got away with pulling bogus revenue out of thin air. Energy companions were exempt from the laws that applied to other futures traders.

Who had the bright idea to exempt energy trading companies from the laws? That is a long and twisted story within itself. The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 exempted over-the-counter energy derivatives from regulation! Exempting energy trading companies from regulation is like opening a canteen in a prison on the honor system!

Energy trading can be really “creative,” without the nuisance of having to follow laws. Plants were built in foreign countries to avoid U. S. regulations. The former Duke Energy CEO admitted as much in a shareholder meeting.

Laws strike fear in the hearts of crooked traders; it takes so much time and energy evading them! A dirty dozen of trade groups are opposing stricter oversight of energy trading and derivatives! A letter pleading for no new laws was sent to senators by The American Bankers Association, Financial Services Roundtable, Securities Industry Association and The Bond Market Association.

Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and Richard Lugar sponsored the proposal.

Mr. Levin said “Companies like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and groups like ISDA (International Swaps and Derivatives Association) and Edison Electric Institute are fighting our amendment tooth and nail. Because they think a less transparent market means more money for them or their members.”

Of course, the groups do have a point. It is always easier to steal money in the dark than in the daylight!

Mr. Levin added “Consumers and businesses are paying those energy bills. Congress needs to strengthen energy market oversight, regulate the unregulated over-the-counter markets, and increase penalties for fraud and price manipulation.”

This development is about as blatant as it gets. These groups are basically saying “We don’t want any stinking laws!”

The groups wrote: “Such sweeping modifications to existing law will negatively impact the recovering energy trading markets and encourage business” to move energy trading outside the U. S.

How much more obvious can any group make it that they just do not have any use for laws? Is it any wonder why the energy industry is in the poor shape that it is in?

To get an inkling of how energy companies became exempt from derivatives trading laws, access the link below:

Enron Is a Cancer on the Presidency

Senate Blocks Cash Balance Rules

Employee Advocate – – October 24, 2003

Under the Bush administration, the Treasury attempted to legalize age discrimination in cash balance pensions through the back door. Large corporations and their toadies have been trying desperately to slip these illegal plans under the radar. But nationwide employee protests have cash balance pensions very much on the radar screen.

The grand scheme was slip these abusive pension plans into effect under the cloak of obscure regulations, lack of specific laws, and deliberate, excessive complexity. By spreading enough money around Washington, what was blatantly illegal, could suddenly become legal! As long as employees were asleep, corporations could have bought whatever laws they wanted.

But, much to the dismay of those raiding pension plans, employees did not sleep through this one. Congress knows that employees are watching this issue, and taking names. Any legislator voting to help corporations rob employees of their pensions should be voted out of office at the first opportunity. When the spotlight is on Congress, it becomes squeaky clean.

Massive protests thwarted the Treasury’s first attempt to legalize pension age discrimination. But with the Bush administration calling the shots, everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before the Treasury tried it again. After a federal court declared the IBM cash balance plan to be illegal and age discriminatory, large corporations began to panic. They were rightly afraid that they may have to return all the pension money taken from employees. If they could pressure the Bush administration to nullify the court decision, through treasury regulations, the corporation would be home-free.

But there is a problem with legalities. The Treasury can define pension law by issuing regulation, but it has no power to write pension law. To head off the oncoming legal train wreck, the House stepped in. It passed legislation forbidding the Treasury from writing pension regulations that would overturn the courts decision.

Yesterday, the Senate did the same thing, according to Reuters! It took a long time to get Congress to see the light. But employees do not have the millions of dollars to pass out, as the corporations do. So, things take longer. But Congress is now on the right side of the cash balance pension issue. Congress is taking a dim view of large corporations taking much of the employees pensions, right before some were eligible to start drawing it!

Democrat Senator Tom Harkin introduced the amendment to a spending bill that funds the Treasury. He said “Withdraw this regulation. We must not let this age- discriminatory practice resume.”

You can always tell a hot issue. The legislators never want the public to know how they voted. So, of course, this was a voice vote. Those who voted in favor of the employees did not want the corporations to know who they are. Those who vote in favor of the corporations did not want the employees to know who they are. No one wanted to lose donations or large blocks of votes. You do not have to wonder how Tom Harkin voted!

By viewing the legislators voting record on other issues, it is obvious who is for employees and who is for big corporations. You cannot prevent officials from accepting money from corporations and doing their biding. But you do not have to give that individual your vote!

The record of G. W. Bush is perfect – if you happen to be a wealthy CEO. One term is all the American people allowed George Bush Senior to have. Junior deserves no more. In fact, he deserves less.

Susan Cornwell wrote “Employers were shaken by the Senate action.”

Yes indeed! The mere thought of having to give up their ill gotten pension gains will shake corporations to their foundations of sand!

The corporate shill groups made their usual threats. They have not figured out that they are scaring no one. That shows how much they are hurting. If the corporations have to come clean, there will be less money to lavish on lobbyists.

Class Action Bill Blocked in Senate

Employee Advocate – – October 23, 2003

The Senate blocked a bill aimed at destroying employees’ right to file class action lawsuits in state courts, according to Reuters. Such bills to deprive employees access to the legal system are favorites of G. W. Bush. He calls it “tort reform.” It is a ploy to hand what few rights employees’ have left over to big corporations. Large corporations have been throwing money at Bush, hoping to get the bill passed.

The Democrats were able to block the bill by only one vote! It was a victory for consumer groups and employees everywhere. The bill had already passed in the House, which is more solidly controlled by the Republicans.

The Democrats are a minority in the Senate also. But they are not so outrageously outnumbered, as they are in the House. The outnumbered Democrats had to use a tactical motion to block a vote on the bill. The Republicans needed 60 votes to override the block. They could only get 59 votes. Thanks to everyone who faxed their senators and asked them to vote against this bill. The vote could not have been any closer. It would have been totally impossible to have called a edge-of-the-seat vote like this one. The fax that you sent may have made the difference!

All but one vote against the bill came from Democrats. Eight Democrats and independent, James Jeffords, sold out to corporations, and voted for the bill. Remember them on election day.

Despite Republicans controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, the Democrats have managed to block some dangerous legislation. In July, the Democrats used similar tactics to block a bill to limit medical malpractice awards. When you vote, give some consideration to those who are trying to protect your right to seek justice.

When the people are denied access to the legal system, blood in the streets is their only recourse. The Iraqi people do not have anywhere to appeal for justice. How is that working out?

The Republicans refused to consider any Democratic compromises. Big business wants it all!

The Associated Press provided the roll call. Two Democratic senators were too busy running for president to bother to vote: John Edwards and John Kerry. One Democratic presidential candidate even voted in favor of the corporations: Joseph Lieberman!

The bill to curb asbestos lawsuits has not been voted on in the Senate yet. It will be the same players. Big corporations do not want to pay for the health damages to employees. When the bill comes up, again watch to see who protects your interests and who sells you out.

Not all Republicans are out to destroy working Americans. One Republican Senator, Richard Shelby of Alabama, voted against the bill to limit class action rights. So, there is proof that they are not all owned by big corporations!

The Greedy Prefer No Laws

Employee Advocate – – October 15, 2003

Yesterday, forty-five public interest organizations urged Congress to save the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA), according to Public Citizen. PUHCA protects consumers from high prices and other electric utility abuses.

Public Citizen stated: “The act limits the investment of utility profits in unrelated business ventures, which prohibits expansion-minded executives from siphoning off profits to engage in risky investment schemes that do nothing to improve service reliability or keep rates low.”

Do you know of anyone who would do that? It looks like PUHCA is needed today more than ever. The Rick Priorys and Ken Lays of the world do not want PUHCA, or any other laws that may force them to consider the public interest over their own bank accounts.

Much of the energy problems of the last several years are directly related to the weakening of PUHCA, by Congress. Now energy companies are lobbying for its complete elimination. PUHCA needs to be strengthened, not eliminated.

Below is a statement by Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program:

“We're in a vicious cycle of repeating history if we allow PUHCA to be repealed. Enron-style abuse in the 1920s was the very reason that this consumer protection act was created. Nearly 70 years later, another crisis occurs because of corrupt energy companies, and Congress' response is to repeal this act. What they should be doing is strengthening it.”

Congress Realizes Cash Balance is no Good

Employee Advocate – - September 16, 2003

The Washington Post reported that more legislation is in the works that would protect employees from the devastating effects of cash balance pension plans. The bill would force pension plan sponsors to take into account the age of the workforce when computing pension liabilities. The legislation is to be sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley.

The corporations that take millions of dollars from employees by forcing them into cash balance pension plans are opposing the measure.

An aide to Senator Grassley said that the proposal has “a solid core of bipartisan support” and that “workers need reliable funding of their pensions and employers need a reliable basis on which to calculate pension payments.”

The groups that profit from raiding pension funds are screaming and crying. They thought the days of helping themselves to the pensions of others would never end. Some lobbyists and professional schmoozers may have to get real jobs now!

Pension Protection Amendment – Press Release - September 15, 2003

Sanders Hails House Passage of Pension Protection Amendment

(9/9/03) - WASHINGTON, DC- Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT) successfully offered an amendment today on the floor of the U.S. House to protect workers against illegal age discriminatory cash balance pension conversions. By a vote of 258 to 160, the U.S. House passed the measure that forbids the federal government from acting to overturn a federal district court decision that ruled that IBM's cash balance pension conversion violated the pension age discrimination laws that are on the books. The Sanders amendment was supported by the AARP, Pension Rights Centers, and the IBM Employees Benefits Action Coalition. It was opposed by the ERISA Industry Committee and the American Benefits Council.

The amendment would prevent the federal government from using any funding to assist in overturning the federal district court ruling that declared IBM's cash balance pension conversion to be in violation of the pension age discrimination laws that are on the books.

Sanders said, "This vote sends a strong message to the Bush Administration and the Treasury Department that the time has come to finally protect workers who have seen their pensions slashed through cash balance conversions by immediately withdrawing their proposed cash balance regulations. In addition, it also sends a message that Congress supports the federal court ruling declaring that cash balance plans are age discriminatory."

On July 31, 2003, a federal court ruled that IBM's cash balance pension plan violates federal anti-age discrimination law. The court found that IBM knew that older workers would lose up to 47% of their pensions under the cash balance conversion. This ruling was a welcome outcome for the 130,000 IBM employees who were represented in the case - and for the millions of other Americans whose employers have already converted to one of these age discriminatory plans or might in the future.

Sanders concluded, "We do not tolerate discrimination against workers based on race, based on gender and based on other criteria, and we must not tolerate discrimination based on age. My amendment will help protect millions of American workers throughout the country who have been negatively impacted by illegal age discriminatory cash balance pension conversions."

Follow the link below to find out how IBM tried to thwart this amendment:

IBM Admits Treasury Document Tampering

Senate Defies Bush on Overtime

Employee Advocate – - September 12, 2003

In defiance of G. W. Bush, the Senate voted to kill a bill that would have taken overtime pay from many workers, according to the Associated Press.

Democrats proposed that the new overtime provision be eliminated. Enough Republicans voted with them for the measure to pass. The vote was 54 to 45. Bush has threatened a veto.

The overtime changes would not affect employees fortunate enough to belong to a union.

Edwards Supports Overtime Pay

Employee Advocate – - September 5, 2003

The New York Times reported that Senator John Edwards supports overtime pay. The White House has proposed stripping millions of workers of their right to overtime pay.

Senator Edwards said “Workers who go the extra mile for their employers depend on overtime pay to make ends meet. Hard-working people shouldn't be forced to put in extra hours without extra pay.”

John Edwards supports the amendment by Senator Tom Harkin that would block the overtime proposal.

Senator Harkin said the White House move was “bad policy…It's antiworker. It's antifamily.”

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