UPI's Capital Comment for Feb. 14, 2002

By United Press International  |  Feb. 14, 2002 at 4:12 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- News, notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Looking east -- On the eve of President Bush's first extended trip to Asia, the House Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, under the chairmanship of Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, took a look Thursday at the problems and prospects for U.S. Policy in the region.

The most important issues confronting the region, the committee says: the economic difficulties in Japan, tensions on the Korean peninsula, U.S. concerns about China, and the possibility of al Qaida-influenced activities in the region.

In a New York state of mind -- New York State Democratic Committee State Chair Denny Farrell is leading the cheers after the election of Democrat Liz Krueger to the State Senate by a wide margin Tuesday.

"The Democratic Party showed what we are capable of yesterday when we elected Liz Krueger in a landslide," Farrell said in a statement. "Democrats united around a fantastic candidate, we took on Republican incumbency and funding, and we won big. (Losing GOP opponent) John Ravitz had the financial and political support of the entire Republican establishment in the form of Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg, George Pataki, Joe Bruno -- even President Bush came to Ravitz¹s district. Yet it was Liz Krueger¹s emphasis on issues from affordable housing to improving education that swayed the voters on Election Day."

Still in a New York state of mind -- National GOP chairman Marc Racicot is among those cheering the decision of New York State Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr., to switch to the Republican Party.

Espada said, "The citizens of my district have signaled that they no longer want to be taken for granted. They want to not only talk about diversity; they want to diversify. They are tired of being poor and powerless. Hence, today I, Pedro Espada, Jr., affirm and declare my and their political emancipation. Today, I officially enroll as a member of the Republican Party."

Since George W. Bush was elected president, at least 25 Democrat elected officials have switched to the GOP.

It should happen to a dog -- The Humane Society of the United States is praising the U.S. Senate for approving an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act that seeks to protect dogs from exploitation on commercial dog breeding operations.

"The U.S. Senate today recognized that female dogs are more than production units and puppies are more than marketable commodities in requiring new standards for the protection of dogs on commercial dog breeding operations," said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president with The Humane Society of the United States. The Puppy Protection Act creates a "three strikes and you're out" system that allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to revoke the license of chronic violators of the Animal Welfare Act and limits the number of litters for breeding females to give these dogs time to recover between litters among other provisions.

Enron and on and on -- Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao announced this week that an independent fiduciary will be appointed to replace Enron Corporation's Administrative Committees, whose members currently serve as fiduciary of the company's three retirement plans.

"The workers in these plans have suffered enough," Chao said. "I'm pleased that we have negotiated an agreement that requires the company to pay for the independent fiduciary rather than further deplete employees' retirement savings."

The agreement, signed by the Labor Department and Enron Corp., requires Enron to pay the independent fiduciary's fees for three years, up to a maximum of $1.5 million per year, plus associated expenses. These expenses will include the cost of any related services, such as outside legal or accounting services incurred by the independent fiduciary. The terms of the contract between Enron and the independent fiduciary may have to be approved by the bankruptcy court.

"The department is transferring control over the retirement plans to an independent expert who can aggressively protect workers' interests during corporate bankruptcy proceedings and maximize the likelihood of recovering funds for the plans," Chao said.

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