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Legislative Inertia: No Excuse for Inaction

November 22, 2007
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The hearings held last week in Harrisburg on legislation that would force the state's pension system to divest itself of holdings in companies that do business with Iran and Sudan illustrate just how hard it is to move the state bureaucracy and its accomplices in the legislature.

At issue are two separate bills. One is sponsored by State Rep. Babette Josephs, a Philadelphia Democrat, that forces divestment from Sudan, where the government has helped sponsor genocide in Darfur. The other is from State Rep. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat from suburban Montgomery County, who wants to divest from Iran -- the leading sponsor of international terrorism, as well as a country whose illegal quest for nuclear arms threatens the State of Israel with genocide.

Each is important, but both face daunting obstacles to passage.

The chief impediment to these bills is the obstructionist attitude adopted by the pension-fund industry and its enablers within the state bureaucracy. Divestment means making them work a little harder; it complicates their routines. Instead of merely following the markets and placing the pension funds of Pennsylvanians in companies that prop up genocidal governments, they would have to expend the effort to find equally profitable investments.

The fund managers and their apologists in the Legislature claim that it can't be done. They're wrong. The idea that they can only make money for American retirees by investing in terror is illogical and amoral. No matter how much of our cash is tied up in businesses connected to Iran -- and it is a great sum -- there are plenty of other good investments out there to replace them.

Also wrong is their claim that divestment won't change these rogue regimes. Recent history has proven just the opposite; after all, it was an international campaign of divestment measures that helped convince the apartheid regime of South Africa to give up. What's lacking are not alternatives, but a willingness to understand that Americans can and should make a difference.

Equally troubling is the fact that at the hearing, the two bills were pitted against each other, with some divestment advocates urging that Joseph's Sudan bill should not be tied with Shapiro's Iran legislation.

The arguments for this proposition are twofold. The amount of investments tied to Sudan are but a fraction of those linked to Iran, making Joseph's bill an easier pill for the bureaucrats to swallow. Advocates on Darfur also claim that conditions in Sudan are so grave that the measure must be passed quickly, which the more intricate debate over Iran might preclude.

We support Sudan divestment wholeheartedly, and agree that the situation requires quick action. But the problems posed by Iran remain just as serious.

Unless the power of the global economy is harnessed to punish the Iranians and force them to give up their campaign for nuclear capacity, the world will be left with just two choices: the use of force or acquiescence to a fanatic Islamist regime gaining a weapon of mass destruction. Both are clearly undesirable.

One way to avoid these choices is for decent people, here in Pennsylvania and around the world, to stop mouthing empty platitudes and mealy-mouthed excuses for inaction.

While our power to influence governments in Europe and Asia is limited, that is not the case with our own state Legislature. We cannot allow small-minded politicians and government employees to allow their inertia and indifference to prevent us from doing the right thing on Sudan and Iran.

Both the Josephs bill and the Shapiro bill must be passed in committee -- and then by the Legislature -- without delay.

 

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