Terror Road Show

October 31, 2005 -- BACK in mid-September, when we last dropped by for one of our typically unwelcome visits to the New York Stock Exchange, the Mount Vesuvius of exculpatory P.R. was busy spewing baloney in all directions.

Beneath the accumulating effluvium lay buried the exchange's latest embarrassment: Its apparent cave-in, only days earlier, to demands from a group of animal rights extremists that the Big Board scrap its planned listing of a company that does drug testing on animals.

Since then, the eruptions have continued, and by last week the Big Board's lava flow of obfuscation and half-truths had spread all the way to Washington, D.C., and a committee hearing room of the U.S. Senate.

In Room 406 of the Dirksen Office Building last Wednesday, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, called a hearing to shed some much-needed light on the NYSE's apparent willingness to be bullied and pushed around by the animals rights crowd.

The animal crazies had been demanding for weeks that the Big Board reject a listing application from a New Jersey company called Life Sciences Research Inc. that engages in drug testing on animals.

Life Sciences has been in the crosshairs of extremists for years. In 2001 its CEO was beaten nearly to death in Britain by animal rights thugs wielding pick ax handles. Two years later, Deloitte & Touche dumped the company as an audit client after extremists stalked and harassed Deloitte employees for weeks.

Marsh & McLennan quit as Life Sciences' insurance broker, and Citicorp no longer serves as the company's banker, for the same reason. Aetna no longer writes insurance coverage for the company; Johnson & Johnson and Merck have stopped doing business with it as well.

Exchange officials paid no attention, distracted by their struggle to merge the Big Board with electronic trading platform Archipelago.

But the animal rights nuts were on a roll, and when the exchange said that Life Sciences had been accepted for a Big Board listing, the wackos simply intensified their campaign.

Within weeks, they got what they wanted. On Sept. 7, minutes before the company's shares were to begin trading, the NYSE reversed itself. According to one rumor, the flip-flop came after floor specialists said they'd received threats of violence if they dared to trade the Life Sciences shares.

News of the NYSE flip-flop was delivered to the Life Sciences brass personally but with no explanation by the exchange's president, Catherine Kinney, and the stonewalling has gone on ever since.

When one of America's best known and highly regarded institutions soils itself in this way, the public has a right to know why which is what last week's Senate hearing was all about: To force the NYSE to come clean.

But save for a lone reporter from Reuters, no one from the press even bothered to show up. And perhaps because of that, at least one well-known member of the committee didn't turn up either.

That person was New York's own (and only) voice on the committee: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who joined the committee's 14 other Senate no-shows to cut class. A staff aide later said she had been busy with commitments elsewhere, but in spite of repeated requests for details, her office failed to provide any.

Too bad, since by not showing up for the hearing, the uber-ambitious junior senator from New York missed a golden opportunity to hear for herself the lengths to which animal rights extremists are prepared to go to get their way.

This came when a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front classified by the FBI as a domestic terrorist organization stunned the hearing by claiming that it was "morally justified" to murder medical researchers in order to save their laboratory animals, which he likened to Jewish prisoners in Nazi extermination camps.

Only Oklahoma's Inhofe, New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg and North Dakota Republican John Thune listened to Kinney replacement, NYSE general counsel Richard Bernard, spew forth doubletalk and spurious excuses.

EVENTUALLY Sen. Lautenberg grew so incensed at Bernard's stonewalling that he started to bluster and fume about subpoenaing the NYSE's own internal records.

Whether or not the committee does issue such a subpoena, its sparsely attended hearing last Wednesday at least highlighted the larger danger that has lurked in the NYSE's appeasing behavior.

After all, if the "mighty" Big Board can be buffaloed by a handful of puppy-preferring psychos, what happens when other extremists, who think trees and other forms of plant life also have rights, see for themselves that the exchange can be pushed around?

If the resulting threats get severe enough, will the Big Board's President Flip-Flop agree to de-list International Paper Co., or perhaps Georgia Pacific?

The exchange's weaseling efforts to distance itself from its own behavior shows just how inexcusable the NYSE brass know that behavior to have been and how embarrassed by it they still are.

But every day that passes without 'fessing up to it is a day that brings the Big Board closer to becoming a target all over again.