Why America Needs a Truth Commission

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Alberto, Alberto, Alberto. Please, just go away.

Alberto Gonzales, I mean-George W’s devious White House counsel and attorney general. He sullied both offices by repeatedly and secretly striving to shred our Constitution and defy the rule of law on everything from torture to illegal wiretapping. Finally, having misled Congress, he was forced to resign in 2007.

But he won’t go away! He’s recently been on a pity tour of media outlets, trying vainly to portray himself as an abused public servant. In one interview, Gonzales did show remorse-not for anything he did, but for actions of subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he wormed.

He’s not alone in his public display of smug, self-serving delusion. Bush himself asserts that he did no wrong in his eight-year term: “When I … look in the mirror, I am not going to regret what I see.” Dick Cheney, too, is full of conceit, saying he’s writing a book to show that everything he did-including approving torture-was beyond reproach.

What’s at play here is far more than the usual effort by politicos to put a shine on their records. These are politicians who knowingly violated our nation’s laws and secretly asserted a politics of executive supremacy that unilaterally overthrows the constitutional mandate for separation of powers. If there is no true accounting for what they did, then their actions become a legal precedent, sanctioning other White House inhabitants to do the same.

This is why America needs a fiercely independent review commission to reveal the details of their executive excess. The point is not to prosecute someone, but to uncover the truth and make clear that America will not sanction an autocratic power grab-even one disguised as a “war on terror.”

Money Taints the Times

The New York Times, America’s most prestigious newspaper, has recently rolled over into a deep ditch of debt. Its chances of getting out were estimated between slim and none-so the paper’s corporate executives chose slim.

That would be Carlos Slim, the Mexican business mogul who used his political connections, monopoly power, and low-paid work force to amass a $60 billion personal fortune, said to make him the second-richest man in the world. In 1990, Mexico’s corrupt national government went on a privatization frenzy, selling public assets to a select few political cronies. Slim grabbed Telmex, the telephone monopoly that controls 90 percent of the country’s market. Using this as his core building block, he now owns banks, an airline, railroads, restaurants, and … well, his reach is so pervasive that analysts say you can’t spend a day in Mexico City without paying at least one peso to him.

Last year, his reach crossed the U.S. border when he bought multimillion-dollar stakes in Saks Fifth Avenue, Citigroup, and The New York Times. This January, Slim dramatically upped his ownership of the Times, making a $250 million loan to help executives there cope with their billion-dollar debt.

What a deal! At least for Slim. In return for the cash, he got more shares, making him the second-largest owner of the paper. Better yet, he’s getting 14 percent interest on the loan, which means the Times will be paying him about $35 million a year to borrow his money.

The Times is paying an even-greater price in its journalistic credibility. By aligning its reputation with a monopolist baron of Mexico’s crony capitalism, the Times is now saddled with the kind of apparent conflict of interest that it routinely (and rightly) deplores in others.

Horse and Sparrow Economics

Time for another Gooberhead Award-presented periodically to those in the news who’ve got their mouths running 100 miles per hour … but forgotten to put their brains in gear.

Today’s Goober is a repeat winner: Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City mayor has long been a stalwart defender of the Wall Street crowd that has lavished campaign money on him over the years. So-even though workaday Americans are outraged and exasperated by the extravagant bonuses that failed Wall Street bankers are paying to themselves, using our bailout money for their self-enrichment-Rudy has stood tall for banker excess: “If somehow you take that bonus out of the economy, it really will create unemployment,” he cried.

For the bankers? No, for the little people, says Giuliani. He almost teared up as he explained that the multimillion-dollar payouts to high-flying Wall Streeters trickle down to waiters in swank New York restaurants, to clerks at Tiffany’s and Gucci, to sales staff at Lamborghini dealers, and to real estate agents selling mansions in the Hamptons. Even gardeners and garbage collectors get their cut, Hizzoner claimed.

He is spouting the age-old theory of “horse and sparrow” economics. This approach says that if you let horses gorge on oats, some of that grain will pass through their systems and be deposited on the ground for the sparrows to enjoy.

Not everyone shares our Gooberhead’s enthusiasm for the horse and sparrow theory. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, for example, is calling for a strict limit on the pay of bank executives who are getting our bailout money. “The way they’ve spent it,” he said, “is getting close to being criminal.” Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, is even more blunt about the rank greed of top bankers. Demanding that no bailout banker should be paid more than the president of the United States, she added: “These people are idiots.”

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com. His latest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.