Back to mobile

Jim Hightower

Donkeys, Elephants, and Ducks
by Published on

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that major corporations in need of major favors from the White House, Congress, and other governmental agencies are pouring major bucks into the two national conventions.

AT&T (lobbying for control of the long distance phone market), Lockheed Martin (lobbying for more Pentagon money), General Motors (lobbying for more global trade deals), Ernst & Young (lobbying for lax financial regulation), and Microsoft (lobbying to keep its monopoly position) are among the dozen corporations underwriting both conventions. Microsoft, for example, already has given more than $500,000 to host the Republican convention in Philadelphia, and the same sum to host the Democrats in Los Angeles.

This kind of payola not only puts the corporate stamp on the consciousness and consciences of both parties, but it also buys special access for the C.E.O.s and lobbyists of the favor-seeking companies. While the charade of democracy plays out on the convention floor, these executives will be in private skyboxes and at closed functions, wining and dining the nominees and top lawmakers of the two parties. As one C.E.O. told the Inquirer when asked to explain why her company would sponsor both conventions: “We need these folks to know who we are.”

Republican and Democratic conventions once were important to democracy – choosing the nominees, writing the platforms, and debating big issues. But today, they’re political farces. The delegates are nothing but stage props for the TV show, while political and corporate powerbrokers meet behind the scenes to assure that plutocracy rules, despite the public pretensions of democracy.

YOUR GOD-GIVEN RIGHT TO SUE

Most Red, White and Blue Americans would hoot at any politician who would even suggest taking away our hard-won right to go to court when we’ve been injured. The right to have a jury decide your case was put into the Constitution by the founders so even the humblest citizen would have a way to stand up to the arbitrariness and abuse of the powerful.

But what politicians wouldn’t dare propose directly is being achieved indirectly by powerful corporations, their political puppets, and pro-corporate courts. Their backdoor approach is a devious concept called “mandatory arbitration.” It’s devious because, while arbitration sounds like an impartial process, this assault on our rights is decidedly partial – to the corporation and against consumers.

Start with the fact that arbitration is a sneak attack, being put into all sorts of consumer dealings without being explained. Buy a car, sign an apartment lease, join an H.M.O., get a credit card, contract for pest control, buy stock – in the small print, companies slip in a provision that says you must never sue them, but instead submit to binding arbitration. You surrender all of your rights to a trial by a jury of your peers!

Who are these “arbitrators”? Usually, they’re private firms chosen by and paid by the corporations. For example, Consumer Reports magazine notes that the credit card firm, First USA, paid an arbitration firm $5 million to arbitrate some 19,000 cases with its customers … and customers won only eighty-seven times!

Mandatory arbitration is a stacked deck against you. To fight it, call Paul Bland of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice: (202) 797-8600.

ONE MIGHTY-PISSED DUCK

There’s a political metaphor that goes: Never bother murdering a man who’s busy committing suicide.

Rhetorically speaking, Phil Knight is killing himself. He’s the head honcho at Nike, which is a notorious exploiter of sweatshop labor. Phil is constantly shooting off his mouth in defense of this ugly fact, rather than simply cleaning up his corporate act. Lately, he’s taken to assailing university officials who dare to cross him on this explosive issue.

It’s been little reported by the establishment media, but there’s recently been a firestorm of student outrage and action across the country against the use of sweatshop labor to make clothing and other goods bearing their university logos. Led by United Students Against Sweatshops, some fifty campuses have joined the Workers Rights Consortium – a tough, effective group that monitors labor practices at apparel factories around the world, making sure no sweatshop labor is used.

This has ticked off Phil, who particularly objects to the Consortium’s use of surprise visits to his Asian factories – “gotcha” tactics, he labels them, apparently preferring advance notice so supervisors can tidy things up before inspectors arrive. So piqued is Phil that he withdrew a $30 million contribution to build luxury skyboxes at the football stadium of his alma mater, the University of Oregon, home of the Fighting Ducks. The U. of O.’s transgression? It had joined the Workers Rights Consortium. Knight even lashed out at one of his company’s biggest customers, the University of Michigan, because it, too, joined the consortium to stop sweatshop labor. Nike had a sweet deal at Michigan, but Knight left the campus in a huff saying he would not seek to renew his exclusive contract there.

Knight’s ego bursts simply draw more attention to the fact that Nike profiteers from sweatshop labor. He needs to hire a PR aide whose job is to do nothing but say, “Oh, Phil, shut up.”

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show braodcasts nationwide daily from Austin. His new book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or write [email protected]