The problem with cleaning up corporate America is that those doing the cleaning keep getting filthy. Even with our Congress critters crying for corporate blood over the corrupt practices of Enron, WorldCom, and all the rest–after their speeches, they slip out the side door to raise campaign money from the very corporate powers they now say they’re reforming. In July, Democratic house leader Dick Gephardt, who publicly is outraged by corporate America’s greed, privately charged $5,000 per ticket to corporate lobbyists for a fundraising reception in his honor. Likewise, a half-dozen Republican Senators, who are part of George W. Bush’s born-again moralistic crusade against corporate evildoers, played courtesans to corporate lobbyists who paid $15,000 each to spend private time with the senators at a posh resort. What we have here is business as usual–and hypocrisy on steroids. Both parties rationalize their corporate money-grubbing by claiming that they’re only milking the “White Hat” corporations, not the bad guys. But only a year ago, Enron, WorldCom, and all the other present-day evildoers were considered White Hats too, and members of Congress were eager to take their money then, and in turn, happy to pass bills making it easier for these very CEOs to blindside workers and investors. It’s not the color of the CEO’s hat that’s at issue–it’s corporate power itself that’s out of whack, encouraging CEOs to be self-serving, abusive, and corrupt. Practically every corporation coming to these fundraisers is guilty of contaminating our air and water, mugging workers, dodging their fair share of taxes, stiffing farmers and small business, lying to consumers, buying special favors from politicians, and generally running roughshod over all of us. It’s this overbearing corporate power that has to be addressed.
CLEAN UP THE MESS, PART II
Did your mother ever tell you that if you made a mess it was yours to clean up? Taught by parents to children throughout our land, this admonition is part of America’s cultural core, central to our ethical belief that we must be responsible for what we do. But there are some grownups who seem completely unable to grasp the concept. For example, industrial polluters are among the poutiest, most willful violators of this childhood rule. Toxic polluters prefer to make the mess, grab the profits, and run. That’s why the Superfund waste cleanup law was passed in 1980. “The polluter pays” was the rallying cry, because polluters engaged in so many shell games to avoid their responsibilities. This law assessed a tax on corporations that contaminate our air, water, and communities, with the money going into a trust fund that pays for clean-ups at especially nasty industrial sites. Of course industry executives threw little tantrums about being taxed, but the Superfund law has worked to clean up about 500 of their messes. In 1995, however, Congress finally caved in to the industry’s whining and eliminated the tax, which had amassed a fund of nearly $4 billion. Now, however, that fund is down to $28 million, and there are still huge “megasites” to clean up that will cost more than $200 million each–plus, industry is creating more toxic messes all the time. So here comes George W. to the rescue–of the polluters! He says the polluter tax is “burdensome” to the industry, so instead of making polluters pay, he’ll simply clean-up fewer places and shift the cost to us taxpayers.
THE MALLING OF AMERICA, PART II
Here’s a new trend in the development of “downtowns” that combines Wal-Martization and the Disneyfication of shopping. Wal-Martization is the process of deep-pocket, low-wage, chain-store outfits coming into communities and using both predatory pricing and a massive advertising budget to kill the local competition, forcing out the hometown groceries, hardware stores, pharmacies, bookstores, etc. They have squeezed the economic life out of hundreds of downtowns.
But it turns out that, gee, lots of folks miss downtown–you know, strolling along Main Street and popping into this shop or that. So, now come the Disneyfiers. Having destroyed downtown, national developers now are replicating it with what they call “outdoor malls,” with faux “main streets” and brightly painted stores that appear to be independent entities. The developers say they are trying to “create a town-center feel with local flavor and get away from the could-be-anywhere feel of standard malls.” Indeed, the developers now deride the old indoor malls, asserting that people today “don’t want to go inside of a big air-conditioned building where it’s noisy and dark.” But, hey, Mr. Big Developer–that’s the very ambiance you created and promoted to crush our real-life downtown businesses. As for “local flavor,” they’re not talking about the Chat & Chew Cafe and other genuinely local stores, but of Starbucks, The Gap, Barnes and Noble, and more of the same-old same-old chain operations that are everywhere. Yet, they even try to imbue these plastic places with noble social meaning: “It will be something of a gathering place, not just a retail market,” said one national developer. But their new “downtowns” offer no real community. Isn’t there enough dishonesty in the corporate world without them claiming that more chain-store commercialization of our communities is something noble?
Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.