Jim Hightower

Dollar-Bill Phil Cashes In


Do I hear the cacophonous sound of hurdy-gurdy music wafting in from the U.S. Capitol? Yes, that old Washington Merry-go-round is spinning its magic once again, and look who’s getting a ride atop the carousel’s golden pony this time–Phil Gramm! Yes, it’s “Dollar Bill Phil,” the money-grubbing senator from Texas whose 24 years in Congress were notable mainly for his “coquettish” willingness to do legislative favors for corporations and big bankers in exchange for campaign cash. He’s such a notorious hustler that the joke on Capitol Hill is that Phil spells Phillip, his formal name, “F-i-l-l-U-p,” as in “Fill up my pockets with money.” Phil is really cashing in on the services he has rendered to the bankers over the years. In fact, he’s becoming one! Having announced his retirement from the Senate a few months ago, Gramm announced that he’s being picked up by something called UBS Warburg, the investment banking arm of Switzerland’s largest financial empire. He won’t say how much of a payoff he’s getting, but it’s definitely a multimillion-dollar bonanza for this former chair of the Senate banking committee. The CEO of UBS Warburg says that Gramm’s “experience makes him uniquely suited to assist our clients.” Sure, his experience as a longtime law-writer who routinely used his public position to rig the rules to favor rich investors and fat-cat bankers over the rest of us makes him a natural in-house advisor on rule rigging.


I don’t know whether to scream or laugh when George W gets up on his little war pony and starts screeching that “we’ve” got to go to war in Iraq. What do you mean “we,” white boy? Bush has always been a warmonger, not a warrior. In the Vietnam days George was all for the war–but was not able to go personally to Vietnam, since he had college deferments and was way too busy being a campus cheerleader at Yale. Then, after graduate school, when he suddenly felt the draft blowing on his neck, a well-connected oilman who was a Bush family neighbor intervened politically with top Texas officials to make sure that he would spend the war here on the home front, diligently defending Houston from the Viet Cong. Other present-day wild-eyed warmongers in Washington also evaded their personal opportunity to be real warriors in that Vietnam period. Such “leaders” as Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, and Tom DeLay–who are now howling so ferociously for war from the comfort of their offices, 6,000 miles from the Iraqi front–denied themselves the pleasure of engaging in hostilities when it was their turn to go. Likewise, none of the offspring of the Bushes or of the other warmongering Washington politicos and pundits will be among the soldiers sent to Iraq. We have a volunteer military, and you won’t see their sons, daughters, and other family members volunteering. Instead, the troops will be made up of low-income, working-class youngsters, especially people of color– folks who have the most doubts and the least say about whether we go to a war that will kill thousands of them. I say we don’t go to war until we see the Bush daughters and the sons and daughters of the lobbyists, CEOs, and other elites packing arms and putting themselves in harm’s way.


Perhaps you’ve been pleased by the ongoing revelations of scams, scandals, and outright scuzziness in the executive suites of major corporations, thinking that surely this embarrassing picture of systemic CEO greed will chasten corporate executives, perhaps even humble them a bit, and bring them back down to earth. Sure, Pollyanna, just as soon as pure ego ceases to be the drug of choice among those breathing the rarified air at the top of CorporateWorld. These are people born without the humility gene, people who stay high on their own essence, people who sniff their armpits and smell roses; don’t expect introspection, much less a change in the corporate ethic, from those at the top. Indeed, feeling beleaguered by today’s public outrage at CEO privilege, more and more top executives are getting their backs up, huffily declaring that they deserve their extravagant lifestyles and, in fact, should be praised by the public for their superior worth to society. USA Today reports a surge of CEOs rushing out to re-read and form support groups around the writings of Ayn Rand, the Russian immigrant and Hollywood scriptwriter whose 1950s novels exalted wealthy corporate leaders as capitalist utopians heroically battling workers, public officials, consumers, and other lesser beings, who were portrayed as mooching on their genius. Rand’s books affirm their belief that the avaricious pursuit of self-interest is a moral act. Apparently, Rand’s fiction is boosting the sagging self-esteem of today’s CEOs, reassuring them that, as USA Today puts it, they are the “real-life achievers who do far more to lift the world’s standard of living, cure disease, and end starvation than Mother Teresa.” It’s hard for me to think of Jack Welch, Kenneth Lay, Dennis Kozlowski, etc. as Mother Teresa. Instead of Ayn Rand, these guys need to review the Golden Rule.

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.