Jim Hightower

Earth to Washington

Yoo hoo, White House and Congress, but could you possibly take a minute or two from beating your chests with your war whoop against Saddam Hussein to notice that we’ve got a little problem here on the homefront? I’m not talking about the Homeland Security Department, with its new ensemble of gun-toting federal agents and its cute, color-coded, terrorism-alert scheme. Instead, maybe you might notice that our so-called economy has moved into Code Red, threatening our national security in ways that the blowhard thug in Iraq can’t approach. Check it out:

In just the last year, the Dow Jones has lost 25 percent of its value and the Nasdaq is down by 40 percent, and people’s retirement funds have suffered a 30-percent drop in value.Two million jobs have been lost, unemployment keeps climbing, and long-term unemployment has doubled under Bush.Corporate profits and corporate investment are down, while poverty and the number of people without health care are up.Consumer debt is at an all-time, absurd high, and bankruptcies are getting hot enough to set the woods on fire.

Where’s the leadership, Republican or Democrat? Real people are being hurt. But the President, supposedly our nation’s top economic leader, is AWOL. Bush could only babble that, “There’s a lot of talk about job creation, and there should be.” After this nonsensical and feeble comment, he jumped on Air Force One and rushed off to Michigan for a $1.4 million fund-raising event with the economic elites.

Instead of black-tie fund-raising dinners, the whole passel of these incumbents ought to be sitting at America’s kitchen tables, listening to reality … and responding.

“SOFT-MONEY” FLOOD

Just when you think you’ve got corruption dammed up, it squirts out somewhere else. Washington politicos told us just a few months ago that they finally had dammed up the flood of corrupt “soft money” pouring into the campaigns of both political parties. Soft money refers to the huge, unlimited amounts of campaign cash that corporations and other special interests give to political parties. By passing the McCain-Feingold reform bill, however, Congress banned this soft money from federal elections … and that was that. Except that the Federal Election Commission had to issue rules to implement the ban. The FEC, made up of three Republican operatives and three Democrats, has long been notorious as the path of least resistance for the money corruption of our politics, and the commissioners wrote the rules so that corrupt soft money can come right back into the process.

While the McCain-Feingold bill banned national parties from using soft money, the FEC ruled that state and local parties can raise and spend unlimited sums of it for national elections, including using it to pay the salaries of campaign staff working on national campaigns. In other words, a corporation can’t put a million-dollar contribution in a party’s front pocket, but it can put the money in the party’s back pocket. Then there’s the FEC’s grandfather loophole. While the new law prohibits national parties from taking soft money, the FEC says the parties can set up “independent” soft-money committees before November 6, and these committees can keep operating forever, plus these front-group committees needn’t even bother reporting where their money comes from! To help replace the FEC with a real watchdog, call Congress Watch, 202-588-1000.

HOW QUICKLY THEY FORGET

Remember when the greedheads of Enron, WorldCom, and all the rest were causing such a public stink that even Bush’s own corporate shenanigans were being called into question? Bush went to Wall Street to wag his finger at corporate wrongdoers, calling for legislative reform, and Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley bill to re-regulate corporate America, including beefing up the anemic budget of the SEC. Bush made a big political flourish of signing this bill, bragging that the new budget would provide additional investigators and new technology so “corporate misdeeds will be found and will be punished.” It was a great show, but as soon as the TV cameras went away, he took off his ReformerMan costume and became CorporateMan again. He quietly slashed SEC’s new enforcement budget, leaving it toothless to battle the corporate greedheads who continue to rip off investors, loot worker’s pensions, run tax scams, cheat consumers, and generally profiteer at our expense. With George’s cuts, the agency is no match for the corporate finaglers. In fact, one firm alone, Merrill Lynch, has a bigger legal staff dealing with regulatory matters than the entire enforcement division of the SEC. But the White House has coldly calculated that, since corporate scandals are no longer leading the news, having been driven off the front pages by Bush’s warmongering against Iraq, they can now renege on their reform promises and do a favor for their corporate campaign contributors. To help stop this weaseling on corporate crime, call Public Citizen, 202-588-1000.

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.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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