Jim Hightower

My Dinner with Cheney


Imagine my surprise to get a personal letter from Dick Cheney. “Dear Mr. Hightower, I write to invite you to join the President and Mrs. Bush for a private dinner here in Washington, D.C.” Dick goes on to say that “a special place of honor has already been reserved for you to recognize your steadfast support of President Bush.” One thing I’m not is a steadfast supporter of King George and his autocratic, plutocratic court of corporate greedheads. Maybe my “special place of honor” was to serve as the entrée? Whatever. Dick said I could get in for only $2,500. Due to a chronic shortfall in my bank account, however, I passed. But I know I would’ve enjoyed chit-chatting with CEOs and lobbyists for Chevron, Microsoft, Philip Morris, and other corporations that pitched in $250,000 apiece to mingle at George’s golden gala. These corporate giants happen to have pending issues before the Bush White House. I’m sure this has nothing to do with their generosity. A record $30 million was raised from these special interests, most of it in the form of notoriously corrupt “soft money.” This is ironic, since Bush signed a law banning such contributions not long ago. But, conveniently, he and Republicans delayed implementation until after this fall’s elections. Still, the letter said if I couldn’t shell out for dinner, for only $150 I could get a set of three, limited-edition photos of the prez in action, including a candid shot of W. aboard Air Force One talking to Cheney by phone on September 11. (This was the day that George was afraid to return to Washington and hopped around the country on Air Force One, leaving Cheney in charge!)


I recently talked with a hospital worker who said she was living on a “fixed income.” She’s looking for whoever fixed it! Well, one who’s not doing the job of fixing our ailing economy is our beloved George W. His idea of helping America’s hard-hit working families is to give yet another trillion-dollar tax giveaway to the richest people in the country. They’ll use it to create jobs, he says with a self-satisfied smirk. But that’s what he said about his first trillion-dollar giveaway to the same rich people two years ago. Since then, we’ve lost more than two million jobs. In just the past few months, there have been mass layoffs by such giants as AOL Time Warner, Boeing, Dow Jones, Goodyear, Kodak, McDonald’s, Merrill Lynch, J.C. Penney, Sara Lee, and Verizon—and more to come. These are bad numbers—politically as well as economically. When so many workers are given pink slips at once, it gets in the news. The labor department, which tracks this data, reports that there were more than 2,000 mass layoffs last year. What to do, what to do? I know, shouted some eager Bushite: Let’s just stop reporting these numbers! Ahhh, the cleverness, the simplicity, the manipulativeness. So that’s what the Bushites did. Last Christmas Eve, while the media were off having eggnog and dreaming of sugar plum fairies, Bush’s labor department quietly slipped out a four-sentence press release announcing that its Mass Layoff Statistics Program was “discontinued.” The statistical grinches claimed they had to do this because there just wasn’t any money for tracking and reporting such information.


For Boeing, Inc., it was a steal of a deal, wrapped in the flag and delivered on a silver platter. The deal, initiated by Boeing lobbyists shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, lets the world’s largest airplane maker lease 100 of its commercial jets to the Air Force for conversion into refueling tankers. The lease pays a sweet $20 billion to Boeing—way more than the Air Force would pay simply to buy the tankers. It was a closed-door deal—done without competing bids and without Congressional hearings or a vote. It also includes a 15-percent profit for Boeing, triple what it makes selling commercial planes. How did this happen? Business Week magazine recently followed the lobbying trail. First, Boeing went to the top. Having just moved its corporate headquarters to Illinois, home state of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, its lobbyists quickly signed up Hastert, and he quietly slipped the arrangement into the Pentagon appropriations bill. But the White House budget office balked, calling the costly lease scheme “irresponsible.” So, Boeing’s lobbyists, Hastert’s office, and the Air Force agreed to a bit of Enron accounting to make the lease appear less costly than it is. In other words, they rigged the numbers. Then they lobbied. Boeing spends some $6 million a year on lobbyists. It’s also a $2 million annual political contributor (including having given $100,000 to help pay for Bush’s inaugural festivities), so it has lots of insider clout.

Hastert himself worked the White House and got private sessions to pitch the lease directly to George W. After one of these sessions, Bush turned to his chief of staff and said: “Andy, let’s get it done.” Did I mention that shortly after the deal was done, Boeing hired the Air Force procurement official who had negotiated this taxpayer giveaway?

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.