Jim Hightower

Push for Real Reform

Perhaps you remember that only a couple of years ago, George W was in a public tizzy over the multibillion-dollar financial scandals pouring out of the executive suites of Wall Street and America’s largest corporations. Ripped-off investors were howling for blood and the stories of corporate corruption were on the front page—so George “Reformerman†Bush leapt to the rescue. He loudly demanded tough new rules to govern greedy CEOs, and he handpicked William Donaldson to serve as the new top cop on the Wall Street beat.

Two years later… Where’s Reformerman? There he is—behind the scenes at the SEC. But he’s taken off his reformer cape. He’s now quietly trying to undercut his top cop and to water down those tough new governance rules he once demanded!

Donaldson naively thought that Bush really wanted to crack down on corporate finagling. So he has proposed several new rules, including one that would allow shareholders to choose a few independent board members, rather than having all of a corporation’s board handpicked by the CEO.

Oh, the shrieks of horror that this caused among CEOs. Hence, the Business Roundtable—the lobbying front for CEOs of America’s largest corporations—has swarmed the SEC. Its lobbyists are demanding a substitute rule that guts Donaldson’s reform, turning the shareholders’ vote for independent board members into a sham.

George the Reformer is siding with the CEOs, even dispatching his treasury secretary, John Snow (a former leader of the Business Roundtable, by the way) to lobby Donaldson and other SEC officials to vote for the sham. We need not be surprised, since Bush has been busy raising millions of dollars in campaign funds from these same CEOs.

Donaldson, however, has not yet buckled to Bush and the lobbyists. To buck him up, call his office and ask that he enact real reform by supporting shareholders, not CEOs: 202-942-0100.

Outrage over the Outrage Leave it to the kooks in congress and their sidekicks—the right-wing pundits and talk-show yakkers—to see a “liberal conspiracy†behind the torture photos coming out of U.S. military prisons in Iraq.

To them, the public outrage over the torture and humiliation of Iraqi detainees is a lot of fuss about very little. Media coverage of it, they say, is being prolonged by liberals in order to pound Bush. “Some people are overreacting. The people who are against the war are using this to their political ends,†grumped Tom DeLay, the GOP congressional boss who is infamous for using anything and everything to further his own, right-wing political ends.

Rush Limbaugh spewed and sputtered that the pictures show nothing worse than fraternity pranks, and even Donnie Rumsfeld tried to pass off the behavior of the prison guards as “abuse,†not “torture.â€

Indeed, Rummy primly described one video segment as showing several American soldiers “having sex†with a woman detainee. Excuse my crudeness, Donnie, but “having sex†with a prisoner is called “rape.â€

The Mr. Sensitive award, however, goes to Senator James Inhofe, the right-wing nutball from Oklahoma. At a committee hearing, Inhofe puffed himself up like a blowfish and let loose with this sour opinion of the vast majority of Americans who are revolted by the torture: “As I watch this outrage, that everyone seems to have about the treatment of these prisoners, I have to say … I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.â€

To gild this rhetorical lily, Inhofe then assailed all of us Americans who want a full investigation, caustically calling us, “humanitarian do-gooders.†If that’s being a do-gooder, then put me down as a proud one. Clueless Corporate Plutocrats My, my—the highly-touted benefits of globalizing America’s high-tech jobs have just gotten a political comeuppance. Not in our country—not yet—but in a country that has been hailed by Washington, Wall Street, and the media as one of the chief beneficiaries of the outsourcing of our middle-class jobs: India.

Endless articles have been written about the sudden economic boom in the gleaming, new high-tech centers of Southern India. What they didn’t tell us is that the so-called “boom†went only an inch deep, not touching the vast majority of this nation’s one billion people, much less lifting them out of grinding poverty and drudgery. While the government launched a PR campaign it called “India Shining†to tout the new high-tech economy, two-thirds of the people still depend on agriculture to eke out a living, 300 million Indians still live on less than a dollar a day, and thousands of villages have no schools, hospitals, or clean water. Indeed, the lives of the majority have worsened, for the government slashed public services, privatized agencies, cut wages, and eliminated millions of jobs in an effort to attract foreign capital and offer subsidies to high-tech moguls. But now, the people have had their say on India Shining. In last month’s elections, by an overwhelming majority, they dumped the prime minister, his ruling party, and the state officials who had engineered the sell-out to global corporate powers.

The popular rebellion against clueless corporate plutocrats and politicians has truly gone global—and America is ripe for it, too.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back, on sale now from Viking Press.

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Published at 12:00 am CST