Both political parties, squirming under the spreading scandals of supersleaze lobbyist Jack Abramoff, suddenly began posing as reformers, saying it’s time to rein in the corporate influence peddlers who haunt our nation’s capital. The lobbyists hunkered down like cows in a hailstorm as the leaders of the two parties piously demanded that lobbyist-paid dinners, foreign golf junkets, and other freebies for lawmakers be banned. But as the media spotlight cools, lobbyists are aggressively pushing back against any true reforms. Their tactic is to claim that they are invaluable to the democratic process! John Engler, the former Republican governor of Michigan who heads the National Association of Manufacturers, asserts that his lobbying front for major corporate powers must not be restricted in its efforts “to educate and inform our elected leaders.” John insists that the ongoing trips that the NAM finances for Congress critters and their staffers gives them “a very valuable first-hand education” about the legislation that NAM members want—or don’t want. Likewise, says the head of the American Society of Association Executives. (Yes, the lobbying group for lobbying groups!) This guy chimes in that no lobbyist-paid junket should be banned, claiming that this would deprive lawmakers of views “outside of Washington.” Hello? You’re inside Washington! He insists that paying Congress critters to attend corporate conferences is an educational function in support of America’s finest democratic ideals. Democracy. Lobbyists. Junkets. In my mind, those words don’t go together. When our lawmakers need information on issues shouldn’t they get it on their own or from independent sources—not from paid influence peddlers? To push for real reforms, call Common Cause, (202) 833-1200.
Just a few weeks ago, Microsoft honcho Bill Gates was named “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine, hailed for the humanitarian work he has done through his foundation. Good. But what about the anti-humanitarian work that Gates continues to do through the corporation itself? Time didn’t mention that Microsoft is a willing accomplice in the denial of human freedoms in China, and perhaps elsewhere. The Internet giant, eager to sell its products in China’s burgeoning market of Web users, is ingratiating itself to that country’s repressive rulers by cooperating in their repression—literally selling out Microsoft’s own customers there! Take the case of Mr. Zhao Jing, a well-known blogger and advocate of democratic freedoms. When the government recently fired the editor of a progressive newspaper, Zhao Jing loudly criticized the repression on his blog, which runs on a Microsoft system. Tyrants have little sense of humor about criticism, and China’s rulers wanted this guy silenced. No problem—Microsoft did the dirty work, closing down the dissident’s blog.
Gates’s corporation also admits that its Internet system in China censors blogs, filtering out words that the government doesn’t like, such as “democracy” and “human rights.” Well, says the company, naturally we don’t agree with them, but if we’re to do business in China we have to comply with local laws. That’s a hoot! Giants like Microsoft don’t comply with our own laws! They either hire squads of lawyers to skirt the law of the land or hire scads of lobbyists to twist the laws to their liking. China’s rulers need Internet companies as much or more than the companies need China. Tell Microsoft and Bill to stop their cowardly and avaricious complicity in repression—and start standing up for free expression everywhere. Here’s their public comment line: (425) 882-8080.
Who says television is a wasteland? If you’re sick of getting 500 channels and still finding nothing to watch, get ready for the exciting debut of the Michael Eisner Show! Eisner—the guy who was CEO of Disney Inc. for years—stepped down last year. Now Mike needs something to keep him busy, so he’s getting his own hour-long interview show on CNBC. He says he’ll feature prominent guests from the worlds of business, politics, entertainment, and such (“people I think are inventive, so to speak”).
Eisner definitely knows “inventive.” He managed to invent a myriad of ways to pay himself astronomical sums of money at Disney, even when he was ranked as one of America’s worst-performing CEOs. In 1998, for example, Eisner took executive excess into the stratosphere when he pocketed more than $200,000 in pay—not for the year, or for a month, or even a day’s worth of work—but for an hour! Last year, even though he only worked nine months, Mike sacked up a cool million dollars in salary, and then added a nice $9.1 million bonus. Even better, however, is the retirement package he invented for himself. He’ll draw $297,779 in pension every year for the rest of his life. Plus, over the next three years, he’s to receive more than $22 million in “bonus pay”—presumably for agreeing not to show up at the office and make a mess of things. Eisner is the same guy who tried to cut back the health care benefits for some low-paid workers at Disneyland and who used child labor sweatshops in Haiti and China to produce Disney merchandise. Maybe he’ll have some of these workers on his show to highlight his “inventiveness.”
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.