Jim Hightower

Still Passing the Buck

Gosh, that was a refreshing respite that Congress took from corruption, wasn’t it?

The first thing the new Democratic Congress did in January was pass long-overdue curbs on lobbyist-paid junkets, jet travel, tickets to sports events, and such. Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared it would be “the most ethical Congress in history.”

That pledge didn’t even last a month, as lobbyists and lawmakers quickly found the loophole in the law. While it’s true that influence-peddlers can no longer fly a Congress critter on a corporate jet to a private party at the Super Bowl, lobbyists can pay $5,000 each to the lawmakers’ political committees so they can jet down to the Super Bowl.

With the glow of reformitis still on their cheeks, members of Congress have been staging all sorts of creative events for lobbyists to fund, continuing the pay-to-schmooze corruption we were told the new law banned. For $5,000, a lobbyist could hang out at Disney World with Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, or go snowmobiling with Montana’s Sen. Max Baucus. California Rep. Mary Bono let lobbyists join her at a Who concert for $2,500. For the same sum, Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones spent quality time with lobbyists at a “Manicures and Muffins” morning event at a Washington nail salon.

My favorite is Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor. For $2,500 you’re entitled to join him for coffee four times this spring at Starbucks. Golly Eric, what do you charge for a real breakfast?

The special interests are happy to pay the price—as one puts it, “I have to have some personal contact to be a lobbyist.”

This is why tinkering around the edges of lobbying reform won’t work. To stop corruption for good, we must have publicly financed elections so Congress critters won’t need lobbyists’ cash.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN?

Iraq is now a civil war, right? Well, George W’s National Intelligence Council now says no and yes. I quote from a recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: “The term ‘civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict.” But “nonetheless, the term ‘civil war’ accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict.”

Speaking of intelligence confusion, the Pentagon’s inspector general has now rebuked two of Donnie Rumsfeld’s top aides, confirming what we’ve all known for years: They cooked intelligence reports so Bush could lie and rush America into this sorry war. This is especially interesting since, only hours after the rebuke, Bush officials rushed out frantic new claims that—omigosh!—they’ve found evidence of weapons from Iran being used in Iraq. This is proof, they shouted, that evil Iran is behind the Iraq mess.

Curiously, the officials would not let reporters or independent experts see all of the “evidence.” It’s deja vu all over again.

Meanwhile, there’s the little matter of missing bucks in Iraq. Beaucoup bucks. L. Paul Bremer III, the first overseer of the Iraq occupation, now concedes that he OK’d shipping $12 billion from the U.S. Treasury to the Iraqi interim government. In cash! Pallets of shrink-wrapped stacks of $100 bills were flown to Baghdad. It was 363 tons of cash.

Where it went, no one knows. Neither L. Paul III nor the Iraqis bothered to monitor its disbursement. Did corrupt officials stuff their pockets? Did some of it go to fund the insurgents who attack our soldiers? Did Halliburton Co. and gang rip off a share?

Such lies, incompetence, and corruption soil our nation’s integrity. This is why we need a new Truman Committee to hold our officials accountable for this disgrace.

BITTER HARVEST

Darlings! You’ll be ever so pleased to learn that a new, high-fashion superstore has opened in America. It’s called Wal-Mart. Yes, the stodgy old downscale store has gone upscale, offering hip new clothing lines like Metro 7!

If you think anything has really changed, however, you might check the labels on these glam goods to see if any are made in Bangladesh. If so, they might have come from the factory of Harvest Rich Ltd., which produces clothing for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and others.

There’s nothing hip about Harvest Rich—it’s a sweatshop that uses child labor. In a new investigative report, the National Labor Committee, a watchdog group, has documented conditions in Harvest Rich that are grotesque, even by sweatshop standards. Approximately 200 children between 11 and 14 years old work in this factory.

The children are forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, with some shifts going 20 hours. For the grueling long shifts, they are allowed only about four hours of sleep on the factory floor before being awakened and put back on the machines. Sometimes they collapse from exhaustion. Their wages are as low as 6 cents an hour. They

are routinely slapped or beaten if they don’t meet production goals, make mistakes, or even take too long in the bathroom.

Wal-Mart washes its hands by asserting it has a “code of conduct” for its contractors, supposedly enforced by apparel industry monitors. Yet Harvest Rich, which is certified by this group, shows again that corporate self-monitoring is an abysmal failure at stopping.

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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