Cleaning Up After the Elephants

Watching the Bush administration in its final few months is like watching one of those scenes in a submarine disaster movie, when the aah-oogah horn blows and crew members rush every which way to jury-rig pipelines, crank balky machinery, and fire torpedoes as the captain barks orders.

In agency after agency, the Bush-Cheney crew is scrambling in similar fashion-frantically manipulating our governmental systems to benefit narrow corporate interests. From environmental agencies to the Pentagon, Bushites are rushing through new rules and executive reorganizations designed to lock in pro-corporate policies and tie the hands of the next administration.

The latest effort comes from the Justice Department, which has issued a 215-page “policy guidance” paper for future antitrust regulators. The idea that this bunch would offer anything in the public interest is ludicrous since the Bush crew never met a corporate monopolist it wouldn’t hug. In fact, in Bush’s eight-year reign, his Justice Department has filed exactly one case charging anti-competitive practices. Of course, that one wasn’t against a big predator like Wal-Mart; it was just a small-potatoes case involving a West Virginia newspaper.

So we need not be surprised that the new policy they’ve created protects monopolists, not consumers or competitors. The policy is so unbalanced that even the Federal Trade Commission blasted it as “a blueprint for radically weakened [anti-trust] enforcement” that will allow monopolies to act “with impunity.”

They say the worst job in the circus is cleaning up after the elephants, and Bush is proving the point again.

THE SMEAR ERASER

As the political adage tells us, a lie can be halfway around the world before truth gets its boots on.

The Swift-Boat school of smear politics relies on this lag time to undermine any real political debate and slip dissembling candidates into office. Sadly, that’s just the sort of effort we’re seeing this year from John McCain and his hatchet woman.

This time, truth has at least a fighting chance thanks to a democratic mechanism that Barack Obama’s campaign has mastered: the Internet. They have a Web site called “Fight the Smears,” enabling the campaign to refute untruths directly and instantly.

For example, one smear slung at him asserts that he isn’t an American, claiming that he cannot produce his birth certificate. The campaign authoritatively responded by posting a copy of Obama’s U.S. birth certificate for all to see. In another smear, the Republican Party ran TV ads distorting a comment by Michelle Obama, suggesting that she’s not patriotic. In response, the Web site posted a video of no less trustworthy a figure than first lady Laura Bush refuting this malicious silliness.

What about the “fact” that Obama is a Muslim, that he “refuses” to say the Pledge of Allegiance with his hand over his heart, that there’s no American flag painted on the outside of his campaign plane? Lies. But he doesn’t have to hope that the establishment media will eventually publicize the truth; instead, he can do it himself. Check it out at www.fightthesmears.com.

RHETORIC VERSUS REALITY

Wow, the two political conventions really socked it to the special interests, didn’t they? The air was so thick with tub-thumping demands for “change” that the corporate lobbying crowd must know that they’re on the outs, no matter November’s results, right?

Uh … not exactly. The same special interests enduring those blistering attacks were actually honored guests at both gatherings. In the two convention halls, they sat in the platinum-level splendor of skyboxes, watching and winking at the lofty promises of reform. What neither party wants you to know is that their presidential nominating conventions were paid for by lobbyists who schmoozed with elected officials throughout.

More than 100 corporations-from AFLAC to Xerox-pitched in about $100 million to finance the two political dog-and-pony shows. In addition to having their own suites, these lobbyists threw lavish private parties to “honor” powerful members of Congress who have lawmaking authority over their businesses. Such shameless butt-kissing was supposedly banned by lobbying reforms passed last year. Through creative loopholery, however, the House Ethics Committee ruled before the conventions that the “ban” applies only to events honoring a single lawmaker.

As Lily Tomlin puts it, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s almost impossible to keep up.” Can this corporate stranglehold on our governing system ever be broken? Yes! From Maine to Arizona, states are showing the way by providing public financing for political campaigns that take no funding from special interests. It’s a reform that works. To learn how to bring it to your state (and to Congress), go to publiccampaign.org.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com. His latest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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