Name Your Bank

Advertising has been likened to whacking a metal bucket repeatedly with a stick. The noise can be used to attract … or distract.So what’s the right advertising message for the banks and insurance giants collapsing all around us? One slogan that no longer works is: “The Strength To Be There.” That belonged to American International Group Inc., the powerhouse insurance corporation that ran out of strength in September and only remains “there” because of the $85-billion bailout it got from us taxpayers. The guy in charge of global branding for AIG now says, “We are actively exploring messages that would be appropriate for this environment.” How about: “Thanks A Million For The Bailout”?

Ad professionals are on the job, devising bucket-whacking noise they hope will instill confidence in customers. At present, they’re urging widespread use of “S” words: soothing, safety, security, stability.

Washington Mutual Inc. has jumped at this suggestion. In mid-September, WaMu became the largest bank failure of all time. It was taken over by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Now the pair is wooing customers with this come-on: “WaMu and Chase: Safe & Secure.”

In fact, many once-solid banking names are likely to disappear. For example, Merrill Lynch & Co. has been gobbled up by Bank of America, the remnants of Lehman Brothers were sold to Barclays PLC, and Wachovia Corp. is being taken over by Wells Fargo & Co. If you’re looking for a solid investment in an otherwise sour economy, I’d suggest buying stock in a business that makes and replaces bank signs.

BUSH’S LIBRARY SCAM

Acting like a child, George W. has squeezed his eyes tight and put his fingers in his ears, claiming that he has no idea who is chipping in the big bucks for his half-a-billion-dollar presidential library to be erected in Dallas. He says he doesn’t want his staff to tell him the names of these special-interest donors while he’s still in office, as if his temporary ignorance can cleanse the stench of fundraising by a sitting president.

But-whoops-one of the solicitors for Bush’s ego temple inadvertently outed himself. Stephen Payne, a Houston businessman and sometime political arranger for Bush, got caught on video in July offering White House favors to foreign interests in exchange for a suggested donation of $200,000 to the library fund.

It is, of course, silly to think that George and his Oval Office handlers don’t know who is funding his legacy library, but it is outrageous that they want to hide this knowledge from the public. After all, we pay millions of tax dollars each year to maintain these things. Yet last year, at the behest of the White House, Sen. Ted Stevens killed a bill to require disclosure of such donors.

Not that this is a partisan cover-up. Bill Clinton raised $165 million for his presidential palace, and he continues to keep his donor list tucked away in his vest pocket, safe from public scrutiny.

What are they hiding? If no favors are being exchanged for these high-dollar donations, why not disclose them? Indeed, if the contributors are simply altruistic individuals with no agenda, wouldn’t they want their names emblazoned on the walls of a presidential library?

By the way, there’s no requirement that every ex-president gets one of these monuments-and few deserve them.

GEORGIAN “DEMOCRACY”

I’ve got Georgia on my mind. Not “the peach state,” but the Republic of Georgia.

This nation achieved international fame in August when it briefly got into a territorial war with Russia, its powerful northern neighbor. Georgia quickly got routed, but not before U.S. politicians-especially the Bush White House and John McCain-leapt into the fray with a fusillade of red-hot rhetoric. They worked themselves into a froth condemning Russia while praising Georgia as a plucky, Western-style democracy that deserves America’s full support. Indeed, Bush pledged a billion of our tax dollars to Georgia and hailed its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a combination of George Washington and Rocky Balboa.

In Georgia, people snickered at the idea of Saakashvili as a democratic model. Running a semi-authoritarian state, he routinely unleashes his thuggish police forces to suppress his opposition, attack protesters, and repress the media.

Georgia’s independent, human-rights watchdog, for example, says that “a free press is the main myth created by [Saakashvili] that the West believes in.” He reports that “the government is so afraid of criticism that it has felt compelled to raid media offices and to intimidate journalists and bash their equipment.”

What Saakashvili can’t achieve by bashing he gets by cronyism and censorship. Staff members and owners of media outlets have been forced out, replaced by government allies.

Beware of the Bush-McCain line that Georgia is a flower of democracy. Once again, our leaders are trying to commit America financially and militarily on false pretenses.

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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