Jim Hightower

Corporate Sex on View

So, you’re walking on the seedier edge of downtown, along where the strip joints and peep shows are, when you hear a guy go: “psst… hey buddy, step over here… wanna see some dirty pictures?”

To your amazement, however, this purveyor of pornography is not some sleazy wretch in a rumpled raincoat, but C. Michael Armstrong, the very polished CEO of AT&T, offering you hot stuff from inside his $3,000 Amalfi suit. And just down the filth-strewn street from him is John Smith of General Motors, Gerald Levin of Time Warner, and even the pious J.W. Marriott of the hotel chain–all of them prim and proper Republican-types… peddling porn.

It’s the sex video business gone corporate, with some of the biggest blue-chip, brand names getting their well-manicured hands all over this $10 billion-a-year action. The New York Times reveals that General Motors now makes $200 million annually from pay-per-view sex films aired through its DirectTV subsidiary–more money than Hustler magazine’s Larry Flynt makes on graphic sex movies. Likewise, AT&T outsells Playboy in the sex biz, offering a hardcore sex channel called Hot Network that reaches 16 million homes on cable TV, plus selling pay-per-view sex in a million hotel rooms.

The reason that sex sales have moved from the back streets to Wall Street is, of course, because of the one thing corporations truly lust after: profits! “Revenue-wise,” says an official with AT&T’s cable channel, “it’s one of our biggest moneymakers.” The corporate purveyors say they’re only responding to a market, and that they’re not guys with gold chains, but guys with MBAs. Besides, one told the Times, we only show “widely accepted sexual activity” on our videos–no forced bondage or sex with children.

Ah, standards!

REWARDING FAILURE

In the name of cutting costs, getting more efficient, and “streamlining,” corporate CEOs are on another firing binge, dumping hundreds of thousands of American workers this year. Yet, have you noticed, these same CEOs are upping their own pay, getting fatter than butcher’s dogs?

Here’s a novel idea: What if CEOs actually had to do a good job before getting a pay raise? That would sure spoil the fun of, for example, Ed Whitacre, Jr. Ed’s the big honcho at SBC Communications Inc., our country’s largest “local” phone company. In a surge of merger-mania, SBC has snapped up control of local phone service in 13 states and several foreign countries, now advertising that SBC is “your friendly neighborhood global communications company.” I’m not making that up!

In the process of merger-mania, not only has SBC jacked up people’s phone rates, but it’s also made a mess of phone service. Customers are waiting weeks to get a new phone installed (and forget about repairs.) As a Michigan business customer who had his phone disconnected for three days told Associated Press, calling for service was a joke: “You might as well give up your afternoon,” he said. “It’s impossible to get a live person, much less someone who cares.”

SBC executives blame “a smaller, less experienced workforce.” Hello! Who fired over 5,000 experienced workers when SBC took over these local companies? Not surprisingly, with higher phone bills and less service, SBC’s stock price has taken a nine-percent dive in the past year. But did Ol’ Ed take a hit for all this management mess? No! In addition to his salary, Ed got a $6 million dollar bonus, plus a stock payment of $6.5 million, and a $5.3 million “special bonus and retention award.”

If you can get $18 million a year for firing workers, raising rates, cutting service and losing value for stockholders–why should any CEO give a damn about doing a good job?

FINDING MONEY FOR PENTAGON “READINESS”

Imagine the reaction if a multibillion-dollar federal poverty agency was wracked with waste and fraud, and that the need for such a massive poverty program no longer even existed–yet the heads of the agency overseeing the program came to Congress demanding a $50 billion increase in their annual budget.

What an outcry there would be! Trent Lott would spontaneously combust in outrage, Rush Limbaugh would turn purple and implode, and The Wall Street Journal would organize a media lynch mob. So where was the establishment’s outrage when the Joint Chiefs of Staff–the five barons of the Pentagon’s fiefdom–came before the Congress to demand that their $300-billion-plus annual funding be increased by $50 billion a year? Remember the bipartisan shrieking not long ago about all the single moms on welfare? That entire program cost $50 billion a year. Yet here’s a corporate welfare program more than six times bigger, a massive chunk of which goes to fat cat military contractors, and we’re supposed to give them $50 billion more of our tax dollars each year?

Oh, whine the Pentagon brass, we’ve got a “readiness problem”; we’re not able to respond to our enemies’ threats. Hello. You’re already getting more than half of what Congress appropriates each year, but you’re not ready? And you’re the generals? By the way, the money we already throw at this most wasteful, fraudulent federal bureaucracy is 22 times more than the combined military spending of our supposed enemies. These are the same generals who this year got Congress to appropriate $50 million a year just to lease six Gulfstream V executive luxury jets to fly them around the country.

The Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff told congress, “We must find the resources necessary to modernize the force.” Hey, General, how about we start with your private jet and the astonishing waste and fraud in the Pentagon’s bloated budget?

Jim Hightower’s latest book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates, by HarperCollins. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or write [email protected]

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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