The pesticide manufacturers’ pet congressman has received a well-deserved award – though not one he’ll be bragging about. It’s the “Golden Leash Award,” presented periodically to public officials who take big bucks from special interests, then do legislative favors for them at the expense of We the People. The Golden Leash is awarded by Public Campaign, which fights for getting corrupt money out of our political system. So – trumpets please! – the latest awardee is: Charlie Stenholm, a Texas Democrat.
Just since 1991, Charlie has pocketed $226,000 from the chemical giants, including Dow and Monsanto. In turn, he’s been like a monkey on a leash for the industry, doing whatever tricks it needs done. This year, for example, Stenholm threw a monkey wrench into efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to begin restricting a particularly nasty group of pesticides called organophosphates, which attack the nervous system and pose a particular danger to children, who get a dose of these pesticides in their apple juice, on grapes, corn chips, and other foods they consume regularly.
But, kids be damned, Stenholm lambasted the E.P.A. for its “extremist agenda,” demanding that any action be delayed until the companies could manufacture data to, in Charlie’s words, “support the continuation” of dumping these neurotoxins on our food crops. He even got Al Gore to help slow down any review of organophosphates, reportedly telling him that E.P.A. action could hurt the Democrats politically. Al responded by creating a new committee to “review” the E.P.A.’s review – a committee chock full of Charlie’s pesticide contributors. The result: organophosphates are still being dumped on your kids’ apples and chips.
To help unleash our politics from this Big Money corruption, call Public Campaign: (202) 293-0222.
Someone should have told Julia Pleites the good news. Better yet, someone should tell her bosses at the El Salvadoran factory where she works, sewing Nike shirts that sell for $70 each. She works six days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. She’s forced to work overtime but doesn’t get paid for it. Indeed, Julia is paid only $4.79 a day.
She lives in abject poverty in a ten-by-twelve foot room with her mother and three-year-old daughter. No indoor plumbing. “I can only buy milk for my daughter maybe once every two weeks,” she reports. “I give her lemonade instead.”
Julia Pleites wasn’t invited to the big whoop-ti-do of a press conference announcing the industry’s code of conduct. One reason is that its “code” delicately avoids the issue of exploitative wages paid to people like Julia – which of course is the main issue for her.
Instead, the code focuses on working conditions. But Julia could tell them about this, too. Her factory – located in a free-trade zone supported by your and my tax dollars – has no air conditioning and poor ventilation. Workers must sit on hard benches with no back support all day, no cushions allowed. There’s no breakroom – hell, there’s not even toilet paper in the bathrooms! And when you exit the factory, you’re body-searched: can’t have anyone stealing a $70 shirt.
Julia Pleites never heard about the industry’s code of conduct. Big surprise, since, under it, 95 percent of their sweatshops are excluded from inspection, and the other 5 percent are inspected by monitors chosen and paid for by the companies.
Becoming chief executive of a major corporation is like getting a slot machine that always pays off. The money game is definitely rigged in your favor.
In the early nineties, when C.E.O.s were embarrassed by headlines that exposed the garish level of the paychecks they were hauling away, they launched a highly-publicized “reform” movement. The movement’s goal was not to bring executive pay down to earth, of course, but to “rationalize” their pay by linking its level to “performance.” Who could argue that “pay-for-performance” wasn’t fair? Few did – and we were hooted down as populist spoil-sports.
Well, now the game is up. Graef Crystal, the nation’s leading analyst of corporate pay, has done a study for The New York Times that confirms what a few of us “spoilsports” were saying years ago: C.E.O.s maneuver behind the closed boardroom doors to hold their paychecks artificially high, no matter how the companies perform.
Among the tricks is the use of outside compensation consultants to set the bosses’ pay. Sounds good, but guess who hires the consultants? If you said the bosses – bingo! If the C.E.O. doesn’t like the consultant’s report, he or she can fire that so-and-so and hire another one who’ll produce a number that’s music to the C.E.O.’s ears.
Another trick is the “compensation committee” of the corporate board of directors, set up to review the chief’s pay package. Once again, though, many of the chiefs themselves get to name their own review committee. For example, Alfred Lerner, C.E.O. of credit card giant MBNA, now is paid $48 million a year. He’s wallowed in annual pay hikes of about 150 percent the last few years – far outstripping his company’s performance. No surprise, since the chair of Lerner’s compensation committee is a lawyer whose firm does work for MBNA. Also, he was Lerner’s college roommate. h
Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts daily on more than 100 stations nationwide. His book, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Armadillos is now in paperback. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or e-mail: [email protected]