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MOLLY IVINS THE PORKFEST GOES ON Budget deal, shmudget deal, the media are missing the story again. AT&T announced last week that it is laying off forty thousand workers, with profits at an all-time high. Wall Street loved it; AT&T’s stock jumped by two dollars and fifty cents to sixty-seven dollars and twenty-five cents. It’s the economy, stupid. Where’s Henry Ford now that we need him? Mr. Ford famously paid his workers well on the sensible grounds that he wanted them to be able to afford to buy the cars they built. But our dim-bulb corporate leaders continue to lay off workers while wages and benefits grew at 2.7 percent last year, their lowest growth rate since 1981. According to an article in The Washington Post, between 1947 and 1973, the median paycheck doubled, and the bottom twenty percent made the biggest gains. Since 1973, median earnings have dropped by fifteen percent, with the bottom twenty percent falling farthest behind, while the top twenty percent have seen gains, with more than forty percent of earnings gains going to the top one percent of Americans. This is ridiculous and cannot continue at least not without terrible social and economic damage. Ironically, the downsizing fad is now proving to be unhelpful even to the corporations that have canned their supposedly surplus workers. A slew of new studies show that the downsized corporations enjoy only a temporary bump on the stock market and are not as profitable as their undownsized competitors. And that’s just the bottom line: low worker morale, the destruction of corporate loyalty, increased embezzling and a whole host of “disaffected worker” problems are also plaguing these companies. Now, none of this is happening in a vacuum. It is not the fault of the “invisible hand” or some eye-glazing phrase like “global markets” or “technological change.” Although impersonal market forces obviously do affect the economy, so do tax policy, deregulation, the Federal Reserve, the decline of unions, trade policy and a whole host of man-made, bone-headed decisions. We started with AT&T, so let’s look at Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth StarTelegram. the telecommunications “reform” bill now perilously close to passage. The media have generally abandoned responsibility on this massive piece of deregulation, taking the unhelpful stand that it’s all real complicated and nobody knows how the technology is going to work out anyway, so whatthehell. The first thing wrong with the telecommunications bill is that it’s too damn big. The fight between AT&T and the Baby Bells should be split off completely. Let them settle their hash without reference to the broadcaster/cable fight, and for God’s sake, get Ralph Nader’s people in there to protect consumers. One person in Washington who seems to have grasped at least part of the problem is Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who said the other day that he has several problems with the bill, “including the spectrum giveaway to broadcasters.” Thank you, Senator Dole. William Safire of The New York Times quoted Dole as saying, “This is a big, big FEELING ISOLATED? Do you sense it? We Americans are separating from each other, becoming more isolated in our individual cocoons. Racially? We’ve never gotten together there. Economically? Despite egalitarian pretensions, America has always been divided into the ruling classand the rest. And now the division is barely buffered by an ever-thinning middle class, as fewer and fewer at the top take more and more of our Jim Hightower, a former Observer editor and Texas agriculture commissioner, does daily radio commentary and a weekend callin talk show on the ABC Radio Network. corporate welfare project.” Try seventy billion dollars worth; that’s what the digital spectrum is worth just at today’s prices. And if the broadcasters are piggy greedheads, can you imagine what the cable companies are up to? Remember when the cable greedsters got so bad that Congress actually forced them to roll back their prices in 1992? Well, that’s out the window in this new deregulation mania the Republicans brought in. One player who has been at the table in all this says: “If you think the media merger mania of last summer was something, wait ’til you see what happens when this bill is passed. A handful of people Americans have never heard of, like John Malone, are suddenly going to have huge control in their lives.” More mergers, more layoffs, and none of this is the hand of God or even of Adam Smith. If the media had paid one-tenth as much attention to the telecommunications bill as they did to O.J. Simpson, none of them would now be whining that “it’s all too complicated.” President Clinton has threatened to veto this putrid piece of legislation \(hang tough, now. This would be good news, except that the whole schmear has been written by lobbyists practically killing one another for financial advantage, instead of by legislators representing the public interest. I wonder if we can sue them for malfeasance? economic pie. But we’re separating in a more literal way: the nation of joinersof town meetings, clubs, and community activitiesis loosing it. From the PTA to political associations to the bowling leaguegroup participation is in the dumps and falling. Professor Robert Putnam has been tracking this disengagement from each other. One big reason? TV. Average Americans, Putnam notes, now spend forty percent of their free time glued to the tube. Rather than getting together and doing, Americans are inside alone, watching. Even a “town meeting” has become an electronic simulation with Ted Koppel on TVno town, no meeting. Likewise at work, “interaction” is The downsized corporations enjoy only a temporary bump on the stock market and are not as profitable as their undownsized competitors. JIM HIGHTOWER 12 JANUARY 26, 1996