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The Hightower Report

Wall Street's Mitch; and That Can't-Do Spirit

By Jim Hightower, Fri., April 23, 2010

Wall Street's Mitch

As Lily Tomlin has said, "No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up."

She could've been referring to Sen. Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans in Congress, whose cynical hypocrisy either makes you want to throw up or fall down laughing. McConnell recently announced that the entire GOP delegation was (big surprise) dead set against the Wall Street reform proposal put forth by Senate Democrats. It's too weak, declared the multimillionaire peer of America's corporate establishment, ludicrously striking a populist pose as the public's defender against more handouts to greedy Wall Streeters.

Unfortunately for Pitchfork Mitch, word quickly leaked that he had been schmoozing and plotting with the very greedheads he supposedly was opposing. Just four days before his grandstanding announcement, McConnell quietly held a private tête-à-tête with a couple dozen hedge fund honchos and other banking big shots. The purpose of his discreet meet-and-greet with Wall Street powers was twofold: 1) McConnell assured them that Republicans would work to kill the tighter regulations that big banks oppose, and 2) he pointed out that since the GOP is Wall Street's best hope for killing reform, the bankers should shower the party with campaign funds to help elect more soft-on-Wall-Street Republicans.

Just to make clear that this was a two-way scratch-my-back deal, McConnell brought along John Cornyn, the banker-hugging senator from Texas who just happens to be head of the Senate Republican fundraising arm. In fact, Cornyn has been making regular trips to Wall Street in recent weeks seeking their support.

So let's review: Mitch-the-the-prairie-populist is publicly pretending to be fighting Wall Street, while Mitch-the-bankers'-buddy is privately shaking them down for campaign cash in exchange for being on their team. Who could be cynical about that?

That Can't-Do Spirit

If you ever wonder what happened to America's good ol' free-enterprising, can-do, competitive spirit, look to the airlines.

They have become no-can-do, anti-competition behemoths, whining that to "improve competitiveness," they must be given antitrust exemptions, allowing them to merge into even fewer and bigger corporations so they can ... well, reduce competition! Yes, in their alternate (and perverse) universe, airline CEOs claim that to increase competition, they must have less of it.

As a top honcho of American Airlines recently explained: "We have an industry that is too fragmented, with too many competitors, and with different ideas of capacity, pricing, and strategic activity." Golly, "many competitors ... with different ideas of capacity, pricing, and strategic activity" are precisely what Adam Smith hailed as the perfect model of free enterprise.

Meanwhile, here comes Glenn Tilton, top dog at United Airlines, who has long been a podium-pounding evangelist for the gospel of merging airlines to restore consistent profits. Well, yeah, Glenn, glom every airline into one or two, and you can extort all sorts of profits from your customers. It's called monopolization, and any goober can make profits from that rigged deal.

Of course, Tilton's business model is the oil industry, where he helped merge Texaco into Chevron. That one hardly benefited consumers or our country. At United, Tilton has shown that his only business skill is abusing others – he's knocked down his own employees, slashed service, and socked his customers with ridiculous fees. Now he wants to take over US Airways and bring his executive magic to that company.

Who needs these self-serving slugs? Thank goodness they're not trying to run a hot dog stand in New York City – the competition would kill them!


Don't miss "Swim Against the Current: Highlights From the Jim Hightower Archive," on exhibit currently as part of Texas State's Wittliff Collections. Through July 31. Texas State University, San Marcos, www.thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu.

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