The Hightower Lowdown

A Little Help From My Friends; The Buddy System

A Little Help From My Friends --

You can't fool all of the people all of the time, but the spinmeisters for George W. Bush have shown that it's pretty easy to fool most of the media most of the time.

Take Little George's cabinet, which has been hailed by the media as reflecting the broad diversity of the American people -- he's got four women, two Hispanic-Americans, a couple of African-Americans, a Japanese-American, a Lebanese-American ... even a Democrat!

But while these new overlords of the federal bureaucracy are diverse in ethnicity and gender, they lack any diversity whatsoever in terms of their political outlook and agenda -- they are of, by, and for corporate America. Virtually all of them have spent their careers helping giant firms prevail over the environment, family farmers, workers, consumers, taxpayers, and any other people's interest.

Just as it was when he was governor of Texas, the Bush administration's primary focus will be to advance the agenda of this narrow corporate elite, twisting our government's policies on energy, military, taxes, trade, labor, health, environment, and all others to benefit these moneyed powers.

Behind all the hoopla of "cabinet diversity," Little George's handlers have carefully assembled a Bush Inc. to get this job done: Vice-President Cheney, the real power behind Bush's throne, is former CEO of the global oil field giant Halliburton. Donald Rumsfeld, the new Secretary of Defense, was CEO of both Searle & Co. and General Instrument Corp. Paul O' Neill comes to the Treasury post straight from Alcoa Corporation. Even Bush's "Democrat" is Norman Mineta, who was a top Washington lobbyist for Lockheed Martin before joining the corporate cabinet as Transportation secretary.

Likewise, the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, Labor, State, and Energy -- as well as the AG and head of the EPA -- have corporate connections.

The Buddy System

The hogs are loose on the land after several years of being penned up. Nearly 50 members of Congress retired or were defeated last year, and now many of them are dashing off to join lobbying firms so they can cash in on their relationships with current Congress critters.

Roll Call, a Capitol Hill paper, reports that K-Street lobbying firms are "energetically wooing" such former members as Senators Connie Mack, Spencer Abraham, and Bill Roth, as well as Representatives John Porter and Bill McCollum.

K-Street firms, which do Washington lobbying for practically every major corporation around the globe, love having former lawmakers in their pens because they get special privileges in Congress that your ordinary influence-peddler doesn't. For example, former members can still go to the congressional gym, the members-only dining room, and even onto the floor of either the House or Senate while a bill is being debated and voted on. These lawmakers-turned-lobbyists can sweat, eat, and B.S. with their old chums who'll be voting on the bills that the lobbyists are getting paid to hustle through the system.

Many of the most sought-after former members bring more than insider connections to a K-Street firm -- they also bring big bucks. You see, many of them still have an unspent pile of the campaign cash they amassed while in office, and they're allowed to use this war chest to make donations to sitting lawmakers. As former member Matt McHugh bluntly explained to Roll Call: "If one is a lobbyist in post-congressional service, there's a benefit to maintaining relationships with certain members of Congress. ... [Your campaign fund] maintains a relationship, quite legal, with people who are still active in public life and permits you to affect national policy in a way you're interested in, in a way that gives one access and influence."

Gone to China

Just when you think every last manufacturing job in America is being shipped off to Asia, Latin America, or other foreign shores, here's a headline in Business Week magazine announcing that Ford Motor Company is planning a new factory "to make family sedans in the heartland."

Hallelujah and God bless America! Oh, wait a second -- it's China's heartland that the article's talking about. Instead of Iowa, Illinois, or Indiana, the U.S. auto company is cutting a deal with Chinese rulers to make cars in the central province of Sichuan. Business Week notes that this is a "major victory" for Ford, since it has lagged behind its rival General Motors in moving its manufacturing to China. GM's been busy making Buicks in Shanghai, while Ford has "been limited to making parts and light trucks" there. It's good to know that balance is being restored, huh? Unless, of course, you're an American auto worker who might've liked to see the investment made here. The magazine says Ford will invest "several hundred million dollars" in its Chinese plant.

Guess who helped broker this deal? Jim Sasser, the former U.S. Senator and our former ambassador to China. As ambassador for the last several years, Ol' Jim made lots of buddies among the officialdom over there, and now that he's moved outside government service, he's peddling his influence with those same officials. Business Week reports that Sasser is "Ford's new senior consultant," and that he recently traveled to Sichuan with the corporate vice-chairman of Ford to make introductions and seal the deal with the Chinese.

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