The Hightower Lowdown
Campaign finance scam, Chinese prison labor, & bookstore conglomerates
Those clever boys in D.C. have gouged out a brand-new campaign finance loophole big enough to drive an armored truck through, for corporations eager to curry favor with key political and congressional leaders. One operative already has used this scam to buy $1 million worth of TV ads for George W. Bush. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, a guy who considers "ethics" a four-letter word, is leaning on corporate lobbyists to put $25 million into a fund operated by one of his former political aides. The money will be spent to elect Republicans in key House races. "It's the rage," a gleeful GOP consultant exulted to The Wall Street Journal. "It's the future. It's the way things are going."
The Future of Campaign Corruption
How true. And how sad. This latest loophole is especially ugly because it abuses article 527 of the tax code, which is meant to benefit non-profit, tax-free organizations. Republican leaders are cynically manipulating it to give for-profit corporations a secret way to funnel unlimited sums of money to the very lawmakers from whom they need legislative favors. It's a secret funnel because, under article 527, groups are not required to disclose the names of their contributors or the amounts contributed. It amounts to a Bribery Blind, allowing the buying and selling of legislation without the awkwardness of public scrutiny.
Don't listen to the Washington "talk" about reform, watch what these frauds are doing behind the scenes. To learn more, contact the watchdog group, Democracy 21: 202/362-5151.
Some days I don't know whether to read the newspaper or just whap myself upside the head with it. Take two news items that appeared in The New York Times on the same day. Item number one is headlined "China Ratifies Major U.N. Rights Accord." Oh happy day, goes the tone of this article, which hails the fact that the brutish, totalitarian regime ruling the Chinese people has at last signed the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. This human rights document commits its signers to the protection of such basics as people's right to form labor unions and to have safe workplaces.
News Staples From China
Flip to item number two, headlined "Chinese Company Admits It Used Forced Prison Labor." One wonders if the writer of item one has ever met the writer of item two. The same regime that was being cheered for having signed a piece of paper guaranteeing a safe workplace for its people was found guilty that very same day of having forced more than 60 of its people to do slave labor for a private company.
The company, Aimco, makes the little black binder clips that are used in offices everywhere. Aimco provides a third of all the clips sold in the USA, selling them through such national chains as Staples. Some of Aimco's clips were coming out of a prison in Nanjing, which holds women charged with such "crimes" as being prostitutes or political dissidents. Aimco paid a fee to prison officials, who then forced the women to work for Aimco for free, arduously assembling the small clips. The Times reports that they worked so many hours every day that their fingers were bloodied -- each woman was forced to make 3,600 clips a day.
As the women of Nanjing prison can tell you, signing a document is not progress ... and really not news.
The book world is succumbing to the global tidal wave of conglomeration and consolidation, and this is steadily shrinking the variety and depth of thought available in the mass media. Six global giants now have their tentacles around most of the books that get published. Such noted publishers as Random House, Doubleday, Bantam, and Dell are now under the single roof of the German-based powerhouse, Bertelsmann. Likewise, HarperCollins, William Morrow, and Avon are all part of Rupert Murdoch's far-flung media empire, while Simon & Schuster, Little Brown, and even the venerable Book-of-the-Month Club are now sublimated to the media colossus of AOL-Time Warner. The grab for total corporatization of the book world also is reaching beyond publishing, as Barnes & Noble, Borders, and a couple of other deep-pocket retail chains work to squeeze out the last bastion of true commitment to the written word: independent bookstores. The independents are extraordinary jewels in the often crass world of commerce. They're the very opposite of cookie-cutter corporatization, each one with its own special personality.
Monopolizing Our Book World
The giants are out to crush them with deep-discount pricing and massive advertising. But the independents -- with names like Tattered Cover, Politics & Prose, BookPeople, Ruminator, and Midnight Express -- are a scrappy bunch, fighting back with competitive prices, a broader range of book choices, and personalized service, and their own cooperative Web site for getting any book you want: www.booksense.com.
In commerce, as in politics, independence and choice are not given to us -- rather, we the people have to insist on them. Independent bookstores will be there for us only if we use them. It's a matter of what kind of community we want to have.
Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, has just been released in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.