The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Lowdown

By Jim Hightower, May 11, 2001, News

The Fundraiser-in-Chief

George W. talked a lot in last year's presidential campaign about ending "business as usual in Washington." Now that he's there, he's pushing business more than usual.

He's doled out billions of dollars' worth of government favors to the big businesses that loaded up his campaign wagon with millions of dollars in political money. Bush now has decided to give these grateful corporations ongoing opportunities to shower him and his party with political money so Bush & Co. can stay in power -- and keep giving them favors. Last year, he was scolding Bill Clinton for being the Fundraiser-in-Chief, and now he's doing the same thing.

This month, he's scheduled a "Presidential Gala" in Washington, where corporate interests will press the flesh with him and deposit at least $15 million in his political pockets. The same crowd will gather in June for a Republican congressional dinner featuring Bush, where they'll deposit another $10 million. Just as Clinton did, George also has unleashed his cabinet members to raise political funds. The New York Times reports that Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson brought a group of Republican donors into his office in April for a special "legislative briefing."

It is, of course, illegal to have a fundraising event in any government office, since these offices are supposed to be about the public's business -- not party business. Bush's people had a ready response: No money actually changed hands in Thompson's office, since the donors had already paid to gain entry, so technically it is not a fundraising event.

Is it fundraising for a cabinet member to give prepaid political donors an exclusive briefing in his public office? Bush's team says it depends on what your definition of "is" is. How Clintonesque.

Harvard's Minginess

Harvard University is used to having such accolades as "great," "prestigous," and "powerful" applied to it. But now there's another term that applies to this bastion of educational excellence: mingy.

The administrators of America's wealthiest university, sitting on a $19 billion endowment, have turned both mean and stingy toward Harvard's lowest-paid workers, adamantly and arrogantly refusing to pay a living wage to about 1,000 people the university counts on to clean its buildings, prepare meals in its dining halls, and guard its dorms. These custodians, kitchen workers, and guards do labor that is both essential and honorable, yet the pooh-bahs of Harvard pay them as little as $6.50 an hour, without benefits -- a poverty wage from a school wallowing in wealth.

Harvard also recently contracted with an outside firm to provide security guards, displacing about 100 of its own guards, whacking the pay from $12 an hour to only $8, and effectively busting the guard's union.

Outraged and embarrassed that their administration is the source of such poverty, a group of scrappy students has been standing up for the workers ... and for simple fairness. For two years, they've held endless meetings with administrative functionaries, demanding that Harvard establish an honorable wage floor of $10.25 an hour. Harvard's haughty hierarchy has refused even to consider it. The administrators assumed that the students would tire of the fight and simply go away.

Instead, the students have turned up the heat. About 40 of them have occupied the president's office for a prolonged sit-in, many more have set up a tent-city of support, smack in the middle of Harvard Yard, and hundreds attend daily protest rallies. Harvard is getting more publicity than it can stand, and it's being taught a lesson by its students: A great university can't claim the moral high ground, while slinking down the path of low-wage minginess.

Cheney's 'New' Energy Policy

Here's Dick Cheney all over again! The vice-president is a guy who can't seem to pass up a chance to advance his own cause. Remember last year when George W. Bush named Cheney as a committee of one to select an ideal running mate for him? Cheney went through the motions, interviewed lots of political sparklies -- then selected himself!

Now that he's V.P., the former CEO of the oil-drilling giant Halliburton Inc. has again put himself in opportunity's way. One of Bush's first actions was to set up an "energy task force" to devise a new national energy policy. Guess who Bush named to chair the task force? Bingo, if you said Cheney, the oil executive! Now, guess what fuel source Cheney's task force is putting at the center of the administration's energy policy? Double Bingo, if you said fossil fuel!

Rather then breaking from our dependence on dirty, toxic, expensive, ecologically disastrous oil, gas, and coal, Cheney went with the money. Instead of the clean, cheap route of alternative energy sources, micropower plants, and conservation, he calls for more oil, gas, and coal. He wants to turn oil exploiters loose in the pristine Arctic Wildlife Refuge, to crisscross America with 38,000 miles of new gas pipelines, to remove pollution restrictions from coal-fired power plants, to subsidize more nuclear reactors, and he wants to situate more than 1,000 new electric-power generators in American communities.

Cheney's "new" energy policy is nothing but the same old status quo of protecting the polluters, monopolists, gougers, and profiteers. And, when it comes to energy, "status quo" is Latin for "the mess we're in."

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.

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