The Hightower Lowdown
Tom Daschle goes whoring for gold; SBC changes the rules; Rudy Giuliani tries to steal home -- playing against the taxpayers.
Tom Goes Awhoring
On the one hand, I'm pleased the Democrats in Congress have been doing a proper job of lambasting George W. and his gang of congressional whores who've shown an insatiable lust for delivering special legislative favors for any corporate lobbyist waving a campaign check. Yet, just when you start to cheer for these Democrats, their leader gets caught slinking down the same trashy back streets that the Republicans work. On the night of Dec. 20, just hours before Congress adjourned for the year, there was Democratic senate leader Tom Daschle slipping a little ol' provision into the "miscellaneous" section of the Pentagon's appropriation bill.
Tom's amendment had been written by Patton Boggs, a powerhouse Washington lobbying firm, on behalf of Barrick Gold -- a Canadian outfit that's one of the biggest mining corporations in the world. It seems that Barrick owns a massive gold mine in Tom's state of South Dakota. This multibillion-dollar mine has now played out, and Barrick wants to close it. However, gold mining is an environmentally brutish and toxic process, so this mine is in line to become another Superfund site, potentially costing the company $40 million to clean up.
Guess what Daschle's little ol' amendment does? It exempts Barrick Gold from "any and all liability relating to the mine"! It exonerates this corporation for all "damages to natural resources or the environment." Moreover, if anyone sues Barrick for the mess it left, Daschle obligates Uncle Sam to defend the Canadian corporation in court and reimburse it for any losses. Also, Tom's amendment waives the sovereign immunity of the U.S. government, allowing the Canadian firm to sue us if they're not happy. Meanwhile, all costs of the cleanup are shifted to you and me, the sadsack taxpayers.
Who needs enemies like Republicans when we have "friends" like Tom whoring for corporate lobbyists?
Wiring the Internet Market
What a hoot to watch all of these Rambo, make-it-on-your-own Capitalists go scuttling to their bogeyman, Bad Ol' Big Government, whenever they hit a speedbump on their path to a global empire. The latest corporate giant to beseech Washington for special favors is SBC Inc. This huge outfit is the local phone monopoly for 60 million customers in 13 states. Calling itself "Your friendly neighborhood global communications company," SBC rakes in some $55 billion a year from customers, even though it has become notorious in some states for lousy service and high bills.
In 1999, this phone giant decided to remake itself into a razzle-dazzle provider of high-speed Internet services for its phone customers. But there was way more razzle than dazzle to SBC's performance. It charged high prices, provided poor service, ran up huge costs, and couldn't compete effectively against cable companies that provide the same service.
So SBC has resorted to the tried and true tactics that served it so well for so long in its home state of Texas: Send in lobbyists and campaign cash, and rig the rules of the game in your favor. An SBC-backed bill is already moving through the House in Washington.
It's called Tauzin-Dingell, named for its two chief sponsors, the commerce committee's Republican chairman and the top-ranking Democrat. Both are recipients of SBC's political largesse. To further grease the skids, SBC named Bill Daley as its new company president. He's a former Clinton cabinet member, political operative, and a Mr. Fix-it for corporate interests. Daley knows nothing about the business of phones and the Internet, but he knows how to wire a deal, and that's the fix SBC wants.
Rudy's Double Play
In baseball, a spectacular double play can save the game and bring the crowd to its feet. But few New Yorkers were cheering when, in the last inning of his tenure, Mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted to turn a double play against taxpayers, announcing plans to build, not one, but two new baseball stadiums -- one for the Yankees and one for the Mets.
The total cost for these two sports palaces would be $1.6 billion, and, in a grand gesture of corporate welfare for the team owners, Rudy said the city's taxpayers would cover half of that. Plus, he said the state would add another $350 million or so for parking lots, roads, etc. to help bring customers to the teams.
In a pre-emptive huff, Rudy said that those who would criticize such a huge taxpayer subsidy for two of the richest team owners in sports "haven't the foggiest idea of what they're talking about." He barked that, "This is by far, without any doubts, one of the best deals in sports."
For whom? Not for fans -- owners always use new stadiums as an excuse to raise ticket prices and to replace their cheaper, family-friendly seats with more high-priced luxury skyboxes for corporate customers. Nor is this a good deal for New Yorkers, who already face a budget deficit of $4 billion at the same time they face an enormous task of rebuilding and improving everything from schools to transportation.
This deal is about nothing but raw, rampant greed. The Yankees and Mets are the top two revenue-producing teams in baseball, and neither should be allowed to loot a dime from the public treasury. Now Rudy's gone and the project is on hold, but the new mayor says he will consider it next year.
Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.