The Hightower Lowdown
Enron's true crimes are the legal things it did; Boeing patriotically rips off us taxpayers; and Bob Barr acts like a crack smoker.
The True Crime Behind Enron
Andy Young, former mayor of Atlanta, once observed: "Nothing is illegal if a hundred businessmen decide to do it."
This is what strikes me as true about the ongoing Enron scandal. The significant thing about Enron's escapades is not what the top executives did that was illegal ... but what they did that is considered to be perfectly legal. The politicians and media have quickly narrowed the focus of their inquiries to legalistic violations of securities law and conflict-of-interest violations between Enron execs and the Bush White House. But this completely ignores -- indeed, hides -- the Big Crime: Allowing a single, avaricious corporation to amass such power in our democracy that it can rig the game to suit itself, then, when its empire begins to collapse, get direct access to the highest officials in the land.
In a screwy perversion of a national democratic system, Enron executives used massive campaign contributions (genteel bribes) and hired lobbyists (political mercenaries) to dictate a disastrous energy policy of deregulation, to win congressional exemptions from financial oversight of their chicanery, and to get one-sided pension rules that let them fleece their own employees.
Enron and its conniving CEO, Kenneth Lay, were wired directly to the top: They were the largest money backers of George W's campaigns; they rushed money to Florida to help Bush's lawyers ramrod him into the presidency; they helped pay for his inaugural party -- and they even flew Daddy and Momma Bush to George's inauguration on an Enron jet.
So, when Enron was collapsing, Lay was able to call Bush cabinet officials for help. The question is not how much help he got ... but why he was able to get through at all. If your business went bankrupt, do you think the treasury secretary would take your call, as he did for Enron?
Sadly, since Sept. 11, many major corporations have been grabbing as many governmental goodies as their fat fingers can clutch, all the while running full-page ads asserting their patriotism and declaring: "United We Stand!"
Consider Boeing's "patriotism." The huge airline maker, which had been in steep decline prior to September 11, saw the attacks as a get-well-quick opportunity. It deployed a legislative attack force of 34 in-house lobbyists and more than 50 for-hire lobbyists to get an extra-special handout from the Pentagon's appropriation bill, passed in December. At the last minute, two senators behind closed doors quietly slipped Boeing's amendment into the bill.
Known now as the "Boeing Boondoggle," this amendment requires the Air Force to lease 100 of the corporation's widebody 767 commercial jets to be used as refueling tankers. The lease price is $20 million per jet. Per year. For 10 years. That's 20 billion bucks handed to Boeing -- about four times what it would cost simply to buy the jets!
The rip-off gets worse. Since the 767s are built as commercial planes, the military will have to spend another $3 billion to convert the 100 jets to tankers. Plus, in 10 years, the planes must be given back to Boeing in the condition they were delivered, meaning taxpayers will have to spend another $3 billion to convert the jets back to commercial use.
Thanks to Senators Ted Stevens, R-Ark., and Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington (where many Boeing production facilities are located), the company is walking off with $26 billion of our cash, while Bush and the media keep telling you and me to rally 'round the flag and do what's right for America.
Barr Goes Bonkers
Being an idiot is no bar to being a member of Congress, and as exhibit number one to prove this point, I offer the fatuous Bob Barr.
This right-wing Georgia Republican's latest flight into extremist fantasyland comes in the form of a press release from his office declaring excitedly that Barr "is taking a strong, proactive stance against the spread and marketing of hemp products."
Yes, such products as strong rope, fine writing paper, graceful clothing, nutritious foods, non-polluting fuels, and even Earth-friendly plastics are made from the humble hemp plant -- and Bob Barr doesn't like it one tiny bit! Never mind that hemp has been used to make maritime, farm, industrial, and household products for thousands of years. Never mind that such American icons as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cultivated hemp as a major cash crop. Never mind that the Declaration of Independence itself was drafted on hemp paper. Never mind that hemp would be a profitable, environmentally sound crop for family farmers today. Never mind all this, says his Bobness, because "Hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant."
Hello ... Bob. Bread and beer both come from the same plant, and I don't hear you ranting about taking wheat products off the nation's shelves.
Yet that's exactly what he and our thuggish Drug Enforcement Agency are calling for in regard to cosmetics and foods made of hemp -- banning them from sale here in the Land of the Free. Hey, knuckleheads, get a clue. While hemp is a biological cousin of marijuana, it is not a drug or hallucinogen. You couldn't get high on it if you ate an entire extra-large hemp sweatshirt or smoked a 30-foot hemp rope.
Barr and the DEA are examples of "drug war" idiocy in action.
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.