The Hightower Lowdown
The Pentagon lies to us and unashamedly admits it; Global Crossing investors and employees get Enronized; New York City whores its parks to the highest bidder.
The Pentagon's Propaganda
It's always a knee-slapping hoot to hear the Pentagon try to fool We the People with one of its GBHLs -- Great Big Honking Lies. My favorite was when Major Joe LaMarca, spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, declared in 1998: "We don't practice propaganda in this country." Surely he was wearing a clown suit when he said that.
Less humorous (and much scarier) is when the military brass becomes so powerful that it no longer feels it needs to lie to We the People about its lying. Unfortunately, we are at that point. The Pentagon has now conceded not only that it engages in propaganda, but that it even is creating an office to distribute what it admits will be lies. The new "Office of Strategic Influence," headed by Brig. Gen. Simon Worden, will be in the business of mass distribution of official lies, not merely spreading "disinformation" to hostile nations, but unapologetically giving false information to the leaders and journalists of our allied nations.
The OSI has a multimillion budget for its lying -- a budget drawn from the $10 billion unrestricted fund that Congress so carelessly shoved into George W's hands after the September 11 terrorist attacks. And, yes, the Pentagon concedes that, since news is global, the lies it places in foreign media outlets quite likely will be picked up by our media, thus propagandizing us and our Congress critters.
Gen. Worden also plans to create third-party fronts for the distribution of the lies. A senior Pentagon official told The New York Times that propagandistic e-mail messages will be zapped from the Pentagon to opinion leaders around the world, but instead of identifying the true source, "the return address will probably be a dot-com" that the OSI will create.
The Pentagon was already several bales short of a haystack when it comes to credibility, but now that it has opened up a full-fledged propaganda shop, we can believe nothing it says. This is what happens when Congress gives too much money and power to an autocratic agency.
Greed on Steroids
His is the new face of Corporate America, the poster child of a whole new level of executive greed.
He was founder and CEO of a high-flying "new economy" company that was the darling of Wall Street high rollers. Using his tight political connections, fat campaign checks, and lobbyists, he re-wrote the rules as he went. With Arthur Anderson as his accountant, he set up shop in an offshore tax haven and, according to his vice president of finance, used funny-money numbers to deceive investors. Then his scheme suddenly came unglued -- the stock value plummeted, the company declared bankruptcy, and employees lost their life savings. Yet he and other top executives had quietly sold their stock early on ... and walked away with personal fortunes.
This poster boy is not Ken Lay of Enron, but Gary Winnick of Global Crossing Ltd., the telecom outfit that plowed through $15 billion of investors' capital in only five years. His scheme to build a fiber optic network might have been brilliant, except for one thing: He couldn't find customers.
Meanwhile, Winnick and the other "geniuses" in charge were milking the company like a tethered goat. Winnick was a former executive at Wall Street's infamous Drexel Burnham Lambert banking house, where he tutored under the king of junk-bond finaglers, Michael Milken, so he knew all about taking care of Number One. Even though Global Crossing never made a profit, Winnick paid himself some $2 million a year, lavished stock options on himself, and even had the company lease offices and jets from other companies he controlled.
By the time Global Crossing's stock had crashed to a nickel a share and thousands of employees had their retirement funds wiped out, Winnick had scooted away with more than $730 million for himself.
The worst part is that Gary Winnick and Kenneth Lay are not corporate rogues, they are what the corporate system has become ... and there are many more of them out there.
The Big Corporate Muddy
It wasn't long ago that we first put a toe into the Big Muddy of corporatization, letting brand-name corporations plaster their commercial logos on our tax paid, public facilities. Then, we were quickly ankle-deep in these murky waters, then knee-deep, and now we're at least butt-deep and still rising.
The latest advance of the Big Muddy is on New York City, where the parks commissioner is eager to auction off chunks of public parks to corporations looking for still another place to slap their logos. Commissioner Adrain Benepe says, for example, that the track and field complex at Randalls Island would be an ideal place for corporate visibility, or the garden at Fort Tyron Park would be another primo promo spot -- "We would not turn our noses up at a corporation that wanted to give $4.5 million" to attach its name to the garden, Benepe says. He adds that the naming rights for entire parks could go up for sale.
But parks are just the start. New York also is considering allowing corporations to splash their names and logos onto senior citizen centers and even social programs ... and the Big Muddy keeps rising around us.
Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To book Jim, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, send $15, your name, and address to: Lowdown, PO Box 20596, New York, NY 10011