The Hightower Lowdown
The new campaign finance reform law still has big loopholes; Bush's Army Secretary is a stealth Enronite; and toys make some kids very unhappy.
Real Campaign Reform
First, the good news: The campaign finance reform bill that George W. just signed into law eliminates the unlimited and humongous sacks of "soft money" that corporations have been using to bribe elected officials. This is a terrific victory achieved against the adamant opposition of the money-mongers. The bad news is that the money-mongers still have other ways to deliver their bribes.
Look no further for an example than George W. himself, the Colossus of Corrupt Campaign Cash. In his presidential run, he sacked up more than $113 million. Nearly all of it came from the CEOs and corporate lobbyists who're currently cashing in on their political investment, getting favor after favor from Bush & Company. Not a dime of that $113 million, however, was "soft money," and none of Bush's tactics are halted by the new reform law.
Bush's money team raised "hard money" -- donations that individuals give to candidates, with no person legally allowed to donate more than $1,000 per candidate. Sounds okay ... except for a little loophole called "bundling." A CEO or lobbyist, for example, can collect all the $1,000 checks they want from their corporate colleagues or clients, bundling, say, $100,000 or even a million bucks worth of checks together, then presenting the total as a fat corporate bribe ... uh, "contribution" ... to the favored politician.
Not only does the new campaign law allow this, it doubles the pleasure of the bundlers, for it raised the individual donation limit from $1,000 per candidate to $2,000.
The only way to stop the bribing is to finance our elections strictly with public funds. To get this done, call Public Campaign: 202/293-0222.
Another Enron Flimflammer
When appointing Thomas White last year to be U.S. Secretary of the Army and oversee its $91 billion annual budget, George W. bragged that White had great managerial experience, having been honcho of one of Enron's energy divisions. Since then, of course, we've learned that White's division was a Ponzi scheme that never actually made any money and was involved in the off-book accounting flimflams that brought Enron down.
Now it turns out that Tommy Boy, as George W. would call him, also lied to Congress about his financial stake in Enron and about the contacts he made with his former corporate colleagues as the company was imploding. When he was appointed, White promised to avoid conflicts of interest by selling his Enron stocks. But he didn't ... until Enron began to tank. Then, he quietly pocketed $12 million by selling Enron stock while rank and file Enron workers and small shareholders were still in the dark about the company's problems.
Did Secretary White get inside information? Previously, he had told Congress that he had spoken with Enron executives only seven times last October, swearing that he was merely commiserating with them and not using his Pentagon position to help save the company. But now it's been revealed that he had six other phone chats with them that month -- during which he sold $3 million worth of his stock.
But wait, White also belatedly admits that during the several months last year when he was unloading stock, he made dozens of other phone calls to fellow Enroners to discuss "Enron's financial condition." In all, he concedes he called or met with Enron executives not seven times, but 84 times!
Hey, George W., why is this flimflam Enroner still on our public payroll?
Toys of Misery
Toys are very big business in America. Such giant corporations as Mattel and Hasbro, Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us, spend nearly a billion dollars a year on advertising to push us to spend some $30 billion a year on the dolls, action figures, and other playthings they sell.
What the companies do not want you to think about is who makes the toys that produce such joyful profits for them. Can you say "sweatshops?"
Seventy-one percent of the toys we buy are made in China. Wal-Mart alone uses several thousand Chinese toy factories, but it refuses to release the name and address of even a single one of them, because it wants no independent observers poking into them and reporting on the fact that these places are hellholes. However, the National Labor Committee, a respected monitor of global working conditions, found some of the factories on its own and has issued a shocking report titled, "Toys of Misery."
For example, one of Hong Kong's top producers employs some 20,000 workers, mostly young women and teenage girls. They work from 8am to 9pm (and often 'til midnight), seven days a week, making toys that are shipped to Wal-Mart and other U.S. retailers. Even though the Chinese minimum wage of 31 cents an hour is not enough to meet basic human needs, these workers are paid 13 cents an hour. They live jammed together in company dormitories, 12 or more to a room. They literally are sick of work, thanks to the "paint dust" that constantly hangs in the air, as well as the toxic glues, thinners, plastics, and other solvents in which they're immersed every day.
Toys should not be the products of misery. To get this report and take action, call the NLC: 212/242-3002.
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