The Hightower Report

Saudi Arabia puts lipstick on a pig; and Gary Winnick puts lipstick on his greed.

Buffing the Monarchy's Image

Common street thugs just don't get it, do they? They don't know how to play the game. When they get caught doing something horrendously thuggish, they go to jail. What fools! Instead, why don't they do what your higher class of thug does -- go to a PR firm.

This is what the thugs who rule Saudi Arabia have done. And they do need help. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, Americans have discovered that these oil-rich monarchs are not exactly benign allies committed to spreading democracy. Indeed, 15 of the 19 crash-bombers were Saudis, Osama bin Laden is Saudi, and much of his terrorist money comes from the Saudi oil fortunes. Also, far from being freedom-lovers, the ruling Saudi family runs a repressive dictatorship that impoverishes the mass of the Saudi people and brutally imprisons democracy activists.

Bad image. So these thugs have hired several American PR firms and lobbyists to run hundreds of soothing television and radio commercials, place slick image ads in everything from The New York Times to People, woo policy makers, and generally try to gloss over their thuggery. In a magnanimous gesture, they were going to make a show of giving a prized, multimillion-dollar racehorse to the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks. Owned by a Saudi prince, this was the horse that won this year's Kentucky Derby and the Preakness race. Apparently, though, one of the pricey PR firms figured out that this gift would be in awfully bad taste, since the horse is named War Emblem.

Even though they couldn't do the horse stunt, the monarchy did score a PR coup in August by getting another of their princes invited to Texas to do lunch with George W. himself.

But all of this is like putting lipstick on a pig ... they can't hide the ugliness. Despite spending millions of dollars on their image campaign, the Saudi rulers' negative rating with the American public has risen from 50% to 63%.

Winnick Wants a Halo

About 150 years ago, Balzac observed: "Behind every great fortune is a crime." If only Balzac could see the thievery behind today's corporate fortunes!

For example, take a whiff of the pile of cash amassed by Gary Winnick, the corporate hustler recently turned "philanthropist." Winnick made a fortune as a honcho of the telecommunications outfit Global Crossing. He actually knew next to nothing about the industry, but he was hell on hype, so Wall Street investors threw tons of money at his firm. Alas, though, the world didn't buy the product that Global Crossing was peddling, and last year the corporation began to collapse.

Before investors and employees were told about the problems, however, Gary ever so quietly began selling off his own Global Crossing stock, reaping almost three-quarters of a billion dollars before the stock became worthless and the company went bankrupt. Thousands of employees lost their jobs and their retirement savings.

Such insider maneuvering to take care of No. 1 has become standard practice in corporate America, and the big shots mostly get away with it, but public outrage caught up with this one. Winnick was hauled before a Congressional committee to explain some of his scamming -- and that's when he suddenly converted from a corporate "me-firster" to a "public philanthropist."

While denying that he had done anything wrong, Gary puffed himself up in a magnanimous pose before the committee and offered to write a check for $25 million to cover a fraction of the retirement money employees lost. He even turned into a moral proselytizer, calling on other CEOs who made a similar killing "to step up and write a check." Then, donning a halo, he declared: "The only legacy I'm going to leave this planet with is my name."

Yes, Gary, and your name is mud! He loots about $750 million, then he wants us to genuflect at the "generosity" of his offer to give $25 million of it back. I'll bet he'll want a charitable tax deduction, too.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Saudi Arabia, monarchy, Osama bin Laden, public relations, The New York Times, People, War Emblem, racehorse, Gary Winnick, Global Crossing

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