The Hightower Report

BP's Gusher of PR; and Rigging the Rules Against Unions

BP's Gusher of PR

I hate to ask a rude question in the midst of a national disaster, but here goes: How much money is BP spending on the almost-daily full-page newspaper ads it's running all across the country to tell us how committed the corporate giant is to serving the public interest?

Oh, and a follow-up question, please: Instead of wasting tons of newsprint on buffing the corporate image, wouldn't it be better if BP shipped that paper directly to the Gulf Coast to help absorb the oil that's oozing onshore from its well?

But the corporate response to disaster is always to try papering it over with PR, which is why BP has quietly hired Anne Womack-Kolton. Who? She's a crisis management consultant for a global public-relations outfit, and her specialty is in "high stakes communications" and "political risk management" for corporate clients. Now, she's on board with BP as its "head of U.S. media relations."

Womack-Kolton has handled oily situations before, having been press secretary for Dick Cheney in the 2004 presidential campaign, then becoming head of the PR shop in George W.'s energy department. She had also been on Cheney's media team when he caught flak for convening a secret energy task force at the start of the Bush regime. That closed-door task force, which included several BP executives, devised the industry-coddling regulatory policies that led directly to the current catastrophe gushing from BP's well. So joining the oil giant is really a homecoming for Womack-Kolton.

As we've learned from the mushrooming Gulf horror, BP's interest is not in telling the truth to the public or the government, but in covering its own corporate butt and serving its private interests. This is why President Obama needs to take control away from BP's executives and PR hacks now – and take direct charge of this national emergency.

Rigging the Rules Against Unions

There's one direct, grassroots way that workaday folks can create more fairness in our country's plutocratic, corporate-controlled economy: Unite in unions. Indeed, some 60 million workers say they'd join a union today if they could.

Well ... why can't they?

Because corporate chieftains and Wall Street financiers don't want us hoi polloi having any real say over such things as offshoring, downsizing, wages, benefits, and working conditions. So, for decades, they have deployed their lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians to rig the rules of unionization to keep people from joining together.

For example, the Railway Labor Act, which sets union rules for railroads and airlines, has a tricky little provision to sidetrack nearly all new unionizing efforts in these industries. When a vote is taken among workers to decide whether they want a union, all employees who do not vote are counted as "no" – rather than not counted at all, as happens with nonvoters in every other American election.

However, the Obama administration has now repealed this absurdity, and – whoa, Nellie! – the airlines have gone bonkers, unleashing their political partisans to howl in protest. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a well-funded attack dog for Delta Airlines, stood on his hind legs to declare that deleting nonvoters from the "no" column was an "assault on employee rights."

Really, Johnny? Then how would you like playing by such rigged rules for your own elections? In his last run, 79% of eligible Georgians either voted against Isakson or did not vote – so nonvoters would've soundly defeated him.

Hmmm. If it would get rid of all the Isaksons, maybe the nonvoter system might be a good thing after all – which is why hypocrites like Isakson would never support it if it applied to them.

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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BP, unions, Anne Womack-Kolton, Wall Street, Delta Airlines, Railway Labor Act, Johnny Isakson

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