February 2001

The all-star, all-corporate corporate cabinet

Greetings can be quite unique around the world. I’m told that New Zealand’s Maori tribesmen rub noses when they meet, that Tibetans stick out their tongues to say hello, and that some East Africans might say howdy by spitting at your feet.

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We the People have now been greeted by the full-fledged presidency of Bush the Second—and while Little George didn’t literally spit at us or stick his tongue out at us, he did rub our noses in the fact that Big Money got him intho the White House and, by golly, Big Money is going to govern.

His new presidential cabinet has been hailed as rich in diversity for including four women, one Cuban-American, a couple of African-Americans, a Japanese-American, a Lebanese-American, a Chinese-American, and look!—even a Democrat. But their diversity ends at ethnicity and gender, for the one constant among these new overseers of the federal machinery is that practically all of them have dedicated their careers to advancing corporate interests over working families, the environment, consumers, poor people, family farmers, ordinary taxpayers, and any other people’s interests.

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Using the smokescreen of multicultural diversity, George’s handlers, led by VP Dick Cheney, have assembled a Bush Incorporated that includes four CEOs, several corporate board members, and a couple of corporate lobbyists. One business newsletter hails the cabinet as “an all-star boardroom.” Swell, except that government ought to have an outlook far broader than that of a boardroom. The cabinet does not “reflect the diversity of America,” as the establishment media has gushed, but the narrow experience, viewpoint, and agenda of Corporate America.

The rogues’ gallery

• Spencer Abraham. This one-term Republican senator from Michigan (defeated in November by Democrat Debbie Stabenow) has had such an undistinguished career, mostly as a political hack, that the highlight of his resume is that he was deputy chief of staff to Dan Quayle. He’s now your Energy Secretary, which must be George W.’s idea of a joke, since as a senator, Abraham sponsored a bill to eliminate the very agency he’ll now head.

He dislikes environmental regulation, preferring that oil companies and others be turned loose to do what they will to produce more gasoline, nuclear power and so forth. Among other favors to industry he led the Senate fight to kill regulations requiring greater fuel efficiency in gas-guzzling SUVs.

Taking such rock-headed positions earned him a rock-bottom zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters. He was, however, beloved by the industry he’s now supposed to oversee—in last year’s senatorial elections, Abraham was tops in campaign contributions received from energy executives and lobbyists.

• John Ashcroft. Bush’s choice for Attorney General, this former senator from Missouri (defeated last November by a dead man) drew heat from Democrats, who argued that he will be a tool of the gun lobby, anti-choice forces, Christian extremists, and so forth. However, for obvious reasons, the Democrats chose not to assail Ashcroft for being a proven tool of big business.

For example, he sponsored an infamous bit of special-interest trash last year that would extend the patent on the super-profitable allergy pill Claritin, marketed by drug giant Schering-Plough. He then pocketed a $50,000 campaign donation from—you guessed it—Schering-Plough. The bill has yet to pass, but Schering’s lobbyists are poised to ram it through Congress, a move that will ultimately cost consumers $9.6 billion more than if a generic version of the drug was available.

Ashcroft has a long record of fund-raising from business interests with important matters before the Justice Department. One of those powerful interests is the pollution lobby, from which the senator took more than $1.7 million for his re- election bid, including such grateful donors as BP Amoco, DuPont, Exxon, Monsanto, Occidental Petroleum, Union Carbide, and Weyerhaeuser. They were grateful because the senator had opposed funding for environmental enforcement, voting for a roll- back of clean-water protections, and even voting to let mining companies dump cyanide and other wastes on public lands.

• Elaine Chao. Bush beamed when he introduced Chao as his Labor Secretary, saying she epitomized “the values and dreams of hard-working Americans.” She’s the daughter of a family that fled to Taiwan from communist China, then emigrated to the Land of the Free, where by diligent effort she rose from poverty to the top, graduating from Harvard, becoming head of the United Way, gaining appointments in the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations—and along the way, marrying a U.S. senator!

It’s classic Americana, but there are a couple of defining chapters in Chao’s life that Bush conveniently left out, such as that her primary professional experience is not with working class folks, but as an investment banker and corporate director. She has held several positions in the banking industry, including vice president of Bank of America’s capital markets group. Her board memberships include Northwest Airlines, Dole Food, Clorox, and Columbia/ HCA Healthcare. (The senator she married, by the way, is the odious Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican best known for crushing any reform of our corrupt campaign-finance system.)

• Donald Evans. A Texas oilman and childhood chum of W., Evans is the moneyman who bagged a record $400 million for Bush’s presidential campaign. Nearly all of it came from major corporate givers that are now in a position to receive from Evans, the new Secretary of Commerce. Like Ron Brown and Mickey Kantor in the Clinton years, Evans represents the continuing despicable practice of ensconcing the president’s chief fundraiser at the Commerce Department, from which to dispense billions of dollars’ worth of government largess.

While Bush might claim he has no idea who gave what to lift him to the presidency, Evans is keeper of the list, knowing to the dime who’s in line for government favors—and now, as Commerce Secretary, he’ll keep a new list of who gets those favors, enabling him to keep dunning them for the Bush 2004 campaign.

• Mel Martinez. As far as we can tell, Martinez is the one Bush appointee with no binding corporate connections. The new head of Housing and Urban Development essentially has spent his career up to his elbows in roads, airports, housing, urban sprawl, and other aspects of public administration. He’s the top manager of Orange County, Florida (think: Orlando and Disney World) and was one of eight co-chairs of Bush’s Florida campaign.

• Norman Mineta. Here’s Bush’s token Democrat, named to head the Transportation Department. A 21-year veteran of Congress from San Jose, California, Mineta rose to the chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee. Can you guess which industry was his number-one contributor? Collect your cigar if you said transportation. His funders included the American Trucking Association, Boeing, General Electric, Greyhound, Lockheed, Northwest Airlines, UPS, Union Pacific, and United Airlines. In 1995, Norman stepped down from Congress to take a higher position in Washington: corporate VP for Lockheed Martin. Can you guess which corporation is a major seeker of government contracts for transportation projects? Collect another cigar.

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• Gale Norton. This appointment puts the lie to Bush’s “uniter-not-a-divider” claim. No selection could be more divisive than to put an ardent ally of environmental despoilers at the helm of the Interior Department. “Chainsaw Gale” Norton worked in Colorado for a corporate front group called the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which was created and funded by the likes of Amoco, Chevron, Exxon, Ford, and Phillips 66. She has been a prominent member of several extremist “property-rights” groups that are financed by such concerned citizens as Boise Cascade, DuPont and Louisiana Pacific. At a 1991 conference sponsored by one of these outfits, she contended that property rights include the “right to pollute.” She was the national chair of the Coalition for Republican Environmental Advocates, which has a steering committee that includes lobbyists for the auto, mining, and oil industries, and is funded by such environmental advocates as the American Forest Paper Association, Amoco, ARCO, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and Ford.

Backed by some of these same polluting interests, Norton was elected attorney general of Colorado in 1990, where she gave new depth to the term “lax enforcement” with respect to pollution regulations. Yet Bush defended her appointment by declaring she has a “good heart” —so much so that she has shown a touching faith in big business, allowing Colorado utilities, chemical companies, and others to monitor their own compliance with pollution laws and voluntarily report any violations—a policy Bush wants to apply nationally.

• Paul O’Neill. Another appointee who comes to “public service” directly from the corporate suite, O’Neill was CEO of Alcoa, the world’s biggest and richest aluminum maker. Previously, he was CEO of International Paper Company, and also on the boards of Eastman Kodak and Lucent Technologies. As Treasury Secretary, the cabinet’s top overseer of our nation’s economy, O’Neill is charged with working on behalf of all Americans. But he has already announced his intentions to pursue wage-depressing policies and to push for a massive tax cut for America’s wealthiest citizens—an elite group that includes him. O’Neill doesn’t even bother with the Bush party line that tax cuts will help buoy the economy. “I would not make a huge case that [tax relief] is the instrument to ensure that we don’t go into recession,” he told the Senate Finance Committee. But since he’ll profit handsomely, it’s good enough for him.

• Rod Paige. Bush cites the new Education Secretary’s accomplishments as Houston’s school superintendent as the reason for his selection, but there is another achievement that makes Bush’s money circle especially delighted with the choice: Paige has been a champion of corporatizing Houston’s classrooms and privatizing everything from school payrolls to cafeteria food. There’s gold in them thar schools, if corporations can get service contracts or direct access to the children—and Paige has been a pushover for companies wanting to do either. For example, he turned food service over to Aramark Inc., payroll over to PeopleSoft, and accounting over to SAP. In all three of these privatized areas, service is worse and costs are higher. Paige is also big on selling school children to marketers. Last year, for example, he cut an exclusive marketing deal with Coca-Cola, letting the soft-drink giant fill the school system’s hallways with Coke machines and aggressively promote its cans of empty calories to students.

Paige also waved in Primedia Corporation’s Channel One, a 10-minute television broadcast that is beamed directly into classrooms each morning. Posing as an “educational tool,” Channel One is really an advertiser’s dream. Two of the 10 minutes consist of ads hawking goods from the like of M&M/Mars, PepsiCo, Reebok, and Nintendo. These companies get a captive audience and are allowed not only to peddle their products but also to teach the gospel of consumerism in the schools.

• Colin Powell. The Secretary of State is the sparkliest star in this rather drab constellation. Since his Gulf War heyday (he has, by the way, never assumed any leadership responsibility for the more than 100,000 U.S. veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, but that’s another story), Gen. Powell has cashed in on his fame by, among other ventures, becoming a corporate director and banquet speaker. He hauled home $7 million in speaking fees last year alone, addressing the gatherings of such corporate empires as Credit Suisse, missile maker Lucent Technologies, and Petsmart Inc. Until his appointment, he was on the board of America Online, where he recieved stock worth more than $20 million tucked away in other corporate investments, including $1 million invested in weapons giant General Dynamics.

• Anthony Principi. This Vietnam vet, who later became a lawyer and chief Republican counsel to the Senate Veterans Committee, returns to the Veterans Affairs Department, where he was acting secretary for a brief spell at the end of the reign of Bush I. Heir to a family-owned real estate company, Principi is a millionaire veteran of the executive suite, too. He left government in 1992 to be president of QTC Medical Services Inc. He later was the ramrod of Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems, a high-tech subsidiary of the giant defense contractor, and most recently was president of a wireless technology firm called the Federal Network.

• Donald Rumsfeld. Weapons makers are absolutely giddy with Bush’s choice to head the Defense Department. Rumsfeld is a trusted member of the CEO brotherhood, and he never met a military boondoggle he wouldn’t hug. A former Illinois congressman and holder of various appointments in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Rumsfeld has since been amassing a multimillion-dollar fortune for himself. He has served as CEO of General Instrument Corp. and of G.D. Searle & Co., the global drug maker now owned by Monsanto. He’s on the board of directors of Asea Brown Boveri Ltd. (a huge Swedish-based engineering conglomerate), the Tribune Co. (the Chicago media conglomerate), Gilead Sciences Inc. (a biopharmaceutical company), and RAND Corporation (the corporate-funded think tank and tireless promoter of more Pentagon spending). He’s also chairman of the international advisory board of the Wall Street firm of Salomon Smith Barney. Rumsfeld’s hallmark, however, is his relentless cheerleading for spending our tax dollars on weapons that don’t work, aren’t needed, or are grossly overpriced. Now he’s positioned to produce his greatest-ever exercise in excess at our expense: Star Wars. This is the Reagan-era fantasy of having a system that can shoot down incoming missiles—a trick that practically every independent scientist and military expert says is neither possible nor necessary—yet in the pursuit of which billions have been frittered away on research contracts and failed tests. Rumsfeld, however, is part of a corporate clique demanding that another $60 billion be thrown at this folly. He chaired a 1998 commission appointed to hoke-up a PR rationalization for spending these bucks. For this, he was given the “Keeper of the Flame” award by the Center for Security Policy, a Star Wars front group financed by—big surprise—Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell International, TRW, and other contractors that would split the Star Wars loot.

• Tommy Thompson. The longtime governor of Wisconsin, known nationally for his get-tough policy on welfare moms, has been a softie on welfare kings: corporations that have donated to his campaigns and—in an amazing coincidence—then received lucrative state contracts, subsidies, and regulatory favors. Tapped by Bush to oversee health policy, he is quite experienced at tapping into the pocketbooks of the health-care industry. In his last gubernatorial race, he was showered with campaign contributions from HMOs, hospital chains, nursing homes, clinics, doctors, insurance companies, and lobbyists for all of the above. As head of the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services, Thompson’s new domain includes the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—two agencies at the center of the national fight against tobacco addiction. As governor, Tommy was often AWOL in this battle with nicotine pushers, perhaps because he had a cozy relationship with one of the biggies, Philip Morris, Inc. The cigarette maker has put more than $72,000 in the governor’s political pockets. Tommy did what he could for the company, including vetoing a bill that would let Wisconsin cities enact tobacco restrictions tougher than the meek state laws.

• Ann Veneman. The White House spin is that Bush’s choice for Agriculture Secretary is a “farmer’s daughter” who is in tune with the Jeffersonian yeomen of America. Well, not quite. Her father was a farmer, with a spread of orchards and vineyards around Modesto, California, but he was also a Republican legislator and Nixon’s Undersecretary of Health, Education and Welfare. There’s no dirt under Veneman’s fingernails, for she’s spent her career in Washington and Sacramento, pushing for free-trade and biotech policies that rip off and displace our nation’s real dirt farmers. She was deputy ag secretary for trade under Bush the First, supporting NAFTA and other acronyms of globaloney.

She comes to the Bush cabinet directly from the Sacramento law firm of Nossaman, Guthner, where she specialized in serving the needs of agribusiness giants and biotech corporations seeking to implant their Frankenfoods in our diets. Indeed, Veneman was on the board of Calgene Inc. (now a subsidiary of Monsanto), which was the first firm to market a genetically altered food product in America—a fresh- market tomato with a fish gene spliced in to give it longer shelf life. She’s also a participant in the International Policy Council of Agriculture, Food and Trade, an agribusiness front group financed by Monsanto, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Kraft, and Nestlé, among other global corporations.

• Christie Whitman. Because she’s the pro-choice governor of New Jersey, Whitman has been widely cited as proof of Bush’s ideological flexibility. Do we look like we have sucker wrappers around our heads? As the new chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Whitman has zero power over abortion policy—and on matters where she does have power, she’s no progressive.

Governor Whitman brought a laissez-faire approach to environmental regulation in her state, pledging in her first inaugural address to make New Jersey “open for business.” Wide open: She slashed her state’s environmental enforcement budget by 30%, which resulted in 80% fewer fines assessed on polluters. She weakened state oversight of pesticide use and removed more than 1,000 chemicals from the state’s right-to-know program. She tried to eliminate the state’s Clean Water Enforcement Act. She signed an order to roll back most state regulations that were tougher on polluters than federal regulations. She allowed polluters to monitor their own air and water emissions and to comply with regulations on a voluntary basis—and instead of fining companies caught polluting, she gave them a “grace period” to stop doing it.

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