July 17, 1997 in City

It’s All About Political Corruption

Molly Ivins Creators Syndicate
 
Tags:column

Aw, gee. The Washington press corps thinks the campaign finance hearings are a bore. No bombshells. No sex. Bad story line. Chairman Fred Thompson may be an actor by profession, but he can’t write dialogue worth squat. Call a script doctor.

I’m so sorry the press finds this boring. Too bad it’s not up to our high standards of entertainment. On the other hand, we might consider sharing with the American people that these hearings are semi-important, whether they’re sexy or not. Instead of critiquing the performances of the players, we might remind people what this is about: the corruption of the American political system. The root of the rot. The source of everything that is wrong with our political life. The reason our democratic system is in peril. The reason politicians no longer represent the people.

The truth is that there is no political story more important than campaign financing. It’s not just the hottest story - it’s the only story. It’s the key to the real source of the class warfare in this country.

Congress passed a minimum-wage increase last year. You remember that - an increase of (TA-DA! TA-DA!) 90 cents, all the way up to $5.15 an hour for 11 million Americans, two-thirds of them adults, most of them trying to support families. And when the bill was finally passed amidst much back-patting, lo, we looked closely and found it also contained $21 billion worth of corporate giveaways.

Here are just a few of those items, taken from Jim Hightower’s forthcoming book, “Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos”:

A “clarification” of tax law allows newspaper conglomerates to classify their carriers - the minimum-wage folks who bring your morning paper - as “independent contractors.” This allows the Murdochs, Dealys, Coxes, Hearsts, Ridders and other billionaire publishers to avoid paying Social Security, unemployment and other benefits to those folks who are hailed in the annual editorials on Newspaper Carriers Day.

U.S. multinationals snuck in an amendment eliminating taxes on income they make from their foreign factories. A little incentive to move more factories and jobs overseas, wouldn’t you say?

Corporate raiders - guys like Henry Kravis, Ron Perelman and others who conduct hostile takeovers of corporations and then fire the employees and plunder the assets of takeover targets - got a great big goodie, too. These folks pay billions of dollars in fees to investment bankers to finance their job-destroying raids, but now, thanks to a “technical correction” in the minimum-wage bill, those fees will be tax deductible. Even better, Congress made the tax deductibility retroactive!

And all that happened because of our campaign-financing system. All of that is about money donated to politicians by large special interests.

“Oh, but the people aren’t interested in campaign financing,” the press is now whining. “They’re on vacation. They’re following the stock market instead. These hearings just don’t affect their lives.” Oh, yeah? Well, let me suggest that we get them interested. We could call it the Cynthia Chavez Wall Memorial Effort. Another story from Hightower’s book:

Cynthia Chavez Wall was a single mother who worked for a textile factory near Hamlet, N.C., for 13 years. She was making $8 an hour until she was abruptly fired for not coming to work one day; instead, she stayed home to take care of her daughter, who had pneumonia.

Desperate for a job, she hired on at Imperial Food Processors at $4.95 an hour. She cut and prepared chicken parts sold in fast-food restaurants. She often went home with her hand bleeding from cuts she inevitably got trying to keep pace with the constant demands to speed up the process. She worked next to oil vats heated to 400 degrees - no air conditioning, no fans, only a few small windows.

Then, one day, flames and smoke started to billow through the building, which had no sprinkler system, no evacuation plan and only one fire extinguisher. As the fire spread, people panicked and ran to the exit doors. All but the front doors had been padlocked from the outside. Company executives later explained that they did this to prevent chicken parts from being stolen. Twenty-five of the 90 workers in the building died that day; more than 50 others were burned or injured. The body of Cynthia Chavez Wall was found by one of the locked doors.

Terrible accident? Not once in 11 years had that building been inspected for safety - although Ag Department employees often came to check on the quality of the chicken meat. Earlier that year, the North Carolina Legislature voted against toughening up the state’s safety regs; the average workplace there is inspected once every 75 years. Due to cuts in the Reagan and Bush administrations, the federal government now has 1,200 inspectors to cover 7 million American workplaces.

Two years after Cynthia Wall died, when all the media and politicians had gone away again, a private group went back to inspect the chicken plants in Hamlet. Assembly-line speed-ups still cause injuries; stifling heat and oppressive working conditions still remain; ill and injured employees must stay on the line or be fired. And the doors are still locked from the outside.

That is a story about the effects of our campaign financing system. Hope it didn’t bore you too much.

xxxx


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