Thieves In High Places
by Jim Hightower

There are three things you never want to see:

Water coming out of your electrical sockets.
Flames shooting out of your sock drawer.
A press release coming out of the White House that begins: "The Bush administration today announced revised standards for..."

It doesn’t matter “for what.” When you see that eight-word lead you just know it’s going to be yet another piece of awful news, yet another revision of the rules that’ll let yet another industry or specific corporation have a free hand to clobber us regular folks. From inaugural day forward, the Bush White House has spewed out a torrent of “revised standards,” altering the rules to allow the Powers That Be more leeway to pollute our air and water, restrict our access to health care, invade our privacy, take away our rights on the job, raid our pensions, muffle our freedom of speech, privatize our public resources ... you name it.

The Bush agenda is to disunite America.

Bush & Co. has quietly, but deliberately, unleashed a handpicked squad of legal beagles, think-tank zealots, corporate henchmen, knaves, demolition experts, hit men, screwballs and a couple of psychopaths to go deep into the Works of Government, giving them a green light to rip out any and all public protections that corporate interests find inconvenient, irritating or -- especially -- effective.

I’ve seen a torrent like this before. I grew up just a couple of miles from where the Denison Dam backs up the Red River to form Lake Texhoma. Occasionally, we’d get heavy rains upriver, causing the lake to rise, so the engineers would open the floodgates of this mile-long dam, and oh, God, the roar! We locals would rush out to see it (watching water being one of the more exciting things to do in Smalltown, Texas, in the 1950s). I’d stand just off to the side of the discharge pipes, as wide-eyed and open-mouthed as a gap-toothed hick at his first state fair, absolutely awed by the frightening power and sheer volume of water bursting through those massive pipes.

They say you can’t go home again, but I’ve recently felt that same awe at seeing the audacious volume of regulatory revisions churning ceaselessly out of the White House.

Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen, as fine a fighter as we Americans have for the public good over private greed, has spent a lifetime monitoring, challenging and battling industry efforts over the years to control this lever or that of Washington’s regulatory process. She thought she'd seen it all, but now she says: “There’s never in my experience been anything like the breadth, depth, speed and plain gall of the current administration’s extremist deregulation agenda -- eliminating protective health, safety and environmental standards and refusing to enforce those that remain. It’s sweeping and really breathtaking. If they succeed, people will not be protected against even the most egregious corporate malfeasance.”

Friday Night Massacres And Other Games. Occasionally there are stories about this tax twist or that regulatory revision, but the media establishment has given us no sense of the constancy, of the scale or of the big picture. Why? Glad you asked:

1. Gobbledygook: The White House doesn’t want these actions covered, so giggling lawyers write the legally-required public announcements in Chinese Pig Latin, eliminating all useful and descriptive words, such as verbs. You can hear them cackle as they hit print: “Ha! Let ‘em try to decipher this one!”

2. Friday Night Massacres. The White House releases many of its biggest nasties on Friday evenings, well after the diligent press corps has departed for various bars, beaches, and other amusements. So the press doesn’t learn about the regulatory massacre until Monday morn, and by then it’s “old news” and is either tossed or gets a one-paragraph slug buried in Tuesday’s paper. Likewise, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays are favorite times to drop an ugly release -- again, no reporters, no news. The final arsenic-in-your-water reg, for example, was dropped on Halloween (what a bunch of tricksters! Surely someone got a raise for that). Also, the EPA snuck out a package of rules to exempt some 17,000 dirty power plants from Clean Air restrictions on the afternoon before Thanksgiving and on New Year’s Eve.

3. Newspeak. The actions are never couched in straight-forward language like: "In another move to shaft the little guy, Bush today…" No, no. Instead, every change in the game is expressed in such positive, even soothing phrases as:

To streamline the process...
To replace an archaic... (they often substitute Depression-era for archaic) To provide greater flexibility...
To bring balance back...

4. Lies. From Bush on down, this bunch is shameless about looking you in the eye and telling you that sour is sweet. Example: Late last year the EPA announced new pollution standards for massively stinky hog factories (think overloaded port-a-potty on a 100 degree day, then up the P.U. level of that by a hundredfold) that have already polluted 35,000 miles of our rivers. EPA’s Christie Whitman said of the new rules: “This is a major step forward to protect our nation’s waters.” Solid. Except she was lying through her teeth, eyes, nose, pores and other orifices. Her “standards” weren’t even mandatory. They’re simply goals to be wished for. Each hog factory is to develop its own voluntary plan for controlling its pollution, which could be: “The hog fairy will come here every night, wave her magic wand, and turn our pool of fecal slurry into sweet wine.” We’ll never even know what any of the plans are, since EPA’s new “standards” allow each factory to keep its plan secret.

“They're changing America, aren't they?” Bingo.

5. Self-interest. The media establishment is a hog. NBC (GE), ABC (Disney), CBS (Viacom), Fox (News Corp), CNN (AOL-TimeWarner), all love George and his de-reg agenda, because it’s their agenda, too. Do you think these conglomerate executives want their news departments connecting the dots for you, rousing the rabble, threatening their honey pot? No, sweetie, no. They even have their very own operative ensconced deep inside Bush’s bureaucracy doing their bidding -- Michael Powell, a former media lawyer named by George to head the FCC. He’s another nutball eaten up with corporate theology, declaring “the market is my religion.” Fine, take it to a monastery. The FCC is not a corporate church, and it’s supposed to oversee our public air waves, not give them away. But this mad media monk is doing exactly that, pushing a plan that will abolish the FCC rules limiting how much control a single media giant can have over our sources of news. Don’t look for the networks to broadcast this story to you.

You Don't Need A Big Nose To Smell Bad Baloney. The good news is that despite the failure of the media and the deception of the politicians, the full stench of Bush & Co.’s actions and policies are beginning to waft across We The People. Folks are beginning to understand that the White House’s efforts add up to something far bigger -- and much stinkier -- than some cuts in regulations and taxes. Fundamentally, the Bush agenda is to disunite America, to uncouple the few from the many, uncouple their private interest from the common good. The rhetorical rationale is that they are unleashing the great American spirit of entrepreneurship and individual ambition -- “Let the eagles soar,” is their cry! And what about our society’s founding notion that we’re all in this together, e pluribus unum, as it says on our coins? That’s so 18th century. Bush & Co. seeks less pluribus, more unum.

Author's Message, Author's Message: Bush & Co. are systematically rewriting the rules, seeking (and, so far, mostly succeeding) to produce a permanent, structural change in how America operates, and for whom. With thousands of executive orders, budget shifts, regulatory rewrites, omnibus laws, tax perversions, trade agreements, legal opinions, re-interpretations, cabinet directives, policy letters and such, these clever boys are enthroning the money powers over the rest of us, abandoning 225 years of striving for a society in which egalitarianism counts.

To jettison our nation’s ideals for nothing more than the further enrichment of elites is no mere shift in policy -- it’s a moral failure, a betrayal of what the American experiment represents.

A fellow came up to me recently and politely introduced himself. After only a moment of chitchat, he clutched my arm and his eyes urgently sought mine, as though he might find confirmation there of what he instinctively thought to be happening. Leaning into me, almost in a whisper he said: “They're changing America, aren't they?”

Bingo. People are made to feel that it’s crazy to think such thoughts, crazy to think that what we’re seeing in front of our very eyes is really happening and really does add up to what our deep, democratic subconscious is fearing. This fellow is hardly alone in connecting the dots, though he assumed he was. It’s the naked emperor syndrome -- someone has to say it out loud, then others will say, “Well I thought so!” If you, too, suspect that something is going badly astray in our great country, join the multitudes.

To talk about what’s happening, we have to reach back a bit into America’s feisty democratic history and resurface some of the old, but newly relevant terms: Plutocracy. Autocracy. Imperialism. These are what the Bush forces are intent on institutionalizing as the governing ethic of their America.

But here is another relevant term from our past: Rebellion. Last year in Vermont, I met a person wearing the best button I’ve ever seen. It said, “Wearing A Button Is Not Enough.” I say we engage them head on in their class war, asserting the deeply-ethical belief in fairness, justice and equal opportunity that forms the moral basis for our America.

Jim Hightower is a former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and author of If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates.

"Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people (the U.S.) designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; no sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in this right hand."

General Robert E. Lee to Governor Stockdale of Texas

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