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Ari the Evader


Mokhiber

and Robert Weissman

Ari

Fleischer is a nice guy. He likes baseball. We like baseball. That’s about where

the similarities end.

Fleischer is the most recent in a long unbroken line of press secretaries of

corporate presidents of the United States.

We

decided recently to test Ari’s knowledge of the workings of the corporate state.

We give the test by attending the daily White House Press Briefing and asking

Ari questions. We’ve been to five so far, and hope to attend at least the next

100 or so. Our pitches are slow, and right down the middle.

Last

week, we asked Ari if he had seen the Bill Moyers PBS special on the chemical

industry. He did not see it.

On

PBS, Moyers makes allegations that the chemical industry over the past 20 years

knew it was exposing workers to hazardous chemicals and as a result these

workers died. We pointed out that there’s a criminal prosecution in Italy in a

similar case. Manslaughter charges were brought against 31 chemical executives

for exposing workers to these same chemicals.

So

Ari, would President Bush support a manslaughter prosecution against chemical

executives in this country for that kind of behavior?

"That’s not a topic I have discussed with the President," Ari says. "And I won’t

comment on shows that I haven’t watched."

Okay

Ari, there’s a report out by the Center for Public Integrity (www.public-i.org)

that the President’s decision on carbon dioxide emissions was routed through the

legislative affairs director, Nicholas Calio. In 1997, Calio’s firm was paid

$420,000 to lobby on this issue by Tenneco Automotive, which is one of the

largest auto exhaust systems companies in the country. We were wondering if the

President is concerned about a growing public perception of corporate lobbyists

coming into the White House and making public policy decisions on issues they

were paid to lobby just a few months ago?

"The

President makes his decisions on the merits, makes his decisions on what he

believes is in the national interest," Ari says. He fought off big business on

tax breaks, remember?

How

about this Ari? USA Today runs an editorial titled "More Public Drilling? Let’s

Collect Bills First." (April 6, 2001) It says that the President has recommended

more oil drilling on public lands, but there is a history of these big oil

companies not paying the royalties. So, over the past couple of years Shell Oil

has paid $110 million in penalties, Chevron $95 million, ExxonMobil $52 million.

The editorial says "let’s collect from the oil companies before we open up to

more drilling." Does the President agree?

Ari

total dodges the question, and starts talking about a cabinet level review to be

chaired by Vice President Cheney "to take the steps necessary to secure

America’s supply of energy, particularly as we head into the travel season over

the summer."

Wait

a second, Ari, what about the oil companies ripping off the government? (Ari

moves on.)

Ari,

the President has said that we are going to get rid of the death tax "to keep

farms in the family." Yesterday, the New York Times, on the front page, ran an

article, quoting tax experts saying they have never found a farm lost because of

estate taxes. Even the American Farm Bureau Federation, which supports repeal of

the estate tax, says they could not cite a single instance of a farm lost

because of estate taxes. So, what did the President mean when he said we are

going to get rid of the death tax to keep farms in the family?

"Well, one of the reasons for that is that farmers have to go through a tortuous

process just to keep the farm in the family hands," Fleischer says.

Actually, according to the Times, farmers find avoiding the estate tax easy.

Only the richest two percent of Americans owe estate taxes — that’s because the

estate tax is not applied on the first $1.35 million of a couple’s estate. And a

farm couple can pass $4.1 million untaxed, as long as their heirs continue

farming for 10 years, according to the Times.

Since

the specifics weren’t going over well, we decided to broaden out the inquiry and

ask a question about President Bush’s political philosophy.

Ari,

a couple of months ago, Business Week magazine did a poll which found that

three-quarters of the American people believe that "business had gained too much

power over their lives." And in an editorial, Business Week called on

corporations to "get out of politics."

Does

the President agree with three-quarters of the American people that "business

has gained too much power over their lives" and with the editorial that they

should "get out of politics"?

Ari

skips over the question and sends out this all purpose put down: "The President

believes that in this nation we are all in our economy together. I’m reminded of

the old adage that you can’t be for employees if you are against employers."

Next

question.

 

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime

Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based

Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt

for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage

Press, 1999).

  

 

 

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