Bush’s claim of victory in the Iraq war has grabbed the spotlight, but it shouldn’t distract Americans from paying attention to the battles now being fought on the domestic front. So writes syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington in her new book, Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America, which examines how big business, with its army of lobbyists and piles of cash, has been greasing the political wheels to boost executives’ fortunes at the expense of workers, taxpayers and shareholders.Through black humor, Huffington shows how the gutting of many of our nation’s crucial financial and environmental laws has begun to undermine democracy in America. The bacon fat slurped up by lawmakers also made conditions ripe, she writes, for the slew of front-page financial scandals at several hog farms—from Enron to Tyco.
“The mad stampede of greed that coincided with the waning of the bull market and the burst of the loony tunes tech balloon would not have been possible without an unholy alliance between CEOs and their buddies on Capitol Hill,” writes the former wife of Republican Michael Huffington, a man who unsuccessfully ran for senator in 1994.
Lying in the massive wake of these chief executive officers (CEOs) and friends is the $9 trillion plummet in the value of the stock market, the loss of nearly 3 million jobs, and a $650 million plunge in people’s retirement funds.
In Pigs at the Trough, Huffington examines executives’ ever-porkier compensation packages and lapdog regulators, financial analysts and accountants. She also raises a stink about the incestuous corporate boards of directors; schemes to avoid paying taxes, including corporate offshore tax havens; and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle failing to pass meaningful reforms to clean out the stalls.
Corporate hog heaven has been created in large part by the $155 billion lobbying industry, with lobbyists outnumbering members of Congress by a ratio of 38-to-1. At the top of the list is Philip Morris, which spent $54 million on lobbying between 1997 and 1999. ExxonMobil Corp. dished out $34 million, and Ford Motor Co. spent $29.5 million during the same time. Meanwhile, average salaries for chief executive officers grew from being 42 times more than the average worker’s salary in 1982 to being 531 times more than the average worker’s in 2000. Huffington takes some of the mind-boggling sums and breaks them into a digestible form for those of us without paychecks with multiple zeroes. For example, she notes how many millions of movie tickets, school lunches and homes built by Habitat for Humanity the same number of dollars would buy.
One of the many corporate pigs on which she zeroes in is the infamous Halliburton Co., recently headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, which created offshore subsidies and cut its taxes from $302 million in 1998 to zippo and then managed to reap an $85 million rebate the next year.
Pigs at the Trough is loaded with countless other examples of how corporate officials and politicians have ripped off the public. Still, I would have preferred less but more—less number crunching and more in-depth analysis of particularly greedy mega-hog farms.
I also wished the well-to-do Huffington had taken the effort to explain her own personal shift from conservative spouse to fiery front-stage liberal. The transformation has won her new friends—and plenty of enemies—and it would have been instructive to read her reflections on what caused her to change.
At the end of the book, Huffington finally touches on the topic of how outraged readers might attempt to contain the destructive gluttony. Grassroots organizations are pushing back, she writes, and the public must keep the heat on to ensure a return to a government of, by and for the people not pigs. “The time has come for shoppers to leave the malls and take to the streets,” Huffington summarizes with gusto. I hope she’ll discuss further the little problem of how this might actually occur, as well as give us insight into her radical political shift, in an upcoming book.