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Time's Ripe for Progressives to Influence Public

BTL Q&A: Time's Ripe for Progressives to Influence Public

Between the Lines Q&A A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media for release Aug. 5, 2002

Exposure of Crony Capitalism May Provide Opportunities for Progressive Movements to Influence Public Policy
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Interview with Alexander Cockburn, author and columnist, conducted by Scott Harris

After a week of record losses, the stock market bounced part way back, giving investors and worried retirees a frightening roller coaster ride. But news of corporate corruption, which in part trigge red the volatility on Wall Street, continues to trickle out. Quest Communications International is another in a growing list of companies admitting that they had overstated their earnings. The telec ommunications firm revealed on July 28th that they had improperly accounted for more than $1.1 bill ion in recent years. After the collapse of Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom, Global Crossing and others, t his latest revelation will undoubtedly further shake the confidence of investors and consumers.

Despite congressional passage of new regulations governing business behavior, many citizens have lo st confidence in the major political parties to rein in business corruption given that both Republi cans and Democrats are addicted to large corporate contributions.

In a recent column titled, "The Hog Wallow, Pop Gun Populism Isn't Enough," the Nation magazine's A lexander Cockburn notes how unrestrained corporate greed over the last decade drove many companies into debt while generous stock options fattened the wallets of millionaire CEOs. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Counterpunch Co-editor Alexander Cockburn, who discusses the current trava ils of crony capitalism and opportunities which may now be open for progressive social movements to influence public policy.

Alexander Cockburn: Capitalism by definition is a system that runs amok. You can go back through co rporate, capitalist history for the last hundred years and you'll find the same pattern -- you get a boom, which then transitions into a bubble. When in the bubble period, every kind of shady device is used to enhance the money of the insiders to fool the people on Main Street and then the whole thing collapses and there's a period of indignation and the politicians mount the pulpit and people like George Bush say, "There must be a better way." And that usually coincides with a period of th e decline of the bubble. Sometimes there's a spasm of virtuous clean up and sometimes there's inter vention and then the whole show gets on the road again. We're in the period of, I think, not partic ularly protracted public indignation.

Between The Lines: You recently wrote a column titled the "The Hog Wallow, Pop Gun Populism Isn't E nough" and your point is that there are deep systemic problems and Democrats and Republicans are ju st throwing Band-Aids on these bigger issues.

Alexander Cockburn: Not even Band-Aids. I mean, look at the Democrats, led by Sen. Joe Leiberman. T hey wouldn't even change the accounting rules that allowed half this chicanery to go on in the firs t place. I mean, if ever there was a case when you could say that Ralph Nader has been vindicated, this is surely it. Even the most stalwart defenders of the Democrats are embarrassed when you've go t Senate Majority Tom Daschle and the Democrats when it comes to the nitty gritty -- which a lot of the current scandal -- which is staggering misrepresentation. If you followed the hearing last wee k, you had the disclosure that Citigroup and Morgan Chase had faked the books with Enron to conceal , I think it was upward of $2 billion in loans. Now they're going to be sued by the big retirement pensions and that's going to be pretty serious for them. It'll be a nasty fight. Once you get an ou tfit like CalPERS, the California Public Employees' Retirement System which is very, very large or LACERA -- which is the Los Angele Between The Lines: Certainly, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have little scandals of their own that they're dealing with at the moment. Harken, the failed oil company Bush had a hand in and made some money off just before it lost a lot of money. And then Halliburton, a large corpor ation that does a lot of business with the U.S. government with similar questions about Dick Cheney and his role as CEO. Tell us about where you think those scandals may be headed.

Alexander Cockburn: Well, I think that's what's so deadly for the Bush administration. The way that both Bush and Cheney made their money is absolutely dead bull's eye central and representative of and symbolic of the whole creation of the bubble: the deception of the outside investor by insider beneficiaries and so forth.

Bush's own business (Spectrum 7) is about to go belly up. It's taken over by Harken. Harken itself does very badly, but then an unknown institutional investor, which some people think may have been Harvard-connected, suddenly buys a huge amount of Harken shares. Their shares then go up, enabling George Bush to cash in, in an insider transaction he doesn't report to the SEC. That's what all the se scandals are basically about. And then of course he goes on possibly to profit from insider-know ledge of the impending invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and makes a bundle that way. An enormous scandal. I'm no friend of Bill Clinton, but this is obviously far larger in terms of financial payout and far more potentially serious than the failed (White Water) real estate transaction in Arkansas.

As for Cheney, in the takeover of Dresser Industries by Haliburton, there's some very questionable stuff as regarding what was divulged to the public and Cheney goes home at the end of the day when he leaves with $36 million, I think. And of course (he) still steadfastly refuses to release the re cords of what input energy companies had in the early meetings at the White House. So here's Cheney ; you know he's meant to not be seen because of the security problems in the war on terror, but he' s probably not seen because he's dodging a subpoena.

Between The Lines: Just a final question. Margaret Thatcher quoted widely over the last couple of d ecades as saying "There is no alternative" (when it comes to capitalist neo-liberal economic policy ). Certainly many people on the right, center and in the ranks of liberal Democrats signed onto the idea that, "There is no alternative." Are progressive movements going to be coming up with some pr ogressive alternatives to the status quo?

Alexander Cockburn: Absolutely, I think this is a great time, whether it’s the idea of a decent so cial wage -- which is the fair wage campaign -- that has been going along now for nearly a decade. You cannot get by privatizing everything and paying everybody sub-minimum wage levels.

I personally think pension funds are going to be the great debate over the next 50 years --because that’s really about what you might call socializing accumulation. You're either going to say we liv e in a dog-eat-dog world where you won't care about the old folk, you won’t care about social respo nsibility -- you'll just pillage and destroy -- or you'll say that our wealth must be socialized. T hat decision making must be socialized -- the social net, whether it's health insurance and the res t of it.

The present condition is, I think, propitious, really, to come ahead and say, "For 20 years we've b een not talking right about how the society should be run." The ideas are there, the alternatives a re there. And (Margaret) Thatcher, one of the world's stupidest women, typically said, "There is no alternative." Of course there are alternatives. It's an exciting time we live in.

Alexander Cockburn's online publication Counterpunch can be found on the Internet at www.counterpun

Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, fo r the week ending Aug. 9, 2002

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