From the pages of Z Magazine

 

The Scoop

By Bob Harris

 

 

The Gingrich Bailout

In accepting $300,000 from Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich claims he took the high ground. If enough folks examine the deal closely, he may have to head on up to the hills.

House rules only allow loans on terms "generally available to the public." That includes me, so I called five banks and asked for $300K, unsecured, at 10 percent, with no payments for eight years. They thought I was nuts. When I profiled Newt’s income and net worth, all five still said no chance. (The best I found for him was $25K, monthly payments, 10 years, 13.9 percent.)

On its face, this deal’s a bigger con than Speed 2.

Loans to Congresspeople must also come from a financial institution—which Bob Dole isn’t—unless originating from a friend with no interest in buying influence.

Okay, so Dole and Gingrich are pals. Just like Tiger Woods and Fuzzy Zoeller. But does Bob Dole really have no interest in buying influence? Dole’s new day gig is "special counsel" for Vemer, Liipfert, one of the biggest and most active lobbying firms in Washington.

In February, the five tobacco monsters—Philip Morris, RJR, Brown & Williamson, UST, and Loews—retained Verner, Liipfert to lobby Congress.

The cancer kings are in major trouble: 15 class action suits, 23 states suing for billions in Medicaid expenses, and now teeny Liggett fessing up that cigarettes are really, really bad.

However, Liggett has also shown the bad guys a way out: admitting guilt and paying a fine, in exchange for immunity from future liability. Since potential lawsuits might run over a trillion dollars, the barons of broadleaf need immunity so badly that they’re willing to put their ads, their trademarks, $300 billion in fines, and FDA status as a drug on the bargaining table.

On April 3, after weeks of organizing, backroom negotiations began. The first meeting included four Attorneys General, two stogie moguls, a bunch of trial lawyers…and Verner, Liipfert.

Info on the meetings is scarce. However, any agreement they reach will have to be voted on by Congress. That puts Mr. Speaker at the head of the tobacco lobby’s kiss-up list. And he badly needs $300,000. Gee, what to do, what to do... ?

Who thought up the loan? "Dole just came up with it himself," said the Associated Press, quoting Charles Black, an "adviser to Dole" who did most of the talking. A curious spinmeister: Charles Black is a lobbyist whose biggest account last year was Philip Morris.

(Dole and tobacco go way back. Four of the five tobacconists who hired Verner, Liipfert were among the top 10 Republican donors during Dole’s run at the White House; Philip Morris led all scorers with $2.5 million. In exchange, Dole opposed FDA actions to curb tobacco sales and marketing, grandstanded an anti-drug pose while not mentioning that cigarettes kill 25 times more Americans than all illegal narcotics combined, and even questioned tobacco’s addictive qualities on national TV.)

When did the loan idea originate? Dole’s spokesperson termed it "last minute" and completely unexpected. But most GOP sources say Dole first broached the loan with Scott Reed, an actual friend of Newt, sometime near the first of April—just as tobacco liability talks began. Reed spoke to another go-between, and then Gingrich. (This is how "close, personal friends" usually talk.)

When did Newt accept the loan? His people pinpoint the evening of April 16, but Newt’s signature is on an agreement dated April 15. Reed contacted Gingrich at least a week earlier. No one is being very specific about dates.

It’s not clear when Newt verbally agreed, but Dole wouldn’t have called on the 15th if Newt hadn’t already expressed interest. That was the whole point of sending Reed as an errand boy.

We do know that on April 9, Verner, Liipfert hired Bob Dole.

The non-partisan National Journal’s <D>"CongressDaily" reports that Dole received a bonus of—coincidentally enough—$300,000. (Their source is a partner at Verner, Liipfert.) That’s just how much Dole fronted Gingrich six days later.

Curious? The major papers aren’t. The Ethics Committee won’t care; the chair is Utah’s James Hansen, a conservative Republican. Slam dunk.

Dole denies that Verner, Liipfert had knowledge of the Gingrich loan; reportedly, most folks at the firm were embarrassed by the appearance of impropriety.

You can see why: Verner, Liipfert works for tobacco. So does Dole, who now also works for Verner, Liipfert. Verner, Liipfert wants liability limits passed. During negotiations, they gave Dole $300K, just as Dole was offering the bailout to Newt. Dole put $300K in Newt’s hand six days later.

Now let’s see just how hard Newt works to pass the impending liability deal. The high ground smells a lot like a tobacco field.

 

Murdoch Monopoly

Y’know how when you play Monopoly, you try to gather up all the properties in a color group, because then no one can pass without paying you money?

Rupert Murdoch, the richest man in Southern California, wants to buy the LA Dodgers. (Actually, he wants to buy everything, including your dog. The Dodgers are just next on his shopping list.) As it stands now, Angelenos can hardly watch a game he doesn’t own. Murdoch already owns the broadcast rights to the Lakers and Clippers, the Kings and Ducks, and both USC and UCLA.

Murdoch already owns the Fox TV network, Fox Sports West channels one and two, the Fox News Channel, the FX channel, the FX movie channel, and the local Channel 11.

He also owns TV Guide, <D>Harper Collins Books, Twentieth Century Fox movie studio, and more than 100 newspapers and magazines.

So one day soon, LA residents will watch a Murdoch sports team on a Murdoch sports channel, then watch the highlights on a Murdoch news channel and read about it in a Murdoch newspaper. They’ll then read a Murdoch paperback about the star player and watch a Murdoch movie dramatizing his big game. Later, that’ll be on a Murdoch movie channel with promotional interviews in a Murdoch magazine, and the listings for it all will be in Murdoch’s TV Guide.<D>

If there’s anything wrong with that situation, you can be sure Murdoch will tell you about it.

Guard your dog.

 

GATT

Eight separatists calling themselves "Soldiers of the Republic of Venice" recently stormed the belltower in St. Mark’s Square and demanded that Venice secede from Italy. Noble? Maybe. Misguided? Definitely.

Obviously, everybody has a right to self-determination. But what self-governance actually means has changed drastically, thanks to a multitude of international trade agreements.

Here’s an example: The European Union doesn’t want to import American beef, because they’re scared of the hormones we put in it. You probably wouldn’t want to be force-fed escargots so even if you enjoy munching on cow parts, you can see their point. However, the World Trade Organization, which rules these matters since the GATT agreement, dictated that Europe either has to let the meat roll in or pay a quarter-billion dollars not to.

All their flags and anthems and armies didn’t give the Europeans a right to their own health standards.

Just as the boundaries between American states became less significant in the last century, so will boundaries between nations in the next. You can draw the map any way you want to; you’ll still buy the map with a Visa card.

Just to demonstrate, I’ll declare independence myself. Watch. I am now officially the Most Serene Republic of Bob. "Louie, Louie" is my national anthem, and I’m getting military aid from the State Department so I don’t overthrow myself. Great. I’m still gonna have to buy stuff.

The only power I have is over what I choose to buy, and now even that’s disappearing. (OK. I’m relinquishing statehood now, before the FBI storms me.)

If the folks in Venice really want to fight for independence, they’re gonna have to realize that the modern empire no longer arrives in tanks, but in drive-thrus. AK-47s and a flag, by themselves, probably won’t defeat 501s and a Coke.

The upside? No two countries that both have a McDonalds have ever gone to war. Of course, once you’re assimilated, "culture" is just the local language on the menu.

 

Campaign Reform

Who’s gonna be president in 2000? Time<D> and Newsweek<D> are already asking that question almost every week. In most civilized countries, an election takes a couple of months, tops. Canada’s campaign started the same time baseball season did, and it’ll be over before the Cubs win three in a row.

But since our whole political system is now just an elaborate auction to the highest bidder, candidates have to stockpile cash years in advance. Since wealth and power are centralizing, next time looks depressingly like last time.

On the Democratic side, Al Gore’s already got enough cash in the cupboard that he’s pretty much untouchable. Even so, Dick Gephardt is picking his fights, Jesse Jackson’s considering a run, John Kerry is in and out, and Paul Wellstone has been building a national organization from the day he arrived in DC. Too bad nobody knows who he is.

As to Republicans, Liddy Dole has put a bunch of Bob’s campaign people on the Red Cross staff, which doesn’t normally need spin doctors. Liddy can also count on Newt Gingrich’s help now that Bob holds the mortgage on his soul. John Kasich, from Ohio, just did a fundraiser in Iowa. Colin Powell’s doing magazine covers again for some reason. Jack Kemp will wobble onward once he’s done flip-flopping on immigration. Lamar Alexander persists, even though I just sat behind him on a plane and no one even recognized him. Bob Dornan still commands the red-faced lunatic demographic. Dan Quayle started campaigning for 2000 before the 1996 election was even over, but then math always was a tricky one for the boy.

Meanwhile, Perot’s still rich. So is Steve Forbes, who doesn’t want the office as much as a "flat billion-dollar inheritance tax" handout.

Then there are the New Party, the Greens, the Libertarians, the Professor, and Mary Ann. None of whom have enough money to play. Same as it ever was.

The only way out is campaign finance reform. If nothing else, it’ll shorten the process. Even if the candidates don’t improve, at least we won’t have to get depressed about them for three more years.

 

HMOs

Two months ago, Bill Clinton ripped up his knee. Y’know, if he was in an HMO like a lot of folks, right about now his coverage would expire. He’d have to pay for his therapy out of his own pocket, or at least give the Lincoln bedroom to the head of Blue Cross.

The president, however, isn’t in managed care. He’s covered by the Pentagon, so he gets gyroscopic titanium crutches, stealth-technology, blast-hardened knee braces, and X-rays from the Hubble Space Telescope. Not surprisingly, he’s recovering in record time.

I’m genuinely glad he’s feeling better—it’s wrong to wish pain on anyone except Jerry Springer—but the president should realize that if he worked downtown he’d have to ration his treatments and probably couldn’t climb steps by now.

Clinton’s health care proposals a while back were a mess, but there are a lot of bright people with good ideas in the world. Maybe if the folks in Washington got the same coverage the rest of us get, they’d do something more about the declining quality of our health plans besides taking PAC money from insurers and balancing the budget by cutting Medicare.

At least that’s my knee-jerk reaction. (Loud, embarrassed coughing.) Sorry.