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For Whom Do You Lobby, Madame Secretary?
On the same day that we learned Michael Bloomberg would like Hillary Clinton to succeed him as New York City mayor, the Secretary of State was making modest headlines on her own: “Clinton lobbies for US firm in Czech nuclear bid.”
The company was Westinghouse which is trying to get the contract to build a nuclear power plant. At first blanch, the story made perfect sense since the State Department has gotten pretty thick with the Czech Foreign Affairs Ministry lately – to the point where our governments and Canada’s were the only three of the world’s 83 largest nations (those with populations over 10 million) to vote against U.N. non-member observer nation status for Palestine. But there was one thing off with the lobbying story – Westinghouse isn’t actually an American company.
Oh it was once, certainly. George Westinghouse did start it in Pennsylvania in 1886, but since 2006 the Japanese corporation Toshiba has been running it. They actually picked it up from British Nuclear Fuels Limited. You see, Westinghouse bought CBS in 1995, changed its own name to CBS in 1997 and sold Westinghouse, now a nuclear power company, to the Brits in 1999. If you have trouble following that, remember that, as Governor Romney so well reminded us, corporations are people and people do some funny things.
At any rate, the competition for what will be the Czech Republic’s biggest-ever energy contract appears to come from a Russian competitor, Atomstroyexport. At least we’re told it’s Russian – as you know, it can be hard to tell these days. Now the idea that it is tasked with running interference for American business has always been widely held in the State Department and the public has come to expect it. And you can see how those guys got in the groove of opposing all things Soviet during the Cold War and how this might easily translate into trying to keep the edge on the successor Russian government. But just what is the basis for lobbying for Toshiba? Who reaps the benefits? And why?
Quite possibly the question wouldn’t occur to many government people involved in this sort of thing. Toshiba spends about $2,000,000 a year lobbying Washington, two thirds on behalf of the parent company and one third for the Westinghouse subsidiary. While this may pale in comparison to the $25,000,000 plus that old rival General Electric spends, it’s probably enough to remind the right people that Toshiba is a good American company, that is to say, to get them not to think about the fact that it is actually not one.
But whatever Kool Aid they’re drinking on Capitol Hill, it shouldn’t put the rest of us to sleep. After all, there can be some pretty big bills come due from this sort of stuff. With our government arguing about what it can’t afford, we’re still kicking in almost half of the entire world’s military spending, all of it justified as in pursuit of our “national defense.” And, of course, some pay a much higher price when we actually send them into combat in defense of our “national interest” – as we do on a regular basis. With the stakes as high as they are, we should always look askance when corporate interests commingle with national interests. And when the corporations whose interests the government promotes turn out not to even be domestic ones, doesn’t this cry out for a reappraisal of the U.S. government’s role in the international arena?
The modern multinational corporation has made it abundantly clear, over and over, that it bears allegiance to no one flag. But you gotta wonder when our government is going to pick up on the fact that it’s been dumped by its corporate partners. So we just have to ask, “Madame Secretary, for whom do you lobby?”