- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008

“FLEECED”

By Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

HarperCollins, $26.95, 352 pages

REVIEWED BY JOSEPH C. GOULDEN

If you are at the shore or some other vacation spot this morning, stop reading right now and stash this review to peruse when you are back home. What Dick Morris writes in “Fleeced [with a 37-word subtitle],” is intended to make you moon-howling mad, a condition not conducive to a relaxed relaxation. And he succeeds, on subjects ranging from what a Barack Obama presidency would mean for our country, to the serious liberal campaign to stamp out conservative talk radio and the pestilential swarm of lobbyists (of both parties) who happily press money into the outstretched hands of mooch-hungry congressmen and regulators.

To be sure, little of what Mr. Morris (and co-author Eileen McGann, his wife) writes is “new” in the sense of revealing scandals that the media have not reported, to one degree or another. Indeed, 25 pages of chapter notes reveal their heavy reliance on previous reportage. No matter. Mr. Morris’ strength is his ability to add angry context to the nuances of financial shenanigans - for instance, how mortgage companies squeeze extra dollars out of homeowners, the costly hidden costs of some retirement funds and how hedge-fund moguls get away with paying far less taxes on their multi million dollar incomes than the rest of us.

“In 2006,” Mr. Morris writes, “the combined income of the top twenty-five US hedge fund managers exceeded $14 billion.” Three of them received more than $1 billion. BUT: A compliant Congress permits them to pay a capital gains rate of 15 percent, versus the 35 percent maximum levied on other people. Efforts to end this loophole are regularly thwarted by Democrats who are heavily reliant on hedge funds and other financial interests for campaign money.

(The thought comes to mind that perhaps we writers should chip in and buy ourselves a whorish senator to give us the same special tax break. But given the going price — the “hedgies” coughed up almost $2 million to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Democratic senatorial campaign fund in the first half of 2007 alone — I doubt that we could pay the market price.)

Despite liberals’ constant blather about the need for a free press, their true sentiments are expressed through the current push to reinstate the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” which required broadcast stations to provide a “reasonable opportunity for ample play for the free and fair competition of opposing views … [for all] issues of importance to the public.” The advent of cable TV and other media led the Federal Communications Commission to repeal the doctrine in 1987, and the number of news/talk stations soared from around 360 to today’s more than 1,300.

The liberals’ goal, of course, is to silence such conservative voices as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. A few years back, the far-left came up with “Air America Radio,” perhaps not realizing that the original “AA” was the CIA’s proprietary airline in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The network cast comedian Al Franken as a counter-foil to Limbaugh. Trouble was, audiences reacted with yawns, and only a deep-pocket donor staved off bankruptcy.

Mr. Morris contends that revival of the ill-named “Fairness Doctrine” would ruin radio. He writes, “If stations were forced to give liberal talk show hosts equal time, they would lose money — and before long you can bet that most of them would abandon talk radio altogether in favor of top forty music.”

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and henchman Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the majority leader, say repeal will be high on the agenda if the Democrats increase their congressional majorities. John Grizzi, my pal at Human Events, is on the mark when he calls this scheme the “Hush Rush Act.”

My rage simmered past the boiling point when Mr. Morris got around to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, headed by a Bush appointee named Nancy Nord. (Mr. Morris calls her the “Ostrich in Chief” for the way she keeps her head in the sand.) As Mr. Morris writes, CPSC has “only one full-time toy tester on its staff” - and Ms. Nord consistently opposes congressional attempts to give her a larger staff.

Not that Ms. Nord sits idly in the office. According to documents quoted by Mr. Morris, she and predecessor Hal Stratton “have taken dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children’s furniture industries and others they regulate. The American Fireworks Standards Laboratory paid $11,000 for the regulators to visit fireworks factories in China — and then wrote safety standards that it asked them to approve.

Mr. Morris adopts a populist tone when he criticizes the CPSC for its failure to keep toxic Chinese toys and other items out of our lives. He documents the horrid working conditions imposed on Chinese workers — many of them in their sub-teens — to make products sold by such corporate giants as Disney and Hasbro. He writes, “Now, some might ask — Aren’t the children and adult workers who produce these toys, dolls, game and stuffed animals lucky to have work? Aren’t we doing them a service by buying their products? The answer to these questions is that we want cheap toys but not toys that are stained with blood — or that threaten our kids’ health.”

No sleaze study, of course, would be complete without a mention of Bill Clinton’s post-presidential prosperity. In his self-laudatory book “Giving,” Mr. Clinton told of speaking to employees of InfoUSA, a direct-marketing company. He said, “they seemed happy and self-confident, clearly enjoying their work.” He did not mention that he was paid $200,000 for the talk.

As Mr. Morris unkindly points out, InfoUSA sold its mailing lists of elders to “a number of dubious companies” - including firms that were under investigation or have since been closed down by the courts because of their criminal activity. The company has paid him $3.3 million as a “consultant” since 2001.

A polemical book of the highest order. Mr. Morris writes not with a stiletto but with a broad-axe. Buy it, and prepare to get mad.

Joe Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is JosephG894@aol.com.

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