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LOCAL Commentary :: U.S. Government

CHERYL SEAL SPECIAL REPORT: Bush in Baltimore: The Biggest Snow Job In Town

Snow may have fallen all night and day in Balmer Town, but there was no bigger snow job to be found than in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel....
Bush’s trip to Baltimore was a hoot to those of us who live A: in Baltimore, and B: in the real world. It couldn’t have been more remote from both A and B if he had decided to put in an appearance on a sound stage on Mars.

All credibility was lost to start when his handlers claimed that the Bush visit somehow “proved” there’s more support in Balmer for the pRez than one is led to believe. (pause while Baltimoreans pick themselves up off the floor after a an uncontrollable fit of laughter). Yep, in a city of 700,000 or so, where 9 out of 10 registered voters are Democrats, where 70% of the city population is black, and where most residents earn an average to lower income, Bush has “proved” Balmer loves him by showing up at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the city’s Inner Harbor tourist strip and speaking to 550 mostly white, all rich Republicans, about 2/3 of whom were shipped in from Baltimore County (or so rumor has it) and beyond. Sounds like Bush logic to me!

Of course, there is no doubt that those 550 greedy, out-of-touch white neo-confederate, black Colin Powell wannabees and nouveau riche NASCAR buffs who paid to bask in the presence of the idiot prince most certainly represent the Bush constituency. But they don’t represent Baltimore – or 75% of the rest of the real world, for that matter. Bush says the fact that he raised a few million from this group of clueless syncophants is “proof” of his “surprising support” in Baltimore. If this is how he reads it, then this only proves he has a cynical rating system for the worth of those supporting him. Under this system, Bush apparently calculates that 550 wealthy greedy rightwingnuts shipped in from the county are worth roughly 500,000 average-to-low income urban liberals.

In a jab at Martin O’Malley, Bush quipped (if something this lame can be described as “quipped”) that he had just one thing to say to O’Malley: “Fix the potholes.” To which Martin should have shot back: “Hey, as soon as you reimburse us for those millions we had to spend on anti-terrorism paraphenalia and overtime we’d be glad to fix ‘em – starting with the one that came into town today between your ears!”

Bush’s speech before his hastily cobbled together claque was so full of blatant lies and fantasy that it actually sounded like a Saturday Night Live spoof of himself. Statements included material like this (paraphrased but near-exact) “We have fulfilled EVERY SINGLE PROMISE we have made.” “This administration stands for the everyday people.” “We are spreading freedom around the world," or how about this knee slapper: "This administration has appointed some of the best people ever."

After about 10 minutes of watching this act on TV, I had to change channels or lose a perfectly good lunch. Besides, there’s enough indoor pollution in the city without needlessly adding to it!

So I switched to Charlie Rose. Oh, what a contrast! There, a representative from the Palestinans (Yasser Abed Rabbo) and a representative from Israel (they didn’t flash his name on the screen, alas, in the last 15 minutes I was watching) were discussing the Geneva Accord – a truly workable alternative to the “Road Map to Nowhere” Bush and Sharon are pushing. The Accord is the result of two years of work by moderate Palestinians and Israelis. It involves concepts foreign to Bush and Sharon: diplomacy, compromise, moderation. The Israeli spokesman said that the fact that this plan exists and is a workable solution has been a strongly motivating force behind the increasing resistance by high-level Israeli government and military officials to Sharon’s brutal strategies.

Bush stated yesterday in a vague and waffly used car salesman fashion that he supported the Accord…well, sort of – as long as no one forgets the “Roadmap” (i.e, he is jockeying his position to make sure the Bush cartel gets some undeserved credit in case the Accord works out).

After leaving the tourist strip, Bush headed for the Home Depot in Halethorpe. I keep reading headlines, even from local media sources, that say “Why Halethorpe? And why the Home Depot?” C’mon! It’s obvious to anyone who has lived around here for even a few years why Halethorpe, and obvious to anyone who read the list of top 12 donors to the Bush campaign in 2000 why Home Depot: The corporation came in at number 11 in donations to the RNC in 2000. So right before Christmas, Bush made an installment in his inevitable handsome payback to his corporate donor.

As to Halethorpe, it is basically an extension of Arbutus, hometown of Bob Ehrlich, rightwing governor of Maryland and good pal to G. W. Bush (Ehrlich has been wined and dined at Camp David and is one of the frequent callers/e-mailers to the West Wing). But going to Arbutus would have been too obvious – using Ehrlich’s coattails, so to speak. And besides, it’s closer to UMBC, and thus increases the chances of protestors showing up. So Halethorpe it was. Like Arbutus, Halethorpe is a bastion of white conservatives, with a heavy concentration of red neck, “’Merica, Love it or Leave it!” types. Bush Country, in other words. In all of Maryland, you probably couldn’t find a spot (unless it was a mile north up the main drag in the heart of Arbutus) that would be more likely to greet Bush with some degree of warmth. So for Bush, going to Halethorpe is a bit like visiting an elementary school in terms of a challenge.

The Home Depot visit was, in fact, a completely logical choice for Bush – afterall, he and the corporation have a great deal in common. (see below). We hear through the grapevine that the employees were ordered, not asked, to show up at the store for the day. The store was closed, and the employees had to be frisked and otherwise screened at the door. Then they sat around waiting for hours for his Lordship to show. But, you say, weren’t they smiling and clapping for him when he finally did show up and spew forth his oft-regurgitated pitch? You bet your sweet bippy they were! The Home Depot employee manual clearly states that “as an associate your employment is guaranteed for no set definite term,” and can be terminated “at any time with or without cause or reason.” So, with Christmas just a few weeks off, what “employee at will” (as they euphemistically call it) would dare do anything BUT smile and clap? The day that Bush has the guts to appear before a non-rigged audience of people who actually represent a cross section of Americans and allows them to ask real questions is the day I might consider reassessing whether he’s the total coward I now take him for.

But are some sad and telling facts about Home Depot that show why the store – one in Halethorpe, no less - was a match made in heaven for Bush:

Home Depot has a history of systematically discriminated against women. At one point, of nearly 100,000 employees nationally, 70% of all management positions were held by men. Over the years, numerous lawsuits have been brought against the corporation for this practice.

Home Depot has shown scant regard for employee safety. In June, 2003, “Federal OSHA records show that during the past five years, employee accidents nationwide occurred in Home Depot stores more frequently than in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), the nation's largest retailer with more than twice the number of stores as Home Depot, or in the stores of Home Depot's largest competitor, Lowe's Cos. (NYSE: LOW), which has about half as many stores as Home Depot. “ Los Angeles Business.

Home Depot has a history of racial discrimination, especially against African Americans. In the past several years, suits have been filed in several states. The most recent suit was filed less than six months ago in Indiana.

Home Depot employees on salary (and we mean a minimal salary of say $25,000 per year) may put in 60-70 hours per week unless they complain (although the corporation claims it stopped overworking salaried workers, many workers say they were simply never informed of their rights)

But hey, this kind of worker squeezing/numbers manipulation is essentially the same economic policy Bush subscribes to. This week he bragged about how US productivity has ramped up. But he fails to mention that while the productivity has increased – the number of real jobs hasn’t, which means Americans are simply working harder and longer. The scam now being used by corporations is to fire full-timers and replace them with, typically, two part timers. Bush can then point to the epidemic of newly created jobs, leaving out one little detail: most of them are low-wage, no-benefits part-time positions and that for the creation of every two “new” 20-hour-per-week jobs, one full-time with-benefits job is lost.

Home Depot offers no job security. This is oh, so typical of the corporate employer these days – the same employers who shower Bush with campaign contributions to keep their game going.

Home Depot has a long history of anti-environmental practices, including the plunder of rain forests in Indonesia. Under relentless pressure from environmental groups, including RAN (and ONLY because of the pressure), it made a HUGE SHOW in 1998-1999 of pledging to phase out wood from old-growth, insustainable logging practices. Well, it’s now 2003 and, in true corporate style, they are still still using old-growth wood. It’s not the first time Home Depot made green promises it didn’t keep ( There is evidence that much of their current progress consists of merely shifting the pieces of the puzzle around. Now, instead of getting most wood coming from Indonesia, they are using redwood from the Pacific Northwest, much of it purchased from a “go-between” redwood logging operation called the Mendocino Redwood Co. – all while scooping up the acclaim for being so gosh darn green. In short, their green campaign and “phase out” of old-growth are pretty parallel to Bush’s “Healthy Forests Initiative” and “phase out” of mercury from power plant emissions, some day…………………………….

Home Depot has used a training company (Afterburner seminars) that uses a militaristic, aggressive approach to teach managers how to trash their competition. Participants are given “anti-Home Depot” threat scenario in which a “coalition of competitors,” inevitably Lowe's, Builders Square and Menards - have banded together to challenge Home Depot's dominance over the home improvement business. The managers are divided into squadrons whose goal is to “bury the competition” (a Home Depot motto).

Although the company is now claiming it has been overhauled and is now the “kinder, more compassionate and greener Home Depot,” word up is that little has really changed. Different “name on the door, same office.” Case in point: the company signed an agreement to end racial discriminatory practices in 1998. Since then, several racial discrimination suits have been filed, including this year’s case in Indiana.

In short, Home Depot, like most corporations so favored by Bush, has a history of veiled and not so veiled bigotry, of anti-environmental policies, of worker exploitation, disregard for worker health, militaristic aggression, and glossy but hollow PR strategies.

And the media had to ask: “Why would Bush pick Home Depot?”

Top Donors to the RNC in 2000

Exhaustive History of Home Depot: Home Town, Not Home Depot

Racial discrimination suits against Home Depot

Home Depot Safety Record investigated

Home Depot broken environmental promises

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