Ten Blockbuster Hearings
7. Concentration of Corporate Power.
Twenty-five years after the Reagan Administration gutted our nation's antitrust enforcement capacity, we have an unprecedented concentration of corporate power in virtually every sector of the economy, including banking, telecommunications, meatpacking and oil refining. Corporate consolidation corrupts the nation's politics and marketplace, especially in the media industry. Hearings should not only investigate the impact of corporate consolidation on consumers but on all levels of the economy, civic life and culture. Mergers and consolidation in retail, pharmacy and food industries have extinguished local businesses and turned Main Streets into bland homogeneous strips.
The House and Senate Judiciary Committees should launch robust antitrust hearings as a first step in exploring the impact of corporate concentration on our society. How did corporations gain so much power with so little social accountability? How have corporations undermined government oversight, taxation and regulation? Should we rewire the rules governing transnational corporations, including federal chartering and monitoring?
8. Oil Industry Influence.
As part of the first 100 legislative hours, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged that the new Congress will vote on legislation to eliminate archaic subsidies for Big Oil and channel funds into alternative energy efforts. Hearings should go further and expose the corrupting influence of Big Oil lobbying on our foreign policy, energy policy and tax code. Why has our country remained addicted to oil? Why do we continue to give privileged status to the retrograde government of Saudi Arabia? Why will China surpass us in the next decade as a leader in green energy technologies? From oil industry involvement in Vice President Cheney's secretive 2001 energy task force to the myriad provisions inserted into the tax code at the behest of the oil barons, the hardwired privileges of Big Oil are pervasive.
Hearings should expose the campaign contributions of Big Oil and their relation to policy outcomes, laying the groundwork for new and aggressive campaign finance and lobbying restrictions. Another worthy topic: the influence of Big Pharma on health policy and the credit-card industry on lending and bankruptcy laws.
9. Censorship of Climate Science.
One of the clearest examples of the corrosive power of Big Oil can be seen in the debate over global warming. Here the stakes are no less than the future of the planet. Climate scientists believe we are at a tipping point--that we must take dramatic action in the next five years if we are to reverse unbridled fossil-fuel consumption. But instead of addressing the problem and leading the nation in adopting appropriate measures, the Bush Administration has been censoring and suppressing climate science, setting back our needed responses by a decade.
Hearings can make up for lost time by bringing forward leading climate experts and activists to suggest voluntary and legislative action. But we must also investigate the Administration's unseemly efforts to censor or block sound scientific research. Let's subpoena Philip Cooney, the former oil industry lobbyist who became chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and repeatedly edited and altered scientific climate reports to downplay links between greenhouse gases and global warming.
10. A Real Security Budget.
Congress's security budgeting process has little to do with making our country and planet more secure--thanks to military industry lobbyists, a Pentagon fetish for glitzy weapons and a Congress that views military pork as an employment program (which explains why more Homeland Security funds are spent per capita in Wyoming than in New York City). The common-sense wisdom, from the 911 Commission to peace groups, is that we spend way too much on weapons and not enough on nonmilitary security efforts, including diplomacy, effective international aid, peacekeeping and programs to prevent proliferation of nuclear materials. The Iraq War further drains resources from nonmilitary strategies, fostering a vicious cycle of violence.
In 2006 a prestigious group of security specialists issued a call for a "unified security budget," proposing multibillion-dollar shifts in budget authority between military, homeland security and nonmilitary measures. But Congress is incapable of moving toward rational budget allocations because of committee budget fiefdoms. Progressive Democrats advocating a rational security and foreign policy will run smack into these structural impediments, including the feeding frenzy over the Pentagon's daily allowance of about $1.1 billion.
Hearings may be helpful, but the entrenched corporate and national security state interests are so powerful that stronger medicine is required. Democrats should create a Select Committee on National Security and International Relations to look at the crosscutting requirements of the post-cold war world. This select committee should be empowered to recommend a reorganization of security-related budget writing that transcends current committee structures. Outside these hearings, peace and genuine security organizations should utilize their most creative educational tools, dramatizing the urgency of reorienting priorities.
Progressive lawmakers should launch several other committees over the next two years. Members of the Progressive Caucus are proposing a Select Committee on Poverty, Inequality and Opportunity in the House. A Select Committee on Federal Elections and Democracy could investigate the myriad problems with voting technology, voter suppression and the archaic Electoral College. A Select Committee on Infrastructure could investigate the condition of our bridges, highways and transportation systems, as well as our technology infrastructure needs.
Don't just ask what your Congress can do for you. Progressive community activists and independent media need to maximize the synergy between hearings and organizing, bloggers and policy-makers. The hearings of the coming year will be what we make of them.