"David Sirota tells how to end it

Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government — and How We Take it Back

By David Sirota

Crown Publishers; $24

In his new book, Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government — And How We Take It Back, David Sirota writes about how he and his wife were trapped in the Minneapolis airport due to what they were officially told was bad weather. The trouble was that they knew their flight was scrubbed because of a mechanical malfunction — members of the flight crew said so.

Admitting to a mechanical malfunction would have required the airline to put the passengers up in a hotel for the night. Claiming bad weather meant the passengers were on their own.

“We were basically lied to,” recalled Sirota during a visit to Big Hat Books, the independent bookstore in Broad Ripple. “We all knew we were being lied to and there was nothing we could do about it. This was a situation that everybody deals with in many different ways. And the economic structure that allows that to happen is not something that happened by accident. It happened on purpose. The economy has been purposefully set up to allow large corporations and big money interests to do whatever they want. The bottom line has become more important than peoples’ general welfare.”

But Sirota doesn’t blame corporate America for trying to enhance its bottom line. “A company has a legal obligation to maximize profits, whether they run roughshod over your life or not,” Sirota said. “The problem is the government is supposed to make sure the profit motive doesn’t run roughshod over everything else. We have a government that is no longer preserving the rules that make sure we as a society are protected from that.”

Sirota hopes his book, which has made the New York Times best-seller list, can serve as a handbook for reconstructing our understanding of what government is about. “There has been a 30-year campaign to convince the public that the government is evil. There has not been a campaign to remind the public that the government is your roads, your police officers, your military. If the hostile takeover took 30 years, then fighting back will take at least half that long.”

While working on Capitol Hill, Sirota saw firsthand the ways in which elected representatives are virtually hired through campaign contributions to represent the interests of corporate America — to the detriment of everybody else. He believes that government priorities have been turned upside down in order to keep people distracted from paying attention to their own self-interest.

“What we have right now is a system where the issues the government can really effect, which are economic issues, have been depoliticized, and the least political issues — having to do with spirituality, privacy, interpersonal relationships — are now the most political. That’s not by accident. Big money interests would rather have a frothing, political debate about gay marriage than on trade policy that sells out American jobs. When people pay $3 a gallon for gas, that has to do with Congress letting the oil industry write the energy bill.”

Sirota believes Americans are beginning to wake up to what’s going on — what he calls a slow motion depression. “Companies are making more money. Each individual worker is producing more per hour. But those workers are getting less and less. More and more of their work is being channeled to shareholders and executives. Six weeks ago, the Commerce Department reported the share of the national income going to workers’ wages is the lowest it’s been in 40 years. Think about that.”

With an election coming up, Sirota encourages everyone to visit the Web site that tracks campaign contributions, opensecrets.org, to find out whom their member of Congress is working for. He also encourages people to read the business pages of their local newspapers to find news coverage aimed at people who make money and written with less spin. He thinks citizens should focus on local politics and support campaign finance reform.

“People think that what’s happening in the economy is just a force of nature,” Sirota said.

“What’s going on now is a deliberate result of specific public policies. Government policy now is an obstacle to you, the citizen, creating wealth for yourself. Contrary to popular mythology that makes ‘deregulation’ a good word, this is still a highly regulated market. The question is, how do you want to regulate it?”