Where’s the beef in Trump’s new trade deal?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

“MAGA,” blusters Donald Trump – Make America Great Again! America’s ranching families, however, would like Trump to come off his high horse and get serious about a more modest goal, namely: Make America COOL Again.

COOL stands for Country-of-Origin-Labeling, a straightforward law simply requiring that agribusiness giants put labels on packages of steak, pork chops, etc. to tell us whether the meat came from the USA, China, Brazil… or Whereintheworldistan. This useful information empowers consumers to decide where their families’ food dollars go. But multinational powerhouses like Tyson Foods and Cargill don’t want you and me making such decisions.

So, in 2012, the meat monopolists got the World Trade Organization to decree that our nation’s COOL law violated global trade rules – and our corporate-submissive congress critters meekly repealed the law.

Then came Donald Trump and his Made-in-America campaign, promising struggling ranchers that he’d restore the COOL label as a centerpiece of his new NAFTA deal. Ranching families cheered because getting that “American Made” brand on their products would mean more sales and better prices.

But wait – Trump has now issued his new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and… Where’s the beef? In his grandiose, 1,809-page document, COOL is not even mentioned!

Worse, slaps America’s hard-hit ranching families in the face for it allows multinational meatpackers to keep shipping foreign beef into the US market that does not meet our food safety standards! Aside from the “yuck” factor and health issues, this gives Tyson and other giants an incentive to abandon US ranchers entirely.

To stand with America’s farm and ranch families against their betrayal by Trump and the Big Food monopolists, contact the National Farmers Union: NFU.org.

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Reposted from the Hightower Lowdown

We hear the Dow Jones Average, but why not the Doug Jones Average?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Language matters. For example, the words that corporate and government officials use to report on the health of America’s economy can either make clear to us commoners what’s going on – or hide and even lie about the reality we face.

Consider the most common measurement used by officials and the media to tell us whether our economy is zooming or sputtering: Wall Street’s index of stock prices. The media literally spews out the Dow Jones Average of stock prices every hour – as though everyone is waiting breathlessly for that update.

But wait – nearly all stock is owned by the richest 10 percent of Americans, so the Dow Jones Average says nothing about the economic condition of the 90 percent majority of Americans. For us (and for the true economic health of America as a whole) we need to know the Doug Jones Average – how’re Doug and Dolores doing?

As we’ve seen, stock prices keep rising to new highs, while wages and living standards of the middle class and poor majority have been held down by the same corporate and political “leaders” telling us to keep our eye on the Dow. To disguise this decline they play another dirty language trick on us when they issue the monthly unemployment report. Currently, with the unemployment rate down to four percent, they tell us America’s job market is booming!

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It's Not Socialism; It's What the People Want

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

"Socialism," snarled Donald Trump at a recent pep rally of far-right Republicans. And the obedient crowd of faithful Trumpistas snarled back in unison: "So-shull-izz-ummm!"

And there you have the entire intellectual content of the GOP's 2020 re-election strategy under Generalissimo Trump—slap Democrats silly with a scurrilous campaign branding them as Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin reincarnate. It's not just Trump hissing out the socialist label in a frantic McCarthyesque attempt to make it stick by mindless repetition, but also Mike Pence, cabinet officials, Republican lawmakers, right-wing pundits and, of course, the extremist choreographers of Fox News.

Their incessant babbling has already turned clownish, with many babblers bumbling over their own ignorance and making ridiculous attempts to overplay their weak hands. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, for example, compared Democrats who support ideas such as "Medicare for All" to Mussolini. Apparently, Cornyn is unaware that the brutish Italian dictator was no socialist, but a fascist! Mussolini's ideology of ultranationalism, promotion of masculine authoritarianism, domination of society by big business and the wealthy and suppression of democratic rights is the opposite of the Democratic agenda. Indeed, it describes the policies of—guess who—Trump and his acolytes, including Cornyn!

The real problem for the GOP, however, is not merely that squawking like Chicken Little about diabolical socialism makes them sound like old fuddy-duddies, but that the so-called socialism they're attacking is enormously popular with the workaday majority of Americans. Government-backed health care for all? Sure. Why should CEOs and Congress critters be the only ones to get this? Affordable higher education and housing initiatives? Of course, for that helps all of America. A wealth tax on corporate giants and the superrich? Long overdue that they stop dodging the cost of the common good. Restore the rights of labor and restrain the rise of monopolies? Yes!

Far from socialism, this is democratic populism, reversing decades of government policies that take from the many to give to the wealthy few. It's an honest, popular rebellion against the corporate plutocracy that seeks to usurp America's democracy, promoted by Trump and Cornyn. Which side are you on?

And which side are some of our Democratic leaders on? Unfortunately, an exotic flu epidemic has broken out in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the "Canadian hot sauce flu," it afflicts a particular group of Democratic officeholders and operatives.

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Should you have to pay to protest?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Ideally, elections are about ideas, but these days policy discussions are being shoved aside by raw partisanship and vitriol. Not only are good ideas ignored, but very bad idea can become public policy without the public knowing it.

For example, the Trump Team wants to snuff out your Constitutional right to free speech and assembly by putting an exorbitant fee on public protests in our nation’s Capitol City. In other words, you’d still be “free” to rally for or against any issue or policy – but not for free! Apparently meant to deter any more of the mass demonstrations against their policies on women, immigrant children, climate change, etc., they want each protesting group to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the government for policing and other necessary costs of guaranteeing the public’s right to protest.

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Will you win the “Throw Your Money At Amazon” Sweepstakes?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

How much are you paying Amazon? I don’t mean how much you’re shelling out for stuff you bought, but how much you and your neighbors are simply giving to this huge and uber-rich on-line retailer.

If you live in Indianapolis, Austin, Chicago, Atlanta, or 16 other lucky cities – congratulations, for you’re a finalist in the “Throw-Your-Money-At-Amazon” Sweepstakes! It’s like Bonnie & Clyde, but instead of robbing banks, Amazon has enticed city and state officials to rob their own citizens, then hand over the loot in the form of tax breaks, land, and other bribes to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. The locality that offers the most booty “wins” the grand prize of having this thieving corporate behemoth become its new neighbor. At least until Bezos gets a better offer.

So, again I ask: How much are your officials offering?

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Towering Excess: The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom for Bostonians

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Boston is experiencing a luxury real estate boom, with thousands of new luxury residential and rental units in different stages of development. A decade from now, Boston’s skyline and population demographics will be fundamentally altered by decisions being made today.

This boom does have benefits, providing good jobs in the building trades and increasing property tax revenue for the city. But the boom is not helping address Boston’s acute affordable housing crisis. Bostonians today have a median household income of $58,500. Average Bostonians cannot afford the new luxury condos. They will, unfortunately, feel their impact. Boston’s luxury boom figures to push up land and housing costs and accelerate Boston’s already troubling disparities of income, wealth and opportunity.

Suffolk County, the jurisdiction where Boston resides, rates as the most unequal county in Massachusetts, our nation’s sixth most unequal state in terms of the gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and everyone else. And Boston’s racial wealth divide will only worsen if current trends continue. One marker of those trends: In 2015, not one single home mortgage loan was issued for African-American and Latino families in the Seaport District and the Fenway, two Boston neighborhoods with thousands of new luxury housing units.

City officials are failing to understand how such towers play a key role in the global hidden wealth infrastructure, a shadowy system that’s hiding wealth and masking ownership, all for the purpose of helping the holders of private fortunes avoid taxes and oversight of illicit activities. Many Boston luxury properties are functioning, in effect, as wealth storage lockers for global capital.

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How many tweety birds does it take to Tweet the truth?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

In CorporateWorld, when trouble pops up and things get sticky, CEOs don’t wring their hands and try to dodge the issue. No-sir-ee, the chief gets paid the big bucks to step forward confidently and seize control… by ringing up the company’s PR consultants and having them try to dodge the issue.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon Inc.’s boss, is an expert at this. The uber-rich online marketing colossus has been hit with a long string of exposes about the corporation’s nasty practices. From profiteering as a flagrant tax dodger and predatory killer of independent, local businesses to running a massive network of publicly-subsidized warehouses with sweatshop labor, Amazon’s carefully-crafted image as a “cool” company is… well, getting fried in negative headlines and online chatter.

Thus, Bezos (known for thinking outside the cage), has hired a flock of tweety birds to counter the negativity. They are former warehouse workers who now tweet full-time about how absolutely wonderful those warehouse jobs are. The tweeters tell us that air circulation in the warehouses is “very good;” in a 10-hour shift, they assure us, lucky workers get not one, but two 30-minute breaks; and they’re even allowed bathroom breaks (within reason, of course).

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Help save America’s public post offices

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

The US postal system has 30,000 outlets serving every part of America it employs 630,000 people in good middle-class jobs, and it proudly delivers letters and packages clear across the country for a pittance. It’s a jewel of public service excellence.

Therefore, it must be destroyed.

Such is the fevered logic of laissez-fairyheaded corporate supremists like the billionaire Koch brothers and the right-wing politicians who serve them. This malevolent gang of wrecking-ball privatizers includes such prominent Trumpteers as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (a former Wall Street huckster from Goldman Sachs), and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (a former corporate-hugging congress critter from South Carolina). Both were involved in setting up Trump’s shiny new task force to remake our US Postal Service. It’s like asking two foxes to remodel the hen house.

Trump himself merely wanted to take a slap at his political enemy, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, by jacking up the prices the postal agency charges to deliver Amazon’s packages. The cabal of far-right corporatizers, however, saw Trump’s temper tantrum as a golden opportunity to go after the postal service itself. So, instead of simply addressing the matter of package pricing – Shazam! – the task force was trumped-up with an open-ended mandate to evaluate, dissect, and “restructure” the people’s mail service, including carving it up and selling off the parts.

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America's War

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

America’s political history has been written in the fierce narrative of war. Not our country’s many military clashes with foreign nations – but our own unending war for democracy in the USA.

Generation after generation of moneyed elites have persisted in trying to take wealth and power from the workaday majority and concentrate both in their own hands to establish a de facto American aristocracy. Every time, the people have rebelled in organized mass struggles against the monopolists and financial royalists, literally battling for a little more economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity. And now, the time of rebellion is upon us again, for We the People are suddenly in the grip of a brutish level of monopolistic power.

Corporate concentration of markets, profits, workplace decision-making, political influence, and our nation’s total wealth is surpassing that of the infamous era of robber barons. Apple, which just became the first US corporation to reach a stock value of 1 trillion dollars, is now larger than Bank of America, Boeing, Disney, Ford, Volkswagon, and 20 other brand-name giants combined. And the powerful tech industry is now controlled by just five superpowers – Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Netflix – which raked in half of this year’s stock price gains by the 500 largest corporations. Indeed, the recent gold rush of corporate mergers has created mega-firms, shriveling competition in most industries – airlines, banks, drug companies, food, hospitals, hotels, law firms, media, oil, etc.

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Gentrification shreds the fabric of our cities while making rich developers even richer

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

When I moved to Austin in 1976, I lucked into finding a small, dog-run style house that must have had a lot of dogs running through it over the years, for it was pretty run down. That was good, though, because it meant I could afford it on my minimalist salary. Located in a working-class neighborhood just off of South Congress Avenue, the house was about 100 years old and needed a lot of work, but it suited me just fine. As did the mixed-race neighborhood of striving musicians, retirees, ex-hippies, unemployed writers, cab drivers, and several marijuana peddlers. It was an unpretentious, genuinely eclectic community of laid-back, free-spirited Austinites. (Our unofficial slogan was, “We’re all here because we’re not all there.”)

We had plenty of bars, churches, and other places where neighbors would gather periodically in various groupings, but one spot was a magnet for the whole community, regularly pulling practically everyone in. The H-E-B, our area’s supermarket, was part of a mid-sized chain of Texas grocery stores named for its founder Howard E. Butt. The family smartly chose to market Mr. Butt’s initials, rather than draw attention to his namesake body part.) Our H-E-B was widely popular because its workers paid attention to the community they were in, stocking staples like 20-pound bags of frijoles, smoked ham hocks, and cornmeal-breaded catfish, as well as auto-repair parts and low-priced barbeque grills made from barrels.

Ironically, it was the store’s attentive connection to its customers that suddenly made me aware of an unsettling reality in the late 1990s: The neighborhood was fundamentally changing. My wake-up call came from my friend Molly Ivins, the bigger-than-life Texas populist and gloriously talented writer who also lived in our offbeat, Southside habitat. “Hightower,” she barked alarmingly into the phone, “you will not believe what I just saw them selling at the H-E-B.” Before I could muster a guess, Molly drawled out: “Por-ta-BELLOW mushrooms!”

Well, there it was–foodie evidence that gentrification had crept into our neighborhood without so much as a pretty please.

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