Category: From Jim Hightower

What’s scaring the bejeezus out of billionaires?

Jim Hightower

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

There’s a new political army on the march in America: Tromp-tromp-tromp they came, it’s the Billionaire Brigade!

It’s actually a very small army – only 749 Americans rank as billionaires. But they have a lot of firepower – collectively, they’ve amassed some $4-trillion in personal wealth and are now grabbing nearly all of the new wealth that our economy generates. In response to the extreme inequality their greed has created, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other Democratic leaders are proposing a widely-popular wealth tax on the opulence of this tiny group. And oh, what wails of anguish this has generated in the lairs of billionaires! They’re indignant that fortunes above $50-million would be assessed a teeny surtax to help fund education, health care, infrastructure, and America’s other essential needs.

So, with a rallying cry of Save the Poor Rich, the Billionaire’s Brigade seeks your pity: Mark Zuckerberg laments that taxing his gabillions would hurt charities; Michael Bloomberg suggests that the tax could turn America into Venezuela; and Wall Street baron Leon Cooperman actually teared up while wailing that a wealth tax would harm his family. As one money manager said, “These tax proposals are scaring the bejeezus out of people who have accumulated a lot of wealth.”

I don’t think there’s much Jesus in these people! The Biblical Jesus would bless Sanders, Warren, and the majority of Americans who favor a wealth tax to benefit the Common Good. No need to cry for the few hundred haughty families whose love of money would be only slightly dinged by this tax – every one of them would still be fabulously rich. Plus, they’ll be privileged to live in a country that’s a little more closely aligned with its people’s egalitarian values. And that’s priceless.

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Reposted from Hightower Lowdown

Where can Trump find a good farm policy?

Jim Hightower

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

Donald Trump’s idea of a good farm program seems to be “Hee Haw.” On a recent trip to Wisconsin, he drew guffaws from the state’s hard-hit dairy farmers by proclaiming that – thanks to his policies – the farm economy was looking good. “We’re over the hump,” he gloated.

Perhaps The Donald thought that farmers are rubes, unable to do simple math. But those dairy farmers were painfully aware that it costs them $1.90 to produce a gallon of milk, but the processing giants that control the milk market are paying them only $1.35 a gallon. That 55-cent-a-gallon loss quickly adds up to a huge loss of income, and a devastating loss of farm families – Wisconsin lost 638 dairy farms last year and another 551 so far this year.

Far from “over the hump,” farm prices have been further depressed by Trump’s tariff clash with China – US dairy sales to China fell by 54 percent in just the first half of this year. Meanwhile, monopoly power is crushing prices – an $8 billion behemoth named Dean Foods now controls 90 percent of Wisconsin’s milk market, empowering it to commit daylight robbery, blatantly stealing farmers’ product… and farms.

Yet, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue – the one national official who’s supposed to stand up for farmers – nonchalantly kissed them off, smugly declaring it natural that the big devour the small. So, he professes, there’s nothing he can do for family operators except tell them to “go out” of agriculture.

Perdue and Trump are simply inept stewards of America’s farm economy. Time for a change. One who is offering a path to a revitalized, family-farm-based food system that’ll break the corporate stranglehold over US agriculture is Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Download a summary of her comprehensive proposal for “A New Farm Economy” at ElizabethWarren.com/Plans/New-Farm-Economy.

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Here’s the straight skinny on Medicare for All

Jim Hightower

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

The British people have been widely admired for their steady demeanor in times of adversity–stiff upper lip and all that. Until Donald Trump, that is.

In June, our presidential popinjay descended on London with a bombastic proposition that caused the upper lips of the entire British population to quiver at once. There as a guest, and treated to the full pomp of a state visit, The Donald blurted out what he hailed as a “phenomenal” gift in the form of a new US-UK trade deal: He was offering to bring in America’s healthcare profiteers to start privatizing Britain’s National Health Service.

It’s possible that Trump was simply ignorant, unaware that Brits love their NHS, since its socialized plan provides quality care to all without families fearing they’ll be bankrupted or priced out of treatment by private insurance giants, hospital chains, or Big Pharma. Or possibly, he was hornswoggled by the right-wing pontificators of Fox News (Trump’s most trusted policy advisors) and their steady stream of lies about anything with the word “social” in it.

Last year, after seeing (What else?) a Fox News segment reporting that thousands of Brits were marching in protest of their health system, Trump smugly trumpeted that they were fed up with care-for-all socialism. But–oops–the uproar was actually in support of the NHS, demanding that the miserly Tory government strengthen it with “more staff, more beds, more funds.”

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Let’s decode Trump’s Afta-Nafta trade deal

Jim Hightower

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

In a very weird twist in his chaotic 2016 presidential campaign, Candidate Trump started sounding like a genuine, workaday populist, fuming at his rallies about the devastating effects of Nafta and other international trade deals, and how they’ve shafted America’s blue-collar workers. He was right, and The Donald promised his mad-as-hell working class he would not stand for it. Of course, the pampered son of privilege never meant it. And, sure enough, as president, Trump promptly sold out workaday Americans to his real base: The global corporate elite.

He’s now delivered to Congress his New! Improved! Nafta! It is a piece of Trumpscam that he rebranded–Ta-dah!–the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). This issue of The Lowdown is sounding the alarm about the extraordinary level of corporate avarice and malevolence that is baked into it. We’re urging all Lowdowners to pay attention, spread the alarm, and act while there is still time to fix it–possibly turning Trump’s raw deal into a good deal.

The pitch

“Keep your eye on the ball” is not only a core principle for baseball players, but also for us commoners trying to assess exactly what the spinmeisters of global trade are hurling at us. Their deals are and always have been large-scale hustles, filled with hypocrisy, deceit, and greed. Promoted as fair and good for all, they’re invariably rigged with profiteering schemes that lock into law advantages for corporations over the common good of consumers, the environment, labor, independent businesses, governments, and all other democratic forces.

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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

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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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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Union Matters

The Big Drip

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

A rash of water main breaks in West Berkeley, Calif., and neighboring cities last month flooded streets and left at least 300 residents without water. Routine pressure adjustments in response to water demand likely caused more than a dozen pipes, some made of clay and more than 100 years old, to rupture.

West Berkeley’s brittle mains are not unique. Decades of neglect left aging pipes susceptible to breaks in communities across the U.S., wasting two trillion gallons of treated water each year as these systems near collapse.

Comprehensive upgrades to the nation’s crumbling water systems would stanch the flow and ensure all Americans have reliable access to clean water.

Nationwide, water main breaks increased 27 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to a Utah State University study.  

These breaks not only lead to service disruptions  but also flood out roads, topple trees and cause illness when drinking water becomes contaminated with bacteria.

The American Water Works Association estimated it will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years to upgrade and expand water infrastructure.

Some local water utilities raised their rates to pay for system improvements, but that just hurts poor consumers who can’t pay the higher bills.

And while Congress allocates money for loans that utilities can use to fix portions of their deteriorating systems, that’s merely a drop in the bucket—a fraction of what agencies need for lasting improvements.

America can no longer afford a piecemeal approach to a systemic nationwide crisis. A major, sustained federal commitment to fixing aging pipes and treatment plants would create millions of construction-related jobs while ensuring all Americans have safe, affordable drinking water.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work