Posts from Jim Hightower

How to get Congress to reform our broken healthcare system

Jim Hightower

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

For $3.5 Trillion a year, shouldn’t we Americans have a world-class healthcare system? Yet, while we spend the most of any advanced nation in the world to get care (more than $10,000 a year per person), we get the worst results.

No surprise then, that the “Medicare-for-All” idea is now backed by 85 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Independents, and (get this) 52 percent of Republicans! So… why isn’t Congress responding to this overwhelming public demand for universal coverage?

I suspect that one big reason for Washington’s big yawn over the people’s plea for sweeping reform is that our lawmakers do not personally feel the financial pain and emotional distress that are inflicted on millions of regular Americans by a system built on private greed. After all, their health needs are met by a double-dose of the socialistic care that they so furiously deny to our families.

First, they are given big taxpayer-subsidies to cover the cost of their insurance with you and me paying about 72 percent of the price. But, second, there’s a secretive medical center located right in the US Capitol building that provides a full-blown system of – shhhhh – healthcare socialism to our governing elites.

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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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Trump to Working Class: 'Adios, Chumps'

Jim Hightower

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

Congratulations on that nice pay raise you got last year, a 7% hike—wow!

Seven percent might not sound all that big, but after 40 years of stagnant wages, even a small uptick can help cover some of your old credit card bills or get an upgrade on your 10-year-old pickup.

Oh, wait ... You say you didn't get 7%? Oops, my mistake. It was the CEOs of corporate giants who reported to the Associated Press that they enjoyed a median jump of 7% last year. And as their paychecks were already king-size, that uptick amounted to an extra $800,000 in their take-home, for a median yearly income of $12 million each. Bear in mind that "median" means half of the corporate bosses grabbed more than 7%. For example, David Zaslav, honcho of the Discovery television network, had a 207% boost in pay, raising his total take in 2018 to $130 million.

These lavish payouts to top-floor bosses—combined with a miserliness toward rank-and-file employees who actually produce the corporate wealth—is creating an untenable income disparity in corporate America, stretching inequality in our Land of Egalitarianism to the snapping point. The pay gap between aloof CEOs and typical employees nearly doubled last year at a range of corporate giants, from PayPal to CVS Pharmacy, and it tripled at Discovery. AP's recent survey of 340 major corporations found that compensation inequality is now so extreme that a middle-wage employee would have to work 158 years to make as much as his or her chief executive was given last year alone. This separation is widening at warp speed, propelled by the boundless greed and narcissism of so-called leaders like Zaslav. To amass as much pay as he pocketed in 2018, a typical Discovery employee would have to work 989 years.

When you hear corporate chieftains and such corporate cheerleaders as Donald Trump gloat that our economy is "booming," ask yourself: A boom for whom?

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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

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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Union Matters

PRO Act Would Put Power Back in Workers’ Hands

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

Between 1935 and 1965, union membership rose precipitously in the United States. Wages increased in tandem with productivity, benefits improved, the middle class blossomed and income inequality dwindled.

Those good times are over, however. After 1965, the rate of unionization steadily fell from the high of about 30 percent to 10.5 percent now. Wages stagnated after 1970, even as productivity increased. Income inequality rose to Gilded Age rates.

This was no accident. It was a result of a calculated campaign launched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and financially fed by corporations and right wing billionaires. They secured appointment of conservative, anti-union judges who ruled against unions. They bankrolled right-wing political candidates who passed anti-union legislation. And they subsidized anti-union organizations that taught corporations how to skirt the law and twist workers’ arms to defeat union organization efforts at workplaces.

Now, however, Democrats in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have introduced legislation intended to reverse the union slide by restoring workers’ rights. 

The Protecting the Right to Work (PRO) Act, introduced on May 2, would make it easier for workers to form unions and would more effectively punish employers that violate the rights of workers trying to organize.

The proposed law would facilitate unionization, which Democrats believe would raise workers’ wages and reduce income inequality. Union workers earn about 13 percent more than nonunion workers and receive better benefits and pensions.

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The Richest Fantasy

The Richest Fantasy