Category: From Jim Hightower

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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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?

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Forget shaming this do-nothing Congress. Stop paying them!

Jim Hightower

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

Want good quality, lower-cost health care for your family – and (what the hell, let’s think big here) for every man, woman, and (especially) every child in our society?

Here’s how we can finally get Congress to pass such a program: Step One – take away every dime of the multimillion-dollar government subsidy that Members of Congress get to cover their platinum-level health insurance. Let them have to live with the same exorbitantly-expensive, dysfunctional, and (let’s admit it) sick system of medical profiteering they’ve thrust on us. Eliminate all of their special treatments, including shutting down their “Office of the Attending Physician,” a little-known spot of pure, 100% socialized medicine conveniently located in our US Capitol to provide government-paid doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others who give immediate, on-the-spot attention to these special ones.

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The Koch Klan is funding a stealthy war against the principle of the Common Good

Jim Hightower

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

What’s happening to America? I mean the big America we thought we were building. Since 1776, We the People of this bountiful land have not only worked to meet our individual needs and achieve personal goals, but we’ve also worked collectively to build something that’s much bigger than any one of us, more important than any particular group, and more enduring than any single generation–namely, a “little-d” democratic society committed to the Common Good.

And, yes, we’re still a long way from achieving that ideal, but by fits and starts our nation has made real progress, thanks to 242 years of gutsy grassroots movements. Today, though, we need to face up to a shocking reality: There has been a coup against our national pursuit of the Common Good!

Few people are aware of it, for the coup has not been conducted as a single, bold, commando-style frontal assault. Rather, since the middle of the last century the perpetrators have mounted a sneaky, slow motion coup of attrition, moving methodically from one political venue to another, donning multiple organizational guises to strike down a law here, reverse a public policy there, demonize “others,” and ambush progressive groups all along the way. Consequently, over decades, the essential American idea that “we’re all in this together” has been steadily losing out to a diametrically opposed idea: “Each of us is on our own.

This bleak outlook is even recognized as a formal political doctrine: selfish individualism. Basically an ethic of greed, this “philosophy” is being advanced by a plutocratic elite that insists that the role of government is not to promote our common interests and do the will of the majority, but to protect the property and accumulated wealth of moneyed individuals from the rest of us. They are anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-union, anti-majority radicals who militantly declare: “I got mine, good luck getting yours and don’t even think of touching any of mine.”

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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