When I was just a tyke, cowboy television actors were marketed as role models and heroes for little backyard cowpokes like me, and we could send off a cereal box top to get a certificate making us "Pals of the Saddle" or some-such with Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy or other "heroes."
Cute for a four year-old. Less so for 57-year-old Jeff "Space Boy" Bezos.
Yet there he was in July — the gazillionaire profiteer, labor exploiter, and tax scofflaw who heads the Amazon online retail syndicate — all dressed up and playacting as a heroic conqueror of space. Marketed as some combination of the Wright brothers' innovation and the Apollo 11 moon landing, Little Jeff's trip on his private Blue Origin rocket ship was essentially a very expensive, high-tech carnival ride. The whole thing took only 11 minutes, barely got into suborbital space, achieved no scientific purpose, and did zero to enhance American prestige in the world.
As for personal genius or heroics, Bezos didn't invent or build the spacecraft, didn't have any role in flying it (the trip up and down was fully automated), and didn't face any cosmic unknowns (he didn't even have to wear a spacesuit). All he really did was buy the spacecraft — a cheap bauble for the world's richest man.
But he did get to dress up in a sort of space-style jogging outfit with his name and his Blue Origin corporate logo emblazoned on it. Then, like a little boy getting a cereal-box certificate proclaiming him a cowboy, when the diminutive mega-billionaire floated back to terra firma, he held a fake ceremony at which some former NASA official pinned a set of phony "astronaut wings" on him, custom designed by his own corporation. More pathetically, his corporate lobbyists are said to be appealing to Washington officials to award official astronaut wings to this uber-rich space tourist.
So, there you have the new pantheon of America's flight heroes: the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong ... and Jeff "Space Boy" Bezos. Did I mention "pathetic"?
I cheered when Bezos, the richest man on Earth, had himself rocketed into space. But then he came back down.
There's nothing irredeemably wrong about being rich — indeed, as Mark Twain put it, "I'm opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position." One good role model for handling wealth, rather than letting it handle you, is music superstar Dolly Parton. She donated a cool million bucks to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2020 to help finance its development of the Moderna vaccine that's now preventing millions of people from dying with COVID-19.
Then there's ugly rich, like Amazon kingpin "Space Boy" Bezos, who keeps spending gobs of his unsurpassed net worth on vainglorious purchases that end up revealing his essential worthlessness. Last year, he paid half a billion dollars for a yacht that's three football fields long and still not big enough to float his ego. So, last month, combining cluelessness with callousness, he actually ran a global media campaign to glorify himself for spending untold billions on his ego trip up to the edge of space. Back on Earth, he publicly blurted out that Amazon's underpaid and abused workforce should be applauded, because "you guys paid for all this."
Meanwhile, Wall Street speculators keep bloating Space Boy's personal fortune. On just one day last year, his wealth was jacked up by $8 billion ! One day! For doing nothing — he didn't work longer, harder or smarter. Well, he has been diligent about one task: tax dodging. Even though his wealth now tops $162 billion, he's had years in which he's paid zero income tax for the support of our nation.
But this year, Jeff suddenly became a philanthropist! Increasingly ridiculed as a self-indulgent rich jerk, he loudly announced he was giving $200 million to charitable causes. Wow — how generous. Except ... that's no sacrifice for Jeff, it's pocket change — doling out two big bills means he still has $161.8 billion in his vault.
We don't need his self-serving "charity"; we need a wealth tax to restore a bit of fairness and to support America's common good.
To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.