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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Lone Star State’s ‘Goober’ Governor Botches Pandemic Response

Harking back to the embarrassing days of Gov. Rick "Oops" Perry, my state of Texas is once again saddled with a Republican gubernatorial goober. Greg Abbott is this guy's name, and he's another incompetent right-wing ideologue whose botched handling of our state's COVID-19 crisis makes President Donald Trump look like a master administrator of public health.

Unfortunately for you non-Texans, Gov. Abbott's extreme gooberness is now surging across our borders to afflict people in your state. Before we go there, though, ponder his slapstick performance here, where he's been swatting futilely at the fast-moving coronavirus.

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The Plutocrats’ Knees Are On Your Neck, Too

Viewing the video of George Floyd's gruesome murder, one word in particular from him stuck in my head, one painful human utterance that conveys the horror of it all. "Mama," Floyd cried out in desperation and disbelief as his life was cruelly and senselessly suffocated in yet another brutal white-on-black slaying by so-called officers of the law.

This can't be America. Can it?

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Exploiting The Pandemic, Betsy DeVos Epitomizes Kakistocracy

Charles Dickens, writing about the inequality and social turmoil leading to the French Revolution, noted, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

So it is today, with the horrific COVID-19 killer both ravaging the globe and intensifying the inequality that was already rending social unity. Consider the experiences of one especially hard-hit group in our country: Native Americans. The Navajo Nation alone has become one of the worst of America's COVID hotspots, with a higher death rate than all but four states. Yet, in an example of the worst of times, Trump & Co. delayed disbursement of $8 billion in coronavirus relief funds that Congress had set aside for tribal governments. The disease raged through Indian Country for six crucial weeks while Trump officials sat on the money. People died.

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How Republicans Helped A Corporate Crony Rip Off PPP Millions

Monty Bennett was just another faceless right-wing millionaire on the long list of high-dollar donors to Donald Trump — until he suddenly surfaced in April as the nation's biggest bagger of government cash in the emergency Paycheck Protection Program.

The PPP is the $660 billion rescue package for America's thousands of small businesses, helping them keep people employed during today's shutdown of the U.S. economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bennett was among the first in line for payroll relief, applying for $126 million and immediately getting about 55 percent of that. But wait. There's nothing mom-and-popish about Monty's business. Operating through a maze of tightly interwoven financial trusts and corporate subsidiaries, he runs a sprawling Dallas-based conglomerate named Ashford Inc. that owns and operates 130 hotels and luxury resorts across the country including the Marriott Beverly Hills and the Ritz-Carlton in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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We’re (Almost) All In This Together

In this horrible time of economic collapse, it is truly touching to see so many corporate chieftains reaching out in solidarity to the hard-hit working class.

We know they're doing this, because they keep telling us they are — practically every brand-name giant has been spending millions of dollars on PR campaigns in recent weeks asserting that they're standing with us, declaring over and over, "We're all in this together."

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Pandemic Profiteers Overrun The Capitol

Wartime profiteering is an especially vile form of corporate greed, yet it has been as common in our country as war itself.

Indeed, during the American Revolution, assorted corrupt merchants and traders lined their pockets by controlling the supply and jacking up the prices of various goods they sold to the Continental Army and the general public. Often, though, feisty colonials struck back at the gougers. In 1777, for example, when a Boston merchant was found to be hoarding imports of coffee and sugar to create an artificial shortage so he could charge the area’s families exorbitant prices, a band of enraged Beantown women took matters into their own hands. They beat up the guy and confiscated his stock!

We could use a roving gang of indignant citizens today to confront the shameful greed of such corporate scammers as Boeing, American Airlines and Marriott, as well as such billionaire hucksters as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. They are among a new breed of pandemic profiteers that have rushed to Washington, shoving aside millions of workers, small businesses, poor people, students, nonprofits, farmers, cities and all other devastated victims of the COVID-19 crisis, demanding that corporations be first in line for a massive government rescue.

Take Boeing. Please! Already disgraced as a death-plane producer, its lobbyists brazenly swarmed into the White House and Congress, pleading for $60 billion from taxpayers to protect its profits. Rather than booting Boeing and other uber-rich panhandlers out the public door, President Donald Trump and GOP Congress critters obsequiously soothed the fevered brows of these champions of socialist capitalism with a half-trillion-dollar handout of the people’s money.

Which corporations would be favored? No telling. How much would each get? We’ll tell you later, maybe. What’s the criteria? Don’t ask. What about the workers and suppliers? Let them apply for food stamps. Aren’t you cutting food stamps? Shhhhh.

Luckily, enough Democrats had enough moral fortitude to block some of the grossest giveaways in the Republicans’ $500 billion corporate boondoggle, but the greedy, profiteering giants should not be given a single dime until the real and urgent needs of the people are met. Profiteers should be last in line … or turned over to descendants of those Boston women from 1777.

Meanwhile, glorious news about the coronavirus crisis itself! The renowned professor of pandemicology, Dr. Donald Trump, has found a magical medical antidote for the disease that had eluded lesser scientists: The Peter Cottontail Solution.

While sitting in the Rose Garden for a virtual Fox News town hall, the resident White House pandemicologist said that it suddenly dawned on him that, hippity-hoppity, Easter’s on its way! So, he went on to declare that he was ready to lift all those pesky health restrictions and “have the country opened up” by Easter, just two and a half weeks away.

Would our public health crisis be over then? Dr. Trump said he didn’t worry about such factual details. He explained to the Fox audience, “I just thought it was a beautiful time,” noting that all of the nation’s churches could fill up on that Sunday, bringing people together in celebration of his reawakening of the moribund economy.

But wouldn’t such a holy mass gathering actually reinvigorate the diabolical COVID-19 pathogen, spreading its destruction further, deeper and longer? Sure, said the good doctor. “You are going to lose a number of people,” he said. But Wall Street and Corporate America are crippled by employees’ staying home, so “We have to get back to work.” This rallying cry for workers to pump up the sagging stock market by promptly returning to their offices and factories amounts to a crass “Die for the Dow” ethic espoused by Wall Street barons and billionaires.

Of course, for the cold inhumanity of such a dreadful policy idea to be made clear, it needs to be officially embraced as “Texas Stupid.” Sure enough, one of my state’s right-wing politicos, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, lunged into the national spotlight of Fox News Tuesday night to one-up Trump. He blathered that returning America to full economic throttle pronto is worth sacrificing the lives of “those of us who are 70-plus” years old. “Let’s be smart about it,” Lt. Dan added, thus demonstrating to millions that he and this idea are even dumber than a dust bunny.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

What Does “Small Government” Buy Us?

Suddenly, America is a nation of socialists, asking in dismay, “Where’s the government?”

These are not born-again Bernie Sanders activists but everyday people of all political stripes (including previously apolitical multitudes) who’re now clamoring for big-government intervention in their lives. Nothing like a coronavirus pandemic to bring home the need that all of us have — both as individuals and as a society — for an adequately funded, fully functioning, competent government capable of serving all. Alas, as everyone can see in our present moment of critical national need, government today has been reduced to a rickety medicine show run by an inept, small-minded flimflammer peddling laissez-fairyland snake oil.

“We have it totally under control,” President Donald Trump pompously declared after the first U.S. case was confirmed in January. As it began rapidly spreading out of control in February, he tweeted nonchalantly, “It will all work out well,” adding, “We’re doing a great job.” But an increasingly anxious public found that reliable test kits couldn’t even be purchased from Trump’s hollowed-out government health agencies. Still, he shrugged off all concern and responsibility: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” Not exactly a can-do Rooseveltian response to a national crisis, but he stayed blase, denying scientific reality and assuring us, “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

Of course, it hasn’t, and by March, the inconvenient fact of a rising death toll exposed this imposter of a president as incompetent, uncaring … and silly. So, after weeks of the complete absence of White House leadership, a deadly pathogen is raging practically everywhere across our land; unknown millions of us are being infected; a “closed indefinitely” sign has been hung on the American economy; and even our people’s social and civic interactions — the essence of community life — have been halted.

Right-wing politico Grover Norquist once said he wanted a government so small he could “drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Trump is now showing us what such a small-minded government looks like. And what it costs us.

Suddenly, social distancing has become the official ethical standard for human relationships, abruptly supplanting eons of ingrained communal behavior by us humanoids (handshakes, hugs, pub life, ceremonial gatherings, etc.). Awkward. Disconcerting. Isolating.

Yet, as we frantically scramble to deter the health ravages of COVID-19 and grapple with the global economic devastation it’s causing, we might benefit by pondering how social distancing is a self-inflicted cause of the contagion’s disastrous spread. For some 40 years, American corporations and governments have colluded to push economic, political and social policies that have intentionally distanced the financial fortunes of the wealthy from the well-being of the workaday majority.

Consider the interrelationship of multimillionaires with the unseen kitchen staff of restaurants where they dine. To further enrich themselves, such multimillionaires have forced low-wage policies on food preparers, denied health coverage for them and lobbied to kill proposals to provide paid sick leave. So, one kitchen worker sneezes. He or she is infected with coronavirus but doesn’t know it due to having no health care coverage for testing. Even though running a fever, the staffer must come to work so as not to lose the job. Later, somewhere a multimillionaire sneezes. After all, COVID-19 doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor.

The very proposals that plutocrats have been blocking for years (living wages, “Medicare for All,” paid sick leave, family medical leave, free college and trade school tuition, home health care and others) are exactly what a sane government and egalitarian economy would adopt to fend off the wholly destructive inequality that now confronts every American.

While we’re now forced to temporarily distance ourselves from one anther, the lethal disease our country has is the widening separation of rich elites from the rest of us. And the cure is a national push for renewed social cohesiveness . As a friend and fellow writer recently put it, COVID-19 “puts into focus a biological, psychological, economic, and socio-political fact we too often deny: We are a species of completely interdependent beings.”

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

Trump Flees Afghanistan, But America Is Still There

It's over. Donald the Dealmaker says that he has ended America's long nightmare in Afghanistan, finally terminating 18-plus years of grinding war (the longest in U.S. history). After more than 2,400 Americans killed (another 20,000 wounded), more than 100,000 Afghan citizens killed (countless more maimed) and roughly $2 trillion wasted, Trump is crowing that he's negotiated an end to the ridiculously expensive and pointless military adventure.

Only … he hasn't. His flimsy four-page document, signed with a group of Taliban officials on Feb. 29, is not an end to hostilities and does not require disarmament or even a cease-fire. It's just a cynical, face-saving device so Trump can withdraw a few troops and then claim in his reelection campaign that he's fulfilling his 2016 promise to end "endless wars." This so-called Afghan peace accord merely asks Taliban warlords to agree to — get this — a seven-day "reduction in violence." There's not even a clear statement on what constitutes a reduction or violence, much less any agreement on steps toward achieving real peace.

The deal is so weak that Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, could muster nothing but weasel words to describe it. "We are now on the cusp of having an opportunity which may not succeed," he mumbled. Taliban leaders, however, were not at all wishy-washy about signing, boldly staging a victory parade just before the ceremony and hailing the event as "a day of pride" for their win over "invader Americans." Few U.S. military leaders think the deal will stick, privately saying they doubt it'll even survive until our November election. Even as it was being signed, Pentagon chief Mark Esper emphasized that the U.S. "would not hesitate to nullify the agreement" and resume the war if the regional warlords act up, which some almost certainly will.

Oops … some already have. The seven-day hiatus in hostilities promised by Trump's peace ploy was violated just three days after it was signed! On March 3, the Taliban mounted 43 attacks on security checkpoints run by the U.S.-backed Afghan military, killing at least 25 of our allied soldiers. This was followed the next day by our own drone attack on the Taliban fighters. Embarrassingly, this sudden re-eruption of outright war came only a few hours after Trump bragged to reporters that he had telephoned the Taliban's chief peace negotiator, who had assured him that Taliban leaders "don't want violence." Our wheeler-dealer-in-chief called it "a very good talk."

Talk aside, war is real, and it's not ended by a presidential PR job. Far from withdrawing from Afghanistan, Trump's hoked-up agreement actually creates conditions for more U.S. involvement, including his concession to release 5,000 Taliban fighters from Afghan prisons, summarily reversing military gains that Americans and allies died to make. Moreover, the deal extends U.S. entanglement by specifically committing our troops and taxpayers to continue backing and financing the weak Afghan military indefinitely — while also pledging to continue paying for and propping up this wobbly nation's notoriously corrupt, deeply divided and hopelessly incompetent government.

In short, as usual in a Trump deal, this one is all about him — far from extricating the U.S., it's an escape clause written for his political advantage.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Taliban is an inordinately complex and perplexing collection of regional warlords who resist all central governmental authorities. Not for nothing is this violent, inhospitable land of rural mountain wilderness known as the "graveyard of empires." While its tribalism and religious fundamentalism are repressive and primitive, its people have repeatedly outfoxed and outlasted such "conquering" powers as imperial England and the Soviet Union.

In dealing with them, poor Donald is simply in over his head, and as we know, he doesn't listen to advisors who might be smarter than he is about the treacherous nature of fighting the Taliban. Indeed, while Trump referred to the guy he telephoned on March 3 as "the leader of the Taliban," he's not. He's Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who's not an honored warrior but a career Taliban politician. As pointed out by the CIA's former chief of counterterrorism for Afghanistan, the mullah's contingent of dealmakers "are largely disconnected from and disrespected by the Taliban's senior leadership." Perhaps that's why our president's negotiated peace deal lasted three days.

The larger lesson, though, is that brute military force by an outside power — whether in Afghanistan, Vietnam or wherever next — is not a path to victory, much less peace. For years, even as former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump and their political enablers (generals, Congress and the media) were bragging that they were bringing democracy to Afghanistan, they were jiving and outright lying. As one strategic planner, Army Gen. Douglas Lute, admitted in 2015, "We didn't know what we were doing."

Tell that to the thousands who've died from the ignorance and lies of our so-called leaders.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

The Amazing Fall Of Donald Trump’s Wall

Big, high walls can be troublesome. Ask Humpty Dumpty. Or consider the Canaanite city of Jericho: According to a Biblical tale, its walls came tumbling down when Joshua and the Israelites encircled it and blew their horns.

However, for a real-life, epic story about wall troubles, ponder the trials and tribulations of our very own president. He trumpets that he is the most bodacious barrier builder of all, yet he can’t seem to get his one “big, beautiful wall” funded or even taken seriously, much less built. Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has continuously stamped his tiny feet and demanded that Congress shell out more than 10 billion of our taxpayers’ dollars to erect a monster of a wall across some 2,000 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico. Like a flimflamming snake-oil peddler, he rants that his magnificent edifice would magically keep “aliens,” “rapists,” “murderers,” “terrorists,” “drugs” and “cartels” from entering the U.S. from the south. But even when his own party controlled both houses of Congress, the presidency and the courts, his grand scheme went unloved, unfunded and unbuilt.

Still, he kept insisting … and persisting. In January, he directed his Customs and Border Control officials to put up a short section of his 30-foot-tall wall on the border at Calexico, California, to show the world how effective the Trump bulwark would be. Alas, though, the thing blew over! Not from a hurricane-force storm but from moderate winds topping out at only 37 miles an hour. The metal panels flung over into Mexico. Embarrassing.

More embarrassing was a personal visit Trump made to San Diego last September for a media event hailing a new supertech model of a wall that the master builder declared to be “virtually impossible” for violators to climb. Calling the design “amazing,” he used a Sharpie to sign his name on the structure, declaring to the media: “I tell you this strongly: No more people can come in.”

A month later, a climbing group in Kentucky built a replica of that wall and held an up-and-over competition. Winning time was 13.1 seconds! Sixty-five competitors easily topped it, including an 8-year-old girl and a guy who climbed it one-handed while juggling various items with his other hand.

Trump has, however, proved that one thing truly is impenetrable: his head. Absolutely no embarrassment, logic or factual evidence can enter his locked mind and deter his extravagant folly.

Remember when candidate Trump promised repeatedly that not only would he wall out all migrants crossing our Mexican border but — by gollies — he would also see to it that Mexico would pay the tab for his xenophobic wall?

Mexico hasn’t paid a peso … and won’t. So, just as he did in building many of his luxury condos and resorts, Donald Dealmaker ran to the government, demanding that it pony up the unlimited billions of dollars for his pet political project. Aside from a token appropriation in 2018, however, Congress has said, “Ummmm … no.”

But that’s no hill for a narcissistic climber. Unable to get tax money legitimately, Trump has simply stolen it, reaching into the Pentagon’s budget for military funding. Ignoring the constitutional mandate that only Congress is empowered to direct the flow of money from the people’s purse, Trump filched $6.1 billion from our military last year, snatched another $3.8 billion this month and intends to swipe at least another $3.4 billion before the year is out.

This executive “reprogramming,” as the White House euphemistically calls its daylight robbery, is being pulled off by masking Trump’s wall obsession as a “national emergency.” To fulfill the president’s whimsical political desires, Pentagon brass has been yanking funds for military equipment and construction projects from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard … and, ultimately, from our fighting forces.

Presidential autocracy aside, Trump’s massive larceny raises three other interesting issues of public morality. One: His trickery sets a precedent not only for future presidents but also for our young people’s behavior. Two: Our Congress critters, especially Trump Republicans, set a new standard of craven meekness in the face of this direct assault on their authority and our democracy. Three: The Pentagon, by simply kissing off a budget loss of more than $13 billion, saying it’s in excess of the military’s needs, is admitting that the war machine is routinely taking away too much of the public’s money.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

Health Care Profiteers Are Marketing Chicken Manure

When grassroots groups rise up against the corporate establishment trying to win some specific progressive change for the common good, the odds against them can seem daunting. As an old saying puts it: Where there’s a will … there are 1,000 won’ts.

Those won’ts tend to be moneyed powers making a killing from the status quo, so they’re dead set against any change. Such has certainly been the case in the decadeslong political struggle to ensure that every man, woman and child in our country gets decent health care as a human right. Today, even though we Americans pay by far the highest price for health care, most people are denied that right by our country’s profiteering, corporate-run medical industry, which treats care as a privileged commodity.

So many families are left out and maltreated by this dysfunctional system that more than 70 percent of Americans (including a majority of Republicans) now support replacing it with a “Medicare for All” publicly financed system that provides full health coverage for everyone, even as it saves us money.

So here come 1,000 screaming won’ts, rushing out to crush the people’s will. Such usual clusters of far-right plutocratic power as the Koch brothers’ billionaire club, Karl Rove’s political monkey wrenchers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce clique of giant corporations have deployed their forces. But the present system is so bad, and public support for Medicare for All has grown so large so fast, that the usual corporate dismissal of such ideas wasn’t working, spooking the profiteers.

Time for a powerhouse front group! Two years ago, the corporate won’ts met secretly in downtown Washington to set up an industrywide PR/lobbying juggernaut, giving it the stealth name of Partnership for America’s Health Care Future. Of course, what they care about is the future of their rip-off profits, and they’ve committed hundreds of millions of dollars and hired an army of more than 200 lobbyists to pound the public and Congress with a nuclear level of propaganda and raw political deceit.

This Partnership of Profiteers is Washington politics at its worst — a handful of cynical self-interests using cloaks, dark money and lies to rig the system for corporate profits at the expense of human health and political morality.

As former President Lyndon Johnson used to say about special interests trying to get his support to pass some blatantly self-serving legislation: “I may not know much, but I do know the difference between chicken s—- and chicken salad.”

Yet, chicken manure is all that the corporate health complex has to work with as it frantically tries to defend its current system of mass malpractice. After all, as most Americans have learned the hard way, the corporatized “care” of profiteering insurance giants, Big Pharma and hospital chains grossly overcharge us while constantly trying to shortchange or outright deny care to millions of our families.

So, unable to win public support on their own merit, the corporatists and their hired political hacks are going all out to continue their profit gouging and keep control of America’s dysfunctional system. They’re running a multimillion-dollar PR and lobbying campaign of lies to trash and kill all reforms that would deliver quality, comprehensive care to everyone , at far less cost than they can deliver.

The profiteers masquerading as a Partnership for America’s Health Care Future warn ominously that such reforms as Medicare for All and a public option for health insurance would take away people’s “choice” and their “control” over health care.

Hello … we presently have no choice or control. Our “care” is managed by a handful of drug and hospital monopolists whose primary objective is not improving our health but fattening their profits. And the undeniable, ugly truth is that the “Partnership” fattens its profits by shortchanging our care.

That’s one reason the American Medical Association and others are dropping out of the “Partnership’s” political front. Honest health care practitioners don’t want to be part of its fraud and its chicken manure PR campaign.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

Change Is Coming: Warren’s Plan For A ‘New Farm Economy’

As we hurtle into the 2020s, the future of our food economy (and food itself) remains a fiercely contested competition between diametrically opposed visions: a negative pole consisting of the concentrated forces of corporate agriBusiness, which view the dinner plate strictly in terms of their own profit margins, and a positive polarity of family farmers, consumers, food artisans, environmentalists and other grassroots advocates of agriCulture, who envision our food future from the ethical perspective of sustainability and democratic control.

Of course, in this Time of Trump, the corporate interests rule national policy. If there ever was any doubt about which vision the Trumpeteers would push, it was erased by the little-known fellow he appointed to head the Department of Agriculture: Sonny Perdue of Georgia. Hailing from the No. 1 peanut-producing state in the country, Sonny has proven to be the biggest goober of all. As chief of the agency created by former President Abraham Lincoln specifically to assist America’s small farmers and rural communities, Perdue has been AWOL, blithely reclining in his ornate Washington office while farm prices have continued to plummet, bankruptcies have soared and farmer suicides have surged.

Bizarrely, this no-show has even found great hilarity in his constituents’ crises. In August, when producers began publicly protesting the increasing financial pain that President Donald Trump’s trade games with China were inflicting on them, their ag secretary responded with snark. “What do you call two farmers in a basement?” he asked at an ag industry gathering. “A whine cellar,” he guffawed.

Then, in October, Perdue suddenly bared his corporate soul by impersonating Earl Butz. You might recall that Butz, former President Richard Nixon’s secretary of agriculture, had infamously commanded family farmers to “get big or get out,” warning them to “adapt” to the corporate-dictated food economy he was promoting, “or die.” Likewise, appearing at a Wisconsin dairy industry expo, Perdue rose on his hind legs and smugly lectured the state’s hard-hit farmers on the theoretical framework of Trumpenomics: “In America,” he icily instructed, “the big get bigger, and the small go out.” So there you have it — the Sonny & Donnie farm program boils down to two words: Adios, chumps!

By far the most abundant commodity produced under the corporate-centric agriculture policy that’s been in place for 50 years is not corn, cotton or cattle but stupidity. While some years have been worse than others, Washington’s overall policy approach has consistently exploited farmers, our land and water, agricultural workers, taxpayers, food quality and rural communities — all to further enrich the handful of monopolistic profiteers that now control both the policy and policymakers. And we’re presently in year six of the worst farm crisis since the disastrous 1980s.

But hark! What light is this that glows on yon horizon? Why, it’s some new policy ideas that are emanating not from corporate front groups, Congress or other bastions of the status quo but from the grassroots. Family farmers themselves have coalesced with other political outsiders and victims of Big Ag to put forth a complete overhaul of industrial agribusiness policies, supplanting them with sensible, democratic approaches to serve the common good. The most cohesive and comprehensive compilation of these solutions has come from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan for “a new farm economy,” which offers the big structural changes necessary to, in her words, “break the stranglehold that giant agribusinesses have over our farm economy.” Her proposals have literally percolated up from the grassroots, for her ag “brain trust” primarily consists of dirt farmers and rural advocates. In dozens of small gatherings across Iowa and elsewhere, these ground-level, hands-on experts have hammered out pragmatic ideas that really would work to produce a democratic and sustainable farm prosperity.

Building on the successful “supply management” approach of the New Deal, Warren’s proposal stops the constant “overproduction of commodities,” which keeps busting farm prices and is drastically straining our environment; cuts billions from taxpayer subsidies that mainly go to wealthy agribusiness operations; provides effective incentives to get farmers to convert swaths of their land from intensive production to conservation practices that mitigate climate change; strengthens and enforces anti-trust laws to break up and prevent ag monopolies that are bilking farmers; provides hands-on assistance to help farmers, workers and rural communities build local and regional systems to free them from dependence on multinational food giants; and purposefully expands opportunities for beginning, female and racially diverse farmers.

Just as corporate powers have spent half a century rigging the food economy to serve their selfish interest, so can we create a new one to serve the common interest. The place to start is with a plan: Visit Warren’s website  for her full farm plan.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

When Charity Is A Mask For Brutal Exploitation

Our society has coined expressions like “philanthropist” and “season of giving” to encourage and hail people’s charitable spirit.

Look on the flip side of those shiny coins of generosity, however, and you’ll find that they’re made of a base substance of societal selfishness. After all, the need for charity only exists because we’re tolerating intentional injustices and widespread inequality created by power elites.

A supremely wealthy society (which so loudly salutes its historic commitment to the deeply moral values of fairness, justice and equal opportunity) ought not be relegating needy families and essential components of the common good to the vicissitudes of a season and the whims of a few rich philanthropists. Yes, corporate and individual donations can help at the margins, but they don’t fix anything. Thus, food banks, health clinics, etc. must constantly scrounge for more charity, while big donors have their “charitable spirit” subsidized with tax breaks that siphon money from our public treasury.

Especially offensive is the common grandiose assertion by fat-cat donors that charity is their way of “giving back” to society. Hello — if they can give so much, it’s probably because they’ve been taking too much! As business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin points out, “All too often, charitable gifts are used … to make up for the failure of companies to pay people a living wage and treat their workers with dignity.”

Sorkin notes that it’s not just the unemployed who rely on food banks but janitors, nannies, Uber drivers, checkout clerks and others who work full time but are so poorly paid they can’t make ends meet. That’s not a sad charity case but a matter of criminal exploitation by wealthy elites — and the charitable thing to do is to outlaw it and require a living wage for all.

We must shift from charity to fundamental structural change. “The aim,” says Sorkin, “should be to create a society where we don’t need places like food banks in the first place. … we should be trying to put the food banks out of business.”

In the absence of structural change, our society relies on charity and government programs to address issues regarding poverty and hunger. While it’s fashionable in many enclaves of the rich to bemoan government programs that use tax dollars to aid the poor, guess who receives by far the fattest benefits from the public treasury. Bingo — if you said the rich!

Consider recent actions by President Donald Trump’s secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue. He’s been dubbed the “Georgia Goober” for his ignorant insults and preposterous policies, and he issued a harsh new regulation in December that’s both. It slaps poor people living in depressed areas with a sneering work requirement in order to be eligible for meager food stamp benefits, which amount to only about $127 a month. Yes, Perdue is literally taking food from poor people, piously claiming it’ll help them become self-sufficient. “(G)overnment dependency has never been the American dream,” preached Purdue, who has personally been dependent on a government check for more than two decades.

Crass hypocrisy, however, is integral to the Donnie & Sonny policy approach. Last year, they pushed out a $28 billion tax bailout for farmers impacted by Trump’s inept tariff tiff with China. Many U.S. farm families have been wrecked by Trump’s failed ag policies, but they’re not the ones who got the Trump government’s helping hand. The bulk of the billions went to the biggest, richest agribusiness interests that neither needed nor deserved a public handout — about 75 percent of the total was taken by the largest 10 percent of farm corporations (including foreign-owned operations). And, unlike a food stamp recipient getting a pittance to buy a little bit of food, some ag-biz outfits pocketed more than $2 million each from us.

But wait. Trump and Perdue have more meanness in store for the poor. They’re pushing another federal regulation that’d cut off food stamps if a low-income family has barely $2,000 in “assets.” Hello — that means a family that has an old used car to get to their poverty-wage jobs would be denied food assistance.

What’s wrong with these shameful public officials who perversely pamper the rich while taking pleasure in punishing the poor? It’s immoral.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

Special Gifts For Special People

Ho-ho-ho. Wait till you hear about the gifts I gave to some of America’s power elites for Christmas.

To each of our Congress critters I sent my fondest wish that from now on, they receive the exact same income, health care and pension that we average citizens get. If they receive only the American average, it might make them a bit more humble — and less cavalier about ignoring the needs of regular folks.

To the stockings of GOP leaders who’ve so eagerly debased themselves to serve the madness of President Donald Trump, I added individual spritzer bottles of fragrances like Essence of Integrity and Eau de Self-Respect to help cover up their stench. And in the stockings of Democratic congressional leaders I put Spice of Viagra and Bouquet du Grassroots to stiffen their spines and remind them of who they represent.

For America’s CEOs, my gift is a beautifully boxed, brand-new set of corporate ethics. It’s called the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Going to pollute someone’s neighborhood? Then you have to live there, too. Going to slash wages and benefits? Then slash yours as well. Going to move your manufacturing to sweatshops in China? Then put your office right inside the worst sweatshop. Executive life won’t be as luxurious, but CEOs will glow with a new purity of spirit.

To the Wall Street hedge fund hucksters who’ve conglomerated, plundered and degraded hundreds of America’s newspapers, I’ve sent copies of Journalism for Dummies and offered jobs for each of them in their stripped-down, Dickensian newsrooms. Good luck.

And what better gift to the Trump family — Donald; Ivanka and Jared; Eric; Donnie Jr.; and the whole nest of them — than a wish that they live with one another constantly and permanently. No, really, each of you deserves it.

Yes, I have finally mastered the art of finding perfect gifts for people on my list — gifts that rise above crass commercialism and are genuinely appreciated by the people who receive them. I wholeheartedly recommend such gift-giving to you.

For example, I gave a goat to my mother, Lillie, for her birthday, even naming the animal after her. Although she was raised on a farm, Momma was 103 on her last birthday and really didn’t really want to tend to a goat — but she loved getting it. That’s because the beloved critter wasn’t delivered to her but to an impoverished family in Nepal that desperately needs the nutritional, economic and life-affirming benefits that can flow from something as basic as a goat.

Her gift — which indeed will keep giving — was made possible by Heifer International, a terrific charitable organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas, that copes with global poverty one animal at a time. Heifer publishes a gift catalogue that lets you and me make a donation and choose to send anything from a flock a baby chicks (for $20) to a water buffalo (for $250). Heifer International then places the animals with families around the world who put these living donations to work, lifting them from abject poverty. Not only does Heifer connect us to specific needs; it also has teachers and development experts on staff who work directly with the recipients to … well, to make the gifts work.

There are dozens of good groups that offer such gifts that matter. For example, one Christmas, my gift to Momma came from the catalogue of The Nature Conservancy. She became the symbolic owner of two acres in Appalachia that are part of the group’s conservation efforts.

For her — and for me — this kind of giving is a lot more satisfying (and a lot truer to the spirit of giving) than buying another thing that she doesn’t need. For information about these groups and more, go to www.CharityNavigator.org.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

Can Powerless Nobodies Fight The Corporate Powers?

Can ‘Powerless Nobodies’ Fight the Corporate Powers?

The many sparkling bays along the Texas coastline of the Gulf of Mexico have long provided both a working-class living and a valued lifestyle for generations of shrimpers, oysterers and other fishing families. People and seafood, however, are not the only creatures here, for such wildlife as alligators and snakes also call many of these interconnected waterways home. Yet, by necessity and experience, the hardy people of the water have figured out how to share the bays so all creatures can get along.

But in the 1980s, a strange and invasive new critter entered Lavaca Bay, near the town of Port Comfort. Far from getting along, this species proceeded over the years to devour whole harvests of seafood, along with the livelihoods of local Gulf communities. This marauder was not some monster from the deep but a massive, 45,000-acre factory looming over Lavaca Bay. It is the Formosa Plastics Corporation, founded by the richest man in Taiwan.

As its name implies, Formosa is not here for seafood. It is the world’s second largest fabricator of polyvinyl chloride, the tiny, highly toxic pebbles and powders used to make the gabillions of plastic bags, pipes, bottles, etc. that are choking the Earth. For decades, the Formosa plant has cavalierly been dumping trillions of these poisonous pebbles and tons of the polyvinyl powders into its wastewater — which end up in Lavaca Bay.

That poisonous content then spreads to other bays, nearby waterways, the Gulf itself … and into the shrimp, oysters, fish and other creatures living there. The result has been species vanishing from these waters, creating economic and social devastation for families and port communities that rely on nature’s bounty.

Wait, isn’t this against the law? Of course, but petrochemical behemoths like Formosa have corrupted the law, turning Texas lawmakers and environmental regulators into their puppets. When leaders won’t lead, The People must, and that’s exactly what’s happening in this case. A defiant, determined former fourth-generation shrimper named Diane Wilson, along with a scrappy environmental coalition on the Texas Gulf Coast, have just won the largest citizen environmental lawsuit in U.S. history, forcing Formosa to stop its gross contamination of the bay, the local economy and the law.

It’s good to have a happy-ending story for the holidays — one that’s not sugar-plum sappy but genuinely uplifting.

It “feels like justice,” said Wilson in early December when a federal district judge OK’d a $50 million pollution settlement against Formosa Plastics Corporation. Judge Kenneth Hoyt, a Ronald Reagan appointee, had previously ruled that the Taiwan plastics conglomerate was a “serial offender” whose violations of America’s Clean Water Act were “extensive, historical, and repetitive.” How the case got there is as important as his ruling.

Wilson, the indefatigable local shrimper, had been trying for some 30 years to get state and national officials to stop Formosa from dumping poisonous plastic chemicals into the Lavaca Bay ecosystem. The corporation’s deliberate contamination was destroying seasonal seafood harvests upon which she and thousands of Gulf Coast fishing families relied. She was ignored by those in power and then ridiculed and then demonized. Yet this lady of the sea wouldn’t quit. She kept speaking out, mounted hunger strikes and even tried to sink her own beloved shrimp boat in the bay as a public protest.

Nothing. But then, backed by a volunteer network of regional environmentalists and a savvy group of nonprofit legal service lawyers, Wilson filed the private citizens lawsuit in July 2017 that came to trial this spring in Judge Hoyt’s courtroom, finally producing an overdue measure of justice. The $50 million settlement doesn’t go to Wilson or the other plaintiffs but to projects that will revitalize local marine ecosystems and create a shrimping and oyster cooperative for local families. It also will pay for citizen-group monitoring of Formosa’s compliance with the judge’s orders for “zero discharge” of its plastic pollutants.

Even more significant than the money that the Formosa settlement provides, this victory sets a major legal precedent to advance other citizen lawsuits against polluters, requiring that the polluters (not taxpayers) pay for their messes. Who needs Santa Clause when “We the People” can deliver such democratic gifts to ourselves? For information on the details and impact of this remarkable people’s victory, go to the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid website.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

Tax The Rich Is No Longer Just A Slogan

There’s nothing inevitable about inequality. It’s an injustice that the moneyed powers and their political hirelings have chosen. We the People can choose a brighter path, one that bends toward justice, starting with a wealth tax such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to apply a 2 percent per annum wealth tax only to net worth over $50 million and another 1 percent to households worth more than a billion bucks.

But how can we best the billionaires who buy the political clout to push through laws that the great majority opposes (such as 2017’s Donald Trump-Mitch McConnell trillion-dollar tax giveaway to the rich) and best their brawny political blockers? Not by going around them but by pushing right through them.

First, years of rank avarice and arrogance have caught up with the superrich and their enablers, turning “billionaire” into a synonym for “thief” and focusing rising public anger on the inequality they’ve fostered.

Second, that anger has generated a stunning level of popular enthusiasm for the wealth tax. A New York Times survey found that 6 in every 10 Americans favor Sen. Warren’s plan:

75 percent of Democrats

57 percent of independents

Wow! 51 percent of Republicans

Third, not all billionaires are jerks. Eli Broad, a former union auto worker who built two Fortune 500 corporations, is a leader among a small group of superrich Americans who

believes “it’s time for those of us with great wealth to commit to reducing income inequality, starting with the demand to be taxed at a higher rate than everyone else.” He says: “The old ways aren’t working, and we can’t waste any more time tinkering around the edges. … I have watched my wealth grow exponentially thanks to federal policies that have cut my tax rates while wages of regular people have stagnated and poverty rates have increased. … A wealth tax can start to address the economic inequality eroding the soul of our country’s strength. I can afford to pay more, and I know others can too. What we can’t afford are more shortsighted policies that skirt big ideas, avoid tough issues and do little to alleviate the poverty faced by millions of Americans. There’s no time to waste.”

In June, 20 other extremely rich Americans sent an open letter to all 2020 presidential candidates, declaring: “America has a moral, ethical and economic responsibility to tax our wealth more. … (W)e’re joining the majority of Americans already supporting a moderate wealth tax. We ask that you recognize its strong merit and popular support, and advance the idea to tax us a little more.”

So far, most of the Democrats have promised to do just that if elected, with Sen. Bernie Sanders and Warren supporting game-changing tax plans that would shift significant wealth to benefit the poor and middle class. No word from Trump.

“Tax the Rich” is no longer just a political slogan; it’s a national necessity and a moral imperative. And, at long last, it’s actually within our reach. The bulk of billionaires and their right-wing political networks will fight furiously against even the idea that our society should strive for tax fairness. Indeed, their hubris is so extreme that they’re already clamoring for Trump and GOP senators to hand them some $200 billion more in tax cuts this year. But, as columnist Paul Krugman has observed, “they do so more or less in secret, presumably because they realize just how unpopular their position really is.”

More insidious are the out-of-touch establishment pundits and milquetoast Democrats who are aloof from the growing public anger at the raw unfairness of today’s system. They blandly propose small and slow baby steps, policies that would close a couple of tax loopholes without disturbing the basic structure of inequality. If the meek ever inherit the earth, these people will be land barons!

The stakes are enormous, for this is not finally about arcane tax matters but a struggle for America’s essential egalitarian idea that we’re all in this together. The proposal for a bold, unabashedly progressive wealth tax is a rallying cry for grassroots rebels to join forces and work together to reassert America’s historic democratic promise.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

What’s Scaring The Bejeezus Out Of Billionaires?

There’s a new political army on the march in America, moving forcibly into the 2020 presidential campaign. Tromp, tromp, tromp they come — it’s the Billionaire Brigade!

It’s actually a very small army — only 749 Americans rank as billionaires — but they have lots of firepower. Collectively, they’ve amassed some $4 trillion in personal wealth, and they now wield the financial and political clout to grab nearly all of the new wealth that our economy creates. Understandably, their extreme avarice and the inequality they’ve created have spurred populist outrage among the vast majority of workaday Americans who’re being stiffed by plutocratic elites.

In one response, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic leaders are proposing a widely popular wealth tax on the opulent riches being amassed and hoarded by this tiny group — and ho, what wails of anguish this legislation has generated in the lairs of billionaires! They’re indignant that fortunes above $50 million would be assessed for a teeny surtax to help fund education, health care, infrastructure and America’s other essential needs.

So, the Billionaire Brigade has organized a PR blitz to try to change the public opinion. With a rallying cry of Save the Poor Rich, we have such spectacles as Mark Zuckerberg lamenting that taxing his gabillions would hurt charities; Michael Bloomberg suggesting that the tax could turn America into Venezuela; Bill Gates moaning that it would eliminate rich people’s incentive to get up and go to work every day; and Wall Street baron Leon Cooperman actually tearing up while complaining on a cable news show that a wealth tax is a “morally, and socially, bankrupt” idea that would harm his family. As one money manager said of his elite clients, “These tax proposals are scaring the bejeezus out of people who have accumulated a lot of wealth.”

“Bejeezus?” I don’t think there’s much Jesus in these people! The Biblical Jesus I learned about in my childhood 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 will be only slightly dinged by this tax — every one of them will 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.

We might expect that billionaires, corporate chieftains and Koch-funded right-wingers — and the Koch brothers’ bought-and-paid-for Republican Party — would be howl-at-the-moon opponents of a wealth tax, “Medicare for All” and other big progressive ideas created to help improve the circumstances of America’s workaday majority. But … Democrats?

Unfortunately, yes. Not grassroots Dems, who strongly favor such populist proposals, but a gaggle of don’t-rock-the-corporate-boat, fraidy-cat Democrats. These naysayers are the party’s insider elites (old-line pols, lobbyists and high-dollar funders) who’re suddenly screeching frenetically at Democratic candidates, demanding that they back off those big proposals. Why? Because, they screech, being so bold, so progressive, so — well, so Democratic — will scare voters. As one meekly put it: “When you say Medicare for All, it’s a risk. It makes people afraid.”

Excuse me, but in my speeches and writings, I say “Medicare for All” a lot, and far from cowering, people stand up and cheer! Union members, women, people of color, small-business owners, nurses, farmers, musicians, the middle class and the poor. In fact, The New York Times has just reported that 81 percent of Democrats (and nearly two-thirds of independents) support Medicare for All. Eighty-one percent! Even apple pie doesn’t score that high. It’s simply a lie that the people are “afraid” of the idea of everyone getting public-financed health care.

So who really fears it? Three special interest groups: insurance company profiteers, Big Pharma price gougers — and the political insiders who count on funding from those corporations.

Not only is it a pusillanimous fabrication to claim that the people oppose any changes stronger than corporate minimalism; it’s also political folly. If the Democratic Party won’t stand up for the transformative structural changes that America’s middle- and low-income majority clearly wants and needs, why would those people stand up for Democrats? As the 2016 presidential election taught us so painfully, a whole lot of the working-class Democrats the party counts on … won’t.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

Which Food Future Will We Choose?

It’s time to talk turkey!

No, not the Butterball sitting in the Oval Office. I’m talking about the real thing, the big bird, 46 million of which we Americans will devour on this Thanksgiving Day.

It was the Aztecs who first domesticated the gallopavo , but leave it to the Spanish explorers to “foul up” the bird’s origins. They declared it to be related to the peacock — wrong! They also thought the peacock originated in Turkey — wrong! And, they thought Turkey was located in Africa — well, you can see the Spanish were pretty confused.

Actually, the origin of Thanksgiving is confused. The popular assumption is that it was first celebrated by the Mayflower immigrants and the Wampanoag natives in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. They feasted on venison, furkees (Wampanoag for gobblers), eels, mussels, corn and beer. But wait, say Virginians, the first precursor to our annual November Food-a-Palooza was not in Massachusetts; the Thanksgiving feast originated down here in the Jamestown colony back in 1608.

Whoa there. Hold your horses, Pilgrims. Folks in El Paso, Texas, say it all began way out there in 1598, when Spanish settlers sat down with people of the Piro and Manso tribes, gave thanks and then feasted on roasted duck, geese, and fish.

“Ha!” says a Florida group, asserting that the very, very first Thanksgiving happened in 1565 when the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine and friends from the Timucuan tribe chowed down on “cocido” — a stew of salt pork, garbanzo beans and garlic — washing it all down with red wine.

Wherever it began, and whatever the purists claim is “official,” Thanksgiving today is as multicultural as America. So let’s enjoy! Kick back; give thanks that we’re in a country with such ethnic richness; and dive into your turkey rellenos, Moo Shu Turkey, turkey falafel, barbecued turkey …

America certainly has an abundance of food (even though many Americans do not), yet we face a momentous choice of whether to pursue a food future rooted in the ethic of sustainable agriCULTURE — or one based on the exploitative ethic of agriINDUSTRY.

What better symbol of agri-industry’s vision of “food” than that ubiquitous Thanksgiving bird, the Butterball turkey? The Butterball has been hoisted onto our tables by huge advertising budgets and regular promotion payments to supermarkets. The birds themselves have been grotesquely deformed by industrial geneticists, who created breasts so ponderous that the turkeys can’t walk, stand up or even reproduce on their own (thus earning the nickname “dead-end birds”). Adding torture to this intentional deformity, the industry sentences these once-majestic fowl to dismal lives in tiny confinement cages inside the sprawling steel-and-concrete animal factories that scar America’s rural landscape — monuments to greed-based corporate “husbandry.”

As the eminent farmer-poet-activist Wendell Berry tells us, eating is a profound political act. It lets you and me vote for the Butterball industrial model or choose to go back to the future of agriculture, which is the art and science of cooperating with, rather than trying to overwhelm, nature. That cooperative ethic is the choice of the remarkable Good Food Uprising that has spread across the country in the past 30 years. Now the fastest-growing segment of the food economy, it is creating the alternative model of a local, sustainable, small-scale, community-based, organic, humane, healthy, democratic — and tasty! — food system for all.

To take part in the good-food movement and find small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets and other resources in your area, visit the LocalHarvest website.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites.