The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

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

Can America Follow Alabama’s Progressive Example?

Here are two terms that you don't expect to see together: "the state of Alabama" and "progressive leader." (OK, I'm a Texan and so have no standing to point at the rank regressiveness of any other state government ... but still, Alabama?) And yet — even with its well-earned reputation as a bastion of Jim Crow vote theft, plutocratic anti-worker policies and right-wing nutballism — the Camellia State has flowered as a model of strong progressive action in one area of critical public importance: quality child care.

It's a cliche to say, "our children are our future," but it's also true. Then why do we invest so little in our littlest ones, our future? Both in providing safe places for children of working parents and for boosting the education of pre-kindergarten tykes, America's child care system is a national disgrace. Moreover, the abject failure of state and national officials to meet this basic social need is spreading inequality, rolling back opportunities for women and severely restricting economic recovery.

How impressive is it, then, that Alabama officials (often vying to win that coveted 50th spot as America's worst state for meeting people's needs) have recently been setting the national standard for effective pre-K programs? Beginning 20 years ago with a small budget and eight classrooms, Alabama's investment in 4-year-olds now operates statewide in about 1,300 neighborhood and rural facilities. It prepares some 21,000 children each year to be "kindergarten-ready" — able to succeed from day one of entry into the K-12 educational years. A major factor in its success is a two-generation approach, not only educating the kiddos, but also providing support materials and coaching so that parents engage as their children's "first teachers."

Producing demonstrable results year after year, the state's public investment in children and families gets bipartisan support and funding from the Alabama Legislature. The program is voluntary, free and available to all, with special attention devoted to enlisting often-overlooked families in rural, poor and racial minority communities. "We evaluate everything through an equity lens," says Dr. Barbara Cooper, Alabama's secretary of early childhood education. "Everything" includes teachers. Rather than treating them as low-paid babysitters as so many programs do, Alabama is paying (and respecting) them as the professionals they are and investing substantial state money into their career development. "We are laser-focused on retaining the highest-quality educators and providers for our youngest learners," Cooper proudly says.

Alabama! If one of our poorest states can rise to meet this basic human need, what's wrong with the richest country in the history of the world? Nearly every other nation with an advanced economy (and some not-so-advanced) treats child care as a fundamental public good essential to nurturing children, families and the economy. But our US of A relegates millions of working parents and 21 million kids under 5 to the tender mercies of a for-profit market, with providers ranging from impossibly expensive to the helter-skelter messes of unlicensed Kiddie Korrals. The right-wing super-nationalists who mindlessly salute the U.S. as "exceptional" fail to note what is actually exceptional about our "child care system": It is such a shambles that it can't even be called a system, much less caring.

For the past decade, independent journalist and economic analyst Bryce Covert (brycecovert.com) has documented the worsening social crisis caused by this abject failure of leadership. Her recent report paints a dire picture of huge and obvious need:

— Two thirds of our pre-K kids have both parents in the workforce, meaning care outside the home is essential.

— 85 percent of the parents of these young ones say that finding quality, affordable child care in their area is a problem somewhere between serious and impossible.

— Nationwide, the annual cost for a four year-old's day care averages about $13,000. In 28 states and D.C., an infant's care center costs more than an 18-year old's public college tuition.

Despite millions of working families finding this essential service unaffordable or even unavailable, political leaders have ignored their plight. What meager federal spending there is hasn't even kept up with inflation. At its lowest level in a dozen years, child care aid now reaches only 15 percent of qualified kids. (Note that some callous governors, including ours in Texas, divert chunks of federal child care subsidies to their own political priorities, such as border walls and corporate welfare.)

In 2017, even before COVID-19 abruptly shut down thousands of care centers, 40% of America's children lived in "child care deserts" — zip codes with zero programs or so few that two-thirds or more of the area's children are unable to get in. We need to do better for our children; they are the future, after all.

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

Why Is The ‘Quits Rate’ Skyrocketing Now?

As a writer, I get stuck every so often straining for the right words to tell my story or otherwise make the kind of progress I want on the piece I'm writing. Over the years, though, I've learned when to quit tying myself into mental knots over sentence construction and instead step back and rethink where my story is going.

This process is essentially what millions of American working families are going through this year as record numbers of them are shocking bosses, politicians and economists by stepping back and declaring: "We quit!" Most of the quits are tied to very real abuses that have become ingrained in our workplaces over the past couple of decades — poverty paychecks, no health care, unpredictable schedules, no child care, understaffing, forced overtime, unsafe jobs, sexist and racist managers, tolerance of aggressively rude customers and so awful much more.

Meanwhile, corporate bosses across America have been sputtering in outrage at workers this summer, spewing expletives about the fact that while the U.S. economy has been coming back ... workers (i.e., you) haven't!

"Labor shortage," they squeal, lazily accusing the workforce of mass laziness. Apparently, they charge insultingly that millions of workers got used to laying around during the pandemic shutdown, for there is now an abundance of jobs open for everything from restaurant work to nursing to construction work. So, the bosses and their political dogs bark that you people need to get back in the old harness and start pulling again.

Adding a nasty bite to their bark, several GOP governors cut off unemployment benefits to people, hoping to force them to work. Other businesses have proffered signing bonuses, free dinner coupons and other lures, while such notoriously mingy outfits as McDonald's and Walmart have even upped their wage scales in an effort to draw workers.

Yet ... no go. In fact, to the astonishment of the economic elite, the employment flow this year is going the other way! Record numbers of current workers in all sorts of jobs in every section of the country are voluntarily walking away. There's even an official economic measurement of this phenomenon called the "quits rate," and it is surging beyond anything our economy has experienced in modern memory — in April, 4 million workers quit; in May, another 3.6 million left, in June, 3.9 million said "Adios!" At a time when conventional economic wisdom dictates that, after a devastating 18-month downturn, people would be clinging to any paycheck they can get! The "quits" are so unexpected and so widespread that pundits have started dubbing this year "The Great Resignation."

What's wrong with people, why are such staggering numbers of Americans failing to do their jobs? But wait — maybe that's the wrong question. Maybe the corporate system's "jobs" are failing the people. Consider this: The most common comment by those who're walking out is, "I hate my job."

Specific grievances abound, but at the core of each is a deep, inherently destructive executive-suite malignancy: disrespect. The corporate system has cheapened employees from valuable human assets worthy of being nurtured and advanced to a bookkeeping expense that must be steadily eliminated. It's not just about paychecks, it's about feeling valued, feeling that the hierarchy gives a damn about the people doing the work.

Yet, corporate America is going out of its way to show that it doesn't care — and, of course, workers notice. So, unionization is booming, millions who were laid off by the pandemic are refusing to rush back to the same old grind, and now millions who have jobs are quitting. This is much more than an unusual unemployment stat — it's a sea change in people's attitude about work itself ... and life.

People are rethinking where their story is going and how they can take it in a better direction. Yes, nearly everyone will eventually return to work, but workers themselves have begun redefining the job and rebalancing it with life.

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

Trust Us, We’re Only Spying On You

Tick-tick-tick ... Big Tech's clock continues to move around and around nonstop to enhance corporate power and profits, but each sweep of its hands also captures more of our own privacy, labor and other civil rights.

At first, each new surge of artificial intelligence and robotic technologies can seem perfectly benign, beneficial ... even playful. Take "Spot," the robotic, four-legged "doggy" that actually has no spots, no endearing puppy eyes, can't bark, has no tail to wag and is very un-doggy despite its classic doggy name. In fact, this electronic critter is rather creepily nightmarish, but it's marketed by cute videos, including one of Spot mixing margaritas (admit it, that beats training your real dog to bring your slippers to you).

But you can't just adopt a Spot at your local animal shelter. Each artificial canine — manufactured by Boston Dynamics, which is owned by Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor Company — sells for about $75,000. So, who's for these pricey technetronic hounds? Mainly such big corporate outfits as oil refineries, mining operations and electric utilities that want an unblinking eye to monitor and record workers, visitors, intruders, protesters and all others who approach their facilities. Just one more layer of our cycloptic surveillance society.

But the point at which Spot loses all cuteness and turns into a menacing beast of authoritarianism is when it's turned into a police dog. There's been quite a public backlash, for example, against the Honolulu police department for deploying one of the robotic canines in a tent city for homeless people. In addition to outrage at the obvious class bias in siccing Spot on the homeless, the public outcry grew hotter when it was revealed that the police had used federal pandemic relief funds to buy their Spot!

As usual, corporate and government officials assure us that this latest tech marvel will be a good dog — it won't be used to spy on innocent people, be weaponized or otherwise bite us on the butt. Trust us, they say.

If you're a corporate employee, you know that something unpleasant is afoot when top executives are suddenly issuing statements about how committed they are to the dignity and respect of their employees.

For example, the public relations chief of a global outfit named Teleperformance, one of the world's largest call centers, was recently going on and on about how they're "committed to fair practices, equity ... ethics, and transparency" in the workplace. He practically pleaded for the world to "trust us," exclaiming that, "We value our people and their well-being, safety and happiness." Why did the corporation feel such a desperate need to proclaim its virtue? Because it's been caught in a nasty scheme to spy on its own workers.

Teleperformance — a $6.7 billion global behemoth that handles customer service calls for Amazon, Apple, Uber, etc. — saves money on overhead by making most of its 380,000 employees around the world work from their own homes. That can be a convenience for many workers, but a new corporate policy first imposed in March on thousands of its workers in Colombia puts an intolerable, "1984"-ish price on that convenience.

Teleperformance is pressuring their workers to sign an eight-page addendum to their employee contracts, allowing corporate-controlled video cameras, electronic audio devices and data collection tools to be put in their homes to monitor their actions. "I work in my bedroom," one employee noted. "I don't want to have a camera in my bedroom."

Neither would I, and I doubt that Teleperformance's $20-million-a-year CEO would allow one in his mansion. Uglier yet, the privacy-obliterating contract mandates that even the children of employees can be spied on at home and any images or audio of children picked up by the surveillance devices can be kept by the corporation. Nonetheless, the Colombian worker signed, because her supervisor said she could lose her job if she refused.

Of course, Teleperformance assures us that the data it collects on children is not shared elsewhere, and Apple also rushed out to state that it treats all of its contract employees "with dignity and respect." But how do we know that? Trust us, they say. Do you?

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

Good News! Communities Rising Against Corporate Grip On Local Papers

I live in a city with a hedge-fund-driven, corporate-run daily newspaper (Gannett Co. owns the Austin American-Statesman), and in my travels I've read dozens of similar outlets and talked to their readers. It's always the same story: Money managers have reduced most local newspapers to mere remnants of real journalism. They have slashed reporting staff and outsourced even the editing, layout, printing and other basic production work to remote, centralized hubs. Thus, most of the flavor and timeliness of the "local" paper is lost, replaced by chopped-up national material, two-day-old sports stories, product promotions and other filler.

Read Now Show less

There’s Rich, Ugly Rich, And Jeff Bezos

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.

Alden Global Capital Is Killing The Local Newsroom

If Hollywood wanted to make a gritty movie about the work of dig-it-out newspaper reporters who uncover big local stories of government doings and corporate misdeeds, it couldn't have chosen a more picture-perfect location than the boisterous newsroom of New York's Daily News. Once the largest-circulation paper in America, the Daily News embodied the rich history of brawny tabloid journalism, even serving as the model for DC Comics' Daily Planet, workplace of Clark Kent and Lois Lane in Superman.

But there'd be a problem with filming at the Daily News now: Its owners have eliminated the newsroom, leaving reporters, editors, photographers, et al. with no shared workplace. Yes, today, it's a newspaper without a newsroom.

This once-proud publication is now owned and run by Alden Global Capital, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund with a long record of buying papers on the cheap, selling off their assets and slashing pay and jobs. Media watchers have labeled these vulture capitalists the "ruthless corporate strip-miners" of local journalism. And sure enough, in the past couple of years Alden's profiteers have steadily plundered the paper, eliminating half of its newsroom staff. Then, last August, they told the remaining journalists they would no longer have a physical place to work.

To be clear, this closure was not a temporary measure to protect staff from COVID-19. Nor was the newsroom abandoned in favor of relocation to a less expensive office (an increasingly common cost-saving decision). Indeed, real newspaper publishers realize that the collective hive vitality of a newsroom, with its camaraderie and reportorial cross-fertilization, enriches the journalism.

But Alden is in the business of making money, not journalism. The Wall Street bosses emailed staff that they weren't selling the offices — just leasing them to other businesses, creating a new revenue stream to fatten the profits of the fund's investors.

Unfortunately, such crass corporate calculations are typical of the new model of a nationalized, "conglomeratized," and financialized "local" journalism that has already taken over thousands of papers in big cities, suburbs, and rural areas across America.

The scale and speed of that transformation have been breathtaking.

Alden's high-flying hedge funders have amalgamated the second biggest newspaper conglomerate in the country, having swallowed up more than 200 papers, including metro dailies in Baltimore; Boston; Boulder, Colorado; Chicago; Denver; Hartford, Connecticut; Norfolk, Virginia; Orange County, California; Orlando, Florida; San Jose, California, and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Last August, in one blow, the 30 papers owned by the venerable McClatchy family fell to yet another multibillion-dollar hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management (led by a former Wall Street junk-bond dealer). With this buyout, Chatham's clique of global speculators grabbed the major dailies in Charlotte, North Carolina; Fort Worth, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Lexington, Kentucky; Miami; Sacramento, California, and Seattle.

Then there's the colossal Gannett conglomerate, now owned by Japan's SoftBank Group. It runs USA Today, as well as more than 1,000 local papers across the U.S., including the main dailies in Austin, Texas; Burlington, Vermont; Cincinnati; Detroit; Des Moines, Iowa; Indianapolis; Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Nashville, Tennessee; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Phoenix; Providence, Rhode Island; Reno, Nevada; and Springfield, Missouri.

The operational mandate of newspaper hedge funds is absolute: Sacrifice local newsgathering and community interest to squeeze out every bit of profit and siphon it off to unknown investors in WhoKnowsWhereLand. The papers Alden acquired were reportedly profitable, with annual margins of around ten percent. But the hedge fund sharpies demanded that all their papers deliver 20 percent or more — a level at which the squeeze becomes deadly to quality journalism.

Community life cannot thrive without community news, which in turn depends on reporters and editors who are of the community and have the know-how, time, and resources to investigate, educate, expose, inform, entertain, and generally enlighten the citizenry. But what does some obscure, aloof money manipulator know or care about your community or its democratic vitality? Zilch, that's what.

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.

Banker Robbery And Corporate Mediocrity Add Up To Grand Larceny

Exciting news from Wall Street: Our wealth markets are booming!

For the 15th month in a row, everything from the Dow Jones Average to gold prices to bank stocks are rocketing to new records, showering us with wealth from above. Oh ... wait. Maybe you're one of the majority of workaday Americans who don't own stocks or gold, so maybe you're not celebrating Wall Street's big boom. But just chill, because conventional corporate wisdom assures us that the wealthy will invest their good fortunes in enterprises that someday, somewhere will create jobs and eventually will produce trickle-down gains for everyone.

Excuse me for rudeness, but let's take a peek at how those who're reaping today's big-buck bonanza are actually investing that wealth. Surprise — they're largely putting the increase into schemes that further benefit them ... not you!

Consider Wall Streeters themselves. While workers, Main Street businesses, poverty groups, et al. have been knocked down during the past several months, the big banks have been making money like ... well, like bankers. Just since this January, their stock prices have zoomed up by 28 percent. So, how are these moneyed elites spending this windfall? Not by making job-creating investments, but by simply giving the money to their own shareholders, including their own top executives — nearly all of whom are already among the richest people on Earth.

The main way they do this is through a sleight of hand called a "stock buyback." The honchos simply cash out the bulk of that 28 percent increase in the value of the banks' stock price, using that money to repurchase their banks' own stock from lesser shareholders. Hocus-pocus, this manipulation artificially pumps up the value of the stock these insider shareholders already own — making each of them even richer than rich, although they've done absolutely nothing to earn this increased wealth.

It's not a small scam. JPMorgan Chase is now sinking $30 billion into buying its own stock. Wells Fargo is shifting $18 billion into the scheme, and Bank of America is throwing $25 billion into its buyback. Hello — Wall Street bankers are the biggest robbers in America.

Most people believe the American economy is being rigged by and for big bankers, CEOs, and other superrich elites, because ... well, because it is!

With their hired armies of lawmakers, lobbyists, lawyers and the like, they fix the economic rules so ever more of society's money and power flow uphill, from us to them. Take corporate CEOs. While 2020 was somewhere between a downer and devastating for most people, the CEO class made out like bandits. Indeed, last year, the three top paid corporate honchos in America pocketed personal paychecks of $211 million, $414 million, and $1.1 billion.

Are they geniuses, superproducers or what? What. All three of their corporations ended 2020 with big financial losses and declining value, so how can such mediocrity produce such lavish rewards? Simple — rig the pay machine.

Today's corporate system of setting compensation for top executives is a flimflam disguised as a model of management rectitude. On its face, the system ties the chief's pay to the success of the business. "Pay for performance," it's called — the CEO does well if the company does well. Good theory!

But their trick is in narrowly defining "doing well" to exclude doing good — i.e., treating workers, consumers, the environment, et al. fairly. Thus, rewarding the Big Boss is rooted in nothing more substantial or productive than the sterile ethics of monetary selfishness.

Even implementing that shriveled ethical standard is a scam at most major corporations, because the standard of financial performance that the chief must meet to quality for a huge payday is set by each corporation's board of directors. Guess who they are? Commonly, board members are the CEO's hand-picked brothers-in-law, golfing buddies, and corporate cronies. So, they set the bar for winning multimillion-dollar executive paychecks so low that a sack of concrete could jump over it.

Well, insist these flimflammers, it's the corporate shareholders who are the ultimate stopgap against CEO greed. These "owners" can just vote "no" on any executive pay they consider excessive. Nice try, but even "shareholder democracy" is rigged — corporate rules decree that votes by shareholders are merely "advisory," meaning top executives can simply ignore them, grab the money and run. The system is fixed ... and we need to break it!

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

The Odd Virus Attacking Republican Governors

WARNING: A mutant coronavirus named Gubernatorious Imbecilious is spreading across the country, threatening to become pandemic.

Originating earlier this year in the Texas governor's office — infamously known as the "Laboratory of Bad Government" — the brain-eating virus escaped, is now drifting unchecked on the political winds and has already infected governors in Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

An early indicator that your governor, too, might be coming down with Gubernatorious Imbecilious is if he or she begins ranting paranoiacally that the mighty U.S. of A is being "invaded." Yes, invaded by masses of migrants from Mexico, Central America, and hell itself — all intent on rape, murder, drug peddling, mayhem, and ultimately the usurpation of our nation.

Having such a delusional governor is embarrassing, but the disease turns downright scary when infected governors try acting on their paranoia. Gov. Greg Abbott, for example, the GOP governor of Texas, is the one who conjured up this current invasion fantasy and is causing it to go viral in Republican statehouses. Abbott is a frantic Chicken Little, squawking that "a tidal wave" of amnesty seekers crossing our southern border are "causing farmers to lose their crops ... homes are being invaded ... neighborhoods are dangerous ... people are being threatened."

So, by gollies, Greg is taking action! On our dime, of course. His big plan? Build a wall! Yes, obviously demented by an advanced case of Gubernatorious Imbecilious , the extent of Abbott's creativity is an insane repeat of Donnie Trump's failed boondoggle of a border wall. To fund his goofy political gambit, the governor has expropriated $250 million from the state's meager budget to "secure our border." Apparently, no one has told the governor that $250 million would build less than 10 miles of wall on our 1,200-mile border with Mexico ... and won't keep anyone from crossing.

But failure seems to be built into Abbott's DNA. He oversees a state power grid so feeble that it failed in February, killing more than 150 Texans; he has left five million of our people without health coverage, more than any other state; and he presides over a crumbling state infrastructure network that can't score better than a D grade.

Did I mention that Abbott wants to run for president? Not of the Insane Governors Club, but of America! Seriously.

It's one thing to strive for herd immunity to defeat a coronavirus, but in politics, the herd instinct can send a whole species over a cliff.

That seems to be happening among the frenzied herd of Republican governors now stampeding behind the scaremongering scheme of Abbott to use the personal suffering of Latin American migrants and asylum seekers as a political pawn. Rather than helping find a humane solution, the GOP hierarchy is exploiting the very real plight of desperate Latin American people to pose as strong defenders of U.S. communities that are in absolutely no danger from the migration.

Yes, various governors are following Abbott's knee-jerk vindictiveness, confronting the migrating families with "Keep Out" military-style force. First came Florida's ruthlessly ambitious governor, Ron DeSantis, strutting around in a mucho macho photo-op, pledging to send a small hodgepodge of deputies, highway patrol, and even wildlife officials (!) to Texas for a few days to help Abbott keep out immigrants. What will these armed officials do? Who will direct them? Who would pay? Uh ... DeSantis didn't know.

Then came Cornhusker State Gov. Pete Ricketts, proclaiming that "Nebraska is stepping up to help Texas respond to the ongoing crisis on their border." But local public officials who are actually on the Texas border say there is a problem, not a crisis — and helter-skelter squads of clueless gendarmes from afar won't help. Still, the hyper-partisan governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, said she was sending a few state troopers to the distant border to defend "the health and safety of Iowans." Interestingly, she had refused a request this spring by the Biden administration to help house migrant children crossing our border to seek asylum, coldly declaring, "This is not our problem."

South Dakota's Kristi Noem also piled on, dispatching some of her state's National Guard troops to Texas. Oddly, though, Noem's troops were not sent as true agents of the state, but as 25 political mercenaries, paid an undisclosed amount by an out-of-state right-wing billionaire to join in the GOP governors' border stunt.

Note that (1) all of these political posers committed so few border defenders for such a short time that their presence would have zero impact on our border crossings; and (2) none of the governors offered any insight, solution, or concern about the root causes of the migration.

To monitor the posturing of these shameful frauds, go to NoBorderWallCoalition.com.

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.

Now We Must Protect Our Water From Wall Street

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles." Thus sang Bob Dylan in 1965, and we can now clearly see those vandals: In addition to polluting corporations, they're the national, state, and local officials who have routinely failed over the years to prevent the waste and defilement of our water supply while also failing to budget for even minimal upkeep and modernization of water delivery. As a result, the system is badly broken.

Federal funding for our water systems has plummeted 77 percent since its peak under former President Jimmy Carter. At the same time, the need for more national investment has dramatically increased: The U.S. population has surged by 110 million; aging water infrastructure is outdated and breaking down; state and local politicians have ignored problems (replacing an old pipe is not a prized photo-op); and necessary upgrades to cope with new contaminants and extreme weather events have gone unfunded by politicians catering to pro-corporate financial interests and anti-government ideologues.

So, here we sit, a nation of unsurpassed prosperity using duct tape and political hype to cover up the fact that our drinking water system is so dilapidated that it received a sorry C-minus grade from the quadrennial evaluation by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Worse, the wastewater component of the system (mile after mile of underground sewage pipes and nearly 16,000 treatment plants) scores a D-plus, with a majority of the waste plants nearing the end of their 45- to 50-year life spans. The overall system is so fragile that a water main breaks somewhere in America every two minutes, and it's so permeated with leaks that utilities lose 6 billion gallons of drinking water every day.

And then there's the rising crisis of affordability. With federal funding cut to a dribble, utilities have tried to fill in with constant hikes in water bills. Our average monthly rate has jumped more than a third since 2012, and analysts estimate that within three years, up to 36% of households won't be able to afford drinking water. Even with rising fees, utilities themselves are struggling. The American Water Works Association reports that income fully covers costs in only one in five systems, and four out of five large utilities expect they will not be able to provide full service five years from now.

Billions of years ago, when some squirmy form of early "us" crawled out of the sea, they brought along the need for that basic ingredient. Human bodies are 60 percent water, and most of earth's surface is not earth at all — 71 percent is covered in seas, rivers, lakes, bayous, etc. There is no "us" unless each of us gets a constant intake of reasonably clean water. If you don't ... you die, usually within three days.

Thus, managing this precious natural resource is a deeply moral responsibility. While our globe has an abundance of the wet stuff, 96.5 percent is undrinkable salt water. Of the potable 3.5 percent more than half is locked in ice at the polar caps or so deep underground it's unavailable. Still, we do have enough water to meet the needs of all — if it is conserved and fairly distributed.

Sadly, most countries do a piss-poor job of fulfilling their moral responsibility — especially the U.S., given our resources, abilities, and egalitarian pretensions. The good news is that the U.S. public is not only increasingly aware of the inexcusable inadequacies and inequalities in our water system but also increasingly outraged . As Sen. Bernie Sanders put it in February when introducing a major water justice bill: "It is beyond belief that in 2021, American kids are being poisoned by tap water."

Wall Street's sharks smell money in the water. In fact, they are out to privatize, commodify and "profitize" (own) our water. Of course, with ownership comes control, both of water's use and price. Unsurprisingly, the two core precepts of these Wall Street profiteers are: Water is greatly underpriced, so let's make it more expensive for all users, including us common drinkers; and water must flow to its "highest use" (i.e., highest bidders), so its allocation should not prioritize nonindustrial farms, lower-income communities or even general public use — but rather advantage high-tech facilities, upscale suburban developments and high-dollar businesses willing to pay the most.

More alarming, Wall Street is busy creating complex new financial gimmicks to allow speculators to dominate global water markets. Meanwhile, they're recycling the same gobbledygook about risk management that Enron deployed in the 1990s, even though that scandalous power play for energy markets led to massive corruption, job losses, waves of bankruptcies, and rip-offs of customers and shareholders.

For a splash course on water issues, look up "H2Equity: Rebuilding a Fair System of Water Services for America" from the Environmental Policy Innovation Center (http://www.policyinnovation.org).

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.

What Are You Drinking?

A mechanical marvel of human ingenuity was plopped down on Mars by NASA last February. Its name, Perseverance, fits the Mars rover perfectly, for the robotic vehicle embodies a feat of scientific know-how, long-term dedication to public purpose, and a tight focus on teamwork. Think about the 20-year span of institutional tenacity required for myriad scientists and others to imagine, design, plan, construct, test and otherwise develop the project. And then they hurled this extraordinarily complex machine on a seven-month, 300-million-mile journey through space, navigating to a pinpoint landing in Jezero Crater, a 3.6-billion-year-old, dried-up Martian lakebed. Now Perseverance is probing the Red Planet's watery past for evidence of primordial life.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, during the same week of this WOW! achievement on Mars, millions of people in NASA's home city of Houston were also probing dried-up waterways: the faucets in their homes, businesses, and schools. On Valentine's Day, an Arctic cold front ripped through the state, and suddenly, basic infrastructure failed, and tap water in this sprawling metro became nonexistent or contaminated. Houstonians were left scrambling for essential, life-sustaining H2O.

They were not alone. Nearly 1,300 water systems across Texas were sputtering and failing at the same time. Worse, this calamitous crisis stemmed directly from the even bigger failure of another essential piece of modern infrastructure: the electric grid. During the weeklong deep freeze, almost all the Lone Star State's jury-rigged network of corporate-owned and -run power systems failed, leaving 4.5 million homes and businesses without electricity. In turn, this fiasco caused the pumps, pipes and pressure controls of hundreds of local water networks to freeze up and break down, cutting off potable water for days.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a GOP mediocrity who grossly mismanaged Texas' COVID-19 response (his slogan seems to be, "Failure is not an option; it's a promise") tried at first to blame Mother Nature. Well, it surely was a big winter storm ... but lots of states regularly maintain electricity and water through much deeper freezes.

What hit Texans was not nature, but an ongoing unnatural disaster. It was the state's reward for turning its government over to incompetents and right-wing ideologues who persistently disdain investment in public resources and community needs. For 25 years, a series of money-corrupted, corporate-coddling Texas governors and legislators have recoiled from even such minimal measures as requiring energy profiteers to weatherize people's crucial infrastructure. (This sort of corporate butt-kissing is what governors really mean when they puff themselves up and bluster that their state is "business-friendly.")

And their obsequious surrender of the public interest to moneyed powers pays off handsomely to them ... in bales of campaign cash they rake in from the profiteers. For example, the oil and gas giants that fuel the electric grid rewarded Abbott's six years of servility with a whopping $26 million in "thank-you" donations. The public's reward was hundreds of Texans killed in that one week of the grid crash and some $130 billion in economic losses from business shutdowns and homes flooded by burst pipes.

How embarrassing is it that the techno-advanced, engineering powerhouse of America has a growing crisis of water quality and delivery usually associated with impoverished nations? And the infrastructure collapse is not just in Texas. From our biggest cities like New York to isolated rural communities like those in the sprawling Navajo Nation, millions of us endure raw sewage, industrial chemicals, lead pipes, burst water mains, price gouging, cut-offs, boil emergencies, and other water disasters.

In March, Consumer Reports and The Guardian issued findings from a nine-month investigation of drinking water systems serving 19 million Americans. Of 120 systems analyzed, 118 had serious levels of toxic chemicals including lead, arsenic, and/or PFAS (a group of synthetic toxins) at dangerous levels. PFAS compounds are in our clothing, carpets, nonstick cookware, food containers, and thousands of other products. And now they're also in our water, seeping in from chemical factories and landfills. They are linked to a range of human health horrors including thyroid disease, cancers, and possibly learning delays in children. The Environmental Protection Agency sets no enforceable limit on PFAS in drinking water and suggests voluntary caps for a few chemicals — even as the compounds contaminate drinking water in more than 2,300 communities in 49 states. To learn more and see what's in your drinking water, go to EWG.org/tapwater/.

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

Bezos, Musk, And You: Which One Pays Income Tax?

While Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, "I have a dream," it was full of lofty ethical stuff like "justice for all" and ... well, it was so 1963.

We now live in a Facebook-Instagram-Google world of billionaire ethics and expectations, so dreams need to glitter with a 2021-ish grandiosity to go viral. So, who better to take us there than that visionary of instant gratification, Jeff Bezos? "Ever since I was five years old," says the megabillionaire boss man of Amazon, "I've dreamed of traveling to space." Now that's intriguing, in part because Jeff regularly acts like he is from outer space — so, is this a homeward-bound odyssey?

Bezos can certainly afford the ticket, for today's devastating global pandemic has delivered a financial windfall to him, increasing his personal wealth by $75 billion last year alone. Bear in mind that he didn't have to work harder or smarter to "earn" this bonanza. Indeed, he's retiring as Amazon CEO, but his haul keeps growing as the corporate stock price keeps bloating.

Meanwhile, he bought himself a rocket ship company, and in July, he intends to be Customer No. 1 on a tourist fling to the lower edge of space. He and five other high-flyers will take a short suborbital joy ride about 50 miles up in a fully pressurized cabin, then unbuckle and experience weightlessness for a few minutes before scooting back to terra firma.

Imagine how impressed MLK Jr. would've been by Jeff's commitment of his enormous wealth and potential to such a ... well, such a flighty dream. For his part, the gazillionaire predicts that the experience of his space-capade will make him a new man: "It changes your relationship ... with humanity," he says of `space travel.

Good, for his relationship heretofore has been one of inhumane worker exploitation, systemic tax cheating, and monopoly profiteering. So, go forth, Amazon-man — and please come back a better human.

The most thought-provoking bumper sticker I've seen recently says: "The system is fixed. We must break it."

This thought came into vivid focus recently when a news report by ProPublica revealed that a nest of preening multibillionaires — led by the likes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Michael Bloomberg — have been playing America's rigged tax system to dodge paying their share of upkeep for the society that so lavishly enriches them. In a leak of actual IRS tax data, the 25 richest Americans were exposed for using tax tricks and loopholes created by their lobbyists, accountants, lawyers and lawmakers to pay barely three percent of their enormous riches to our public treasury — while ordinary working people shell out about 24 percent of their meager income.

Check out the manipulations by Amazon jefe Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man. Even as his corporate stock payouts skyrocketed by $120 billion from 2006 to 2018, he paid just one percent in taxes on that huge gain. One year, in which his wealth swelled by $18 billion, he even took a $4,000 tax credit from us for the care of his children.

The chief scam by these super-dodgers is that they've fixed tax laws so they can take out loans on the escalating value of their stock, mansions, yachts, etc., without paying taxes on the cash they get. In fact, they even get a tax deduction for the interest they pay on the loans. Thus, they get to spend the cash value of those assets without having to sell them. It's financial voodoo for the privileged few!

In response to the revelations in ProPublica's jaw-dropping report, congressional Republicans, Biden administration officials, and the IRS are all promising a thorough investigation and crackdown. Not on the sleazy billionaires, of course, but on ProPublica! Yes, some top public officials exclaim that they are outraged, not by the tax rigging, but by the fact that you and I have been told about it in specific, undeniable detail.

It's not cynical to call the system corrupt when the corruption is put right under our noses.

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.

To Fix The Labor Shortage, Start With The Wage Shortage

A recent newspaper article had an astonishing headline: "Labor shortages end when wages rise."

Gosh, Captain Obvious, what an amazing discovery! Someone notify the Nobel Prize committee, for this revolutionary revelation about How-Things-Work surely will win this year's prize in economics. Better yet, someone notify Sen. Mitch McConnell and that whole gaggle of Republican governors whose theory of labor economics begins and ends with the medieval demand that workers be whacked with a stick to make them do what the bosses want.

At issue is the furious complaint by restaurant chains, nursing homes, call centers, Big Ag, and other low-wage employers that they have a critical labor shortage. It seems that millions of workers today are hesitant to take jobs because there's no affordable child care, or the jobs they're offered expose them and their families to illness and death from COVID-19, or the work itself is abusive and demeaning... or all of the above.

Business chieftains wail that, with the economy reopening, they've been advertising thousands of jobs for waiters, nursing assistants, poultry workers, and such, but they can't get enough takers. So, the Congress critters and governors who obsequiously serve the corporate powers have rushed to their rescue. Shouting, "Whack 'em with a stick!" these mingy politicians are stripping away jobless benefits for America's workers, trying to leave them with no choice but to take any crappy job they're offered. It gives new meaning to the term "workforce."

In fact, the bosses themselves already have an honest way to get the workers they need without calling in government muscle: Offer fair wages! As the owner of a small chain of restaurants in Atlanta notes, the struggle to find the staff he needs suddenly turned easy when he stopped lowballing wages, going from $8 to $15 an hour. Not only did he get the workers he needed, but he says, "We started to get a better quality of applicants." That translated to better service, happier customers, and more business.

The real economic factor in play here is not wages; it's value. If you treat employees as cheap, then that's what you'll get. But if you view them as valuable assets, then that's what they'll be — and you'll all be better off.

At a recent congressional hearing on America's so-called labor shortage that corporate bosses have been wailing about, mega-banker Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, offered this insight: "People actually have a lot of money, and they don't particularly feel like going back to work."

Uh... Jamie... a lot of money? Most people are living paycheck to paycheck, and since COVID-19 hit, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, savings and even homes. So, they're not exactly lolly-gagging around the house, counting their cash.

Instead of listening to the uber-rich class ignorance of Dimon (who pocketed $35 million last year), Congress ought to be listening to actual workers explaining why they're not rushing back to the jobs being offered by restaurant chains and poultry factories. They would point out that there is no labor shortage; there's a wage shortage.

More fundamentally, there's a fairness shortage. It was not lost on restaurant workers, for example, that while millions of them were jobless last year, their corporate CEOs were grabbing millions, buying yachts, and living large. Yet more than half of laid-off restaurant workers couldn't get unemployment benefits because their wages had been too low to qualify. Then there's the high risk of COVID-19 exposure for restaurant employees, an appalling level of sexual harassment in their workplace, and demeaning treatment from abusive bosses and customers.

No surprise, then, that more than half of employees said in a recent survey that they're not going back to those jobs. After all, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked!

So rather than demanding that government officials force workers to return to the old exploitative system, corporate giants should try the free-enterprise solution right at their fingertips: Raise pay, improve conditions, and show respect. Create a place where people want to work!

For a straightforward view from workers themselves, go to the advocacy group, OneFairWage.site.

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.

Don’t Let The Republicans ‘Fix’ The Postal Service

It was surprising when Donald Trump declared he would make fixing the U.S. Postal Service one of the top personal priorities of his four-year White House adventure. It quickly became obvious, though, that he was using the word "fix" in the same way your veterinarian uses it when you bring in your dog.

Yes, Trump was saying, "Let's fix this puppy," and he wasted an inordinate amount of his presidential power and prestige in a failed attempt to neuter an agency that literally delivers for the people. Think about it: For a 55 cent stamp, America's extraordinary postal workers and letter carriers will take your piece of mail and deliver it by truck, car, airplane, boat, motorbike, mule — and, of course, by foot — to any address across town or across the country. The post office is a public system that works; it is both essential and effective. Indeed, the U.S. Postal Service ranks at the top of federal agencies in popularity, with 91 percent of the public approving its work. Thus, an uproar of protests (including by Republicans) spread across the country, killing Trump's attempt to gut the agency.

When it comes to bad public policy, however, failure is just a way of saying, "Let's try the back door." Trump was defeated, but he left behind an undistinguished Postmaster General named Louis DeJoy, who had only two qualifications for the job: He was a Trump megadonor, and he was a peer of corporate powers that've long wanted to privatize the Postal Service. In March, before the new Joe Biden presidency had taken charge of the postal system, DeJoy popped through the back door with his own "10-year Plan" to fix the agency.

Rhetorically, his plan promised to "achieve service excellence" by making mail delivery more "consistent" and "reliable." How? By consistently cutting service and reliably gouging customers. Specifically, DeJoy's plan was to close numerous mail processing facilities, eliminate jobs, reduce post office hours of service, and cut the standard of delivering first-class mail from three days to five. Oh, and to potentially raise stamp prices.

Delivering lousy service at higher prices is intended to destroy public support for the agency, opening up the mail service to takeover by private profiteers. That's the real DeJoy plan. And who gets joy from that?

Corporate ideologues never cease blathering that government programs should be run like a business.

Really? What businesses would they choose as the ethical model for governing our democracy? Pharmaceutical profiteers? Big Oil? Wall Street money manipulators? High-tech billionaires? Airline price gougers?

The good news is that the great majority of people aren't buying this corporatist blather but instead valuing institutions that prioritize the Common Good. Thus, by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans have stunned smug right-wing privatizers like DeJoy by specifically declaring in a recent poll that our U.S. Postal Service should not be "run like a business." Indeed, an overwhelming majority, including 49% of Republicans, say mail delivery should be run as a "public service," even if that costs more tax money.

In fact, having proven that this 246-year-old federal agency can consistently and efficiently deliver to 161 million homes and businesses — day after day, year after year — it's time to let the agency's trusted, decentralized, well-trained workforce provide even more services for our communities. One service it is uniquely capable of delivering is so-called postal banking. Yes, the existing network of some 31,000 post offices in metro neighborhoods and small towns across America are perfectly situated and able to provide basic banking services to the one out of four of us who don't have or can't afford bank accounts. The giant banking chains ignore these millions, leaving them at the mercy of check-cashing exploiters and payday-loan sharks that extract exorbitant profits for their Wall Street backers.

The post office can offer simple, honest banking, including small-dollar checking and savings accounts, very low-interest consumer loans, low-fee debit cards, etc. The goal of postal banking is not to maximize corporate profits but to serve the public. Moreover, there's nothing new about this: Our post offices served as banks for millions of us until 1967, when Wall Street profiteers got their enablers in Congress to kill the competition.

We the People own this phenomenal public asset. To enable it to work even better for us , rather than for the forces of corporate greed, go to AGrandAlliance.org.

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.

In Texas, A Thousand-Dollar Hat On A Ten-Cent Head

Amazingly, the agricultural commissioner of Texas is the one top official in my state willing to take a bold stand against racial discrimination.

Sid Miller is his name, and he proudly went to federal court in April in an effort to stop a new government aid program that he considered discriminatory against a particular disadvantaged group of agriculture producers — namely, his group: White farmers and ranchers!

Yes, Sid asserts that the program — which directs some long-overdue loan relief to Black, Latino, Native American, and other food producers who've been routinely and grossly discriminated against for generations by agricultural lenders — now demands that privileged Whites like him get an equal piece of the money.

So, Sid, a former rodeo performer who owns a Texas ranch, is braying and snorting through his big white cowboy hat that the way to stop racial discrimination is to let White discriminators also get anti-discrimination money from the feds. That's what passes for logic when you're wearing a $1,000 hat like the one Sid struts around in. But, as a real cowboy once told me, "It ain't the hat; it's the head." And right there is Miller's problem — he's got a thousand-dollar hat on a 10-cent head.

However, he's not the actual "thinker" behind this screwball legal claim. That distinction goes to another Miller, one named Stephen. He's a former Donald Trump political operative, an anti-immigrant extremist and a fanatical promoter of White nationalism — one who specializes in frivolous lawsuits. Indeed, Stephen wrote Sid's plaintive legal plea to provide "racial justice" for rich and powerful White ranchers like him, and just days before filing the suit, Stephen set up a political front group called America First Legal to push the case.

You'd think this ridiculous racial bigotry would be laughed out of court, but the case has gone to a hyperpartisan, right-wing judge who has backed such Republican legal ploys in the past. So, yippity-yi-yo, off to another right-wing rodeo we go!

Woody Guthrie had a lot to say about the greed of fat-cat bankers who make crop loans at usurious interest rates to hardscrabble farmers and then foreclose on them when they can't pay off the loans, leaving thousands of farm families homeless. Woody mocked them with a sarcastic anthem to their bottomless avarice, singing, "I'm a jolly banker/ jolly banker am I." He also penned a stinging verse in another song about their thievery: "Some'll rob with a six-gun/ And some with a fountain pen."

But even this populist poet of the people would be astonished by the shameless grabbiness of today's group of powerful agribusiness lenders. At issue is President Biden's administration's excellent effort to provide some amends — at long last — after decades of systemic, scandalous discrimination by bankers against Black and other minority farmers. It is moving to pay off the onerous level of long-term bank debt that has shackled these good farmers and thus give them a fair shot at getting ahead.

"Oh, no!" squawked the American Bankers Association and other groups of ag lenders. Why? After all, they'd be getting back the money they loaned out. Yes, say the fountain pens, but then we would lose the interest payments each of those farmers would have had to send to us over the months ahead. We want American taxpayers to cover the total interest income we would've gotten from gouging Black, Latino, Native American, and other minority farmers. They insist that their profits and the financial interests of their rich investors must take priority over the needs of a bunch of non-White dirt farmers.

Wait, the bankers' greed intensifies! If the government doesn't fully compensate them for their so-called "lost interest income," the ag lenders (backed by Wall Street barons) are openly threatening that they will cut off future loans to farmers and ranchers of color.

So, the jolly bankers' drumbeat of rank discrimination keeps pounding. To help stop it, connect with the National Black Farmers Association.

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.

Raising Corporate Taxes Makes Plutocrats Cry — But The People Cheer

Not only are the rich different from you and me; they're becoming more different than ever.

I'm not referring to mere millionaires but to the billionaire bunch. In the past year, while ordinary Americans have lost jobs, businesses, and homes due to the economic crash caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, America's 664 billionaires have found themselves nearly 40 percent richer than before the pandemic! These fortunate few collectively added more than a trillion dollars to their personal stashes of wealth in 2020. And practically all of them got so much richer by doing nothing : Their money made the extra money for them, because corporate stock prices zoomed even as regular people lost income.

Take a peek at THE richest of these different ones: Jeff Bezos, the alpha-geek of Amazon. He hauled in an additional $75 billion last year (roughly $8.6 million an hour), giving him roughly $188 billion in total wealth. You can do a lot of good in our world with such riches ... or you can splurge on yourself.

Jeff splurged. He bought a boat — more accurately, an ocean-going ship, one of the largest sailing vessels ever built. More than one-and-a-third football fields long, the super-yacht apparently cost the diminutive mega-billionaire some half a billion bucks. But that is the price before Bezos' big boat goes anywhere: He'll reportedly pay some $60 million each year for operating expenses.

Plus, he had to buy a "support yacht" to sail along with his main boat. Why? Because the three sails on his 400-footer are so huge that a helicopter can't land on the deck, requiring an auxiliary yacht to provide a helipad.

See, the rich really are different. Where to park the helicopter while at sea is a problem you and I don't have to face.

According to mega-yacht sellers, the main draw of these ostentatious purchases is that they reinforce inequality, literally letting the rich float in leisure and luxury, oceans apart from even having to see hoi polloi like us.

"Outrageous," screeched the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Archaic," moaned the president of the National Association of Manufacturers. "It doesn't feel fair," whimpered the chief executive of the giant Bechtel construction company.

The wailing by those who run corporate America is not for the plight of the great majority of workaday families who've seen their incomes stagnate and even plummet to zero during the past months of the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, this chorus of woe is arising from powerful plutocratic interests that have been enjoying windfall profits but now want us to feel sorry for them. Why? Because, they cry, that meanie in the White House, Joe Biden, intends to jack up their corporate tax rate up from 21 percent to 28 percent.

But wait. Didn't former President Trump and the GOP Congress slash the corporate share of our nation's upkeep nearly in half just four years ago, from 35 percent to 21 percent, shifting the burden to the middle class and poor? Yes. And didn't they promise that those cuts would create millions of new jobs and raise the incomes of the working class? Yes, again. Yet corporations got richer and working stiffs got shafted.

Still, here they come again, howling that raising corporate taxes would crash the stock market. Well, on the day Biden announced his plan, stock prices did fall ... by less than one percent. The next day, they bounced right back, and they're still booming.

Moreover, those are crocodile tears the rich are shedding, for they know that — as Biden himself makes clear — his proposed uptick in their tax share "is not going to affect their standard of living at all, not a little tiny bit." They'll still have their two or three big houses, private jets, and yachts. But with them paying just a bit more toward the Common Good, our country will be able to reinvest in society's physical and human infrastructure, making America stronger and fairer for all.

That's why there are broad and deep public majorities — even among Republicans — supporting Biden's infrastructure plan and an increase in corporate taxes to pay for it. For more information, go to AmericansForTaxFairness.org.

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.

How To Stop Monopolies From Milking Us Dry

For the past several years, monopolistic price fixing by two multibillion-dollar milk processing behemoths — DFA (an outfit deceptively named Dairy Farmers of America) and Dean Foods — has squeezed thousands of dairy farms out of business, paying farmers less for a gallon of milk than it costs them to produce it. The Big Two controlled some two-thirds of all raw milk processed nationwide, essentially forcing farmers to sell on the processors' terms.

Last year, then-President Trump's Justice Department ("justice") allowed the $14 billion DFA empire to devour the $8 billion Dean conglomerate, leaving individual farm families at the mercy of one domineering colossus. DFA now controls 70 percent of our nation's entire raw milk supply.

This is just one example of the sweeping lockdown of the "free market" resulting from about five decades of intentional actions and inactions by both Republican and Democratic regimes that have recklessly dismissed the founders' fear of what Thomas Jefferson decried as the "aristocracy of our monied corporations." Piece by piece, politicians, lobbyists and lawyers have steadily dismantled our nation's commitment to trust busting.

Antitrust is a profound component of America's democratic vision, linking us from the Boston Tea Party to the Bill of Rights, the rise of the populist movement, the Pullman Strike of 1894, the writings of Ida Tarbell and W.E.B. Du Bois, Louis Brandeis' concept of The New Freedom, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Harry Truman's Fair Deal, Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign, Occupy Wall Street, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rev. William Barber's Moral Mondays — and now you and me.

The political and media establishment bought into the corporate dogma that monopolies produce economic "efficiencies," so why not turn 'em loose? Thus, trusts are us! Monopolistic corporations today have chokeholds on nearly every market, setting prices, wages and terms of business. Worse, their power is systemic, dominating elections, health access, education opportunities, communications ... our society!

That's why I don't favor the term "antitrust." It's too soft — I mean, who's against trust? Anti-theft is more blunt, easily understood and true. The reason our people have fought corporate dominance so hard for centuries is because a monopoly is nothing but organized theft; it steals America's fundamental principles of fairness and opportunity for all. By controlling the marketplace, workplace and public space, the few take away everyone else's freedom of choice and their possibilities of maximizing their intellect, skills, labor and other abilities to achieve their dreams. That's the theft of the very idea of America.

Indeed, monopoly power quickly goes to the head of monopolists, turning executive-suite tycoons into little tyrants who feel entitled to impose institutionalized inequality over America's democratic ideals. To rationalize their plutocratic behavior, the privileged ones try to foster a culture that accepts one's net worth as the measure of one's worthiness. Remember just a couple of years back when an exclusive club of America's uber-rich CEOs and Wall Street speculators went on a PR blitz glorifying themselves as "The Makers"? "We are essential wealth creators," they thundered!

But — oops! — nothing like a pandemic to deflate even the most bloated of egos. Hello to all you nurses, farm workers, grocery clerks, truck drivers, utility crews, and other low-paid "nobodies" who turn out to be the actual essential ones holding the system together. While those haughty "makers" fled to isolated vacation spots to escape the coronavirus, millions of frontline workers faced deadly virus exposure to keep America functioning.

A genuinely grateful public has literally applauded those on the job, hailing them as national and personal heroes. The appreciation was so widespread that several major corporations joined last spring in a show of solidarity, running national ad campaigns touting "hero" pay hikes for those enduring such a grave hazard. But while the employees and the virus endured, the corporate generosity vanished as soon as its PR value faded.

Supermarket giant Kroger, for example, had ballyhooed a pay increase of $2 an hour last April for its heroes, loudly declaring, "We will continue to support you, and your families during this difficult time." Just six weeks later, even as the pandemic spread, pffffft: The $2 "hero pay" was unceremoniously terminated. Mingier yet, early this year, when city officials in Seattle and Long Beach, California, mandated pandemic pay for frontline grocery workers, bosses at Kroger's national headquarters abruptly shut down stores in those areas.

Kroger reaped $2.8 billion in profits in 2020! Where did that bonanza go? The top executives spent a billion dollars on a stock buyback program — a corporate manipulation scheme that artificially jacks up stock prices, thus enriching the big investors and executives who own most of the stock. How rich are they? One example: Last year, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen was reportedly paid $21,129,648.

One man, one year. And unlike the typical Kroger worker, who draws an estimated $27,000 a year, McMullen is not on the front line putting his life at risk. That's why working families spell "boss" backward: double SOB.

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.

Doing Good — And Doing Well — In Our Food Economy

A cadre of business school economists, high-tech speculators, and corporate planners have been hyping and investing billions in a food-economy model that renders many millions — family farmers, local restauranteurs, independent food processors, small grocers and food workers — passe. No need for such costly and cumbersome "units," argue these schemers for a revolution enabled by artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering and cell-cultured foodstuffs. A few conglomerates will consolidate and automate every step from planting to plate, producing and distributing the calories necessary to sustain the masses and "free" all the "small" people tied up in food production to do something more useful.

The fatal flaw of this soulless corporate concept can be exposed in one word: pandemic. As we've seen again and again this past year, the essential ingredient in a resilient food system is the human spirit — the very element that corporatizers are most determined to eliminate. When COVID-19 slammed into the economy last spring and shut down or shriveled food service by restaurants, delis and school cafeterias, the grit, ingenuity and community commitment of independent providers quickly kicked into gear.

Moreover, the consuming public suddenly came to appreciate anew the value of neighborhood cafes, farm stands, bakeries, food trucks, dedicated grocery workers, servers, food pantries, the Community Supported Agriculture movement and thousands of other hardworking "units" that put dinner on the table for us, even at risk to themselves. While we mourn the terrible, ongoing loss of lives, businesses and jobs among America's food providers, let's also note the countless uplifting stories of producers and consumers coming together, not merely to exchange money for goods but also to nurture community and do a bit for the Common Good.

For instance, last spring farmers Lisa and Ralph Turner of Maine's Laughing Stock Farm had tons of organic produce ready for delivery to area restaurants. When the pandemic forced all of their customers to shut down — bam! — the farm couple panicked. Then, as The New York Times reported, they set up a farm stand and sent out an email, hoping that maybe 10 people a day would come purchase a few $3 bags of veggies. But from day one, friends, family, friends of friends, and perfect strangers poured in and bought extra, sometimes paying $10 a bag, saying, "Keep the change" and then spreading the word, along with community and human spirit — things companies like Amazon and Walmart can't compute.

One farm stand is not the big solution, of course, but community just might be. Turns out, the can-do, mutual-aid spirit is more productive than all financial metrics combined. Ralph Turner expresses it in age-old farmspeak: "Head down, butt up, push forward." The people's response gives everyone hope, and that, Lisa Turner adds, is "an antidote to fear."

But it's not just small farmers who can make a difference and set an example of how to be good members of the community. Companies, big and small, in the food economy are blazing a different path through Wall Street's jungle of greed and demonstrating that money and morality can be compatible. Texas supermarket chain H-E-B, for example, has drawn an intensely loyal customer base (including me) by investing in good wages and benefits for employees, showing up in emergencies (pandemic outbreaks, hurricanes, freezes, etc.) to give essential supplies and hands-on help, and being an involved and supportive neighbor to the hundreds of unique communities it serves.

Maine Grains is "relocalizing" the business of milling grain by working with farmers around Skowhegan, Maine, who'd been abandoned by global powers like Ardent Acres and Gold Medal. Together, they're producing nutrient-rich flours from heritage grains — and boosting the local economy in the process. With a growing national profile, Bob's Red Mill also artfully mills its products from diverse, natural grains — and it's 100 percent employee-owned.

There's another rising business-model alternative to the selfish, profiteering ethic of Fortune 500 titans. These enterprises, called B Corporations, definitely exist to make a profit, but they are equally focused on having a positive social impact. B Corps prioritize fair wages, high-quality jobs, environmental protections, and healthy communities as core elements of their missions, even making those goals legal requirements of their corporate charter. Ben & Jerry's, Amy's Kitchen, King Arthur Baking, and New Belgium Brewery are all B Corps, and in fact, there are now some 3,800 businesses that, though not perfect, have agreed to the B Corp independent verification of their records and accountability to all stakeholders. And with this good news, I toast you with my New Belgium Fat Tire ale!

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.