The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

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

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.

Wealthy Colonists Oppress Native Americans Again — In The Hamptons!

It's tough being rich. For one thing, you have to be on constant alert to keep commoners from encroaching on your turf and disturbing your lifestyle, tranquility and ... well, sense of proper social order.

So, surely, everyone can appreciate the angst of the swells who summer in the Hamptons, an ultra-tony seaside enclave of New York City's old-wealth families and Wall Street elites. Located on the far-eastern tip of Long Island, for generations, they've effectively used local ordinances to keep us riffraff from entering their exclusive communities. But now, to their shock and dismay, they find their fortresses of privilege besieged by — believe it or not — American Indians!

Marauding tribes from afar? No, they're local people, some 1,600 members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation who live on and around their tribe's small reservation that has also been on this tip of Long Island for generations. In fact, it's the fabulously rich white residents who are the invaders, for their Anglo predecessors first moved onto (and began taking over) Shinnecock lands in 1640. Today, the Indigenous people struggle with poverty or near poverty, gazing across a small bay at the perfectly manicured lawns of the huge summer mansions of their Gatsby-esque invaders.

But — look out! — to help lift their community from the mire of debilitating poverty, the Shinnecocks intend to build a modest tribal-run casino on their reservation. "Oh, the horror!" shriek the Hamptonites at this tacky intrusion! Yet, the reservation is the Shinnecocks' sovereign land, free from the Hampton elite's zoning laws. Some 200 hoity-toity Hamptonites have desperately formed a group with the war cry "Keep the Hamptons the Hamptons!" Pleading for someone — anyone — to stop the tribe's progress, one of them exclaimed that "A lot of us are bleeding-heart liberals and sympathetic to the oppressed. ... But it's not the right location."

It never is, is it? The tribe's chairman, aptly named Bryan Polite, notes that while a casino is an issue of elitist esthetics to the privileged neighbors, its revenues would "help the tribe expand its family assistance fund to help members with such expenses as rent, food, utilities and car payments" and would "change the quality of life here overnight." But who cares? A few of the snobbiest Hampton blue bloods haughtily warn they will move out if the Shinnecock casino comes in.

Hmmm, sounds like a good trade to me.

These days, the rich in our country have developed such an arrogant sense of self-entitlement that they've gone from being merely irritating to infuriating.

Unsurprisingly, their plutocratic greed and rigging of the system to benefit themselves has generated a political backlash across the country. This includes a widely popular push to tax — yes, tax! — the massive stashes of wealth that the powerful have amassed by shortchanging the middle class and the poor. Alarmed by this uprising, the rich and their political hirelings have launched a major effort to defuse public anger — not by altering their behavior or actually addressing the gross economic disparities they've created but by trying to hide their excesses behind a semantical twist.

You might have noticed that since "the rich" has become a negative phrase, it has been dropped from the vocabularies of corporate PR agents, Republican lawmakers, right-wing political commentators and other defenders of wealth concentration. Rather, the millionaire/billionaire class is now glorified as "high earners" and "high net worth individuals."

Yes, both are awkward phrases, yet both remove any tacky reference to the boodles of wealth such people have grabbed. Instead, these euphemisms exalt the fortunate few as superior earners and worthy individuals. Words matter, because they are powerful social constructs that frame our culture's moral values. For example.

— Boeing Inc. was so badly managed in 2020 that it lost $12 billion and offed 30,000 workers, yet its CEO grabbed $21 million in pay.

— Tenet Healthcare made about $400 million in profit last year, partly by firing 11,000 workers, but its CEO pocketed a paycheck of nearly $17 million, calling the year a "learning experience."

— Hilton sent about a fourth of its corporate workforce packing last year and lost some $720 million, but the CEO got away with a $56 million paycheck.

Other gross failures at the top include AT&T, Disney, General Electric, and T-Mobile, yet each haughty top executive was rewarded with at least $20 million in pay.

In every case, the establishment media cloaked the greed with euphemisms that the failed bosses "earned" their millions and have a "net worth" of such-and-such. The perpetrators of these lies might ask the ousted workers how much they think the CEOs are worth.

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.

Is America Still Big Enough To Go Big?

It's time for America to go back to the future — a future of true greatness created by a people united to build a strong nation for the Common Good.

From the start of our United States, rather than shrinking at the right-wing bugaboo of "Big Government," Americans have backed leaders who dared to do big public projects: Abraham Lincoln's fight for a transcontinental railroad and a land-grant college network to serve small farmers; Teddy Roosevelt's establishment of our national park system; Franklin D. Roosevelt's electrification of rural America, creation of social safety nets, and conservation initiatives; Dwight Eisenhower's interstate highway system; Harry Truman's GI Bill; John F. Kennedy's moonshot; and Lyndon Johnson's anti-poverty and civil rights achievements.

It's only during the last 40 years, since Ronald Reagan's "government is evil" demagoguery, that our presidents and lawmakers — Democrats as well as Republicans — shriveled to no-can-do mediocrities, unwilling to even try tackling America's big needs or invest in our people's unlimited possibilities. This meek failure of leadership is why our nation's infrastructure — once world-class — has deteriorated to an embarrassing 16th in the world, as ranked by the Global Competitiveness Report, putting us beneath such smaller and poorer nations as Iceland and Portugal. It's hard to muster any national pride in chanting, "We're No. 16!"

But — surprise! — here comes Joe, a lifelong go-slow Democrat, unexpectedly rising to the challenge by proposing a get-serious, roll-up-our-sleeves, $2 trillion package of investments to modernize and extend America's collapsing infrastructure. While President Biden's plan is not as big as it needs to be, neither is it merely more tinkering around the edges, meekly trying once again to "incentivize" the corporate plutocracy to put another coat of pain on our country's structural inadequacies.

Biden's proposal would not only repair roads, bridges and dams but also give a long-overdue boost to such needs as rural high-speed broadband, replacing the country's deadly networks of lead water pipes, building clean energy systems, constructing affordable housing, upgrading public transit systems, increasing home health care for the elderly, and providing affordable child care facilities — all geared toward creating good union jobs and lifting local economies.

Even more transformative than the particular components is Biden's back-to-the-future method of paying for the Rebuild America agenda: returning to highly progressive taxation. Instead of the same old no-tax, laissez-fairyland extremism that Washington has practiced for 40 years (leading to the deep infrastructure hole we're now in), Biden will at long last demand that multinational corporate behemoths and their greed-fueled, uber-rich chieftains stop dodging their tax obligations to America. It's the same fair-taxation policy that funded our interstate highway system and the Space Race — a period of unmatched USA productivity and rising living standards for millions of working families.

An old political truism expresses that often-frustrating challenge of making big change: "Where there's a will, there are 1,000 won'ts."

And, oh, what a hurricane of won'ts swirled out of Washington's power centers in March to pummel Joe Biden! Corporate lobbyists and their congressional hirelings howled and blustered at him for declaring that he would seek a tax increase on corporations to pay for the essential, overdue job of repairing and expanding our nation's antiquated, dilapidated and wholly inadequate infrastructure. Biden wants to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from its present 21 percent. Blowhard Mitch McConnell, the GOP's Senate leader, practically blew a gasket, wailing that poor corporate America should not be singled out to bear this "burden."

But wait — didn't Mitch single out the corporate giants in 2017 to receive a windfall in their tax rate, lowering it from 35 percent? Yes, and they pocketed hundreds of billions of dollars from that giveaway. So, nudging them up to 28 percent is hardly punishment, for they still come out way ahead of the rates that regular people pay.

And the corporate tax rate is a sham, for the giants have wormed loopholes in the law to give them exemptions so they can avoid paying what they owe. A new study reports that at least 55 of the biggest corporations paid a goose egg in U.S. income taxes last year — zero, nada — despite hauling in billions in profits. As Sen. Bernie Sanders points out: "If you paid $120 for a pair of Nike Air Force 1 shoes, you paid more to Nike than it paid in federal income taxes over the past 3 years, while it made $4.1 billion in profits." In those three years, Nike honcho Phil Knight worked the system to increase his personal wealth by $23 billion.

That's the corrupt wealth system that McConnell, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the corporate plutocracy are defending. Oh, they exclaim, we think it's essential to repair and update America's crucial public systems — BUT, as McConnell so gingerly put it, "As much as we would like to address infrastructure," asking our corporate political funders to pay more "is not going to get support from our side."

So, who do they want to pay for it? You. Working people and the poor. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and GOP leader, points to putting more user fees on drivers and adding taxes on consumers as the way to go.

To see a list of other major corporate scofflaws who've been pocketing billions in profits yet paying zilch to the upkeep of America, visit the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy website at ITEP.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

Can GOP Autocracy Outlaw American Democracy?

Hey, you, get away from those polling places! No trespassing! We don't want your kind here! Scram!

How's that for a winning political message? It is stupid, shameful and ultimately self-defeating, yet being blatantly anti-democratic and anti-voter is the official electoral strategy being enthusiastically embraced nationwide by Republican officials and operatives. Admitting that they can't get majorities to vote for their collection of corporate lackeys, conspiracy theorists and bigoted old white guys, the GOP hierarchy's Great Hope is crude repression — rigging the rules to shove as many Democratic voters as possible out of our elections.

They're banking on a blitz of bureaucratic bills they're now trying to ram through nearly every state legislature, using government red tape and the iron fist of government autocracy to intimidate, divert and otherwise deny eligible voters the ability to exercise their most fundament democratic right. The main targets of the GOP's vote thieves are people of color, but they're also pushing measures to keep students, senior citizens, union households and poor communities from voting.

Unable to come up with any actual need for these autocratic restraints on certain constituencies, the political perpetrators have all resorted to exclaiming in mock horror: "Fraud! Massive election fraud everywhere! Millions of illegal immigrants, dead people, Chinese, children — even pets — are voting! The sky is falling! Lock down the polls!" Again and again, these absurd claims have been thoroughly investigated — even by Republican judges, committees, media, etc. — and repeatedly, they've proven to be ... well, absurd. Let's be blunt: You're more likely to find Bigfoot than you are to find a case of mass vote fraud in America.

Even some GOP politicos have quit pretending that they're searching for The Big Cheat, instead bluntly making a right-wing ideological argument for subverting democracy. "Everybody shouldn't be voting," explained Rep. John Kavanagh, the Republican chair of Arizona's election committee. Slipping deeper into doctrinaire doo-doo, he asserts that it's not just the number of votes that should matter in an election. "(W)e have to look at the quality of votes," too.

Call me cynical, but I'm guessing that most Democratic voters would fall into his "low-quality" category.

Ralph Waldo Emerson told of a dinner guest who went on and on about the virtue of honesty, offering his own life as a model of perfect rectitude. "The louder he talked of his honor," said Emerson, "the faster we counted our spoons."

That's my reaction to the cacophony of phony piety now emerging from Republican governors and legislators. They are hellbent on passing more than 250 new state laws to stop progressive-minded voters — particularly people of color — from casting ballots. But, they yawp endlessly, their campaign to legalize blatant voter suppression of Black, Latino, Asian American, indigenous, and other non-Caucasian voters is in no way racist! Rather, they are righteous crusaders, nobly protecting the "sanctity of the vote" from the unwashed hordes who are fraudulently electing Democrats.

Embarrassingly, though, the GOP's soldiers of suppression can't actually find any voting-fraud hordes, so they're simply declaring darker skin color to be proof of villainy. Panicky Georgia Republicans, for example, created a special Committee on Election Integrity this year, clearly to concoct new barriers that reduce Black turnout. One of its edicts oddly outlaws any early voting on Sundays. Why?

It's a flagrantly racist attack on the Black church. For years, a joyous tradition called "souls to the polls" has played out in Southern Black churches on Sundays prior to Election Day. After the sermon and prayers, congregants, ministers, musicians, and others in the church family travel in a caravan to early voting locations to cast ballots. It turns voting into a civic, spiritual, and fun experience. What kind of shriveled soul tries to kill that?

Apparently, the same shameful souls in the Georgia GOP who want to make voting a physical misery for those in non-Republican precincts. By intentionally understaffing these polling places, election officials have been forcing citizens to endure 10-hour waits in line to vote. Showing compassion and gumption, local groups have been providing water and snacks to those in line. No more, decreed Georgia's House Republicans in March, voting to make it a state crime to give any sustenance to the needy electorate.

Excuse me, but voting in America should not be made hard, turned into a partisan obstacle course, or reduced to a regimen of autocratic suppression. Indeed, the goal (and duty) of every public official ought to be maximizing voter turnout — making it easy, comfortable, uplifting, and (why not?) fun. After all, the more Americans who vote, the stronger our democracy. But there's the ugly political truth: Republican officials no longer support democracy, and they hope to outlaw 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

Why Nature Needs A Right To Self-Defense

There was a white oak tree in Athens, Georgia, that was so treasured by the locals it was not owned by anyone, not even the city. It was an autonomous entity known as the The Tree that Owns Itself.

Around the 1820s, William Jackson, owner of the property where the oak resided, wrote a formal deed in which he proclaimed, "(I)n consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides."

Naturally, age finally took its toll, and in 1942, the tree was downed by a big windstorm. Yet, its autonomy lives on! That's because residents took a seedling from the original and planted it in the same plot of land, and that offspring is still there, known as the Son of the Tree that Owns Itself.

One tree with the legal rights of selfhood is a sweet novelty, but what if all trees, watersheds, canyons and other natural ecosystems had a legal right to exist, thrive, evolve and regenerate? This concept of nature existing in its own right as a living entity — not merely as inert property to be extracted and exploited for profit — is the essence of a rapidly spreading Rights of Nature movement. A legal comprehension that Earth is an indivisible, interrelated and interdependent community of living beings is enormously empowering for the health of the planet but also for the ordinary families and local communities who're now routinely abused by profiteering corporate giants that plunder nature. All across our country (and around the world), people wake up to find that faraway financial elites have come in by stealth, using legalistic ruses to poison local waters, strip forests and fields, defile the air and otherwise destroy people's natural surroundings. Regulators and legislators, owned by the defilers, enable the plunder.

Sometimes, aloof corporate interests get absurdly, almost-comically hypocritical, yet they're so obtuse that they don't even realize it. In that case, is it still hypocrisy ... or are they just dimwitted?

To see this phenomenon in action, look at the histrionic outburst of horror emanating from a myriad of corporate bunkers over rising public approval for the idea that nature be given legal rights that are enforceable in courts. The Rights of Nature movement argues that if a mining conglomerate decapitates a mountain or a chemical giant dumps mercury in a bay, those injured citizens of our natural world ought to have their day in court. "Outrageous!" shriek the honchos of Corporate America. "The courts and legal rights are for people , not for pieces of property!"

Hello, hypocrisy. After all, what is a corporation? Not a person. Not a sentient, living creature — no brain, no pulse, no soul, no life. It's not even a real piece of property, just an inert document printed by a state. Yet, the owners of that piece of paper claim that it magically bestows "personhood" on their corporation, giving it the legal and political rights of real people. Yet, these "paper people" cry that Earth's actual living creatures, which they've felt free to destroy for their own profit, can't have any legal rights because they are just property. Excuse me, but a single drop of water has more life in it than all the corporations in the world.

Also, let's note that the long evolution of law has constantly progressed to transform "property" into beings with fundamental rights. Generations of enslaved people, indentured servants, women, child laborers and other humans have been brutally denied personhood — even the right to exist. Even that fight hasn't been won, but the body of legal (and moral) rights has grown, and it enhances our own humanity to recognize that we and nature are one. Crass corporate exploitation, on the other hand, diminishes all living things, threatening life itself.

Those who reflexively mock the Rights of Nature movement — scoffing at the idea of legal standing for marshes, grasslands, forest networks and other wildlife — might consider taking a moment by a quiet stream in the woods to ponder: Does nature need us, or do we need her?

To learn more, go to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund website.

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 Republicans Declared Open Season On American Voters

As a general rule, I don't agree with Republican lawmakers, since they're generally wrong. But after looking into one of their main issues, I have to agree with them: Our elections are being rigged.

Anyone who takes an honest look can see that the electoral process all across the country is being stolen in broad daylight — by Republican lawmakers. In state after state, GOP governors and legislators are on a rampage to rig the system so you can't vote. By "you" I mean African Americans, Latinx voters, Asian Americans, indigenous peoples and practically all other nonwhite citizens. And seniors, union members, poor people, students, immigrant families and others with a tendency to vote for Democrats. By fraudulently shouting that "you people" are engaged in massive, orchestrated campaigns to vote illegally, GOP officials insist that they must steal your democratic right to vote in order to protect the "sanctity" of the vote!

Bizarrely, they are actually confessing their own embarrassing weakness and political ineptitude. In short, they are practically shouting, "We can't win!" Their lineup of squirrelly, increasingly kooky candidates — and their anti-people, corporate-serving agenda — have no ability to draw majority support. So, their only hope to be elected is to jerry-rig America's democratic process with a slew of barriers, locks, red tape, bans and other gimmicks and shut millions of citizens out of their polling places.

It's both pathetic and disgraceful, but their 7 million-vote defeat in last year's presidential race has spooked the Republican majority into a stampede of voter-suppression initiatives this year, pushing new proposals in Congress, the courts and state legislatures. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that at least 235 bills have been introduced in 43 states to further obstruct Americans from casting ballots.

The new schemes are aggressively repressive, aimed at preventing absentee voting, cutting early voting, eliminating mail-in voting, restricting the number and convenience of polling locations, and otherwise making it hard for people to exercise their most basic right of citizenship. Some proposals target specific groups, such as disallowing voting booths on college campuses and preventing early voting on Sundays (when many Black churches provide rides to the polls following services). And some are flagrantly autocratic, such as an Arizona bill allowing legislators to toss the voters' choice in presidential candidate and declare another candidate the victor.

In February, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was roundly denounced for running off to a sunny luxury resort in Cancun, Mexico, during the deep freeze that devastated millions of his constituents. But I wasn't mad that Ted fled; I was mad that the government let him back into our country.

Cruz is, after all, the two-legged, maniacal, self-aggrandizing ego who arrogantly tried to discard the ballots of millions of voters in the presidential election. Then, in January, he amplified claims of voter fraud along with then-President Donald Trump, who duped a crowd of Trumpeteers into storming our nation's Capitol in an attempt to seize control of our government by force. Now, having failed to pull off his coup of clowns, the extremist wannabe autocrat is asking the Supreme Court to suppress the people's democratic will.

In particular, he has teamed up with the sour old corporate plutocrat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to insert themselves into an Arizona case involving discrimination, specifically meant to disenfranchise Latinx, indigenous Americans, and Black voters. Cruz and McConnell demand that the court's six Republican justices kill America's landmark Voting Rights Act by excising Section 2. It prohibits states from altering election rules to give minority voters less opportunity than Anglos to participate in the political process.

In 2016, Arizona's Republican lawmakers passed a nasty provision declaring that any ballot cast in the wrong precinct, no matter how valid the ballot, must be tossed in the trash, rather than merely being allocated to the voter's correct precinct. This almost entirely affects people of color, for GOP election officials play partisan games with them by frequently moving their voting places, often at the last minute with little notice. Ted and Mitch, however, see nothing nefarious in this sneaky cheat. Indeed, they want the court to nullify Section 2, allowing states to change the time, place, and manner of voting whenever they want, even if the changes hurt minority voters.

The theft of our democracy doesn't happen in a violent coup but in a thousand legalistic cuts by crooks like Ted Cruz. He's just one example of the gross, repugnant thievery by political thugs who're not just stealing people's birthright but stealing from America itself. To help reject their depravity — and see what they are doing in your state — go to CommonCause.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 That Deep Freeze Revealed About Texas

It's written that Nero, the debauched ancient emperor, fiddled while Rome burned. Whether or not that's true, it certainly is true that Ted Cruz, the self-indulgent Texas senator, fiddled around while his state froze.

While Ted fled Texas for the sunny clime and luxury of the Ritz-Carlton resort in Cancun, Mexico, dozens of his constituents died in the five-day deep freeze, and millions more suffered physically and financially. They had no heat or water, thanks to the 25-year failure of Texas Republican leaders like Cruz to protect the state's electric grid from such a predictable weather crisis. This deadly, frigid, multibillion-dollar chaos in energy-rich Texas was not the result of a polar vortex but a small-minded vortex of right-wing political hokum that puts the interests of a few corporate profiteers over the well-being of the people.

Among those who now must pay the price of the GOP's fealty to corporate interests is a hard-hit group that gets little media notice: small, local farmers. As a regular customer of farmers markets, I know many of these hardy, innovative people, and I've had the privilege of working with them since my days as Texas Agriculture Commissioner. They are America's most productive, most ecologically conscious and most community-spirited ag producers, yet state and national farm policies work against them, even trying to displace them with industrial farm giants.

For example, massive federal farm programs pay tens of billions of our tax dollars each year in crop insurance and direct subsidies to offset the vagaries of agriculture, but they don't cover local organic and sustainable food producers. Indeed, the bulk of payments go to those least in need — the multimillion-dollar agribusiness operators, including Wall Street syndicates.

So, in my area of central Texas, such efficient, enterprising farms as Boggy Creek, Eden East, Green Gate and Hat & Heart had row after row of veggies turn to greenish-black glop by the killer storm. Through no fault of their own, they lost the money they invested to produce those crops, lost the money they would've gotten by selling them, and will have to find money from somewhere to put in a new crop and then tend to it for six weeks or so with no income.

Not only must our corporate-controlled electric grid be replaced; so must our corporate-controlled ag policy — and our corporate-controlled elected officials.

There is a weasel word that politicians have taken to using in the past few years whenever something goes wrong on their watch: "unacceptable."

We just heard it slither out of the mouth of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Responding to withering public criticism of the state's chaotic and disastrous response to a killer winter storm, Abbott fumed, "What happened this week to our fellow Texans is absolutely unacceptable." Well, gosh, Guv, it surely is, but wait — aren't you the governor, the guy in charge? But a detail like that can't get in the way of a weaselly political rant, so Abbott pointed his outrage at ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency charged with maintaining a reliable flow of electricity to Texas homes, schools, businesses, etc.

But wait again: ERCOT merely administers policies set by the Public Utility Commission, and that corporate-cozy body has failed for years to mandate that the state's privatized, for-profit electric utilities weatherize their power generators to prevent freeze-ups. And who appointed the three members of that commission? Why, Greg, it was you! In fact, the chairwoman and one of the two other members of PUC are former top staffers of the governor.

Also, Abbott has been governor for six years, and not once has he proposed legislation to require that the corporate owners of electric utilities protect the grid from freezes, as is commonly done in North Dakota, Vermont and other subzero, icy places.

Oh, he also claims that the 2021 winter vortex was unprecedented and therefore couldn't have been anticipated. Oops ... wait again. A notorious rolling grid failure in a 2011 snowstorm left millions of Texans in deadly darkness — a disaster that was also called "unacceptable." But then, Abbott and other GOP officials did accept it, quietly refusing to require winterization, even as they accepted big campaign donations from those corporate giants that caused the breakdown.

We're now treated to the clownish spectacle of Abbott, other GOP politicos, and even the PUC fulminating about the "unacceptable" failure of the state to provide power, demanding a legislative investigation and calling for heads to roll!

But wait once again: Aren't they the heads?

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 Rural Doesn’t Have To Equal Red

To say that President Joe Biden lost the rural vote is to sugarcoat the dire situation Democrats face out beyond the suburbs. Why? Well, scoff too many lazy politicos and pundits, rural America is indelibly red, filled with white rubes and racists, so Dems should write them off and concentrate resources where the big numbers are.

Aha! Might it be a problem for a political party to dismiss an entire diverse constituency of millions as a block of static numbers in some consulting firm's big-data computers — rather than, say, as human beings to be courted and won over? The national Democratic Party is a myopic, data-driven operation, as was inadvertently admitted two days after the presidential election by Rep. Cheri Bustos, head of the party's congressional campaign arm. According to The New York Times, "'Something went wrong,' Ms. Bustos said, blaming incorrect modeling of the electorate in polling."

Hello ... how about an incorrect understanding of, concern for, and outreach to rural families and communities? They are being crushed by Big Agriculture monopolies, joblessness, artificially low crop prices, farm foreclosures, Wall Street land speculators, corporate exploitation, opioids, public service cutbacks, climate change (floods, droughts, fires, storms), lack of broadband service, out-migration of youth, COVID-19, suicides, and a host of other Biblical-level plagues. Sure, Republican officials are uncaring and push policies that cause and sustain the pain of all the above. But where the hell are Democrats?

Pointing at GOP uglies is not a helping hand, and — let's be blunt — much of the rural electorate now writes off Democrats as aloof Washington-based elites who look down on them and simply don't give a damn about "out there." Even the party's good, responsive candidates and organizers in rural areas are finding it a hard row to hoe to convince farmers, workers, local business people, and other natural allies in the hinterlands that Dems are on their side. After all ... the party of the New Deal has not really been there for them in years.

In 2009, for example, it looked for one brief moment like then-President Barack Obama might stand up and finally bust the beef and pork trusts that openly rip off family farmers and ranchers. Thousands of abused producers testified at field hearings; a real ag reformer was appointed to go after the corporate profiteers; excitement spread across farm country ... and then nothing . Meat monopolists such as Tyson, Smithfield, and JBS shrieked at the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress, so all of that grassroots testimony was shelved; the reformer resigned in disgust and protest; and the monopolists are now bigger than ever.

Note that rural America is not just about farmers, and it certainly is not monochromatic, for at least 1 in 5 rural voters are people of color — including African American, Latin American, Native American, Asian American, and others. According to Matt Hildreth of RuralOrganizing.org, a third of all new immigrants find work in enclaves far outside our major cities, as we learned last spring when untold numbers of immigrant workers at those same Big Three meat monopolists died after working in COVID-19-infected slaughterhouses. While then-President Donald Trump was the one who sanctioned this, the Democratic establishment did little more than file an objection and avert its eyes.

If Dems don't stand firm for rural people, why would rural people stand for them? As we saw last November, they won't. In fact, the Biden campaign hardly showed up last year. While the party has a rural program on paper, it has little on the ground — it's estimated that People's Action, just one of the great independent progressive groups that work with rural voters, ran a bigger and much more effective rural outreach effort than Biden did. And when the Dems do deign to go to the countryside, they basically assail the GOP but shy from even speaking the name of the real elephant stomping on the rural economy and culture: unbridled corporate power.

If Democrats ever hope to win rural/small-town America (or even to "lose better" — i.e., by smaller margins), that journey begins by literally moving a permanent party presence to the countryside, listening to the diversity of people there, standing with them, and delivering on their needs. We don't have to create a special vehicle to reach them, for a powerful office already exists with enormous authority and resources to help them restore vitality and prosperity: the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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.

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 such as "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 wouldn't be as luxurious, but CEOs would 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 to wish that they live with one another constantly and permanently? No, really, each of you deserve 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.

This holiday season got me thinking about America's spirit of giving, and I don't mean this overdone business of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday gifts. I mean our true spirit of giving — giving of ourselves.


Yes, we are a country of rugged individualists, yet there's also a deep, community-minded streak in each of us. We're a people who believe in the notion that we're all in this together, that we can make our individual lives better by contributing to the common good.

The establishment media pay little attention to grassroots generosity, focusing instead on the occasional showy donation by what it calls "philanthropists" — big tycoons who give a little piece of their billions to some university or museum in exchange for a building named after them. But in my mind, the real philanthropists are the millions of you ordinary folks who have precious little money to give but consistently give of yourselves, and do it without demanding that your name be engraved on a granite wall.

My own daddy — rest his soul — was a fine example of this. With half a dozen other guys in Denison, Texas, he started the Little League Baseball program, volunteering to build the park, sponsor and coach the teams, run the squawking PA system, etc., etc. Even after I graduated from Little League, Daddy stayed working at it, because his involvement was not merely for his kids ... but for all. He felt the same way about being taxed to build a public library in town. I don't recall him ever going in that building, much less checking out a book, but he wanted it to be there for the community, and he was happy to pay his part. Not that he was a do-good liberal, for God's sake — indeed, he called himself a conservative.


My daddy didn't even know he had a political philosophy, but he did, and it's the best I've ever heard. He would often say to me, "Everybody does better when everybody does better." If only our leaders in Washington and on Wall Street would begin practicing this true American philosophy.

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.

Accepting Biden Win, McConnell Aims To Shut Down GOP Denial

Accepting Biden Win, McConnell Aims To Shut Down GOP Denial

WATCH: Sen. Graham Urges GOP Victory In Georgia To ‘Protect’ Trump From Prosecutors

WATCH: Sen. Graham Urges GOP Victory In Georgia To ‘Protect’ Trump From Prosecutors

GOP Leader McCarthy Echoes Trump’s Lies About Vote Count

Kevin McCarthy GOP Leader McCarthy Echoes Trump’s Lies About Vote Count Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 2.0

This Holiday Season, Think About The Amazon Workers

During the hectic holiday shopping season, Jeff Bezos' Amazon may seem like a great option, especially for us procrastinators. Anything you want can be shipped directly to your doorstep. All it takes is a few clicks on the Amazon website — and, of course, some of your hard-earned money.

The media sings the praises of Bezos' concept and business. But what you may not know is that, as head of the Amazon beast, Bezos is hard on his labor force. In fact, he was awarded a less-coveted prize by the International Trade Union Confederation in 2014: "World's Worst Boss."

Read Now Show less

Does Anybody Care Who Is Appointed Agriculture Secretary? We Should

Years ago, Robert Kennedy noted that making economic, political and social progress is hard because such advances require rejecting the same old business-as-usual policies that sustain the establishment's profits and power. "'Progress' is the nice word," he said. "But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies."

His recognition that gutsy, honest leadership is necessary to confront the wealthy interests and advance the Common Good is directly applicable to one of the most important Cabinet appointments President-elect Joe Biden will make: secretary of agriculture.

Read Now Show less

On Thanksgiving, Celebrate Agriculture — Not Agribusiness

In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, then-President Richard Nixon's choice for secretary of agriculture.

A coalition of grassroots farmers, consumers and scrappy public interest organizations (such as the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost-impossible challenge of defeating the Cabinet nominee of a president who'd just been elected in a landslide.

The 51-44 Senate vote was so close because we were able to expose Butz as ... well, as butt-ugly — a shameless flack for big food corporations that gouge farmers and consumers alike. We brought the abusive power of corporate agribusiness into the public consciousness for the first time, but we had won only a moral victory, since there he was, ensconced in the seat of power. It horrified us that Nixon had been able to squeeze Butz into that seat, yet it turned out to be a blessing.

An arrogant, brusque, narrow-minded and dogmatic agricultural economist, Butz had risen to prominence in the small — but politically powerful — world of agriculture by devoting himself to the corporate takeover of the global food economy. He was dean of agriculture at Purdue University but also a paid board member of Ralston Purina and other agribusiness giants. In these roles, he openly promoted the preeminence of middleman food manufacturers over family farmers, whom he disdained.

"Agriculture is no longer a way of life," he infamously barked at them. "It's a business." He callously instructed farmers to "get big or get out" — and he then proceeded to shove tens of thousands of them out by promoting an export-based, conglomerated, industrialized, globalized, heavily subsidized, corporate-run food economy. "Adapt," he warned farmers, "or die." The ruination of farms and rural communities, Butz added, "releases people to do something useful in our society."

The whirling horror of Butz, however, spun off a blessing, which is that innovative, freethinking, populist-minded and rebellious small farmers and food artisans practically threw up at the resulting Twinkieization of America's food. They were sickened that nature's own rich contribution to human culture was being turned into just another plasticized product of corporate profiteers. "The central problem with modern industrial agriculture ... (is) not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste, and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all. More fundamentally, it has no soul," said Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and former farm boy from Yamhill, Oregon. Rather than accept that, they threw themselves into creating and sustaining a viable, democratic alternative. The "good food" rebellion has since sprouted, spread and blossomed from coast to coast.

This transformative grassroots movement rebuts old Earl's insistence that agriculture is nothing but a business. It most certainly is a business, but it's a good business — literally producing goodness — because it's "a way of life" for enterprising, very hardworking people who practice the art and science of cooperating with Mother Nature, rather than always trying to overwhelm her. These farmers don't want to be massive or make a killing; they want to farm and make delicious, healthy food products that help enrich the whole community.

This spirit was summed up in one simple word by a sustainable farmer in Ohio, who was asked what he'd be if he wasn't a farmer. He replied, "Disappointed." To farmers like these, food embodies our full "culture" — a word that is, after all, sculpted right into "agriculture" and is essential to its organic meaning.

Although agriculture has forestalled the total takeover of our food by crass agribusiness, the corporate powers and their political hirelings continue to press for the elimination of the food rebels and, ultimately, to impose the Butzian vision of complete corporatization. This is one of the most important populist struggles occurring in our society. It's literally a fight for control of our dinner, and it certainly deserves a major focus as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner this year.

To find small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets and other resources in your area for everything from organic tomatoes to pastured turkey, visit the LocalHarvest website.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.