The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

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

Pro Golfers Only Dirty Themselves With Saudi 'Sportswashing'

When a golfer hits an errant shot that might bonk an unsuspecting spectator on the head, the proper cry of warning is: "Fore!" But what do they shout when they hit a bad shot that boomerangs right back and bonks the golfer on the noggin?

In the polite world of golf — where there's a rule of etiquette to cover every contingency — this boomerang shot has rarely if ever occurred, so there's been no need for a clubhouse dictum to govern proper warning shout... until now. This spring, a small group of professional golfers — led by former Big Name superstars Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson — decided to turn the game that has made them fabulously rich into an unsporting game of SleazeBall.

They say they want to set up an independent series of global tournaments, called LIV Golf, to compete with the PGA, the Professional Golfers Association. Fine — at its best, pro sports should be about top-quality, honest competition. But there's the rub: The LIV series is not honest, not a sporting competition and not even about golf. It is entirely about money — more specifically about callous greed.

Indeed, LIV Golf is a scam that's entirely financed by the brutish family of petro-royals who ruthlessly rule Saudi Arabia. The family's grotesque abuse of the kingdom's own citizens has made the oil-rich regime a global pariah. Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince who is the mastermind behind this multimillion-dollar golfing scheme, is the same fellow who ordered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered in 2018. But simply killing Khashoggi wasn't enough. The prince had him cut into small pieces, packed in suitcases and tossed away. Now, his golf gambit is a blatant case of "sportswashing" — he is spending obscene sums of his family's oil loot to buy the marquee names of a few dozen recognizable golfers to concoct a sports spectacle, in hopes of distracting attention from his government's depravity. Hitler tried this by staging the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, but it didn't wash.


Likewise, the Saudi golf association won't wash off the regime's indelible ugliness. But — Fore! — it will boomerang on the money-grubbing golfers selling their once-good names to it. If you sell out your personal integrity in a vain attempt to give a patina of integrity to some notorious scoundrels, what have you gained?

Depends on your sellout price, chortle the ethically stunted professional golfers who've peddled both their honor and honesty to the murderous, moneyed monarchs. The golfing elites madly rushed to grab money thrown at their feet by the royal kingdom in a crude PR ploy that's meant to buff up its public image by making them seem like generous benefactors bringing sports to the masses. Of course, a golf tournament needs golfers, but the Saudis had none of note, so they simply bought a batch. Right away, former stars Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman signed away their integrity to join, taking at least $200 million apiece. Then Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau took $150 million each from Team Saudi, and the likes of Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia and others quicky scrambled to get theirs.


Worse than the golfers' unsightly money grubbing, however, is their insufferable dishonesty, trying to whitewash their taking of what is literally blood money. Mickelson faked moral outrage at the Kingdom's rulers, gingerly calling them "less-than-savory individuals" and piously proclaiming that he did not condone "human rights violations." But he certainly has condoned (and cashed) the checks written to him by the violators.

But Greg Norman, the former pro who led recruitment of golfer talent for the Saudis, offered the most pathetic moral excuse for selling out to such a villainous kingdom. Asked how he could link arms with a potentate so barbarous as to have had a critic of the regime murdered and chopped into pieces, Norman said: "Look, we've all made mistakes."

There's a word that describes what these golfing multimillionaires are doing: "Disgusting." The good news is that most pros — including bigger-name stars like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas — have some values that they refuse to trade for dollars.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

The Sunshine State's Dark Bully

Many members of the extremist establishment have a new darling in Ron DeSantis. For example, the editor of the far-right National Review recently gushed that, second only to Trump, the Florida governor is "the hottest thing" in GOP politics: "Ron DeSantis is the new Republican Party."

Interesting, because what characterizes Ron's tenure (and prompts a collective swoon for him within the rightist hierarchy) is his strongman authoritarianism. Indeed, DeSantis puts the bull in bully, bellowing "culture war" hooey, demonizing immigrants, fabricating claims of voter fraud, promoting COVID-19 lies and so forth. Then he imperiously asserts government power to bully majority will, local communities, workers, the poor, Florida's environment, truth, fairness, honesty and democracy. Consider one of DeSantis' autocratic moves that, curiously, thrilled many who once professed to be small-government "conservatives." They are now cheering for him to go national with his reliance on Big Government Boss-ism to usurp the people's democratic authority:

Like other Republican-run states, DeSantis's Florida keeps manufacturing ways to restrict voter participation, in particular blocking African Americans from the polls. In 2018, however, Floridians themselves rebuked the suppressors by approving a ballot measure to expand the electorate. A whopping 65 percent said YES to eliminating a vindictive lifelong ban on voting by ex-felons — people who had served their time. This long-overdue measure of simple justice (approved, in fact, by a much bigger margin of voters than DeSantis got that year) re-enfranchised about 1.4 million former felons.


But wait — DeSantis had old Jim Crow up his sleeve! In 2019, he rammed a mean technical gotcha into state law, preventing former felons from voting until they pay in full all court fines (many arbitrarily and unfairly assessed years ago for things like marijuana possession). The fines can run thousands of dollars, so the new law priced a big percentage of these newly eligible voters out of democratic participation. It's nothing but a crude partisan poll tax to keep a select group of poor people from casting ballots.

The extreme ugliness within DeSantis has yet to be fully plumbed. Indeed, it keeps surging as his ego and presidential ambition combine and combust, spewing out evermore autocratic, abusive, self-aggrandizing schemes and scams. For example, Florida's supreme leader announced that he intends to form his own military force, a state army that would report only to him (bypassing the U.S. chain of command) "to protect the state" in case of "emergencies." What's an emergency? He'll decide.

To relax, DeSantis turns to a favorite hobby: Monitoring, scolding and proscribing Floridians' free speech rights. Stifling a human reality that even young kids know, DeSantis has outlawed potentially comforting discussions in elementary schools about sexual orientation and gender identity that don't conform to Ron's uptight Republican puritanism. His excellency has mandated that social studies textbooks not include (Get this!) any component of "social justice." Nor can schools teach anything that would "denigrate the Founding Fathers" or examine institutional racism in America. Ron adamantly opposes what right-wingers call a "woke" society — he wants one that's asleep.

Sound asleep. DeSantis went wacky this year, inviting right-wing activists to review and help ban math textbooks. Yes, math! These screechers object that some real-life topics like race and wage disparities are being included in math problems — never mind that that might make math relevant to today's students. His cadre of reviewers also rejected elementary school math books, alleging that they promote "socialist" values such as encouraging kiddos to "work together" on problems and "disagree respectfully." DeSantis's political censorship binge has nixed 42 math books for daring to "incorporate prohibited topics."

All of this comes at taxpayer expense, of course, but most intolerable is the steady drip-drip-drip of power it drains from America's democratic ideals and commitment to the common good. I can't say that DeSantis is the worst that the GOP will try to put in the White House in 2024, but he is a signpost of an increasingly assertive American fascism.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Y'all Listen When I Tell You Why Greg Abbott Must Never Be President

In the 1990s, the sharp-witted Texan and renowned progressive writer Molly Ivins regaled (and appalled) readers with her reports on the tragicomic awfulness of George W. Bush's two terms as the Lone Star State's governor. His tenure was notable for his deep ignorance, frat-boy arrogance and flagrant servility to corporate interests. But those very qualities made America's moneyed powers decide that — Wow! — wouldn't he make a dandy president? Molly warned the general public about the folly of that choice, but in the 2000 race, W's patrons stuffed him with money, buffed him up with a glossy coat of PR Shinola, pulled off a flagrant post-election political heist in Florida ... and squeegeed him, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and that whole regime of horrors into office.

Many Americans soon began expressing astonishment at how shallow, imperious, and dangerous Bush & Co. were proving to be, leading Molly to say with a heavy sigh: "Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention."

Don't look now, but another Texas gubernatorial goober, named Greg Abbott, is coming at you, insisting that he should be your next president. Sadly, Molly is gone, but I knew her well enough that I think I can speak for her on this matter of national import: "Oh, hell no!"


Excuse the redundancy here, but right-wing extremism has become extremely extreme, and Abbott is vying to be the "extremiest" of all. A clue to his loopiness is his vituperative anti-abortion absolutism, forcing victims of rape to give birth to their rapists' spawn. Not a problem, proclaimed Abbott, for he's the Lone Star Wizard. He declared that he intends to go out and arrest all rapists — get this — before they rape anyone!

Abbott, a governor with no talent for governing, has run up a record noted for spectacular program failures, corporate bootlicking, widening inequality, corruption, political buffoonery... and so awful much more. If that's your idea of a president, there he is.

Perhaps you remember Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP's fringy, far-right-wing 1964 presidential nominee who famously said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Today, however, the core of the Republican Party has gone so far beyond the fringe that they would boo Goldwater's right-wingism as insufficiently rabid. Instead, their new rallying cry is: "Nuttiness in the defense of extremism is no vice."

The GOP as a whole has mutated from a conservative party with some extremist factions to effectively proclaiming itself the Party of Extremism. Its mainline officialdom (governors, congressional leaders, state reps, judges, party chairs, et al.) are no longer just winking at such antidemocratic, far-right groups as neo-Confederates, paranoid "replacement" theorists, secessionists and QAnon cultists — they are openly embracing the crazy.

Hoping to enlist the raw political fervor of dogmatic rightists, local, state and national Republican establishments are mainstreaming the extreme: Parroting many of those groups' wilder claims, adopting their code words and endorsing their adherents for elected and appointed offices. And, of course, all of this fanatical horsepower is quietly being hitched to the party's true purpose of entrenching the supremacy of corporate and moneyed elites.

Now, this extremism is about to erupt in the GOP's presidential primary, for a whole covey of these cooing right-wingers have fantasies of taking the groups' radical agenda to the White House. All of them are trying to out-extreme each other with raw meat bigotry and autocratic posturing, but two wannabes have emerged as both the most bullish and bullying: Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida.

For months, these big state governors have been locked in a far-right kook-off including outlawing free speech, banning books, viciously attacking immigrants, preempting local elections and governments and denying health care to poor people. Bear in mind that Abbott and DeSantis are not merely pontificating, posturing and promising what they might do in the White House; as governors they're actually practicing it right now!

I don't know if Abbott and DeSantis are the worst that the GOP will try to put in the Oval Office in 2024, but please pay attention now, for today's Republican elites intend to pull our democracy down into the plutocratic, autocratic and theocratic maelstrom they are creating.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

How The Supreme Court Became A Corporate Rubber Stamp

Today's six-member supermajority on the Supreme Court has surrendered all claim to being an impartial moral force for blind justice. Instead, the GOP's small network of corporate and right-wing operatives has painstakingly fabricated and weaponized the court as its own political oligarchy. In only a couple of decades, backed by a few billionaires, these anti-democracy zealots have incrementally been imposing on America an extremist political agenda that they could not win at the ballot box.

Their "Eureka!" moment — the startling development that opened the eyes of the moneyed elites and ideologues to the raw power they could grab by politicizing the judiciary — was the Supreme Court's illegitimate Bush v. Gore ruling. In December 2000, that five-person GOP majority abruptly crashed Florida's presidential vote count, storming over both democracy and judicial propriety to install George W. in the White House. Appalled, dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens mocked the five, pointing out that while their trumped-up ruling didn't really establish whether Bush or Gore won, it did make the loser "pellucidly clear: It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."

One of those who helped run the court's blatant political power play over the Florida vote was an obscure corporate lawyer who had long been an aggressive, behind-the-scenes Republican monkey-wrencher pushing to restrict voting by people of color, poor people and other Democratic constituencies: John Roberts. Shortly thereafter — surprise! — Bush elevated Roberts to a top federal judgeship, and just two years later moved him on up to America's ultimate judicial power spot, chief justice of the Supremes.

From this lofty roost, Roberts has orchestrated an expansive political docket for the court, handpicking cases created and advanced by far-right interests. He then has manipulated precedents and procedures to produce convoluted decisions that impose plutocratic, autocratic and theocratic domination over the American people's democratic rights and aspirations.

To date, Chief Justice Roberts has cobbled together slim, all-Republican majorities to hand down more than 80 blatantly partisan rulings, fabricating law that We the People have never voted for and don't support.

It's bizarre to have the Supreme Court, the least democratic branch of government, professing to speak in the name of The People. Even as its right-wing core is grinding out an unprecedented level of partisan judgments that We the People clearly do not want — and will not support. Take that abortion right, for example, that the court — now freshly packed with former President Donald Trump's trio of Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — will likely move this year to nullify. If they do, it will be a pricey "victory" for those politicos, because they are imperiously thrusting their own agenda over the overwhelming will of the people.

Helloooo, your honors: Some six in 10 Americans have consistently and passionately affirmed that these deeply personal and emotional decisions belong to the women affected, not to unelected ideologues and political opportunists. A court so far out of touch with the people is marching forth with no cloak of legitimacy, squandering its authority to be taken seriously, much less obeyed.

Not only has this band of self-righteous judges been punching their reactionary social biases into court-made law, but they've also been rubber-stamping cases to enthrone corporate supremacy over us and our environment. Throughout Roberts' reign, the court has sided with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the chief front group for U.S. corporate giants) a staggering 70 percent of the time! Indeed, three members — Roberts, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas — now rank among the five most corporate-friendly justices of the past 75 years.

This aggressive corporatization and partisanship has lifted the Supremes to a new level of public awareness — much to their chagrin. In a Quinnipiac survey last November, more than six in 10 Americans said they believe Supreme Court decisions are motivated primarily by politics, not by unbiased readings of the law. Rather than instilling a modicum of humility, however, the bad reviews have stirred embarrassing outbursts of judicial pique and vitriol. Alito, for example, whined loudly last year that critics are engaged in "unprecedented efforts to intimidate the court or damage it as an independent institution." Likewise, Barrett was so stung that she felt it necessary to go public with a strained denial, pleading for the public to believe that "this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks."

Note to petulant judges: If you don't want to be called a partisan hack, stop being one. And, Brother Alito, it's not critics who're damaging the third branch "as an independent institution," it's your obsequious fealty to corporate interests and your knee-jerk allegiance to extremist ideologues. You can wear the robe, but you can't hide in it.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Supreme Thieves Disguised In Robes Of Justice

Barry Goldwater, considered a right-wing extremist and fringe candidate in 1964, won the 1964 Republican presidential nomination by declaring that "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice!" But the GOP is now way beyond the fringe, declaring that nuttiness in defense of extremism is no vice.

Consider Ginni Thomas. Her recent far-out political role in the effort to overthrow the people's 2020 presidential vote shows that her husband Clarence Thomas — the surly, reactionary dogmatist who has sat on the Supreme Court for 31 years — is not the nuttiest member of the Thomas household! He's the best known of the duo, but wife Ginni has quietly been moving into the top circle of unhinged political conspiracy activists.

Biden's defeat of Trump in 2020 set off this supremely connected partisan like an explosion in a fireworks factory. She spewed out a weeklong barrage of text messages to Trump's chief of staff demanding that Republicans use the Court to stop Congress from certifying Biden's victory. Ginni instructed her White House co-conspirators to "Release the Kraken." Huh? "Kraken," the name of a mythological sea monster, was used by manic right-wingers as a code name for a series of kooky lawsuits they hoped judges would use to put Trump back in power.

Ginni Thomas was not merely someone babbling free-speech opinions; she was an implementer, a powerful political plotter actively strategizing and organizing to have unelected judges — like Clarence — usurp the people's democratic authority. This was too crazy even for the right-wing Republicans now running the high court, but her effort did inadvertently expose an astonishing flaw in the Court's ethical structure. In a flagrant example of judicial conflict of interest, Justice Thomas used his position to try to advance election cases in which his spouse, partisan-activist Thomas, had a personal stake.

Was he punished for violating the ethics code? No, because — get this — the U.S. Supreme Court has no ethics code! None whatsoever. Trust us, say the mighty justices — each of us will be the judge of our own ethics.

As we've learned from painful experience, "governmental ethics" can be a slippery concept.

That's why We the People have insisted that every public official — from Congress critters to dogcatchers — swear to abide by some minimum standard of proper behavior. Not that all will honor it, but a code of ethics provides society with a measure of legal action against those who are grabbers and grifters.

How bizarre, then, that the nine members of our august Supreme Court, America's highest legal authority, have discretely refused to accept ethical rules. They claim they are the one group of public officials that don't need no stinkin' code because ... well, they are supreme! Chief Justice John Roberts assures us that he has "complete confidence" that each justice will always make the right ethical call on their own because "(t)hey are jurists of exceptional integrity and experience."

Does he think we have sucker wrappers around our heads? Some of these black-robed "honorables" regularly engage in the petty thievery of accepting all-expense-paid corporate trips to luxury resorts, membership in exclusive golf clubs and assorted "gifts" from special interests. Clarence Thomas is the current king of handouts, taking thousands of dollars in freebies, including such pedestrian gimmes as car tires and cigars. Thomas, a 31-year lifer on the court, draws $230,000 a year from taxpayers. Can't he buy his own cigars? No one would buy stuff for him — except to influence his decisions!

Most damning, though, is the grand larceny of the Court's six right-wing extremists, who've turned what's meant to be a citadel of democracy into a Republican rubber stamp for plutocracy. They've stolen the integrity of the Court itself, rigging their procedures and rulings to profit moneyed interests, suppress voting rights, hogtie workers and generally run roughshod over the needs and democratic ideals of America's majority.

To help stop this disgraceful corruption of justice by so-called justices, go to FixTheCourt.com.

Printed with permission from Creators.

Our Privacy Rights Are Being Stripped, Sold And Stolen

Every company with a credit card, store card, website — or even a clerk who asks for your email and phone number at the checkout counter — is looking to peddle "data" about your buying habits. In many states, you have to hand over your fingerprints to renew your driver's license. Public and private spaces alike are constantly scanned by ever-more-observant surveillance cameras.

When we're asked for our Social Security number, many of us simply shrug our shoulders rather than raising hell. And if we happen to be poor, a footloose kid hanging on a street corner or a motorist guilty of "driving while black," for example, we're liable to be locked up and lost in a vast criminal "justice" system that considers itself not responsible for any rights, especially privacy rights.

Invasion of our privacy has become a way of life, so that when you stand up and demand to be left alone, you're likely to be pegged as a quaint holdover from days gone by, a whiner or, more likely, someone with something to hide — maybe even a terrorist! We're living in a culture in which individual rights have been sold and subjugated, all for database marketing and to keep the lid on the unruly masses.

This is an issue that has fallen off the political radar. Last I looked, the only people in Washington overly concerned with privacy were the corporate check writers and their pet politicians, eager to cover the tracks of their own financial quid pro quos.

In the brave new culture built around the marketplace, both corporate and government sectors have deemed private and personal information to be just another commodity.

In 1999, Congress passed the "financial modernization" bill, which was written with the help of banking industry lobbyists and allowed banks to collect and sell what they know about you without so much as a courtesy call to ask your permission. The only "protection" is that if a bank wants to share information from a credit report or loan application, it first must send you a notice with the chance to say no, a so-called opt-out provision.

But why is the burden on us to opt out of an agreement that lets someone else sell something that rightfully belongs to us? Before such an agreement can even be considered, they should be required to get our permission in advance — to ask us to "opt in," and to take it as "no" if they don't hear from us. Last year, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced the Information Transparency and Personal Data Control Act, which would do just that. It would create a much-needed national consumer privacy standard. But such bills have been introduced before, and they have all been killed by members of Congress who have taken millions from interests that profit from the sale of your private information. The current bill has only 21 co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats, and seems likely to die in committee.

While the finance guys are padding their fortunes by telling each other what we buy, where we buy it and on whose credit, there's another booming trade going on in the identity market.

Driven by dreams of a citizen databank available to government at every level, public officials are falling over each other trying to keep tabs on us. For example, the International Association of Chiefs of Police wants DNA samples from anyone who is arrested for any reason (as opposed to tried and convicted), and others want to take DNA samples from all newborns.

Filing our DNA in a government databank is about the ultimate in unreasonable search and seizure. DNA tracking is not just an assault on the principles embodied in our Constitution; it has very real, and frightening implications: Employers could deny you a job because your genes include a tendency toward certain diseases or health defects, and insurers might use DNA-derived information to impose limits on your health care coverage.

Not to be outdone, governments are not just compiling these databases to keep tabs on us unruly ones; they're selling the data alongside the corporate vendors. One estimate is that federal, state and local governments are making tens of millions a year selling public records to junk mailers and other businesses.

Ah, for the simpler days of 1984, when George Orwell imagined that all this high-tech snooping and file gathering would be used to spot and snuff out society's troublemakers and dissenters before they threatened the system.

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

Corporations Won Olympic Gold in 'Downhill Ethical Backflip'

By far the top team performance in this year's Winter Olympics in Beijing was corporate America's breathtaking double-twist ethical backflips.

This is a group of leading brand names that have so loudly been touting their code of ethics, pledging to stand against repressive regimes that abuse human rights. But here came the Olympic games in China, posing their first test, and it was not really a tough one. They were not asked to do anything, but merely to NOT do something — specifically, don't provide ethical legitimacy to the brutally repressive Chinese regime by sponsoring their propagandistic use of the Olympics.

Human rights advocates worldwide had called on global corporate giants to use their economic leverage to send a powerful message of disapproval to the Chinese dictatorship that is routinely committing acts of genocide and political suppression against Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong citizens, and any other dissidents under their rule. Corporate leaders would not have to march, picket or otherwise muss up their high-dollar suits — just don't pay millions of shareholders' dollars to link arms and reputations with rank repression.

Well, if you watched any of the Olympic broadcasts, you witnessed the corporate choice: a collective backflip from the high ethical bar of human rights into the pits of crass, unprincipled commercialism. Look, there's the flag of Coca-Cola, and Visa, and Pizza Hut, AirBnb, Intel, Procter & Gamble... and a who's who of America's corporate all-stars. They paid more than a billion dollars to be proud sponsors of the regime's Olympic show, choosing access to China's leaders and markets over soft goals like ethics.

Well, sniffed one sponsor, raising testy political issues "would not advance the cause of sport in which our commitment lies." Really, how sporting is genocide? Another barked that "nobody, nobody cares what happens to Uyghurs, OK?" No, it's not OK, and also not true. And yet another clueless corporate boss cavalierly dismissed ethics by declaring, "Ski and sport have no business in politics... It's common sense."

No, it's cowardice, stupidity, and un-Olympian.

Corporate America's CEOs are mostly well-heeled money people who would hardly be considered athletic. Yet, every now and then a few of these soft elites bust out as championship players of an old game called Duck & Dodge.

It's a sport of political finesse played when social conditions reach a boiling point, threatening problems for the corporate order. In those moments, a few leading executives suddenly come out as social activists to side with the aggrieved. Ducking and dodging their own responsibility for grievances, these players claim that they will fix the system. When public attention drifts, however, so do the fixers, returning to business as usual.

You might recall, for example, the huffing and puffing leaders a year ago when our very democracy was under siege, not only by seditious right-wing extremist groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol, but also by a clique of pusillanimous, right-wing Congress critters who joined the coup attempt to overthrow the people's democratic vote. "Outrageous!" shouted some 700 corporate powerhouses in unison, pledging that they would save our democracy. How? By cutting off the huge campaign donations they'd been giving to those 147 Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the election.

Let's pause here for a hypocrisy check: Aren't these born-again democracy champions the very same corporations that've been using their unlimited special-interest cash to purchase lawmakers wholesale and steal the people's political power? Yes... yet they now want us to believe they're our saviors.

But they've quickly reverted to their true selves. Within weeks of so sternly chastising members of Congress' "sedition caucus," the corporate donor class — shhhhh — quietly returned to lavishing bribery bucks on them. AT&T, Boeing, Citigroup, GM, Pfizer and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are among the corporate phonies that slipped $2.4 million in donations last year to members of Congress they had publicly condemned as un-American. It'd make more sense to trust a coyote to guard your last lamb chop than to think that corporations value anything but their own profit.

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

Why Shouldn't Trees And Rivers Have Equal Standing With Corporations?

As an old axiom notes, "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." From coast to coast, millions of these long-lived jewels have graced our landscape, but one mighty specimen in particular has recently become a hardy symbol of a fast-growing environmental movement. The significance of this oak — rooted on a small piece of land at the corner of Dearing and Finley Streets near downtown Athens, Georgia — is that no one owned it. It was an autonomous being, known locally as "The Tree That Owns Itself."

The tree was already a couple of centuries old back in 1832 when William Jackson, a property owner and prominent resident, expressed his "great affection" for the tree he had long enjoyed, and proclaimed his "great desire to see it protected." So, Jackson formally deeded "unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself (and the plot around it)."

Alas, age and decades of storms took their toll, and even though appreciative locals had tenderly nurtured it, the 100-foot-tall, self-possessed oak finally toppled in 1942. End of story? No!

It was common in Athens for people to collect and cultivate the tree's acorns, growing its offspring in their yards. So, in a citywide effort, a hardy, five-foot-tall direct descendant was soon located, donated, transplanted in the original plot and granted the same status of self-possession. And there it stands today, now more than 50 feet tall and officially embraced by the city as "Son of the Tree That Owns Itself."

This is more than just a heartwarming story, for that oak's autonomy and ancestry have become emblematic of a newly energized, transformative legal concept: "Rights of Nature." It's a simple idea: Rather than continuing to rely on the corporate-controlled, business-as-usual model of environmental regulation, why not grant self-protective rights of law to our invaluable natural systems? In a 1972 article, University of Southern California law professor Christopher Stone first pushed this straightforward and profound idea into public discussion by "seriously proposing that we give legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers, and other so-called 'natural objects' in the environment — indeed, to the natural environment as a whole."

His point was that these living beings, no less than humans, have intrinsic value and the inherent right to exist, regenerate, flourish and defend themselves from exploitation and death. Current legal theory, though, generally recognizes nature as nothing but "property," and those who harm or even kill it can be prosecuted only if it can be proved that the damage injures humans. In short, harming nature is not itself illegal.

Thus, under the present regulatory regime, nature's well-being is irrelevant, and environmental cases are reduced to nitpicking over micro details, such as how many parts per billion of a chemical contaminant in a river is safe for humans. Establishing rights for nature would empower the river itself to sue for its loss of life, along with harm to the fish, plants and other organisms that depend on the river's health.

But, you might ask, how can trees, lakes, etc., argue in court? The same way we do, explained Stone: Lawyers could sue on their behalf, and groups, from Greenpeace to local coalitions, could serve as legal guardians. No less a judicial eminence than Justice William O. Douglas endorsed Stone's proposal in a dissenting opinion in a landmark 1972 Supreme Court case. In Sierra Club v. Morton, Douglas asserted:

Contemporary public concern for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.

The foundational truth upholding this legal approach is that we humans and our environment are one organism. After all, we can't live without nature; indeed, we are nature, and nature is us.

Such an obvious truth, however, is not only inconvenient, but abhorrent to profiteering environmental exploiters. They immediately ridiculed Stone and the Rights of Nature idea, but the concept caught on anyway, so that now, 50 years later, corporate interests are hyperventilating and on the attack. Last July, Koch brothers political operative David McDonald warned property owners to rally against this movement. "Streams don't have rights," he barked. "Rights ... belong to people, not to artifacts within the environment or natural wonders."

Seriously? A tree is just an "artifact"? Don't "natural wonders" — from rainforests to coral reefs — have more intrinsic value to Earth, our own health and our posterity than some corporation's short-term profits?

And what a hoot it is for this representative of corporate supremacy to declare that rights only "belong to people." He is, after all a functionary for the avaricious money powers that have spent years perverting law, logic and reality to promote the absurd fiction that corporations (artificial constructs with no life, no organic systems, no pulse or brain, no sentient existence whatsoever) are "people" with the legal rights of "personhood."

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

How Corporate Greed Is Causing Tornado Deaths

In its ranking of business values, corporate America proudly provides a special place for elevated moral behavior. That place is the trash can.

Indeed, several years ago, free-market extremist Milton Friedman actually decreed that the only ethical obligation a corporation has to society is to deliver as much profit as possible to its big investors — everybody else be damned. Any awfulness caused by their self-indulgent policy of profit maximization is excused by claiming that their iniquities "broke no laws." But — hello — they write the laws, intentionally defining corporate immorality as always technically legal.

America experienced the result of this mentality just before Christmas, when a line of supercell tornadoes ripped through Midwestern states, demolishing homes, businesses and even whole towns, killing more than 90 people. "A tragedy," wailed CEOs, the media and public officials! But wait: Those deaths were not destiny. No question that a twisting 190-mph vortex comes at us with cataclysmic power, but we're not helpless in the face of its fury. For years, an effective, comparatively cheap defense against killer tornadoes has been readily available: Safe rooms.

Basically, these are simple, concrete rooms built inside homes, schools, factories, shopping centers and elsewhere. People can shelter safely in them during big blows, surviving even if the building around them is shredded. Emergency management officials report that they provide "near absolute protection" from tornadoes. A decade ago, safety officials, insurance providers, consumer advocates and others had proposed amending our building codes to require these inexpensive, lifesaving structures in new commercial and public buildings. Such a provision would've saved many workers who were crushed in an Amazon warehouse, a candle-making factory and other buildings destroyed in December's storms.

But they died, because in 2012, members of a little-known industry-controlled group, the International Code Council, had quietly vetoed the proposal, calling it "overly restrictive," even declaring it "way too soon to do a knee jerk reaction" to tornado deaths.

All those buildings smashed by December's tornadoes were corporate death sites because their shoddy construction "broke no laws." Let's ask corporate America if it's still too soon for Congress to mandate tornado-safe rooms.

The morning after the horrific tornado smashed a huge Amazon warehouse in Illinois, killing six workers on the night shift, corporate CEO Jeff Bezos issued a personal video message.

But instead of expressing distress and sorrow, Boss Bezos was perversely giddy. That's because the narcissistic gazillionaire had not made the video to mourn the deaths. Rather, ignoring Amazon's Illinois disaster, he had chosen this hour of tragedy to gloat to the world that his private space tourism business had just rocketed a small group of extremely rich thrill seekers on a 10-minute joyride some 66 miles up to the edge of space. As reported by the "Popular Information" newsletter, Bezos even dressed up in a pretend astronaut costume for this PR video, grinning proudly as he exclaimed that everyone involved was really "happy."

Back on Planet Earth, though, the families and co-workers of the employees crushed when Amazon's cheaply built structure collapsed on them were not happy with him. It took Bezos some 12 hours after his self-congratulatory media event before he finally issued a perfunctory tweet professing to be "heartbroken over the loss of our teammates."

But they weren't "lost" to a storm — they were killed by a deliberate corporate culture that routinely cuts corners on worker safety to put more profit in corporate pockets. First, the building itself was thrown up quickly with cheap, preassembled, 40-foot-high concrete walls that collapse inward in a tornado; second, Amazon's employees were expected to stay on the job that night even though there was a high risk of tornadoes; third, Amazon never bothered to hold tornado drills; and fourth, nearly all of the workers were classified as "contractors," letting Amazon dodge liability for on-the-job harm.

Oh, and Jeff might also want to reconsider one more bit of the corporate arrogance he revealed in this ugly incident: Those dead workers were not his "teammates," as he so cynically called them — even a high-flying captain doesn't treat teammates as throwaway units, carelessly sacrificing their lives for a few more dollars in corporate profit.

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 Team Greed Turned Sports Into Just Another Money Racket

'Tis the season, right? Traditionally, the time around the winter solstice is one of reflection, spirituality and festivities — including Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.

In modern-day America, however, this season largely serves as a signal for the faithful to gather from afar in monumental temples to worship our nation's supreme secular deity: Big-Time Sports!

Get ready for weeks of being caught up in a nonstop frenzy of bowl games, pro football playoffs, soccer and more — with devout fans crisscrossing the nation in tribal pilgrimages to worship in their sacred stadiums and arenas. But whatever the sport, the name of the game these days is the same: M-O-N-E-Y.

Like other multibillion-dollar global corporate giants, the people's sport franchises are firmly in the grip of a self-regulating handful of secretive, uber-rich, autocratic owners. We might worship the team that actually plays the sport, but our money mostly goes to this ruling clique of billionaire barons.

Consider those gargantuan houses of worship where the games are played. We The People (including non-worshippers) paid for nearly all of them with tax dollars, usually with no chance to vote on the giveaway. Yet a few dozen profiteering team owners are given control of the venues. They set and collect the outrageous prices of tickets to enter and are even allowed to gouge the faithful by charging $15 for one small beer!

Most insulting, these rich public-welfare moochers pocket millions of extra dollars a year by turning these huge edifices (even those built with the people's money) into private billboards by selling off the so-called "naming rights" to the highest corporate bidders. Thus, dozens of major sports facilities dotting our land don't honor the cities they're in, the citizenry or even the team. Instead, they're gaudily plastered with corporate brand names like American Airlines Arena, FedEx Field, Gillette Stadium, Minute Maid Park, RCA Dome and Toyota Center — as though the venues are corporate-owned.

The money game is yet another corporate swindle, made even more corrupt by its expropriation of America's sporting spirit for private greed.

Advertising has been characterized as rattling a stick in a bucket — a noisy cry for public attention.

One example of this class of hucksterism is the rush by supposedly brilliant top executives of multibillion-dollar corporations to splatter their corporate names on sports venues.

Responding to a blatant scam by team owners, corporate executives are spending absurd sums of their shareholders' money to "win" temporary naming rights to local stadiums, arenas, etc. The come-on is that this billboarding will buy brand recognition, customer loyalty and even public gratitude for the purchaser.

Seriously? Do you fly Delta, bank at Wells Fargo or drive a Toyota because their names are on a big sports structure somewhere? And what do outfits like Ameriquest, Qualcomm and FTX even sell — and where are they located? As for public gratitude, ask Houstonians how thankful they are that global energy giant Enron slapped its name on the Astro's baseball park in 1999, just three years before the corporation was forced into bankruptcy for being guilty of massive fraud and squalid executive greed.

But the bucket-rattling name game keeps drawing new players. The latest entrants are purveyors of cryptocurrencies, the phantasmagoric, here-today-gone-tomorrow form of digital money. One of these, Crypto.com, has just laid out a ridiculous $700 million (presumably in real money, not "crypto") to put its occult brand name on the home arena of the Los Angeles Lakers. Why? The parties to the deal put it in grandiose terms — "a match made in heaven," exulted the arena's giddy owner, even proclaiming that Crypto.com will "help us chart a course for the future of sports."

Huh? I doubt that this cryptic, Singapore-based money dealer can even dribble a basketball, much less direct the sport's future! Like Enron and the rest, all it's doing is rattling the money bucket, turning sports into just another corporate money hustle.

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 This Season Of Feasting, Let's Celebrate Agriculture, Not Agribusines

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

A coalition of grassroots farmers, consumers, and scrappy public interest organizations (like 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 re-elected in a landslide.

The 51 to 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 ag 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, conglomeratized, industrialized, globalized and 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, free-thinking, 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 holiday dinners 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 www.LocalHarvest.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.

'Free Market' Is Now A Thin Disguise For Monopoly Power

From our school years forward, the Holy Keepers of the Corporate Order drum it into our little heads that — HALLELUJAH! — we Americans are blessed to live in a "free market" economy. Wow — let's all thank our lucky stars!

But what exactly is a free market?

Well, explain the mystics, it's an economy ruled by the invisible but immutable forces of supply and demand, thus allowing basics like prices and wages to be self-regulating in an open market of pure competition. Such an economy, we're informed, is free from distorting interventions by cartels, price fixers, supply manipulators, lawmakers and so forth. Uh-huh, and on what planet does this magic market actually exist? Not on Planet Earth, USA, where "free market" is just a rhetorical deceit that means corporate powers are free to lock down the market — which frees them to profit by stiffing consumers, workers, suppliers and others.

And they certainly have done all that. In the last 40 years or so, a handful of ever-bigger predators have squeezed out and bought out, merged and purged, conglomerated and integrated, undermined and overpowered so many economic interests that America the Free has devolved into a corporate confederacy of anti-competitive, profiteering combines. We consumers feel the slap in the face of this monopoly power when confronted with drug companies' price gouging, credit card giants' hidden fees and internet providers' rip-offs.

But it's not just a few errant industries. Whole segments of our economy and society have been plunged into the black hole of monopolization, affecting us from cradle to grave, literally: Three global conglomerates control 85 percent of U.S. baby formula; just two corporations make 82 percent of our coffins.

While the word "monopoly" technically means that a single person or corporation controls 100 percent of something, a broader concept of monopoly power is attained when a handful of players collectively control enough of a market to prevent real competition by setting prices and wages, manipulating supply, stifling innovations, etc. And that is what's squeezing our economy.

Essentially these are "shared monopolies" — generally defined as four or fewer entities controlling more than 40 percent of any given market. An astonishing level of this domineering force has already devoured our society's free-market pretensions, including many common products and industries presently locked down by four or fewer giants. For instance, 99 percent of drugstores are owned by Walgreens, Rite Aid, or CVS, and 42 percent of all U.S. beer sales are controlled by one entity: Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Corporatists and their apologists would have us believe that monopoly is the natural result of hearty competition, rewarding those firms that have superior economic ingenuity and efficiency. There is, of course, nothing natural about it. Monopolies don't happen, they're fabricated, and while the instigator is lust for profit, the methods for creating them are even more abject.

STEP 1: By hook or crook, amass enough power (financial, political, etc.) to gain market advantages over competitors.

STEP 2: Use those advantages to accrue "monopoly profits" to gain more financial and political power to squeeze out competitors.

STEP 3: Repeat.

The objective of monopoly, though, is not solely to eliminate market competition, but also to eradicate society's political power to restrain corporate greed. Rarely mentioned by media or political leaders, one major, insidious impact of monopoly is that it centralizes the geography of power: When monopolistic corporations take over a community's grocery store, a city's airport, a county's hospital, a rural area's farm machinery dealer, and so forth, decisions about everything from prices to business practices — and sometimes the businesses themselves — leave town.

Market concentration might seem an esoteric matter of concern only to academics and lawyers, until you realize that it relocates the center of decision-making away from a community's consumers, workers, environmentalists, officials, et al., to some faraway, profiteering CEO you've never heard of, who's never been to your town, and who (PR posturing aside) doesn't give a damn what local yokels think.

This intentional distancing of power beyond people's reach has now gone global, for more and more of the major corporations locking down U.S. markets are based abroad — in Brazil, Holland, South Korea, Taiwan, the U.K., Canada, France, etc. How are suppliers, customers and other hometown folks supposed to get the attention (much less influence the decisions) of such remote powers? Of course, that's the point: Whether they're ensconced in a corporate bastion in Delaware or Hong Kong ... you can't touch them.

However, as previous generations have done, we can organize and mobilize and rebel against this flagrantly anti-American, plutocratic concentration of power, and many good organizations are doing just that: fighting monopoly power at the local, state, national and global levels. One such group is the Institute for Local Self Reliance, which fights the fight at the local level. Learn more at: https://ilsr.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.

GOP Supreme Court Justices Defrock Themselves

Reprinted with permission from Creators

Ralph Waldo Emerson told about a dinner guest in his home who spent the entire evening prattling on about his belief in virtue, honesty and his own integrity: "The louder he talked of his honor," Emerson wrote, "the faster we counted our spoons."

Read Now Show less

Striketober Is Just As American As The World Series

Reprinted with permission from Creators

The corporate hierarchy has long tried to diminish labor activism in the U.S. by insisting that strikes and other workplace agitations have never had broad support or impact because they are fundamentally un-American. The corporatists cluck that from the get-go America's cultural zeitgeist has been grounded in veneration of individualism, appreciation for the financial blessings of the corporate order and rejection of collectivism.

Read Now Show less

Feeding Workers To Resist Greedy, Grifting ExxonMobil Boss

Reprinted with permission from Creators

In June, Beto O'Rourke and I had the pleasure of visiting with some 650 workers in Beaumont, Texas, who have been locked out of their refinery since May 1 by the oil giant ExxonMobil. Just walking into the United Steelworkers' hall gives a palpable sense of real "union spirit." It's not some "Solidarity Forever" singalong, but something genuinely uplifting.
Read Now Show less

Yes, Childcare Qualifies As ‘Real Infrastructure’ — And Here’s Why

Reprinted with permission from Creators

Sometimes real life catches up with unreal politics, and the good news is that this is happening at last for universal child care. In many — if not most — families, mothers still have primary responsibility for the care of children, and yet, whether out of preference, economic necessity or both, 57 percent of women are now in the workforce, including 75 percent of America's 9 million single moms.

Read Now Show less