The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

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

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

Work, Sweat, Die: The Price Of The Hottest Jobs


It was a hell of a hot summer, exploding the tops off thermometers with deadly triple-digit readings across the country, including in far northern regions that've almost never seen such extremes. As we're learning, week after week of debilitating heat intensifies wildfires, causes electric grids to fail, kills millions of wild animals (including fish), burns up crops, and concentrates toxic air.

But there's another impact that draws little notice: Heat kills workers. Indeed, those searing days of 95, 100, 110 degrees kill and injure more U.S. workers each year than all the floods, hurricanes and tornadoes combined. Those toiling outdoors — including farmworkers, roofers and carpenters, airport ground crews, landscapers, road and street repairers, letter carriers and trash collectors — are in the direct line of fire for this invisible, insidious killer. But indoors is no better if there's no air conditioning, for sprawling warehouse and manufacturing plants made of metal and stone become ovens.

Then, welcome to climate change — 20 of the last 21 years gave us the hottest temperatures on record. Unsurprisingly, the yearly number of worker heat deaths doubled over that period. Also, researchers have determined that extreme workplace heat is causing about 170,000 people a year to suffer injuries on the job.

The impact of heat is poorly understood, even by workers. Sudden heatstroke is not the only worry, for rising body temperatures can quickly cloud the mind, weaken muscles and numb concentration. So, workers fall; their hands get caught in machinery; they touch the wrong wire; they get hit by a front-end loader.

Sitting in climate-controlled executive suites, distant legislative chambers and comfortable editorial offices, America's power elites literally don't feel the intensity of this heat, so the richest country in the history of the world continues to subject millions of its people to senseless suffering and death, not even talking about this embarrassment, much less stopping it.

America's corporate acolytes and right-wing moralists preach that an uncomplaining, nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic is what gives dignity to laboring stiffs.

Of course, that's "dignity" as defined and controlled by corporate elites, not by workers, and the reward for it frequently includes on-the-job injuries ... and death. Not that CEOs and well-heeled investors intentionally sicken, maim and kill thousands of laborers every year — but they certainly do put them in positions to experience such unhappy results. For example, they require that farmworkers spend hours picking crops on 105-degree California days, or that construction crews toil in the muggy dog days of Florida summers tarring the roofs of condos. Low-paid, powerless workers die, but no one in the corporate hierarchy did the deed — heat was the killer.

But wait, not only are aloof bosses back at air-cooled headquarters the ones who knowingly subject subordinates to that deadly heat, but they're also the ones who hire squads of lobbyists and lawyers to kill regulations that could prevent these deaths. Proposed solutions are not exactly high-tech or even expensive: Require ample water at work sites; ensure paid rest breaks in cool spaces; train on-site managers and employees to detect and react to signs of heat stress; require good ventilation and proper clothing; establish emergency response procedures; foster a safety-first environment; and impose serious punishments for violators.

Such sensible steps have repeatedly been proposed as official workplace policy for at least the last 50 years — but intense industry opposition has killed the adoption of any such standards of prevention. Instead, the U.S. "protects" workers with a voluntary awareness campaign that essentially consists of posters urging employees to beware of heat, saying to them, "goodbye and good luck."

But at last, a real proposal has been put on the table by more than 110 grassroots groups. See it — and join it — by contacting Public Citizen at Citizen.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 America Follow Alabama’s Progressive Example?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Is The ‘Quits Rate’ Skyrocketing Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust Us, We’re Only Spying On You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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