Posts from Jim Hightower

Can “powerless nobodies” fight the corporate powers?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Generations of working class shrimpers, oysterers, and other fishing families on the sparkling bays along the Texas coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, have long shared the waterways with alligators and snakes that also call this place home.

But in the 1980s, a strange and invasive new critter entered Lavaca Bay, and it’s been devouring whole species of seafood, along with the livelihoods of local Gulf communities. This was not some monster from the deep, but a massive, 45,000-acre factory owned by Formosa Plastics Corporation, founded by the richest man in Taiwan.

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

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

Wait, isn’t this against the law? Of course – but petrochemical behemoths like Formosa have corrupted the law, turning Texas lawmakers and environmental regulators into their puppets. But, when leaders won’t lead, The People must, and that’s exactly what’s happening in this case. A defiant, determined shrimper and a scrappy environmental coalition have combined to win the largest citizen environmental lawsuit in US history, forcing Formosa to stop its gross contamination.

For information on the details and impact of this remarkable people’s victory, go to Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid at TLRA.org.

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What’s scaring the bejeezus out of billionaires?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

There’s a new political army on the march in America: Tromp-tromp-tromp they came, it’s the Billionaire Brigade!

It’s actually a very small army – only 749 Americans rank as billionaires. But they have a lot of firepower – collectively, they’ve amassed some $4-trillion in personal wealth and are now grabbing nearly all of the new wealth that our economy generates. In response to the extreme inequality their greed has created, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other Democratic leaders are proposing a widely-popular wealth tax on the opulence of this tiny group. And oh, what wails of anguish this has generated in the lairs of billionaires! They’re indignant that fortunes above $50-million would be assessed a teeny surtax to help fund education, health care, infrastructure, and America’s other essential needs.

So, with a rallying cry of Save the Poor Rich, the Billionaire’s Brigade seeks your pity: Mark Zuckerberg laments that taxing his gabillions would hurt charities; Michael Bloomberg suggests that the tax could turn America into Venezuela; and Wall Street baron Leon Cooperman actually teared up while wailing that a wealth tax would harm his family. As one money manager said, “These tax proposals are scaring the bejeezus out of people who have accumulated a lot of wealth.”

I don’t think there’s much Jesus in these people! The Biblical Jesus would bless Sanders, Warren, and the majority of Americans who favor a wealth tax to benefit the Common Good. No need to cry for the few hundred haughty families whose love of money would be only slightly dinged by this tax – every one of them would still be fabulously rich. Plus, they’ll be privileged to live in a country that’s a little more closely aligned with its people’s egalitarian values. And that’s priceless.

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Reposted from Hightower Lowdown

Why would we trust plutocrats to save us from plutocracy

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote of being leery of a fast-talking huckster who visited his home: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons,” Emerson exclaimed.

Likewise, today’s workaday families should do a mass inventory of their silverware, for the fast-talking CEOs of 181 union-busting, tax-cheating, environment-contaminating, consumer-gouging corporations are asking us to believe that they stand with us in the fight against… well, against them. From Wall Street banksters to Big Oil polluters, these profiteers are suddenly trumpeting their future intentions to serve not just their own greed, but every “stakeholder” (which is what they call employees, customers, supplies, et al).

But vague proclamations are cheap, and it’s worth noting that these new champions of the common good propose no specifics – no actual sacrifices by them or benefits for us. A few media observers have mildly objected, saying it’s “an open question” whether any of the corporate proclaimers will change how they do business. But it’s not an open question at all. They won’t. They won’t support full collective bargaining power for workers, won’t join the public’s push to get Medicare for All, won’t stop using monopoly power to squeeze out small competitors and gouge consumers, won’t support measures to stop climate change, won’t back reforms to get their corrupt corporate money out of our politics… won’t embrace any of the big structural changes necessary to reverse the raw economic and political inequality that has enthroned their plutocratic rule.

In fact, their empty proclamation is what West Texas cowboys might call “bovine excrement,” meant to fend off the actual changes that real reformers are advancing. Corporate elites won’t fix inequality for us – they’re the ones doing it to us.

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Reposted from the Hightower Lowdown

Where can Trump find a good farm policy?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Donald Trump’s idea of a good farm program seems to be “Hee Haw.” On a recent trip to Wisconsin, he drew guffaws from the state’s hard-hit dairy farmers by proclaiming that – thanks to his policies – the farm economy was looking good. “We’re over the hump,” he gloated.

Perhaps The Donald thought that farmers are rubes, unable to do simple math. But those dairy farmers were painfully aware that it costs them $1.90 to produce a gallon of milk, but the processing giants that control the milk market are paying them only $1.35 a gallon. That 55-cent-a-gallon loss quickly adds up to a huge loss of income, and a devastating loss of farm families – Wisconsin lost 638 dairy farms last year and another 551 so far this year.

Far from “over the hump,” farm prices have been further depressed by Trump’s tariff clash with China – US dairy sales to China fell by 54 percent in just the first half of this year. Meanwhile, monopoly power is crushing prices – an $8 billion behemoth named Dean Foods now controls 90 percent of Wisconsin’s milk market, empowering it to commit daylight robbery, blatantly stealing farmers’ product… and farms.

Yet, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue – the one national official who’s supposed to stand up for farmers – nonchalantly kissed them off, smugly declaring it natural that the big devour the small. So, he professes, there’s nothing he can do for family operators except tell them to “go out” of agriculture.

Perdue and Trump are simply inept stewards of America’s farm economy. Time for a change. One who is offering a path to a revitalized, family-farm-based food system that’ll break the corporate stranglehold over US agriculture is Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Download a summary of her comprehensive proposal for “A New Farm Economy” at ElizabethWarren.com/Plans/New-Farm-Economy.

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Kroger: Don’t Lose Local News Audio Player

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Like most politicians, corporate executives never do anything wrong. If anything wrong does “happen,” it’s always someone else’s fault.

That’s been the gutless ploy of Kroger supermarket honchos who recently yanked all local newsweeklies and community papers out if its stores. When a firestorm of local protests reached all the way to the mega-chain’s Ohio headquarters, executives quickly named the villain who banished the papers: The papers themselves! They failed to keep up with the digital age, said Kroger bosses, so shoppers no longer pick up the free papers.

BOVINE EXCREMENT! While it’s true that chain-owned daily newspapers are losing readers after shriveling their coverage and jacking up their prices, more readers have turned to free local independent weeklies to fill the print-news gap. In Lansing, Michigan, for example, media audits show that Kroger shoppers alone have nearly tripled the pickup rate of Lansing’s alternative weekly since 2012.

Kroger’s nationwide edict is a case of corporate conceit at its most stupid. It was issued from Kroger headquarters with no warning and no consultation (much less negotiation) with the papers or communities. It didn’t have to be so inept and ugly – and now Kroger’s executives have gone into hiding, petulantly refusing to meet or even return phone calls to the people they’re hurting, apparently hoping the furor will just go away.

That’s truly stupid. Indeed, a group of indy papers has now launched a national campaign to call out Kroger’s executives, literally rallying us supporters of independent local news to give them our two-cents-worth. Call toll-free to 1-800-KROGERS (576-4377), then press 3 for “store experience” to speak to a manager – and demand that they restore the free press to all of their stores.

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Reposted from Jim Hightower

Who does Trump’s farm bailout bail out?

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

 

Donald Trump Loooooves farmers. We know this because he says so. “Farmers, I LOVE YOU!” he declared in December.

But he’s been “loving” them to death, with policies that are causing farm prices to tumble, miring our ag economy in the ditch and creating a rising tsunami of farm bankruptcies. Then came Trump’s doofus of an ag secretary, Sonny Perdue, who publicly insulted farmers by branding them “whiners” for daring to complain about policies causing them to lose income and their farms.

So, as an “I love you” make-up gesture, Trump has been sending big bouquets of money to some of his beloved farmers. Our money. Lots of it – $28 billion so far in what he cynically (and comically) calls a “Market Facilitation Program,” otherwise known as a taxpayer bailout.

But TrumpLove turns out to be highly selective, with more than half of the government payments going to the biggest farm owners. The Ag Department initially announced a $125,000 limit on the amount any one farm could get, but every Trump deal seems to have a gimmick in it to give a special break to the slickest operators. The slickum in this deal is that assorted members of a family are allowed to claim that they are owners of the same farm and thus get bailout bucks, even if they do no actual farming and live in New York City! One Missouri farm family, for example, got $2.8 million worth of subsidy love from Trump, and more than 80 families topped half-a-million in payments.

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Meanwhile, the great majority of farmers have gotten zilch from Donald the Dealmaker – and 80 percent of eligible grain farmers (the smaller producers most endangered by his bad policies) have received less than $5,000. So Trump’s “Market facilitation” is squeezing the many who are most in need, while helping a few of the largest get even bigger.

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Reposted from Hightower Lowdown

Here’s the straight skinny on Medicare for All

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

The British people have been widely admired for their steady demeanor in times of adversity–stiff upper lip and all that. Until Donald Trump, that is.

In June, our presidential popinjay descended on London with a bombastic proposition that caused the upper lips of the entire British population to quiver at once. There as a guest, and treated to the full pomp of a state visit, The Donald blurted out what he hailed as a “phenomenal” gift in the form of a new US-UK trade deal: He was offering to bring in America’s healthcare profiteers to start privatizing Britain’s National Health Service.

It’s possible that Trump was simply ignorant, unaware that Brits love their NHS, since its socialized plan provides quality care to all without families fearing they’ll be bankrupted or priced out of treatment by private insurance giants, hospital chains, or Big Pharma. Or possibly, he was hornswoggled by the right-wing pontificators of Fox News (Trump’s most trusted policy advisors) and their steady stream of lies about anything with the word “social” in it.

Last year, after seeing (What else?) a Fox News segment reporting that thousands of Brits were marching in protest of their health system, Trump smugly trumpeted that they were fed up with care-for-all socialism. But–oops–the uproar was actually in support of the NHS, demanding that the miserly Tory government strengthen it with “more staff, more beds, more funds.”

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How to get Congress to reform our broken healthcare system

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

For $3.5 Trillion a year, shouldn’t we Americans have a world-class healthcare system? Yet, while we spend the most of any advanced nation in the world to get care (more than $10,000 a year per person), we get the worst results.

No surprise then, that the “Medicare-for-All” idea is now backed by 85 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Independents, and (get this) 52 percent of Republicans! So… why isn’t Congress responding to this overwhelming public demand for universal coverage?

I suspect that one big reason for Washington’s big yawn over the people’s plea for sweeping reform is that our lawmakers do not personally feel the financial pain and emotional distress that are inflicted on millions of regular Americans by a system built on private greed. After all, their health needs are met by a double-dose of the socialistic care that they so furiously deny to our families.

First, they are given big taxpayer-subsidies to cover the cost of their insurance with you and me paying about 72 percent of the price. But, second, there’s a secretive medical center located right in the US Capitol building that provides a full-blown system of – shhhhh – healthcare socialism to our governing elites.

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Let’s decode Trump’s Afta-Nafta trade deal

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

In a very weird twist in his chaotic 2016 presidential campaign, Candidate Trump started sounding like a genuine, workaday populist, fuming at his rallies about the devastating effects of Nafta and other international trade deals, and how they’ve shafted America’s blue-collar workers. He was right, and The Donald promised his mad-as-hell working class he would not stand for it. Of course, the pampered son of privilege never meant it. And, sure enough, as president, Trump promptly sold out workaday Americans to his real base: The global corporate elite.

He’s now delivered to Congress his New! Improved! Nafta! It is a piece of Trumpscam that he rebranded–Ta-dah!–the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). This issue of The Lowdown is sounding the alarm about the extraordinary level of corporate avarice and malevolence that is baked into it. We’re urging all Lowdowners to pay attention, spread the alarm, and act while there is still time to fix it–possibly turning Trump’s raw deal into a good deal.

The pitch

“Keep your eye on the ball” is not only a core principle for baseball players, but also for us commoners trying to assess exactly what the spinmeisters of global trade are hurling at us. Their deals are and always have been large-scale hustles, filled with hypocrisy, deceit, and greed. Promoted as fair and good for all, they’re invariably rigged with profiteering schemes that lock into law advantages for corporations over the common good of consumers, the environment, labor, independent businesses, governments, and all other democratic forces.

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Trump to Working Class: 'Adios, Chumps'

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Congratulations on that nice pay raise you got last year, a 7% hike—wow!

Seven percent might not sound all that big, but after 40 years of stagnant wages, even a small uptick can help cover some of your old credit card bills or get an upgrade on your 10-year-old pickup.

Oh, wait ... You say you didn't get 7%? Oops, my mistake. It was the CEOs of corporate giants who reported to the Associated Press that they enjoyed a median jump of 7% last year. And as their paychecks were already king-size, that uptick amounted to an extra $800,000 in their take-home, for a median yearly income of $12 million each. Bear in mind that "median" means half of the corporate bosses grabbed more than 7%. For example, David Zaslav, honcho of the Discovery television network, had a 207% boost in pay, raising his total take in 2018 to $130 million.

These lavish payouts to top-floor bosses—combined with a miserliness toward rank-and-file employees who actually produce the corporate wealth—is creating an untenable income disparity in corporate America, stretching inequality in our Land of Egalitarianism to the snapping point. The pay gap between aloof CEOs and typical employees nearly doubled last year at a range of corporate giants, from PayPal to CVS Pharmacy, and it tripled at Discovery. AP's recent survey of 340 major corporations found that compensation inequality is now so extreme that a middle-wage employee would have to work 158 years to make as much as his or her chief executive was given last year alone. This separation is widening at warp speed, propelled by the boundless greed and narcissism of so-called leaders like Zaslav. To amass as much pay as he pocketed in 2018, a typical Discovery employee would have to work 989 years.

When you hear corporate chieftains and such corporate cheerleaders as Donald Trump gloat that our economy is "booming," ask yourself: A boom for whom?

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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