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Jim Hightower

Hey Big Spender
by Published on

George W likes to pose as a Texas president in the rough-hewn rancher model of Lyndon Johnson. George isn’t actually a Texan-he was born in Connecticut, went to an East Coast prep school and Ivy League colleges, and summered at his family’s oceanfront estate in Kennebunkport. Nor is he a rancher. George bought a ranchette to boost his cowboy image when he decided to run for president, but this “cowboy” has no cattle and is afraid of horses, not quite a tall-in-the-saddle president like Johnson.

George W has stood taller than the real Texas president in one area: federal spending. LBJ, derided as a big-spending liberal, was tight-fisted compared with Bush. While George is now pretending that he’s a small-government fiscal conservative, federal spending in his administration has grown by 5.3 percent a year, nearly a full point higher than the rate during the Johnson years, and more than double the annual growth under Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

The Bush White House is trying to blame the billions of dollars that it’s dumping into his “war on terrorism” for distorting Bush’s spending numbers (maybe the Bushites don’t remember that LBJ had a war to finance, too, since so few of them served in it). But Bush spending is not just about his mismanaged wars. He has hiked budgets in most agencies, with a disproportionate share of the increases going to government privatization, corporate welfare, and right-wing ideological boondoggles.

When you hear free-spending George W pose as Mr. Frugal and demand that Congress hold the line on spending, remember that no other president has spent more of your tax dollars and gotten so little for them.

DRINK LOCAL

In a triumph of marketing over reasoning, the bottled water industry has turned us into conspicuously silly consumers.

Controlled by a handful of global conglomerates (such as Coca Cola and Nestle), the water industry has created the fantasy that if it’s in a bottle, it’s purer than what comes out of the tap. The EPA stringently regulates public water systems, requiring tests several times a day for bacteria and other contaminants, and the results are public information. The corporate bottlers, on the other hand, are overseen by the more lackadaisical FDA, which requires them to test their water sources only once a week-and the results are kept secret.

One unexpected group is beginning to rebel: upscale restaurants. Such places profit handsomely from offering Perrier, San Pellegrino, Fiji, and other designer waters, paying a dollar or two for each bottle and selling them for eight or 10 bucks. Yet Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and Del Posto in New York City are among the pioneers foregoing this profit center, substituting free, filtered tap water or house-made sparkling water that also begins at the tap.

The restaurants are part of a growing sustainable food movement that prides itself on using local, seasonal ingredients. In terms of energy, environment, and sustainability, it makes no sense to load cargo ships with millions of bottles of water, haul them thousands of miles to our shores, truck them hundreds of miles to our restaurants, then chuck the bottles into our overloaded landfills-when the local, public water system supplies perfectly good water available at the turn of a faucet.

Just as it makes economic and environmental sense to eat local, it makes sense to drink local.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

It’s the holiday season, time to do your part for our American economy by buying tons of cheap stuff made in China.

You’ll notice, though, that most of those “cheap” goods aren’t really cheap by the time they’re on the shelves of Wal-Mart, Neiman Marcus, and other U.S. retailers. Yes, they’re produced by cheap labor, but the savings is pocketed by the brand-name marketers that get their stuff made there.

How does it help our economy to shift America’s manufacturing to China? Our middle-class jobs are disappearing, and our country is falling deeper into debt, while China has the fastest-growing economy in the world and owns a big chunk of our debt. Then there’s the little matter of toxic products imported from China, including everything from food to toys.

Isn’t there a better way to spend our consumer dollars? Yes. Buy Made-in-the-USA products this holiday season, and throughout the year. You won’t find many at your local megamart. Your best bet is to try local stores and Internet shops, where you can find a cornucopia of U.S.-made goods.

For example, a Web site called toysmadeinamerica.com lists dozens of Internet locations for gifts you can buy for the tykes on your list-from dolls to pogo sticks-made here by Americans. Also check out usmadetoys.com, shopforamerica.com, and madeinusa.org.

We are not powerless consumers. We’re sovereign citizens who can send a potent message to corporate profiteers by voting with our dollars.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com.