Jim Hightower

Top Dogs and Clean Poodles

It’s payday: do you know where your next million is coming from?

Geoffrey Bible, like all of us, is just trying to make ends meet — though some of us have a longer stretch than Bible does. He’s top dog at Philip Morris, and his board of directors not only paid him a nice $1.6 million salary last year, but added a sweet dollop of cream on top: a bonus of $3.5 million. But his payday didn’t end there — add in stock options, incentive pay, and a category called “other compensation,” and Geoffrey totaled right at $24 million for 1998. This is not counting his limousine, country club memberships, company jet, housing allowance, executive chef, and a free weekly shampoo for his poodle.

All this was a year in which Philip Morris didn’t do well. Who knows, in a good year he might’ve gotten that poodle shampooed twice a week.

Are there no limits on the excesses of these guys? Well, yes, say the companies, we have “executive compensation committees” that carefully scrutinize C.E.O. performance and allocate pay accordingly. Sure, and the monkeys are guarding the zoo.

Guess who heads the compensation committee at Philip Morris? John Reed. When he’s not keeping his hawkeye on Geoffrey Bible, he’s Chief Executive of Citigroup, the financial services conglomerate. One reason that John Reed might have a slightly skewed sense of how much Bible should be paid is that he himself hauled off $1.7 million in salary last year, plus a $7.8 million bonus and stock options worth $16.9 million. So, hey, he says, if I made $26 million, how far off is it to pay Bible $24 million?

And so what that Bible’s company had a rough year? Citigroup, under John Reed, saw its profits fall by a billion-and-a-half bucks, and thousands of workers were fired, so you can’t hold tough times against the guy at the top.

NPR’S ODE TO WALL STREET

Out in Nebraska, when they say something is “janked” they mean it’s all messed up. Well, PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, seems to be janked.

The original idea of establishing a “public” network was that it would present a non-corporate view of the world. But in recent years, PBS has been taking more and more corporate “underwriting” (which is another way of saying advertising), and more and more of its programming now mouths the corporate line.

For example, a recent feature on public radio’s “All Things Considered” news show told about a new game called the “Stock Market Game.” This is a blatant piece of Wall Street propaganda being directed at eleven- and twelve-year-olds — just the kind of thing that PBS was created to expose and lampoon. But, no, the new, corporate-friendly public radio network broadcast the feature without an iota of journalistic skepticism, much less criticism or outrage.

In playing this “game,” teams of elementary school kids are given $100,000 each in pretend money to invest in the stock market. Stop right there. Who in the real world has $100,000 to invest? Maybe 5 percent of Americans — but the public radio reporter asked no embarrassing questions. Instead, a “game coordinator” in one of the schools was interviewed to tell us that sometimes the kids make a lot of money with their virtual investments, and sometimes they don’t make so much. Not a whisper that sometimes, you lose everything! Another perky proponent of the Stock Market Game was interviewed and gushed that it was a great way “to teach students about the American economy.”

Yeah, if you want to teach them fantasy. If you want to teach reality, the game would include news that the profits the kids make on their stocks are based on massive downsizings of workers, on foreign sweatshop labor, on environmental contamination, on C.E.O. greed, on corporate welfare, and on other abuses that would appall an eleven-year-old. But “All Things Considered” didn’t consider these things.

CLINTON INGESTS HEMP!

Bill Clinton did not inhale. We’re clear on that, right?

But, recently, he did swallow. It was on a return trip to Washington from Mexico City, where the President had traveled to proclaim that his international drug war is a tremendous success. Bill has a tough time with Mexico on this issue, P.R.-wise, since every time he goes to praise the progress being made there, one or more of their top anti-drug officials turn out to be involved in the drug trade themselves.

So who can blame Clinton for kicking back with a beer on the trip home from his latest song and dance in Mexico? It’s a nerve-soothing beverage — and hey, alcohol is a legal drug.

But hold your Clydesdales right there. The stewards on Air Force One didn’t give the President a tall Bud — but a Hemp Golden Beer! This brew, made in Kentucky, includes not only hops, barley and water, but also hemp seed. The hemp plant is a cousin of the dreaded marijuana plant. Even though hemp itself is not a drug and cannot make you high, Clinton’s Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey has been on an absolute tear against allowing American farmers to grow this profitable, highly useful, and environmentally sensible crop. So U.S. businesses that use hemp to make paper, fuel, medicines, clothing, food, and beer (among other things) have to import the hemp from China, Canada, Europe, or other places that are not so paranoid.

Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, which markets several hemp-based skin care products, heard about Clinton’s beer experience. She wrote to him, saying, “Congratulations on breaking the hemp barrier on Air Force One.” She also said, “Don’t go wobbly with misinformation,” urging him to support a legal distinction between hemp and marijuana so farmers can begin to produce the hemp here.

There’s no word from Bill on that, but don’t expect him to have another hemp beer on Air Force One — the office of National Drug Control Policy banned it from the plane, declaring it an “inappropriate” drink for the president.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts daily from Austin on over 100 stations nationwide. His book, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos is in paperback. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected]

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