Jim Hightower

Riches Flow Uphill

As Ray Charles sang, “Them that’s got is them that getsâ€â€” and the getting was very, very good for those at the top in 2003. Forbes magazine’s annual survey of wealth reports that there are now 587 lucky souls living in Billionaireville, up 10 percent over the previous count. These wealthiest of the wealthy added half a trillion dollars to their personal stash of lucre last year. Among this group of swells are the Waltons—the reigning heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Forbes reports that of the 10 richest people on the planet, five are Waltons, each one sitting atop $20 billion in Wal-Mart booty. Then there are the CEOs who lavish corporate cash on themselves. They average nearly $11 million in annual pay—even as they downsize their workforce, cut healthcare and pensions for the people who do the work, and ship our country’s best-paying jobs off to foreign shores.

Numero uno in corporate pay last year was Sandy Weill, head of Citigroup. He only worked nine months of the year before retiring, but he pocketed $30 million in salary. That’s $111,000 a day! And that doesn’t count the $14.7 million he took in “other compensation.†But Sandy got even more in ’03: He cashed in $285 million worth of stock he’d been awarded.

Well, say apologists for this system of royal pay, such is the way the free market works. Horsefeathers. The supply of potential CEOs is huge, and the number of slots very small. If the free market really were at work, CEOs would be making an honest wage. But the system isn’t honest—the pay of top bosses is set by board members hand-picked by you-know-who: the top bosses. Money flows uphill not because of merit, but because the system is rigged by those at the top.


I don’t mean on radio, TV, billboards, and other commercial spaces. I also don’t merely mean that it’s in our public schools, yammering at us in elevators, catching us by surprise in our parks and museums, and otherwise intruding into our community spaces. I mean it’s everywhere.

You want gross? Meet the latest advertising advance: Wizmark. That’s wiz, as in take a whiz. Yes, we’re talking about male urination, and the advertising potential therein. Perhaps you think that I’m going to go on a tear about the little TV screens that many places are now putting above the urinals, so you can watch an ad as you… whiz. But, no that would be almost civilized in today’s world of ad excess. I’m talking about ads in the urinals.

Indeed, ads you whiz on.

You know those plastic urinal screens that also deodorize? Wizmark has now accessorized them with ads. Not some bland printed ad, either. Dr. Richard Deutsch, creator of the Wizmark, has brought to us the world’s first “interactive urinal communicator.†He offers one that has a motion detector. When a gentleman steps forward to do his business, a ring of flashing lights are triggered in the screen, drawing the gentleman’s startled attention to your corporate logo, safely protected in the middle of the screen by a waterproof casing. Or, if that’s too subtle, Wizmark offers a voice & sound model with a microprocessor that shouts ad slogans and corporate jingles at the urinator. Still not tacky enough? Dr. Deutsch has the patent on a radio-frequency model that can read your ID card and personally greet you when you step up to the urinal: “Hey, Frank, good to see you again!â€


It’s always good to get reassurances from high government officials on issues of great concern to the people.

Take the nagging issue of U.S. corporations offshoring hundreds of thousands of well-paying, high-tech jobs out of our country. These very jobs, we were told, would be our people’s ticket into the middle class. But now the CEOs of Dell, Microsoft, IBM, and the rest are shipping these engineering and programming jobs off to India, Russia, and other locales where they can pay a third or a fourth or even a tenth of the middle-class pay scale in the U.S. Hey, they say, America’s a great place, but we’re gonna go where we can fatten our bottom lines.

This self-serving betrayal of America’s middle class has—to put it nicely— annoyed many, many Americans. This is where Colin Powell steps in. Bush’s secretary of state recently sought to reassure people on this issue of offshoring. Unfortunately, the people he reassured were in India. On a recent trip there, he promised that the Bushites would do nothing to stop the outsourcing of U.S. high-tech jobs to India and, indeed, would oppose all congressional efforts to stop it. He even posed as an economic philosopher, declaring that “outsourcing is a natural effect of the global economic system,†adding adamantly that “you’re not going to eliminate outsourcing.â€

Well, we’re certainly not going to eliminate it if our government won’t fight for our people. Oh, but Powell said, while “these kinds of dislocations will take place,†the Bushites plan to train the American people for new jobs. What new jobs, exactly? He didn’t say. He didn’t have a clue. But Bush’s labor department knows. It lists 30 job categories that will have the greatest growth between now and 2010. Number one? Fast food workers. Two-thirds of their “growth jobs†pay less than $20,000 a year. Forget high-tech, Colin Powell envisions you in a hair net.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back, on sale now from Viking Press.

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Published at 12:00 am CST