Jim Hightower

Thieves in Pinstripes

If a thief broke into your home and stole a couple of thousand dollars that you’d carefully saved from your paychecks and stashed away over the last three years, you could call the cops and try to get your money back. But who do you call when that thief is the CEO of your company? CEOs have been routinely stealing hundreds and even thousands of dollars from the deserved paychecks of each and every worker in America, pocketing much of this loot themselves and converting the rest to corporate profits. The grand larceny of the CEOs is that they’ve been filching every worker’s share of the enormous productivity gains that America has racked up since the recession officially ended in November of 2001.

The theory and promise of free enterprise is that if our workforce of millions of people becomes more productive, the workers will enjoy the bulk of the economic gains generated by their improved output. Yet, in this current three-year burst of productivity, America has lost jobs and wages have either stagnated or fallen. In other words, America’s working families are being fleeced by the pinstripe thieves sitting high atop corporate headquarters. Workers’ share of the new income they’ve generated in this recovery is the lowest ever recorded, while the fat cats have hauled off the most on record. An in-depth analysis by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University finds that while the work force usually is rewarded with 65 percent of the increase in national income, this time they’ve received only 38 percent. Profits, which go overwhelmingly to a few investor elites, usually get under 18 percent of the productivity increase, but now they’re getting more than double that.

This is a massive, historic level of theft, and the pinstriped dandies who are pulling it off ought to be wearing prison stripes.

RUN FOR THE MONEY

Time for another report from the Wide, Wide, WILD World of Sports—this year’s thoroughbred horse racing season! I’m not talking about the fact that the strong-hearted Smarty Jones made a run at being the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 26 years. No, I’m talking about the thrilling breakthrough made by the jockeys during this Triple Crown year. A group of them filed and won a federal lawsuit that allowed them to advance the cause of horseracing by—prepare to be thrilled—wearing corporate advertising on their racing pants! Is this a great country, or what?

It’s not that horseracing is a virgin when it comes to the corporate hustle.At the Kentucky Derby, for example, Ford is the official car and Crown Royal sponsors the official party. Also, the Triple Crown is now branded as the Visa Triple Crown. But, claimed the lawsuit, if the stars of NASCAR and the PGA can plaster their outfits with ads, why not jockeys? It’s a first amendment issue, they told the court. Besides, corporate ads could be worth $30,000 apiece to them.

You will be relieved to know, I’m sure, that this ruling hasn’t trampled on all standards of tastefulness. For one, jockey pants at the Derby cannot promote gambling (which strikes me as a bit odd, since the gamblers support the race, betting takes place right at the track, and the media openly touts the gambling odds and broadcasts the winning bets). Also, a jockey’s corporate ad cannot conflict with the track’s own sponsors—no Chevy logos, for example, at Ford’s Derby (again, a bit odd, since the case was said to be about free speech). Finally, the ads cannot be “inappropriate†(a bit vague, but I guess this would rule out promos for glue or horse-hide furniture).

THE UGLY ECONOMICS OF PRIVATIZED WAR

Sometimes it takes the unspeakable horror of war to unveil ugly truths about national policies that our so-called leaders don’t want us to notice, much less discuss. Take, for example, the horrible news coming out of Iraq about contract workers for Halliburton and other war corporations being brutally killed and their bodies barbarically desecrated. Naturally, the first reaction is shock and outrage—but then obvious questions come to mind: Why has so much of our military been corporatized, and who are the Halliburtons getting to take these dangerous jobs?

The first question reveals the ugly fact that the military itself has become a for-profit enterprise. Corporations not only provide the weaponry, but increasingly they also provide the war personnel. This is rationalized on the basis that a Halliburton can do it cheaper. But do they? To get people to go to Iraq, Halliburton pays $80,000 to $100,000 a year for a truck driver or mess cook, plus health care and life insurance. Not to mention the overhead and guaranteed profit that Halliburton tacks onto each of the pay stubs it submits to us taxpayers. A soldier doing comparable work is paid a fourth of that.

The second question speaks volumes about America’s ugly economic policies. By deliberately pushing outsourcing, union-busting, low-wage Wal-Mart jobs, our corporate and political leaders have created a huge pool of the working poor. These are the people who, out of necessity, will take Halliburton’s paycheck, even though it means separation from family, 14-hour days seven days a week, and exposure to kidnapping, torture, and death. Unlike soldiers, these contract workers are poorly prepared—they get only one week of training.

What we have here is an immoral system of war profiteering at the expense of America’s democratic values.

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
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