et’s shout out a message to Treasury Secretary John Snow: Yoo-hoo, Johnnie—next time you orbit anywhere near Earth, call home. This guy is farther out than Pluto. When it was announced recently that the U.S. trade deficit has set yet another record, Bush’s top economic official rocketed off into deep space claiming like some alien goofball juiced up on jimson weed that bad news is good news. In 2004, the American economy bought $600 billion more in products from foreign countries—especially China—than we sold to them. This is the exact opposite of a good business plan. Yet, Snow, apparently snorting a noseful of intergalactic dust, proclaimed that this Grand Canyon of a trade gap “reflects the fact that Americans are becoming more prosperous,” thus buying more foreign products. More prosperous? Hey, you Bushites are waving our middle-class manufacturing and high-tech jobs offshore, and American wages are not even keeping up with the cost of living, at the same time that your disastrous borrow-and-spend economic policies are sinking us into an unfathomable sea of federal debt. Just the interest on that debt now costs every American man, woman, and child $333 a year. This is prosperity? As is typical of Bush and the people he puts around him, Snow blames others for the rising trade imbalance. He whines that the Europeans and Japanese are at fault because they don’t buy enough American products. So his “solution” is to plead with foreign governments to change their economic policies to fit our needs. Hellooooo, Johnnie—they’re our competitors. We’re supposed to out-do them, not whimper at them. It’s not exactly in the can-do spirit of America for our team leaders to be begging the other team to give us some points. To bridge the trade gap, our leaders must start investing again in American workers, farmers, and entrepreneurs, restoring our grassroots competitive strength. SWAGGER STEP “A bumper year for U.S. jobs,” exclaimed the headline in my local daily paper. The boom must be back! But, read further, and you learn that job creation isn’t even keeping pace with the increasing number of working-age Americans. Way down in the story is this sentence: “The increase in jobs was not translating into increases in wages.” Good news for CEOs, but bad news for the average American. Yes, say corporate economists and the Bushites, but it’s bound to get better soon. Trust us. I was in Southern California recently, and a local paper offered its 2005 jobs forecast for Orange County, one of the most prosperous places in America. There will be new jobs, the story said, but don’t expect to live high on the hog. The 10 occupations expecting the most job growth were: retail sales, security guards, cashiers, food service, janitorial, wait staff, nurses, telephone customer service, laborers, and landscapers. Most pay what amounts to poverty wages in Orange County. Meanwhile, the one boom that really is underway is a job crusher: corporate mergers. For example, Kmart is taking over Sears, Sprint is swallowing Nextel, and Oracle is absorbing PeopleSoft. Looking at the merger surge expected this year, one analyst gushed, “Corporate America has finally gotten a bit of swagger back in its step.” Dandy. We need economic growth, not economic consolidation. Corporate profits are way up, 70 percent, and cash flow is at a record rate of $1.3 trillion a year. But instead of increasing wages and opening new factories, swaggering CEOs are diverting America’s investment capital into buying out their competitors, shrinking both jobs and consumer choice. MORAL GUIDANCE Right-wing politicos and pundits are always huffing and puffing about moral values—but, wait, what’s that sticking out of their coat pockets? Aside from Rush’s drug scandal, Newt’s extramarital affairs, and Bill Bennett’s gambling problem, money seems to be the most common corrupter of those who so loudly profess to be arbiters of proper behavior. The latest example is Armstrong Williams, an ultra-conservative commentator who regularly wails about the moral lapses of others. This rock thrower lives in a glass house—he pocketed a cool quarter of a million bucks from a secret contract to shill for W.’s “No Child Left Behind” education scheme. In exchange for taking taxpayer’s money, he agreed to use his radio/TV show and newspaper columns to tout the “No Child” law, to run promotional spots featuring Bush’s education secretary, and to try to get other African-American journalists to join him in ballyhooing Bush’s educational achievements. Williams is only quasi-contrite, saying, “There’s a thin line … and I think I crossed it.” Not thin at all, Mr. Williams. You knowingly took taxpayer funds to do political propaganda. Imagine the explosion of moral indignation if, say, Bill Clinton had funneled education money to a liberal commentator. Apparently, Williams got his ethical schooling from Clarence Thomas, for whom he used to work. The Supreme Court justice tucked a windfall of valuable freebies under his judicial robes, including a $1,200 set of tires, a $19,000 Bible, and a $5,000 check to pay for a relative’s education expenses. Children are supposed to take moral guidance from these guys? Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.