Jim Hightower

Happy Days, Virtual Forests & The Greedy-Whirlygig

Blue skies, heading my way, nothing but blue skies … da-da-da. Yes, that’s the song the Powers That Be want us singing: “Consumers are showing no signs of pessimism and no signs of curbing their strong spending habits,” gushed a goofus of a group that publishes the always perky “consumer confidence index.”

Is that you? Are you out there gaily buying $50,000 S.U.V.s, 5,000-square-foot homes, and round-the-world cruises? Or, are you like the majority of folks in the real world, who are scrambling just to handle the basic bills, and even then having to put your “strong spending habits” on your already over-extended credit cards?

Here’s another little happy-face sticker they’re trying to plaster on your economic reality: “Average incomes are up, so people are spending more!” The “average” they’re talking about takes Bill Gates’ multimillion-dollar income, adds yours, and then divides by two. This math makes you a millionaire, too! Try explaining that to your credit card company. The fact is that in this time of extraordinary prosperity, eight out of ten Americans have seen their incomes go flat or down. It’s no longer a matter of poor people being trampled by the prosperous few — but of the middle-class majority being trampled.

Ordinary Americans — the working stiffs, the family farmers, the small business people, the grassroots folks — they’re what make our country work. These folks are running faster than a hamster in its wheel, and not getting any farther ahead. How absurd and self-defeating that our economic and political leaders pretend that our nation is prosperous when the majority of the people are not. Wall Street is zooming, but 90 percent of the stock market gains made this decade have been pocketed by the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans.

Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked. And it’s time the majority began to kick back.

Virtual Forests

Time for another Hightower Hog Report. This week’s hogs are the giant timber and paper companies that are granted logging privileges in America’s national forests. They’re granted much more than the privilege to log, however — taxpayers also provide millions of dollars in annual subsidies by letting the corporations take our trees at waaaay below the market price, while we build thousands of miles of logging roads in the forests to make it easier and cheaper for them.

Now, Mother Jones magazine reports that the U.S. Forest Service is providing an additional, high-tech, cosmetic subsidy. It amounts to a corporate P.R. scam paid for by you and me: a $3 million, state-of-the-art computer software program that helps the loggers hide their environment-destroying, clear-cutting practices from the public eye, with a computerized game of hide-and-seek. To reduce the public’s outrage at coming to a national forest and seeing acres and acres of stumps where majestic, thousand-year-old trees once stood, computer programs with names like “Smart Forest” and “Virtual Forest” allow the corporations to analyze the terrain so their clear-cuts can be done behind ridges, down in ravines, and on the back side of mountains. These “out of sight, out of mind” software programs are being put in all 800 Forest Service offices.

The Forest Service also helps the companies create “beauty strips” along the tourist roads: a veneer of trees that look great as you drive along, but beyond your view is the distressing sight of our once magnificent forests, stripped of their trees. All of this is the Forest Service’s way of letting us “have” our forests, while letting the timber companies eat them. To stop the stupidity and the scam, contact a group called the Lands Council: (509) 838-4912.

High-Tech Greed-O-Rama

Welcome to the All American High Tech Carnival, with its exhilarating new ride, “The Greed-O-Rama Whirlygig.” The Greedy-Whirly takes you up to the zenith, then drops you into the abyss. It’s a ride designed by Congress, and powered by the campaign contributions of Microsoft and the other giants of the high-tech world. These corporations, we’re told, embody the future for America’s middle class. Forget manufacturing jobs, they say — get wired instead, and grab one of the exciting information-age jobs as a computer programmer, software designer, or engineer. The industry claims it will need 140,000 new high-tech workers a year for the next decade.

But this is where the Greedy-Whirly drops you into the economic abyss. Thanks to a little wage-busting loophole called “H1B visas,” Americans mostly won’t be getting these jobs. Under this loophole, an industry can simply declare that no Americans can be found to fill these techie jobs, and instead, fill them with foreign workers. Russia, India, and other nations abound in skilled computer workers who’ll gladly take the jobs for a third to a half less than the going salary in the U.S. The greedheaded, billionaire C.E.O.s who run the computer industry see this teeming force of foreign workers as a great way to bust the whole salary level for their employees, so they’ve begun declaring that no Americans are up to snuff skill-wise, and are bringing in H1B workers from abroad.

Problem was, there was a limit of 65,000 H1B visas per year — so campaign contributions flowed to Congress, lobbyists were hired and — voila! — the visa level was raised to allow 115,000 foreigners per year. Now, they’re pushing for 200,000 a year, which would mean 60,000 more foreign workers each year than there are jobs. The Greed-O-Rama Whirlygig is class war in action.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected]

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected]

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Published at 12:00 am CST