Jim Hightower

Economic Disconnect

Excellent news, people: Economists report that inflation in America is under control and not a problem! Wait, you say. Have these eggheads visited a gas pump recently? Have they priced a sack of groceries? What about that 50-percent-or-higher increase in our heating bills? That’s called inflation, and it damn sure is a problem for me. Well, say the economists, if you insist on counting the price of energy and food—then, yes, there’s inflation. Quite a bit of it with the overall CPI—Consumer Price Index—jumping almost 5 percent in the past year. But, say these brainy economic seers, we choose not to count things like gasoline, groceries, and heating bills, because they “distort” the inflation picture. Take them out, and you get what we call the “core CPI,” which has increased by a much more tolerable rate of only two percent in the past year.

Isn’t that special. I’d love nothing more than to ignore price hikes in energy and food, but, gosh—those prices seem to be what we call “real.” You see, down here on earth, we have to pay those bills, or we don’t get to eat, drive, or stay warm.

This means that our cost of living really is up by 5 percent, not by the 2 percent that you’ve calculated in that little wonderland where you live. Yes, say the economists, but we’re looking at the long-term picture, so we ignore price spikes in the volatile sectors of fuel and food. Those prices are up today, but in a year or so, they could be down.

Get real, you say. What goes up does not necessarily go down, especially where monopolistic oil and food giants are involved. For economists to exclude these basic necessities from their economic models is to exclude reality. And that’s the difference between us and the economists who’re making national policy.

GAS GOUGERS

Why are Washington policy makers—both Republicans and Democrats—so lame? On issue after issue, the American public has strong, very progressive positions—yet the White House and Congress either ignore the public entirely (such as on bringing the troops home from Iraq) or try to co-opt the public’s position by passing some mealy-mouthed, milquetoast proposal that changes nothing (such as the recent prescription drug benefit under Medicare) or do the exact opposite of what the public wants (such as the law to eliminate bankruptcy protection for hard-hit families).

The reason is spelled M-O-N-E-Y. Corporations—with their campaign money and hordes of lobbyists—control the action in Washington, the public be damned. Take skyrocketing gasoline prices.

George W. and the GOP say you should just drive less. The Democrats say there should be some studies done. But what does the public say? A recent poll shows that big majorities of We The People are mad-as-hell and want strong action—not more Washington wussiness. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans (including 82 percent of Republicans) think big oil corporations are gouging us. Eight out of 10 (including 76 percent of Republicans) would support a windfall profits tax on the oil giants if the revenues went for more research on alternative energy.

Also, 73 percent say its important for the federal government to impose higher fuel-efficiency standards on car and truck makers (a strong regulatory sentiment that’s even supported by seven out of 10 Republicans).

One more number: Four out of five Americans think U.S. automakers should follow Toyota’s lead in converting all vehicles to fuel-saving hybrid technology.

To fight Washington’s lameness, go to this web site: www.40mpg.org. or call them at 703-276-3266.

MARTIAL LAW FOR BIRD FLU?

William O. Douglas wrote, “Just as nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances there is a twilight. And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air—however slight—lest we become unwilling victims of the darkness.” He could have been describing the Bushites. They never miss a chance to try slipping America’s thin rug of democracy out from under us. Their latest tug comes in the guise of responding to the possibility of an outbreak of bird flu, which W. asserts is reason enough for Congress to bestow upon him the power to use America’s military to enforce domestic order. “I think the president ought to have all options on the table, all assets on the table—to be able to deal with something this significant,” says George. We know what a thinker he is, but the Big Thinkers who founded our democratic republic knew that using soldiers for civilian law enforcement is an inherent danger to liberty. That’s why a fundamental tenet of American law bans the military from a police role on U.S. soil. But, say the Bushites with a wink, we’re talking about a “catastrophe” in which the Pentagon would be the only agency with the money and personnel to respond. They wink because they’ve been enthusiastic anti-government ideologues defunding and degrading our public health service, the proper channel for coping with a national health emergency. Hey, instead of asserting autocratic executive power and trying to militarize America, do your jobs by revitalizing our country’s public health system—while also protecting our democratic principles.

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.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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