Jim Hightower

Surreal World


Apparently George W. thinks that surreal is a small nation in South America.

Surely, if the president and his handlers had any grasp of the concept, they would not have used the White House Indian Treaty Room to talk about the anti-immigrant bill to erect a 700-mile long wall on our Mexican border. Of all places, the Bushites chose a reminder that we Euro-Americans actually were the first illegal immigrants, some 500 years ago.

And this is not even the most surreal incident involving the volatile immigration issue. That honor would have to go to the explosion of xenophobic nuttiness that came from Republican Congress-critter Virgil Goode of Virginia. He went bonkers when Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said he would use the Quran rather than a Bible for his ceremonial swearing-in.

Goode seems to be blissfully unaware that our Constitution protects the religious preferences of all people and that Ellison, being Muslim, would rather naturally reach for the holy book of his own faith. In his bliss, Goode not only denigrated Ellison for being … well, Muslim … He also warned maniacally that, “We will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt strict immigration policies.”

For the record, Ellison is not an immigrant—he traces his American roots back to 1742.

Another surreal moment was presented to us by Dennis Prager, a right-wing radio talk-show blatherer who demanded that Ellison be barred from Congress if he did not conform to the Christian standard and take his oath on the Bible. This burst of religious intolerance came from a guy appointed by Bush to (of all things) the board of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial-a museum dedicated to reminding Americans that ethnic, religious, and racial bigotry is horrifically dangerous.

If ignorance is bliss, Bush, Goode, and Prager must be ecstatic.

Shoes and Oysters

In December, during the frantic final hours of a “Do Nothing Congress” the majority finally rose up and did something.

Unfortunately, what it did was despicable. In the dark of that final night, the Republican leadership snuck through 529 special-interest “tariff suspensions” for assorted corporations. Tariffs were cut or eliminated on everything from imported shoes to boiled oysters. That means you and I now have to make up for the loss of this tariff income with our taxes. Of course, it also means that products made abroad get a tax-free advantage over products made here at home.

This giveaway was done in a manner that would make cat burglars blush. First, the products getting special treatment were not named in the bill. They were identified only by numerical codes keyed to arcane tariff tables contained in volumes the size of phone books.

Second, the corporations that will pocket tens-of-millions of dollars in tax savings also were not named, nor were the Congress-critters who snuck the suspensions into law.

Third, congressional guidelines say that no single tariff suspension is supposed to cost the public treasury more than $500,000 in revenue. Lawmakers and lobbyists (bless their larcenous hearts) simply inserted multiple suspensions aimed at a single corporation’s product, giving millions of dollars in breaks to that importer.

But there’s more! When the full Congress finally voted on the tariff suspensions, which had been larded into a massive bill, it had to vote on all of them as a block, without being able to pick and choose and without knowing specifically what they were voting to do.

We know what they did. The Congress that failed again and again to pass bills needed by the people went out of its way to help its special friends, and did so in secret.

Corporate Royalty

In December, when children all across the country had dreams of sugarplums dancing in their heads, the barons of Wall Street were having much richer dreams—and all of theirs came true.

The top dogs at the big banking houses gorged themselves on record payouts that have taken greed to new heights of obscenity. The honcho of Goldman Sachs, for example, grabbed a bonus of $53 million—the highest ever taken. And he’s only been CEO since June, so that’s for half a year’s work.

Likewise, Morgan Stanley’s chief ended the year with a sweet bonus of $41 million, while Lehman Brothers’ top executive got only $11 million—but he’ll also receive $189 million in stock grants over the next 10 years. Bear in mind that these lavish awards are in addition to their regular salaries, platinum-level health-care packages, rich pension plans, and all sorts of kingly perks.

Ah, yes, say the corporate royalists, such extravagant wealth is richly deserved, for it’s the reward for “taking risks” in our system of corporate capitalism. If it’s “risk” that our economy is to celebrate, then why not hail drug kingpins as pillars of our society? Besides, these brokers are not risking their own money in their firms’ speculative ventures, but the assets of shareholders and clients. When their ventures turn sour, as often happens, they don’t have to pay out of pocket. In fact, many are paid bonuses anyway.

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.