Jim Hightower

Surreal World

There is environmental degradation—and then there is environmental degradation that punches you right in the stomach. Mountaintop removal is in this last category. Actually, “removal” is way too nice a phrase for this abhorrent, totally destructive assault on Mother Nature by coal corporations. Rather than tunneling down to extract coal, corporate giants are simply blasting away the top thirds of Appalachia’s mountains to scoop out the deposits.

This process is literally destroying some of the most gorgeous, ancient, and ecologically unique mountains in the world—as well as the lives of people, plants, and animals that inhabit these serene forests. The rubble that once was the mountaintop is labeled “spoil,” and bulldozed down into the streams and valleys below, where it is called “fill.”

For years, residents and environmental groups fought lonely battles against these powerful corporate exploiters, but lately they are being joined by allies new to environmental causes—and who come to the fight with a strong moral force: “Christians for the Mountains.” They are part of a national awakening among people of faith to what evangelicals call “creation care,” and this Appalachian group is urging religious people to take up mountaintop destruction “as a spiritual issue”—which, after all, it is.

Of course, the coal industry insists it is doing God’s work by blowing up mountains. As an industry spokesman explains: “Human welfare depends on the rational exploitation of nature.” But the corporations aren’t winning this religious argument—as a retired coal miner put it: “God ain’t ever run no bulldozer.”

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

Anyone looking for the true spirit of the American people should look not at the corporate and political elites, but directly into the hearts of our country’s children.

Consider our nation’s response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. While politicians held self-serving press conferences and corporations took out full-page ads patting themselves on the back for making donations, guess who quietly embraced the ethic of the Golden Rule, fired up their imaginations, and delivered tangible, uplifting assistance? The kids, that’s who.

A Web-based group called RandomKid linked up thousands of youngsters to help the children of Katrina, not just in a one-time relief effort, but in an ongoing, personal way. The latest tally of money raised is $10,216,162.80—more than from such multibillion dollar corporations as AT&T Inc., Chevron Corp., CocaCola Co., General Electric Co., and Verizon Communications Inc.

Launched by 11-year-old Talia Leman of Waukee, Iowa, the Web site has enlisted children from some 5,000 schools in 36 states, channeling their idealism into grassroots activism. They sell lemonade, wash cars, go trick-or-treating for small change, and it all adds up to real results.

The kids also have been delivering essential school supplies, helping adopt stranded pets, and running pen-pal efforts to connect personally with the hurricane kids who need help and a little love.

As one Louisiana girl said of RandomKid’s kid-to-kid approach, “You don’t have to be big to make a difference. You can be little, because a lot of ‘littles’ can make something big.” To learn more, go to www.randomkid.org.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Anyone who thinks money doesn’t talk in our nation’s Capitol might be right. Cash doesn’t really talk—it screams!

Take George W’s recent State of the Union speech. After six years in office, the prez finally got around to admitting there’s this little, festering problem called global warming.

Top scientists, industrialists, evangelical leaders, and others are alarmed by this looming disaster, so Bush tried in the speech to make it sound as though he had a “bold” plan for dealing with climate change. But all he really gave us was a bold fib. Indeed, even before Bush spoke, presidential mouthpiece Tony Snow effectively admitted that the essential reform needed to stop greenhouse emissions would not be a part of the plan. What made Bush so meek? Follow the money. The staunchest opponents to even the mildest steps for halting global warming are Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron, and other oil giants. In last year’s elections, oil corporations pumped $17.5 million into congressional campaigns—83 percent of it going to Bush’s Republicans. In 2004, George himself got $2.6 million from Big Oil—8.5 times more than went to the Democrat.

Look also at the congressional vote this year to rescind a $14 billion tax giveaway to oil corporations. With Democrats now in charge, this take-back passed in the House, but money still spoke for many of the members. Those who voted to protect Big Oil’s subsidy had received nearly $22,000 in oil contributions—five times more than those who voted to stop the giveaway.

It’s time to quiet the shrill voice of big-money politics by providing a public financing option for all national elections. To follow the flow of money in politics and learn about effective reforms, check out www.opensecrets.org.

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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