Jim Hightower

Bundlers, Mustard & Fannygate

Behind every check, there’s a willing heart,” says Don Evans, chief fund-raiser for George W. Bush. “To me, it’s not a check, it’s a person, someone who cares about this great country.” The Bush campaign is raising money faster than a John Deere bales hay, but Bush claims that these are not special interests – just ordinary people who are experiencing a Hallmark moment, opening up their hearts and their checkbooks because they so love this great country.

Yeah, “ordinary people” like Kenneth Lay, C.E.O. of the Houston-based energy giant Enron; Fred Webber, head of the Chemical Manufacturers Association; and Bill Paxson, former New York congressman who’s now a Washington lobbyist for the superpowered firm of Akin Gump. These are but a few of Bush’s “Pioneers” – about 400 corporate executives, lobbyists, and Republican fat cats who have pledged to collect at least $100,000 each to help put him in the White House, where he could do a world of good for them and/or their clients.

Since, technically, a person can give no more than $1,000 to a presidential primary candidate, those who want to have real influence with Shrub volunteer to join his $100,000-plus “Pioneer” clan. Then they go around collecting $1,000 checks from other executives in their company, from their firms’ client lists, from their country club pals, and elsewhere. This is called “bundling,” a fundraising scam that lets the “Pioneers” earn extra credit for having delivered a really big bundle of cash to The Man.

That bundle also buys them an insider seat at the policy table. Bush’s staff keeps meticulous records, through an internal coding system that tracks each check the Pioneers are bringing home to Shrub: “Anybody who is a volunteer fundraiser has a number,” concedes a campaign staffer. “They are not Pioneers until they raise $100,000.”

Of the record-setting $37 million that Bush has raised so far, 40 percent of it has come from these “Pioneers.” It’s the buying of the Bush presidency.

The Mustard Hostage War

This is a story about the tragedy and absurdity of war, or, more specifically, about the hostages of war. More specifically yet, it’s a story about one particular hostage, designated in Schedule 21033040. It is a story about … mustard. The war in question is the trade spat between the U.S. of A. and the European Union over Europe’s refusal to import our beef containing synthetic hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. What picky eaters they are over there! Imagine getting so testy about a little estrogen in the hamburger patties you feed your children. Of course, in this country, the meat industry and its puppets in Washington don’t tell us about the additives we eat every day. Or we might be a little testy, too, if we knew about it – but that’s another story.

Our story is about the hostages of this trade war. Since the E.U. won’t take our goosed-up beef, the Clinton Administration retaliated by slapping big tariffs on some goodies Europeans sell to us. The hit list includes … mustard!

Yes, the tangy Dijons of France, the sweet German blends, the biting English concoctions. We are talking 100 percent tariffs – the doubling of the prices on these delectable condiments. We are talking fat-free, cholesterol-free, and practically calorie-free mustard. We are talking the stupidity of war!

You want real stupidity? Then consider this: Most of the mustard seed that goes into Europe’s fine creations comes from – where? – over here, from Montana, North Dakota, and Canada! As the head of America’s official Mustard Museum at Mount Horub, Wisconsin, put it: “Hello, Madame Trade Representative, is anyone home? Does the word ‘Duh’ strike a responsive chord?”

We’re supposed to help the big, conglomerate, beef packers and shippers by punishing the family farmers of North America who produce mustard seed? Come on Washington, get a grip – have a hormone-free beef sandwich with a nice mustard on it, and you’ll see what we mean.

Squeezing the Fans

Time again for Hightower Radio’s “Wide, Wide, Wide, Wild World of Sports.”

Today’s feature: The Squeeze Play! Not the classic baseball maneuver of the runner on third stealing home, but of us fans being able to squeeze our bodies – okay, let’s just admit it: our butts – into the incredibly shrinking seats at today’s sports stadiums. If you enjoy being jammed up in the coach section of airplanes, you’ll love the new and renovated stadiums that now treat paying customers as sardines.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Atlanta’s new basketball and hockey arena offers seats only eighteen inches wide for most fans to squeeze into, as does the new Nashville football stadium, and the new basketball center for the Boston Celtics. The rows are being jammed closer together, and there are fewer aisles – making it an ordeal to leave your seat to take a bathroom break or get a beer. All this compressing is being done to put more bucks in the owners’ pockets and to make more room for sky boxes – spacious, luxury quarters reserved for the corporate customers, carefully segregated from the real fans. Today’s sports palaces pamper the upscale clients with roomy sky boxes and padded executive chairs, with gourmet grub, outdoor balconies, and even boat docks.

Ordinary fans are sitting in chairs built for grade-schoolers, paying higher ticket prices than ever, and grumbling about “fannygate.” Said a Portland Trailblazer fan, who dropped the season tickets he held for twenty-two years (after being insulted by the tiny seats in the new arena): “I don’t mind sitting on a wooden bench for $7, but [for] $60, I expect a certain comfort level.” It’s a part of the owners’ efforts to shut out regular folks and convert the games to upscale entertainment parlors.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts daily from Austin on over 100 stations nationwide. His book, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos, is in paperback. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected]

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