Jim Hightower

Beer Drinkers to the Barricades

Perhaps you’re one of the majority of Americans who will soon receive somewhere between nothing and a pittance from George W’s highly ballyhooed $1.4 trillion tax cut. He took good care of his super-rich buddies, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans who’ll reap 43 percent of this windfall, but 26 percent of Americans will get zero reduction in their federal taxes, and most other folks won’t get enough to cover a six-pack a week. Which brings us back to you connoisseurs of the brewer’s art. Conjuring up images of the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, the beer barons of America are demanding that the federal beer tax of about 25 cents per six-pack be cut in half, declaring that it’s time that “Joe and Jane Six-Pack” got a break. A spokesman for Miller beer, owned by the multibillion-dollar tobacco giant Philip Morris, almost got teary-eyed when he noted that most beer drinkers are low- and middle-income folks–“There’s a basic fairness issue,” he said. The Miller man can count on Rep. Jerry Kleczka of Wisconsin to stand with him. “If Congress can repeal the estate tax for billionaires,” Kleczka said, “then Congress can roll back the beer tax for Joe Six-Pack.” OK, saving 12-and-half cents per six-pack isn’t much of a tax break, but it’s the principle. Did I mention that Miller beer is headquartered in Kleczka’s district? One principle that might be on the minds of the beer barons is the “green principle” … as in profits. That 12-and-half cents, multiplied by all the six-packs consumed, adds up to $1.6 billion a year in taxes. But if these taxes are eliminated, what’s to keep Miller, Budweiser and the rest from simply holding the price of a six-pack the same… and pocketing the $1.6 billion for themselves?

INTEL-LIGENTSIA.

Well isn’t this special? Karl Rove, the political operative who developed George W’s campaign theme of restoring “a new ethical tone” now works as Bush’s top White House advisor… and guess who has his butt caught in a tight ethical crack? Yes, Karl! In March, Rove had a private meeting in the White House with the CEO and the chief lobbyist for Intel Corporation. These two high-tech executives didn’t come calling simply to exchange pleasantries with the president’s senior advisor–they were there to get the White House to push for federal approval of a corporate merger that Intel wanted. The Intel honchos had no trouble getting access to the highest level of White House officials because they knew the secret password: Money. Intel had put more than $300,000 into Bush’s presidential run. Intel’s lobbyist says the meeting was “quite useful.” Less than two months after meeting with Rove the merger was approved. But Rove’s ethical problem is about more than a government favor for a big campaign contributor. It seems that he owned as much as $250,000 worth of Intel stock at the time, meaning he could personally profit if the merger deal boosted Intel’s stock price.

Of course, Karl has had a memory lapse about all this. His spokesperson told The New York Times that Rove “did not recall” whether or not he discussed Intel’s visit with Bush. He also asserts that he was out of the loop and not involved in the decision. The Times, however, reports that Rove continued to get correspondence from Intel about the merger until it was approved.

GEEKS ON WHEELS.

We love cars. From the zip of a convertible to the sass of a lowrider, from the longhaul comfort of the Cadillac to the hitch-’em-up-and-go possibilities of the pickup–the automobile has long made a statement about individuality and the get-away-from-it-all spirit of Americans. But now I’m sad to report that America’s adventure machine has been roped, tied and neutered, reduced to the ultimate indignity of corporatized conformity: The car has become an office cubicle on wheels. We have the “electronic revolution” to thank for this. If you’ve been concerned about the danger of cell-phone maniacs yakking as they drive, wait’ll you encounter the Geekmobile. No longer a car, these high-tech automobiles are referred to as “vehicle-based information systems.”

Let’s kick the tires, so to speak: First, the trunk holds not a spare tire and a jack, but a PC that runs Microsoft Windows and Office. Fold down the rear seat, and you’ll find a fully loaded computer printer. In the dashboard is a color monitor that interfaces with the PC in the trunk. Between the front seats is the keyboard, conveniently placed for your input as you do your daily commute. On the passenger seat is a filing cabinet to rifle through as you change lanes. And on the dash is a palm keyboard for idle punching as you make a U-turn. The New York Times reports that such purveyors of electronics as Motorola are teaming up with GM, Ford and others to “make the car a more effective working environment.” Swell. But what does this make us? One operator of a Geekmobile answers by saying: “Basically, I’ve become a systems administrator for my car.” The Luddites were right–technology can be counted as progress only if it enhances the quality of our lives, not if it simply shackles us to more work.

Jim Hightower’s latest book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or write [email protected]

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