Jim Hightower

Red, White, Mother Jones, and Joe Hill, Too


‘m waving the flag these days–the stars & stripes, Old Glory, our flag. Since September 11, I’ve been waving it all over the place, because it stands for something special, historic, important, and uniting. I’m not waving it as some macho bravado assertion of American Empire, but in the spirit of America Eternal, the land of deep democratic values and ambitions, the place where “Liberty and Justice for All” is not a throw-away line, but a founding principle that we must struggle daily to try to implement. Our flag is more than the emblem of America’s financial and military might, it’s a mirror in which we can see reflected our finest ideals of economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity. Or not.

That’s is is why it’s especially important for us to wave America’s flag now, in these dark days when anti-democratic forces are loose in Washington and in the media, howling for a repression of the very freedoms the flag symbolizes. I’ll be double-damned to hell before I meekly allow this banner of democracy to be usurped by political opportunists, corporatists, xenophobes, war-mongers, and fear-mongers who confuse conformity with patriotism, demanding that we be quiet, get in line, and be “patriotically correct.” The founders knew, the first job of a citizen is to keep your mouth open. Ours is the flag of the pamphleteers, the abolitionists and suffragists, Populists and Wobblies, Mother Jones and Joe Hill, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr.–freedom-fighters all.


Yet again, we Americans have been caught blissfully ignorant about a part of the world that suddenly has thrust itself most profoundly into our national consciousness. But just as the politicians and the media are rushing to give us a crash course on our enemies in this part of the world, we should also ask them to address a few important realities about our “friends” there. The focus of America’s outrage has been kept on the horrific Osama bin Laden, the repressive Taliban, and the impoverished people of Afghanistan. But what of our rich and repressive oil buddies in Saudi Arabia? George Bush the Elder, Dick Cheney and his Halliburton corporation, and George Bush the Younger all are champions of the elitist regime in Riyahdh. The bargain is as straightforward as it is cold-blooded: Our oil companies get their crude; they get the protection of our military might. Meanwhile, who has been the chief sponsor of the Taliban? Saudi Arabia’s royal rulers, whose money, home-grown extremists, and diplomats helped the Taliban maintain control of Afghanistan. Who is Osama bin Laden? The son of one of Saudi Arabia’s ruling families. What government has allowed the funneling of essential funds to bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network? Saudi Arabia’s.

Our government is demonizing and pounding Afghanistan, which is of zero economic importance to us. But our government is cynically averting its eyes from the support of terrorism, the pervasive corruption, the contempt for democracy, and the extensive human rights abuses that are routinely practiced by Saudi’s royalty. The difference is money.


We Americans are kind of a rah-rah people. We tend to enjoy getting fired up–at sporting events, at political rallies, in church, wherever. Shout hallelujah! Win one for the Gipper! Four more years! These have been some our exuberant cries. And, now, we can add this classic: Burn your feet for Burger King! Yes, in addition to God, country, party, and team, corporations increasingly are holding employee pep rallies and otherwise trying to fire up their worker bees with the holy corporate spirit. But it appears that Burger King is the first that literally has tried to fire up its workers.

Associated Press reports that more than 100 marketing employees of this British-owned fast-food giant recently gathered at a resort in the Florida Keys for a corporate retreat that was meant to promote bonding. To show their enthusiasm for the corporate team, the employees were asked to engage in the ritual of fire-walking–literally to walk barefooted across a bed of white-hot coals as. How hot? As hot as 1,200 degrees! Hot enough that a doctor had to be brought in to treat about a dozen of the fired-up workers for first- and second- degree burns. One woman was hospitalized, and some of the others had to have wheelchairs to leave the resort. Not that the corporation was surprised that its people got burned. Prior to the fire-walk, Burger King required the participants to sign a waiver acknowledging that they might get hurt and absolving the company of liability. Not to sign, and not to walk across the coals, would of course be a sign that maybe they lacked the proper team spirit. One who suffered injury was Burger King’s vice president of product marketing. But, hey, she had no regrets, for she was filled with the corporate rapture. Walking across searing coals, she exclaimed, “Made you feel a sense of empowerment and that you can accomplish anything.”

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.