Jim Hightower

Coup-less in Caracas


There’s an old saying in Chicago politics: Before you dance on someone’s grave, be sure he’s dead. George W. and the global corporate empire builders in his administration forgot this basic rule when they tried to dance on the political grave of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez. On April 11, a cabal of wealthy Venezuelan elites and the military staged a coup against Chavez, putting him in an island prison and installing the head of Venezuela’s chamber of commerce as their hand-picked president. Whatever you think of Chavez, he was duly-elected; it’s bad manners and totally anti-democratic to impose an unelected oligarchy on a country. But the Bushites hate Chavez, who won’t go along with their model of a world run by corporate power, so they had been meeting with the coup plotters and now cheered his demise. At first, they claimed that he had resigned because no one in Venezuela supported him any more. Not true–an explosion of popular protest swept the country within hours of the coup. Worse, the business elites had delusions of grandeur–they dissolved the Congress, fired the Supreme Court and all state governors, and suspended the constitution, declaring that they would rule by popular decree. But they were not at all popular with the great majority of Venezuelans who live in grinding poverty. The military decided to back the people in a counter-coup … and Chavez was returned to the presidency only 48 hours after being deposed. Meanwhile, Bush & Company were caught completely on the wrong side of democracy. While all Latin American countries had immediately condemned the coup, our nation did not join in the condemnation and publicly gloated about Chavez’s ouster by the business oligarchy. Now, Chavez has more support than ever, and Bush looks like an arrogant bully.


You’ve gotta love Alan Greenspan, the fusty old chairman of our country’s central bank. He never lets reality intrude into his unquestioning belief in laissez-faire ideology, so he sees no problem with the abusive power that today’s corporate behemoths have amalgamated. If Alan had been captain of the Titanic, he would not have seen the ship’s collision course with the iceberg as a disaster, but as the free market’s beneficent way of delivering ice to the passengers.

Take the Enron debacle. Greenspan says it’s not an example of widespread corporate excess that warrants public action, but rather an example of the free market’s magical ability to punish companies that go bad. He noted that Enron’s stock is now next to worthless, so, he blithely explains, the market has severely disciplined the executives who deceived investors. Hello? … Alan, reality knocking. It was not the executives who took the hit when Enron crashed–they walked off with more than a billion dollars. It was the rank-and-file employees and small investors who were left out in the cold, with their jobs gone and their retirement nest eggs destroyed. And while Enron executives were turning the company into a Ponzi scheme, their auditor, Arthur Andersen, was gleefully signing off on the scams. Likewise, Enron’s law firm, Vinson & Elkins, was unable to smell the stink of corruption even when a whistleblower rubbed the firm’s nose in it. Meanwhile, Wall Street analysts wore ethical blinders and giddily urged investors to keep buying Enron stock right up to the day the corporation imploded. Enron is not a “bad boy” in an otherwise perfect system, as Greenspan naively claims. The system itself is corrupt and is failing our country. Enron is the inevitable product of the anything-goes, laissez-faire world that Greenspan and Enron executives themselves have foisted upon us. This is no time for lectures on free-market ideology.


Rep. Patrick Tiberi, a Republican congress critter from Ohio, was up on his hind legs recently giving an impassioned plea for young people to participate in politics. “We are constantly told about the need to get more citizens involved in the electoral process,” Tiberi began. “With this bill, we are doing just the opposite,” he charged. “We are telling young people, the folks we want to get involved now so they will stay involved years to come,’no thanks, maybe when you’re older’,” he wailed.

Was there a bill to prevent children and teenagers from working in campaigns, doing door-to-door leafleting, or talking to people about issues and candidates? No. Tiberi was complaining about a campaign-finance reform bill that closes the loophole that lets parents use their children as a way to exceed the legal limits on how much money they can give to a candidate. Legally, a person can give only $1,000 to a particular candidate for, say Congress. Of course, your spouse can also give $1,000–and it was this familial link that got the more creative funders to thinking: “Why shouldn’t Heather and Kimball give $1,000, too?” Never mind that Heather was six and Kimball was four, as long as they had a bank account in their name, mommy or daddy could write out thousand-dollar checks from them to the favored candidates. The youngest known donor was an 18-month-old boy who sent a thousand bucks to Bill Clinton. For Tiberi, however, stopping kiddie kontributions is ‘punishing children who simply want to be involved in democracy. ” What a fine civics lesson he’s giving to children, teaching them that writing a check is what matters in our democracy.

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.