Page 15


JIM HIGHTOWERI Unreal Questions, Real Answers Could you be an American Citizen? “Well, ” you say, “I am a citizen! ” Yes, but could you pass the test immigrants take to become naturalized Americans? Its a test of 20 questions, and you have to answer twelve correctly to pass. Some are simple like”What are the colors of our flag?” and “What is the date of Independence Day?” But some are not so easy. Quick: “Name the original thirteen colonies.” “Which countries were our allies during World War II?” Then there are the ones that I consider trick questionslike this one: “Who makes Federal laws?” Well, our civics classes teach that Congress makes the laws. But our experience teaches that corporate lobbyists actually make them. Take the new Telecommunications Act, which is raising consumer prices, while reducing our information choices. It literally was the product of lobbyists for AT&T, Disney, Time-Warner, and the other special interests that gave money to politicians who then allowed them to draft the law. Try this one: “What special group advises the President?” Hmmmmm…I’ d have to say the Lippo Group, though there’s also that insider group of Wall Street brokers headed by Goldman Sachs, whose main man, Robert Rubin, is with the President cheek to jowl on every economic decision the White House makes. But, even though I’m right, I would have been scored wrongthe official answer is: the Cabinet. And here’s one that begs for nuanced interpretation: “What is Congress?” Would it be wrong to say that it’s a zoological collection of over-pampered, money-grubbing, blow-dried twits? Not wrong, but technically incorrectthe answer they want is: the Senate and the House. How boringand I say it’s also misleading to immigrants. They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thingbut too much knowledge is dangerous, too, because it’ll cause you to flunk all the official tests! COMPANY TOWN Extortion by corporations has become an accepted part of “business ethics,” which is why that term has become such an oxymoron. Such extortions are rampantranging from pro-football owners who tell cities they’ll move their team out of town unless taxpayers build them a new luxury sports palace, to global corporations that tell employees they’ll move their jobs to Asia unless employees take a major pay cut. Such thievery has been so profitable for bigtime corporate cutthroats that now even smaller companies are trying to get in on the action. The New York Times reports that Liberty Orchards, a firm that makes fruit-and-nut candies called Aplets and Cotlets, is playing the “extortion game” with the people of Cashmere, Washington. Cashmere has been home to Liberty Orchards since 1918, but suddenly the candymaker is threatening to pull up stakes and abandon the town unless its demands are met. One demand is that all highway signs and the town’s official letterhead be redone to say: “Cashmere, Home of Aplets and Cotlets.” A second demand is that the town’s two main streets be renamed Aplets Avenue and Cotlets Avenue. Third, the company wants the town council to sell City Hall to it, and build new parking lots to serve as a tourist center for Liberty Orwants taxpayers to undertake an Aplets and Cotlets advertising campaign to promote tourism. Another local business owner calls this “absolute corporate greed,” saying, “They have asked us to sell out this town.” Hey, says Greg Taylor, president of the candy company, “We’ve done a lot for this community and never asked for anything in return. There’s got to be a quid pro quo.” Hey, right back at you Gregwhat makes you such a special ducky? There are plenty of people who have done a lot for Cashmere, and you don’t see them trying to extort freebies from their neighbors do you? Put on the dunce cap, Greg, and go stand in the corner. THE POOR RICH Time for another chapter of “Lifestyles of the Rich…and Cranky.” Sure, downsizings continue to hit the working class, yes the price of a six-pack and a can of Spam is up, yes you’re being squeezedbut, hey pal, those at the top suffer, too. Just check the CLEWIthe Cost-of-Living-Extremely-Well Index. Published annually by Forbes magazine, the CLEWI rose more than 3 percent last year, led by increases in transportation and personal services. For example, the Rolls Royce Silver Spur is now $186,000 a 5 percent uptick over last year. Also up 5 percent is the ten-passenger, Learjet 31A with standard options, now topping $5.7 million each. And don’t think flying commercial will save you muchround-trip New York to London on the Concorde is now $8,400 a 6 percent hike. And you thought you had it rough! The good news for the Hoity Toity is that the catered lobster dinner for forty including linens, china, crystal and, of course, servicehas held even , in price: still $4,000, just like last year. But, good gracious, look at the price of champagne! A case of Dom Perignon is now nearly $1,200up 5.6 percent in a single year. And here’s an absolute outrage: A box of Aniversario Numero Uno Dominican cigars, now $633! That’s a 10 percent hike, and you know why? Because all kinds of your lower-class people are smoking cigars this year, so it’s trendy. What next, caviar for the lunch-bucket crowd? I don’t see how rich people can cope with such price pressureespecially now that psychiatrists’ fees are up 14 percent, too. Do you feel as sorry for them as I do? El] Jim Hightower’s new book, has just been published by HarperCollins. DECEMBER 5, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19