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JIM HIGHTOWER Hog Report Hogs not only like to eat from the trough, but some want to hog the whole trough. That’s the case of these squealers they’re Americds giant bankers, and they’re out to crush their small competitors so the giants can then control all of our banking outlets. Lately, such giants as First National, NationsBank, BankAmerica, Citibank, and BankOne have been after credit unions, which are small, local, consumer-owned banks. These small fry have irritated the big hogs by attracting millions of us customers with low fees and friendly service. Indeed, a 1997 report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that fees at the big banks average more than twice as much as credit union fees. Rather than compete with these thrifty financial institutions by offering lower fees and better service, the hogs are simply trying to eliminate credit unions. One tactic of the big banks is to demand that Congress tax credit unions. “It’s unfair,” squeal the hogs, “that we get taxed, but the small credit institutions don’t.” Hey, hog credit unions are non-profit. Get it? They pass all their earnings directly to their customers, so they have no profits to tax. Foiled there, the hogs then went squealing to the Supreme Court, which loves hogs. Sure enough, the Court recently ruled that credit-union members must be employees of a particular company or occupation, which means that some 20 million of us could get tossed out of our local credit unions and leave us nowhere to go but to the hogs. The good news is that there’s a bipartisan bill in Congress to rewrite the law so even more of us can join credit unions. H.R. 1151 has a fair chance to pass. To support it and to support consumer choice in bankLIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND CRANKY Speculators and stock brokers on Wall Street had a very good year in 1997, with the top dogs at Goldman Sachs and other brokerage firms raking in more than $25 million each in bonus money. Things are so good for them that New York’s poshest restaurants report that some of these highrollers have been ordering bottles of wine for lunch that cost $10,000 a pop! Now, if you can toss off 10 grand for a bottle of old grape juice, you must not have any reason to be cranky, right? Wrong! These rich guys are now insecure about their security. They’ve_begun to realize that their lavish lifestyles come at the expense of America’s workaday majority when workers get downsized, Wall Street’s fees and stock prices skyrocket and the rich get fabulously richer. So, to guard themselves against the downsized masses, the Street’s elites have been spending more of their ill-gotten gain on things like bodyguards, bulletproof limousines, kidnaping insurance, and home security systems. Fine. But now, they want the public to help pay for their security. They’ve persuaded New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to open a special police substation in their Wall Street district, with 200 officers assigned to them! Even though a group of influential Wall Street companies will finance a part of the new station’s cost, the rest will come from ordinary taxpayers. But a bigger principle than tax money is raised here why should police protection be auctioned off to the highest bidder? After all, Wall Street is one of the safest areas in The Big Apple, and plenty of neighborhoods that are more dangerous, but less affluent, sure would like to have 200 cops allocated to their streets. FREE ENTERPRISE’S FAR-OUT FRONTIER Today, Spaceship Hightower pays a visit to the incomprehensible world of your phone bill. Last year, Congress OK’d a new Telecommunications Act. Thanks to it, your once-simple phone bill can now present a dazzling array of charges from various phone companies, including charges you don’t owe. Ask Ernest Goldstein. According to the Austin American -Statesman, his monthly bill from Southwestern Bell included a $10 charge from Coastal Telephone Company, which Goldstein described as “a total stranger to me.” Since he had not made the calls charged to him, he called Southwestern Bell, where he was told to call Coastal. He did, but was transferred to yet another company called Axcess Communications. Axcess was not open to discussion, saying the billing to Goldstein was accurate. So back he went to Southwestern Bell, which ran a check and found that Ha Ha! there had been a mix-up between Goldstein’s phone number and someone else’s. “Fine,” said Goldstein, “pay back my ten bucks.” “Sure,” said his friendly Bell representative, “after we get paid back by Coastal or Axcess or whoever actually handled the calls you didn’t make.” And while he was getting the long-distance run around on this bill, he got another bill from Southwestern that included more erroneous charges from the elusive Coastal Communications. Goldstein’s experience is not unique, as more and more of our bills are being “crammed” an industry term meaning to load up monthly billings with bogus charges. Most of us are not as attentive or as persistent as Goldstein, so these little ripoffs are plenty profitable for the phone companies. Jim Hightower is a former Observer editor and Texas Agriculture Commissioner who preaches the populist gospel nationwide on his daily Hightower Radio show. ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip APRIL 24, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21