National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and New York Times best-selling author, Jim Hightower has spent four decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.
Twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower believes that the true political spectrum is not right to left but top to bottom, and he has become a leading national voice for the 80 percent of the public who no longer find themselves within shouting distance of the Washington and Wall Street powers at the top.
Hightower is a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, spreading the message of progressive populism all across the American grassroots.
He broadcasts daily radio commentaries that are carried in more than 150 commercial and public stations, on the web, and on Radio for Peace International.
Every month he pens a rousing newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, that blasts through the corporate media blockade to lend new reporting and populist perspective on the events of the day.
A popular public speaker who is fiery and funny, he is a populist road warrior who delivers more than 100 speeches a year to all kinds of groups.
He is a New York Times best-selling author, and has written seven books including, Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back; If the Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates; and There’s Nothing In the Middle Of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. His newspaper column is distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.
Hightower frequently appears on television and radio programs, bringing a hard-hitting populist viewpoint that rarely gets into the mass media. In addition, he works closely with the alternative media, and in all of his work he keeps his ever-ready Texas humor up front, practicing the credo of an old Yugoslavian proverb: “You can fight the gods and still have fun.”
Hightower was raised in Denison, Texas, in a family of small business people, tenant farmers, and working folks. A graduate of the University of North Texas, he worked in Washington as legislative aide to Sen. Ralph Yarborough of Texas; he then co-founded the Agribusiness Accountability Project, a public interest project that focused on corporate power in the food economy; and he was national coordinator of the 1976 “Fred Harris for President” campaign. Hightower then returned to his home state, where he became editor of the feisty biweekly, The Texas Observer. He served as director of the Texas Consumer Association before running for statewide office and being elected to two terms as Texas Agriculture Commissioner (1983-1991).
During the 90’s, Hightower became known as “America’s most popular populist,” developing his radio commentaries, hosting two radio talk shows, writing books, launching his newsletter, giving fiery speeches coast to coast, and otherwise speaking out for the American majority that’s being locked out economically and politically by the elites.
As political columnist Molly Ivins said, “If Will Rogers and Mother Jones had a baby, Jim Hightower would be that rambunctious child — mad as hell, with a sense of humor.”
In the past year, we’ve seen a burst of audacious political assertiveness coming out of Old Dixie, and I’m not talking about those Trumpeteering, tiki-torch-brandishing, tinhorn KKKers the media focuses on. The real story is that a fresh, “Reclaim the South” movement of young African-American populists is emerging, kindling long-suppressed hope in the racially scarred Deep South and offering the possibility of real economic and cultural progress.
Guess who’s mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, the state’s capitol city? Chokwe Antar Lumumba — a black, 34-year-old lawyer who was raised in Jackson in a family and community of longtime Black Power activists. Last June, backed by Our Revolution and Working Families Party, Lumumba was elected with 93 percent (!) of the vote, and he promptly pledged to make Jackson “the most radical city on the planet.” By radical, he means aggressively innovative in developing policies and programs focused directly on lifting up Jackson’s middle-class and poor residents, rather than adopting the failed trickle-down model of nearly every other city. For example, instead of giving away government subsidies to lure rich corporations, Lumumba is trying to make the city a national showcase of home-grown cooperative enterprises owned by the people themselves.
In August, the incumbent mayor of Birmingham, Alabama — an old-style, don’t-rock-the-boat politico favored by the city’s power brokers — thought he was cruising to an easy re-election. Then wham! — an underdog populist challenge by 36-year-old African-American attorney, Randall Woodfin, stunned the city powers with a first-place showing that forced the mayor into an October runoff. Woodfin, a city prosecutor and school board member, went on to defeat Birmingham’s corporate and political establishment by winning the mayorship with 58 percent of the vote. He did it by proposing an all-out populist agenda, building a broad coalition of local progressive activists and running a dogged ground game with the full support of Our Revolution, Working Families Party, and other national groups. Our Revolution, for instance, deployed some 70 volunteers to help in the runoff and sent more than 11,000 text messages to voters urging support for Woodfin.
Likewise, other full-bore, African-American populists won big in races for local offices across the South, including:
—Khalid Kamau, a Black Lives Matter activist and national Democratic convention delegate for Sanders, won a South Fulton, Georgia council seat with 67 percent of the vote.
—Braxton Winston, a young community activist and battler against rampant inequalities in the enforcement of justice in Charlotte, NC, won a City Council seat.
—And La’Shadion Shemwell, a 30-year-old barber and Black Lives Matter proponent, pulled 57 percent of the vote in his extraordinary run for a City Council seat in McKinney, Texas. The suburban city on Dallas’s north side had long been considered a safe Republican bastion.
The nationwide progressive offensive in 2017 produced other ground shifting results such as many victories by millennials (five elected to the State House in Virginia alone); victories by immigrant candidates, including in Somerville (MA), Helena (MT), and Minneapolis; a rebellion in previously red suburbs; and (4) several wins by openly transgender men and women including House of Delegate (VA), several City Council seats and even a few seats on local school boards. Victories like these are proliferating because immigrant populations are growing, the LGBTQ community has become more readily excepted, Trumpism and GOP extremism are turning voters off, a rapid and relentless downsizing of the middle class is altering attitudes, and serious grassroots political organizing by Our Revolution, Democratic Socialists of America, Working Families Party, and other progressive groups is making a difference.
We can draw two big lessons from these wins in the “red” South and victories by others previously counted out of the by the status quo: progressives with a full-throated populist message (Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, corporate money out of politics, etc.) can win nearly anywhere; and the assertion by establishment Dems (echoed by corporate media) that progressive populism is not a winner is — in two words — bovine excrement.
Odd because the people outside of Washington hate that law.
Yes, hate. With a public approval rating of only 30 percent, the GOP’s trillion-dollar giveaway to multinational corporations and multimillionaires turns out to be Congress’ second-most disliked domestic law in the past quarter-century.
Second only to the multiple attempts by Trump, McConnell, and Ryan last year to take away the healthcare coverage of 23 million Americans — a move so mingy that 77 percent of the public opposed it.
Why do these doofuses keep trying to shove such wildly unpopular measures down people’s throats? Because, as columnist Michael Tomasky succinctly explained for the New York Times, “They are serving their megarich donors and the most extreme elements of their base.”
Yes. In today’s rigged political system, the special interests of a tiny minority trump the will of the great majority.
Since the GOP’s tax bill drastically reduced corporate taxes and increased many of ours, a few corporations are trying to dodge public fury by pulling a trickle-down trick on us. They’re awarding a tiny portion of their bonanza to workers — not as pay raises, but as one-time “bonus” payments. Bank of America, for example, is doling out $145 million in worker bonuses, while pocketing $2.6 billion it will get this year alone from the tax cut.
What they don’t tell you is that many of those bonus-paying corporations are also laying off thousands of workers.
In addition, the tax boondoggle for corporate giants guts our public treasury, so Washington Republicans and their army of corporate lobbyists are now demanding cuts in our Social Security, Medicare, and other safety-net programs.
That is where America’s inequality comes from. If the corporate-GOP syndicate wonders why they’re so despised, there it is.
The corporations create jobs, those workers pay taxes, and — voila! — the giveaway pays for itself!
Does it really work that way? Unfortunately, no.
Good Jobs First tracked the 386 incentive deals since 1976 that gave at least $50 million to a corporation, then tallied the number of jobs created. The average cost per job was $658,427 — each! That’s far more than cities and states can recover through any kinds of taxes those jobholders would pay in their lifetimes.
The rosy job-creation claims by incentive dealmakers also tend to be bogus, because they don’t subtract the number of jobs lost as a result of these deals.
Amazon, for example, has leaned on officials in every major metro area to subsidize its creation of a nationwide network of warehouses, data centers, and other facilities.
In a 2016 report titled “Amazon’s Stranglehold,” the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that more than half of Amazon’s facilities had been built with government subsidies. And Good Jobs First found that since 2005, Amazon has received more than $1 billion from taxpayers to build their private business.
Each handout was made in the name of local workers — and, yes, Amazon does employ thousands. But the subsidies enable the retail giant to undercut local, unsubsidized competitors, driving them out of business and causing devastating job losses that greatly outnumber jobs gained.
The Institute reports that at the end of 2015, Amazon employed 146,000 people in its US operations. But the taxpayer-supported giant had meanwhile eliminated some 295,000 U.S. retail jobs.
Check out the report for yourself at ilsr.org/amazon-stranglehold
One stranger who’s brazenly asking you and millions of other people to do just that is Jeff Bezos.
He’s the head honcho of Amazon, the e-commerce behemoth whose vast supercomputer network routinely compiles and stores dossiers on every one of his customers. He’s obsessed with having the most data on the most people — it’s a little creepy.
Now, adding to the creep factor, Bezos literally wants Amazon to get inside your home. And, ironically, he’s using “security” as his rationale.
Rather than simply delivering the products you order from Amazon to your doorstep, the corporation wants a key to unlock your door, allowing its delivery crews to go inside and do you the favor of placing the packages securely in your abode.
What could possibly go wrong with that?
Other than you being robbed, of course, either by rogue Amazon employees or by hackers who will certainly gain access to the corporation’s computerized key codes. Or maybe “Crusher,” your Pitbull, mauls the Amazon intruder and you get sued.
Need I mention that Bezos expects you to pay for the privilege of having his employees enter your home? First, his dicey, open-sesame program, which he calls “Amazon Key,” is available only to customers who shell out $99 a year to be “Amazon Prime” members.
Second, you must buy a special internet-unlocking gizmo and a particular camera to join his corporate key club. And guess where you must go to buy this entry technology? Yes, Amazon — where prices for the gizmo and camera setup start at $250.
This is Jim Hightower saying… What a deal! For Amazon, that is.
Bezos’ real goal — indeed, his only goal, always — isn’t so much to get inside your home. It’s to get inside your wallet.
It is said that the rich and poor will always be among us — but nowhere is it written that the middle class is a sure thing.
Even in this country of grand egalitarian aspirations — where the common yeoman (neither rich nor poor) has been hailed from 1776 forward as America’s greatest strength — the U.S. actually had no broad middle class until one was created in the 1930s and ’40s. Before then, most Americans either lived in poverty or right next door.
And, yes, “created” is the correct term for how our middle class came to be, with two historic forces of social transformation pushing it. First, the widespread economic devastation of the Great Depression created a grassroots rebellion of labor, farmers, poor people, the elderly and others against the careless moneyed class that caused the crash. These forces produced FDR and his New Deal of Social Security, worker rights and protections, consumer laws, anti-monopoly restraints and other policies that put government on the side of the people, empowering them to counter much of the corporate greed preventing their upward mobility.
Second, the government’s national mobilization for World War II created an explosion of new jobs, growth and opportunities for millions who’d long been blocked from sharing in our nation’s prosperity. The war effort opened people’s eyes, boosted confidence and raised expectations, leading to a post-war rise in unionism, passage of the GI Bill, a housing boom and a doubling of the median family income in only 30 years. In short, by the late 1970s, we had created a middle class that included nearly 60 percent of Americans.
Then — pffft — the momentum was gone. Beginning in the 1980s, right-wing Republicans and Democratic comparatists switched sides, and ever since they’ve increasingly allowed corporate lobbyists and campaign donors to disempower America’s workaday majority, further enrich themselves and impose an abominable, un-American culture of inequality across our land.
Just as progressives deliberately pushed public policies to create the middle class, so are today’s economic royalists deliberately pushing plutocratic policies to destroy it. That is the momentous struggle that calls us to action this political year.
As the royal triumvirate of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell continue their perverse quest to turn our America into a gold-plated Trumplandistan (an exclusive realm ruled by and for the billionaire class), they keep proclaiming that their blatantly-elitists schemes will magically elevate the middle class and even the poor. We’re giving a seven-course dinner to everyone, they loudly ballyhoo
Oh, sure — and as we now see form the details of their regressive re-write of America’s tax law, the 1-percenters got a perpetual feast of foie gras, chateaubriand, bouillabaisse and other rich gourmet delights, while our seven-course dinner turns out to be a six-pack and a possum. In fact, as the non-partisan Tax Policy Center reports, 10 years from now, 83 percent of the benefits in the Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax act will be flowing to the wealthiest families, while more than half of America’s middle-income and poor people will actually see their taxes rise over the next decade.
Meanwhile, this egregious giveaway to undeserving corporate elites will add between one and one-and-a-half trillion dollars to the federal deficit. No problem, says the slap-happy triumvirate, for we have a plan to cover the cost of lavishing these mega-tax cuts on the royals (including cuts for the gilded Trump family, which just happens to be one of the act’s top beneficiaries). As Trump himself explained the plan: “We’re going to go into welfare reform.” Yes, the plan is to cut such essential safety net programs as children’s health care, food stamps, jobless programs, and — as Ryan McConnell now publicly admit, they intend to cut Medicare and Social Security.
What we have here is plutocracy in action — the precious few are intentionally knocking down and locking down the many to further enrich themselves. This is the reason that the social cancer of inequality is spreading so rampantly in America, devouring the very middle class that Trump & Company are using — ironically and cynically — as an Orwellian rational for passing their plutocratic agenda.
Top photo: “Just as progressives deliberately pushed public policies to create the middle class, so are today’s economic royalists deliberately pushing plutocratic policies to destroy it.” (Hollywata/Flickr cc 2.0)