CLINTON FLIES HIGH WITH HEMP
Bill Clinton did not inhale. We're clear on that, right?
But, recently, he did swallow. It was on a return trip to Washington from Mexico City, where the President had traveled to proclaim that his international drug war is a tremendous success. Bill has a tough time with Mexico on this issue, PR-wise, since every time he goes to praise the progress being made there, one or more of their top anti-drug officials turn out to be involved in the drug trade themselves. So who can blame Clinton for kicking back with a beer on the trip home from his latest song and dance in Mexico? It's a nerve-soothing beverage-and hey, alcohol is a legal drug. But hold your Clydesdales right there. The stewards on Air Force One didn't give the President a tall Bud . . . but a Hemp Golden Beer!
This brew, made in Kentucky, includes not only hops, barley and water-but also hemp seed. The hemp plant is a cousin of the dreaded marijuana plant. Even though hemp itself is not a drug and cannot make you high, Clinton's Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey has been on an absolute tear against allowing American farmers to grow this profitable, highly useful, and environmentally sensible crop. So US businesses that use hemp to make paper, fuel, medicines, clothing, food and beer among other things, have to import the hemp from China, Canada, Europe or other places that are not so paranoid.
Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, which markets several hemp-based skin care products, heard about Clinton's beer experience. She wrote to him, saying "Congratulations on breaking the hemp barrier on Air Force One." She also said, "Don't go wobbly with misinformation," urging him to support a legal distinction between hemp and marijuana so farmers can begin to produce the hemp here.
This is Jim Hightower saying . . . There's no word from Bill on that, but don't expect him to have another hemp beer on Air Force One-the office of National Drug Control Policy banned it from the plane, declaring it an "inappropriate" drink for the president.
MICHAEL DELL, TAX PROTESTER
Time for another peek [soap opera theme] into "The Lifestyles of the Rich . . . And Cranky." Poor Michael and Susan Dell. They're the richest people in Austin, Texas, and among the 20 richest people in America-but, gosh, they've got to make ends meet just like your family and mine. And just like families everywhere who build a house, this founding family of Dell Computer Inc. needs to watch expenses. Especially when their house is three stories and 33,000 square feet, has eight bedrooms and bathrooms, 13 half baths, a conference room, a kitchen bigger than most restaurants, an exercise room, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, cabanas, and a five-level terraced lawn. Their house is bigger than a shopping center, though not quite as attractive-hey, money is about size, not taste.
The Dells didn't skimp on building costs, architects, landscaping charges, or interior decorators. Their house is the most expensive in Texas-and I'm counting Ross Perot's! They only got cost conscience when they received their property tax bill. This is the money used by the local government to support public schools, roads and other basic services. The Dells though whined that their $600,000 assessment was way too high. OK, that's a lot of money for you and me, but for these 30-somethings who have a net worth of $13 billion, it's like you paying $2 a year in property taxes. You should be so lucky. But you're not the Dells, who hired their own lawyers and appraisers. They took the county to court-costing us taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees-and, sure enough, they got their tax bill knocked down to $250,000 a year-a 60% cut. This means they're going to be paying what would amount to about 50 cents a year. This is Jim Hightower saying . . . The tax appraiser said, "Just because they are Michael and Susan Dell doesn't mean they should pay more than their fair share. Everyone must be treated equally." Sure . . . as long as we all have lawyers and appraisers and political clout that's equal.
It's payday . . . do you know where your next million is coming from? Geoffrey Bible, like all of us, is just trying to make ends meet-though some of us have a longer stretch than Bible does. He's top dog at Philip Morris, and his board of directors not only paid him a nice $1.6 million salary last year, but added a sweet dollop of cream on top: a bonus of $3.5 million. But his payday didn't end there--add in stock options, incentive pay, and a category called "other compensation," and Geoffrey totaled right at $24 million for 1998. This is not counting his limousine, country club memberships, company jet, housing allowance, executive chef, and a free weekly shampoo for his poodle. All this was a year in which Philip Morris didn't do well. Who knows, in a good year he might've gotten that poodle shampooed twice a week. Are there no limits on the excesses of these guys?
Well, yes, say the companies, we have "executive compensation committees" that carefully scrutinize CEO performance and allocate pay accordingly. Sure, and the monkeys are guarding the zoo. Guess who heads the compensation committee at Philip Morris? John Reed. When he's not keeping his hawk-eye on Geoffrey Bible, he's Chief Executive of Citigroup, the financial services conglomerate. One reason that John Reed might have a slightly skewed sense of how much Bible should be paid is that he himself hauled off $1.7 million in salary last year, plus a $7.8 million bonus and stock options worth $16.9 million. So, hey, he says, if I made $26 million, how far off is it to pay Bible $24 million? And so what that Bible's company had a rough year?--Citigroup, under John Reed, saw its profits fall by a billion-and-a-half bucks, and thousands of workers were fired, so you can't hold tough times against the guy at the top. This is Jim Hightower saying . . . For CEOs, it's a scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours-world.
THE DOW BUSTS THE MIDDLE CLASS
Wow, the Dow above 10,000!
Is this great news, or what? USA Today gushed that "10,000 is more than a number . . . It's like Mark McGwire beating the home run record. It's like the calendar turning to the year 2000 . . . It's a cultural milestone."
It's being hailed not only as a milestone for the rich, but also for the middle class, with the media reporting deadpan that "everybody" is in the stock market today. Time for a Reality Check [echo] . . . check . . . check. Everybody?! Six out of ten Americans own no stock at all-not through a broker, a mutual fund, a pension . . . nothing. And of those who do own stock, the vast majority have a tidbit that gives them no sense of ownership in the Dow, much less giving them a thrill that the thing is above 10,000. Millions of Americans are in the stock market only because their pension plans got canceled, and now they've been thrust into a 401(K), which is nowhere near as desirable, and they're not at all happy to be there. Consider this reality that the establishment media never mentions: 90 percent of the value of all stocks is held by the richest 10 percent of American families. They're the privileged 10 percent who are giddy about the Dow busting 10,000. The rest of us are more concerned about finding good jobs at good wages, not to mention jobs with decent benefits and a real pension. Here's another statistic that the media, the politicians, and the Wall Street analysts don't broadcast: Weekly wages for average workers today are 12 percent below the wages of workers in 1973. And guess what? When a corporation cuts jobs and cuts wages, the stock price of that corporation goes up . . . which raises the Dow Jones Average. So the misfortune of the workaday majority, which is seeing its income go down, is a boost to the fortunes of those at the top. This is Jim Hightower saying . . . What's more important for America--a rise in the Dow . . . or a rise in the middle class?
PBS PROMOTES THE "STOCK MARKET GAME"
Out in Nebraska, when they say something is "janked"-they mean it's all messed up. Well, PBS the Public Broadcasting Service-seems to be janked. The original idea of establishing a "public" network was that it would present a non-corporate view of the world. But in recent years, PBS has been taking more and more corporate "underwriting," which is another way of saying advertising, and more and more of its programming now mouths the corporate line. For example, a recent feature on public radio's "All Things Considered" news show told about a new game called the "Stock Market Game." This is a blatant piece of Wall Street propaganda being directed at 11 and 12 year olds-just the kind of thing that PBS was created to expose and lampoon. But, no, the new, corporate-friendly public radio network broadcast the feature without an iota of journalistic skepticism, much less criticism or outrage. In playing this "game," teams of elementary school kids are given $100,000 each in pretend money to invest in the stock market. Stop right there. Who in the real world has $100,000 to invest? Maybe five percent of Americans-but the public radio reporter asked no embarrassing questions. Instead, a "game coordinator" in one of the schools was interviewed to tell us that sometimes the kids make a lot of money with their virtual investments, and sometimes they don't make so much. Not a whisper that sometimes, you lose everything! Another perky proponent of the Stock Market Game was interviewed and gushed that it was a great way "to teach students about the American economy." This is Jim Hightower saying . . . Yeah, if you want to teach them fantasy.