Hightower denounces ‘corporate looting’

By Mark Almberg

CHICAGO – ‘We need outspoken advocacy for the people’s interests and the common good more than ever before,’ said Jim Hightower, particularly in the face of new threats to civil liberties and an unseemly, corporate, money-grabbing ‘looting spree’ in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Hightower, a former Agricultural Commissioner of the state of Texas and now a syndicated writer and radio personality, was they keynote speaker at the Third Annual Suburban Civic Fair sponsored by the Citizen Advocacy Center at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

‘Even before Sept. 11 and the horrendous terrorist attack, our freedoms and our political power were imperiled by the rise of a moneyed aristocracy within our nation and a global moneyed elite that is striving for empire,’ he said.

‘Now, in the name of a war against terrorism, this same elite is going after the very liberties and ideals that we count on if we’re truly going to have a democracy,’ he said. ‘We’re told that we must surrender our freedoms in order to have security, and they come forth with new methods of invasion of privacy, wiretapping, Internet surveillance, profiling of our citizens.’

Hightower denounced such measures as contrary to the original ideals of the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

He said that the new Office of Homeland Security (‘Why does that name not make me feel more secure?’ he quipped) has been established by executive fiat and is not subject to Congressional oversight. ‘This office is established not only within the White House, but also in the Pentagon, authorizing our military, for the first time, to have direct authority over domestic affairs.’

Hightower’s indignation at the drive to curb civil liberties was matched only by his denunciation of corporate chieftains who are taking financial advantage of the current situation in the country.

‘The corporate lobbyists are rampaging through the Congress, on a looting spree, shamefully hiding behind the flag in this time of trauma in our country,’ he said. ‘They’re trying to grab everything they can get a hold of that it wasn’t possible for them to get before,’ he said.

‘Look at Star Wars,’ he said. ‘Do you know that the very first money that Congress appropriated after the Sept. 11 attack wasn’t relief for New York, but was for $8.3 billion for Star Wars? How’s Star Wars going to help us combat terrorists with box-cutters?’

Hightower also denounced ‘still more tax giveaways for the corporations and the wealthy, efforts to reduce the capital gains tax, and huge bailouts for the CEOs and corporations.’

At the same time, he said, the government and these corporations are ‘leaving the workers-hundreds of thousands of whom have been laid off in the past month – out in the cold.’

He also criticized corporate and U.S. government efforts to rush through Fast Track legislation – what he called ‘the railroading authority that allows the president to ramrod through Congress the global, job-sucking trade scams like NAFTA, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the WTO’ – as an act of supreme political cynicism.

‘And while all of this is going on we’re told, ‘don’t dissent,’ ‘be patriotic.’ Some people confuse conformity with patriotism,’ he said. Instead, he suggested, people should ‘speak the truth.’

‘Gunter Grass, the German writer who won the Nobel prize last year, said that ‘the first duty of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.’ That’s good advice.’

Hightower’s populist remarks, frequently peppered by humorous, home-spun Texas sayings, were well received by the more than 120 people in the audience and the more than 30 organizations that participated in the Civic Fair.

The audience seemed to especially welcome his appeal to become even more active in the quest for economic fairness and social justice.

‘We need to agitate, advocate, and organize for the interests of the common people,’ he said, with a ‘new politics’ that puts the common good first.