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The Hightower Report

Tastes Like Profit; and Toiling on Wall Street

By Jim Hightower, Fri., March 19, 2010

Tastes Like Profit

Let's talk chicken.

I don't mean clucking and cocka-doodle-dooing, but the power of the bird. Most people hear the word "chicken" and immediately think: "Dinner!" Some commercial interests in Georgia, however, think: "Money!" So, they've launched a campaign to put the common fryer on the top roost of the bird kingdom by having it declared the state bird of Georgia.

But wait – there's already a state bird: the brown thrasher. No problem, says Chris Cunningham, the chief champion of the chicken campaign – we'll just get the Legislature to dethrone that little thrasher and enthrone our money bird. Cunningham, who owns a chain of restaurants specializing in (what else?) fried chicken, says that the thrasher is inedible, lazy, and migratory. Beside being pretty, he asks, "What's it ever done for the state of Georgia?"

Yeah, if you can't pluck a profit from a feathered creature, who needs it?

In contrast, Cunningham points out that the chicken is Georgia's cash cow (so to speak), with millions of the cooped-up cluckers generating some $18 billion a year for the state economy and providing about 47,000 poultry industry jobs. It's time for chickens to "get a little respect," Cunningham crows.

Well, chickens themselves probably don't think that a daily mass slaughter of their kin and kind is a show of much respect. And before we weep with gratitude about those chicken-plucking jobs, let's note that the overwhelming number of them are nonunion, no-benefit, short-term, nasty, and dangerous "jobettes" that don't come near providing a family wage or a middle-class opportunity for workers. Where's the respect in that?

Actually, I'm with Cunningham in seeing the nobility in common chickens. He points out that they are the "closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus rex." But their nobility stems from their overall birdness – not from their chopped-up parts feeding the corporate profits of Big Chicken.

Toiling on Wall Street

Goldman Sachs recently announced that the work of its investment bankers in the past year was so fabulous that they were being given bonuses totaling more than $16 billion. This caused many workaday Americans to shake their heads in disbelief – not merely at the absurd sum, but also at the notion that these soft-hand financiers are engaged in productive "work."

What do Wall Street's narcissistic casino dealers actually do? What do they produce for the good of society? Well, for one sterling example, check out a product they manufactured last year, called the iTraxx SovX. No home should be without one!

No, it's not a slick new smart phone. The iTraxx SovX – created by a consortium of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and a dozen other Wall Street powers – is a "sovereign credit derivative index." A what? It's a computerized trading scheme that allows wealthy speculators to buy "credit default swaps" on troubled European economies. Huh?

OK, in plain language: The iTraxx is a tip sheet for global gamblers. In particular, it lets banks and hedge funds lay down big money on a wager that the Greek economy is going to collapse. In other words, if the Greek people suffer, Champagne corks will pop on Wall Street because high-rolling speculators there will have won their bet.

What a terrific product!

By the way, the Greek economy is now teetering on the brink of broke because Goldman Sachs' financial fabricators invented another profiteering scheme a decade ago that allowed Greek leaders to hide the true depth of their country's financial trouble. Goldman pocketed $300 million on that sorry deal, and now it will rake in more by betting against the economy it helped dynamite.

So, while honest work might be virtuous, Goldman's financial flimflammery pays better.

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