The Hightower Lowdown

Motorola's Chinese Chips; Bush League Public Ed; Devil in the Details

Motorola's Chinese Chips

You might remember Motorola. It's the corporation that spent some $2 million on TV ads promoting Wall Street's recent China bill. The ads explained to us peasants how we should demand that Congress pass this legislation because it would allow U.S. companies to export more American products to China, creating new jobs here. Congress did pass the bill (even though 80% of the American people opposed it) and one of the first U.S. companies to export a product to China was Motorola. What was the product that Motorola shipped out?

Itself! Three months after the bill passed the House, the high tech electronics giant announced that it will invest nearly $2 billion to build a factory in China to make silicon chips for its mobile telephones, which it already makes in China. Indeed, this move makes Motorola the biggest foreign investor in that country. And while Motorola's TV ads talked about creating new American jobs, its actions actually subtracted jobs from our country -- the silicon chips for its telephones were being manufactured in a factory in Phoenix, but now, says a company executive, "we'll make them in China."

But Motorola is taking more than investment dollars and jobs out of the U.S. It's also sending our technology offshore. The corporation has established Motorola University near Beijing, where it trains Chinese engineers to do its high tech design and programming work, transferring our expertise to a foreign regime that intends to become a high-tech power in its own right.

The truth is that Motorola lied in its ads, and so did our representatives in Congress, who told us that this China bill was all about U.S. exports. In fact, what they voted to export is our country's manufacturing might, enabling the Motorolas to abandon the U.S. middle class and exploit China's powerless people.

Bush League Public Ed

Are George W. Bush and Al Gore running for president -- or school board? Hardly a day goes by without a media shot of one or the other of these grown men sitting in some fourth-grade classroom with their broad bottoms squished into a tiny chair, reading a story to the tykes. Apparently, these photo ops are supposed to make us believe that George and Al love children and are deeply committed to quality education.

George W. has been particularly prone to pose as a sort of national school marm, insisting that he's the man to fix your local education system. He brags endlessly about his educational reforms in Texas, citing a recent Rand Corp. study that hailed gains in the state's test scores. Three problems with Bush's braggadocio: First, the reforms he's citing were not his. Ross Perot -- with the backing of former Texas governors Mark White and Ann Richards -- was the initiator of the changes that George now claims as his own. Second, the Rand study covers achievements from 1990-96; Bush didn't even get to the governorship until 1995. Third, Bush and his fellow Republicans actually oppose the governmental policies that led to the improved educational performance in Texas public schools!

The Rand study noted that the three major reasons that students did better were: (1) having fewer students in each class in the early grades, so each student got more attention; (2) making sure children had access to preschool classes; and (3) providing better working conditions and classroom tools for teachers. Because all three of these steps require an influx of new government funding, George and the GOP are against them. Indeed, as Governor, Bush opposed extending kindergarten classes to all Texas children, because he wanted to use that money to give tax breaks to his wealthy campaign contributors.

Devil in the Details

I got the nicest letter from Patrick. He works for Fleet, the giant credit card issuer that has my little Visa account, and he sent a personal letter just to remind me of "some of the outstanding benefits that you're entitled to with your Fleet credit card." After reiterating a few, Patrick added, "Please see the enclosed cardholder agreement for important information about your account." He put that in bold type, so I wouldn't miss it. "Keeping you informed is important to us," he assured me, before signing off, "Sincerely, Patrick." What a guy!

Then I tried to read his enclosed "agreement," which was an eight-column brochure containing 31 points, 17 sub-points, and eight sub-sub-points -- all written in micro-type so teeny that you could get a migraine just looking at it. Attempting to read it definitely brought on a migraine because (one) it did not seem to be in English, and (two) it did not have one bit of Patrick's friendly tone. For example, in point 10, which supposedly explains how Fleet calculates the rate of interest I pay, this sentence came screaming at me like some beancounting banshee from hell: "Under the variable rate plans described in subparagraphs (a), (b) and (c) above, the highest LIBOR as published in the Wall Street Journal on any day during the 180-day period including and immediately preceding the third Wednesday of the month preceding the calendar month in which the billing cycle closes, plus a .60% add-on to LIBOR, will be used to determine the rates for that billing cycle."

Say what? My friend Patrick wasn't around to interpret, but I think this gibberish is Fleet's way of saying: "Up yours, customer, we're gonna sock you with usurious interest rates, send you friendly mailings chock-full of nonsense -- and laugh at you all the way to the bank."

Fleet is the eighth-largest financial conglomerate in the United States, and now I think I know how it got that way. These so-called "agreements" give new meaning to the term "bank robbery." When a company won't explain itself to you in plain English, you can bet you're getting the shaft.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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