The Hightower Lowdown

Sweat It Out; Old School

Sweat It Out

When he was mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo was charged with nepotism in the hiring of the city fire commissioner, to which he responded: "Whaddaya mean nepotism? He's my brother!"

Likewise, the Pentagon seems confused on the concept of ethical dealings -- not over the hiring of relatives, but in the buying of some of its supplies. In particular, the Air Force Exchange Service, which runs 1,400 stores on U.S. military bases around the world, hauling in some $7 billion a year in sales, has been getting much of the apparel that it sells in these stores from a notorious sweatshop in Nicaragua. This violates policy, regulations, common decency, and our nation's moral principles.

The Chentex factory, owned by a Taiwanese textile conglomerate, employs 1,800 workers who sew 35,000 pair of jeans a day. The jeans retail in the Exchange stores for about $30 a pair, but the workers are paid only 20 cents for each pair, which adds up to an abysmal subpoverty wage even in impoverished Nicaragua. Also, Chentex workers are not allowed to go to the bathroom without being monitored, they work up to 70 hours a week (including forced overtime), and it's not unusual for them to be screamed at and hit by factory managers.

Not surprisingly, to try to improve conditions, many have attempted to form a union, demanding an eight-cent increase in pay for each pair of jeans that they make -- an increase that obviously would have no impact on the consumer price and would not pinch corporate profits. Yet, when more than 150 of them went on strike for this modicum of fairness, Chentex fired them.

Old School

Instead of calling a skunk a skunk, let's call it a rose -- that'll make it smell so much sweeter, right? Such is the level of sophistry propounded by our Pentagon -- the multibillion-dollar military hierarchy that previously gave us the term "collateral damage" to refer to the killing of innocent people. The Pentagon is expert at defining away its own horrors.

One of its ongoing horrors is what it calls the School of Americas, a 54-year-old military academy operating out of the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Georgia. The SOA trains Latin American military officers -- including training them in torture, mass murder, and other dictatorial arts. Leaders of some of the most bloodthirsty death squads in the Americas learned their chops at this notorious school -- which is known among the people of Latin America as "School of the Assassins."

Hundreds of thousands of indigenous people -- along with nuns, bishops, and even U.S. tourists -- have been tortured, raped, massacred, and "disappeared" by the graduates of SOA. This is not a positive image for our Pentagon, so at last the brass has decided to deal with this blemish.

No, no, Nanette, they have not chosen to shut down the School of Assassins. They have simply renamed it. Henceforth, it is to be called the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation." There ... doesn't that make you feel better? Instead of your tax dollars going to SOA, now they'll go to WHISC -- as in a whisk broom trying to sweep raw atrocity under the rug of euphemism. Luckily, not everyone is fooled by the Pentagon's shuck and jive. Thousands of Americans from across the country will gather at Fort Benning on January 17 in nonviolent opposition to the old school with the new name.

Truth or Dare?

In the wondrous world of product promotion, truth and logic are total strangers. Our guide through this morass is Consumer Reports magazine.

Let's start with an innovation on the old "Made in the USA" label. Tisonic Inc. makes a radio cassette player for automobiles, and the package proudly bears a rendering of our U.S. flag. But, wait ... the stars on this flag are blue on a field of white. Not only are the colors reversed, but the print beneath the flag says "Made for U.S.A." -- not made in our country. Clever.

"Worrisome" is the word that might occur to you if you bought the Super Signal Booster that's supposed to juice up your radio reception. Worrisome because on its front the package brags that the Booster uses "Secret Military Technology!" and has been a "Secret device for the military for years!" Maybe so, but on the back, the package confesses: "Made in China."

As for logic-defying labels, how about "Chicken Noodle Vegetarian" soup? Then there's the Krylon spray paint promo that says you can turn an old end table into a like-new treasure in only "30 minutes." Go for it -- the copy explains that all you have to do is remove all hardware, strip and scrape off the old paint, sand the table, wipe it clean and prime it, sand it again, mask areas you don't want painted, apply one coat of paint, wait, then apply a second coat. I don't know ... sounds like maybe a 35- or 40-minute job to me.

Jim Hightower's latest book, If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in stores everywhere.
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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