The Hightower Lowdown

Greedheads capitalize on terror; MBNA offers to "decrease" Jim's debt; and high-end garage sales.

Capitalizing on Terrorism

Crisis tends to bring out the very best in the American people, and the horror of the September 11 terrorist attacks produced beautiful acts of heroism by firefighters, the police, office workers, hijacked airline passengers, rescue teams, and so many more ordinary folks who did extraordinary things.

Along with heroes, however, were a few despicable zeroes who have sought to take advantage of the horror for personal gain. These were not common looters, rampaging through the rubble, but corporate looters, dispatching lobbyists to rampage through Congress.

First on the scene were lobbyists for Pentagon contractors eager to get their hands on the multibillion-dollar boondoggle called "Star Wars." They wailed that the terrorist assault shows that America must have a Missile Defense Shield to protect our cities. Hello. We were not attacked by enemies hurling high-tech missiles at us from afar, but by enemies who used decidedly low-tech box cutters to hijack our own commercial airplanes. Instead of a Missile Defense Shield, maybe we need a Box-Cutter Shield. Still, one of Congress' first responses to September 11 was to ram through $8.3 billion for the Star Wars scam.

Also, while rescuers were still searching the wreckage for survivors, guys in Guccis were combing Capitol Hill pleading for an "emergency" cut in their capital gains taxes. This would help the shell-shocked economy, they said. Yeah -- their personal economy -- 80% of this multibillion-dollar tax giveaway would go into the pockets of the wealthiest 2% of Americans. If this undemocratic tax cut seems a far-fetched response to terrorism, consider the shameful effort by Bush trade officials and corporate lobbyists two weeks after the assault to snatch "fast track" authority from us, jiving that it's now the patriotic duty of lawmakers to grease the skids for more global trade scams.

Surely there's a special place in hell for greedheads that seek to capitalize on terrorism.

My Friends at MBNA

It's always a pleasure to hear from the friendly folks at MBNA. I have no clue what MBNA stands for, but I do know that this corporation is the number-one issuer of credit cards in America and is big in other banking affairs, not to mention being a lobbying powerhouse in Washington and among the fattest of cats backing George W. Bush.

Still, as busy and important as it is, MBNA dispatched a personal letter to me. "How much would you pay to make your debts disappear?" asked my friends at MBNA. Their concern was that maybe I've amassed some big personal debts (quite possibly this debt might be on the four or five credit cards they've shipped to me in the past year alone, but that's negative thinking, and these people are out to help me, so let's not get picky here). MBNA was generously offering a "Disappearing Debt Loan."

All I would pay to make, say, $15,000 in debt go "poof!" is a measly $289 a month. For 72 months. Just call the toll-free number, said my MBNA buddies, and you'll be debt-free in 10 minutes. Do it now, they urged, for this "window of opportunity" was quickly closing.

But before I leapt, I did the math. Hmmm ... $289 a month times 72 months is $20,000! My debt didn't disappear, it grew by a third!

So I let MBNA's window of opportunity close, but I'm sure these friends will give me many more chances to be ripped off by them.

A Billionaire's Garage Sale

Even the rich sometimes get caught in a financial downward spiral, and when the going gets tough for them, they do what regular folks often have to do in order to get the cash they need to make ends meet: They hold a garage sale. Craig McCaw is one such fellow. Having invested in high-tech stocks during the 1990s, Craig became one of the world's richest men. But then came the stock market plunge of the past year, and ... well, to make this sad story short, McCaw is down to his last billion bucks. So he's selling some of his stuff.

A billionaire's garage sale is much like any other, only the stuff tends to be better. If you were in a pinch, you might sell your socket wrenches, Tupperware, and Englebert Humperdink record collection. McCaw, on the other hand, is selling mansions, airplanes, yachts, and his rare wine collection. He's already sold two of his four Seattle homes -- one for $20 million, the other for $7 million. His condo is tagged for sale, as is his 5,000-acre ranch in trendy Carmel, Calif., priced to move at $40 million. He's sold his Gulfstream G-5 luxury jet for $38 million and is offering his personal 737 jetliner for $54 million.

McCaw is also trying to unload his 780-acre island off the coast of Vancouver for $49.9 million. And without the island, he felt he could also do without his yacht, which is almost as big as an aircraft carrier -- indeed, this 300-foot floating palace carries two helicopters, a 40-foot speedboat, a sailboat, and a swimming pool. He unloaded it for $100 million.

Even after his sell-off, Craig's no pauper -- he's left with a mansion in Seattle, a $20 million California estate, a $7 million Idaho retreat, several other planes ... and, who knows, maybe he even has an Englebert Humperdink collection.

Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

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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September 11, terrorist attacks, Congress, Pentagon contractors, Star Wars, Missile Defense Shield, MBNA, George W. Bush, Disappearing Debt Loan, garage sale, Craig McCaw

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