The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Lowdown

By Jim Hightower, October 26, 2001, News

Let's Stop Fooling Ourselves

Yet again, we Americans have been caught blissfully ignorant about a part of the world that suddenly has thrust itself most profoundly into our national consciousness. But just as the politicians and the media are rushing to give us (and themselves) a crash course on our enemies in this part of the world, we should also ask them to address a few important realities about our "friends" there.

The focus of America's outrage has been kept on the horrific Osama bin Laden, the repressive Taliban, and the impoverished people of Afghanistan. But what of our rich and repressive oil buddies in Saudi Arabia? George Bush the Elder, Dick Cheney and his Halliburton corporation, and George Bush the Younger all are champions of the elitist regime in Riyadh. The bargain is as straightforward as it is cold-blooded: Our oil companies get their crude; they get the protection of our military might.

Meanwhile, who has been the chief sponsor of the Taliban? Saudi Arabia's royal rulers, whose money, homegrown extremists, and diplomats helped the Taliban maintain control of Afghanistan. Who is Osama bin Laden? The son of one of Saudi Arabia's ruling families. What government has allowed the funneling of essential funds to bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network? Saudi Arabia's. Of the 19 hijackers who plowed our planes into our people on September 11, where were the majority from? Saudi Arabia.

Our government is demonizing and pounding Afghanistan, which is of zero economic importance to us. But our government is cynically averting its eyes from the support of terrorism, the pervasive corruption, the contempt for democracy, and the extensive human rights abuses that are routinely practiced by Saudi's royalty. The difference is money.

To stop terrorism, our government must stop fooling itself ... and us.

The Charleston Five

Kenneth Johnson, Peter Washington, Ricky Simmons, Jason Edgerton, and Elijah Ford are longshoremen who do the backbreaking work of loading and unloading the huge freighters that dock at the port of Charleston in South Carolina. In January of 2000, these five were among 150 union dockworkers who were peacefully picketing against a corporation that had brought in nonunion workers to unload a Danish freighter. As the picketers were handing out informational leaflets (a form of free speech and assembly guaranteed by our Constitution), the powers That Be of Charleston sent in 600 heavily armed police in full riot gear to bust the picket and bust some heads.

In contrast to those five men, Charlie Condon is a political opportunist and full-blown gooberhead who presently is South Carolina's attorney general. He's also running for governor, so to kiss the butt of the state's business establishment, ol' Charlie got a secret grand jury to indict the five dockworkers. He charged them with rioting and conspiracy to riot. Five picketers, armed with nothing but leaflets, "rioted" against 600 fully armed riot police?

Nonetheless, the Charleston Five, as they're now known across the country, have had their inalienable rights stripped by this power-hungry politician. They are guilty of nothing but peacefully picketing in defense of their jobs. They've never been convicted of anything, yet Charlie Condon has had them under house arrest for more than a year and a half.

Charlie is the kind of banty-rooster autocrat that the founders of our country declared independence against 225 years ago and fought a revolutionary war to stop. The Charleston Five are standing up for the freedom of all of us. To help them, call 202/637-5387.

The Corporate Spirit

We Americans are kind of a rah-rah people. We tend to enjoy getting fired up -- at sporting events, at political rallies, in church, wherever. Shout hallelujah! Win one for the Gipper! Four more years! These have been some of our exuberant cries. And, now, we can add this classic: Burn your feet for Burger King!

Yes, in addition to God, country, party, and team, corporations increasingly are holding employee pep rallies and otherwise trying to fire up their worker bees with the holy corporate spirit. But it appears that Burger King is the first that literally has tried to fire up its workers.

Associated Press reports that more than 100 marketing employees of this British-owned fast food giant recently gathered at a resort in the Florida Keys for a corporate retreat that was meant to promote bonding. To show their enthusiasm for the corporate team, the employees were asked to engage in the ritual of fire walking -- literally to walk barefooted across a bed of white-hot coals. How hot? As hot as 1,200 degrees! Hot enough that a doctor had to be brought in to treat about a dozen of the fired-up workers for first and second degree burns. One woman was hospitalized, and some of the others had to have wheelchairs to leave the resort.

Not that the corporation was surprised that its people got burned. Prior to the fire-walk, Burger King required the participants to sign a waiver acknowledging that they might get hurt and absolving the company of liability. Not to sign, and not walk across the coals, would of course be a sign that maybe they lacked the proper team spirit.

One who suffered injury was Burger King's vice president of product marketing. But, hey, she had no regrets, for she was filled with the corporate rapture. Walking across searing coals, she exclaimed, "Made you feel a sense of empowerment and that you can accomplish anything."

Yeah, if you consider first-degree burns an accomplishment.

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.

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