The Hightower Lowdown

Dick Armey gives money to the rich, agribusiness creates deadly "superbugs", and Consumer Reports reads the fine print.

Stimulating the Rich

This week's Gooberhead Award goes to Dick Armey, the House majority leader from Texas. He repeats as our awardee because of his remarkable stance on this $100 billion economic stimulus package that recently zipped through the House. Armey declared that the package was too rich.

Well, he certainly was right about that. This thing is larded with outrageous giveaways to the rich -- an assortment of elitist goodies that has nothing to do with the millions of Americans who have been flattened by the economic bust since September 11, nor will it do anything to rebuild our economy. Among other things, the $100 billion package gratuitously gives a special capital gains tax break to the wealthiest 2% of Americans, and it also allows enormously profitable corporations to get $25 billion in tax rebates.

But our boy Dick had no gripe with the rich making a killing. It was the little dab going to low-income workers that got his knickers in a knot. These low-wage families have been devastated by the job losses at airports, hotels, and other places where business has plummeted, so the stimulus package allowed small rebates on a portion of their payroll taxes. Armey got on his hind legs to complain about allowing such folks to get maybe a hundred bucks or so in rebate, claiming that this would "not really have a growth impact on the economy."

What a Goober! In fact, spreading smaller sums of money to millions of workers is exactly the way to stimulate the economy, since these folks won't hoard it as the rich do, but instead will spend it immediately on groceries and other basic needs for their families. Armey's all for tax breaks ... as long as they go to his campaign contributors.

The Horror of 'Superbugs'

"Superbugs" is not the title of some bad horror movie, but a truly horrible reality of modern life in which some bacteria are rapidly developing a resistance to even our most powerful antibiotic drugs. Two new scientific studies have found an alarming rise in meat products contaminated with these antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In one study, the Centers for Disease Control examined 407 chicken samples taken from supermarkets in four states. More than half were contaminated with E. faecium bacteria that had developed immunity to the three drugs usually used to kill it. In the other study, the Food & Drug Administration examined 200 samples of ground beef, chicken, pork, and turkey from supermarkets in the Washington D.C. area. A fifth of the samples contained salmonella bacteria, and 83% of these bacteria were resistant to at least one of the antibiotics commonly used to kill this bug.

Not only is this rapid and deadly mutation scary, but it's also stupid, for it should not be happening at all. The problem stems from the fact that giant agribusiness operators are dosing chickens, cattle, and other animals with tons of antibiotics annually, not to cure disease, but -- get this -- to force the animals to gain weight quickly. While some three million pounds of antibiotics go to treat humans each year, nearly 25 million pounds are fed to animals simply to speed up the fattening process -- and to fatten the profits of the giant meat purveyors.

In their rush to profit, these corporations are creating the superbugs in our meat supply ... and literally making a killing on us.

Surprises in the Fine Print

Consumer Reports magazine recently took us into the Lilliputian world of tiny print -- an obscure realm of product packaging where a keen eye and a magnifying glass can reveal that the product is not really delivering what you think it is.

Let's start with something good to eat, like Havarti Spread. Yum, I love havarti cheese -- but wait, the back of the box quietly informs us that this spread gives you a "havarti-type flavor." The cheese is actually cheddar. Ok, how about Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake Kit with white crabmeat? The package urges you to "treat yourself to this Chesapeake Bay delicacy." Only when you check the ingredient list do you find this note: "Crabmeat is a product of Thailand." Well, at least you get crabmeat. When you buy a box of Manischewitz mashed sweet potatoes, however, you probably would not notice the small type that whispers: "Contains no sweet potatoes." There is sweet potato flavor, but the product inside is "multipurpose white potato" flakes.

If you feel the need to shed a little light on products like these so you can read the fine print, don't trust the Philips light-bulb company. It offers an 85-watt bulb for recessed floodlights, bragging on the package that this Philips 85-watter "replaces 100-watt" bulbs. Yes ... but no. Squint at the back of the package and you learn that this bulb actually delivers only about 77 watts worth of light. So, technically, you could "replace" your 100-watt bulb with this one, but it really wouldn't be a replacement in terms of the light it put out.

If this is confusing, consider the ad for a $500 bikini swimsuit that, in the tiny print, warns: "Should not be worn in the sun or water."

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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