The Hightower Report

It's my 737, I'll land if I want to; and a Day of Action against Wal-Mart.


A High-Flying Lowlife in Idaho

Let's take another peek into "The Lifestyles of the Rich ... and Cranky."

Today we go out west to the awe-inspiring beauty of Idaho's ski country, where a gaggle of powerhouse corporate CEOs own vacation mansions. To reach their retreats, these jet setters have their own jets, which they often land at nearby Hailey airport.

This is where poor Ronald Tutor's sad saga begins. Ronald is head honcho of a multibillion-dollar California construction empire, and he has a vacation palace in the Sun Valley area. But this tycoon is in a terrible tizzy because mean ol' Rick Baird, boss of the Hailey airport, won't let Sir Ronald land his corporate plane there.

What does Rick have against Ronald? Nothing. It's just that the bigwig's jet is a Boeing 737 and is way too big for this small airfield. Tutor's $50 million luxury Boeing is 38 tons heavier than the weight limit for the airport's one runway, and it's too wide to use the taxiways.

But Ronald is corporate royalty, and no one tells him no, so he stamped his tiny feet and unleashed a pack of attorneys to sue this little town. The lawsuit claims that Tutor is being denied his constitutional right to travel to his mountain mansion in Idaho and, by God, Rick Baird had better let him land his Big Honking Boeing at Hailey, whether it fits on the runway or not.

Actually, Ronald is not being denied the right to travel or even to land at Hailey, since he also has a smaller but no less luxurious Gulfstream III corporate jet that fits quite nicely on the airport's runway and taxiways. Of course, as a local editor wrote, Tutor is so pompous that his Gulfstream "probably has a bumper sticker that says, 'My other jet is a 737.'"

Airport boss Rick Baird, however, is not backing down to Ronald the Rich ... and he shouldn't. It's a simple question of the common good versus a petulant, high-flying lowlife.


Wal-Mart Day of Action

Is it possible for consumer prices to be too low? No way, you say!

But what looks like a good deal on a price tag often turns out to be a raw deal because of hidden costs -- and nowhere is this more true than at Wal-Mart, the retail Goliath that puts big signs on its stores declaring: "We Sell for Less." The world's largest corporation, Wal-Mart brags endlessly that it has the cheapest prices anywhere.

Hmmm. How does it do that? Does it take less profit? Hardly -- it sucks up more profits than any other retailer on the planet, taking twice as much profit as the next 15 retailers combined. Does it cut back on top executives? Uh-uh -- Wal-Mart's CEO raked in a pay package of $11.5 million last year. Does the ruling Walton family forego riches? Get real -- of the 10 richest people in the world, five are Waltons.

So ... who pays for the low prices? Start with the workers in the stores. They average a poverty wage of under $11,000 a year and mostly get no health care benefits; they are also made to work several hours a month "off the clock," which means for no pay.

The community pays, too, because Wal-Mart's predatory pricing policies force local retailers out of business, eliminating jobs, tax revenues, consumer choices, charitable donations, and the middle-class wages paid by the local firms. Also, unlike local business, Wal-Mart doesn't buy from local suppliers, and the money it makes in your town is not re-invested locally, instead being hauled off to corporate headquarters. Plus, this giant generates massive congestion, while also destroying a town's unique identity, turning every place into another Sprawl-Mart.

All across the country, folks are deciding that Wal-Mart's "low prices" are too high, and they've organized a national "Day of Action" for Thursday, Nov. 21, rallying communities to stand up to this bullying corporation. Events are planned at Wal-Marts in all 50 states that day. To get involved, go to the Web site: www.walmartdayofaction.com.

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

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Hailey airport, Idaho, Ronald Tutor, Rick Baird, Boeing 737, Gulfstream III, Wal-Mart, Walton family, Wal-Mart Day of Action

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