The Hightower Report

Christmas tree growers treat the poor in an un-Christian manner; Oliver North re-invades Grenada.

Christmas Tree Workers

If Scrooge got into the Christmas tree business, he'd feel right at home around Galax, Va. In these hills, Christmas greenery -- including trees, garlands, and wreaths -- has become very big business, with miles of white pine planted and harvested for shipment nationwide. It's your Christmas spirit and dollars that keep the cash registers jingling merrily at the big tree farms here -- but the owners don't share that spirit when it comes time to dole out wages to the cutters, haulers, garland makers, and others who do the heavy work in this multimillion-dollar industry.

Christmas tree prices keep rising higher than Santa's sleigh, but the miserly owners fatten their profits by offering only minimum wage for these seasonal jobs, which involve grueling work and long hours. Locals won't take such poverty pay, but -- ho, ho, ho -- rather than offering fair wages, the companies simply bring in impoverished Mexican immigrants willing to work for $5.15 an hour.

But this is where the owners turn really Scroogey. They routinely cheat the immigrants out of the measly $5.15 they're due! Both state and federal officials have repeatedly found the companies in flagrant violation of labor laws. The powerless Mexicans are required to work for under $4 an hour and often for under $3. One garland maker told The New York Times that she'd just been paid $265 for working 80 hours that week -- $3.31 an hour. "It's really terrible that they take advantage of us in factories that are making something nice for Christmas," she said.

What an irony that an industry profiting so handsomely from the celebration of the birth of Jesus would treat the poor in a way that Jesus abhorred. A bough cutter noted that the worker's pay was so low that "We don't know whether we'll even have enough money to give Christmas presents this year." Another worker added, "A lot of Americans are nice and treat you well. But others will kick you if they can."

Feliz Navidad, amigos.

Ollie to Invade Grenada

Many of us remember Ronald Reagan as the fearless "Conqueror of Grenada!"

His was not exactly a Great War, a big one, or even necessary, except that maybe the Reaganauts felt it was politically necessary, since it was 1983 and the Gipper could use a splendid little victory against Russia's "Global Commie Empire" as he headed into his 1984 re-election campaign. So Reagan chose to beat up on the people of this little, isolated, poverty-stricken Caribbean island. Thousands of U.S. troops, backed by a bomber assault, stormed ashore in Grenada. Calling it "Operation Urgent Fury," Reagan's forces quickly overwhelmed the feeble local forces, and -- by gollies -- conquered Grenada!

Now this poor island is to be invaded by the U.S. again. Not by troops, but by tourists who will pay to be part of a Reagan nostalgia tour aboard a cruise ship. This invasion is a promotional event for the Freedom Alliance, a right-wing group headed by former felon Ollie North. As announced on the Web site of the alliance: "Oliver North -- who helped plan 'Operation Urgent Fury' from the White House situation room -- will lead us on a private tour of the island."

Scary. Ollie and an army of plaid-clad geezers storming your island? This could be worse than being shot at! Speaking of shooting, the cruise is co-hosted by the NRA. Also, as part of the oldies theme, Reagan's old, liberty-busting attorney general, Ed Meese, will be on board to tell his old war stories.

Ironically, Reagan's official rationale for his Grenada assault was that Cuban commies were on the island. This is ironic because the Cubans are still there. Reagan brought war to the island then left, the Cubans came back and, far from being a menace, have helped the impoverished Grenadians with such basic needs as building a new hospital. If any members of Ollie's tourist brigade get sick, they could be treated there for free.

Now there's a lesson in international relations: Make health, not war.

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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Christmas trees, Galax, Virginia, Mexican immigrants, labor, Ronald Reagan, Grenada, Oliver North, Operation Urgent Fury, Freedom Alliance, National Rifle Association, NRA, Ed Meese

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