The Hightower Lowdown

Hey, rich people steal, too! And, in Bolivia, the U.S. takes the wrong side ... again.


Stand by for this breaking news: Rich people can be criminals, too!

It might not seem very newsy that the well-heeled elites of corporatedom can have criminal natures even darker than your common mugger, especially in these days of corporate-infamy-on-parade, when the barons of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Arthur Andersen, ImClone, and so many, many more are in the dock -- and when even our nation's president and vice president have been caught in corporate hanky-panky. After all, who does more harm -- the guy who holds up a 7-Eleven, or Kenneth Lay, the ex-CEO of Enron who sat in his penthouse coolly counting the $100 million he personally took from Enron in its last year as the company crashed, costing thousands of workers their jobs and thousands of small shareholders their retirement nest eggs?

Yet, it wasn't until 1939 that the term "white-collar crime" was coined, and even then, the Powers That Be shrank from calling the finaglers, defrauders, and other thieves up in the executive suites "criminals." Misguided, yes, even illegal -- but criminal ... well, that's activity that only the lower classes engage in.

Even today, the thieves in high places receive far less punishment than those in low places. CEOs have hefty bank accounts, influential friends, high-dollar lawyers, and PR consultants to get them off or at least escape any serious jail time. There's even a sociologist who rationalizes their criminal behavior by maintaining that because executive elites are ambitious and competitive they build up tension that must be relieved -- sometimes by stealing.

Don't put these pinstripers in jail stripes -- just send them to Bermuda beaches for a year to ease their stress.

Awww ... poor snookems, they're not criminals, you see, they're merely tense. Imagine Joe Schmo the bank robber saying to the judge: "I'm not a criminal -- I'm just ambitious, and I've built up a lot of tension recently." How quickly would he be tossed in the slammer?


The next time some warmongering politico or puff-headed talk-radio pontificator asks why rebel groups of the world seem to "hate" America, say one word back to them: Bolivia.

Bolivia is a country rich in resources, yet its majority Indian population is mired in unemployment and abject poverty. This is because the Europeanized elites who've ruled the country have long joined foreign corporate exploiters in plundering Bolivia's resources and people.

This year, however, the people have risen up, thrown their elitist president out of office, and asserted themselves as the new democratic power. They rebelled not merely against the president, a millionaire mining executive and die-hard proponent of the free-market globalization that has devastated Bolivia's economy, but specifically against bullying U.S. corporations and our government's consistent siding with the elites.

A central focus of their rebellion has been a U.S.-backed plan to build a pipeline to ship Bolivia's natural gas to our country, while people there go without fuel. Many Bolivians see the U.S. as literally waging war against them, determined to keep the Indian majority powerless and impoverished.

Yet, even after the people's successful rebellion and their assertion of the very democratic ideals that our own U.S. of A. was founded on, the Bush government sided not with Bolivia's fledgling democracy movement, but with the old elites. Our state department, which had aggressively lobbied other Bolivian political leaders to retain the despised president, then went out of its way after he was deposed to praise the old coot for his "commitment to democracy." Our government even flew him to Miami, granting him a "public interest pardon," at the same time it said it "regretted" the way he was removed by the people.

Well, pardon me, but I regret that our corporatized leaders are against people around the world who are striving for democracy.

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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white-collar crime, Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Arthur Andersen, ImClone, Kenneth Lay, Bolivia

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