Jim Hightower’s Radio Lowdown
The holy mantra of health professionals was coined about 2,500 years ago by the Greek physician, Hippocrates: “Do no harm.”
Of course, that was before corporate healthcare took charge and asserted a new guiding ethic: “Jack up profits.” Putting this in practice, America’s largest and richest hospital chains rushed to the front of the COVID-19 bailout line this spring to pull $15 billion from the government’s emergency fund. They pocketed the taxpayers’ money despite sitting on tens of billions of dollars of their own cash reserves.
But hold your nose, for it gets much stinkier. The bailout was intended to keep hospital workers on the job, yet the wealthiest chains have hit nurses, janitors, and other crucial, frontline staffers with layoffs, pay cuts, and deadly shortages of protective gear. For example, HCA, the $36-billion a-year behemoth that’s wallowing in profits, snatched a billion-dollar taxpayer bailout for itself, then demanded hospital staffers accept wage freezes, elimination of company pension payments, and other cuts… or have thousands of jobs eliminated.
However, in a public show of compassion, HCA’s chief exec Samuel Hazen donated two months of his $1.4 million salary to an employee support fund. How magnanimous! Uh, no – his generosity is a deception, not a sacrifice. The trick is that a CEO’s “salary” is a miniscule part of total pay. Hazen’s annual bonus, stock payouts, and other compensation will raise his actual pay to $26 million this year! So his donation is less than one percent of his pay, and he almost certainly will write that off his income taxes – so we taxpayers (including the nurses and others he’s knocking down) not only underwrite his fat take-home, but we also subsidize his face-saving philanthropic gimmick.
What we have here is a raging virus of executive suite greed doing deeper damage to our society than COVID-19 ever could.
Sometimes I don’t know whether to weep uncontrollably, laugh hysterically, or just throw up.
I recently did all three when I saw another gusher of greed pouring out of corporate America. This one is especially nauseating, given today’s raging health crisis, for the culprits are major healthcare corporations!
One perpetrator is Larry Merlo, CEO of our country’s largest drugstore chain, CVS. In this time of COVID-19, customers are surging into the chains 10,000 stores for everything from medications to masks. Yet, the boss has blithely left many of the pharmacies so severely understaffed that they pose a danger to public health.
CVS pharmacists tell of frantically scrambling to keep up with filling prescriptions, answering ever-ringing phone inquiries, giving shots and COVID tests, stocking toilet paper, tending the drive-through, etc. – while also having to meet ceaseless corporate demands for cost-cutting and more profit. The result has been a dangerous work overload, with many pharmacists handling nearly 200 prescriptions in a six-hour shift, about one every two minutes. Unsurprisingly, there’s been an alarming rise in serious errors and week-long delays in providing critaical medications for customers.
Adding to the exasperation of local managers, who are allowed no say in staffing, is the infuriating level of heedless greed at the top. The New York Times reports that while CEO Merlo has failed to fund the staff his pharmacies need, he has generously funded his own needs – he paid himself $36.5 million last year alone. Then there is the mountain of interest payments and fees that CVS is paying to Wall Street bankers and lawyers who engineered Merlo’s monopolistic deal to take over the Aetna health insurance giant last year.
So, while you’re being underserved at a local CVS, just remember that Bossman Merlo and his merger mercenaries are making a killing. How comforting is that?
“CVS Stock Is Cheap for a Reason,” Investor Place, June 26, 2019.
If you’re a rich Republican who’s been in the US House so long and done so little that you’re essentially seen as a piece of congressional furniture – what do you do when faced back home with a popular, well-organized, grassroots opponent who’s about to overtake you?
How about unleashing your inner-racist to assail your challenger as a demonic civil-liberties zealot who’ll let hordes of Black, Latino, and other “criminal elements” rampage through White neighborhoods. Endangered Republican incumbents across the country are resorting to this shameful Jim Crow political tactic in a panicky effort to deflect attention from their own do-nothing records. Take longtime Texas congressman Michael McCaul, used to strolling to victory. But – oops – in September, with only weeks to go in his reelection race, he found himself in a dead heat with Democrat Mike Siegel, a former schoolteacher with a progressive-populist program of Medicare for All, worker and environmental protections, human rights over corporate greed, etc. Siegel has forged a surging and enthusiastic movement for change.
So here comes McCaul with a last-minute, down and dirty, million-dollar TV blitz, howling that Siegel is a crazed criminal justice radical who’ll shut down the police and empty prisons. McCaul himself doesn’t appear in this ludicrous dog-whistle piece of racist fabrication. Instead, he’s put a White Republican constable (wearing his official uniform) on camera to do the dirty work. The partisan constable cartoonishly tries to gin up voter fear: “Take it from me,” he dramatically intones, “Mike Siegel is a threat to your family.”
Problem is, McCaul’s gun-toting goofball of a front man is a notorious right-wing race baiter who justifies police violence against peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, calling them “thugs.” But he’s just the dummy –McCaul is the despicable ventriloquist mouthing fear and hate in a pathetic attempt to save his worthless political hide.
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Meet Jim Hightower.
National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and New York Times best-selling author, Jim Hightower has spent four decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.
Twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower believes that the true political spectrum is not right to left but top to bottom, and he has become a leading national voice for the 80 percent of the public who no longer find themselves within shouting distance of the Washington and Wall Street powers at the top.
Hightower is a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, spreading the message of progressive populism all across the American grassroots.
He broadcasts daily radio commentaries that are carried in more than 150 commercial and public stations, on the web, and on Radio for Peace International.
Every month he pens a rousing newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, that blasts through the corporate media blockade to lend new reporting and populist perspective on the events of the day.
A popular public speaker who is fiery and funny, he is a populist road warrior who delivers more than 100 speeches a year to all kinds of groups.
He is a New York Times best-selling author, and has written seven books including, Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back; If the Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates; and There’s Nothing In the Middle Of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. His newspaper column is distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.
Hightower frequently appears on television and radio programs, bringing a hard-hitting populist viewpoint that rarely gets into the mass media. In addition, he works closely with the alternative media, and in all of his work he keeps his ever-ready Texas humor up front, practicing the credo of an old Yugoslavian proverb: “You can fight the gods and still have fun.”
Hightower was raised in Denison, Texas, in a family of small business people, tenant farmers, and working folks. A graduate of the University of North Texas, he worked in Washington as legislative aide to Sen. Ralph Yarborough of Texas; he then co-founded the Agribusiness Accountability Project, a public interest project that focused on corporate power in the food economy; and he was national coordinator of the 1976 “Fred Harris for President” campaign. Hightower then returned to his home state, where he became editor of the feisty biweekly, The Texas Observer. He served as director of the Texas Consumer Association before running for statewide office and being elected to two terms as Texas Agriculture Commissioner (1983-1991).
During the 90’s, Hightower became known as “America’s most popular populist,” developing his radio commentaries, hosting two radio talk shows, writing books, launching his newsletter, giving fiery speeches coast to coast, and otherwise speaking out for the American majority that’s being locked out economically and politically by the elites.
As political columnist Molly Ivins said, “If Will Rogers and Mother Jones had a baby, Jim Hightower would be that rambunctious child — mad as hell, with a sense of humor.”