Wednesday, March 19, 2008

As I get older, I realize that the tag of "liberal" that has applied to me is increasingly in accurate. I'm much more a populist and the one writer who consistently reflects my viewpoint is Jim Hightower, whose column I carry almost every week in three of our four newspapers.

I would like to think that populism could be a bridge between the liberal and conservative religions if both crowds actually gave it a chance.

Jim was in the area last week an naturally the local press, except for me ignored him. He's got a new book out and I know I'm going to pick it up.

Here's the piece I wrote:

Jim Hightower knows what he's going to do with his economic stimulus check he gets in May: he's going to give it to an organization such as the Apollo Alliance that is trying to help the recovery of the middle class.

Hightower is the populist writer whose column appears in most of the weekly newspapers produced by Reminder Publications. The late columnist Molly Ivens once described him as the child of Will Rogers and Mother Jones "mad as hell with a sense of humor."

Hightower's column is seen in newspapers across the country and his radio commentaries are heard on 150 stations. His newsletter "The Hightower Lowdown" is read by 135,000 subscribers. He spent two days in Western Massachusetts last week promoting his eighth book "Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow."

On Wednesday evening he spoke at Mount Holyoke College and on Thursday afternoon he appeared at the Springfield offices of the AFL-CIO on Page Boulevard.

Hightower's new book, which he wrote with Susan deMarco, is "pretty uplifting," he told Reminder Publications in an exclusive interview. He said the book tells 50 stories about people who have rebelled against the corporate system and "found new ways to do it and are doing well by doing good."

Among the stories in the book are those of Martin Dunn of Brooklyn, N.Y., a real estate developer who is focusing on housing middle class families and Chris Johnson of Austin, Texas, who started MedSavers pharmacy, catering to people with no health insurance.

Hightower explained the book is divided into three sections dealing with activism in business, politics and life. Each profile has extensive contacts so readers wanting more information can go straight to the subjects of the chapters.

Hightower hopes the books will give people confidence to "step out there" and start something themselves.

He believes the stories are no anomalies, but this kind of grassroots activism is happening all over the nation.

"These are not stories you hear about in the New York Times and the nightly news," he added.

While Hightower isn't pleased with the way corporate media reports news, he said, "Rather than wringing my hands, I'm joining hands with the progressive press."

The recently announced economic stimulus package that will give some Americans $300 and other $600 is "embarrassingly pathetic," Hightower said.

"It's so sad to see [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid negotiate this with Bush," Hightower said.

Hightower said the stimulus package means the nation "will borrow $168 billion from China so we can go to the Wal-Mart and buy stuff made in China."

"It's an economic stimulus for China," he added.

If the government was serious about an economic stimulus, Hightower suggested they start repairing the infrastructure of this country.

"The Democrats and the Republicans have callously and cravenly failed to take care of the national house," he said. "There are trillions of dollars in arrears."

Hightower explained the repair and renovation of bridges, roads and other parts of the infrastructure would provide many jobs and give people necessary job training.

Elected as the Texas Agriculture Commissioner twice, Hightower sees local agricultural efforts as part of the nation's economic recovery. He said that many farmers are barely staying afloat due to policies written to help middlemen.

What Hightower sees as succeeding are "local people who create a good food economy."

Whether it is farmers markets, micro-brews or school systems buying locally grown produce, Hightower said there is "a rebellion against corporate food that is changing the whole food economy."

Even the large food distribution SYSCO is now buying locally grown and made products, he said.

This year's presidential contest has encouraged Hightower who believes the Democratic candidates, under the influence of John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich, are actually "talking about issues that workaday people care about."

He noted the increase in enthusiasm about the process of selecting a candidate from young people and the huge turnout for the Texas primary an election in which both people and caucuses vote.

Despite having a procedure that is "as confused as a goat on Astroturf," Hightower said that at his ward 500 people turned out to vote this year, as opposed to 16 in 2004.

It was a "most encouraging outpouring," he said.

To learn more about Hightower and his new book, log onto

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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