The Hightower Lowdown

Bush's Little Helpers; The Drug War's Dr. Strangelove

Bush's Little Helpers

Good news! Little George Bush has appointed a big-time national commission to help you.

Bad news: All 14 members of this hand-picked commission want to "help you" by giving away your Social Security dollars to Wall Street bankers, allowing them to privatize our nation's retirement program. Worse news: To pay for the billions the bankers will get, Bush and his commissars intend to raise your retirement age to 70 or older ... and cut your monthly Social Security payment. Worst news: Their plan puts your retirement nest egg in the hands of the same Wall Street geniuses who only months ago were telling us the stock market would rise forever.

A watchdog group, Campaign for America's Future, reports that Bush's commission is a totally stacked deck. Co-chairing the bunch is Richard Parsons, a top exec for media giant AOL Time Warner, where Parsons ran a scam that tried to deny pension benefits to employees there. He got caught, was sued, and Time Warner had to pay $5.5 million to compensate the workers he tried to short. Now he's ram-rodding Bush's scheme to short us.

There also are three former Congress critters on the board, each of whom favors privatizing Social Security, raising our retirement age, and cutting benefits. Four other commissioners came straight from the Wall Street world that will pocket the Social Security cash that will flow from privatization, while another four hail from right-wing think tanks that have long proselytized for privatization -- and are financed by corporations that would profit from it.

Notice who's missing? You! The two-thirds of Americans who'll count on Social Security for retirement income are not represented. But Bush can't be bothered hearing from you -- he's too busy "helping" you.

The Drug War's Dr. Strangelove

George W. -- the guy who claims to be President Compassionate, the guy who concedes that he "may or may not" have committed drug crimes of "youthful indiscretion" well into his thirties -- now is pushing a drug policy of squinty-eyed intolerance, inflexibility, meanness, and proven stupidity.

To put the hammer to the policy, President Nasty has chosen John P. Walters to be his Drug Czar. Walters is a hard-line, throw-'em-in-jail-and-throw-away-the-key drug hawk who doesn't want to hear any wimpy talk about people's constitutional rights or the need for drug treatment programs. Indeed, in Senate testimony, Walter snarled that drug rehab is "the latest manifestation of the liberal's commitment to a 'therapeutic state.' "

Walters is the Dr. Strangelove of our country's absurd drug war: He dismisses anyone who says our nation's prisons are too full, he favors longer jail sentences for marijuana users, he has declared that there's too much "treatment capacity" in the U.S., he opposes efforts to address the racial discrepancies in drug enforcement, he wants more militarization of the drug war at home and abroad, and he's been a noisy opponent of state initiatives to allow the medical use of marijuana.

Ironically, Walters was also a deputy drug czar in Daddy Bush's administration, where he was in charge of reducing the supply of narcotics flowing into our country. Remember what a success that was?

Failure and irony, however, bounce right off Bush and Walters, who will continue stumbling down the same costly, ineffectual drug-war path, blinded by ideology and political opportunism, operating on the perverse principle that if brute force isn't working, we just need to use more of it.

Cheney Does Burma

How 'bout that Halliburton?

Halliburton Inc. is the multibillion-dollar oilfield company that made our vice-president such a rich man. Dick Cheney was head honcho of Halliburton until Little George Bush plucked him from CorporateWorld to come to Washington and run BushWorld, previously known as the U.S. government. Lately, Cheney's been under fire for his tendency to stomp on anyone who gets in the way of the oil industry's agenda.

But stomping is simply the corporate way, and Cheney is only acting now as he did as CEO. For example, Halliburton is one of the few U.S. companies that still does business with the thuggish, totalitarian rulers of Burma.

Corporations like Halliburton have long done business deals with these thugs, providing the foreign capital for them to buy the weapons they need to keep repressing Burma's people. But in the 1990s, the repression got so repulsive that dozens of corporations pulled out. Not Halliburton, though.

With Cheney at the helm, Halliburton defied human rights advocates and the Burmese democracy movement by continuing to do business there. One of its joint projects with the thugs was building the Yadana pipeline. Farmers and others were conscripted by the dictators and forced at gunpoint to work on the pipeline. In turn, the thugs will pocket hundreds of millions of dollars from Halliburton and other foreign partners. Asked about this, Cheney said dismissively, "you have to operate in some very difficult places and oftentimes in countries that are governed in a manner that's not consistent with our principles here in the United States."

No you don't! Moral people -- even CEOs -- don't have to abandon our nation's fundamental principles just to make a buck. It's a choice ... one that Cheney makes too easily.

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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