The Hightower Lowdown
Terrorists attack, and security enthusiasts "protect" us; nursing homes abuse the elderly, and the answer is deregulation?; and money management firms give the wealthy a shoulder to cry on.
Surrendering to Terrorists
Just when we Americans thought that things couldn't be made any worse for us than the horror of the international terrorist attacks of September 11, along comes a parade of homegrown clowns, zealots, political opportunists, and corporate-technology hucksters claiming that they want to "save us" from future attacks.
These are wild-eyed security enthusiasts who are promoting what The New York Times describes as "a new kind of country" for us to live in. In this "new country," get used to domestic spying, carrying an electronic ID card, being profiled and searched, being infiltrated and interrogated, and having your movements constantly monitored. In the frenzy of the moment, in the compulsion to "do something" about the terrorist attacks, our so-called national leaders are lunging toward a massive new program of electronic surveillance of We the People. "Computer technology will be harnessed to make the country safer," asserts the Times. Hmmm ... this doesn't make me feel one bit safer.
Take the national ID card ... whether you want to or not. A corporate security consultant enthusiastically says that, "Each American could be given a 'smart card,' so as they go anywhere, we know exactly who they are." Your card, imbedded with computer chips, would contain detailed personal and financial information about you and would be read by computers and coordinated with your fingerprints and facial characteristics so you could be tracked wherever you go. A former federal law-enforcement official told the Times that, "Over a period of time, these technologies will slowly be becoming part of our life. You will no longer be able to just come and go."
Hundreds of thousands of freedom lovers who went before us fought, bled, and died to establish and preserve the very personal liberties that these bozos now propose to surrender.
Nursing Those Profits
Here comes another sweet dollop of compassion from George W. Bush, this time directed at ill, vulnerable, and often-abused senior citizens who reside in nursing homes across the country.
The federal government regulates 17,000 of these nursing-home operations that get $39 billion a year in our tax dollars to care for 1.6 million elderly or disabled patients. Few industries as a whole have had such a sorry record of performance as this one. Hardly a month goes by without another scandal that reveals shocking levels of mistreatment by nursing-home firms that squeeze unconscionable profits from sick old people by understaffing and under-caring. Just last year, the U.S. department of health found that most nursing homes do not have enough employees to provide proper care.
The good news is that Mr. Compassionate Conservative has a plan. It's called the "nursing home quality initiative." The bad news is that instead of relieving the pain of suffering patients, Bush's plan is to provide relief for the nursing home industry itself! Its lobbyists have been crying that operators of these places are over-regulated. So, sure enough, he's proposing to reduce the frequency of inspections, ease the standards for patient protection, eliminate a host of penalties for mistreating patients, and -- get this -- allow the companies to inspect themselves.
The Bushites, always compassionate toward corporate campaign contributors, say that they want government to move away from an adversarial approach to a "collaborative" relationship with the industry. One part of their proposed sweetheart collaboration is to eliminate the policy of automatically punishing nursing homes that, on two consecutive biannual inspections, have been caught causing harm or immediate jeopardy to the patients.
Oh, yeah, let's not fine homes that are harming old folks ... let's just give them a compassionate hug.
Comforting the Comfortable
Sure, you think it's a cake walk to be rich, don't you? No worries, let your money do the talking, Easy Street! But you "Have Nots" and "Have Littles" simply don't know the heartbreak of the "Haves." Yes, they have the big house and vacation homes, yachts and private jets, nannies and gardeners, country clubs and exclusive schools ... but is it enough, and will it last? These are the worries of the wealthy.
Luckily, they do not have to face their burden alone. The New York Times reports that a number of money management firms feel the pain of these anxious elites and have begun reaching out to them with a series of empathetic ads, generously offering to handle their finances and shoulder their worries ... for a fee. "Money is not the end of worry," exclaims an understanding ad from U.S. Trust Company, "It is the beginning." Another firm's ad touches a chord when it declares, with an almost audible sigh, "Money. It's just not what it used to be." I can only imagine.
Another ad by U.S. Trust pictures a thirtyish woman of wintry pallor, dressed in stark black, sitting alone on a red sofa, and confiding in us about how hard it is "just trying to hang on to your sanity, your ideal weight, and your quality time with your family." With a deep sadness she tells us: "The burden of wealth is something few understand unless it actually rests on their shoulders." Tell me about it, sweetheart.
In this period of economic downturn, it's a comfort to all of us to know that such compassionate assistance is there for those in need.
Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.