The Hightower Lowdown

Jim waves the flag; George Dubya plays his health-care shell game; the U.S. gets into bed with thugs.

Wave Our Flag!

I'm waving the flag these days -- the stars & stripes, Old Glory, our flag.

Since September 11, I've been waving it all over the place, because it stands for something special, historic, important, and uniting. I'm not waving it as some macho bravado assertion of American Empire, but in the spirit of America Eternal, the land of deep democratic values and ambitions, the place where "Liberty and Justice for All" is not a throwaway line, but a founding principle that we must struggle daily to try to implement.

Our flag is more than the emblem of America's financial and military might, it's a mirror in which we can see reflected our finest ideals of economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity. Or not. This is why it's especially important for us to wave America's flag now, in these dark days when anti-democratic forces are loose in Washington and in the media, howling for a repression of the very freedoms the flag symbolizes. I'll be double-damned to hell before I meekly allow this banner of democracy to be usurped by political opportunists, corporatists, xenophobes, warmongers, and fearmongers who confuse conformity with patriotism, demanding that we be quiet, get in line, and be "patriotically correct."

Hey, we're not lemmings. We're citizens, and as the founders knew, the first job of a citizen is to keep your mouth open. Our democracy was forged in rebellion, crafted by mavericks and risk-takers who refused to salute authority. They rejected all autocrats who tried to suppress liberties in the name of providing security and order.

Ours is the flag of the pamphleteers and Sons of Liberty, the abolitionists and suffragists, Populists and Wobblies, Mother Jones and Joe Hill, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. -- freedom-fighters all. Too many true patriots struggled and died to bring our democracy this far. We have no right to be quiet. Stand up! Wave our flag! Speak out!

Bush's Health-Care Flimflam

Step right up folks, and take your chances on the amazing George W. Bush health-care shell game. The trick is to keep your eye on the pea. In fact, don't even blink when George W. is moving the pea around, or you might find that the pea isn't there at all.

The pea in question is Bush's brand-new $11 billion program to provide health-care coverage for the hundreds of thousands of American workers who have recently lost their jobs, either because of the September 11 terrorist attacks or because of the general economic bust. This is a nice move by Bush, right? It's part of his widely ballyhooed economic stimulus package, and the need is certainly there.

The money, however, is not there. As pointed out by the advocacy group Families USA, Bush's generous proposal provides no new funds. Rather, to cover the working folks who now find themselves unemployed, George reaches into a fund called SCHIP -- the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- and he deftly lifts out $11 billion for his new program. SCHIP is a program to provide health coverage for the uninsured children of low-wage working families. If this sounds like to you that Bush is taking away the health-care money of low-income children in order to get political credit for meeting the health-care needs of newly unemployed adults ... that's because this is exactly what he's doing!

What a hustle! In taking this $11 billion from SCHIP, Bush suggested that the money wasn't being spent by the states. But that's a flimflam, for the states are adding about a million children a year to their health-care rolls, so these funds are essential to meet the growing need. Yet Bush now will pit the needs of these children against the needs of the unemployed.

To learn more, contact Families USA: 202/628-3030.

Who Are These Allies?

Every American now knows the name Osama bin Laden, and we know a lot about the fiendish Al Qaeda terrorist network that he heads. Less well known, however, is the fact that not so long ago, bin Laden and his gunmen were our allies. In the 1980s, during Afghanistan's war with the Soviet Union, bin Laden was on the CIA payroll, and his gunmen were hailed as heroic freedom fighters for standing up to the invading Soviets.

I mention this because our government has now climbed into bed with yet another obscure group that the White House hails as our staunch allies, saying they can help us kill the demonic bin Laden, crush Al Qaeda, and replace the Taliban as our preferred rulers of Afghanistan. This anti-Taliban group is called the Northern Alliance, but before we all salute them as our latest freedom-fighting buddies, it's worth asking: Who are these guys?

Basically, they're thugs. Human Rights Watch, the independent group that monitors such nastiness worldwide, reports that our new allies "engaged in rape, summary executions, arbitrary arrests, torture, and 'disappearances.'" The Northern Alliance also is charged with financing its anti-Taliban military action with money it gets from opium trafficking and weapons smuggling. It also appears to be big on shelling civilians and burning and looting the homes of people it suspects of being Taliban sympathizers.

Yes, war is a dirty business, but even in war the old saying applies: "Tell me with whom you walk, and I'll tell you who you are."

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.

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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