The Hightower Lowdown

The White House and Pentagon bomb us with propaganda; Enron's empire crumbles; stuff you don't need.

The Brainwashing War on Us

While the air in Afghanistan is filled with a cacophony of U.S. bombs, our airways here at home are increasingly filled with a cacophony of official propaganda.

The bombs seek to destroy terrorism's threat to our freedom, but our government's propaganda is a threat to truth, which is the essential underpinning of our freedom and democracy. During the past 40 years the American people have learned, after the fact, that we were blatantly lied to by top officials who ran the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and assorted other military actions. But now, the White House and Pentagon are engaged in the most massive, ambitious, and expensive wartime propaganda effort in our nation's history.

Theirs is a double-barreled ploy: First, to suppress any independent information coming out of the war itself. The New York Times reports that Pentagon chief Don Rumsfeld has gone all-out in an unprecedented effort to lock out journalists who are on the scene of the war, prohibiting any contact with our troops and allowing our supposedly free press to see only the officially sanitized version of what's happening. Rumsfeld and the White House have set up an around-the-clock war news bureau in Pakistan that spoon-feeds the videos, photos, and "message of the day" that ends up on the nightly news and in your morning paper.

The second ploy is even more blatantly propagandistic, with White House operatives orchestrating news feeds, staging pro-Bush extravaganzas, and organizing Hollywood executives to produce movies that will sell the war to American audiences. Top White House media manipulator Karl Rove has held two closed-door meetings with Hollywood big shots asking them to help market the war, promising film footage, use of military hardware and facilities, and other government support.

Something as big as war -- where life and death are at stake -- ought to stand scrutiny in the light of day, without the artificial push of marketing gimmicks. Democracy requires truth ... not brainwashing.

The Fall of Enron

Kenneth Lay basked in the limelight of his corporate success. Indeed, he glowed with an inner confidence that slowly ebbed into arrogance ... then overflowed into raw hubris. He began to think that it was his cock-a-doodle-doo that caused the sun to rise each morning.

And why not? He had taken a Texas natural gas firm and turned it into mighty Enron, the biggest energy corporation in the world, drawing more than $100 billion a year in gross income. Not that Enron produced any energy. No, no, that was old thinking, and Ken Lay bragged that he was all about "new economy" thinking. Basically, he ran a computerized roulette wheel, buying and selling energy supplies that others produced. He asserted that it's the trade that matters, not the product ... and he even intended to begin trading in such "commodities" as water and weather.

Lay's face was on magazine covers, he bought the right to slap Enron's name on Houston's taxpayer-financed baseball stadium, and he was George W's top funder -- not only in his gubernatorial and presidential runs, but also financing Bush's Florida recount and inauguration. In return, Ken headed the energy transition team when Bush took the White House, and he was poised to be a major player in George's administration.

But ... stuff happens. Some of the new ventures that Lay launched with Enron ended up in the ditch, the company's stock price went into a dive ... and then there's the little matter of the scandal. It's uncertain exactly what shenanigans were being played, but Enron suddenly had to "re-adjust" its earnings report recently because of more than a billion dollars in losses from investments by secret partnerships run by company executives -- losses they had kept off the books. Now the SEC is investigating, investors are crying foul, and the company is being sold at a fire-sale price.

Some of the strutting peacocks of the "new economy" are ending up as feather-dusters.

Technology Marches On!

The New York Times reports that Toyota and Sony have teamed up to design this thing they call the Pod, which is about half car and half pet. It's a car made to look like a living critter. Its headlights don't merely turn on and off -- they "blink," like eyes. Its side mirrors look like ears. And the front grill is a "mouth" that can turn up in a happy-face smile or down in a frown. The antenna sticks out the back like a tail.

Worse, the Pod "talks" to you. It fondly says goodbye when you get out, which is fine, but it also scolds you angrily when it's not been washed, which is not fine. Who needs this grief from a chunk of fiberglass and computer chips?! If it gets angry over a little road dust, what'll it do if it's low on oil?

That's not all the stuff that's coming at you. The Times tells us that the gadgeteers have also "improved" the refrigerator. Did they add sensors to tell you the cheese has molded or the lunchmeat has gone bad? No, that would be too useful. Instead, we get the "screenfridge," which is a regular fridge with a TV screen on the door. Good, now we won't have to miss any annoying commercials when we get off the couch to get a beer!

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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Afghanistan, propaganda, terrorism, Vietnam, Gulf War, Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, media, Karl Rove, Hollywood, Enron, Kenneth Lay, energy trading, George W. Bush, Toyota, Sony, Pod, screenfridge

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