The Hightower Lowdown
Bush goes easy on mining companies; his new drug czar is doomed to repeat history; and his energy policy lacks vision.
George W. Delivers
When it comes to government policies, George W's administration tells us that "everything changed" on September 11. But not quite ... one thing that remains constant is Bush & Co.'s enthusiasm for doing special governmental favors for greed-headed polluters.
The latest is a terribly sweet goodie that Bush's Interior Department slipped to mining industry executives in late October. While the media and the public were focused on the terrorist attacks and anthrax threats, the department's Bureau of Land Management quietly altered its rules so global mining corporations that extract lead, zinc, copper, and gold from our public lands can do so without the fuss of having to worry about the severe contamination that their mining causes to the land, water, surrounding communities, and people.
These corporations have a nasty record. They've been able to take billions of dollars' worth of our publicly owned minerals out of our public lands without even paying royalties or fees to us. Worse, they make a deadly toxic mess, then walk away from the damage they cause. So a rather modest rule was adopted last year that simply said the interior secretary could veto any permit for mining on our public land if the mine could cause "substantial and irreparable harm" to the community.
Oh, squealed mining executives, this is unduly burdensome, this is excessive, this is not what we want!
Almost exactly nine months after taking the oath of office, George W. delivered for his campaign contributors. An interior department spokesman explained the policy reversal by declaring that it was "not fair" to hold these poor corporations to such a tough standard. Under Bush's new rule, these global mining giants are free not only to do harm to our environment and communities ... but to do "irreparable harm."
Drug War's Dr. Strangelove
George W -- the guy who claims to be President Compassionate, the guy who concedes of himself that he "may or may not have committed" drug crimes of "youthful indiscretion" well into his 30s -- 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, shoot-'em-down, 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.'"
W's new Czar is a right-wing ideologue who's made a career as a professional drug-war hustler, always talking tough at the expense of the sick and impoverished he so gleefully exploits for his own advancement. 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, he'd like to see an expansion of our government's war in Colombia, and he's been a noisy opponent of state initiatives to allow the medical use of marijuana.
Ironically, Walters was 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 fine success that was?
Failure and irony, however, bounce right off of 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, let's just use more of it.
A New Energy Future
In the face of horrendous terrorist attacks, George W. Bush is rallying our nation for war. But why not take this same opportunity to rally our nation for an all-out campaign to free us, at long last, from our dependency on Middle Eastern oil?
We've known that our addiction to petroleum is ridiculously expensive, environmentally disastrous, and destructive to human health -- but now it's been made clear that this addiction also is dangerous for us in the geopolitical scheme of things. We spend $56 billion a year to buy imported oil, and another $25 billion on military efforts to prop up various dictators, pampered monarchies, and ruthless despots who rule oil-exporting Middle-Eastern nations. These oilionaires in places like Saudi Arabia then turn out to be the primary source of funding for Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
The best way to stop the bin Ladens of the future is to cut off their financing, and the best way to do that is to eliminate our need for their oil ... or anyone's oil. Real leadership would be to involve our citizens in a massive, crash program to break through the remaining barriers to such clean, alternative fuels as solar, geothermal, wind, micropower, hydrogen fuel cells, and others. Combine this with an all-out, national conservation drive that would retrofit all of America's buildings, produce energy-stingy appliances, build mass transportation networks including high-speed cross-country trains, and so forth.
Isn't it time we rallied, enlisted, and involved our citizens in something besides war?
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.
The Hightower Lowdown
The Hightower Lowdown