The Hightower Report
George W. puffs out his chest over Cuba, and Dick Cheney invites Jim to dinner.
George W's Cuban Comedy
Sometimes I think that the Bush Administration is conspiring to feed me good material.
Their latest slapstick schtick came when former president Jimmy Carter went to Cuba and called for an end to our government's ineffectual, 40-year embargo on the Cuban people. Carter's overture to Cuba was like dropping a big beach ball into a group of circus clowns, prompting the White House to flail furiously and comically at Castro.
Just before Carter left, one of Bush's operatives tried to taint Castro as a global terrorist, alleging that he was developing and distributing biological weapons. The problem is that there was not the slightest proof of this, and Castro not only flatly denied the charge, but gave carte blanche to international inspectors to examine all of his country's biotech facilities. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was then reduced to whining that, while they had no actual evidence, "we have concerns."
But the most comical White House routine on Castro starred George W himself, who sputtered that Fidel ought to "have free elections ... ought to have a free press ... and ought to free his prisoners."
The problem with W's orchestrated outrage is that as he spoke he was sitting in the Oval office with the longtime autocratic ruler of Malaysia at his side. At the time, the White House happened to be wooing Prime Minister Mahathir to use his military to help Bush chase suspected terrorists. So there was George castigating Castro while sitting next to a guy his own State Department has labeled a human rights abuser, including charges that Mahathir does not allow free elections, represses the press, and imprisons his political opponents -- the very charges Bush was making against his fiendish foe Fidel!
It gets better. Stunned by Carter's move, Bush rushed to Florida to announce a get-tougher policy, under which he said he will crack down on U.S. citizens who travel there.
He's going to advance freedom in Cuba by restricting freedom at home? That'll teach them!
Yes, travel to Cuba has long been technically illegal, but recent presidents have not chosen to crack the whip over U.S. citizens who defy the travel ban and make peaceful and pleasurable trips to Cuba each year. However, in George's first presidential year, his autocratic regime went after nearly 800 Americans who had traveled to Castro-land.
Were these people radicals bent on importing Castro's communism to our shores? Hardly. Senator Byron Dorgan pointed to two examples -- a 75-year-old retired schoolteacher who went on a bicycle ride in Cuba, and a man who went there to scatter the ashes of his parents at a church they had helped to found. Bush whacked both of them with criminal charges and $7,500 fines.
Ironically, just before announcing his travel crackdown, Bush puffed out his chest and said: "My message to the Cuban people is: Demand freedom, and you've got a president who stands with you."
Who needs Leno, Letterman, and the rest when we've got George W and the White House troupe doing satirical routines like this?
They Love Me, They Really Love Me!
Well, imagine my surprise to get a personal letter from Dick Cheney.
"Dear Mr. Hightower," Dick began, "I write to invite you to join the President and Mrs. Bush for a private dinner here in Washington, D.C." Hey, I'm down for that -- there's a lot I'd like to say to George W! Dick goes on to say: "A special place of honor has already been reserved for you to recognize your steadfast support of President Bush."
Whoa, now -- that's when I got suspicious, because one thing I've definitely not been is a steadfast supporter of King George the W and his autocratic, plutocratic court of corporate greedheads. Maybe my "special place of honor" was to serve as the entrée at Bush's dinner.
Whatever ... Dick said I could get in for only $2,500. Due to a chronic shortfall in my bank account, however, I passed. But I know I would've enjoyed chit-chatting with CEOs and lobbyists for Chevron, Microsoft, Philip Morris, and other corporations that pitched in $250,000 apiece to mingle at George's golden gala. These corporate giants happen to have pending issues before the Bush White House -- but I'm sure this has nothing to do with their generosity.
A record $30 million was raised from these special interests, most of it in the form of notoriously corrupt "soft money." This is a bit ironic, since Bush signed a law banning such contributions only a few weeks ago. But, conveniently, he and the Democrats delayed implementation of the ban until after this fall's elections.
Still, Cheney's letter said that if I couldn't shell out for dinner, for only $150 I could get a set of three, limited-edition photos of the prez in action, including a candid shot of George aboard Air Force One talking to Cheney by phone on September 11. Now this really is ironic, for you'll recall that this was the day that George was afraid to return to Washington, instead hopping around the country on Air Force One and leaving Cheney in charge!
Now that's a picture worth a thousand words!
(Editor's note: Austin Chronicle Publisher Nick Barbaro also received one of these invitations.)
Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To subscribe to his monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, call toll free 866/271-4900. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com.