The Hightower Report

Bush appointee fights hard … for corporations; and Big Digital Brother Is Watching You

Bush's New Senior Death Discount

In case you thought Washington couldn't get one whit weirder, meet John Graham.

He's been installed by George W. as the czar of Federal Regulations, and his unstated assignment is to weaken or kill any rule designed to protect your and my health and well-being -- if that rule is deemed by big corporations to be too strong, too inconvenient ... or worst of all, too effective.

Graham is a notorious, right-wing, laissez-faire nutball who has made a career fronting for corporations that want to escape our nation's health, labor, environmental, and other laws. Through a corporate-funded outfit he calls the Harvard Institute of Risk Assessment, he has given raw corporate greed quasi-academic cover by issuing studies claiming that, say, an anti-pollution rule protecting people's health has to be "balanced" against a polluting corporation's need for profit.

How nutty is this guy? Graham recently engineered a Bush change in America's environmental policy, decreeing that henceforth any regulation to limit pollution should consider the relative monetary value of people's lives based on their age. For example, instead of basing clean-air enforcement on the assumption that all lives saved by clean air are worth the same, Graham wants to rig the rules so that older people's lives are discounted in value. He's even got a price tag for you -- if you're under 70, you're worth $3.7 million, but if you're older than that, he knocks down your value by a third, to only $2.3 million.

This new Bush policy has been dubbed the "senior death discount," and it is so unprincipled and nutty that the head of the EPA has publicly disowned it, saying: "EPA will not, I repeat, not use an age-adjusted analysis in decision-making." Graham, however, says that while the "senior death discount" will not be applied now, he still will push it as official Bush policy.

To help stop this kook, check out the National Resources Defense Council at

Invasion of the Privacy Snatchers

It's 2003 ... do you know where you are?

Not the physical you -- you're right there. But the little "digital you" that banks, credit-card firms, insurance companies, brokerage houses, and other corporations have created from personal information that they've gleaned from you -- information you thought was private. For example, how much liquor have you charged to your credit card, what's your net worth, have you missed a loan payment, are you taking medicine for a sexual problem, what's your monthly take-home, did you make a series of one-nighter trips to Las Vegas last year?

All this and more is collected by your financial institutions and -- thanks to a little-known law that Congress passed four years ago -- those institutions now can share all of your personal data, compile it into a detailed profile, and store this digital you inside their computers. But they don't stop there -- the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act lets them give "you" to all of their conglomerate affiliates and to sell "you" to other corporations under joint marketing agreements. The digital you is their slave ... and the actual you doesn't know which corporations have you or what they're doing with you.

You can thank former Sen. Phil Gramm for this theft of your privacy. At the behest of the industry (which, coincidentally, just happened to be his major campaign funder), Phil dutifully maneuvered this body-snatching bill into law. Gramm left the Senate last year and was rewarded with -- what else? -- a fat-cat job with a giant financial firm that had lobbied for this bill.

If you think that these privacy invaders should not be allowed to use and sell your personal information without getting permission from you in writing, you are not alone. People all across the country are outraged and are pushing for action to stop the privacy snatchers. There is both a bill and an initiative in California that would outlaw this corporate intrusion. If it passes there, other states will follow. To join this fight for privacy, go to

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle