The Hightower Report

Exploring Mars trumps health care; and Bush's tax cuts have spurred spending … by the rich people who got one


A LUXURIOUS HOLIDAY

I have wonderful news for you: George W.'s latest tax cuts are working! They're now being credited with having produced a bonanza of consumer buying in the recent holiday season!

What? You say you didn't get enough of a tax cut even to notice, much less enjoy a bonanza of consumerism? You say that job losses and low wages actually forced your family to cut back on holiday spending? You say that sales clerks at stores where you shop were complaining about slow and low sales?

Well, Bucko, that's because you don't shop at the right places! While the overall merchant scene was pretty Grinchy this season, with such outfits as Wal-Mart and Target showing disappointing results, things were a lot merrier at your high-end stores. Neiman Marcus, Tiffany & Co., and Saks Fifth Avenue were among the purveyors of luxury goods that enjoyed booming sales to the Cadillac and Hummer crowd.

And why not, dears? After all, this is the crowd that took the bulk of Bush's tax giveaways. While a typical family might have gotten a $600 tax cut, if they were lucky, the millionaire families averaged $93,000 each in cuts. That'll buy a lot of baubles and geegaws.

This is why the CEO of Neiman Marcus exulted that holiday shoppers in his swank stores "proved that luxury is alive." Indeed, sales of such stocking stuffers as $5,000- 10,000 watches were up 16% this season over last! There were similar jumps in diamonds, gold, and cashmere goods, and Neiman reported that sales of Chanel, Prada, and Gucci handbags were "absolutely miraculous."

Actually, there's nothing miraculous about it. When the president takes cold cash out of the public treasury and hands it to the high rollers, they do what the high rollers do – roll out the Escalade and go to Neiman's.

The holiday shopping results offer a perfect picture of Bush's policies: The rich get richer ... and everybody else cuts back.


FORGET HEALTH CARE, WE'RE GOING TO MARS

Why is it that our national policy makers are so robustly optimistic and filled with such can-do enthusiasm when it comes to shoveling billions of our tax dollars into big federal projects favored by wealthy campaign donors – but fall into dismal depths of negativity and dispirited cries of no-can-do pessimism when it comes to paying for the things the majority of us Americans want and desperately need?

Take health care, a glaring national need not only for the 43 million people without any coverage, but also for the many millions more who have insurance policies that are so inadequate, expensive, and riddled with insurance company loopholes that their "coverage" is next to useless. The prestigious Institute of Medicine has just issued a report saying that our country has a swelling health care crisis and that policy makers should respond with a universal program to provide affordable, high-quality health care to all.

How did policy makers respond? With a big "No Way!" Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, led the naysaying, "I just don't think it's in the cards," he shrugged. "I don't think that, administratively or legislatively, it's feasible." This guy is America's top health care official, faced with a crucial issue that personally affects the majority of Americans, yet he whimpers that good health care for everyone is simply beyond America's ability, so he won't even try for it.

Ironically, the institute's report and plea for action came the same day that Bush announced he wanted to spend unlimited billions of our tax dollars to build a space station on the moon and send astronauts to Mars. His political aides said the futuristic Mars shot was a reflection of Bush's optimistic nature.

Fine, but how about we bring some of that optimism down to Earth, where we all live? They should at least try to meet the real needs of real people in the here and now. If they're not up to the job, let's find someone who is.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Mars, moon base, health care, Tommy Thompson, Department of Health and Human Services, George W. Bush, tax cuts, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, luxury, Cadillac, Hummer, Chanel, Escalade, Prada, Gucci

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