The Hightower Report

Bush wants to deplete your Social Security; ChoicePoint may have helped deplete your bank account

THE CHOICEPOINT SCANDAL

A U.S. senator campaigning for re-election visited a nursing home, where he approached an old fellow who was watching TV and asked, "Do you know who I am?" The old man replied, "No, but if you go to front desk they'll tell you."

Luckily for us, if we forget who we are, we can go to ChoicePoint Inc., for they know all about all of us. This outfit is an aggregator of personal information on just about everyone – its computers hold 19 billion bits of sensitive info on nearly every American, including our Social Security numbers, credit and medical histories, car registrations, job applications, military records, lawsuits, and police files. ChoicePoint is in the business of selling our private information for a profit.

To whom does it sell? Banks, marketers, government agencies, your boss … and practically anyone willing to pay this data broker's fee – including, it turns out, criminals. In February, it was reported that a ring of thieves had been allowed to open accounts with ChoicePoint and extract volumes of personal data on up to half a million Americans. This data can be used for identity theft, allowing thieves to drain the bank accounts and credit card accounts of their victims.

Few of us are aware that these corporate data peddlers have amassed so many details of our lives, much less that they operate with almost no oversight, no requirements for security and privacy protection. Indeed, ChoicePoint knew of the data theft last October, but did not inform the victims or law officials. Only California requires that the companies report such thefts, and even there, ChoicePoint didn't begin notifying potential victims until February … and the notification was by mail! A spokesman says the letters should arrive "within a few weeks."

Weeks? To help reel in these careless privacy hucksters call the Electronic Privacy Information Center: 202/483-1140.


ASSERTING THE COMMON GOOD

An all-out, four-pronged political assault is now under way to privatize Social Security, with the Four Horsemen of Privatization being Wall Street lobbyists, right-wing think tank theorists, corporate-funded front groups, and of course, George W.

But as powerful as these establishment forces are, their scheme and their strategy overlook two countervailing forces of humble: one, the common sense of common folks, and two, the American people's strong belief in our nation's ethic of the common good.

Indeed, the power of "the Commons" is what Bush & Company are trying to destroy with their insidious privatization scheme. Rather than America's uniting idea that "we're all in this together," they want to impose a new laissez-faire ethic of "everyone for themselves." You don't need a common retirement fund, they contend, when instead you can "own" your little piece of the public program and put it into Wall Street stocks – you might get lucky and retire rich! Yes, they admit, this will drain the Social Security fund and leave many old folks in poverty – but, hey, America's all about rugged individualism, taking care of oneself.

Their political strategy also tries to divide the public. Bush's plan leaves Social Security's promise of guaranteed benefits intact for everyone 55 and older, hoping this will buy them off so they won't object to slashing the retirement benefits of younger people. To their amazement, however, this cynical appeal to selfishness is not working. Seniors everywhere are up in arms about it – as Martin Berger, a Pennsylvania retiree, says: "We refuse to accept this concept of 'you got yours, now back off.' We built the system. We believe it should be available for our children and grandchildren."

Americans are not selfish, and polls confirm that at least 70% of folks – old as well as young – don't want to give up the founding idea of Social Security, which is that we really are in this together.

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

Social Security, George W. Bush, Martin Berger, ChoicePoint Inc., Electronic Privacy Information Center

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