Jim Hightower

Walking on Air

See George. See George in our national parks. George likes to go to parks and have the media take his picture there. See George run for president. In his 2000 presidential run, George W. dressed up in khakis and held a photo-op in a national park, where he decried the $5-billion backlog in making essential repairs to America’s deteriorating park system. It’s shameful, he said, promising to fix our parks. He didn’t. Four years later, the maintenance need is $6 billion. Speaking of deterioration, Bush’s National Park Service announced this February that it would allow BNP Petroleum Corporation to drill for natural gas on Padre Island National Seashore. This will put pipelines, heavy equipment, and large trucks on the longest undeveloped beach in America. Just what you want to see when you go to the solace of the seashore: a drilling rig in your face. It will hurt tourism, the ecosystem, wildlife, and local businesses—all so one oil corporation can plunder a minor gas deposit that amounts to only one day’s worth of fuel for America. Then there’s George’s effort to “improve†Eisenhower Public Park in New York. Though it’s a mere county park, the White House directed county officials to make an essential addition to Eisenhower Park prior to Bush’s March visit. He was going for a fundraiser in a restaurant in the park, then he was to walk to a building to meet with some families of 9/11 victims, then proceed to a groundbreaking ceremony for a 9/11 memorial to be built in the park. The new addition demanded by Bush’s minions? Sidewalks along every step of Bush’s trek. Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin reports that the word came down from on high: “The President’s feet are not to touch the dirt.â€

Thus, concrete and asphalt were poured so George’s feet would not touch the ground—as they rarely have any time in his life.

HAND WRINGING VS. HAND WASHING

What is one of the most dangerous things you can do when you get seriously ill? Go to the hospital. Your doctor tells you to go to the hospital—but no one tells you the deadly little secret of today’s hospitals. They kill. They kill because they have inadequate infection control practices. Patients going in for a particular problem often acquire infections from the hospital itself, often causing death. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 90,000 Americans a year die from these hospital infections, more than die from auto accidents, and homicides combined. About two million patients a year catch infections from their hospitals—one of every 20 people who go in. What could be done? A huge step forward would be the simplest one: hand washing. Infections could be cut by more than half if there were an effective program for all medical personnel to wash their hands regularly, especially washing with alcohol hand rubs that are convenient to use and more effective at killing bacteria. Yet hospitals, apparently watching their bottom lines, don’t have such a system—and they are not required to put one in place. On the other hand, some hospitals do an excellent job of preventing infections. How are you to know the good from the bad? You can’t. There’s no requirement that hospitals report or publicly disclose their infection rates. Luckily, some states are pushing mandatory disclosure laws. Unluckily, hospital lobbyists are pushing a bill in Congress that would preempt the ability of states to require this disclosure, instead setting up a voluntary federal program for reporting infection rates—and even these voluntary reports would be kept from the public.

RADICAL SURGERY

If Alan Greenspan were a medical doctor he would be considered a dangerous quack and had his license to practice yanked long ago. Instead, he’s an economist, the un-elected head of America’s monetary system, and his quackery is not only tolerated, but lauded by the Powers That Be, who’ve been using him to bilk the Middle Class. Greenspan’s trail of quackery begins back in 1983, when he chaired a commission that persuaded Congress to raise the Social Security taxes of working folks. This radical surgery was necessary, Alan said, to create a surplus to assure that future retirees would get the benefits they’re due. But instead of locking these surpluses away for future retirees, Greenspan left them open to raids by any president needing a quick pile of cash for a pet project. The latest to make the raid is George W., who dove head-first into our Social Security surplus to pull out the billions he needed to pay for his tax giveaways to the rich. Greenspan himself told Congress that such tax cuts were necessary to prevent the buildup of government surpluses. Even though the bulk of the tax giveaways went to people making $300,000 or more a year, he promised that this would not harm working families counting on their Social Security benefits for their retirement.

Just recently, the quack was back, urgently telling Congress that, because of out-of-control budget deficits, it must slash Social Security payouts “as soon as possible.†He urged that every retiree’s benefits be cut and that the retirement age be raised. In his 20 years of practicing economic voodoo, here’s what the mad doctor has achieved: Working people had their Social Security taxes raised so rich people could have their income taxes slashed, which, he now says, means that working people must have their Social Security payments cut. This quack has done enough harm—it’s time to yank his license.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back, on sale now from Viking Press.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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